There is a secret to relaxed homeschooling. It’s actually what makes everything else work.
What is it?
- Is it having the best philosophy?
- Is it having the best books and resources?
- Is it having the best system in place?
I know, I know, this is not considered a positive word. Discipline is actually something we’ve been conditioned to avoid. Besides, what in heaven or earth does discipline have to do with relaxation?
Well, actually, a whole lot.
Let me tell a story.
A few weeks ago we decided to go to the part to do our read aloud (a la “morning basket”) time. It was a sunny, moderate day and we sat on a hill amongst the trees and read from the Bible, Fascinating Girlhood, and The Lord of the Rings. Afterwards we put everything in our cute basket and walked along a babbling stream. It was a memorable, refreshing time together.
We could enjoy this relaxing interlude because we have been disciplined. We could take a break from our routine because we have one!
At home there was a load of laundry swirling in the washing machine. The dishes and the kitchen were cleaned the night before. We were already up and dressed and we knew where the books and the basket were (which was essential).
When we returned home it was easy to get back on track because we have been keeping up.
After chores the girls went to their studies while I attended to some extra things, such as scripting this post.
Why is order important?
As I read my Bible and observe life I am led to the conclusion that human beings are not made for chaos. God created everything to be integrated; to work together in an orderly fashion for His purposes of good and beauty.
When something dis-integrates, it splits from a cohesive whole to bits and pieces, and these bits break down further until there is no recognizable pattern. Mass without order is useless and meaningless.
In the beginning there was chaos, and God spoke into it and brought order, and then He set mankind into that order (as we read in Genesis chapter 1). We need that order, we crave that order, and our hearts and minds are restless until we find it or it is restored.
Mankind has tried to create this order without God, but it is not the same thing. Modernist “design” attest to this. I remember well as a young girl how gorgeous buildings with ornate designs were being replaced with modern alternatives–soulless concrete edifices with sharp angles and ticky-tacky geometric patterns were everywhere. Today they stick out like sore thumbs in the downtown areas of every city.
God’s order is better because it is integrated with love and freedom.
This can be witnessed in an oak tree in the wild. An oak is free to put out its branches any way it can, but it is not random. It seems as though the branches and leaves do not have any specific order, until you take a twig off of the tree and discover the leaves are arranged according to the Fibonacci sequence. Then the beauty of freedom within the boundaries of order takes on new significance. (The study of the Golden Ratio and Fractals will yield you and your children hours and hours of wonder.)
This mixture of freedom within boundaries creates a beauty that reaches deeply into the human soul. It is hard to think of anything as gorgeous as snow-covered mountain peaks such as the Grand Tetons. In this spectacle we see great freedom, but within the parameters God set. It is the same for the oceans and the clouds.
Homeschooling is the same. There is a freedom and recreative effect which comes with uncoupling from modern, mechanical learning, but without boundaries it breaks down and becomes a breeding ground for dis-integration.
Instead of enjoying the beauty of order, we invite the ugliness of chaos. While it’s wonderful to be inspired, Inspiration wanes and self discipline must take over.
It is one of the fruits of the Spirit–along with the others mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faith-filledness. According to Graham Cooke, when we practice self-control, we invite one or more of the others along!
Relaxed homeschooling allows us to open the gate to more spontaneous, natural learning, but we take advantage of discipline to keep that freedom within boundaries.
Also, while we encourage learning from inspiration and enthusiasm, these also can get out of control.
For instance, a child might be inspired to learn to play the piano for a few weeks, but at a certain point practice may turn from being a complete joy to work. If he does not have the discipline to continue without the feelings of inspiration, he will never experience the joy of accomplishment.
Something that is helpful is to remember that the sister of discipline is:
Consistency takes discipline and splits it into bite-sized morsels (as in a bowl of peas may not be tolerated, but peas scattered in a delicious beef soup may not be noticed at all).
Take the piano learning, for instance. 15 minutes a day over the span of a month will do more than an inspired half-hour every-so-often.
When it comes to academics, this is especially true. We use the McGuffey readers coupled with the Charlotte Mason method (you can find out more about that here). McGuffey formulated his lessons to be short, sweet, and so gradual that it hardly seems like work.
It’s akin to walking up a three degree slope compared to a 30 degree slope. At three degrees, you barely know you are climbing, but at 30 degrees your entire body is being taxed.
It may take a little longer at three degrees; you may not even notice any upwards progress at the end of the day. But give it 30 days, and you will look down and see just how high you have come.
Going at 30 degrees may initially produce great gain, but it can lead to burn out, and oftentimes there is fall-off where the altitude is lost altogether.
As I mentioned in the account of our read-aloud time in the park, routines helped us get there. Over the years we have developed systems and expectations for every morning.
Actually, our mornings start the night before.
After dinner we clean the entire kitchen, including floors. We make sure all living areas are straight as well. We take care of personal hygiene and set out our outfit for the next day. I use my journal to review any appointments or activities for the next day, and I write down chores and a plan for dinner.
When we awaken, we have some personal devotion time, fix face and hair, don our clothes (which can be done quickly because we are prepared). We make our beds and have a bite of breakfast. Then we might do chores first (such as laundry, dishes, dinner prep, etc.), or we might read aloud first, or vice-versa. In the morning we also have exercise time; perhaps walking, bicycling, or tennis.
Lunch is leftovers or snacks, each person making her own. Early afternoon is individual study time, and after that it is free time until dinner.
In this way we have freedom, but within boundaries.
There is an important balance to making plans.
In Biblical terms, two different ideas can be true at the same time:
- We die to live.
- We lose to gain.
- We become poor to gain the truest riches.
- We plan, but we let go of the plans into God’s hands.
An earthly-minded person sees this as foolishness–but it is God’s power. As we read the volume of scripture, we see planning as a sort of partnership. Yes, it’s alright to gather “counsel” and devise plans, but never without submitting them to God’s ultimate designs.
Commit your works to the Lord,Proverbs 16:3
And your thoughts will be established.
A man’s heart plans his way,Proverbs 16:9
But the Lord directs his steps.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,Proverbs 3:5-6
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
So, we make some lists, then we release them into His hands:
Dear Father, these are things I’d like to accomplish, but there’s no way I want to have them doen without your presence. Living in the bubble of Your presence is more precious to me than anything else I could gain. So, if You do not go with me, I don’t want to move. I will go, but only as You hold my hand. I give You permission to move me through this day any way You wish, and I trust that at the end You will have given me my heart’s desires–in this world and the world to come.
Now, there is a bit more to this essay, but you must listen to my podcast to discover it. You can find it here:
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