Choosing to homeschool has changed so many of my pre-conception ideas about children. Truly, back when I was teaching K-8 Special Education, I thought I had it all figured out. I knew I would have been a better parent to some of these children than the parents they had. That might still be true, but in general, I think I had it mostly backwards. Those parents were doing the exact best they could and the best they knew, with what they had.
There was one 3rd grader girl I remember in particular: She could write amazing, beautiful, intricate stories. Her handwriting was atrocious, and she couldn’t spell. Here’s the interesting thing. She had moved to my school from a different school, and it wasn’t until mid-way through the year that anyone realized she had an IEP and a “diagnosis.” She’d been doing just fine, until her teacher started feeling like her writing was just too messy, and she just didn’t understand spelling. She was a joy to work with, but spending time in my room, out of class, was more of a hindrance than a help. The school just needed to adapt to her strengths, and get out of her way.
Which brings me back on topic: Getting out of the way of my own children. These kids have these fantastic, creative, amazing ideas. And the path to creating these adventures and stories and plays they develop is often messy and involved. They drag out costumes and bags, and tape, and paint, and books, and games, and legos–sometimes all at once–and they use these things to populate a world I’ve never conceived of. And sometimes all I can think when I see these elaborate story universes is: What a freakin’ mess!
I, who love order and organization and knowing where things are. I, who have worked so hard to get everyone to put their shoes in the bin in the closet. I, who ask them to put their dirty clothes in the basket, not on the floor. I, who have trouble sitting down to read with the kids if the house is messy–this is very difficult for me–to get out of their way.
I’m unschooly, in many ways. And it has served us well. These kids are engaged and interested in learning and dreaming and planning. They are also independent of thought. They balk at being ordered around (God bless them for that.), and they do not follow rules blindly. If it doesn’t make sense, they want to understand, and if you have a valid, explainable reason, they will value that as well. They are learning lots–on their own schedule, and it is a pleasure to watch. They can engage with people of all ages, and they are kind and respectful of each other and people outside our family.
But, my goodness, they can be so messy! And I’m not sure where the balance is. What if Picasso’s Mom made him put away all those paints every night and throw out any scraps of paper he had drawn ideas on. What if Marie Curie’s mom told her to stop messing around in the lab…you get the idea. But maybe their moms did tell them those things, and that just made them more determined to keep doing what they loved. (I don’t really think it was like that.)
I read about an artist or a chef once who created a huge elaborate meal for his mother. He made a horrible mess, and when his mom walked in, she saw only the love and joy of creation. The cleaning up of the mess came later, first came the thrill of the gift.
I try to remember that when I see that Monkey has brought down the laundry basket from my closet yet again. It makes such a perfect “walker” when she has injured herself and needs to limp around the house for a few hours. Or, last night, it was the ideal nose to a rocket ship that was crafted in the living room. And all I could think was, “Now my closet floor is covered with stinky, dirty clothes.” Bless the child, she tries to reassure me, “I piled them into the corner.” But all I want is for her to leave my laundry basket alone. And isn’t that petty to write.
Yessa just came upstairs with three containers of playdough she wanted me to open. And Zoe has stuck a label on Yessa’s chest which said, “Noa Moxie Gemignani.” Yessa has been very enthralled by practicing reading of late, but that’s a story for another post…
So, I’m going downstairs now, to see what they’ve been up to. The playdough is out, and stories are being told. The dining room table is covered with plastic bags from the fashion designing that went on yesterday. Markers and label maker are out. Monkey has rearranged the living room so that each child has a separate “private space” in which to withdraw when needed.
And me, I got to vaccum today, and maybe, for today, that’s enough.