Image by Amber Strocel (cc)
I had this odd little homeschool habit. See if you can relate.
If my kids and I found something wonderful to do in a day, and if that wonderful activity wasn’t already on the calendar for a week or more prior to doing it, and if that something wonderful dawned on me out of the blue—a fresh, bright idea—and we acted on it that day (not scheduling it for a future date so that I could put it on the calendar first), I felt guilty counting that experience toward “school.”
In other words—spontaneous education felt fake (like I was getting away with something, like I was not a serious educator).
I imagined that most homeschoolers had schedules and plans and knew what was coming each week. Certainly school teachers must never lecture on the fly or succumb to inspiration of the moment rather than inspiration that led to a “plan” for some time later.
The cycle looked like this. We had our routine—the practices we usually did each day. Then I’d get internally, unconsciously fed up with the daily predictability. We’d be studying some cool topic like gems or fingerprints or Vietnam. Bam!
Let’s go to Little Saigon!
And off we’d go. Dropping everything. We’d have a fabulous, learning immersed day.
That I didn’t count.
Because it wasn’t planned.
Because I hadn’t thought about the learning values in advance; because good teachers don’t string together a bunch of inspiring moments and call that learning; because the event/activity/outing wasn’t a part of an integrated unit of study—it felt hap-hazard and too dependent on my flights of fancy.
My educational drive came from behind. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with a unit study about the the gold rush until we were knee deep in Levis and fool’s gold. I felt my way. The ideas would come as we read. How could we read about panning for gold and not pan for gold? So we abandoned all our other school work and planned a “panning for gold” party. The kids even tried to build a sluice (failed, but the effort was awesome!). The fake gold collected was traded for sarsaparilla and licorice. That party project sidelined math, science, read aloud time, and copywork for a month.
It was big and disruptive and unplanned. Not in a single one of my books. Just a moment of following this nagging thought: How can we read about the Gold Rush and not try it?
Similarly, I didn’t know what to do about the solar system and my kids—books didn’t quite get it. Small pictures about unimaginable sizes. Once we were reading, though, the scale of the numbers related to planets blew my mind (space is huge!)—I wanted to blow my kids’ minds. I called my next door homeschooling neighbor to help me. We went outside into our cul-de-sac, and attempted to replicate to scale, the space between the planets and the sun. Discovering we’d have to send the youngest child more than a mile away to approximate Pluto’s relationship to the rest of us ended that project—and made its primary point.
And eliminated math pages, phonics, and handwriting time. And nap time. And laundry.
That night, still on a solar system high, my kids and I drummed up the idea to host an impromptu planetary tea party (at night! with the stars!). Our neighbors joined us, and the oldest girl surprised us, dressing up like Jupiter! (Red blotch over her eye.)
But was this learning? I worried about it. I hadn’t made a lesson plan in advance. Were parties and field trips and impromptu experiments enough?
Back to the workbooks and planned curricula we’d go.
However, no matter how many days we logged in the workbooks and planned activities, I couldn’t tell if the kids were making the kind of progress they should be making. I had no measuring device to reassure me. Eventually we’d get bored or restless or the flu would visit and all semblance of the routine would go out the window.
After a holiday, I’d regroup and start again.
What I couldn’t know then that I do know now is that it is MORE than enough and life looks like this stitched together variety of practices, habits, and flights of inspiration. Taken together, you work your way around the circle of learning (planned activities, lessons, incremental worksheets for skills, field trips, parties, spontaneous crafts and experiments, wasted days, child-led days, parent-led days). All of it comes together.
It’s both enough, and never enough.
Learning doesn’t have an end point—you know that because you are still learning almost as much as your kids are while you educate them. Don’t you sometimes wonder how they let you out of college when you can’t remember a stitch of information about Manifest Destiny or the Pacific theater in World War 2 (and you were a history major!)?
Because of your natural home educator neuroses, you will cycle through these various educational styles over and over again, attempting to “hit” the target that keeps moving backward from you.
That’s how it is supposed to be and is. Even the least “schooly” among us are still standing by, alert, seizing those moments when they can support and honor the natural curiosity of their children.
When you feel the anxiety of “never enough” creep up, remind yourself that every day—no matter what you do—your intention is the good of your children and their educational advance. Research and buy curricula, plan amazing experiences, follow your flights of fancy, be inspired by your children’s curiosity and ambition to try things, provide resources, set up a routine…
…and trust the process.
In the end, it’s all learning and it all counts and it’s enough. Your kids will take what you give them and expand it beyond what you ever imagined. They will know how to do that because you will have modeled so many different ways to learn right in front of them for their whole lives. They’ll be comfortable with structure, freedom, exploration, testing, routine, inspiration, abstraction, practical application, curiosity, expertise, practice, performance, and achievement.
The subject areas are merely opportunities to show your kids what it is to learn through a variety of means so that they can continue that journey on their own after they leave home.
So hats off to you! On the calendar or not, it all counts. It’s enough.
Cross-posted on facebook.