Slow Homeschooling

For a few years now there have been efforts and social movements to slow down our pace of life so we can appreciate not just each other and nature, but daily activities such as eating, thinking, driving—basically any activity where quantity and speed are now prized over quality and reflection. One of the leaders of this movement is Carl Honore, whose TED talk and books about the need for slowing down our lives are popular. Honore writes Slow for children on his website:

How do the principles of Slow apply to children and how do you raise your own kids?

I think children need slowness even more than adults do. It’s in those moments of quiet, of unstructured time, of boredom even, that kids learn how to look into themselves, how to think and be creative, how to socialize. We are doing a great disservice to our children by pushing them so hard to learn things earlier and earlier and by keeping them so busy. They need time and space to slow down, to play, to be children. Across the world, parents, politicians, adults in general are so anxious about children nowadays that we have become too interventionist and too impatient; we don’t allow them enough freedom. My wife and I give our children lots of time to play on their own. We resist the temptation to enroll them in too many extracurricular activities. We limit the time they spend sitting in front of computer screens and using technology, so that they run around outdoors and invent their own play. We also don’t try to push them to learn academic things before they are ready. And so far the results have been good. I hope it continues!

I don’t think Honore homeschools his children, but his insights are valuable for homeschoolers, too. There has been an incredible burst of services for homeschoolers over the past few years, as “the homeschooling industry” (as one reporter referred to it on television) gains adherents. However, as a long-time homeschooler, I see a disturbing result from the increasing number of services to homeschoolers: rather than spending time and effort to build a local community, with all the give and take it entails to get a group operating towards a goal, there is a tendency to pay someone else to do the organizing, child care, teaching/mentoring, and reporting to school officials (if any is required). There is nothing wrong with that approach if you prefer it and can afford it, but supporting economic transactions is different than supporting a local community.

Building community requires physical presence, human effort, and empathy for each other; it is a messy, contentious, and time-consuming practice, but when our children see us or participate with us to create a group (for whatever reason) they see how different people interact, negotiate, enjoy (or not enjoy) each other’s company, and thereby learn deep lessons about how we get along in multiple-age settings and get things done together. This is a valuable part of homeschooling—reintegrating children into the fabric of daily life with adults—that gets trampled in the pressure to just make homeschooling a more efficient version of contemporary school.

Here is some wisdom from Micki and David Colfax, whose homeschooled children got into Harvard and Yale in the 1980s, not because of all the advanced courses and school-like activities they participated in as homeschoolers, but because of the lives they led and how they made effective use of the limited resources available to them in their rural homestead. The Colfaxes said:

If we and/or our children are uptight or on edge, it is important to look at how testy we are. If we and our children are stale and tired it is time to face up to whether the flame is still alive enough. And if our children are overwhelmed and exhausted, it is time to look at the value we are placing not only on their personal lives and well being but on our own. We must be willing to accommodate ourselves to a more relaxed yet still creative and challenging regimen.

Homeschooling is as much about adults as it is about children, and how we respond to incorporating children into our adult lives speaks louder than our words. Having the support of businesses is good, but not vital, for homeschooling. I remember when no secular education business would sell textbooks to homeschoolers in the 1970s and 1980s, so we used other resources, such as the public library and, if you really needed a textbook, old texts from the public school’s textbook depository. Ironically, the Internet and the growth of homeschooling have made getting information like this easier, but rather than basking in this bounty, people today seem even more anxious about homeschooling than we were years ago without the Internet and access to textbooks. Choose to live together in more relaxed, creative, and challenging ways and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the people, events, and local community that will flourish from your involvement.