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November-December 2010 Selected Content

Homeschooling A Free Spirit - Agnes M. Penny

The finished product at last!
The other day I had the chance to reflect on how homeschooling can so easily adapt to the differences in our children. Like most mothers, I enjoy watching my children and noting the striking differences in each personality. Some of my children are very conscientious and self-motivated. Another child can best be described as a free spirit. Because we homeschool, I am able to gently guide that free spirit without clipping her wings.

It was a normal day at our house. My two oldest girls, Maria and Loretta, started to get out their lessons before breakfast so they could complete their mandatory work for the day as quickly as possible. They pushed their books aside for breakfast, but as soon as they had swallowed their last spoonfuls, they brought their dishes into the kitchen and dashed back to the dining room, where they read a loud We Were There At the Battle of Gettysburg together. My third child, Victoria, began washing dishes while I called my son, Athanasius, to the table to practice writing the alphabet with him. After working with him for a while, I looked up and was surprised to see Victoria working at the table, too. Usually, after washing breakfast dishes, she wanders off to her room, completely unnoticed, in an effort to skip her lessons for the day. Elusive as quicksilver, she always has a reason to be doing something other than whatever I've told her to do. Was she actually doing her lessons without being told today?

"Victoria," I asked in amazed gratification. "Are you doing lessons?"

"No," she answered casually. "I'm writing a book."

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. My first response was surprise. Somehow we simply don't expect seven-year-olds to tell us that they're writing books. Had she told me she was making paper dolls or drawing, I probably would have simply told her to stop and do her lessons first. But writing a book? Do I tell my daughter to stop writing a book so she can do her lessons?

Isn't this one of the reasons why we all homeschool? So our children can have the experiences of reading, writing, creating, communicating, building, and exploring, without having to put it all away so they can fill out some worksheets?

I closed my mouth and smiled. "What book are you writing, honey?"

"It's a sequel to The Little Princess," she confided.

"I can't wait to read it," I replied enthusiastically, and returned to my son's lessons.

Tomorrow, I thought, I will get her to do her lessons. She does need to learn the self-discipline of doing her lessons at the same time every day. But this little girl's free spirit needs to be trained, not crushed.

As it turned out, she never finished her sequel to The Little Princess - nor did she ever complete her contribution to the Little House on the Prairie series. So, a few months later, when she started a third book--a mystery based on the characters in our Clue (TM) board game--I was determined to provide the gentle structure and discipline that could best help her develop her interest and talent. I noticed that after writing the first few chapters, she hadn't picked up her story in a while, so one morning I told her, "Okay, instead of lessons today, I want you to write the next chapter in your book."

Write a mystery story about Miss Scarlett and Colonel Mustard instead of doing math and science and Spanish? She didn't need much persuasion.

However, the book still lagged, and I became concerned when she told me she intended to write 22 chapters--while I could tell her interest was waning after having written only two!

At last, I said, "Victoria, your first book doesn't need to be as long as a real book. You can start out by writing short stories and eventually work your way up to longer stories. In fact, I want you to spend your lesson time today and tomorrow finishing up your book."

At first she was appalled that she had to wind her story up so quickly, but quickly she quickly realized that a short mystery was better than an unfinished mystery, and she willingly set to work to finish "The Mystery of the Lost Jewel." She wrote two more chapters in two days, and thus was able to finish, for the first time, one of her literary efforts. My husband kindly took her story to Staples and had it bound, and now she has the pleasure and confidence of knowing that she completed something that she started--something that she enjoyed, something that meant a lot to her, something that she can proudly share with her others and keep forever. A little encouragement and structure was able to help her accomplish something that she never otherwise would have accomplished. Isn't this what education is all about?

My daughter doesn't need to sit at a desk all day. In fact, I can't imagine her sitting still for that long, never mind staying quiet! And she doesn't need piles of workbooks. She needs the freedom to express herself creatively, in writing, in drawing, and in singing, all of which she loves, with just a little bit of discipline to teach her order, neatness, and perseverance, without which all her forms of self-expression could never soar to their highest potential.

And that is one reason why I homeschool.

© 2010, Agnes M. Penny

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