Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Course in How to Live, Part I

Twenty years ago, I started homeschooling to create something for our family which we would not otherwise have. Our vision for learning was not on the agenda of our local schools. While his peers were learning their ABC's, our oldest son Josh studied all the Indian tribes in North America. By the first grade, he was beginning to read The Chronicles of Narnia. He had no intention of stopping there. He could see a world opening up before him and waiting to be explored. He asked me to teach him at home, so that he would have the freedom to learn about the things that fascinated him. My husband's job as a news reporter started at noon every day. We all knew that family time would have to happen in the mornings if it happened at all. So I took the plunge into homeschooling, and we began our great adventure in learning.

I did it for them. Or so I thought.

As we learned together, many of my assumptions about life and learning had to be revised. I was forced to be more flexible, to be more disciplined, to be stronger than I thought I could be. Homeschooling changed my character. It changed my perspective. It changed my life. It taught me how to live with courage and imagination, side by side.

Lessons in Joy

First, my sons taught me the value of joy. I did not have a real childhood. Growing up in a big family with both parents working and leaning hard on their eldest daughter made me made me an adult too soon. It wasn't anyone's intention. My parents tried to do what seemed best for us. But it worked in my temperament like an iron rod through my spine. I became hyper-vigilant, deadly serious, workaholic. I lived like an adult by the time I was twelve, getting up at 4:00 a.m. to deliver a paper route, taking myself to school, paying for my clothes and lessons, and coming home to cook supper and clean the house before attending to homework. I had to pay my way through college. I never played. That was for others.

All those years, I viewed play the way a child with no money gazes into a candy store. It was not for me. Then, long after the time for play had passed, two young boys pulled me into their world of imagination. Their constant tugging and tutelage – “ Mom, do it like this!” -- let me live the childhood I never knew I could have. For hours, we played pretend. We ran stores, restaurants, and forts. We made up stories with Legos. We baked animal cookies and piled them with mounds of sprinkles. In the winter, we built huge fires in the fireplace and brewed "cowboy coffee", scorched hot dogs, and roasted marshmallows. We cut little pieces of white tissue to make paper snow. We built models. We blew bubbles. We piled books high on the couch and read together, imagining ourselves in faraway places. We played board games for long hours without stopping. I remember one fall day my husband happened to come home in the afternoon to find us still in our pajamas and in the middle of Monopoly. We had lost track of the time.

In the world of two boys, I learned the value of joy and imagination, of play and delight. I began to grasp how these things are essential to creativity and excellence.

And Confidence

Of course, imagination must be accompanied by resolve if it is to bear fruit. There were many lessons in this, too. Repeatedly, we started things because we had a vision. We became confident in our ability to teach ourselves new things: running a lemonade stand, publishing a kids’ magazine, selling handmade soap, building small machines, setting off rockets. We patiently worked at these projects, with a little anxiety over the results, until we were satisfied with the end product and knew it was time to move on. We ceased to feel pressured into conforming to the expectations of others, into running down the wide paths of the mainstream, into doing we should be doing.

We learned together that it's not the success at the end which determines whether we should commit to a venture. It matters more what kind of people we become by trying. Character comes first. The life worth living will be added to it. Everything we do comes from who we are. That is more significant than the things we intend. In the end, our choices, and the reasons for making them, are the true measures of success.

Somehow, the lessons in joy led to innovation and innovation meant defying expectations and that required courage. The path was set before us quite naturally, before I knew it had happened. Learning together changed us.

How has homeschooling changed you?


  1. I am loving, loving, loving your recent posts. You are a wealth of experience and encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to share it!

  2. Homeschooling has changed how I view every learning opportunity the world has to offer. I no longer look past the obvious but instead race head first to enjoy it all. It's also allowed me to enjoy every one of those moments with my beautiful children and for that I could not be more thankful! :) Love your post!


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