I was chatting to one such friend today and it really helped me to crystallise a few trains of thought that my mind had been on lately, especially regarding Eldest. Up until now in our Home Ed journey he has been really happy to produce endless lapbooks on animals, habitats etc, but when we were discussing the possibility of lapbooks the other day, he announced most determinedly that he doesn't want to do anything now except draw! He's not outstandingly gifted in drawing as far as I can tell, but if that's how he wants to express himself right now, I need to take him seriously.
So I suggested that he might like to follow a drawing course that I have, to help him to learn techniques and sharpen his skills etc. He immediately said "no thank you, because doing a course to make me a better draw-er is like saying I'm not good enough already". Well you can't argue with that logic, especially as he is coming at it from an emotional point of view (needing to express himself) rather than a logical one (wanting to improve). I tell you, I was just so impressed that he was able to see that so clearly and articulate it too; I'm proud of him!
You see, I remember being his age (first year of secondary school). I went from being one of the very brightest in primary school to not thriving in any way in secondary school. But as I was sharing with my friend today, I'm not now and wasn't then that bothered about whether I was as intelligent as my classmates. Undoubtedly there were some very smart people there - the sort who aced all their exams and went on to be doctors and lawyers etc - but it's really not about competition (Sorry Mensa members or wannabes: I don't believe intelligence can be measured that easily). With hindsight I believe that I floundered at secondary school because what I needed was not academic training, but rather emotional support. I was a very emotional person - have always felt things deeply and doubtless always will. Hitting puberty for me was the equivalent of an emotional bomb going off, and academia was nowhere on the horizon as I tried to navigate my intense feelings of anger, loneliness, injustice etc.
I fondly remember my lovely Mum sitting me down when I was about Eldest's age and having a chat about the effects of puberty with hormones whizzing all over the place. It helped me to know I wasn't going entirely mad, although I'm sure it was still a massive relief to all when my hormones started to calm down. The point is, I know it's coming, and while I wholeheartedly believe that home educating Eldest puts us in a strong place to be able to provide the kind of emotional security needed as he goes through the process of growing into an adult, I do know that it is still his journey. I can't do it for him, I can only be here for him. And so if he wants to do nothing but draw for a while, I'm fine with that.
Another very lovely and inspiring home educating friend has two sons, one of whom is mid GCSEs, and the other (who is a year older than Eldest) has been mostly autonomously educated until now, when he has just started 'formal-style' learning, at his request - because suddenly he is motivated. I confess, despite the fact that she is the least competitive home educator I know, and gives nothing but genuine encouragement, I wobbled slightly: "Maybe we should be doing that with Eldest"... ARGH! (Did you spot the 'should'? Where there's a wobble, there's usually a should). Eldest is NOT motivated in the same way - he is just the opposite. Can you imagine what would happen if I tried to force it when his desire to 'work' is at its lowest? I can, and it's not pretty. I refuse to pressurise him to work according to my agenda. It's just a phase driven largely by his age - I know he won't lose his ability to learn if I give him time off - in fact, it'll help while his brain rewires itself to more adult workings.
So if Eldest wants to express himself by drawing, that is what he's going to do. Yes, I will still ask him to do a little Maths or English each day (today we played Smath - like Scrabble but with numbers), and I hope he will continue to have fun with us doing science experiments, background projects, trips out etc etc. But at the forefront of my mind is that he is coming into a period of intense change - and I want to give him all the emotional support he needs. The rest can wait until he is ready.
Now I'll leave you proudly with this quick biro sketch of R2D2 (apologies for the shadow in the photo) that Eldest whizzed off yesterday while I was putting the younger two to bed. Here's to many more such pictures coming soon...