There have been some good posts about what a good learning day looks like on some of the blogs I read (and some I don’t read regularly). Karen has collected them here. I got there via Willa’s comment in Lissa’s entry, which I went to from one of Willa’s posts … Very convoluted but glad I made it. These posts are very interesting and there are lots of things to ponder in all of them.
However, as I read, I began to wonder if there wasn’t something underlying the initial question — “What do you consider a good day of learning?” — that we should question a bit more. Is there a sense in the question that every day should be a good learning day? Or even that it is only a good day if lots of learning happened?
While I recognize that learning is always happening in one way or another, I am also bothered by a sense that it is only the learning that is valued in our children’s lives. Or maybe that the learning is valued over other things. This has bothered me for a long time in respect of “educational toys”. Lots of them are fun, but shouldn’t kids get toys regardless of the educational value?
So this tendency to overvalue the learning aspects of children’s lives is in no way a criticism of homeschooling parents (much less these homeschoolingn parents) because it is pretty clear that this view is pervasive in our culture (both in North America and in Europe, and probably Australia and New Zealand but I couldn’t say for others). And it would be odd if we didn’t get caught up in it, but I think we need to question it, nevertheless, and consider whether we want to accept this view or whether we want to consciously try to subvert its dominance in our lives.
I also wonder whether as homeschoolers, we feel some pressure to identify all the learning that happens and claim it for part of the homeschooling process. I suspect those who follow a more structured curriculum don’t feel the pressure to do this but those of us who are more unstructured (including unschoolers but also those who feel uncomfortable with the unschool lable but are not very structured, as many of those linked in Karen’s collection seem to be) may feel that we need to identify the learning in an activity to demonstrate that the unstructured approach does lead to this culturally desirable outcome.
When Tigger was small (and even sometimes now), I would often claim that I was a “bad mother”. Sometimes people would (unnecessarily) reassure me that I wasn’t. My claim was not a sign of lack of confidence in my ability but, rather, a statement that my approach went against the cultural grain of “good mothering”.
I guess, for me, part of the reason I homeschool is that I don’t wholely accept the basic premises of school. I don’t accept that there is a certain body of knowledge that all children need to learn. I certainly don’t accept that parts of the knowledge must be aquired by certain ages or in a certain order. I don’t accept that reading, writing, and arithmetic are more important than history, music, art, physical activity, etc. I don’t accept that the knowledge and skills a child possesses can be solely attributed to the quality of the teaching (or parenting) nor that the faults a child possesses can be blamed on the quality of the teaching (or parenting). Life is just more complex than those views allow. And they do more harm than good in the school setting so I have no desire to import them into my home setting.
To return to the original topic, I do recognize good days. But not all of those days are good learning days. Some good days are good because Tigger learns a lot. Some good days are good for other reasons.
My response to the original question might challenge the terms of the question and address the “elephant in the room” which is a certain amount of understandable anxiety that homeschooling ignites. I might say, not every day will be a good learning day. But that’s okay. Observe your children. Approach the task of parenting, schooling, and just being in relationship with them in a thoughtful and loving way. Trust yourself to do the best you can. And forgive yourself when you make mistakes. And maybe that is what some of the other contributors to this discussion meant when they said that they know one when they see one.