A friend of mine who is an educator recently commented, “You’re trying to be a parent and a teacher. I don’t know how you can do that. That’s hard.”
I appreciated her sympathy, but the truth is I’m not a “teaching” in the typical sense that comes to mind, when we consider brick-and-mortar schools. There are dozens and dozens of ways to homeschool. Some craft unit studies. Others buy boxed curricula. Some swear by the classical model, others by unschooling.
For our family in this season, learning is a lifestyle. It’s not compartmentalized, or confined to a syllabus. It’s a way of life. We try to cultivate an environment and a practice of learning such that the stuff of exploration seems natural.
I don’t really consider myself a teacher, because my “teaching” isn’t a discrete role as much as it’s an extension of parenting. I’m not scouring standards and preparing lessons; I’m researching opportunities, inspiring questions, and encouraging conversations. I imagine in the older grades we’ll shift toward a more typical approach, but for now, adopting a lifestyle of learning allows us flexibility and lends our days a special richness.
To illustrate what this lifestyle looks like, I thought I’d recount an example from the past month.
Every year, the kids and I go apple picking with a friend. This year, the experience turned from a simple outing, into an entire experience of growth and discovery. Here’s how:
1) The morning of the trip, we read How Do Apples Grow? over breakfast. We cut open an apple to look at the seeds, and tipped it over to examine the remnants of the sepals.
2) We went apple picking. Our friend grew up on an apple farm sixty years ago, so we asked lots of questions about her experience, and inquired about the different varieties. We sat in a sunlit row with our dear friend, and enjoyed the ripened fruit. The kids helped haul bags of apples back to the farmstand. Pip and I estimated what the total cost would be, based upon the weight.
3) We sampled the local cider. Afterward, Pip commented that he thought it was the best he’d ever tasted. When we got home, he wrote a letter to the orchard owners to tell them so. I helped him spell “cider,” but the rest he did on his own. I taught him how to address an envelope.
4) We decided to use half our haul to make applesauce. The three of us each assumed a job, working as a team: I peeled, Pip cored, and Bean chopped (with a plastic knife, of course!). We measured out water, brown sugar, apple cider, and cinnamon.
5) We had so much applesauce that we decided to give some away to friends. Pip wrote the labels. He has dysgraphia and usually resists writing, but with the significance of giving to friends at play, he took to the task eagerly. He also decided to whom we’d give our gifts, and in what containers.
Then we made some trips for special deliveries.
What was an ordinary apple-picking trip, evolved into series of experiences infused with learning. I didn’t prepare a lesson plan ahead of time, yet with alert eyes and intentionality, we covered science, social skills, measurements, estimation, fine motor skills, teamwork & cooperation, and writing, in a way that felt natural and unforced, purposeful and meaningful. Most importantly, throughout we gave thanks to God’ for his blessings, and focused our efforts on loving others.
Homeschooling can be hard, certainly. But in our house, it’s not because I’m trying to fulfill two disparate roles. Learning isn’t something that happens during designated hours. It’s an ongoing way of life, focused on God’s workmanship in and for each of us, delighting in the sparks that spiral upward in each moment, pirouetting before they vanish into yesterday.