No Cookie Cutter Kids for Me
There are so many things I appreciate about homeschooling, but one of the biggest has to be the chance to nurture individuality in my children.
Our school system tends to homogenize – one curriculum, standardized tests, teaching strategies that appeal most to logical, left-brain-oriented thinkers. Even “individualized” tracks of learning necessarily pattern students into “gifted”, “average” “behaviorally or learning disabled” and “special needs”. And I get it – there has to be some reasonable manner of organizing large numbers of students into manageable categories, so that energy and resources can best go toward meeting their needs.
But homeschoolers don’t have to do that.
We homeschoolers get to nurture individualization in our children from the beginning. And not just in terms of what tracks of learning they are on, but in the individual qualities, abilities, and interests they possess.
This is an amazing opportunity, that I’m realizing more and more every year of my children’s lives.
My oldest daughter is, shall we say, a “non-traditional learner”. She is incredibly bright, innovative, and creative, with a marvelous ability to think contextually. But I have no doubt that if she were in the public school system, she would have some sort of “label”, because her intelligence does not manifest itself according to the logical, sequential kinds of thinking our educational system values. Tasks that are considered baseline in mainstream education, such as working effectively with parts to whole or understanding sequence, are challenging for her, while she excels in areas such as design, relational acuity, and spatial awareness that are not considered part of traditional academics.
I feel certain that if she were in a traditional school setting, she would feel badly about herself. Her need to process out loud and learn by interaction would be considered “disruptive”, her holistic, big picture, neglecting-all-the-individual-steps approach to work would be labeled “careless”, and her contextual mind’s ways of jumping from concept to concept quickly would be categorized as “attention-deficit”. Her propensity for learning in spurts (when she will all of a sudden “get” a concept that seemed unconquerable for months or even years beforehand) would leave her demoralized, as she got repeated feedback that she was not making the grade in the incremental steps along the way.
In our homeschool, however, these are simply aspects of who she is that we integrate into our school experience. The feedback the gets along the way is that that she has weaknesses in some areas (as everyone does), but strengths in other areas, and that what matters is that she works to the best of her ability to cultivate both.
Homeschooling gives us the opportunity for her to be surrounded with opportunities to engage in areas of life in which she excels, rather than primarily those in which she struggles. Yes, she has to fight her way through arithmetic, and she has to learn the skills of focusing on details to punctuate and capitalize her writing, and those are challenges. But she also gets to participate in sewing lessons, and voice training, and to use art to help her remember vocabulary words, as part of regular daily “school”. Instead of being surrounded by students who, through scores on tests that they all take together, remind her of the ways that she doesn’t measure up in traditional academics, she is in a school of one. Her most fundamental experience, her most significant measure of how “good” she is is…
Me. Her Mom. The one who loves her most, and who is most dedicated to making sure she sees herself as the intelligent, capable, talented individual she is.
So homeschooling offers us a unique opportunity. It affords us the chance, as parents, to nurture the particular, wonderful strengths of our special child. Not as “a” student in a large group of students all working toward excelling according to the same guidelines – guidelines chosen by the government or some other group of people. Homeschooling allows us to set the guidelines. To create the bar of what excellence is, for each particular child. That is both an incredible blessing and amazing responsibility.
For my daughter, the bar I’ve set for excellence is different, indeed, from what the public school system would set for her. Yes, Math and English and Science and History are all important. But her scores on tests in those subjects are not the sum total of who she is, nor how I want her worth to be defined. My guidelines for excellence are that she become a well-rounded woman of integrity and character who serves the Lord in all that she does. And that she does so by working to the best of her ability in all areas, and by focusing on the specific strengths God has given her.
So, how does this look, in our homeschool?
It means acknowledging the reality of the areas for her that are difficult, and working to improve them, but not getting stuck there, as if those things were the most important aspects of life. It means not making determinations about her intelligence, capability, or worth according to guidelines set by others (such as the school system), but by the guidelines of the God who created her. It means pointing her to her true areas of strength, and giving those equal (or more) weight to the strengths our culture values – even if they are not in traditional academic areas. It means reminding her, when she gets frustrated with her performance in regular academic subjects, that she is wonderfully creative, and emotionally attuned to others, and musically gifted. It means valuing character and effort more than test scores and performance. I means truly seeing her and encouraging her as the unique, special, one-of-a-kind individual that she is, rather than comparing her to others.
Homeschooling has helped me move away from the “cookie cutter child” philosophy and into the realm of appreciating my children for who they are. It has transformed my slavery to a culturally-defined bar of excellence to a bar of excellence defined by my faith values and the individuality of my particular children.
Interestingly it was my younger daughter who, the other day, reminded me of this. We’ve nicknamed her the “Snuggle Bear” because she regularly joins us in bed for an early morning snuggle. But on this particular morning, both of my girls came and crawled into bed next to me. As we enjoyed our warm, happy closeness, I commented, “Ahhh. I get both of my Snuggle Bears this morning!” My youngest, referring to her older sister’s propensity toward creativity, said, “No, Mom, I’m your Snuggle Bear. K is your Crafter Bear”.
And this mama smiled a great, big smile of joy.
The statement brought me a rare moment of homeschooling pride, as I realized that my girls “got” it. Homeschooling has made it so they don’t need to both try to meet some cultural standard of excellence. They know that they are unique, that God made them that way, and that their different strengths and contributions are equally worthwhile.
For me, that knowledge, that awareness – is exactly the kind of education I really want them to have.