by Parrish Mort, Cartersville
Originally published in the March-April 2008 VaHomeschoolers Newsletter.
I love homeschooling, and as an advocate and VaHomeschoolers Board Member, I promote it daily. I sing its praises and talk about instilling a life-long love of learning and developing motivated, free thinkers. And then I go home—where I fret and worry.
Where are my lovers of learning? Lying on the sofa staring into space, or worse, into the TV set. Where is that passion to know—more than what is for dinner? And I wonder where, oh where, is that self-motivation as I holler for history homework to be completed before class in the morning.
I know I am not alone in my fretting. I hear from my homeschool girlfriends that they have the same anxieties and moments of doubt. And I even sincerely hear it from the ones whose children look like they love learning, are inquiring, and are self-motivated.
So what saves me and other homeschool moms from our multi-weekly episodes of doubt?
Moments of grace.
Moments of grace are those times when our children step up and amaze us, when we see their true light and gifts shining, or when someone else points out their brilliance.
I often worry that my children may not have had enough structure to survive in the “real world” or that they lack the motivation to be successful. And almost without fail, at my lowest moments, they rise up and erase all doubts.
Lauren, my daughter, volunteers once a week at the Science Museum of Virginia as a Gallery Educator Assistant. She works in the labs with the rats, guinea pigs, snakes, frogs, and such. The rats are her favorite. They are not ordinary rats but talented basketball-playing rats.
When Lauren began at the museum, she wished to train the rats and present the rat basketball program to large crowds of museum visitors. To do so, she had to learn about operant and classical conditioning and about fancy rats. Most important though, was that she be able to articulate what she knew in a manner that all guests, regardless of age, could understand.
In a matter of only weeks, she was qualified, having learned the information and practiced her presentation. For most of the following year, every time she presented someone would ask her age. She was 11. Shocked, they would compliment her knowledge and presentation and ask where she went to school. “I’m homeschooled,” she would reply. And they would shake their heads, smile and give a knowing “oh.”
Now Lauren wants to be qualified to present the cow eye dissection, a more difficult area of study, and some might say, disgusting task, but a fascinating one to her. So she has studied the anatomy of the eye, learned interesting facts and dissected numerous times to perfect her technique. She will be tested on the material, reviewed on her presentation and asked random questions she might receive from museum guests. And she will pass with flying colors because she is motivated.
Free Thinking and Staring into Space
My children have always been free thinkers. In our home, everyone shares ideas and opinions, and everyone is challenged to find his or her own way. We have all learned that our ways are often different and that no one way is always right. Sometimes we have to be reminded though.
When my son was about seven, he built a Rube Goldberg invention for a science fair. A Rube Goldberg is a machine where one thing triggers a multitude of other chain reactions resulting in a final action. It is a great demonstration of simple machines and cause and effect.
Brandon’s invention began with a marble and resulted in an Elvis-impersonating skunk (Hunk a Skunk) clock radio being turned on and singing “Wake up Baby; If You Snooze You Lose.”
Brandon began the project by diving in and building. As far as my husband and I could see he had no plan or reasonable methodology. My husband, the computer guy, needs methodology and I, the organizer and list maker, need a plan. But not Brandon. As we tried to convince him he wasn’t ready to start, he repeated through controlled, clearly-annoyed breaths that he was ready to start. He knew what he was doing; he had it figured out. It was in his head. And he would get it done.
We left him alone, and I hate to admit it, we doubted him. He built and built, and the invention was so different in design and execution than what we imagined, we simply couldn’t imagine it. He worked at it using rolls of masking tape, a toy bathtub, scissors, a matchbox car, action figures, rolls from wrapping paper, string and a multitude of other items.
In the end, that one marble set off a chain reaction that triggered trap doors, led to ramps that catapulted action figures into knocking something over, that sent a car racing, that triggered more events, that eventually, at the other end of the living room, led to Hunk a Skunk singing. And it did sing. Brandon’s Rube Goldberg invention didn’t look like our design, but it worked beautifully. Not only that, but it was exciting to watch, a hit at the science fair, and inspired others to build their own. It was perfect.
A Love of Learning
On a recent trip cross-country with my parents, we visited a presidential library. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect at a presidential library, but my parents wanted to visit, so we tagged along. I figured we would wander through for maybe an hour, and then if my parents weren’t finished, we’d head back out to the RV to hang out.
Well, let me begin by saying I can’t speak for all presidential libraries, but this one was fantastic. It had an exact replica of the cabinet room with monitors where you could learn about all the cabinet positions, cabinet members, and some key issues during the presidency. There was a replica of the oval office, a display of gifts received from various foreign leaders, an exhibit on the vice president and a display on family life in the White House. There was a historical time line of the presidency that included video, pictures and wonderful narrative. There was even a video of the president and his family spoofing themselves.
All of this was fascinating to me, but what about to a 12- and 16-year-old? I had my answer when we left four and half hours later, during which no one had ever asked if we could go. Both kids spent hours in the timeline, reading all the displays, watching all the videos, listening to the headset stories and asking me further questions. They asked me about NAFTA and model schools and commented on economic principles and the Genome Project, as well as other topics we had previously studied. They amazed me. They were lovers of learning and had a need to know—more than what was for dinner.
Someone Else’s Eyes
Recently, my children and I attended a volunteer holiday party at the Science Museum. Staff and senior volunteers were all telling me how great my children were—mature, outgoing, responsible. These words are always wonderful to hear, but the best words came from a volunteer who was filled with questions and doubts about our homeschooling.
Bob (not his real name) had been chatting with my son, Brandon for some time. When I approached, he asked me whether I thought I could have homeschooled Brandon had he not been so smart, say, if he had learning difficulties. Brandon and I smiled at each other before sharing that he did have disabilities, that he is dyslexic and highly dysgraphic. Bob didn’t seem to believe us, and said he meant if he really had challenges. Again we smiled.
Then Bob commented on what a strong communicator and confident young man Brandon was, and how that must have made it easier to homeschool. Smiling once more, we explained that we believed homeschooling is the reason he is so comfortable. We explained that Brandon has spent his life sharing, learning, and conversing with people of all ages, that he has been able to learn in ways that best suit him, and this has afforded him an ease with people, conversation and himself. Bob was still skeptical but ended our conversation with, “Well, whatever the reason, he is going to do well in life, that’s for sure.” A true moment of grace.
I realize that moments of doubt occur not because we homeschool, but because we love and care so deeply for our children. These moments would occur regardless of the educational path we have chosen. We will always question, wonder, and worry because as parents, it’s our job.
When I reflect on the moments of grace, I realize that I really do understand that kids who are staring into space may really be analyzing or pondering. I know that my kids’ motivation is there when it really counts. I remember that passion, caring, communication and free thinking are important characteristics of successful, compassionate people, and that such people contribute to society in interesting and valuable ways.
And then I know homeschooling is working for our family.
About the Author
Parrish Mort has homeschooled her two children for eleven years and has moments of doubt almost daily. But never has a day passed where she isn’t proud of her children and proud to say they are homeschooled. Parrish is also the President of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.
Originally published in the March-April 2008 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
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