The art of educating your child as a Solo Mom
You are your child’s first teacher. Children are taught by example, and their primary caregivers are their main models. From the moment they’re born (or come into your custody), you are homeschooling, whether you recognize it or not. You are offering them, in the words of Gustav Flaubert, a sentimental education—as well as a physical, spiritual, and vocational education—you name it.
That said, if you elect not to enroll your child in a conventional institution for preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, or beyond, homeschooling becomes a more deliberate process. Of course, there are all manner of public and private homeschooling curricula available. But consider, too, the many ways in which homeschooling can be an organic process, emerging from daily life:
To begin, slow down. There is nothing that you do in a day that does not have the potential to be a teaching moment or learning experience. First period for any family is Life Skills, or Home Ec. What do you do when you wake up? Stretch? Meditate? Make coffee? Tea? Breakfast? Bathe? Each of these activities is replete with information, if only we take the time to involve our children in the processes rather than hurrying them through to “get on with the day.”
Stretch with your child. Talk to her about anatomy. Ask him how he’s feeling physically—this teaches compassion, consideration, and self-awareness. Invite her to join you in your meditation practice, if only for a couple of minutes. Be patient with her restlessness: meditation is, as they say, a “practice,” not a performance.
Let your son or daughter help you make breakfast, as age and safety permit. Talk about where the coffee beans or tea leaves come from, what constitutes “organic” and “fair trade,” at what temperature water boils. If you don’t know, find out, and make your child your research assistant. Teach him how to look things up, in books as well as online. Teach her how to ask questions, how to admit to not knowing—another essential learning skill.
Your daily obligations, both personal and professional, need not be altered or postponed in order to homeschool. Every chore and errand is something your child will need to do for herself someday. Cooking, cleaning, taking out the garbage, and recycling are not extracurricular. The fact that these chores have to be done every day serves your purposes: repetition is key to internalization and mastery, and also to developing self-discipline. Paying bills, grocery shopping, maintaining a car—each of these skills involve reading, writing, and arithmetic and can be broken down into age- or stage-appropriate components.
Science? Take a hike or nature walk. Collect specimens for a lesson in botany. Pay attention to the weather and the seasons, and use them as an opportunity to learn about meteorology, precipitation, and climate change. With older children, this can segue way into a discussion of politics and the electoral process. Follow the candidates. Listen to the debates. Now they are learning history and social studies.
Read. Begin with favorite picture books, then seek out classic fairy tales and fables. Move on to mythology. Let your and your child’s interests be your guides. Visit the local library. Teach your child that it is not necessary to have or spend money to access the world of literature and, through it, the world itself. Transportation issues? Investigate public transit. If it is lacking in your community, see what you can do to advocate for this and other causes you value.
Examine what is important to you. What do you do for pleasure, recreation, entertainment? These are teaching opportunities, too. Yoga? See if there are family or children’s classes that meet simultaneous with your own, or teach your child a few simple postures at home. From there, you might begin to explore Eastern philosophy and religion, and while you’re at it, the food and music of other cultures.
And, speaking of music, are there live concerts you might attend? What about dance, theater, or movies? Field trips are fundamental. The world is your classroom, but it falls to you to be more than a passive observer. Get involved. Help arrange for your child to volunteer to usher at a favorite venue or intern backstage. Or, for that matter, volunteer at a soup kitchen, food pantry, or animal shelter together or individually.
Network. If you’re not involved in the arts or community service yourself, talk to a friend or acquaintance who is—your colleagues in other fields. Recruit friends and extended family members to offer “classes” in their areas of expertise. Know someone who speaks a foreign language? Arrange for him to spend an hour with your child on a weekly basis. No one has to be a “teacher” in order to teach. Even older siblings can serve as additional instructors. And because research shows that nothing solidifies a person’s knowledge more than endeavoring to convey that knowledge to someone else, older children can be teaching and learning at the same time.
As a homeschooling Solo Mom, it is essential to delegate in order to have time for your own work, professional development, and restoration, and also to preserve and protect the sacred relationship between mothers and children that needn’t be replaced by that of teacher and student. Homeschooling places great demands on our resources—intellectual and otherwise. To sustain ourselves and our children, we must replenish our reserves. In addition to enrolling your child in individual courses taught by others, consider participating in or organizing a homeschooling co-op, whereby you and other Solo Moms might take turns teaching and give one another time off to attend to other needs. Such arrangements offer children opportunities to socialize, which are sometimes harder to come by for homeschoolers, but needn’t be. It takes a village, they say, and for no one is this more true than for the homeschooling Solo Mom.
Perhaps you have more questions about homeschooling as a Solo Mom? Sister Chat gives you chance to ask other Solo Moms who’ve been there.
Brit Washburn is a writer, editor, and vegan cook, who teaches and practices yoga in Charleston, South Carolina, where she lives with her three sons and a daughter on the way. Her blog can be found at www.theoryandpracticeofbeing.
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