My son Ryan is an excellent student, and because of that, he is easy to teach. I would love to take credit for his academic affinity, but I can’t. Truth is, he’s smarter than me. Scary smart. I only have to introduce a new concept and he takes off with it. Before I know it, he’s teaching me things.
My second son, Evan, is a horse of different color. He never meets a stranger, has a heart of pure gold, and a laugh so contagious that it would infect even the staunchest cynic. Academic achievement? He just can’t be bothered. That’s not to say he isn’t smart. He’s as smart as they come, but he’s also a typical little boy. A wiggly, busy, high energy little boy. So, teaching him and motivating him to learn has been somewhat, er….more challenging.
I want to let you in on a little homeschool mom secret that is rarely talked about except in dark corners. If you ask any of us on a good day about our decision to homeschool, we will confidently provide you with a bullet pointed list of the convincing reasons to homeschool. But deep down, sometimes daily, we get a whiff of the fear that we might be messing up, big time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am certain that homeschooling has provided my children a wealth of experiences that are unique and valuable. But I also know that everything has a cost, and I think any good parent, no matter their school choices, is constantly weighing whether their choices will cost too much. There are two things that I grip onto whenever I start to weigh the cost of homeschooling. One of these things is that homeschooling has given my children is the ability to study things that interest them and individualize their education. The other is that they have the opportunity to travel extensively and regularly encounter new ideas.
One of our goals for our kids has always been to expose them to as much of the world as possible, a goal that is an easy marriage of traveling and homeschooling. Whenever possible, we strive not to only read about things in books, but to experience them in person, and live out our learning. We try to apply this to all subjects from history to art.
Although, all of the boys enjoy art museums to an extent, Ryan has really taken an affinity towards sketching his way through art museums. Evan has never really enjoyed that studious pursuit, especially because he struggles with fine motor skills and handwriting.
Fast forward to a sunny day in Amsterdam, the last day of a 14 day European jaunt. Already in this trip, we had visited the National Gallery in London, the Louvre, and the Rijksmuseum. Ryan had sketched at every museum, and even though I was encouraging Evan to sketch, as well, he had not. Our last stop was the Van Gogh Museum.
Evan took a quick look around the gallery and announced, “This is something I want to sketch.” I hurried off to the gift shop and bought him some supplies. With pencil in hand, he was unstoppable. He wanted to sketch it all, self portraits, sunflowers, starry nights. He wasn’t the least bit bashful about plopping down on the floor cross-legged and starting a sketch. He never took his eyes off the painting in front of him, his pencil hurriedly mimicking the thick brushstrokes. I peered over his shoulder. Not only was he sketching for the first time, but he was good at it. He was inspired.
The little red-headed boy sitting on the floor with the sketch book drew quite a crowd. Other visitors stopped and watched him work; even the museum curator stopped and had a peek. Of course, it was obvious that they were drawings done a by little boy, and he was by no means an artistic savant. What made people stop to watch was the passion and focus he applied to his work.
It was coming to the end of a long day on our feet, so I had found a bench out of the way where I could rest my pregnant feet and body. Aidan had long ago fallen asleep in the stroller, and even Ryan had tired of sketching and was resting next to me. But Evan sketched on.
A group of ladies stepped behind Evan and watched him sketch for a while. Then, one of them said to him, “Your art teacher would be very proud of your work, young man.” “I don’t have an art teacher,” he said, “I’m homeschooled.” He looked over at me and smiled, I winked at him and he continued to work. The ladies passed by me on their way out of the gallery. “You are doing a good job of teaching him,” one of them said as she shuffled past.
I smiled and choked back tears. When you singly bear the task of educating your children, you need an atta girl every now and then, so I appreciated her words of praise. But more than that, I was so excited that we had found an experience that lit a spark in Evan. William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” That day, along with Van Gogh, we found a way to light his fire. And it was travel, to a new place, with new ideas that made the difference.
PS: Since the writing of this piece, Evan has continued to love to sketch at art museums. In addition, his fine motor skills and handwriting have greatly improved, making all of his school experiences more successful. My deepest thanks, Mr. Van Gogh.