on finishing


We just quietly finished our seventh year of homeschooling. We didn’t have an award ceremony or any large posters or completed books or projects to show off this year.  Instead we simply wrapped up our lessons–some of them neatly at the end and others midway–and decided we were done for the summer. I write a lot publicly about homeschooling here and elsewhere and I think it unfair to only talk about the beautiful and successful parts of this journey (and there are many) without noting the adversity, too. And it should be noted:

Last week, I hit a wall.

Perhaps it is easy to sit with pen and paper and draft the way you expect and hope home education will occur, and in some seasons and years, things have gone generally as such for me. In previous years, I’ve spent part of my weekend planning for the week, reviewing what lessons we’d need to cover. A natural balance between planned and unplanned learning occurred. I even shared some of that process here and here. But this academic year, I didn’t really plan much at all. I felt exhausted and almost adverse to it. In our more formal studies, like math or reading, we’d simply turn the page to find another lesson and work from there. We had a few regularities in our routine, mostly surrounding our mealtimes, but in between, our days seemed more in-the-moment, an unorganized journey through books and ideas and play and life-work (daily chores, yard+gardening, cooking).

Sometime a few months ago, I began referring to this as our water table year–the place in the marathon where you pause and drink and use the latrine. This sounds theoretically lovely (minus the last part), but what that meant was: I threw out most of my original plans for the year. I love this journey, even the hard parts, but I also felt mentally exhausted by it. I needed to find a new pace, to continue but in a much smaller way. We struggled to keep up with most of our planned lessons for most of the year, and by early spring, we had stripped our days down to the basics of math and spelling lessons and reading. We still read a lot and often but we didn’t produce much writing (ironic, I know). We did an assortment of random projects and continued with outdoor play and work. We shelved our formal science and history studies, leaving these discussions to whatever they were reading in stories or learning outdoors. We researched bugs and plants in our yard/garden, and while this would be an excellent journal of its own, we haven’t yet recorded it. In short, our learning has been practical and somewhat random. We’ve allowed our routines to breathe a bit, something I desperately needed in the seventh year.

I realize some of you will read this as an affirmation that you shouldn’t homeschool, that somehow you would be like me, too disordered or lacking in simple routine. Trained by traditional education, you might perceive non-linear learning as a lack of progression. Regardless of style and method, this journey is certainly not linear–and perhaps this is what causes myself and other homeschooling parents the most doubt and conflict. Lessons, formal and informal, build upon the other, but not always in the way we expect. The nuances of home-education are innately more holistic and organic, they ebb and flow with life seasons. Like a run through the hills or a mountain climb, the terrain is varied, and progress can feel downward, wayward, or challengingly upward. Still, it progresses. I hope this encourages us, all of us, to remember sometimes in life we run these figurative races with steady breath and strength, and other times we crawl, sucking wind. Either way, we must keep moving. We must cross the line.

It is difficult to discuss homeschooling without discussing the rest of our life. It seems one always gives and takes from the other, one of my favorite aspects to our learning. Last week, I figuratively hit a wall, but this was only in part due to our homeschool. It was more an exhaustion of soul, a stretching of my heart over too many things, too many concerns. I’m looking forward to pulling back a bit in every area this summer, to some travel, to some quiet. I need the space to listen, to more fully reflect and set new goals. I will be posting here in the process but more sporadically during the summer months. Last week, I remembered this short film I had seen a few years ago, the image of a runner crawling the finish line and a parallel story of her running coach battling ALS. I watched it again and felt so inspired by her finish, her will to follow through. I felt stronger listening to his perseverance, his fortitude and determination against a degenerating body. Take three minutes to watch it. I’m sure it will inspire you, too.

The Finish Line 2 – Short Feature from Evolve on Vimeo.

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  1. Hi Bethany, I just realized after I finished reading this, it was from 5 years ago! However, I think it still applies 5 years later. So much is put on academics rather than practical life and just being a good person in society. The brains of teenagers become mushy like a toddler and it’s so hard for them to do academics at this age even though society says this is when they need to learn the most. Our children are getting and learning so much more in real life experience. I know with Montessori, once you are in 7th grade you work and operate a farm. How incredible is that for a 12 or 13 year old to experience that and learn about a business and taking care of things other then themselves and working together. I could go on and on, but you already know all of this. Thank you for reposting this.

    1. Author

      Yes, I couldn’t believe how appropriate it felt. Sometimes letters from the past bring the most encouragement.

  2. Your honesty and openness are refreshing. Peace to you as you as you find “the space to listen, to more fully reflect and set new goals.”

  3. A Sabbath year perhaps? I always feel like we don’t give enough importance to these times of pause to rest and recharge and just be. In a world that runs at a breath taking pace seemingly fearful of missing out when we step off the treadmill, it’s a revolutionary thing to do. And yet are we not moving towards eternal ‘rest’? I admire your courage to homeschool and given my time again I may have joined you in the process. Recharge and move on at the pace which suits you and your children.

    1. Author

      I love and so appreciate that perspective, Lilian. I have just begun The Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster. It seems to echo your same sentiments. Thank you for your encouragement.

  4. What a powerful post. I’m just starting out on my homeschooling journey. I feel very excited about it, but also anticipate I will have moments like you’ve described. It’s helpful to hear how others push through hard things (and don’t give up)!

    I saw this video a few months ago for the first time–very touching. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    1. Author

      Such a powerful story, isn’t it? Yes, there are so many challenging parts in homeschooling, but I will say again and again: it is such a gift of time with my children. I’m so grateful, and I bet you will be too. ;)

  5. Hi Bethany,
    I can totally understand what you are saying. I have been homeschooling for 17 years and some of those years have had outside trauma that was strongly felt in my homeschool. I also homeschooled a child with special needs which took lots of time away from other types of school projects. My schooling wasn’t perfect but my two normal learners who have gone on to college are excelling in their classes. They know how to work hard and they have a great deal of human compassion, they lived in a home where give and take was required and where it was impossible to be overly coddled.
    The life lessons you are learning with your children and the human lessons they learn as they see you persevere through difficulty will impact their lives for good, and the learning will all even out. You are doing an amazing job, I love following your creative life here.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much, Jen! I love hearing from mamas who are just a bit ahead of me on the journey. Your words have blessed me. xo

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