Homeschooling Beyond Your Comfort Zone
I. Can't. Draw.
I can't paint. I can't sculpt or sketch or work a pottery wheel. I don't know how to etch, make puppets or blow glass. And if those last few things sound like I might be complaining about my lack of ability in very specific skill sets, rest assured in knowing that even my doodles are awful.
I know what you're thinking, "Shanan! You said 'can't never could!'" And you're right. The power of positive thinking is usually really effective, but for the purposes of this post I need you to understand something: I am REALLY bad at all things art.
I hated art class as a kid. Every third day in elementary school was art day and I dreaded it-avoided it even. I asked my mom to schedule all of my doctor appointments on art days. If a teacher needed help working on something, I'd volunteer to stay behind instead of going off to art class. Sudden tummy ache? Need extra time working on an assignment? Never on music or PE days, saved exclusively for the avoidance of art class.
Most young kids believe they're good at everything. They show off their work with pride, but me? I knew. I could see the work the other kids in my class were putting out and try as I could I couldn't make my pencil, paintbrush or pottery project turn out anything like what I envisioned in my head.
Fast forward a few decades and I'm reviewing all of the things the boys and I have done over the last year and I realize there is a gaping hole. Huge. Crater-like. I had been avoiding doing anything artistic with the boys. Subjects that interested me, activities I enjoyed moderate to significant success in, were being hit left and right. Music lessons, science experiments, enrollment in sports, library and museum visits, math games, hiking and biking- that stuff was all so easy to approach. Sure we had paint and crayons and markers, but when it came to actually exploring art as a subject, I gave myself the only grade I've handed out all year-a big fat F.
So, I set out to challenge myself. The month of June would be my chance to devote 30 days to art, artwork and artists. I wanted to remind myself and my boys that art is important and I wanted to step outside my comfort zone. I planned craft projects, mixed art with science and researched different activities we could participate in around town. I also made sure that some activities were more organic, allowing for days where we would just sit down and draw or color more or less unprompted.
In general, the month went well, with both boys approaching our activities enthusiastically. I tried really hard to mask my insecurities about my abilities when modeling or demonstrating things for them. One of the first activities we did was sit down to draw and well, like I said before...
Over the course of the 30 days it became quite clear that Isaac had the for patience and interest in painting and drawing while Max tends to be more like me, easily frustrated with a lack of immediate perfection. Probably the most valuable moment for me came just three days into our month-long study when while staring at a blank ceramic candle holder I had the following exchange with Max:
Max: Mom, why haven't you started painting yet?
Me: I'm trying to figure out how I want it to look.
Max: What do you mean?
Me: I'm not sure how I want to paint it.
Max: Just paint.
Just paint. Just do something because it really doesn't matter what. The boys didn't care what my skill level was. They were just happy to be sharing the experience together.
I have often spoken with parents that are hesitant to homeschool their children because they feel they have limited knowledge in subjects like math and science. As with anything, operating beyond your abilities can be intimidating. Heap on the pressure of the responsibility of not screwing up your child and the anxiety is likely to sky-rocket. However, it is important to remember one of the key factors that makes homeschooling so unique: taking advantage of the opportunity to learn along WITH your children. In order to feed Isaac's interests, and those of Max's that I may not have a working knowledge of, I will have to look beyond my current skillset, not only doing research on my own, but also asking questions of those more knowledgable and finding programs and activities they can participate in with more experienced instructors taking the lead.
It's also important to remember that you don't have to be a subject matter expert to homeschool your child. Having the name and preferred medium of every influential artist of the 20th century committed to memory before attempting a Pinterest project with your seven-year-old is no more useful than an understanding of the quadratic equation when teaching that same child how to add double digit numbers. As a music teacher, I considered myself a teacher of many subjects. My students had to have a good understanding of fractions in order to understand musical notation. A piece of music with text by a well-known poet might send us down a rabbit hole discussion about history or language. Singing songs in foreign languages provided the opportunity to discuss different cultures. I didn't study math or literature or cultural arts in college. I graduated with a degree in music education, but that doesn't mean that music was the only subject area I was "allowed" to teach my students.
Similarly, our jobs as parents are not limited to reminders about saying please and thank you. Even for non-homeschooling families so much learning can-and should-occur in the home. Parents shouldn't shy away from creating their own "lessons" on history or science or math or politics. When you do get stuck, ask questions. The information is out there and it's totally okay for you to discover it at the same time as your child. It is also okay to discover that your child has an interest or even an ability that may one day surpass yours in various subjects. After all, isn't that what we want for our children-for them to grow to be better and wiser than we are?