This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is an idea.
Years ago I heard someone say, “Even if you work for a company, think of yourself as self-employed — because at the end of the day, we’re all self-employed. We all work for ourselves first and foremost.”
I could actually make the same argument about homeschooling. As parents, we all homeschool our kids — it’s simply a matter of where and how we choose to outsource.
I know some devoted homeschool families who would argue me there, and this isn’t the time or place for it — because right now, while things are nuts, we’re all doing the best we can, and most of our schooling options are some form of partial solutions.
This fall, and maybe this next spring, too, we’re ALL homeschooling, even if our kids go off to a different building to learn. Here’s a few things I’ve learned about adopting a homeschooling mindset, no matter how you “do” school (because we’ve done just about every method of education).
1. First, we all learn all the time.
Our brains don’t clock in and out between the rings of a school bell, and thank goodness. Our minds and bodies are hardwired to learn all the time, even when we’re bored and aren’t doing much (and maybe especially while we’re bored).
Kids don’t need to be in a class lesson or filling out a workbook to be in learning mode. They learn when they play in the backyard, look at rocks, wiggle their feet in the air when they lie on their bed, spread butter on their bread, and resolve a dispute with a sibling.
So what this means is that if you’re homeschooling right now, maybe for the first time, you can rest easy when your kid would rather play with Lego or climb a tree than sit down and do formal school, because I guarantee you, she’s learning. Or if your kids are going off to school these days, keep in mind that especially when life isn’t normal, it’s so important to give your kids of all ages plenty of time in their day for downtime and play. Make sure they have time to chill and feel at home when they get back from school — all the time, of course, but especially right now.
2. A second way to think like a homeschooler is to remember that subjects are man-made.
In reality, math isn’t separate from literature and geography isn’t separate from history. Our modern system has separated topics into “subjects” for convenience, but not because there’s a clear line between the periodic table and art.
This is especially good news when you homeschool (even temporarily), because no one can cover it all, or even focus intently on the subjects “They” say are most important. If you’re in survival mode and your kids are in elementary school, I personally think it’s more than okay that you focus almost exclusively on reading, writing, and math and to let all the other “subjects” be passion projects applying those reading, writing, and math skills.
And even with older kids, it’s okay if they’re not constantly studying history, a foreign language, a science, and a fine art. Or whatever. In real life, these areas blur beautifully into each other.
If you’re homeschooling, provide breathing room in your kids’ schedule, and perhaps consider doing fewer classes but deeper, and possibly overlapping them into one another — for instance, if for history you’re reading about the Great Wall of China, then let them write a paragraph about it for writing, read more books and watch some videos about China for geography, and deep-dive into building and architecture and stonework for science.
If your kids are in school, I’d say the encouragement here is to remember it’s okay if your kids excel at certain subjects more than others, because it’s rather arbitrary anyway — we all have gifts and skills, and it’s okay to lean into those instead of spending a ton of time trying to improve in the areas where your child isn’t as interested.
3. Third, and this is probably my most important suggestion for thinking like a homeschooler — scholé is just as important — maybe more important — than rigor.
I care a great deal about my kids learning deeply and well, and this looks like much more than taking challenging classes and studying difficult topics. Learning deeply requires a posture and environment for scholé.
Scholé is the Greek word where we derive our English word school. And believe it or not, it means “leisure.” Yep, we originally named that building full of tests, peer pressure, and administrative paperwork leisure. Isn’t that wild? The irony is palpable.
This is because the original goal of learning was the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, not profit-earning because the thing learned is applicable to a job. It’s also because leisure was not about slothfully vegging on the couch and binging on sugar and shows, it was pursuing truth for the enjoyment of it.
We’re hardwired to love learning, but it’s been taught out of us by modern systems. We so often forget that our true self actually loves understanding, loves wrestling with hard things until that “aha!” moment, loves tinkering until we figure it out. I could do a whole episode dedicated purely to the concept of scholé, and I very well may down the road.
Our modern culture typically doesn’t applaud learning for learning’s sake much these days, so I’ve found keeping it front-and-center in our educational process at home provides an environment where it’s safe to be in scholé mode.
So for our home, this looks like having a dresser drawer full of cardboard, glue, tape, paint, scissors, and string to create things, and keeping it out in the main living space. It looks like Kyle teaching Finn, our most hands-on kid, to use power tools safely and keeping scrap wood for him. It looks like getting chickens and letting the kids run the roost on taking care of them (and hopefully starting an egg business — we’ve currently got 3-week-old chicks hanging out in our bathroom under a heat lamp).
It looks like having books in every room of the house, to subconsciously and not-so-subconsciously send the message that reading and stories matter to us — and to provide lots of time to read throughout our week (we frequently have family reading nights, where we all gather in the living room and simply read our own books next to each other, and it’s magical — I’ll probably do an episode just about this in the future, too). It looks like playing good instrumental music in the background while we study and work and clean, to add more beauty and focus to our daily tasks. It looks like asking what we each learned today around the dinner table, and not what all you got done today.
Yes, we still need to check things off our to-do lists, so we don’t live in la-la land as though deadlines don’t matter. But it does look like choosing to be the boss of our time, using it how we best see fit. And honestly, all this can be true for any family, whether they homeschool or go to school. Scholé is a mindset that can be applied to how your home feels, just like I talked about in the episode right before this one, #42.
4. And fourth and finally, think like a homeschooler by learning from smart people.
We’re just a few weeks into this current school year, and I think I’ve already quoted Peter Redpath three times to my students: “If you wish to become wise, learn from wise people.” It’s painfully obvious, yet we often forget to live like it’s true.
There are so many people out there we can learn from, and if you’re wanting to learn how to homeschool well, there’s no shortage of resources — in fact, it’s pretty overwhelming to sift through it all on the internet. I personally recommend Sarah Mackenzie, Andrew Kern, Christopher Perrin, and Susan Wise Bauer as great starting mentors, and I’ll put their info in the show notes of this episode.
Ultimately, there’s no need to learn from scratch. And there’s so much you can glean from smart people in this homeschooling world even if you don’t literally homeschool — because as I stated at the beginning of this episode, we’re all homeschooling these days.
I’m actually SUPER thankful that there are so many ways we can help our children pursue a quality education these days, be it through public, private, homeschools, or other creative options. Honestly, what a time to be alive! And it’s good to remember that when life feels crazy right now. Can you imagine figuring all this out a hundred years ago, during the flu pandemic of 1918? I’m so grateful for all our many resources.
So while we’re all in flex mode, it’s good to remember that we can set up our home environments so that our kids — and we — have a good fighting chance to learn deeply and with passion. It’s mostly a matter of adjusting our mindsets to think more like a homeschooler.
Hey Tsh, thank you so much for your amazing podcast. I’m Steven Worley. I last lived in Boston, but I’ve been living nomadically for the past year. One habit I would love to share or really a reframing of how we use our time and energy is to let your your listeners know that I think it’s actually more important for us to focus on our energy and not our time to manage our energy because when you think about it, we are all awake for an average of 16 hours a day, but not every single one of those hours is equal in terms of our available energy. So what I would recommend, if everybody could think about that three to four hour period of the day where you have your sharpest mental focus, your best physical energy and think of that as the foundation of your day and reserve that special energy, for your most important work, the stuff that you really want to get done that’s a priority to you and that has the most meaning. Remember this, to manage your energy, spend that peak performance period, that special time of day, that three or fours hours of the day, when you have your best energy, your sharpest mental focus, and if you could do that you are going to be creating such amazing work or doing whatever it is that you want to be doing with the greatest of ease. Good luck and thank you.
Thanks so much to Steven for sharing with us what’s on his good list. A little reminder that my latest book, Shadow & Light: A Journey Into Advent, is officially out in the world, and from what I’ve heard, there are delays in shipping these days — so believe it or not, it’s not too early to order your book for Advent, which is still a few months away but will sneak up on you before you know it. Go to shadowandlightadvent.com for more details and to order it from all sorts of lovely places. You can also just use the link I’ve got in the show notes of this episode, #43 of The Good List. As a reminder, I’m on twitter @tsh and every now and then on IG @tshoxenreider, but I like to invest most of my energy connecting with you through my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things. I send it out most every Friday morning, so to get it, go to fivequickthings.email and sign up for free, or find the link in this episode’s show notes.
Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you soon — thanks for listening to The Good List.