Years ago I heard someone say, “Even if you work for a company, think of yourself as self-employed — because at the end of the day, we’re all self-employed. We all work for ourselves first and foremost.”
I could make the same argument about homeschooling. As parents, we all homeschool our kids — it’s a matter of where and how we choose to outsource. Ultimately, we’re still tasked with the charge of helping our kids learn what they need to learn.
I know some devoted homeschool families who would argue with me that traditional schooling methods aren’t homeschooling, and this isn’t the time or place for that debate — because right now, while things are nuts, we’re all doing the best we can, and most all of our schooling options are some form of partial solutions.
This fall, and maybe this next spring, too, we’re all homeschooling, even if our kids go off to a different building to learn. Here are a few things I’ve learned about adopting a homeschooling mindset, no matter how you “do” school (because our family has done just about every method of education available).
1. We learn all the time.
Our brains don’t clock in and out between the rings of a school bell. Thank goodness. Our minds and bodies are hardwired to learn all the time, even when we’re bored and aren’t doing much (quite possibly especially while we’re bored).
Kids don’t need to be in a class lesson or filling out a workbook to be in learning mode. They learn when they play in the backyard, look at rocks, wiggle their feet in the air when they lie on their bed, spread butter on their bread, and resolve a dispute with a sibling. They can’t not learn.
2. Subjects are man-made.
In reality, math isn’t separate from literature and geography isn’t separate from history. Our modern system has separated topics into “subjects” for convenience, but not because there’s a clear line between the periodic table and art or quadratic equations and poetry.
This is especially good news when you homeschool (even temporarily), because no one can cover it “all,” or even focus intently on the subjects They say are most important. If you’re in survival mode and your kids are in elementary school, I say it’s more than okay that you focus almost exclusively on reading, writing, and math and let all the other “subjects” be passion projects by applying them to reading, writing, and math skills.
Even with older kids, it’s okay if they’re not constantly studying history, a foreign language, a science, and a fine art. Or whatever. In real life, these areas blur beautifully into each other.
3. Scholé is just as important — maybe more important — than rigor.
I care a great deal about my kids learning deeply and well, and this looks like much more than taking challenging classes and studying difficult topics. Learning deeply requires a posture and environment for scholé.
Scholé is the Greek word where we derive our English word school. And believe it or not, scholé means “leisure.” Yep, we originally named that building full of tests, peer pressure, and administrative paperwork after the ancient word for leisure. The irony is palpable.
This is because the original goal of learning was the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, not profit-earning because the thing learned is applicable to a job. It’s also because leisure was not about slothfully vegging on the couch and binging on sugar and shows, it was about pursuing truth for the sheer enjoyment of it.
We’re hardwired to love learning, but it’s been taught out of us by modern expectations. We so often forget that our true self actually loves understanding, loves wrestling with hard things until that “aha!” moment, loves tinkering until we figure it out.
Our world typically doesn’t applaud learning for learning’s sake much these days, so I’ve found keeping it front-and-center in our educational process at home provides an environment where it’s safe to be in scholé mode.
This looks like a dresser drawer full of cardboard, glue, tape, paint, scissors, and string to create things. It looks like Kyle teaching our hands-on kid to use power tools safely and keeping scrap wood for him. It looks like getting chickens and letting the kids run the roost on taking care of them (and starting an egg business).
It looks like having books in every room of the house, to send the blatant message that reading and stories matter. It looks like playing thoughtful instrumental music in the background while we study. It looks like asking what we each learned today around the dinner table, and not what all you got done today.
Yes, we still need to check things off our to-do lists, so we don’t live in la-la land as though deadlines don’t matter. But it does look like choosing to be the boss of our time, using it how we best see fit. It looks like doing our best to make time daily for the pursuit of scholé out of sheer enjoyment.
(To nerd out on the idea of true leisure, I highly recommend the short classic, Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper.)
4. Learn from smart people.
We’re just a few weeks into the school year, and I think I’ve already quoted Peter Redpath three times to my students: “If you wish to become wise, learn from wise people.” It’s painfully obvious, yet we often forget to live like it’s true.
There are so many people out there we can learn from, and if you’re wanting to learn how to homeschool — or simply prioritize learning — well, I recommend Sarah Mackenzie, Andrew Kern, Christopher Perrin, and Susan Wise Bauer as great starting mentors.
No need to learn from scratch. There are many wise people from whom we can learn.
I’m thankful that there are so many ways we can help our children pursue a quality education these days, be it through public, private, homeschools, or other creative options. What a time to be alive! While we’re all in flex mode, it’s good to remember that we can set up our home environments so that our kids — and we alongside them — have a fighting chance to learn deeply and with passion.
p.s. Not too long ago, Sarah Mackenzie and I talked about how to homeschool with sanity.