Contributor Amida writes for Journey Into Unschooling
This summer, my oldest child went off to college for the first time at thirteen.
Wearing a backpack filled with a simple folder, a couple of pencils, and enough food to survive the night if need be (two sandwiches, two fruits, two thermoses full of hot soup, snacks, a water bottle, and a dark chocolate bar), I saw him board the bus alone — his first time in one since he was three-years-old — and watched as he disappeared down the road for the next eight hours.
It was a scary moment.
For many, thirteen is no big deal. Heck, I was walking to and from school on my own years before that, as do many public school children. But most of the homeschoolers I know are somewhat sheltered in that respect.
Call us strange but we like to hang out together and do family things. I know all my children’s friends and peers and their parents (and brothers, sisters, and sometimes cousins and next door neighbor). For the most part, we learn together, and being such a close knit bunch, my children have had little opportunity or desire to be away for too long.
Granted, this isn’t the first time my son has been out of my sight. He does take and has taken outside classes on his own. Somehow though, the act of boarding the bus in the morning and not returning until evening feels like a rite of passage.
I had often wondered how I would handle the moment my child hit high school. Would we continue to homeschool? Would he be able to cope in a real (i.e. brick and mortar) high school if need be? It wasn’t that I doubted my ability to teach him, rather, it was a question of whether he would want more than a life at home. As it turned out, just into his teen years, he was well over a head taller than me, and bright as could be, with absolutely no interest in ending his homeschool lifestyle.
After considering our options, we decided it would be best to continue in our journey and supplement with courses at the local community college. After debating long and hard as to whether he would be ready for that step, or if we should wait a couple of years, I bit the bullet and enrolled him in a summer “trial class.” We picked a course he was completely confident in and would have no trouble with, because the real purpose of the class was independence.
Twice a week, for six weeks, he boarded the bus, and enjoyed freedom from his siblings and parents for an entire day. Before leaving the house, he had to go through his Daily Checklist, where “wits about you” rested right there between house key and cell phone.
Photo by LollyKnit
And just like that, he did it. For the first time in his life, he was talking about people I didn’t have a face to and keeping up with assignments I knew nothing about. Other than a quick warning to not eat strange brownies (it was college, after all), I kept my anxieties to myself and encouraged him to embrace his new adventure and hoped that I had prepared him with enough common sense to make it home safely.
As I look back at how we arrived at this point, I realize that I didn’t just send my son on his way without preparation (although at that moment, it certainly felt that way). In the course of our day to day life, we had actually taken baby steps towards that bus.
Starting from when he was eleven, we started letting go of the reins, first allowing him to stay home alone, then walking to the corner to deliver mail, followed by solo trips to the library, and eventually taking his siblings to nearby classes.
As far as schoolwork, he had already spent his eighth-grade year with college prep work through online courses. In addition, he has had some experience taking all-day classes from local colleges. This last step, of course, involved public transportation into another county with only a cellphone as our lifeline. He has stepped through to the world of the teenager.
As we head back to school next week (with two college courses), I am grateful for our opportunity this summer to ease into this new chapter in our life, and to be able to begin my son’s final years in homeschool by celebrating his newly discovered independence. I am also thankful for all those baby steps we took to get here and am excited for what’s to come.
I imagine the upcoming mornings when I wake up and stuff his bag full of food and make sure he packs his wits. I can rest assured that like many others in his shoes, he will be just fine. Hey, maybe high school and teenage years won’t be so bad after all.
What will you be celebrating this coming school year?