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In this post over at Curriculum of Love, a fellow second-generation homeschooler and Unitarian Universalist wrote about her routine and flexibility. As I read it, I found myself thinking I could have written that post.

I, too, fantasize about the monastic life. When I reflect on what I have loved most about homeschooling my children, what has been the greatest personal benefit to me, it’s clearly the opportunity to create a routine that consciously incorporates my values into my everyday life, translating my spiritual priorities into chunks of time on my calendar. How much magic is that? How good that feels! 

I was losing the actual homeschooling, though, in my attempt to stay rhythmic. Everything we did interconnected like clockwork in my grand plans, my consciously crafted routines. It was beautiful but a busted vehicle, a late paycheck, a friend who needed a sitter, even things I should have been able to plan for like dental appointments, all functioned like a wrench in the works, and I’d find myself frustrated, immobilized, unsure how to get back into the groove. This would happen five or six times each year and by  the end of the year I’d be frustrated at how often everything changed, feeling we had lost any power that would have been granted us by long-term practice of any one thing.

Another online homeschool-mom friend recently posted in a private discussion group that, homeschooling her youngest again, she had finally discovered the ability to do school despite the house being not-spotless. That, too, resonated with me. It’s tremendously hard to motivate myself to do schoolwork when the house needs to be picked up. It’s hard to concentrate on it. I’ve always felt that if my physical space was out of order, my mental space was, as well.

But real life is messy and unplanned. To be effective, to happen often enough, homeschooling sometimes has to go on in a room that needs to be vacuumed, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, or in other less-than-ideal circumstances. Workbooks are easy to do like that, but the meaty discussions? The art projects? Just the idea of doing a science lab in a messy room makes my arms go goosebumpy with creepy-crawlies.

We homeschoolers so often prioritize curating our lives to be perfect learning environments, Charlotte Mason’s, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,” resonating in our hearts, Maria Montessori’s philosophy of letting the environment do the teaching so basic in our communities that we don’t even usually connect that idea to Montessori when we do it or talk about it. I love that. I adore us for living devotional, monastic lives where every move is intentional and connected to a goal that is consciously articulated out of our values.

But it is also problematic, this carefulness, this planning. It has been getting in my way more often than it has been helping. So this year I am working on adding scrappiness, a raw stubborn shameless blind stupid PERSISTENCE, to the list of values I live out. Make “do it anyway, do whatever it takes to get it done” a part of my practice.

This time of year is planning time. The individualized curriculum plans our state laws require us to send in, those are all due this week. This is the best time of year to get deals on used curriculum because everyone is selling to make money for buying next year’s stuff. All of my friends online are posting the lists of books and schedules they have worked up for next year. I want to plan. For as long as I have been a homeschooler June and July have been full of this ritual of looking at my goals for our lives, whittling those down into action plans, envisioning the days of our whole next year, imagining who we will be a year from then if we live like that every day between now and then.

But our whiteboard system, the do-the-next-thing model that I adopted late this last year as a survival tactic against health chaos, has helped me to do more homeschooling that I ever have fit into that period of time before. This whiteboard is a magic feather. I can school despite mess. I can school despite the car breaking down. I can get it all done! I can’t give up my magic whiteboard system.

The problem is, that system explicitly rejects planning more than a week ahead. How do I satiate, then, my desire to check our lives, methods and schedules against my priorities, and my priorities against my values?

I haven’t figured it out yet. It’s something I’ve got to learn to do, though. Someday I won’t have kids at home. I won’t be prompted to remember the joy of singing together by state regs that require me to teach music, won’t have an opportunity to sit in a zen state and observe the world every time “art – nature study” comes up on my schedule. I have to learn to live out my lifestyle goals with no mind paid to school at all.

So I must put school in its place. In a messy kitchen. In a calendar full of the mundane. I must make somehow life of all these goals and values, and I must make life too happen in a room that needs to be vacuumed and despite an old clunker of a car that doesn’t always want to get us where we’re going. The thought of it feels like a giant leap. I want to make it. I hope I can figure out how.