I am an educator.
I have been an educator in one way or another for as long as I can remember. My first ‘real’ job was working as a 911 operator and dispatcher. I became a training officer fairly quickly, and trained new employees almost nonstop. After 8 years I decided to leave in favor of dedicating myself to my true passion, the education and care of children. In addition to finding employment in the field, I went back to college and completed a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Outside of school I’ve done extensive reading on child development and critically analyzed hundreds of studies that look into various aspects of education, child development and parenting.
I’ve worked as a nanny, I’ve worked in preschool settings, I’ve done volunteer work. I’ve worked directly with hundreds of children, of all ages. I’ve worked with a children with a range of special needs, from developmental delays to physical disabilities to mental health issues and serious behavior problems. I’ve talked to many parents about their experiences, their concerns and their struggles.
And now I’m a mom.
Although my daughter is currently only 3, her education has been a point of some discussion between my husband and I. Weighing the pros and cons of the three major options – public school, private school or homeschool – we’ve pretty solidly decided on homeschooling, specifically, unschooling.
The question ultimately came down to this: who is best qualified to decide and direct my daughter’s education? Who is the most familiar with her needs, developmental level and capabilities? Who is in the best position to monitor her basic needs like hunger and fatigue, and her more complex needs like community and self-expression?
Me, right? Surely me. I’m her mom. I have extensive training and experience in this exact field. Obviously it’s me.
Hahahahaha that would be nice. But no, it’s not me. I must yield to a far more suitable candidate – my kid. My experience and training has led me to the deep belief that children are far better suited for understanding their own needs than we adults ever will be. I’ve written hundreds of lesson plans, planned hundreds upon hundreds of activities. And they are never, ever as clever, educational or engaging as the stuff the kids come up with on their own, completely spontaneously.
So, I’m following Cat into the world of unschooling. And if I lean a bit on her self assured confidence, I hope she doesn’t blame me much. This is a strange world to me, where learning happens without lectures, curriculums, or assessments. No worksheets in sight (unless she wants them). Absolutely no homework. Schedules and routines picked up and put down, tools to be used if and when necessary. Lessons and classes are available, but voluntary. Always voluntary. Punishment and reward systems gone completely, replaced with a gentle needs-based boundary system.
I’m an educator, still, but my role has changed. I observe and document. I ask questions and provide just enough boundaries and structure to ensure the physical and emotional safety for Cat and those around her. I facilitate and assist. I provide resources and materials. When necessary, I provide suggestions and guidance. And when necessary, I guard Cat and her learning-rich playtime from those who would want to intervene. Because I know that according to the common belief of many in our society, I am doing this all wrong.
But this is Cat’s show. I’m getting popcorn.