Guest Post 2
Last week I introduced Rifke, a young married woman, a homeschool graduate and friend, who has asked me if she could write about her homeschooling experiences and perspectives. This week she shares a fairly long, but utterly fascinating post on her homeschooling journey. Will you join me with a good cup of tea or coffee and read her story … I promise that you will be encouraged!
“My parents have learned themselves, over the years, how to be educators. Their present stance on it has evolved from what it was when I was in grade one.
Photo by Natan Grobler
Un-schooling wasn’t really happening yet, back in the mid-nineties when they began with homeschooling – at least not in South Africa. Everyone that my mom knew who were homeschoolers seemed to want to make their children’s schooling as close to “normal” schooling as possible – in many cases, to help allay the fears of concerned family members, as well as some of their own.
My mom mostly adopted this mindset as well. She was pretty amazing, as she struggled, like almost everyone else does, with a shortage of confidence and a haunting sense of failure whenever a glitch cropped up, and she sometimes wished that she had had a formal teacher’s training. But she went ahead, turning a blind eye to sidelong, disapproving glances.
My parents started us on the Theocentric Christian Education course, which is a curriculum based in South Africa, but which gets almost all of its coursework from the United States. Although the content was thorough and excellent, the learning style was quite similar (as I remember it) to that found in “normal” schools. We did not write exams, but we followed the curriculum closely.
Although I know that there are many ways to reach the desired end in education, this start was beneficial to my older brother, younger sister and me. We lived in the city, and there wasn’t much that we could occupy our own time with. Dedicated academic schooling was the medium for developing us, keeping us busy, and teaching us to apply ourselves and use our minds.
My father also often took us with him to work – he was a plumber, carpenter, handyman and restorer of antique furniture. I can remember going with him and my older brother, when I was about six and my brother was about seven years old, to tile someone’s floor. We received payment for it, according to the amount of work that we had each been able to do.
Both of my parents encouraged us in creative activities outside of our curriculum. We wrote and drew prolifically, and went once a week to another homeschooling mom’s house with other children, where we had informal art lessons. My father taught my brother and me to play musical instruments and read music, and instigated a family choir. My mother encouraged our reading, largely through her own passion for literature. I remember both her and my dad reading out loud to us in engaging, animated tones of voice, setting our interest on fire. We loved books and stories.
Looking back, I can see that my parents monopolised our time, though we did not really know it. Whether it was housework, learning, reading or making things, we were almost always doing something. I did get bored, like any child, but my mind – a sponge, at that age – had plentiful opportunities for soaking useful information in.
Things changed when we moved to the Langkloof in the Eastern Cape, in the year 2000, when I was eight. My parents rented a non-operational farm, and my dad got hold of some animals and plants right away. We learned about caring for livestock, growing trees and planting vegetables. I started baking without the overseeing eye of my mother, who had just given birth to Joshua, making bread, cakes and biscuits. My father taught my sister, brother and I to use a sewing machine. We still continued our curriculum as we had always done, and practiced our music and sang, but our knowledge base outside of these things was expanding rapidly.
When my family moved onto its own small holding in 2002, there was an overwhelming load of work to be done. The house was decrepit, and there was no septic tank or running water. Orchards and vegetable gardens had to be started from scratch. We jumped in, starting work on multiple projects at one time. My early to mid teen years were and still are a blur to me, as we juggled trying to keep up with schooling and working on the farm. But the schooling regime for us older children – I now had five siblings – was changing.
Photo by Natan Grobler
When I was ten, around the time of our move to the small holding, I became aware of the difference between my learning style and my mother’s teaching style. Schooling sessions grew tense, and I eventually decided that I would take on the responsibility of teaching myself. It is kind of strange to remember how I would feel insulted, during my teenage years, if anyone inquired into how I was spending my weekday mornings. It was offensive to me that anyone could suspect that I wasn’t schooling myself as faithfully as a teacher.
As we progressed into the second year of high school, coursework was becoming hard to find. Previously, when my mom had been part of homeschooling circles in Cape Town, second-hand books had been easy to get hold of. But in the Langkloof, not so! And, as homeschooling parents will know, new books can be expensive. So we learned from bits and pieces here and there, anything that we could get hold of – computer courses, books belonging to my parents, a history encyclopedia. Once or twice someone gave us a whole grade’s worth of their children’s schoolbooks, but now doing school in this standard way somehow seemed less applicable…in fact, somewhat out of place. It was hard for my mom – she was choking in fears and feelings of failure. But together with my dad, she was reaching a crucial realization: book learning is a tiny portion of what education is about.
When I was around fifteen, my dad told us that we would all stop school for half a year, and do the work that needed to be done on the farm. From morning till night, six days a week, we built pillars, planted vegetables, tiled, stacked stone walls, laid foundations, painted, planted trees, cleared lands, put up fences, tiled some more. We worked pretty hard. I can’t say I relished it; some jobs were more fun than others, and, being female, I wasn’t as strong as my dad or brothers and would get quite physically tired. But I am glad, today, to have those skills. I am also more grateful than I can say to know what it means to work hard.
When we started school again after that half-year, my parents had changed their minds about how to school us. They had begun to feel that not every subject was necessary, and also that we needed to discover our preferred skills, our personal talents, our desires for the future.
Through all the rest of high school, up until I started matric, I never worked off a proper curriculum. English, Maths and Afrikaans my mother saw as essential, but if I was doing those I could do roughly whatever other subjects I was interested in. I mostly did around five or six subjects at a time. I worked out of books that were roughly equivalent to the grade that I was supposed to be at, according to my age, though sometimes I would skip to a book a grade higher if I understood the content.
When my older brother, Jonan, had to start grade ten, friends of my parents offered to sponsor him to study that grade through Intec. I was studying the same grade at roughly the same time, but using different books. As Jonan was ending the grade, we heard that in a few years’ time, Intec would not provide matric anymore. The people who sponsored him in grade ten offered to sponsor both of us through an Intec matric, which was actually grades eleven and twelve combined into a year and a half. I had been doing his maths, so I was up to standard with that, and as for the rest, I chose subjects which I felt most comfortable with – the necessary English and Afrikaans, then agricultural science, physics and biology. Because I had been learning through every book of learning I could lay my hands on, I managed fine with picking up in grade twelve, even though I hadn’t been working off an organised curriculum since I was thirteen. Jonan and I continued to teach ourselves through this last grade. In order to have achieved higher marks in mathematics I would have needed help – I was doing it higher grade, and had no tutor, or anyone else, who could assist me with it – but I just scraped through, anyway. We wrote in a government school in Humansdorp.
My younger sister, Hannah, had quite a different high school experience from mine and Jonan’s. Once again, friends offered to sponsored her, but they wanted her to learn through the TCE (Theocentric Christian Education) course. TCE is very academic, compared to many other homeschooling courses, and to fulfill the course and get good marks requires a lot of time and input. Hannah is an arty, right-brained person…she does not enjoy studying! She got good marks, but she was also making wedding and matric farewell dresses on the sidelines, and she had already decided that she wanted to be a florist, dressmaker and wedding planner. She could learn this trade through my father’s sister, who is a professional in the same fields but floristry. She (my sister) had also spent a few weeks on a protea farm when she was fourteen, and knew how to cut and arrange flowers. She wrote exams for several years of high school, unlike my Jonan and me who only wrote for one, but she decided to finish with grade ten. My parents allowed this, because she is not what one might usually call the “academic” type, yet she is very industrious, brilliant at working with her hands, and was at that stage much further on the way to a successful future career than I was.
My parents strongly encouraged Jonan and me to write our matrics. Jonan is gifted musically, and my parents wanted him to have the opportunity to study further. They also felt that because he would one day be providing for a family, he needed to have all options open to him. He hasn’t shown a desire to go to university yet, though. With me, my parents also always felt that I should have a matric in order to have the choice to go to university available to me, as I love maths and the sciences, and showed an interest in microbiology and medicine. More than that, I just had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do with my life. I have never used my matric for anything yet, though. Instead of pursuing the sciences, I picked up skills in the arts, and now am beginning a freelancing career with my husband.
It is hard indeed to determine which academics or skills that I picked up during my schooling years have counted the most so far. Reading and writing have been essential; reading is the way I gain knowledge, and good writing skills are necessary for conducting oneself with success in the business world. Writing and creative thinking are also becoming an income supply. On the other hand, I have had very little formal training in the field of the visual arts… yet that looks like it will be my strongest income source in the future.
I suspect that the influence which the sciences had over me are harder to define. They stretched my mind, my logical capabilities, and my understanding of what I was able to do. I loved physics, biology and chemistry; if I had to do it again, and choose all my subjects with my present knowledge, I would definitely do the those, because I enjoyed them, and they both satisfied and sparked my curiosity over the world in general. A bit of knowledge in biology also helps if you’re living on a farm.
But I suspect that everything that I learned will really start coming into play when I am a mother, and I have to start schooling my own children. I want to be able to help them through both the simple and the difficult subjects..
It is presently the turn of my seventeen-year-old brother, Natan, and fifteen-year-old sister, Abigail, to forge their way through high school. They are studying through Alpha and Clonard, respectively. I don’t know whether they will end up writing their matrics, but my parents are making an effort to groom them in all areas, and encourage them in the things that they enjoy doing.
I guess if I have to sum it up, then high school in my family is a combination of prayer, and exploring one’s natural inclinations.
Prayer, because my family can’t always afford our schooling, so we ask God to provide, and He does.
Exploring, because my parents feel that although we have to know how to work hard and fend for ourselves, there is also something that each of us was made to do, and we will be happiest and most blessed doing that.
I guess they do not really see the point in preparing us for something we will never do. It is still true that one doesn’t always know what the future holds, and children may make all kinds of rash decisions about their future, if given the opportunity, in order to avoid their school load.
My parents observed us, and gave us opportunities to experiment. They tried to get to know us as individuals, so they could see how to tailor our schooling to our characters.
In my next guest post I will share on some of the differences that I have experienced between homeschooled kids and those who have gone to “normal” schools.”
Thank you for your insights and the beautiful way you share, Rifke. I’m sure other moms, like myself will be inspired and encouraged by your experiences and your parent’s hard-won wisdom.
You can read more of Rifke’s life, thoughts and self-sufficiency knowledge on her blog ~Through the Window.
Join us next week for another guest post.