June Mendez is a homeschooling mom to 3 children. She is an English language teacher and trainer. She lives in Lonavala with her family. Her story is particularly interesting as she is not living in cities like Mumbai or Pune where we have more resources and support of other homeschooling families. Below is the transcript of what June shared at the Swashikshan launch event.
It is exactly a year that we have been homeschooling and looking back on the year that was, I can confidently say that it was the right decision and one that we should have taken a long time ago.
Although the idea to homeschool the children was suggested to me by my husband even before our eldest daughter began school, it was met by stiff opposition from me. He had told me that school would be a deterrent to her progress given the fact that there were about 60 children in her class back then. He encouraged me to think of another alternative, to think of something other than school but for me there was no alternative!
I was determined that she went to school. My thoughts – What will happen to her future? How will she get by without a school certificate? What would happen to me? I’d be trapped at home!
Besides, I had been in a boarding school all my life and had loved every moment spent in school so I couldn’t imagine denying my child those memories. The bigger stumbling block for me was the fact that I would have to shoulder much of the responsibility which I didn’t think I was well equipped to do at the time. So to my husband’s great disappointment the children went to school.
The children enjoyed being at school as things were good at the beginning. However, as the children went higher up the ladder things began to change. The school which had promised so much started morphing into just another school. I couldn’t really blame the school or the teachers, it was the system. A system which had very little space for creativity or flexibility!
It didn’t take long for the children to start getting caught up in that system – the drive to excel; to get the top grade; to ‘mug up’ things without really understanding and to be ahead of the rest at the cost of losing oneself is what was happening to them. They were slowly losing their individuality and the desire to explore things for themselves. Everything was done because they had to do it not because they enjoyed it. That is when the wheels in my head started whirring and directing me to look for an alternative.
The children did not complain about school perhaps because there was no option. They stood out among their peers in many ways in the classroom and outside. They had plenty of friends, didn’t struggle with academics and generally enjoyed their time at school. The biggest hitch for us – they spent so much time in school and at home doing school work, that they didn’t have enough time for themselves, to enjoy things they were passionate about and discover new passions. There was absolutely no time to pursue other interests or even do things they enjoyed like painting, music, reading or just playing.
I watched this for a while, hesitant to opt out, knowing that it wouldn’t be a small step but knew deep down that I had to take a call sometime soon. I thought over it long and hard and finally discussed it with Allan who was quite sceptical about the whole thing, wondering if I was acting on impulse! He deliberately threw a lot of negative opinions my way to see if it would deter me but I had made up my mind.
Although I had made up my mind, it wasn’t an easy decision weighing up the alternatives. I had a teaching job that I loved and way of life that I was quite content with. I knew that I would have to quit my job if I was going to do things right and it wasn’t something I was too happy about. Had it been one child I probably could have continued working since I was a part time teacher but for three of them it wouldn’t be possible.
I spoke to the children about our decision and asked their opinion. There were mixed reactions although they welcomed the idea, they were worried about losing their friends. I reassured them on that front, knowing that they would make new friends and still have the old ones since we live in a fairly small town. I also told them that we would try it out for a year and if they felt like it wasn’t going well they had the option of going back to school.
So I quit my job and walked out into the unknown knowing that it would be an interesting journey hand in hand with my three!
And it has been an interesting journey. We have learned so much in the year that has gone by that we’ve all grown in more ways than one. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing and neither has it been a ‘dream run’ but it has taught us well…..it has not only taught us better parenting skills but also taught us to be better individuals.
The year taught me to slow down and take time to listen. At the very start I was so consumed with wanting to do things right that I almost ended up doing everything wrong by devising my own system! I had timetables and schedules for everything – a well-planned syllabus that I had to complete and it was only when my husband made me realise that I was running a parallel school at home that I woke up. Although the children were learning much more than what they had done at school, they didn’t have the freedom to explore and do things differently. If I was only going to follow text books where was the hands-on learning? I guess I needed that wake up call to really get ourselves on track.
Things changed from then. The first thing we got the children to do was to make a list of things that they wanted to learn and do through the year, things that were within our reach. The children took a week to come up with three very different lists which weren’t imaginary or unachievable but we needed to work out the logistics. We live in a town which is devoid of many facilities for growing children so we had to make the best use of what we had.
We took a break from academics for a while and focused on real learning, playing and just being. The children enjoyed that phase for a while but soon got tired of that. They’ve been in a structured environment for so long (at school) that they’ve become conditioned to structure. They admit that they prefer being given a task or something to research rather than being left to do things for themselves.
So we have got back to a more structured routine. Much more relaxed than what I had initially devised though. I think there’s an equal balance of homeschooling and unschooling in our routine. When Allan is at work (every alternate month) I follow a fairly fixed routine to cover some part of the curriculum since the children will be appearing for the IGCSE when they’re ready, but when Allan is back home it’s more relaxed.
The children also do Yoga every morning; continue to do Taekwondo and music which they have been learning for some time and play football or cricket with the neighbourhood kids in the evenings.
I believe we have had a year of divine intervention too. Things have fallen into place so smoothly with everything we set out to do that there can be no other explanation for it. I have been given the entire set of text books by a friend and also by the parent of one my tenth grade students who called me up out of the blue and asked if I would take her books since she didn’t want to throw them out!
Friends have also begun to teach the children Spanish and Art which was on their list of things to do.
When the children were in school they were often on stage and have confessed to missing out on that sometimes, so I have begun to look for avenues to fill this lacuna too. Keeping this in mind, I recently conducted a summer camp for little children and gave my three a free hand to run it. Zeus took over the origami and craft, while C’estlavie helped with painting and drawing and Tenzin took over the drama!
Over the past few months they have also been encouraged to play the keyboard and guitar in church on Sundays, which has given an additional boost to their confidence.
As for friends they have made so many new friends in the neighbourhood and in church that the fear of not having any friends has been laid to rest! Their friends from school come over too whenever they are free.
I am beginning to see a perceptible change in all three of my children. Their individual personalities are now coming to the fore and there is a new found confidence in all of them which comes with the freedom of just being. I recently asked them if they wanted to go back to school and this time the reactions were unanimous – a resounding NO!
I now look back at my initial hesitation with a wistful sigh knowing that everything has its own time. If I had jumped into homeschooling so many years ago I don’t think I would have been this satisfied. To take such a big decision regarding your child one has to be comfortable and at peace with the decision for it to work. When that happens everything just falls into place like it has for us!
I know the rest of the journey for us is going to be even more interesting than the beginning. I look forward to it!