Mindful Homeschooling

Between the extremes of radical unschooling and boxed curricula, I’ve found a happy medium, a homeschooling method that is empowering and flexible. It’s not a set of goals and time tables and techniques. It’s a simple philosophy that shies away from theory. Pay attention to what is happening in each moment. It’s that simple, although it’s not always easy.

Being a type who likes to gather information, and whose happiness in life is demonstrating competence, homeschooling and the swirling rapids of decision-making that went with it meant research. Plenty of it. Major theory or style of homeschooling? I read about it. I found the most talked-about book on it and inhaled it. I filtered. I let the authors debate and pontificate inside my mind. I staged the theoretical equivalent of cage matches as style went against style.

I formulated mission statements, guiding principles, grand plans. In short, Ideals for the Preservation of the Magnificence that would be our Brilliant Adventure Through Learning. Those ideals even included room for change, leeway to adapt our Brilliant Adventure to the marvelous individualities that would no doubt surface. Thus armed with ideals and flexibility, I set forth.

Theory: Gosh but it’s a comforting drug when you’re high on it.

Reality: Gosh but it’s an experience that makes drugs seem pale and dull.

I can’t read homeschooling books anymore. I try occasionally. Karen Andreola’s “The Charlotte Mason Companion”, for instance, is full of ideas and reassurances and I have really tried to read more than 5 pages a month for a year. A borrowed copy of Rebecca Rupp’s “Home Learning Year by Year” sat rather forlornly on the counter for quite some time. When I try to read about homeschooling, it creates a physical sensation in my mind that can only be described as feeling as though my soul has set up a wall.

Blam! says the soul-wall. We aren’t having any of that in this brain. No more theory for you, young lady, until your room is clean and you’ve had a little fresh air and eaten your broccoli and taken care of numerous other things which I do not deign to mention right now. Lists? You want to make lists? And goals?! You slay me.

So theory seems off-limits for me just now. In point of fact, “The Tao of Pooh” is currently the most useful thing for my Adventure Academy. I’m trying very hard to be the Taoist Uncarved Block. Except that you can’t try hard to be it, you see.


“Let’s go and see everybody,” said Pooh. “Because when you’ve been walking in the wind for miles and you suddenly go into somebody’s house, and he says, ‘Hallo, Pooh, you’re just in time for a little something,’ and you are, then it’s what I call a Friendly Day.”

Piglet thought that they ought to have a Reason for going to see everybody, like Looking for Small, or Organizing an Expotition, if Pooh could think of something.

Pooh could.

“We’ll go because it’s Thursday,” he said, “and we’ll go to wish everybody a Very Happy Thursday. Come on, Piglet.”


Mindful homeschooling is like being a surfer riding a big wave on the ocean. Each moment has a new current, new wind, new center of balance. Paying attention to the moment, accepting it for what it is, is a power that comes from not thinking about power.  Unlike many homeschooling methods, mindful homeschooling doesn’t make sweeping statements about whether the adult or the child is “in charge”.  As you move through each moment, sometimes it is right to lead and sometimes it is right to follow.

“Rushing into action, you fail.

Trying to grasp things, you lose them.

Forcing a project into completion,

you ruin what was almost ripe.” Lao-tse

That concept of ripeness, that’s an important one.   You can force someone to jump through a hoop, to work through a lesson, but you can’t force them to be ready to learn it. Readiness cannot be rushed.  Leadership means paying attention.  Guides often walk beside. Children know when they’re hungry.  Dust bunnies grow and multiply. Life isn’t following a schedule.  Humans have their own tides of ebb and flow.

Some days it is the day to meet friends and wish them a Very Happy Thursday.


23 thoughts on “Mindful Homeschooling

    • Jo says:

      Right. Exactly. Thank you for putting into words what I feel now. I’ve been high on the possibility of it all and have recently been totally not excited about home education. We are still doing it, but I’m not eager and excited anymore. I’m excited about knitting, walking, music, books I am reading, food, but my children’s education? nope.

      I do need fresh air and fresh nourishment for my poor addled brain. We can still homeschool moment by moment, but there are just so many Thursdays in a lifetime and I don’t want to miss even one.

      Right on.

  1. catalinakel says:

    even though it is Tuesday.

    Hey, Poppins. I created today. Finally.

    I made a book for my daughter for whom today was a bit of a milestone, U.S. public school-wise, that is.

    (Don’t know my sad I-don’t-even-get-to-have-homeschooling-to-depend-on-for-all-
    sorts-of- excuses-anymore-story? Not today. Today I broke through. )

    Anyway, today was to be the culmination of the DARE program for the fifth graders and she had hoped I could come for the ceremony, but I was stuck home with little ones(my new job-babysitting.) So I made her a book.

    DARE means Drug Abuse Resistance Education, if you can believe that. I did not throw a fit about her going through such a no doubt icky, weird, against my religion program. I just let her do it, and let the chips fall where they may. I’m getting so lazy…anyway, the book is to encourage her(she’s a bit of a depressed one like her mama…)and to remind her of who she is, who loves her and to give a bit of artsy motherly advice regarding getting through the years ahead, and that without drugs. Although I don’t mention drugs.

    Like I said, I really like it. We’ll see what she thinks. I would love to put it online somewhere to share with you and others, but am not sure how that works.

    I used old greeting cards I’ve been holding onto forever and some homemade paper and also letter stamps.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing. You have encouraged me. And I am rooting around for a watercolor class somewhere close by and cheap so I can paint soon.

  2. V says:

    All I can seem to ever say is…thank you. I will read the whole thing over again, just to take it in and absorb it…I love the Pooh part.

  3. Lisa says:

    As always, a great way to approach it.
    And, to the other commenter–I too let my kids just “do” DARE. It is a stupid program but the politicians love it! My 13 year old was inspired the wrong way by it, but that too has passed.

  4. Marianne says:

    I really like the idea of mindful homeschooling. It avoids all the categorizing and pressures. Complete awareness as we go through our days would be a wonderful thing. To be open and receptive rather than rushing toward a goal.

    I also agree that it’s impossible to force someone to learn. I always feel a bit uncomfortable when people ask how I teach the children because I don’t. I tell them and show them but when they understand and are interested it’s certainly their achievement, not mine. I could teach all day but it doesn’t mean they learn. If they do, it’s because of them, not me.

    I enjoy your blog because you so often leave me with something valuable to think about. I love having an idea to bounce around and play with all day!

  5. gypsy999 says:

    Poppins… an eloquent post… All of the reading and planning and list making lets us at least feel that we are in control when in fact we are not. But it does calm us while moving into unknown territory.

  6. peggysue says:

    Thoughtful and eloquent as usual, and thought-provoking. Your desire for a richly experienced, honest approach to life and learning comes shining through. And it’s inspiring!

    So here’s my one (respectful) quibble: the post refers to radical unschooling as an “extreme”… Well, that word “radical” kind of screams “extreme” doesn’t it… but is it really so? After some thought, I concluded that yes, radical unschooling IS extreme: extremely Mindful, extremely Attentive, extremely Joyful, extremely Engaged.

    I think sometimes RU is misinterpreted as a totally “hands-off” approach, that you just leave the kids alone to do whatever. But that’s not unschooling, that’s neglect. Among the unschoolers I know, and in my own home, radical unschooling is very hands-on, and very deeply lived. Sort of like what you describe, which is why I find such affinity with your posts, even tho we might attach different labels to what we do.

    But I distrust labels. I’m much more interested in actual details. Thanks for offering them up!

  7. prairiepoppins says:

    PeggySue, I agree with what you’ve said. In fact, I was perplexed that I had written that radical homeschooling was extreme – it doesn’t sound like me to be judgmental about another person’s path. So I went back and read it, and was happy to find that I was merely defining a spectrum with two kinds of homeschooling at either end. They are the extremes of the spectrum, but not necessarily extreme. . . know what I’m sayin’?

  8. chrispy says:

    I love your philosophy. I get so annoyed with my friends who decide to home school and can’t think outside the curriculum box. I was home schooled before it was vogue to do it. My parents were sued by the school district. I learned more in my years being home schooled than I did in some years of High School. I never had a textbook until my mom could not keep me entertained with math problems she created. Everything else was based off of research and following my interests while still actively ensuring that we sat down for school each day. Most schools would have titled me a problem child, because I could care less about learning to read till the summer I turned 8. I was not stupid. I just enjoyed doing other things and did not want to be bogged down with learning the words. I eventually did and tend to read a bit too much. I remember asking my mom how to spell A. I did not understand why it was only one letter when it sounded like more.

  9. ChristineMM says:

    I enjoyed your post.

    Have you read the posts by Melissa Wiley about Tidal Homeschooling? That is more of what I’ve been living lately. That is, more formal HSing for a time then “just living” which looks more like “unschooling” for a time then repeating back and forth. And in everything I do, I try to be mindful, even on the ‘schoolish’ homeschool days and even in the play times.

  10. Nodin's Nest says:

    This very much how I feel about it and how without even realizing it I have been teaching my son since birth. Schedules and programs didn’t work for us when he was an infant and they still don’t. Attachment parenting felt right and so does allowing the learning to be for the most part directed by him. We find opportunities to learn throughout the day. I think it’s possible to blend formal and unschooling together to create your own system, one that fits your families natural rhythm.

  11. the goodwitch says:

    Hey, that would be the perfect Curriculum for us! If only you could write it down, publish it and then charge me a small fortune for it, I would know that my hours of research were well spent. *hehe, just kiddin’*

  12. maggie says:

    my nine year old has just decided to learn to read… yup, NINE! you ought to see people’s face when she asks me what something says. she’s completely bright, well spoken, loves to be read very complicated stories- just did not have interest (ok, the interest has been there for a while- but the will to learn.) so i’ve waited and now she’s eager.

    and my 7 yr old learned to ride a bike this week! the last one on the block by two years. she learned monday and wednesday we went on a 10 mile ride. here’s to readiness and doing things on their timing!

    thanks for the great post.

  13. Trina says:

    WOW! That sums up your philosophy .. It so spoke to my thoughts & where our family is headed.

    This is our first year & as I am sure most do, I set out with all types of plans and expectations. This just recently came undone when my husband said “flexibility” should be the key, “relax” he said “they’ve already learned more at home with you these couple of months than one year at public school”. This led me to reflect and examine, what had they learned? My answer was nothing in those worksheets, but all those things we looked up together, read together, or those times they wanted to go online to look up whales & dogs .. Get my drift here?!

    I think you have “hit the nail on the head” by taking the approach of living & learning in the moment. For the past week now I have approached each day with a “what would they like – what do they show interest in right now” approach and we are spiraling out in to the great-wide open in what we’re learning. I simply hope this continues & I can retain the “relax & be flexible, live in the moment” mind set.

  14. queen elisheba says:

    as a practicing yogi, this is our mantra, so to speak. live in this moment. that’s really all there is…here. now. I just had a baby girl in nov. of 2009 and am already eager to home school. I have already started practicing this active mediation with her and she is such a happy baby!!! Looking forward to reading more post!

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