At Asha’s request, I’ll tell you more about our child-led learning friends.
Our friends have 2 kids who are two years apart. They are currently 16 (Skye - girl) and 14 (Dax – boy). Dad used to be in real estate and car sales, and made a whole bunch of money many years ago. He does a little bit of random stuff on the side like buy some cars for cheap at auctions, fix them up, and sell them. Mom has an education background, and for the last 3-4 years has worked as the coordinator for the home-school program for the local public school district. Incidentally, she just got her job cut which she was upset about until she decided to take it as a “promotion” to be home with the kids/do what she would like to do – she’s thinking of starting her own school board.
They have consistently had one parent at home, and one parent working (they are not hard up for cash, but they don’t do many extras that lots of families do – both dad and mom come from large families). Since we’ve known them, Dad has been home, letting the kids do what they want. They are a free-spirit type family, very trusting and willing to let the kids try anything they want to do – with help from the parents.
Anyway, from very young, Mom and Dad decided that they would travel with the kids. They spent a year in New Zealand when the kids were 4 and 6. They travel quite a bit.
They went with Dad to Mexico and visited the Mayan Ruins (they found an amazingly cheap rate and since the kids weren’t in school and dad didn’t have a job, they went on a moment’s notice), both parents to Costa Rica for 2 months at Christmas and lived in a small town in the jungle – a place that the Dad’s high school exchange student owned. They just came back from spending 2 months on the road driving around the southern US.Basically they decided that they were not going to send their kids to school, unless the kids wanted to.
Skye, the older one, decided at about grade 6 that she wanted to go to the local “Caraway” program, which is a child-led learning initiative run by the local public school board. Mom got a job there. Skye went for grade 6. She went sometimes in grade 7. She took charge when the class was rowdy and the teacher said “Well, who wants to teach the class since you won’t listen to me?” and did a spectacular job. She decided in grade 9, that her math skills were terrible and that she needed to be better at math. She put together a home-school program and presented it to her parents. “I will do 1 hour of math every day. I will ask you for help if I need it. I am asking you to hold me accountable and not let me go play with friends, play games, etc… until I do my daily hour of math.” She went from a grade three to a grade 9 level in 6 months. She wanted a cell phone. Her parents said “sure, but you buy it and pay for it.” She babysat and worked hard for 4 months to have and pay for a cell phone before she decided that she would rather use the house phone and not have one.
The kids love movies, so dad bought a cheap digital video camera and video software, and they made movies about all their trips. Then they started making general movies with plots and family and friends as the characters. They have a great one about a homeless guy who lived in IKEA. Dax played “Bob” and they filmed his life for a day. Mom put on a uniform that was lying around, and they spent the day filming in the store. No staff asked any questions. Skye decided she wanted to know more about filming. She learned to google information on makeup and splicing. She and Dax rearranged, painted and decorrated their bedrooms so that they could make one room a classroom. She hired a college video instructor to give a course in their house, and got 6 students to split the cost. She made a profit, and Skye and Dax were able to take the course free.
Dax is a different kid altogether. He’s a natural showman, athletic, cute as a button, and a free spirit. He decided he would go to school in grade 3 – he went to this expensive but odd “Indigo” school where the kids could do whatever they wanted. It closed after a year. He decided to try the Caraway school his sister was at in grade 6, but only if he could wear a tux. He lasted for 2 months. Then he didn’t want to go anymore. At 11yo, he couldn’t read. He was doing grade 2 math. On the other hand, he knew the city transit system by heart, and understood money better than most adults (without math, go figure). At age 8 (1yr older than Skyler), he earned $40 for mowing lawns, and took Skyler out to breakfast at the local restaurant. We got a phonecall halfway through the morning from Skyler asking if we’d pick them up (we thought they were playing in the ravine by their house). We told them they could walk home if they could walk to the restaurant (it was bout 10 blocks away). Dax has started several businesses – lawn mowing, buying cars at auctions, etc… with his Dad, and can probably run a business better than most people since he’s done it so many times by the age of 12.
2 years ago, at 12, he decided he wanted to play hockey. His parents were worried because Hockey is expensive and Dax hadn’t stuck to a single thing for longer than a couple months. They made a deal with Dax that if he was going to do hockey, they would pay for it, but he had to organise how he would get there, and for every game he missed, he had to pay for it (equivalent of $30/game I think they figured). Dax didn’t miss a single game or practice. Not only that, he spent 4-5 hours a day on local ice rinks. He started as the worst player on the team, and had the 2nd highest number of points by the end of the season. By summer time, he moved up 2 levels. By the following year, he had improved so much, he was unrecognizable as the same player (picture a toddler crawling to ballet dancer). In the meantime, he has decided that he needs to read, so he taught himself how to read, and do math. He knows how to use Microsoft excel with the best of them. He just had try-outs for the local AAA hockey team, and likely he will make it. This is 2 years after he put on skates for the first time.
As to what the kids are like? They were the most responsible and pleasant 10 and 12 yo I think I’ve met in the past 5 years. You can have great conversations with them about so many topics that you wouldn’t expect them to know much about. They are simply great.
And I look at the kids in Skyler’s class and I wonder… Are Skye and Dax simply great kids and would have been as great as they are even if they had gone to school? Or are they wonderful people (because they are truly people not kids) because of the child-led and free-spirited way they were brought up?
I think it’s definitely a combination of both. I think that if their parents did as many activities with them outside of a regular school program, that they could be as thoughtful an innovative as they are now. However, since their school time has not been filled with plugging things into their brains (that they may not have been ready for), that they have been able to excel in areas that they have had interests in, far beyond what they would have been able to do is they were in a regular school.
And believing this, how can I do the best with my kids?