Spirit at Home and Abroad

by Tatiana Luna

After a month and a half of experimenting with the idea of homeschooling my reflections remind me of the importance of spirit.  The development of a free spirit in Isabelle is my central goal as a “homeschooler,” and, besides that, the freeing and development of my own spirit.  This broad, amorphous goal is at the center of the project to build culture in the Luna family.

After a week in which I felt my own spirit subtly constricted, it is time to reflect and recenter.  Each successive week since  moving to Boston has been a discrete experiment in how to schedule and fill Isabelle’s and my time.  The first week was an extremely hands-on week of planning at-home activities and outings and thinking constantly of “what is Isabelle learning?”  This first week I kept a detailed log of activities.  This approach was valuable, but difficult to sustain.  The next week was almost the opposite extreme of hands-off, unscheduled time, trying to follow John Holt’s advice of letting the child learn completely on their own initiative without adult-initiated learning activities.  I didn’t write about it at the time, but this week left me feeling confused as Isabelle’s behavior seemed to deteriorate.  After accepting Holt’s underlying philosophy and small insights he had into child psychology, I generally rejected his brand of child-led learning as imbalanced and unnecessarily deferential to the child’s sense of being “inferior” to the adult.

Regaining my confidence, the third week was more balanced and active again.  Isabelle regained her proper place in my mind as a natural part of the family on her own quest, intimately intertwined with my own.  We had a week without watching any movies or shows to remember it’s not the only activity.  Somewhere in this time I had a week where I was very focused on cooking and baking, excited by the availability of an oven and new cooking materials (we didn’t have an oven in China) and the idea of preparing food ahead of time for the week.  There were some other weeks in there of a fairly balanced nature.

But last week was a highly scheduled week of trying out new activities.  Library on Monday, Hebrew immersion playgroup on Tuesday, Chinese language playgroup on Wednesday, meeting a veteran homeschooler on Thursday.  Cooking, baking, cleaning, beading, learning piano, and museum outings all took a backseat to these activities. Isabelle seemed inspired by the social aspect of these activities.  “Playing at someone else’s house” is also part of the attraction for her.  Ultimately, the language learning is my agenda, although she doesn’t seem at all opposed to it.  I learned from these activities as well, but also ended the week mentally and physically exhausted.

Living without a car is an attribute of our life that it is easy to underestimate.  This past week with somewhere to go everyday, I found myself wishing thoroughly for the use of a car, a feeling of dread beginning to creep up at the thought of a long commute by public transit everyday of the week if we were going to do everything I want to do.  After the dust of the week settled, I realized that what for most people (especially parents) with cars see as an interim time between different activities, is an activity within itself for us.   And if this activity becomes too burdensome and exhausting for me, then it is not only not sustainable, but no longer a desirable way to live.

But I believe the no-car lifestyle that we developed in China is an important and unique characteristic of our family, and it’s been an important part of Isabelle’s development.  In China as a one and two year old, she walked greater distances than most three or four year olds.  She hiked mountains, she explored Chinese cities.  This lifestyle transformed me as well, forcing me to get in better physical shape, reject laziness, and become more resourceful.

The typical American lifestyle that is fully dependent on the use of a car seems to threaten some of these qualities that we have developed.  The use of a car (which might actually be possible when my mother-in-law Diane arrives late October) may allow us to do more  activities outside of the home without becoming exhausted, but at what price?  Isabelle and myself may lose the strength and will to transport ourselves between places, to think locally and efficiently in terms of our resources, and the opportunity to appreciate all the sights and smells and sounds along the route of our journey.

A conclusion I may gain from this week may be as simple as this: the need to depend on a car for homeschooling may seriously conflict with my vision of cultivating certain qualities and creating a home culture centered around freeing the spirit.  The activity of getting places, at least with an almost-three-year-old, is not very conducive to following the clock of scheduled activities, and Hebrew immersion or the homeschooler’s playgroup may have to be sacrificed for the worthwhile activity of just getting around.