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Fitting the Education to the Child - Livin' the Good Life

Feb. 14th, 2009

11:09 am - Fitting the Education to the Child

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I have been asked what my educational plan was for my children. How come some of my children went to school and some didn't? My whole approach to education has been, "What does this child want to learn, and what is his style of learning?" I very quickly found out that what works very well for one child may not work at all for another. So my job was to be observant. To be a detective. It was really fun, actually.
I saw right away that Nathen was extremely bright. He seemed to grasp intellectual things much quicker than I did. He had a strong desire to communicate with words. He was very social and didn't like to be alone. He was sensitive to the point of crying very easily and often. He needed to feel very safe, and that is usually what determined his choices and his behavior. He wanted direction and rules. He went to a variety of schools, from public, to private, to Montessori, to a "Summerhillian" or "free" school. The free school was too unstructured and unpredictable for him and he felt unsafe there. So, we moved him to a quieter, more structured Montessori school where he seemed to be more comfortable. He really enjoyed the posh private school his grandmother sent him to for first and second grade. It was just a glorified public school, but it offered Suzuki music lessons and lots of plays and other "cultural enrichment" type of stuff. His needs for safety seemed to be met there, as well as his needs for stimulation. He was surrounded by people at all times, but there were plenty of rules, schedules, and direction. He enjoyed excelling and winning awards, as he had a very competitive nature. He finished off the last years of his education in public schools where he excelled academically. By the end of high school he had acquired a bunch of close friends that he really valued. The bulk of his social life stemmed from his musical, sports, and theater associations. He was a very busy guy, taking part in many types of activities, and we made sure that he could be involved in whatever interested him. It turned out he was interested in most everything, and he wanted to do it ALL! The only thing his school experience was not good for was dealing with his very emotional nature. Nathen had to "tough it out" in that department, and I'd say he was not happy with that part of his school experience (or his childhood experience, in general... Nathen might want to comment on that ...Nathen?) As an adult, he has found ways of addressing that part of himself in a satisfying way. And, not surprisingly, he is going into the field of psychology and counseling. His interests still remain very broad and he considers himself a perpetual student... a lifelong learner. After a long break from college after high school, he has gone back full-time and is thoroughly enjoying himself. I'm guessing that he'd be happy just going to college for the rest of his life. It's like eating candy for him. Easy and pleasurable.
(Just a few words on Nathen and homeschooling. The one year that I tried homeschooling Nathen, he indicated that the atmosphere at home was not nearly stimulating enough for him. He wanted a lot more going on, more people, more variety, more challenges and awards. So back to school he went. Interestingly, Nathen says he definitely plans to homeschool his own children. I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes about it. I imagine it will be carried out in his own unique style, and I bet it will be good! I still maintain that Nathen should become a teacher, because he's so good at it, and kids just love him!!)

Ely, on the other hand, enjoyed his Montessori preschool for about 9 months, and then said he'd had enough. I noticed that he seemed to get overly-stimulated at school and cranky by the time he got home. At one point, he firmly announced that he just wanted to be home with me. (I was only too happy to take him out of a school that we could ill-afford if it wasn't exactly the right thing for him.) Ely had a knack for entertaining himself with his active imagination, and he happily settled into a more peaceful and relaxed routine at home. Homeschooling was a new concept back in 1978, and I searched for a curriculum for his kindergarten year that I thought would interest Ely. I found Oak Meadow School, (I heard later that Ely was their very first pupil!) that offered a Waldorf-style education by coorespondance. I studied up on it, and I was delighted with its creative approach. The lessons were taught with stories, art, music, and drama. I was excited because this sounded exactly like Ely's cup of tea! And it was. He seemed to flourish with this approach. (It also was an approach that I believe I would have responded well to as a child, so it was really fun for me, too.) At one point, Ely was craving more time with peers, so he went to the "alternative" school up the road that was held in an art teacher's house and had about 6 or 7 children attending. It was, again, perfect for Ely. He received daily art lessons, and his natural ability to draw became abundantly clear. After a year or two, the teacher decided to do other things, so Ely went back to homeschooling. Ely was quite popular with other kids, and we had to make sure he had plenty of opportunities to mix with them. He was regularly involved in theater and sports, and he skateboarded often with the local "skaters" at the "spillway" in town. He never gave up his interest in art, and he decided around age 12 that he wanted to be an animator for Disney when he grew up. My dad, Grandpa Bob, lived with us part-time, and he was very involved with the kids' education. He took Ely to the Disney Studios and introduced him to the animators there. Ely showed them his work, and they encouraged him, saying he should come back and work there when he was 18. He decided to enter public school in the 10th grade, and after a period of adjustment, he settled in and did well there. He discovered music in the excellent music program that was happening there at the time. He went full-steam-ahead into learning and playing the alto-saxaphone and working his way into the prestigious jazz band. That's what kept him coming back every day to public school. After he graduated, he went to college for a year as a music major. At the end of the year, he decided he didn't want to be a musician for a living, and switched his sights back to animation. He joined an ROP animation program in Rolland Heights, attended for 4 months, after which they set him up for an interview with the Simpson's TV show animation department (Film Roman). He was hired, and the rest is history. It is very unusual for someone to get a job in animation without first graduating from an art school. Ely "got in through the back door" with this ROP program and is considered lucky. (Homeschoolers are famous for using this back door approach, ... or sometimes they go for the "apprenticeship approach") While working for the Simpson's, Ely applied repeatedly to Disney, and eventually he was hired there. He worked on many feature animations as an "in-betweener" and felt encouraged that he seemed to be slowly moving up in the company. However, Disney decided to go to all-computer animation at one point in order to cut costs, and they let go of all their "hand-animators". Hundreds of artists were suddenly looking for work. Luckily, Ely was quickly hired back at the Simpsons, and he's still there today.
More tomorrow....


Date:February 15th, 2009 06:11 am (UTC)
VERY interesting. I can't wait to hear about the other 3!
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Date:February 20th, 2009 07:23 am (UTC)

Nathen's reaction

I'm really enjoying your series, Mom. I basically agree with everything you've written about me, though I don't remember some elements. I don't remember not being stimulated enough when homeschooling. That period is idyllic in my memory, reading, playing at the pond and in the orchard and cornfields, playing soccer, memorizing the Golden Guide nature books... I remember learning my times-tables from you, and how to write cursive. I remember the Oak Meadow style, where I illustrated everything I wrote. Anyway, I imagine that my indications to you were unconscious. I know that you paid close attention to me--that's the main theme of these posts to me. And it's true. You and Dad asked me if I wanted to homeschool most years after that 3rd grade year, and I always wanted to go to school, but it was always because (as far as I know) about the social possibilities.

I also don't remember being super interested in awards. You may remember this better than me, but if you got anything wrong, that was it. I definitely liked getting trophies for soccer and swimming, but I don't remember getting too hung up on grades. I got good grades because it was easy to--because it was easy for me to do everything they asked. By that I mean I never failed to complete an assignment that I was given, but I rarely threw everything I had into one. I think I was motivated by not wanting to draw negative attention to myself. That has changed gradually--I got more and more interested in the stuff I was learning and my grades got better and better, meaning more As and fewer Bs. These days I'm so interested in learning the stuff that I'm surprised when I get an A and not an A+. I was pretty interested early on, though. I remember stuff I learned in high school physics, I remember 8th grade plate tectonic theory blowing my mind. I was definitely paying attention by then, and not just so I wouldn't get in trouble.

And yes, the emotional part was the hardest and I had to toughen up. I remember when I started being able to keep from crying. I was in 9th grade. It made me very happy. And in general unpleasant emotions seemed easier to come by and harder hitting for me than for others.

Well done, Mom!
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