An Atmosphere of Learning

While anticipating the school year ahead, a friend sent me these reflections, wondering about my own thoughts and experiences on the topic.

I'm feeling as though God is calling me to something different with our home school. Most of my homeschooling friends basically do "school" at home, which has never intrigued me. There is so much about the system that I am not impressed with and that I try not to emulate so I don't do things the way most of my peers do.

Sometimes I feel a bit alone in how we go about things. But now I am feeling even more of a pull to move even further away from the traditional norm. Thinking about ditching some of our workbooks and focus more on narration, reading more and more out loud/learning together, nature books for science, etc. The thought of implementing these things as more of my focus has me so excited, yet so scared.

I'm a checkmark person so I like to have all the boxes checked in my children's education. So I am afraid that leaning more toward unschooling might isolate me even more or, worse yet, might make my kids fall behind. I know God will work it all out. I guess I am just looking for some encouragement as I am scared to walk in faith in this way, and also to begin justifying even more to others why I am doing what I am doing.

I look forward to hearing about how you do things and how you deal with being "different". Also, how you have responded to the Lord's leading in your homeschool. I need to know that I am not alone and that children really will thrive in a less "traditional" education. I know they will, I'm just at a place where I am surprisingly "scared" to follow this way, even though I know in my heart it is the best way.

One thing we must identify as we consider educating our children is that there is no path or strategy that guarantees us specific results. Whatever path we choose is an act of faith… there is so much freedom in this if you really allow it to sink in.

Having said that, I have seen many homeschooling families crumble under the long-term pressure of constant academic advancement as a core value, as it so often polarizes parents and children, putting unnecessary strain on those relationships. This, I believe, may let worldly values (competition, comparison, worldly intellect, vocational strategizing, works, ‘hustle’) interfere with family life, which is first and foremost spiritual in nature.

Prioritizing attached and loving relationships comes first, and then passion, delight and purpose come next, while worksheets come…never.

In our home, we don’t do much that resembles school; we've leapt off the grid and have discovered ourselves to be experiencing a kind of radical new abundance I would not have believed possible a decade ago.

Our desire is to set an atmosphere where love, joy, delight, and curiosity lead; life together is a textured work of art that blends working out the daily duties of life together, playing with new ideas, experimenting, exposing ourselves to tension and new opportunities, doing what we love, being still, settling into purposeful work, worshipping, engaging curiosity, talking, reading, building relationships, stretching, and exploring.  The fact is that when life is lived this way everything is in relationship to everything else (which makes it meaningful), as opposed to life being divided into subjects and fractured into pieces that don't necessarily seem to make short or long term sense to a child, or adult for that matter.

For example, I write poetry on the walls because I love it; I don’t teach it to the children because it’s good for them… but, because it comes from my own passion, the children engage with it out of their own personal interest, which makes it meaningful for them. They are writing witty little verses all the time, but I don’t make them do it. Once in a while, we’ll sit in the back yard on a beautiful blanket with strawberries and cookies and I will read poetry to them, and act it out, and make up tunes to sing, and they love it, because I look so ridiculous! It always ends in laughter and pleading for more.

Nobody told me to do it, no list forced the event upon the day, instead it’s part of cultivating an atmosphere, it’s fostering delight, it’s being in the shelter of each other while we grow into this big, wide world together.

Doing life like this is heroic work, because few believe it is possible to do life this way and ‘succeed’. But, the fruit of this freedom is so very, very good. It allows space for every individual to flourish; every heart is nourished by being allowed to be just as God made them. We enjoy each other, we talk virtually endlessly about things that matter (and plenty of dumb stuff too), we learn through topics together as the world virtually rests at our fingertips waiting to be discovered. The kids literally cannot stop asking questions, learning, trying new things, or developing new ideas… watching this take place is exhausting sometimes (and yet totally satisfying)!

Life like this moves the parent from the position of teacher, expert, and program director, to observer, guide, and co-participant… we learn together, which makes it real and impacting for all of us.

The important thing is that when you feel dissatisfied with your homeschooling trajectory, listen to that dissonance! Don’t push it away, it’s there for a reason: to call you up to the next upgrade that God has for your life.  There is tension in these things that must not be buried.

Do it scared!

Do it with your knees knocking and your head spinning; leap into freedom and find that there’s a different kind of fruit that doesn’t come from a checklist or tests or marks or quantifying things… this is the place where the heart is nurtured, learning to live under the Tree of Life.

Ultimately, as mothers, that is the one thing we can give our children: safe heart-space to grow and become the unique persons God had in mind when creating them.  Though bakers may find them handy, God did not make cookie cutters.  {Apply some approaches or methods when it serves your family, but strategy must not be our primary mode of operating.}

When we allow our faith to move into places of freedom that the world does not yet recognize, God will show up every time. However, if we place our faith in the world’s systems and values we may find some successes, but may have missed our opportunity to teach our children some of what is most important: to learn to be still, to be content, to ask questions, to serve, to explore, to create, to be honest, to be expressive, to listen to the voice of God, to nurture hearts, to live without comparison and competition, to celebrate life, and to live in the present.

Essentially, we cannot stop children from learning, unless of course we force-feed them (which they can put up with for a time, but eventually tend to resist on one level or another later). All learning that matters stems from a place of personal motivation and curiosity. We short-circuit this loop by imposing our best practices upon children, in order make us feel “safe”.

The reality is, we were not meant to feel safe in these thingseducational rigour itself can be a motor that fuels our flesh even as our true spirit-self calls out for freedom and rest from the grind.

The only place we can truly be safe is under the shelter of the Most High. And, interestingly enough, He is invested in constantly taking us out of our comfort zones to experience the vast immensity of His freedom and love out there in the wild places where few choose to go!

Children thrive in an atmosphere of love, excitement, fun, purposeful work, serving, risk, exploration, and even healthy doses of boredom. Guaranteed, it’s messier this way though. It's gritty and feels unsatisfying at times when you compare the atmosphere of freedom to the formal rhythms of systematic education.

Even for those of us parents who prefer order, and rules, and planning, there are new expanses of personal development awaiting for us if we’d step out from needing to implement some of those “comfort-tools” and jump into the arms of our remarkable and faithful God.

The reality is, we’re going to mess up our kids… it’s basically part of the whole process. The greater reality is that God is prepared for that, and in His perfect love, He has prepared a way for our children to thrive in spite of it!

He’s writing our stories; all our potential mistakes don’t worry Him at all… He’s more eager to see us try, to risk the ridicule of man, to make some major flops on the journey to Joy, and to see us really move into the places of freedom that have largely gone untasted in recent generations.

The point is not to polarize the topic between "right" and "wrong" ways to educate children.  The point I'm really trying to explore is: do we feel free to live beyond the (largely experimental) systems and procedures of the last couple hundred years relative to the the enormously different scope of history, or do we feel somehow constrained to this small band of cultural expression?  Anything done in a spirit of delight and love can bear good fruit, but as soon as coercion, pressure, guilt and fear enter the equation we are missing out on something potentially powerful.

Freedom, engagement, opportunity and discovery are part of what it is what it is to be truly alive!  {Isn't that what we ultimately want to teach our children anyway?}

And, just for fun, here are a couple of things my kids have been working on of their own motivation (I taught them nothing about writing or making music - they are self-taught - so I really can't take any credit!):

Sunny's (age 13) blog.

Dorian's (age 14) blog.

A sample of Duke's (age 15) music.

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  • Reply Rebbeca August 21, 2017 at 12:56 am

    Yes, your right. I hate to “school” but find i can’t fit it into my day anyway.

    • Reply Bonnie August 21, 2017 at 7:37 am

      Haha! That’s a good point 😉

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