To Thine Own Self Be True

A long time ago, on a homeschool day far, far away, my husband was chatting online with the father of another homeschooling family, the two dads comparing notes on what their wives and kids were doing. My children and I were off on some field trip (the third one in less than two weeks) and our friend’s family was doing their regimented reading and assignments.  The fathers joked that my kids would turn out to be museum docents and the other family’s kids librarians.

Fast forward a few years to older kids with busier schedules, including sports and elective classes at the public high school. Fast forward to a mom with a few years more experience, but a few years more exposure to many other homeschool moms, curriculum, philosophies, and methods.  Fast forward to a frustrated homeschool far different from the one that day that was far, far away.

Why the frustration?  Shouldn’t those years have brought progress with all that experience and exposure?  Certainly—in some ways.  In others, however, I shamefacedly admit that as my children aged and I thought of course credits and transcripts and noticed what their peers were doing, I succumbed a bit to fearing the world and felt pressured to do more, educationally, like everyone else, and less, philosophically, like we’d always done.  In short, I panicked.

It didn’t feel right. I’m not saying everything was wrong; there were many good days and triumphant ways. But overall, something was missing. I felt trapped and confused and unhappy. I sensed that my children weren’t as happy as they had been. I felt that I was being forced and I was thus consequently forcing my children…but to do what? I wondered how something so right (homeschooling—I knew we were supposed to be doing it) could feel so miserably wrong.

Then came the happy accident. It was a week that we were behind, in many ways, the intended paperwork backing up. But by the by it felt like we’d done more with the week than usual, and we were happy and fulfilled.

 It started with “Temple Tuesday.” A new video came out that I wanted to show my kids and I had a strong impression that we should just go walk the Logan temple grounds that morning and talk about how we felt being outside, how nice it was inside, and how to prepare for the day when they could each go inside.  I knew it would take most of our time together in the morning, but I also knew that we should go. In the end we had a very lovely morning that seemed to really matter.

When we returned home, we found a flood from an upstairs bathroom leaking through the floor and thus the ceiling to the downstairs family room.  Ugh.  It pretty much halted things, including my enthusiasm for all things “home” related and “school” related.  I had a serious mess to deal with.  But the morning had been so good that even though we didn’t “get much done” the rest of the day, it felt like a good school day.

Meanwhile, the autumn colors were bursting in the nearby canyons and I was longing to be immersed in them. Perhaps it was running away, due to the new yuck in my house, but the next day I cancelled the afternoon reading and writing and we spontaneously headed up the canyon to hike and hunt fossils. It was glorious! We had good hunting, great learning, and we enjoyed every minute of it, even and perhaps especially waiting for my eight-year-old to pick up every fallen red maple leaf. She was giddy with fall and fossils.

Then, a few days later, the public schools were out for parent-teacher conferences. This meant that my older sons’ afternoon classes were cancelled and we had an entire day all together instead of just half. My oldest son had a class requirement to fulfill that involved visiting an art museum, so I planned an entire day of outings around it. It was a long day, lightly planned, but with lots of room to follow our noses.  We delighted in all we saw and did. We ended our adventure with a sunset hike up Ensign Peak, overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, and as we descended the mountain, feeling “full,” it hit me. This was a homeschool day from far, far away. This was what was missing. This was freedom and clarity. This was how it all began, how it was always meant to be.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius rightly advises Laertes,

This above all:  to thine own self be true,

And it must needs follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

It was gradual, but over the years, I had slowly moved away from my true self. In my panic I had fixed what wasn’t broken and been false to some of the ideals our homeschool was founded on. There was nothing inherently wrong with the things we were doing in our homeschool, but because it wasn’t true to what was right with our homeschool, it wasn’t what was right for us.

Now, I am not advocating field trips as the only way to homeschool. There is no one right way, and I would never suggest such a thing. I wouldn’t even suggest regularly taking three field trips a week, even for my family, who just really thrives on field trips. Too many would be irresponsible. What I am suggesting is that everyone has a homeschooling niche.  Maybe you know yours, maybe you haven’t discovered it quite yet, but find it and stick to it.

Before all of this happened, as I had tried to gear up for a new school year while wondering what was wrong with me, I closely observed the homeschools of two friends and compared theirs to mine. Their ways were very different from mine, and very different from each other.  I didn’t like their ways. There was nothing wrong with them, but every fiber of my being reared at the thought of copying them. Even one of my children commented that he would “hate to homeschool like they do.”  I marveled at it, especially since their children seemed to be thriving in their individual circumstances.

Every homeschool is different.  Every family has something that works for them.  No matter what else anyone else is doing; no matter how beautifully it seems to be working for them; and no matter who is telling you what you should do, to thine own self be true.