When I first began homeschooling in the fall of 2010, it was at the request of my eager 3-year-old. Sophia didn't just want to learn to read. She wanted "reading lessons," and so I called up one of my seasoned homeschooling friends and asked her how on earth I should fulfill such a request.
At the time, it seemed daunting.
In reality, it was simple.
Fifteen minutes a day was enough to appease Sophia, and by the age of four, she was reading independently from books she'd never seen before. I knew then that she was what one might term an "early reader," but that seemed natural to me. According to my mom, I also started reading at the age of three. Like mother, like daughter.
It was relaxed, fun, easy. And just like that, I was homeschooling.
We kept it up the following year, adding some "math lessons" to our repertoire as well as poetry memorization and Old Testament bible stories. Why pay for preschool, I figured, when we were doing fine on our own? This home-education thing was working, and we were both having so much fun!
But as the age of five began to loom, I started wondering if what we were doing was "enough."
Sure, Sophia was already ahead in reading, but she wasn't overly fond of math, and despite developing fine motor skills early, she had no writing ability to speak of. She loathed coloring in lines and preferred to create her own artistic borders.
Did she need more structure? Was I doing something wrong?
Looking back, it seems silly.
She was only four! But already, I was feeling the pressure.
The comparisons that began when she was still an infant ("Oh, is yours not eating solid foods yet?" "My son was sitting up a month ago--have you spoken to her pediatrician?") took on a new, intimidating weight. This wasn't about mashed bananas and Bumbo seats anymore. This was education--my daughter's future!! And even though, cerebrally, I told myself I didn't buy into the cultural assertion that "college is everything," I'd been fed the line enough in my own upbringing that I was already becoming a slave to the expectation and all that comes with it.
So in the fall of 2012, I launched my daughter into kindergarten with everything I had. Structure, syllabi, a neatly plotted schedule. I don't think I have to paint you the whole picture. Suffice it to say, I'm as Type A as I appear on this blog and then some.
But, as time wore on, and I weathered the ebb and flow of ramp-up and burn-out, I began to realize something: Children learn best when they want to learn.
When Sophia first asked for those "reading lessons" at three years old, she threw herself into it as wholeheartedly as her overly ambitious mother. But there were seasons (usually only a day or two), which she put up every wall and every resistance against this thing she had wanted so much a short time before. Dismayed and fearful (Of what? That she'd wind up a high school drop-out because we played My Little Ponies instead of reading one weekday when she was three?), I pushed her.
Try pushing a three year old to sit down and focus when her mind is elsewhere. I dare you.
Try it with a five-year-old. It just gets more humorous (and ridiculous) with age!
Don't get me wrong. There is a time and place to do things none of us like. My children don't get out of chores unless they are sick enough to stay in bed. They don't get to short-order meals or choose what time we get up for Mass on Sundays.
Then again, there is a also season to chill out. Relax. Let it go.
Someday, she will have to write an essay on a topic that doesn't set her heart racing. Or at least, not in a good way. She'll have to memorize dates and multiplication tables, and no matter how "fun" I try to make those things, there will be days when they just...aren't. Someday, I'll have to push her to study. But thankfully, that day is still a ways off.
Hopefully by then, I'll have given her enough of a real-life grounding in self-discipline, through household responsibilities, religious observance, character building, and personal example that she will understand the value of sticking it out when things turn blah.
But for now, if subtraction causes tears to well up in those sweet, blue eyes, I can take a deep breath and remember that she's a child, not a performer on Survivor: Homeschoolers' Edition.
"Relax," I can say, as much to her as to myself. "Let's get some air. Kick back."
Wait for that hunger for learning to resurface. It always does. And when it does, it makes those conquests of the mind so much sweeter than if I'd tried to push back.
For now, I don't need to worry about test performance or college transcripts. Those days will have enough worries of their own. For now, she's young, and these days are precious and fleet. I can relax, trust to her natural curiosity, and take a day off when she needs it.
As we used to say when I was still in school, "No worries."