Unschooling Myself

I remember this moment clearly: I’m in the third grade. I sit in my desk in the second to last row when the teacher announces, “We are ready to begin learning our times tables.” I think—This is it! The moment I’ve waited for! I begin drumming my desk and pounding my feet in excitement. Finally, I would learn something supremely fundamental about life and how it works. “Carrie, I know you’re excited, but please sit still,” Ms. Cantrall says.

I always sat still. I was the most proper student any elementary teacher could hope for. This was a rare moment. 

Then this: It is nighttime. I’m at the kitchen table with pencil and paper. I’d been told to “write out your 3’s times tables.” I go down the paper, line by line: 3×1=, 3×2=, etc. I try to recall any multiplication facts I’d heard my older sister recite, but I only remember a few. Anger and frustration well up inside of me . . . Why didn’t my teacher show us how to multiply? I ask my mom, “What is three times three?” I am heartbroken as I write out 3 x 3 = 9 because I have no idea why or how these numbers go together. 

My third grade teacher never showed us how to multiply. We were instructed to find the facts, write them out, then memorize them. 

So it went for most of my schooling. I became efficient at memorizing facts and passing tests. I could play this game. In this game, I didn’t even have to think too much! And still, I’d be considered a success, as evidenced by my good grades. 

Of course, somewhere along the way, I learned to multiply. What I never learned, though, is how I might take these numbers (along with most of the information I was given) and use it in the world; how I could create things, understand the meanings, connections, and workings behind things. There was also simply no space for exploring individual passions and how we might contribute to a greater good. 

It’s been nearly five years since the desire to unlearn what I thought I knew—to un-school myself—first began to swirl in me. Even though I had no idea what it would look like, my imagination was holding on to this idea: discovering the world alongside my daughter, Elle. 

Today, we are halfway through our first year of homeschooling. We’ve traveled to four European countries. We’ve been to Hawaii. We go to Central America next. AND we love home. We love traditions and small, simple moments of connection.

What did Elle do the moment we returned from our extended European trip? Forget jet lag, she was so excited to share a piece of France with her friends, having them over for crepe-making. I consider this a great success. These are gifted girls, competent at making traditional French crepes. 

What is happening here? So much more than “just” making crepes.

How did Elle learn to make crepes? Resources for finding unique and local experiences can be found in the product, Create a Memorable and Authentic Family Travel Experience, located on the Travel Resources page.

'Tis the Season for Slowing Down

Outside, the natural world is slowing, but our culture is just getting going. Is it the season for slowing down or for getting the cookies made, the holiday cards sent, the errands run—maybe just one more trip to Target? Does the Elf on the Shelf have to do something funny every night?

The choice is yours. What rhythm do you want to plug in to? 

Maybe you want to ban the busy, but how? There is too much to do! 

The wise traveler knows that checking off all the “top ten things to do” when visiting a city can leave one weary, and sometimes unfulfilled. Whether traveling or staying home for the holidays, you can do something similar and toss out the “must do” activities and chores. Are they really “must do” or are they details that only overwhelm? 

You are allowed to be choosy about what you schedule.  

You are allowed to bake the cookies with your children and sing while you do it, and lick the bowls and laugh, and not care if they don’t turn out perfect. You are allowed to purchase store-made cookies to wrap as presents. You are allowed to leave the mess until tomorrow. You’re seriously allowed to leave dishes in the sink overnight. 

Do you need to forget the holiday photo and cards this year and instead post a pic on social media? Do it.

In order to tap into the slow of the season, take a moment to be in the moment with your family. Just make the choice. What happens in the few minutes it takes to make hot cocoa? It is the good stuff that life is made of. It’s the thing your children will remember: the smell of warm milk and chocolate, the Christmas carols in the background, the anticipation, the waiting with you. 

What are the traditions you want to keep sacred, and which do you want to toss out? You are allowed to choose. Do you savor the morning when everyone unloads their stocking, or the night when the candle is lit? Whatever you do, wherever you are, protect it. Keep it from being interfered with. You guide the energy in your home, or in the guesthouse. Bring your full presence to a simple, traditional act. 

When we don’t make the conscious effort to create moments, the season can pass by in a whirlwind of activity. 

What are the ways you cultivate a slow, intentional season?

She Graduates

She graduates . . . and you want to post a picture, say something about how time flies but you know that this will never encompass what you feel and maybe this is why you find it difficult to post on social media but you try anyway. You sit in tender recognition of this thing called time and growth, of transitions and of new era’s, of looking back and moving toward the new. You recall the different shapes of her, the chubby, the slim, the dimpled, those bitty feet; and the old angles of you both around the house, holding on to coffee tables for balance, bending over and reaching up as she says, “Hold you, hold you.”

You’ve seen the kids graduate and move on, but you never thought it’d be her because time kept you wedged within a week. But then it pushes you out into the future and you are sitting in a wooden little-kid chair because this is not a high school graduation, but a sixth-grade end-of-elementary-school ceremony. And she will give a speech and your heart will do this thing, this impossible thing, it will break open again. You will want to hold on to one dear detail from this moment; you look at her and you tuck it beneath the covers of your heart. You think of your future self looking back at this present self . . . she is not laughing at you for feeling such depth of emotion at an elementary graduation, even though she knows this is only one of many crossing overs. She is thanking you, you who watches closely. You who can see that you are staring right into your vulnerability of time. You know that one day it will be you that she is leaving. You allow it to happen, you breathe and you love.

Our routine of the last six years is complete. We are preparing for a world/home education. May we use what we know to establish new and thoughtful rhythms.