According to my town calendar, school officially starts tomorrow, and Thomas becomes a fifth grader. Having taught fifth grade, I’ve been feeling somewhat nostalgic all summer. How did my baby get this old so quickly? Is it possible that five academic years have passed since we started this homeschooling journey?
It’s been a bittersweet feeling, seeing my boy stretching up nearly past my own height, to take his place among middle-schoolers. And while I’ve been a bit sad about how quickly the years have tumbled by, it’s also been exciting to see him blossom into that “tween-y” age I loved to teach. I’ve always thought fifth graders were a special breed; sophisticated enough in their understanding of the world to have really interesting discussions, but still starry-eyed and wonder-filled by so much, still eager to connect with the adults in their lives. And I was really quite partial to the subject matter taught in fifth grade. I was so fond of it, in fact, that I saved nearly all the curriculum I used all those years ago.When my family began unschooling, it seemed unlikely I’d have much use for “boxed curriculum”, but it was a part of my history, and those dusty plastic bins always managed to make the cut during any major clean-outs.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find myself poking around my basement today, attempting to unearth all those fifth grade binders and books.
Why, you ask?
Apparently, my fifth grade son has developed a hankering for curriculum.
“Mommy, I’ve decided I want to know all the things fifth graders are supposed to know,” Thomas told me quite seriously a few weeks back. I thought it was just a passing fancy – probably from spending so much time with our schooled neighborhood friends this summer. But he kept at it, reminding me often that when his friends headed school-ward in September, he intended to take up academics at the dining room table. “I want ALL the subjects – and homework, too!” he pronounced. Clearly, he expected me to make it so.
Now, as I said, I enjoyed the fifth grade subject matter, but having happily unschooled for four years, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be bound by any curriculum. For the time being, however, I’m clearly alone in that sentiment. For reasons of his own, Thomas is choosing to take on the very work that many of his friends groan about all year long.
As summer has waned, I’ve sensed a change in our neighborhood. Kids are playing longer, harder, and with a vague sense of urgency. The need to squeeze every drop of leisure time from these last few weeks is strong. When the upcoming school year is mentioned, nobody feels quite ready to rise up to this new challenge. The subject is quickly dropped in favor of resuming whatever recreation is taking place in the moment. These last days are the hardest, with one foot in each season, straddling two radically different worlds. But by today our friends had made the mental shift, said goodbye to the unbridled freedom of the long summer days, and gotten down to business. Summer assignments were finished, outfits were chosen, showers were taken, bedtime was rolled back, and now they slumber peacefully, awaiting the morning rush of poptarts and school buses which usher in the new school year.
Nearly all of them have expressed envy at Thomas’ freedom from this ebb and flow, this school-dictated turning of the seasons in which autumn signifies loss – loss of play, loss of spontaneity, loss of the delicious autonomy of a day with no agenda but one’s own. They are slightly shocked to discover Thomas is choosing academics when he has the chance to avoid it. But I’m not. I’ve kind of been expecting this moment – the moment my unschooler chooses traditional academics, not because he must, but because it serves a purpose. I know unschoolers who have chosen to take a class or enroll in online courses. They haven’t spent years mastering someone else’s idea of a “common core”. They haven’t been quizzed constantly, poked, prodded and pressured to perform. They haven’t developed the distaste for “schoolwork” that so many schooled children discover early on. And so they find themselves free to choose what best serves them in the moment.
I must confess, I’m awaiting tomorrow’s appointment at the dining room table with a sense of anticipation. What worlds will Thomas and I discover together as we journey this new road? How long will it hold an appeal for him? How quickly will he master “everything a fifth grader needs to know”?
We shall see.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to get to bed – “school” starts tomorrow!