What the Homeschool Home Looks Like
There were over one hundred families in our homeschool community, and I have visited many of their homes.
In general, homeschooling families live on fairly tight budgets. They frequent thrift shops, cook at home, and make full use of local libraries. They are families who have more than one child, and share resources. Our community group shared a list-serv, and if you put out a call for a book or orange shades of yarn, you’d have a quick response. Someone might even drop it in your mailbox on their way to pick-up hockey. Homeschooling families tend to be busy. Many are involved with churches or community caring and building, scouting, etc. Many are artists, both adults and children. There may be musical instruments in every room. Bathrooms become mini-galleries, and craft projects are on every surface. Family clocks, teapot trivets, spice racks, are hand-made. Maps hang on the walls, bookshelves are double-layered with bulging sides. Yards have vegetable gardens or decks have planters with parsley next to pansies, and hand-made outdoor furniture or a kid-constructed tree house. Craft materials and science experiments, books, and videos, snow camping gear, and carpentry tools — real ones, not toys — is typical.
Bottom line: most homeschool homes are a mess. Can’t think of one I’ve been inside that could be considered tidy. I’m feeling homesick, just writing about it.
Those were good years. (My youngest son is now twenty.) As parents, when we met for our annual camp-outs, or carpooling to the Bard festival, or outside the choir practice room, we would talk about our homes as places of learning and we would share what we came to know about:
Creating a Learning Environment
What are the elements to create context? So much of learning is about environment. To have an environment that stimulates, inspires, broadens, and then does that significant thing of allowing absorption.
If you think about it as following the path to learning and understanding, it means creating an environment that instills a sense of security, then the disequilibrium that comes with learning — or the outset of it anyway — then absorption, with a necessary time of introspection. And fun. It’s like a meal: salad, soup, main course, dessert, digestion. Or living, doing, sleeping…
Security is First
When my son left public education (grade four) for homeschooling, we went through a long process of de-schooling. It was at least as much for me as for him. And it took months.
A large part of the reason he left was about Time. There was a constant sense of being hurried, never enough time to think through, to get to full understanding. So when he started at home, it freaked me out, how he would stare out the window for long periods, then shake his head, and return to his work. I found myself worrying. And then reminded myself that this was EXACTLY why he’d left school. And I began to notice that after the window-staring would come a time of focus and work. And the window-staring appeared to have some significant part in that. So I let it be. It took me awhile, and some self-talk, but I chilled out.
For a number of months he did not read. He was just turned ten at the time, and he could read, but had not been enjoying it at all. So he just stopped. I read to him out on our deck, lying in hammocks in the fall sunshine. As we progressed further into the months, we’d read by the fireplace. Reading became a good connection. Then we’d talk about what we’d read. Months passed, and then suddenly, on his own, he was reading for pleasure. And reading a lot.
We did mental and verbal math when we rode our bicycles. We’d talk about the fractions in the ice-cream we’d made the day before, and how, if we wanted to actually fill the ice-cream maker, and produce the maximum amount, how much more would we have to make…half of two-thirds looks like… Those were good conversations.
Of course, each learner is different, so what builds a place of security for one might look different for another. The upheaval that can exist in these busy homes, might need a truly tidied area for a child who requires that. While there has to be organization, such a child might require neatness; you can judge this, and involve the learner. It’s so significant for each child to come to an understanding about how they learn, and how they can facilitate their own path to learning.
Once a learner feels secure, this is the next step. “Disequilibrium” is the state when one is open to learning, and IS learning. It’s a state of being a bit off-center, off-balance. It’s having your world opened in new ways. It’s like getting up on the dance floor, expecting one tune, and then hearing another with a different type of beat…and finding your way to dance. It’s when life gets a bit scary. And it’s a good thing. Especially when you are doing it somewhere with that underlying sense of security. No one is going to tell me I’m a dummy here! No one is going to tell me that I shouldn’t bother with this stuff — that this is not what I need to know. No one is going to tell me I’m lazy, or too shy, or too young.
So be open to working through this with your children. Let them see when YOU are going through learning and opening, and your struggle. You might want to consider taking up some new pastime — flamenco dancing! guitar! small business accounting… And be accepting of young learners’ emotions through this — frustration, confusion, mental fatigue, followed by hope, excitement, confidence. Once these last are reached, it can be useful to point out these steps, so next time they are reminded they’ve made it through before.
In all the messy homes I describe at the outset of this, I could always spot a place — a corner, a small room, a window-seat…some space of respite. A place to look out a window, read a book, mull, ponder. A garden bench. A front step with bright geraniums. A place just to be. The environment should reflect priorities and values. Even in the midst of happy productivity, aka mess, create a mental/emotional/physical space for pause. And mind peace.
A well-conceived learning environment has well-lit places to work with comfortable seating or standing. It has good reading spots and plenty of access to books, and art and craft supplies. It has access to nature. It has good walls to look at. And ingredients for nourishing food. It is surrounded by good people and community. And within that community, there are disparate people with skill sets that can be shared and explored.
The dessert. Recognizing and acknowledging “happy” or “content” or “Yeah! I did it!” should be a part of each day. More important than getting a good report card. And more important than a gold sticker. It is reward that goes deeply into a life-learner, and sets patterns, healthy patterns and needs. It builds a sense of accomplishment, and evokes gratitude. And motivates to enter into the next challenge. The next day. And the day after that. Learning is living.