Monday, August 30, 2010

Essay: There is No First Day of School for My Children

This morning, I opened up Facebook to discover it was the first day of school. “The kids on their first day!” read the caption to a photo of a couple elementary school-aged children, looking adorable, well-scrubbed and mildly terrified. Another Facebook-friend commented how quiet it was at his house with the kids at school (except for his wife’s yahoos of joy.) Meanwhile, at my house, there are no yodels of delight, no excuse to take photos at the bus stop, no reason to soothe the annual jitters. There is no first day of school for my children.

With no fanfare to speak of, this September marks beginning of the seventh year of homeschooling for my son and the fifth for my daughter. I had to count on my fingers to tabulate that number, just like my kids and I often have to take a moment to recall what grade they are in…or rather, what grade they would be in if they were at school. We keep of a tally of those numbers in order to provide the answer to the inevitable question. Those stats are for you, not for us. The longer we homeschool, the less relevant their grade levels become. What does it matter if you’re in sixth grade when you’re learning something new every day?

Theoretically, my son would be starting high school. We don’t even know what that marker means to us. Some folks have said to him over this summer, “Oooh, you’re starting high school in the Fall!” To which he just shrugs and grunts, “Yeah. I guess.”  Rather than a transition to a new building with new teachers and a big, new social structure, my kids’ education expands on a constant, even-paced, individual level. Because we have watched our children physically and developmentally grow over the last year, we know that it is time to start pushing their limits a little more, encouraging them to stretch beyond their comfort zone in small ways, giving a gentle shove toward independence. Much the same way we’ve been doing since they were born. There isn’t a number attached to our awareness. We just know.

“When does school start for you?” My kids hear that a lot. They look to me to answer that question. And I, in turn, look blankly back. I never know how to answer that question, and I haven’t developed a quip in response that doesn’t sound preachy or canned. It’s true that the pace of our schedule changes in the Fall, but learning never takes a break. We don’t get a calendar sent to our house that tells us, “Your next stage of learning begins on August 28th.” It’s very difficult to explain an entirely unique concept of education to a well-meaning friend who really just wants us to say “Next Monday.”

Maybe we are denying our children this classic autumnal rite of passage each time the bus passes our house on its first run of the school year? But homeschooling found us; we didn’t go looking for it. And I have no doubt that we are on our best path, educationally, for our children. You know that feeling, when it feels right. My whole family has that secure, sure feeling about our homeschooling. But still. Still. I wonder what it will be like for my children to grow up without the sensory memory of standing at the end of the driving, freshly scrubbed, wearing new clothes, with butterflies in their stomachs, the anticipation of diesel fumes, wishing Mom would just take the friggin’ picture already.

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