When it’s working, keep going
Image by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious
Are you a tinkerer? As things are moving along in a pattern that flows, do you get itchy fingers? Are you likely to pry and probe, question, and analyze? Do you doubt yourself when all is calm? Do you wonder if you are “doing enough” or if the absence of passion or struggle means the work is too easy or not really teaching?
If you’re the type of person who is stimulated by risk or “trying the new,” you might miss that moment when your homeschool is actually going along as you’d always hoped. You might mistake your boredom for homeschool not working. It’s possible that you will re-insert drama or too much challenge or change into a scenario that is actually satisfactory and healthy as a way to stay stimulated, yourself (to have something for you to work on).
Don’t fall for that trap. If the kids are engaged (showing quiet engagement, cooperation, and care), you’ve succeeded. You don’t need to see marvels of creativity or passion every day of the year (or even every week or every month!). It’s okay to make steady or slow progress. It’s okay to be at peace.
As Susan Elliott (friend and therapist) says, “Make peace with the peace. That’s the sound of your life working.”
Allow your family to find its rhythm. If you have an idea that supplements the flow and nicely established calm of your home, you’ll know it. The idea will dovetail—it won’t dominate and upend, it won’t change the tone or feel of your home so dramatically that the kids now aren’t sure what they should or shouldn’t be doing.
I want to give an example of a time in my life when I made a big mistake.
My family was following a routine that I had built from my years of Charlotte Mason study. It was a good routine; a happy one, that held up well in all kinds of circumstances. It felt like a true fit for us (both lifestyle and content). They were happy; I was happy. They were learning; I was able to support and facilitate that learning. I could measure their growth without testing or hand-wringing. That season was my favorite for homeschooling.
However, there came a point one year where my CM support group disbanded, and I looked for another source of inspiration (for me!). I also noticed that a couple of my kids became crabby about some of the history lessons (the way I had them structured or modeled after CM). I went in search of new stimulation.
I found it in the world of unschooling. Given my temperament and habit of parenting, it felt like a wonderful fit for my ideas of what I believed about learning. I read and read, I discussed with my kids’ dad how I felt about this philosophy, I absorbed the advice of the online unschoolers (so much so, I lost a little of myself in the process).
One day, Jon (kids’ dad) and I took the kids out for breakfast and announced that we had a new idea for homeschool. We explained the theory of unschooling with great joy and enthusiasm. “You get to learn whatever you like! You are in charge! We will participate and help and facilitate, but you are no longer bound by a set of criteria to follow!”
Two of the five hooted: “Woo-hoo!” They high-fived.
Two of the five panicked: “How will I learn math? But I liked my vocabulary building book. Does this mean that what I’ve learned so far doesn’t matter?”
One of the five was too young to care one way or the other and went back to eating pancakes.
Over the course of the next two years, I noticed a few things. One, we lost the hub of our homeschool and it took me some time to find it again. While we discovered some truly awesome and inspired passions that developed and grew, for Jacob and Johannah (in particular), the un-measured progress felt like abandonment. They enjoyed setting out a goal and completing it. They enjoyed me giving them a goal to complete. All that freedom felt a little unhinged—rendering hard work meaningless.
Truth be told: we entered an unschooling lifestyle the “wrong” way. I learned later on all those lists that a big announcement can be utterly disorienting for kids. I got ahead of myself—pushing a vision, rather than supporting growth and learning naturally.
We found our way through this unschooling wilderness (more about that another time). But as I look back now, our best homeschooling years were the ones with that balance between routine (with a few well chosen expectations) and freedom, between parent-led learning and child-led passion.
So it is with real experience that I say to you: If it’s working, keep going. Don’t fool or trick yourself. There isn’t always a “better.” Sometimes “better” is already happening in your home. Embrace it.
Make peace with the peace.
Your life is working.
Cross-posted on facebook.
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