That’s bulls**t. You absolutely could do this.
It’s been several years since I had the major paradigm shift in my philosophy on education, and rejected the idea that government school is synonymous with childhood. Since then we’ve tried all the porridge, and I remain convinced this is our road. We’re committed to providing our kids with real-world experiences vs. artificial reproduction of learning. This takes an inordinate amount of thought, energy, DRIVING, patience, social investment, research and time. Not to mention the financial burden of being a single-income family, weighing my decision to opt out of my career for awhile and roll up my sleeves to dig into my half of our division of labor. Factor in the stress of weaning a toddler, training a puppy, meal planning, grocery shopping, the whole marriage thing, filthy bathrooms, the fighting/bickering, the damn kitchen sink, neighbor drama, the yard, neglected friendships, stolen bikes, stomach viruses, class prep and planning for co-op, outgrowing shoes, mommy guilt, payments due, family reunions, math homework and ‘good god will I ever have a job again’ thoughts – sometimes I wonder if I’ve got this all backwards.
A friend of mine asked me this question recently: “Why are you doing all this? I mean, I know why… but, WHY do you do this?”
To a successful, career-minded mom of 2 middle-school-aged girls (who are beautiful, intelligent, lively, independent kids, btw) my life might seem like an endless toil of an inordinate amount of work. Her face was urgent, like she had just thrown something at me and she pleaded for me to catch it; a life preserver. As though I am somehow upside-down in my investment. I want to give a few answers to this seemingly obvious but deeply-introspective question, mostly to remind myself. I field a lot of judgement from polar ends of the mommy-war. I’m either neglecting my kids by not demonstrating work ethic (in our culture care work seems to only be valued when it can be exchanged or translated directly to currency) or I’m indulging my kids by not externally motivating them or forcing work on them in some way, or I’m just not punitive enough in general. I’m so bored by the research out there on play and childhood at this point because it’s old news and I don’t even bother mentioning the importance of this delicate and fleeting time period. For people who look upon me pitifully (because clearly, I’m falling behind with self-care and am being steamrolled by these boys) or suspiciously (yes, my kids watched THAT movie and they are playing zombie video games right now), here are my top 5 reasons for doing what we do.
Reason #5: Breakfast is Our Family Dinner
We love breakfast. It’s something we all have in common, so why not make it a priority? This blog doesn’t have a <sarcasm font>. so let’s be serious. Breakfast is one of my actual values. It’s kind of a big deal right now, and we do it up. When I say that, I mean we drag it out as long as humanly possible. Plus, it’s usually the only meal we eat together as a family during the week, so it’s important. Usually bacon & egg breakfast tacos, fruit bowls, yogurt, and probably some kind of toasted glutenous bread product with lots of grass-fed butter. Real food. This is a leisurely event and sometimes won’t even commence until 10am, even on a Tuesday. The kids are usually in their underwear, likely singing, merrymaking or bickering. No screens allowed. We talk about what will be happening that day and set expectations/goals. It’s our team synch-up. On days when we have co-op or early class I’m not above throwing stuff at the kids in the car and screaming about shoes and water bottles. I can do that, they can hustle. it just can’t be a default setting or we will all be medicated after a week. Breakfast also signals a transition from the sleepy, leisurely morning to the time when we wake our brains with nourishing food and knowledge. We listen to podcasts, read out loud, read silently, listen to audiobooks or do something that immerses our minds in language and imagery. Lately, I have been listening to an audiobook in the morning about Big History. Dax is reading a book his friend Beatrice wrote, and Jace is listening to Gregor The Overlander: Prophecy of Bane and Remy is into Sid the Science Kid and Toca Science apps on the iPad. Without a deliberate breakfast time, it would be hard to transition from Roblox/Minecraft/Fortnite/Netflix to a more focused time of language development and thoughtful practice.
Reason #4: Time Spent Wisely
How else are you going to find 10 friends to race go-karts with on a Wednesday? Children’s Museum on a Saturday? No thanks – I’ll go at 10am on a Thursday. This just goes without saying. Morning birthday parties at Jumpoline, day trips to Six Flags, picnics at splash pads, daddy-time at Main Event, or even just a pool party at a neighborhood park, these things are way more fun for kids AND parents on a weekday. Field trips are focused and more hands-on when you’re not wrangling 80 kids, art museums are quiet, sculpture gardens are serene. It just goes hand-in-hand with homeschooling. Crowd avoidance is my love language. Vacations during finals, Disney before Christmas break, road trips in the fall – give me all these things, but at least give me sleep. Kids in this age bracket need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day. Waking up at 6:40am to get to school by 8am, only to sit in school for what basically amounts to be a full workweek when most of that time is spent in crowd control; I just cannot justify that. Not to mention, they would only see their dad on weekends at that rate. There are so many reasons we value our time and our time together. It’s hard to spell it all out in a blog.
Reason #3: This Lifestyle Cultivates Self-Directed Learning
No, I don’t want to teach my kids calculus at our kitchen table. Are you freaking kidding me? My 10-year-old is learning animation and coding via a web-based, self-paced online resource and I don’t even know how to log in. I’m not dispensing information into them, like filling up a bucket o’ knowledge to be retrieved at will. I have no idea what kind of future career they are preparing for but the least I can do is help them take ownership of their own education, so they can adapt and thrive in the future. They have space and time to discover their passions without interference. Even if the skills they are honing aren’t what I was being drilled on at this age, who am I to judge what they should value? They need to have time that is their
own to pursue their own interests, and a full day of school all week plus homework time leaves little room for this. Do they need 12 hours a day of unbridled Youtube videos? No, methinks, but they only do that when I get lazy. Collaborative Incubation is not about leaving them, literally, to their own devices. It’s about working together to leverage their interests in a way that engages them with the world around them. Zoom out and you will see structure, pan left to right and you will see a feast of materials and resources, but frame-by-frame the kids are making choices and following their interests to drive their own learning.
Reason #2: We
Connecting with nature is connecting with a part of oneself. We make an effort to get outside and away from the house at least once a week. It’s a personal goal of mine as well, so why wouldn’t I see this opportunity as reason enough to continue on this path? Research supports the idea that regularly spending time in nature enhances learning and growth on several levels. For more info on this concept check out the book “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louve.
We recently rejoined Austin Families in Nature, and plan on doing a lot more exploring of the more wild areas in and around Austin. I can’t say I learn a new academic factoid every day, but I do get to be present in my life, and I make sure the kids are presented with new learning opportunities every day, like anyone else who chooses the real world as their classroom. Also, Camping spots are easier to reserve on weekdays. Especially in February when it will be cold and rainy. That’s going to be our nature this weekend. Yay nature. David is STOKED. </sarcasm>
Reason #1: Self-Compassion isn’t taught in school
Research shows that people who can practice self-compassion suffer less depression, anxiety and perfectionism in life, while enhancing empathy, emotional equanimity, connectedness and happiness. I care very little about how my 8-year-old would do on the STAAR test, but I do prioritize his ability to recognize our common humanity, and I want him to notice suffering. I try to reinforce mindfulness with the kids, and I’m not sure this would be a priority in school. I am not savvy on citing sources anymore (thanks, college degree), but these principles grouped together as such are not my original idea. Kristin Neff has taken these elements in Buddhism (and other areas of study), and created a system of self-compassion that you can easily research and scrutinize using the linked text above. I’m hoping that all of this will add up to content, emotionally stable adults. I know my kids are capable of kindness toward themselves, and they know I expect them to be absolutely kind to others.
Most people assume homeschooling families opt out of public school because of fear. Fear of bullying, drugs, unsavory language, common core, s**tty teachers, sex assault, mass shootings, or challenges to faith. Although I abbhor the thought of all those things (some more than others, as we aren’t religious anyway) none are really my battlecry for homeschooling. Sure, I have concerns about school (the influence of blind nationalism and time wasted preparing for tests, mainly), but mostly I know and have seen that my boys are not at all happy in a school building for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. They don’t want to do 5 worksheets on double-digit multiplication and stress out about tests. They don’t enjoy chaotic field days, awkward lunchroom shenanigans, rude teachers or playground politics. There’s just no time for that. We choose homeschooling out of love and desire to make the most of our days, not because of fear.
This year I am focusing much less on academics and more heavily on habits. They are learning how to do their own laundry and load/unload the dishwasher. I want them to keep some healthy routines and slow down; practice mindfulness. So many of the problems I see with them manifested during the time I backed off too much from their educational journey. Self-direction still requires partnership with the parent. Collaborative Incubation is in fact a collaborative effort. I have to spend MORE time being present, and modeling what self-directed learning is. I’m working on my own continued education and tuning in to the interesting stuff my kids are learning about.
Here are some of the things we are working on this spring:
Austin Families in Nature
(and coming soon: tennis and flag football)
Some of our other resources we utilize in homeschooling:
If you’re feeling particularly generous you can send the boys a gift from their Homeschool Materials Wish List. They would greatly appreciate it!
How are you collaborating with your child(aren)?