Life is a Highlight Reel

An acquaintance of mine has painstakingly decided to put her children back in school. She wrote a beautiful piece describing her homeschooling angst:

It’s easy to focus on all our short-comings, unrealized goals, and criticism after we’ve made the final decision to put the kids back in public school. …It’s the internal dialogue I have with myself, daily, of everything I *want* the kids to experience, explore and question, yet having them ask, “Who are we hanging out with today?” and “Can we watch YouTube videos and play video games?” for the thirteenth time, and it’s not even noon. It’s my internal conflict of wanting to stress the basics and yet let them be, believing they will fulfill their innate potential for learning. It’s constant measuring myself and our lives against the highlight reel of other homeschoolers. It’s my grand ideas that have me giddy and excited at night, unable to sleep because of the bursting energy and potential running through my veins… but then seems so daunting and unattainable in the morning light. It’s the well intentioned family member or random stranger asking, “So, what’d you learn today?” and the fear that paralyzes me. It’s so easy to say, this isn’t working. This isn’t what I hoped/expected/wanted it to be……. ~April

This really got me thinking because I think we all do this a lot. We worry, we fret, we compare, and we always feel we fall short. So, what’s going on? As I contemplated this, I got a few good aha moments. Let me share.

We compare what we do to public schoolers…

When we do this, we’re comparing apples to oranges. I realized that public school is all about close-ended learning … those things that can be measured, skills that can be systematically taught, checkboxes to be ticked.

We often choose to homeschool because we want something different. For me, and many I know, we’re striving to provide an open-ended education …. those things that require creativity and innovation, gifts and strengths to be nurtured, discoveries to be uncovered.

These are two very different focuses. One is about skill-building and the other is about gift-seeking. One requires daily practice and the other requires patient waiting of sparks of inspiration and ignited genius.

April mentioned comparing highlight reels, and it gave me another aha moment. What are highlight reels but the moments that stand out because real learning occurred! So, I decided to think about what my highlight reels were from my own public school days.

I could think of one significant event each school year. Kindergarten was remembering playing, cookies and milk, and I specifically remember my “nap rug.” First grade was learning to read. Second grade was wanting to learn more about the solar system and the teacher not being able to fulfill that for me. Third grade was my teacher putting me in the hallway to allow me to go ahead in math; it failed. Fourth grade was an innovative teacher who implemented Free Fridays, as well as my writing a book that was chosen to make into a class film. Fifth was an unhealthy relationship with a friend. Sixth was my teacher reading aloud Watership Down; I had never had someone read aloud to me. Seventh grade was trying out and making the cheerleading squad. Eighth grade was my focusing on making money with a paper route. Ninth grade was my creativity getting an audience in a journalism class. Tenth grade was discovering that although I enjoyed biology, I had to work hard at it, so maybe I should give up the idea of being a vet. Eleventh grade was finding my niche in the secretary related classes with teachers who enjoyed my natural talent. And Twelfth grade was how I had to work super hard in a “difficult” government class to match the grade of a naturally smart person, so was it really worth all the effort in something I didn’t care for?

I guess we all have to decide what’s important in an education. For me, a good education helps a person discover her passion and purpose in life. Did I find my passion in school? I found a physical skill in school, but not my passion. There was a hint of it in that journalism class in Ninth grade. My real passion and joy was developed after I left school. It makes sense because school focuses on the daily grind, which mainly encourages skill development. And passion requires big picture excitement that inspires the detailed skills. Thus, I wanted to give my children a learning environment where they could discover their passion and purpose in life. This meant encouraging their interests, observing their learning style and helping them understand it themselves, and promoting implementing their gifts in meaningful ways. My children found this. How do I know? Because of their meaningful highlight reels.

We compare what we do with other homeschoolers …

Today, with the ability to hook up with other homeschoolers in real life and on-line, it’s easier to see everyone’s highlight reels and compare our daily angst. Because here’s what I think is happening: we’re fretting so much that our open-ended learning isn’t like public school’s skill-building close-ended environment that we’re not opening our eyes to the awesome highlight reels right in front of us. And, yes, our highlight reels will look different from other homeschoolers’ highlight reels, because we all have different strengths.

Look how April continues, and actually then shares her children’s amazing highlight reel:

But ….. through this homeschooling we’ve experienced things we never would have otherwise. I watched rules organized seamlessly and the laughter explode in a pick-up game of wallball, we took field trips and parks days with friends, experiencing the joy of wandering, without the expectation of anything, but I think getting, so much more. We looked at herbs and flowers, cowboys and Indian mounds, computer programming and experienced an outdoor survival class. We sat in a friend’s backyard while a brood of children made up an entire societal hierarchy and played out the rigors of daily life within that society for hours, and then wanted it repeated the next day, and the next. We sat together and worked out problems and read books on the sofa or outside, and played games. A’s love of competition, performance, and expression blossomed through her two years with Odyssey of the Mind and writing classes. Her admiration and willingness to both push herself and stay true to her ideals, were continually fostered by her amazing coach and homeschooling mom of four. G., stereotypically all boy, pushed me to understand him. I loved hearing his thought provoking questions during the boredom of a car ride and I watched the unfolding of enthusiasm towards something he was truly interested in. His ability to quickly master new complex problems amazed me, and he was ever the goofy boy, but I got to watch his love of the simple hold his attention (sweeping!). I see the two of them so much clearer.

So this two year journey has really been about people. I’ve been able to watch the children I too often take for granted, with their friends. I’ve watched them interact with adults who at times mean more to them than myself, and I get to *watch* the growth. I am amazed.

I’m actually thankful I didn’t have the ability to hook up with a lot of different public schoolers or homeschoolers on line or in real life as I figured out our homeschooling lives.  Instead, I looked to hone my observation skills toward my children who would teach me. It enabled me to get far enough into it to start to realize our own highlight reels.

My foundation of discovering how to notice the amazing highlight reels …

My oldest son taught me so much about centering our education around the highlight reel our first year of homeschooling.  For instance, take my snake lesson. My son was free range learning after he told me his interest in learning about snakes and I gathered a bunch of resources for his exploration. What I focused on, though, was creating a thorough unit study that would last a week long with itemized activities to create learning. What I discovered was that I could replicate school and throw marshmallows at my son’s head and call it eating and hope something goes in, or I can trust that as I wait for his interest to peak from time to time, he will enjoy a full meal of learning that fills up an entire course.

Another lesson I learned my first year homeschooling was my understanding of the pressure of show-me-work.  We want to pull out samples of curriculum completed, awards displayed, and projects achieved when family or friends ask the common question, “What did you do today?” Subconsciously, I was going to lead my son to finish a typical school project in style. The thing is, I had to move from lead to bribe to force in order to get my son involved in my so-called worthwhile project. In the meantime, he was highly interested in meat-eating plants at the time, Venus Flytraps in particular, and was more enthusiastic in pursuing that holistic interest than my linear project.

My son’s interests in snakes (particularly cobras and pythons), meat-eating plants, and dinosaurs entail the highlight reel of my son’s kindergarten year of homeschooling. The lessons I learned helped me trust in the highlight reel of learning and look to create that atmosphere and notice and celebrate it.

Life is a highlight reel …

All of life is about what we learn and enjoy in the highlight reel, I realize. Let me take something outside of education as an example: planning a wedding. Bridezillas are created in the details. But, what do we remember when it’s been a few years? The highlight reel. I instinctively knew this when I helped my daughter plan her wedding a few years ago. We discussed the overall feel we wanted…a celebration centered around love, relationships, and connection…and then delegated the details. We asked a friend who was good at food purchasing, preparation, and display to be in charge of the food, and then we let her do it. We asked another friend who was good at decor and running a show to be in charge of decoration and being the overall conductor, and then we let her do it. We involved ourselves with the connecting items that we wanted in place and asked anyone involved to be part, how, and when, and let our conductor know about it. On the day of the wedding, we embraced the ambiance we had created, expected the glitches to come and flow over us, and enjoyed the moment. The details were there to meet an end; the highlight reel was the magic.

That means, of course, skill-building has its place in learning. I see it as the backdrop of the bigger picture of seeking out one’s passion and purpose. I saw it happen in three different ways. One is that my children would delve deeply into details and skills when it would help them better develop their interest, gift, or passion. I offered skill development during specific developmental stages that promoted it. During the Transition Stage of 8 to 10, I provided short teaching moments to assist them in their transition of less preferred skills as they continued to explore and strengthen their preferred subjects. During the Integration Stage of 11 to 13, I mentored them in bringing the skills together of work ethic, purposeful goal-setting, and an individualized work system in their integration of all skills and their development into adulthood. This became their framework of catapulting their gifts into a meaningful life path. Ultimately, these skills became the backdrop of the highlight reel featuring their passion and purpose.

Where do you find the highlight reels …

Highlight reels consist of those moments when your child has a sparked interest and wants to go to the library and get books about it or look up YouTube videos on it. Highlight reels consist of those moments when they see something on television or visit a museum and it triggers a new interest or idea. Highlight reels consist of those moments when a read aloud or a life event inspires a child to care about something in a new way and pursue getting involved or learning more about it. Highlight reels consist of those moments when a well-matched resource or a new developmental stage excites a young person to learn a new skill or ability. Highlight reels consist of those moments when a mentor/friend or website stimulates a young person to create a new project or endeavor.

I encourage everyone to look for your own highlight reels because that’s where you’ll find the joy of learning!

Which comparison is harder…the highlight reels of public schoolers or other homeschoolers, and why?

I would love to hear your highlight reel moments!

One Response to Life is a Highlight Reel

  1. Thanks for your article. My twins are only 3 but I’m working changing my own attitude and ideas about homeschooling so that I can be my best while I homeschool them. Your article has really helped me put things in perspective.

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