Deschooling

Since our oldest first started attending elementary school, our family was used to a Monday through Friday drop-off at 7:30 A.M. with a 2:30 P.M. pick-up. At once, the school served as both an opportunity for education and childcare. For us, childcare officially ended at 2:30, but the education continued. After an early afternoon break, the rest of the afternoon and evening was set aside for homework, study, and reading. Like mom and dad had a full-time job, so the logic went, for our oldest, education was his current vocation. This ideology changed somewhat when we decided to homeschool, and when I first discovered the concept of deschooling.

Home School Mom defines deschooling as “the adjustment period a child goes through when leaving school and beginning homeschooling. To fully benefit from homeschooling, a child has to let go of the private or public school culture as the norm. Together, these norms are called deschooling, and it is a crucial part of beginning homeschooling after time spent in a classroom.” I soon discovered parents had to deschool and let go of norms as well.

Time and schedule were the first things on our deschooling list. When, exactly, were we going to homeschool? At first, our default went to the norms held in brick and mortar schools. We soon discovered our old conceptions of time and schedule did not work, so we started asking questions around time. “What is the best time of day for our oldest to learn?” “Where was he comfortable learning (table, desk, couch, outside/inside)?” “What were his default learning styles?” What were our natural teaching abilities?” “Do we want to learn together?” “Do we want to teach one another?” With these questions and others like it, we soon discovered a natural teaching/leaning cycle in the morning with lighter activities in the early afternoon. We also learned that if we only have one hour of substantial learning time one day while doing four hours the next, there is no harm. Finally, we got rid of the Monday through Friday mentality; instead, teaching around work and life schedules. Sometimes we take the weekend off. Sometimes not. Sometimes homeschooling happens several days in a row. Sometimes there’s a needed break in the middle. We all had to learn that every hour of direct one-to-one instruction far exceeded the time in a classroom full of other learners. For example, if we need to spend a whole hour on something difficult, we do so. If we solve a problem in 10 minutes, we move on, pushing the learning hour to its limits.

The concept of deschooling also gave us the freedom to experience learning in all aspects of family life. We’re now cooking more together, visiting exciting places during the week, checking out more books from the library, discussing the candidates for President, watching documentaries, playing board games, and getting curious about the world – together. We listen to music while we study, play chess, and memorize Shakespeare. We pray Noonday Prayer out of The Book of Common Prayer. Learnings mostly occur at our home, but they also happen in car rides, family walks and trips to the swimming pool.

Homeschool has permitted all of us to take charge of where, how, and what we learn. It gives us a sense of awe and joy for the world around us while nodding to humility as we realize that we are standing on the shoulders of all the saints and sinners who came before us. My wife and I no longer check homework because the work is done at home, in the car, around the dinner table, and on walks. We no longer rely on the brick and mortar school to provide an education as well as childcare. We’re caring for one another in new, different, and more profound ways. The choice to homeschool has brought us closer, and for that, I am grateful.

To read more about deschooling and to find many books on the subject click here

This is an ongoing blog about the ups and downs of homeschooling. For my previous posts on the subject click here and here.

Mind Mapping

As I mentioned in my first post on homeschooling, our family has chosen the three principals of prayerwork, and study taken from St. Benedict’s Rule of Life to guide each day. These three principals provide balance and purpose. Like the North Star, they order the day. Their guidance helps to answer questions like, What is a balanced life? What does purposeful living look like? How do we pray? Why do we work and study? These are weighty questions to tackle for a 4th grader. These are profound questions for anyone. Creating a mind map began this process of inquiry.

A mind map is simply a tool to get the creative juices flowing. (Back when I was in elementary school it might have been called brainstorming). We were interested in creating a routine that was at once, orderly and flexible. We already had our guiding principles (prayer, work, and study). Now, we just needed to flesh out what those meant at the time of the mind map, and with the understanding that reality will help form new ways of living into this Rule.

Under the Rule of Prayer, we agreed upon three practices: prayer at meals and at bedtime, reading the Bible, and celebrating The Lord’s Supper. Currently, prayer is sporadic, as is Bible reading, while celebrating Holy Eucharist has been with my oldest son and me. These are new practices for our family underneath the same roof. I’m starting to realize how I relied on other contexts (church and Sunday School) to reinforce prayer practices. Now the full burden is on me. Prayer begins in the family. Church and Sunday School strengthen practices in a Christian home. I hope to report our family’s progress in prayer at a later date.

Using the mind map, we translated Work as simple household chores: cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash, washing the dishes, setting the table, etc. Thus far, our oldest now wakes up, eats breakfast, makes the bed, brushes teeth, and gets dressed for the day. As the year passes, I hope to add taking out the trash/recycling and setting the table, among other things.

The last principle under our Rule is Study. As parents, this means lesson planning and seeking out teaching opportunities within life’s daily routine. It is giving our oldest the freedom to study and learn where he wants (kitchen table, his room, on the porch, couch, outside, etc.). We’re also learning how to navigate formal learning time with downtime, and develop boundaries around screen time versus leisurely reading. For a 4th grader, 1 to 4.5 hours of instruction/learning/exploring four days a week is recommended. Our family is staying within this rubric based on everyone’s schedule. In our four weeks of homeschooling, not one week has looked the same. Our routine is flexible enough not to worry about tight scheduling. It’s also let us experiment with having a day or two off in the middle of the week because we all worked hard over the weekend (homeschooling is not a Monday – Friday gig).

Starting with the mind map has helped us focus. It also begins to show us the tensions of chaos and order, or love and law. My next post will explore the topic of deschooling. 

A Pivot in Priorities

Each morning I read a section of St. Benedict of Nursia’s Rule he established for his monastic community 1,500 years ago. I follow his writing with commentary by Joan Chittister, O.S.B. (A link to her book can be found here). In this morning’s selection, Chittister says,

The spiritual life is not a set of exercises appended to our ordinary routine. It is a complete reordering of our values and our priorities and our lives.

Her phrase “complete reordering” struck me in the context of COVID-19. With this pandemic, the world will undoubtedly go through a complete reordering – spiritual and otherwise: Valleys are being raised, and mountains made low (Isa. 40:4). At the same time, wheat is being torn away from the chaff (Matt. 3:12).

Pre-COVID, my wife and I were doing what many people our age do: working hard in our jobs and raising children. She’s one of two pharmacists whose specialty pharmacy serves those diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. Her clinic also provides preventative care for those most vulnerable to this virus. After a long day of work, she’s usually greeted by our 9-year-old and 18-month-old clinging to her side until bedtime. Dinner’s prepared, books read, then lights out.

My job as a minister had me working conventional and unconventional hours each week as I made myself available to the people I serve more on their time than my own. When I arrived home after a long day, I would see my kids for a few hours before bedtime. If I had a meeting at night, it was up to my wife to put the kids to bed.

All this busyness changed with the pandemic. Suddenly pharmacy schedules were staggered (5 days in the pharmacy/5 days working from home). Church services, as well as meetings, were all moved online. No separation from children as school became virtual, and preschools closed—a work/life balance – nonexistent.

However, what did exist amid all this bustling chaos was my ability to listen. Thinking about Chittister above, I suddenly began to question what I valued, where my priorities lay, and how I spent my time. Put differently, I was invited into a reordering of my life.

St. Benedict’s Rule is grounded on three principles: prayer, work, and study. Suddenly, I was praying more and invited the parish I serve to do the same, not-to-mention, my own family. I started to view work as an ongoing extension of prayer. If I’m stuck in the house, I would say, perhaps housework and the raising of my boys could be a more intentional way of living and praying. As far as studying went, I picked up those books I had meant to read, and I read them. As a family, we went on more walks together. Some days we sat at the kitchen table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was a new rhythm, and I was starting to like it.

Out of this new song, my wife and I started to talk about school. Our 9-year-old was clear that he did not like virtual learning and wasn’t getting anything out of it. I tended to agree as I watched him struggle in those first few months of the pandemic. As a family, we finally discerned that we would be homeschooling him this year. Within Georgia, the pandemic is not under control, but we decided that we could control what was under our roof as a family. We could honor and live into the truth that spiritual life is not a set of exercises appended to our ordinary routine. It is a complete reordering of our values and our priorities and our lives.

In a family meeting, we began our own intentional Rule centered around the Benedictine principals of prayer, work, and study. We did a “mind mapping” exercise together, categorizing what each of these realities looked like within our context. Then we began.

Through this blog, I hope to record some of my thoughts, experiences, givings, and misgivings about the homeschooling experience. I’m excited about living in this new adventure as I genuinely believe it to be a reordering of vision, values, and priorities for my family and me.
Please pray for us, our community, state, and nation as old things pass away while all things are becoming new (2 Cor. 5:17).

To read the mind mapping blog click here.
To read about the experience of deschooling click here.