School ended for much of America a couple of weeks ago, but for our homeschooling family the end of school means the beginning of camp. Camp, blessed camp. Camp=kids out of the house=peace and quiet=time for me to cram as much WORK as possible into my day as I can.
So I’m not as free as I’d want to be, but I like the work that I do so freedom=finally space and time to think and concentrate, something very difficult to accomplish when my ETL child and his brother are banging around the house.
After months of homeschooling under our belts, Little J has undergone a remarkable change. When we started he literally had no idea what to do with himself in the hours at home. He’d bounce from one activity to the next, one space to the next, one mood to the next….you get the picture. He constantly got into things he wasn’t supposed to (see Saga of the Sheds, over at A Mom’s View of ADHD). He’d fight and argue with me about everything (see pretty much my entire blog over at A Square Peg, A Round Hole). And he’d never, ever finish what he started. Even though I wasn’t trying to replicate the school day in our homeschool, he seemed to be replicating his experience of school: the constant change in activities, place, focus.
But then, over time, the metamorphosis began.
He went from bouncing from thing to thing to spending hours doing one single thing: banging nails, practicing casting with his fishing pole, watching marathons of Mythbusters on TV when I’d let him. He built things – strange things that only made sense when he explained them, but building with purpose, nonetheless. We started having conversations. He would read easy readers with me and suggest we do the activities in the back of the book. He would pull out drawing books and draw.
Now, I’m not suggesting things were perfect – not at all. He is still himself, which is fairly ornery, very rigid, mostly grumpy, and defaulting to NO in almost all situations. After a month or two of struggling to cover basic skills in our homeschool I eventually gave up, devolving into a much more relaxed ‘deschooling’ phase where the only thing I was insistent about was reading. (Which was pretty effective, by the way. I haven’t tested him in a while but I know he’s improved at least a grade level in reading since we started, and probably more, since he’s reading more fluently and easily every single day).
In a couple of months, once all our summer camp and traveling are over we’re going to try to be a little more structured about “schoolwork.” He and I have already talked about how he’ll have to start doing a little math, and we’ll have to read some harder books come fall. His brother will be home, so there’ll be the challenge of juggling both kids, although I’m hoping that his brother’s work ethic, ability, and enthusiasm will bleed over to Little J when it comes to academics. But in homeschooling we were able to give him time to be free, and once he got used to the freedom a lot of the things we assumed about him: that he couldn’t concentrate, that he couldn’t finish anything, that he couldn’t sit still – we found weren’t completely true.
I am only wishing that summer weren’t going by so quickly, that I had more time to be free and find my place. I, too, like long stretches of uninterrupted time to accomplish my work. I wonder if space and time isn’t what a lot of our Easy to Love kids need. I’m not suggesting everyone pull their kids out of school – I realize this is an impossibility for the majority of people who are reading this. Our family is very lucky that I work at home and have family nearby and have a fair amount of flexibility. But I’m wondering what would happen if kids who were constantly in trouble at school and at home – those kids who don’t deal with frustration well, who have poor social skills, who don’t transition well, or who have sensory issues – what if they had the freedom in space and time that my child has had these past 6 months? Prevailing wisdom says that kids with ADHD or other behavioral issues need a lot of structure in their lives. But maybe what that means is that when they’re in very structured, boundary-driven environments, the rules need to be made extremely clear to them so they can succeed. Little J certainly needs clear-cut rules and boundaries in all situations, for if you give him the proverbial inch he’ll take the full mile, and then some. But in Little J’s case I think the highly structured environment of school was keeping him from growing. If other people were constantly telling him what to do and how to behave, then he never had to figure it out for himself.
In school they like to say things to the kids that imply they’re choosing their behavior: they give the rule and the consequence and so by not following the rule they’re choosing the consequence. But if the rule isn’t one the child can follow he’s not making a choice, is he? Over and over again Little J was told to sit in his seat and be quiet. He could not do this. Couldn’t. So he wasn’t choosing the consequence. He just had to accept it. And the reward for “choosing” to sit in his seat and be quiet was that he’d be able to do what the class was doing: worksheets, most of the time covering skills he hadn’t learned. So a situation where he was failing all around. But still, the language was of choice, but there was no choice at all. No freedom.
I guess my point is that I think we all need more freedom in our lives. I know that’s easy to say and hard to accomplish, and again, I know I’m in a very privileged situation. For many ETL parents it’s scary to think about being around their kids more, rather than less. I get this and I’m not afraid to say it. There have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to get away from my ETL child – heck, the first sentence of this blog entry is about how summer camp is giving me a much needed break. Freedom isn’t just for the kids, it’s for the parents as well – respite from constant childcare, stress, and worry is freedom for parents of ETL kids.
Perhaps take this as a challenge, an assignment. What is freedom for you? What is freedom for your ETL child? What would happen if you both had more freedom?