Getting on our groove

It’s Monday morning and we’re all busy. My husband is doing paperwork before heading out to teach for the afternoon, I’m writing this article, my 18-year-old is making smoothies for breakfast, and my 16-year-old is awaiting the arrival of a bunch of teenagers for a rehearsal of a Shakespeare play. This afternoon, she’ll get on the bus and head to a theater in the next town for another rehearsal. This evening, I’ll go sing with my chorus while another crop of teens arrives at my house for a meeting of my 18-year-old’s Model United Nations Club.

Sometimes I joke that our house is like Grand Central Station. There’s always a steady stream of people coming and going for work, for play, for fun, for the business of life. This alive, dynamic lifestyle is, for our family, one of the best parts of homeschooling. Having two employed parents with flexible schedules may contribute to the winding nature of our days. But even in families with a more traditional set-up, homeschooling offers the opportunity to develop an organic rhythm, a groove that allows everyone to learn and thrive.

For me, simply making the decision to homeschool opened up doors of opportunity. Once I realized I didn’t have to send my kids to school, other outside-the-box options I never would have considered before seemed possible. As time went by, my homeschooling lifestyle taught me that what I once would have considered absurd wasn’t only real, it was desirable. I watched my kids learn to read with no formal instruction. I observed them taking an interest in numbers and figuring out how to add and subtract without prodding. I spent time with other homeschooling families and developed close relationships that exist to this day. Most of all, I learned that the more I stayed out of my kids’ way, the more they blossomed.

Finding the rhythm that worked for our family involved a few key components. The first was play. From the time our kids were born they spent most of their time playing. Sometimes it would be at the park during a support group gathering, other times at friends’ houses, and often outdoors. The curiosity and freedom of expression they enjoyed made play spill over into everyday life. Baking cookies, for example, became a game, one that continued once the task was done at splendid tea parties where they could practice being grown-up, not just in behavior but in conversational topics, which included politics, child care, and whatever else they heard adults around them discussing.

Which brings me to another important component of our homeschooling: our kids hung around with adults a lot, working and playing alongside them. They sang in an intergenerational chorus and performed in intergenerational plays, they attended grown-up concerts and talks, and they regularly tagged along to meetings for my volunteer work, or rehearsals of my husband’s band. They always carried books or art supplies or games to play, but don’t think for a minute that they weren’t paying attention to the adults, too.

How did this integrated, play-oriented lifestyle benefit our family? It allowed our kids to develop self-sufficiency, for one thing. They learned at a young age how to occupy themselves, which renders obsolete one question commonly directed at homeschooling parents: How do you find time for yourself? Last summer, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder reported that children spending more time in unstructured activities were better able to set goals and meet them without prodding from adults.  In the small sample size of our family, that’s certainly been the case. By being in charge of their play and their learning, our kids learned to trust themselves, they became confident, and they discovered passions they pursue with gusto.

Guiding our kids to find those passions was one of the most important goals of homeschooling, and engaging in a rich, bustling life which exposed them to lots of people and experiences was a big help. With the benefit of hindsight, I see clues to the passions they’d later embrace peppered throughout my kids’ lives, but watching the process unfold was full of surprises. My 18-year-old loved singing from the time she was a baby, for instance, and was always very social, but we had no idea she’d embrace jazz and psychology so fiercely. My 16-year-old watched her older siblings in plays and attended theater productions with us enthusiastically, but who’d have thought that when she was 13 she’d start her own theater company?

These discoveries are some of the gifts we receive as we watch our kids learn, grow, and become. When people say homeschooling is a lifestyle, that’s what they mean. It’s about flow, trying new things, connecting with each other and what we love, and in the words of John Holt, learning all the time.

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