M any of us are familiar with the term “laissez-faire economics.” What does “laissez-faire” mean? From the French, it literally means, “let do,” or by implication, let it be. Leave it alone.
In the fall of 2005, I officially began my homeschool career. As I unpacked my first box of curriculum, my peers were packing their children off to their first days of pre-school and Kindergarten.
I couldn’t help wondering if I was denying my son, and even myself, some momentous life mile marker, a rite of passage that every mother dreads, yet looks forward to.
It started out easily enough, if a bit anti-climactic. Of course, there were no breathless accounts of first days at school, no teacher descriptions, no new friend making. I felt dedicated to the idea of homeschooling, but not fully convinced.
So, what does it take to convince you that homeschooling works? Time.
My two children have never been to school. We live in a society where school is the center of all that is. If you are not a part of this society, you are “out on the fringe,” or worse yet, “passing judgment on the rest of us.” Most people are just curious, or incredulous.
They often wonder how I make my children do their work. They ask if I am a teacher by trade.
When I answer “no,” they look dubious. An un-trained teacher turned loose on her own children is a scary thing. After all, how will they learn? Or better yet, how will they be socialized? It’s easy to argue that homeschooled children do well academically, but the social sacrifice is hardly worth it. So I’ve heard.
For three years, I dutifully researched and ordered curriculum which covered all of the subjects taught in most schools, whether public or private. I struggled with my own self-doubt and homeschool demons.
I questioned whether or not I was “doing the right thing.” I noticed my oldest did not have the passion for learning that I hoped he would have. What was I doing wrong, what could I do better?
Laissez-Faire. Let it be. As frightening as it was, I decided to get out of the way. Instead of the carved up daily lessons on Math, Reading, Vocabulary, Spelling, Social Studies, we took a more holistic view of learning. Instead of learning bits of trivia, we concentrated on Math, Reading, and Writing. They used to call it the 3 R’s. Once a third or fourth grader has command of the basics, then the really cool stuff can start to happen. I was skeptical at first, but slowly a passionate learner emerged.
One day last fall, my ten year old at the time, decided he would spend eight hours straight learning how to make different origami, with no intervention or help. He spent an entire summer learning difficult card tricks. The other day, he decided learning the Greek Alphabet might be a good thing to do. He went through a solar system phase, which prompted him to check out every book on the subject in three different libraries. He can tell you the names of Jupiter’s moons.
I never suggested to him that he “learn” any of these things. He figured out on his own what he wanted to learn. Children are innately curious. Forcing them to learn at certain times of the year during certain hours desensitizes them to the idea that learning is organic and occurring at all times.
We crave free time as adults, yet deny our children the time to develop the skills necessary to manage free time, or simply be children…by imagining, by creating, by playing, by wondering. Where will the next generation of innovators come from?
Over the last six years, I have often chafed at the term “homeschooling.” I understand how the term came about, after all, we are “schooling at home.” It is so much more than that. As a matter of fact, I have started to reject the idea of “schooling” altogether. I’m not sure it adequately describes this journey we are on.
Therefore I submit “laissez-faire learning.” Get out of the way. Let it be, leave them alone. Watch what happens.
Photo by Mrs. Benjamin F. Russell. Children in medieval costume. Circa 1910. (George Eastman House Collection)