Last spring, I was blessed to attend a fantastic homeschool symposium. One of the speakers gave an illuminating talk about teaching art, and I was inspired. Art is a subject that had been largely neglected in my homeschooling efforts. Apart from the fine arts lessons they received at our weekly Classical Conversations community days and a few strolls through our local art museum, my kids were pretty much free-range when it came to the visual arts. I provided basic supplies; they satisfied their own creative impulses as desired. But I came home from that symposium with a new plan. Nothing dramatic or overly involved – I decided that we would start making daily sketches part of our routine. So I hopped online and ordered half a dozen small sketchbooks with the intention of rolling out this new plan over the summer. Once fall arrived, I thought, our well-ingrained habit of sketching each morning would be easily maintained when we piled back on the academic subjects.
Well. This past summer, we sketched some fancy ice cream dishes, a fireplace mantle, a stuffed dog, a beach, a flower arrangement, and some teacups. It turns out, my idealized plans were a taller order than the time available and my self-discipline could match. Daily sketches? We didn’t even manage weekly sketches. And since we have begun school in earnest, I am sorry to say we have only completed one. And yet, we accomplished something. That first sketch was met with anxiety by several of my kids. Over the course of those six sketches, I saw their comfort level increase, even if their sketching abilities remained, to my estimation, about the same. They learned to enjoy an activity that was, at first, frustrating, and that’s something we can build on. Maybe not daily or weekly, but on occasion.
I read a book this past summer, from which I gleaned a beautiful idea: poetry teatime. School can make it a chore, but poetry is supposed to be playful, expressive, joyful, deep, evocative. The idea of poetry teatime is to gather around tea and snacks with a couple of poetry anthologies and just enjoy reading poems together. How lovely! Maybe we could try to have weekly poetry teatime, I thought. You see where this is going, don’t you? In spite of my good intentions, we have enjoyed exactly two poetry teatimes this fall. And you know what? We really enjoyed them. The kids ask frequently to do another one, and I’m sure eventually we will, some day when the lessons are done, there are easy leftovers ready and waiting in the fridge for supper, and my patience for the day is not tapped out. That isn’t most days, but it doesn’t have to be.
The world is full of lovely, enriching additions, more of them than any of us could ever implement in our homeschools. My attempts to incorporate even a couple of extras into our routine have fallen far short of my aspirations. But you know, sometimes is better than never. Sometimes we sketch together, and even though it happens rarely, we are slowly cultivating attentiveness and improving our drawing skills. Sometimes we enjoy poetry tea time, and it is precious, even if I can’t realistically make it happen as often as my kids would like.
Sometimes is better than never, but I also think sometimes can be better than often. Enjoying poetry teatime sometimes is better than rushing and forcing and stressing to make it happen often. A crabby, tired mom who is thinking three steps ahead about the dinner she still has to prepare is not going to be a gracious hostess at tea, and she probably isn’t going to enjoy the poetry very much. Children who are being rushed to finish their sketches because we still need to get math done this morning will not be able to calmly focus on contour lines, and their harried mother is unlikely to model the patience required for so meticulous an activity. Save the extras for sometimes, when they are not a source of stress and can be fully enjoyed. A well-placed extra can invigorate an otherwise normal week of lessons, and the very rarity of it can create a welcome respite when our days are feeling monotonous.
We may differ in what we consider to be extras. We will certainly differ in the amount of margin we have for extras in our current seasons of life. I’m sure some of you have replicas of Renaissance and Impressionist masterpieces adorning your walls; your art study exceeds mine by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, some of you are chuckling at the idea of poetry tea time; in this season in your home, the amount of time and effort that would be squandered far exceeds the value you see in that activity. Sometimes life is all the extra we can handle! One of the beauties of homeschooling is that we, who know our children best, have the freedom to choose those things which suit our schedules, our goals, our interests, our families, and to leave the rest. Whatever extras you choose to incorporate in your homeschool, let them just be extra and don’t feel guilt if they don’t happen as often as you would like. Take joy in the extras that fit for your family, and don’t worry if they only fit sometimes.
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.