Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Caution: Artist at Work

Our home has been overtaken by an unsavoury lot of characters.
Pirates and their treasure chests.

This boy of mine is into drawing, creating booby traps with yarn and masking tape, taking old appliances apart to create inventions, and dancing to "I Like to Move It". I've been struggling lately with the notion that in September he'll start going to school full-time. Struggling for lots of reasons: it's the first time he'll spend more time with people other than family members. Although he is considerate, funny, and gentle, he often plays alone in the schoolyard. He often needs reminders to "focus" and "pay attention".

Dragons full of the people they've devoured.

Many-limbed aliens from another planet.

This boy's head is right where it should be: in the clouds (not to mention on pirate ships, in underground caves and outer space, and inside robots). He is the proverbial square peg. I suspect many children, little boys in particular, are square pegs when it comes to the school system. I've seen him focus and pay attention for hours to his drawings and inventions. I've seen him reading and writing when it is meaningful for him. I've seen him absorbing math concepts, making connections between stories we've read and experiences he's had, and reading between the lines.

Robots that shoot arrows and wash dishes.

...and more robots.

I'm presently reading Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.You know when you read something that articulates what you knew all along in your gut? This is one of those books. My struggle lies within the fear that the confines of a classroom will not allow for this little boy's mind to reach the distant places to which it naturally longs to travel. There's a conflict between my intuitive desire to keep my boy home to learn at his own pace, and the fact that my income as a school teacher allows us to live on our little farm (not to mention the fact that I love my job). I struggle with what I see as the school system's unintentional (?) habit of creating tiny cogs to fit into the giant wheel of and pee on schedule, play outside only at specified times, learn what everyone else is learning whether it interests you or not.

Plans for snowball attacks a la Calvin and Hobbes.

Daddy and Jude on the toboggan, on their way to ATTACK!

I don't believe that school is all bad, or that it isn't suitable for any child. But it certainly isn't ideal for every child, and therein lies my struggle. Although I have been a teacher in "the system" for the past 14 years, I feel concerned that it isn't right for my child. I want him to tap every bit of creativity that exists in his growing mind and heart, without the interference of what he is "supposed" to learn in Grade One (or Two or Three...)

And my favourite: a geriatric robot with his cane.

I've had extreme fantasies of selling all we own so that we can live more cheaply in order for me to homeschool or unschool our children. In my more rational moments, I remember my parenting mantra: 

faith and patience.

I am choosing to have faith that if school does not suit our boy, we will find alternatives. If that means I eventually work full time so my husband can stay home to build pirate ships and draw maps with him, that is what will happen. Or maybe by then his interest will lie in gardening or astronomy or music. I sometimes wonder what I might have become if I'd been encouraged to seriously pursue my passions for writing, textiles, painting, and music rather than perceiving them as "hobbies" secondary to my school studies.

I want to find out what might happen to my child if we encourage him to pursue his passions, wherever they may take him.


  1. Faith and patience ~ wise words to live by. Your mama instincts are strong and your connection to him so deep, I have no doubt you will be highly in tune with what is best for him. xo S.

  2. That is why we are keeping Ella home. I worry about school stifling her beautiful spirit. I only wish we had more babies so she wouldn't be alone. But that's why we have skating and dance, and maybe Brownies when she's old enough.

  3. Are there any alternative schools in your area? Maybe you should start one! :o)

  4. reading your post reminds me so much of my son. I love those drawings!!! Especially the robots! You can see the story behind each one. Nothing makes me happier seeing my son drawing for hours or reading, even if it is way past his bedtime, and laughing out loud at his comic book!

  5. I so totally agree with you Stephanie.
    I wish I had been able to home school my girls but the System totally discouraged that concept when they were vulnerable little minds.
    My daughter would like to pull my grandson from the system that is totally failing him. He has a form of ADHD and the school is just pushing him into the corner. She was an educator who left the system when she fell ill with cancer. Now she has just lost her momentum and feels that the little guy has been in the system for too long and won't be able to get into the swing of home schooling because he has been so indoctrinated to the structure of it all. What a vicious circle.
    I hope you are able to make the right decision for your children.

  6. I have many of the same worries for my own son. He's a dreamer with 'pretend friends' who talk to him all day long. He loves to stop whatever he's doing for long 'thinking breaks', and he's often the loner in a group of kids. A rigid schedule of learning seems so contrary to how he currently absorbs information. Like you, we'll see how he does, and work from there, although the options are difficult. We can't afford a more child-oriented private education, and, painful as it is to admit, I don't think I could teach him according to a specific curriculum.

  7. PS. If you have a spare dishwashing robot, I'm completely willing to overlook any arrow infractions...

  8. What wonderful and creative drawings! I love seeing the amazing things that little people's minds can come up with sometimes.

    I too wonder what I would have become if I had been encouraged in my passions of art and music while young. Certainly, public school doesn't do much to encourage these sorts of things--academics comes first in the upper grades. I worked hard in highschool and got good grades, but if I would have been left to my own devices I probably would have practiced my piano for 6 hours a day!

    Laura Jeanne

  9. Yes, yes and yes.
    I haven't heard of that book....I will be searching it out.

  10. Such lovely pictures accompanying a mama's heavy soul. We struggle with many of the same things around here..... faith & patience are certainly the ticket.....

  11. I think you're touching the hearts of many with this post. Conforming to school seems tragic when the imaginations of so many little people seem a million times larger than the system can allow for, it will for sure be a challenge to help him thrive in the school years to come. I am facing these same fears with my son who is presently feeling his way through the first grade system and I am no closer to any right answers. Take care. The fact that you are a concerned mom seems to me that you're already more than half way there to ensuring that things turn out just fine.

  12. ...and he's an amazing artist...LOVE his work!

  13. We have drawings like this littered all over the floor at the end of each day!

    Even though there are folks we know who laugh at our TV-deprived, country folk homeschool kiddos, I look back at my city childhood, all the opportunities that might have been and am just thankful to be with these little people of mine, even when it is hard. Making choices about schooling is such a gut-wretching and passion-filled process! We've found that the sacrifices we are making in terms of income lost as I stay home and try to live as frugally as we can, although difficult at times, is mostly peaceful and just generally good. I know I can work later (when they are older), or do a bit of freelancing as I choose, but these precious years are passing so quickly and I'm just thankful that for now we can homeschool and be together. Who knows what the future holds...

  14. have you considered a homeschool co-op? I was part of one for years when I was homeschooling my own four. Although I was at home ( other than births!) during this time, lots of parents worked and traded off time with another parent to get the kids out to group activities. It worked really well for many families.Moms and Dads who worked partime were able to have both worlds, employment and income PLUS an environment of learning that was unique for their child. In everything I have read of your life Stephanie you are very capable and have a mulitplicity of skills that would make you a desired addition to any homeschool co-operative! I was involved with the OFTP( Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents )for years and the bulk of families at that time were based in the greater Ottawa area. Trust your instincts. There are always many more options that we realize!

  15. I've always wanted to send my kids to an alternative education type school but simply can't afford it. I think they'll be okay with the structure but it hurts my heart to think of their creativity being squelched. We were drawn for in a charter school lottery (yeah!) so I'm hoping I've made the best decision.

    Stephanie :)

  16. I entered university thinking i would be a nurse or doctor. Though valued professions, they were not close to my heart. After many years of change, my hobby HAS become my profession. I don't make much doing it yet, but there will be time to focus on that when my babies have grown. For now, it sustains me spiritually and mentally, but i have options. Sometimes, i wonder why i did not do more arts in school- and they were available to me at that time. I believed that i was the 'bright child' expected to accomplish academic greatness' so i neglected my desires. These were beliefs that began within my family, and contined into my youth. If my famuly had encouragrd my creativity as you encourage the creativity of your children, i might have realized earlier on that there were other choices. Photography, illustration, graphic design, textiles, sewing, designing, painting! A whole world would have opened to me! Keep doing what you are doing best and your imaginative boy will realize his true potential. Blessings...

  17. Do not underestimate how much money can be 'made' by cutting expenses that you might otherwise have thought to be essential. I've just spent the past year going through this exercise - although incredibly scary at first (and faith and patience held my hand the whole way). What I thought was impossible was really just a series of choices I could make differently.

  18. Wow, I totally get this. My oldest will be going into grade one in Sept. We have examined this issue from EVERY angle and discuss the pros and cons of home learning vs school vs a bit of both. She is on a waitlist for a fresh air school that is opening up here in Sept. and I have my fingers crossed. She's in K right now, french immersion and she is BORED. I don't want her to be bored, I want her to be excited to learn :) Good luck on finding the best solution for your fam..


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