A great deal of time has been spent over the winter months talking with Ben about homeschooling. We’re cooking up a project that will hopefully be ready to share with you sometime in April (read a little more about this project here). It’s easy to talk to Ben. He’s friendly and energetic and comes across as being genuinely interested in people. And I don’t think he’s pretending. We’ve discovered we can easily burn through two hours on the phone and hang up with a list of things that we’ll get to "next time."
I do not write much about homeschooling these days, but my inbox tells me it remains the single most inquired about topic from those of you reading here. This observation, my talks with Ben, and the fact that we are a mere six weeks away from officially closing our family’s homeschool chapter, are all compelling me to spend some time with the subject here today.
Several times throughout our homeschool years I’ve tried to convince Emily to adopt a three weeks on, one week off, year round schedule. It seems like a great idea to me (and actually covers a few more days than the typical school calendar, if you keep track of that sort of thing). My biggest motivation for this was that in addition to being the primary homeschool parent, I also work full time. It's not always the easiest thing to figure out. I figured one week off from homeschool per month would afford me the time to really buckle down on work projects. I also thought Emily would be into the idea of a "break" right around corner, pretty much at all times. But, not surprisingly, this idea was not received with great interest. If you know Emily, you know she prefers a more conventional status quo. Which is to say, our homeschool experience has been largely curriculum driven and our days structured similarly to a typical school day. (All of this has definitely relaxed over the last two years, but certainly our first four years followed this pattern.) This self-imposed formal style has not always been easy for me. I mean, I do tend to be a fairly organized person and like most people benefit from a good rhythm to my days, but the moment I begin to feel confined by obligations, to do lists, or schedules, is the moment I lose my ability to breathe and begin plotting my escape to the mountains with no plan for return.
As it turns out, the learning environment which I thrive in is not the same as that which my daughter thrives in. Given the fact that one of our primary reasons for homechooling was so Emily could enjoy her unique potential, I resigned my hippy ideals that included mornings tending the garden together and crafty afternoons spent making macramé plant holders as we listened to Van Morrison. Sigh. A mother can dream. Instead, I have a powerhouse of a kid who spends much of her time studying public policy, government, international relations, plus a little Nietzsche, Leslie Knope, and Ron Swanson pedagogy thrown in for good measure.
I would like for my parenting record to reflect, however, that I do hear great music through her bedroom walls. But sadly, there is no macramé to speak of.
Even though I didn’t get any takers on the three weeks on, one week off year round proposal, I was able to convince her to “do school” for only a half day on Fridays. I mean, we have to embrace some of this freedom, right? As it was, she clocked far more engaged learning hours than she would have in a typical classroom, so why not put our feet up for a few hours come Friday afternoon? She sort of bought into it. And by sort of I mean she was cool with closing the books by lunchtime on Friday, but she also wanted to spend the bulk of Friday afternoon working together to get the house in order so we could head into the weekend with reasonably clean floors and fresh laundry for all. Being the pro-weekenders that we are over here, I was happy to oblige any request that encouraged more pleasant downtime on Saturday and Sunday. Besides, I’m a big fan of tending the nest so she didn’t have to twist my arm much. (Before you get any crazy ideas about Emily being some kind of clean-freak, school-centric super kid, please know that I am one of those mothers who is in awe of families where the kids "cook dinner once a week!" Let me tell you, that is not happening over here. We all have our strengths...)
And now, maybe I’ll get to the point of this post...
Something I started doing during our Friday afternoons, after things were picked up and maybe even some food prep for the weekend was done, was to sit (alone) for an hour or so, and intentionally fill my homeschool mom cup. The house was in order and our homeschool area put back together from a week of heavy use. For me, this was the perfect environment to soak in fresh insight and new ideas... from others.
And you know me... it all started with setting myself up right. I’d light a patchouli scented candle, make a cup of herbal tea, prop myself up on a soft satin pillow, and say a prayer to the patron saint of education (kidding! the pillow was hand quilted...). Then, I'd settle in for an hour of reading homeschool blogs, homeschool magazines, and books on education and being human. Never underestimate the power of a good book on being human. Sometimes I would research things Emily mentioned she was interested in, to see if we could bring said things into our days. There was no agenda, just me and one hour of my time spent receiving inspiration, questioning some big ideas, and feeling supported in areas that I was convinced I was failing in. There was something about taking this time, with a freshly cleaned house, a meal waiting on the stove, and patchouli wafting through the air, that almost made it feel like a practice. A ritual. And I suppose in some ways it was. It was the perfect way for this mom to end the week. No matter what method of homeschooling you follow, an inspired parent with a full cup can make all the difference. It might even be critical. (To be clear - the clean house first part? That's optional. Filling your cup? Less optional.)
While I think it is important to not stress and obsess over every little outcome related to our kids’ education and future, we of course need to keep tabs on the big picture, and periodically check in with our own reasons for taking on the monumental, sometimes difficult task of assuming the responsibility for our kids’ education. It is no small thing.
Anyway. If you’ve never tried setting aside this time for yourself, I highly recommend it. One hour a week, just for you. Consider it professional development.