To reign them in, or to let them soar?

It’s the end of the year and parents are frantically searching for answers to the big question: “Which school are you sending your child to?” Be it kindergarten or Primary 1, learning center or homeschool, public school or private, it is a terribly stressful time for parents trying to decide which one is the best choice.

Here’s my take on this: Do not be pressured to make a decision – even if your child has reached school-going age. The important things to consider for school are:

Is your child ready for the daily grind of schooling? This involves getting up early (before the sun is up), putting on uniforms, lugging a heavy bag that weighs more than their body weight, joining the daily morning rush hour jam, attending up to 6 different subject classes together with 30-40 other same-aged kids, precisely timed by the screaming school bell? And cutting out all previous pleasurable activities to make time for homework, studying and exams.

If the answers are yes to all of the above, your child is ready for school. Probably. Good luck! Just make sure YOU are ready for it too – ready to surrender your child to the institution that takes orders from “above” irregardless of whether they are helpful or detrimental to the students; your time will not be at your command but the school’s; your holidays will now be programmed according to those set by the “above”; your child will no longer be wholly yours because you have no say in what and how she learns……

Ok, if that sounds scary, you can defer your decision to a little later, (yes, you can do that as a parent to your child who knows and understands him or her best) and consider, perhaps, the option of doing it your own. The important things to consider for homeschooling/unschooling/self-directed learning, or whatever you wish to call it, are:

Does your child enjoy spending time at home? Is your child ready for self-initiated, self-directed and self-organized learning? Will your child play computer games the whole day? Will your child be poorly socialized without any friends? How are YOU the parent/teacher going to teach your child? Can you do with a packaged curriculum? Can you do without one? Can you cope with the fact that you will be spending practically 24 hours everyday of every year with your child and having to manage EVERYTHING from daily meals to lesson plans and field trips and co-op activities etcetera? If you are confident of doing it all and surviving them, then congrats, you can be assured of the non-existing award of a successful homeschool parent at the end of your homeschooling journey (which can span a couple of years or a couple of decades!). If you are terrified by the notion of teaching your own, yet would like try to give it a shot, then by all means, give it a go! Never try, never know. You will not be alone as the number of homeschoolers in the country is on a rapid rise. You have nothing to lose. Just lots of life experiences to be gained, and your family that you have now reclaimed from the institution called school.

Whatever choice you make, you can make it work as long as your child is motivated to learn and that motivation comes from seeing the relevance of what he or she is learning and enjoying the long process of knowledge acquirement and skills-building. How? By exploring living and learning together. Not everything will be great, but life is like that, isn’t it? You get chocolates some days, and some days you get worms. Or nothing. But there is always something to be learned, even in nothingness. Or shall I say, because of nothingness.

“I understand some people get worried about kids who spend a lot of time all alone, by themselves. I do a little worrying about that, but I worry about something else even more; about kids who don’t know how to spend any time all alone, by themselves. It’s something you’re going to be doing a whole lot of, no matter what, for the rest of your lives. And I think it’s a good thing to do; you get to know yourself, and I think that’s the most important thing in the whole world.” – Robert Paul Smith, author of How to Do Nothing With Nobody All By Yourself.

It is all in the mind. How we think will effect the outcome.

If you think homeschooling or unschooling is too difficult, too unpredictable and too ambiguous, you are probably right. The truth is, it is as difficult as you make it out to be.

Here’s a sample of a once reluctant unschooler, who enjoyed a brief stint at school and loved it, but chose to go back to unschooling because the other option of exam-oriented schooling is less appealing than doing what she liked doing – which was exploring song-writing in her tiny room – and subsequently, after spending her high school years making music in her room, she has an album to show as her graduation trophy. You can follow her journey on and either be totally shocked that this can actually be done in this country, or be totally inspired!

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