Homeschooling and the Art of Living Together

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Over the past month I’ve been coping with an unexpected and very serious illness, and what I’d hoped to write this month was one of those snappy how-to posts with Great Ideas for Keeping School Going While You’re Sick!

Ha.

Well, I do have a few notes on what’s worked for us, but it isn’t working in the Pinterest-perfect way I’d imagined.  Instead, what I keep coming back to is one of the reasons I love homeschooling in good times and not-so-good times: We’re living alongside each other.

What do I mean by that?

Last year for science, my seventh-grader didn’t have a text book.  That is, we had a shelf with science books on it, including a pile of suitable textbooks gleaned from here and there.  But here’s a guy who likes to read science and technology stuff, so what I told him was that he had to do some science reading every day, or a science project of some sort (study things under the microscope, test something, invent something . . .).  Once a quarter he had to turn in a paper that I could put in his portfolio and use for grading purposes.

Now this is not the way I do all of our schooling.  But for this child for that school year, it was a realistic option.

Fast forward to this year.  He’s taking physical science using the course plans from Kolbe Academy, and it’s going well.  No unschooling of science.  But that year of Select Readings in Technology is bearing fruit. For Christmas he asked for computer parts, and during the Twelve Days he and his dad assembled a new PC using a collection of old and new components.

His friends call him for tutorials on assorted tween- and young-teen computer questions. It’s his thing. It’s what he likes to do.

He and I spend a lot of hours just doing our respective things, side by side.  I do a lot of writing.  He does a lot of Boy Computer Fun.  He comes to me periodically and makes recommendations on what my next computer ought to be, and what components it should have, and where to get it at the best price.

There is also formal schooling going on at our house.  But there’s also this other thing.  He and I, living in family life, two different people with a complex and mutally life-building relationship.

We’re happy.

Independence and Interdependence

Since I’ve been sick, we’ve cut out a lot of extracurricular activities.  Not all of them, but the kids are home more now.  I’m home all the time.  If there’s not a carpool, my kids aren’t there, period.

You would think this would make us stir-crazy.  It doesn’t.  Other than the obvious downside of having a seriously ill family member, everything here is as peaceful and joyful and well-organized as it’s ever been.  We aren’t rushing around all over the place.  The to-do list is shorter, and we’ve simplified a lot of the things we used to make so complicated.  A friend joked — and he was right — that it’s almost like we’re on vacation.

(Except that we’re not.  And also, vacation is a lot of work.  This is not a lot of work.)

And here’s the real paradox: My kids are both with me more, and at the same time increasingly independent.  They have to take on more responsibility around the house, because I physically can’t clean up behind them like I used to.  They have to help me with stuff I used to do on my own.  And I can’t play taskmaster over every little assignment.

I tell my two oldest every school day, “Either you do the work or you’re going to have to go to school.  I can’t babysit you.  Your choice.”  They do the work.

We’re a community.  Each of us has varying roles, and there’s an authority structure, and an uneven-but-fair division of responsibilities.  Even though my husband and I are very much the parents, very much the leaders, there’s a palpable sense that mutual respect is the name of the game.

We grown-ups are stunned, day after day, at what incredible young people we have in our family.  Their creativity, and talent, and maturity just amazes.  I have to tell them to quit making me laugh, because the coughing is killing me.*

This is normal life.

We’re experiencing all this via homeschooling, but really this is just normal family life.  Over the past several years I’ve been noticing the beauty and wonder of ordinary families.  I’ve gotten to spend time with several different families, peeking in, as it were, on every day life.

School families.  Young families.  Grown-up families.

I watched one day at the park as five children dropped everything and ran to greet their dad, surprise visitor.  Faces lit, huge grins, shouts of “Daddy!”  Nothing else mattered: Dad was there.

These are not perfect families.  These are normal families.  Living together.  Doing things together, and doing things side-by-side.

When I meet parents who are happier not homeschooling, it is nearly always because they say that the living together works better if their kids go to school. School gives them the space to do the parent stuff, so that afternoons, evenings, weekends, and vacations can be family-focused.

Parents who happily homeschool say the same thing: For us, the living together happens best if we don’t have to deal with school.  If assignments and deadlines and strict schedules don’t interrupt our life so much.  There are other, short-term reasons parents might choose one or the other way of educating their children. But over the long term, it seems like it almost always comes back to, “How can we live together best?”

Your turn: What’s working well in your family’s lived-together life? Share your stories with us!

*It is not really killing me.  It sounds horrible, but it’s perfectly safe.

Copyright 2014, Jennifer Fitz

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  1. Pingback: Mardi Gras, Family Life, Meat Demon – Riparians at the Gate + Jennifer Fitz

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