Homeschooling and the Bookshelf

A recent Goodwill haul

When I was getting ready to travel to East Africa as a newlywed, I re-read Heart of Darkness and The Poisonwood Bible(Optimistic choices, I know.) When we were expecting our firstborn, I pored over Natural Childbirth the Bradley WayI am a reader, first and foremost. It’s how I prepare, living out the future from the safety of the page.

The decision to homeschool Pip’s preschool next year has been different, because these sweet children already take up so much of my day that I can’t dive into a book as I once did. I want to read to prepare, but instead, I find myself reading Good Night, Good Night Construction Site or another Beverley Cleary instead of educational philosophy.

Although Virginia’s winter has been mild this year, it’s run roughshod on our family. One or more of us has been sick since we returned from Christmas weeks and weeks ago. Barred from playdates and parks, stir crazy in the house, overdosed on family movies, I find myself hauling the kids day after day from one thrift shop to another.

Right now, homeschooling feels so big, so nebulous, and as with first birth or expatriation, you can’t really know what it’s like until you’re already in the thick of it. I can be thinking about what I’d like to do, and talking to my many wise friends, and sneaking bits of The Well-Trained Mind on audiobook as I cook dinner, but for now, it’s mostly a matter of waiting.

I realized, though, there might be a method to my compulsion. I can’t read homeschooling manuals when I’m caring for my kids, but I sure as heck can wheel them around a thrift store, diving for literary treasures. With every chapter book I snag, I feel a little more prepared for the mostly unpreparable. I’ve got another book to read aloud to Pippin, another book of background reading I’ll get to one of these days (I’m looking at you, Last Child in the Woods). I can’t yet imagine what our homeschooling life will look like a year from now, but I rest assured I’ll be surrounded by old friends: Stuart Little, the Alden children, Mary Poppins, the Penderwick sisters.

The Good Stretch

Have we talked about how I’m a little afraid of everything? I haven’t done that Pottermore test to find out my Patronus, but I suspect it would be a mouse. Or, at the very least, something small and sleepy and cautious. A mole, perhaps.

While Pippin’s been stretching this month to adjust to preschool away from Mama (i.e., HIS WORLD), I’ve been stretching to teach art at a local homeschool co-op. (We are taking this year to decide how we want to proceed, education-wise, which is why things are so bonkers around here.)

Because here is my dark not-so-secret: other people’s children make me nervous. (Even my own children make me nervous when they’re new and squishy.) I am afraid I’ll do the wrong thing, or that they can sense how awkward I feel. I’ve never wanted to handle classroom management, which is why I opted to be a librarian and not a school teacher. Also, you saw my cat/mouse. What business do I have in teaching art?

If I’m being honest, dread is my greatest motivator, and just jumping in usually helps a lot. So despite my nerves, I’ve been coming back from co-op energized and filled with new creativity. It turns out I like working with homeschool kids (not a total surprise after a stint as a teen librarian), and that classroom management isn’t as terrifying as I thought — not all that different than managing the chaos of a rousing night of laser tag at the library, in fact.

It all makes me think about the good stretch and the bad stretch, about getting a little outside your comfort zone and growing tougher and braver in the process. So, like, teaching art to eager, well-mannered kids at an age I totally get? Good stretch. Teaching, I don’t know, geometry to surly teens who don’t want to be there? Bad stretch. Too far. Good for you, not for me. (And when my friend at the co-op asked for a middle school PE teacher? Baaaaaaaaaad stretch, dear readers.)

I can’t always tell when I make the leap if the chasm is too far, but if I left the decision up to my gut, I’d be mousing around in cautious obscurity indefinitely. On the whole, I’d rather be collapsing at home on Friday afternoons, paint inexplicably crisping in my hair, damp marbled paper from a dozen eager fourth graders fanned out on every available surface. It’s chaotic and exhausting and scary, sure, but much more fun.

Work by my talented fourth graders