I’m not sure why the number seven is considered lucky, but I do know that my seventh year of homeschooling my children has been truly enlightening. I always admired the mothers I have met along my homeschooling journey who knew that they would always homeschool and did so from the very beginning. That wasn’t me. I pulled my oldest out of private school after first grade. He was miserable there, and I knew there had to be another approach even if I didn’t know what it would be. Ignoring criticisms from his teachers, his father, and my parents, I connected with my maternal instinct and let him show me the way. Our approach was (and is) eclectic, nonconformist, and not like anything I have ever seen anywhere. We began with four main ingredients for our curriculum: music, art, books, and puzzles. While many ingredients have come and gone, we have never been without these four… in the kitchen, family room, bedrooms, car. For us, they have been akin to the four elements of life: our fire, water, air, and earth.
For many years, I filled my kitchen with an assortment of art supplies, and hung my kids’ art everywhere. We painted everything and everywhere, including using our glass-top kitchen table or windows as our canvas. I also surrounded my kids with floor to ceiling books (occasionally maxing out our library cards in multiple counties). I read to them while they ate, bathed, played, and as the fell asleep. While we painted, I usually played music with upbeat tempos, and while reading or doing puzzles we allowed soft classical tunes to fill the background. In between, we would turn up the volume and just let our bodies dance. I allowed the rhythms of their heart and soul to uncover the subjects that interested my children, and we would dig deeper into these subjects until a new love entered their hearts. My job, I soon discovered, was simply to get out of their way and allow them to come into their own being. And so the years passed, with one love giving way to another. Our four main ingredients continue to be a constant in our lives. We may have moved on from finger painting to pastels and colored chalk on sidewalk to charcoal on canvas, but nothing can replace the creativity that flows from making art. There are no rules, no tests, and no comparisons with others. Art and joy are synonymous… an exploration and exclamation of self – unbounded, unbridled, and unrestricted – flowing effortless.
Now, midway into our seventh year, I can see the fruits of this new pedagogy. Foremost, my children are happy – incredibly happy. The can find joy equally in mundane tasks as well as great adventures, and they delight in simply being. Do we have moments of dismay and frustration? Absolutely! Certain periods come to mind: learning to tie shoelaces, learning a new instrument, and learning the multiplication tables. It’s not that they are not confronted with challenges, but rather in how they overcome these frustrations that is most telling. They know how to access the part of themselves that delights in being, and they see the challenge as part of the process (like solving a puzzle). Then the frustration melts away rather than snowballing into other areas of their lives. They know they don’t have to see the whole picture or the end result because they are having fun in the process. All those years of playing with art taught them that the fun part was the process. While it’s nice to see the whole thing complete, they had little time for the art work on the wall because they were too busy creating their next masterpiece.
My children also know what they love and they are able to find resources to feed that love. My 13 year old loves computer science, and is largely self-taught. Friends are always asking him for computer assistance. This year, he was able to find a mentorship with someone from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, and he has a paying position providing tech support to someone whose business has a significant on-line component. My 9 year old is an athlete and people person, and can have you laughing until your sides ache and you can’t see straight.
The intricate web of cognitive and emotional synapses that evolved to allow my kids to become who they are may be too complex to disentangle into distinct and separate categories. However, our “from the inside out” pedagogical approach has been a rich and rewarding process. They can easily tap into themselves for inspiration, creativity, endurance, and confidence. They do not rely on an artificial grading system or a teacher’s approval to pursue knowledge – they pursue it for the fun of it. If schools could teach only one subject, what should that be? Math? Reading? Science? I would vote for art, not because the other subjects lack value, but because the other subjects are innately contained within art. It seems ironic that the art from antiquity is so highly valued today, while our own educational system does little to incorporate art into the school curriculum. Art is the essence of the “inside out” pedagogy.
My children have been inspired by a phenomenal art teacher that has been the light on their artistic path. Like a muse, she encourages them to find their own greatness. For me, my children have been my greatest teachers. From them, I’ve learned to tap into my own inner wisdom and find pure bliss.