The Yoga of Homeschooling
Like many parents, I desire what is best for my son in all things. The distinction here, is not what will be easiest, but rather what will serve him well in life and guide him to be the best human being he can be.
My child is a bright and super energetic boy. He came into this world literally with a smile on his face. My husband got to see him first when he was born via emergency cesarean, and the first thing I heard my husband say was, "Honey! He's smiling! And he looks just like you!"
I share this for you to understand that my child has an insatiable thirst and enthusiasm for life, and it began the very moment he arrived.
For all of his life, I have witnessed his fascination and engagement with the world around him. He is never content to sit and watch the world pass by. He has to be a part of it - all of it, and with as much energy he can possibly muster. I am often asked, probably like many parents, "Does he ever run out of steam?" Answer - NO. In fact, if you were to ask my husband, he would tell you that he never sleeps either. It's not entirely true, but I will admit that my son doesn't like to go to bed and was never a good nap taker. In fact, he has always hated them. He fought them like no other child, and I truly believe his reluctance to close his eyes was because he didn't want to miss a thing. As he grew older, I would often have to resort to taking him on drives so he would fall asleep. I remember so many times hearing him become upset and cry from the back seat, "Mommy! I can't keep my eyes open!". He would be so tired that his little body was doing everything possible to surrender to sleep, but his mind would keep overriding it, until it too finally gave in.
And when he was awake? Well, you better put your boot straps on because you'll spend the entire day trying to keep up with him. I hear myself say often that I feel like I've run 20 marathons by 12 o'clock, and trust me, I've ran a marathon before so I feel pretty comfortable with this analogy.
But there is such sweetness in his full speed ahead energy. A genuine zeal for this life and what it has to offer.
When we let them, our kids can teach us so much - and often it is the simple reminder of life's innate beauty and joy. For instance, when they are little, there are so many "firsts" - everything is new. The first time they see a thunderstorm, the first time they see a rainbow, the first time they see a wild animal, a bird, a plane, or flower. They are filled with wonderment of how this world works and their inquiries of it are endless. For me, that quickly became one of the highlights of parenting - being able to see things fresh and new again through their eyes.
Fast forward now to the age of schooling. I feel so very fortunate we had the opportunity to send our son to a wonderful play based preschool. He went three days per week and most days he was not ready to come home when you went to pick him up. He LOVED school. Many weekends he would beg to go to school not understanding why they were closed. What I loved about this program so much, is that they offered my son and all the other children, the opportunity to learn through play.
Play doesn't necessarily mean just running around the playground either. Learning through play is a way to grow and understand the world around you by actively engaging in it. Through hands on activities, projects and experiments, laughter and song - they are learning not just with their minds but with their bodies too!
Unfortunately, I must confess that this experience did not prepare me for the reality of what our education system is becoming. In so many schools, at younger and younger ages, play is being removed from the classroom. They simply do not have enough time for it any more. "Required standards" have many teachers and schools pressured to have a certain amount of learning occur through long periods of sitting and wrote memorization. I could go on and on about the science of learning, insert data from a plethora of articles that support the necessity of movement in the body at a young age, but that is for another post.
My husband and I both went to Catholic school when we were young and I have always appreciated the greater liberty a private school has in not being bound to a certain way of teaching. After looking at our choice of schools in our area, we ultimately decided to enroll our son into a private school for kindergarten. Knowing my that my son has endless energy, I wanted a school that could also challenge and foster the growth of his intellect through academic learning. He's a quick learner and quite bright, but if he's not engaged, he's off and running. And while I thought the level of academics would be beneficial for my son at this school, I at the same time had no idea how rigid and structured they were in the classroom.
Trust me, this is not the case of lazy parenting or not wanting my son to follow a few rules. What happened at this school was far beyond that. I literally began to witness the spark and zest he had for life slowly being sucked out of him. Within two months, his bright smile that he always wore was beginning to fade and his inquisitiveness and curiosity of things was slowly disappearing.
We did not keep him at this school. My child went from LOVING to school, to at the age of 5, HATING it. And in two months, what he learned was that he was not good at school. How can this happen in only two months?! I am so grateful that we have different options for schooling and this is how we came to home school.
Now, if you recall my opening sentence of this writing, I mentioned desiring that which will serve my son best in this life, not what is easiest, and let me tell you, while I am grateful for this option....home schooling is not easy!!
In fact, it will test every fiber of your being in ways you could never know. The dynamics of being both your child's parent and main educator are complex. We have days where we can't stop the giggles and have had days we've both been in tears. I am constantly working at figuring out how to best teach my son and preserve our relationship at the same time. Which brings me to this idea that I had the other day - that there is yoga to home schooling.
You see, I'm a yoga mom. I practice yoga, I teach yoga, and I own a yoga studio in our town. Yoga long ago became far more for me than practicing poses. I began to understand its philosophy of a path not just for physical wellness, but rather a deeper inquiry of who we are and how we relate to ourselves, each other, and this world. It is a continuous path of requested awareness and observation, of compassion and understanding, and a path that can offer support through the challenges of life and celebration of our humanness.
So being a yoga mom, means that daily I search for balance. Owning your own business and having a family is quite a bit already, and then add being your child's educator. I have never had to work so hard at creating and sustaining balance in my life. I laugh now when I was first beginning yoga so many years ago and I worried so much about how to navigate through downward facing dog and triangle pose - for now my worry is how to navigate through a math lesson without pulling all of my hair out!
So this yoga thing, and thank God for it, is how I ground myself and rise up out of the downward pressures of life. And, the practices that I have learned and gone through on my mat, spill out into my everyday life. Believe it or not, there is a direct correlation to my downward facing dog and teaching my son math.
Yoga encourages the mind to stay fresh - to stay present so that we can experience each moment fully and for what it is, rather than painting a previous experience over it. That means, whether it is the 100th or 10,000th time I have done downward facing dog pose, that each time I am in the pose, I can experience it as if it were the first time. I am different every single day, and so my practice and posture will also be different. But the repetition of practice also builds my strength, my steadiness, my concentrated focus, and the ability to observe change and gain insight from it.
So when my son protests as to why he has to do the same math problems over and over again and claims that it is so boring he might die, I can teach him that his brain needs the repetition to master a concept. And through that mastery, it will serve him to be ready for when the next concept to be learned comes his way.
I can remember that the start of each school day with my son is a new day. That just because yesterday presented a litany of protests for how many assignments needed to be completed, doesn't mean it will happen again today.
Yoga teaches how to work hard, but without force. There is a difference between working mindfully and working forcefully. Force comes when there is a lack of integration, a lack of understanding, and a desire to be "there" without the willingness to explore the work that is required to get "there". Over the years in my asana practice, the philosophy of balancing effort with ease has become much more clear. This is one of many things that cultivating mindfulness can shed light on. Too much effort can lead to ignorance, injury and frustration. Too much ease can lead to boredom and lack of growth.
Balancing effort with ease is no different in home schooling. I have had to cultivate a sensitivity to understanding how my son learns and when he is "full". If he is full or not ready for a concept and I try to force learning upon him, it never goes well. Similarly, when I have recognized the moments of when not to push forward, they bring about a level of ease that often results in a smoother and greater flow of learning. I don't always get it right, but I work to stay mindful to be able to observe when I go too far in either direction.
Yoga also encourages us to see things from a different perspective. It constantly challenges us to move away from how we want to see things and instead to view them as they really are. I am constantly amazed at how often I fall into the habitual patterns of doing something a certain way, simply because it has always been done that way. We become so conditioned by external influences of how we should act, how we learn, how we work and how we live. Do you ever pause to ask yourself why you do something the way that you do it?
I have been self-employed now for over 10 years and I still struggle with what a work week looks like. First off, if you own your own business, you really work all the time. Even if you are not physically at your job, you are mentally there; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And even though I work weekends, evenings and early morning hours, there is still sometimes a lingering guilt of not being "at work" Monday - Friday, 8-5. I am often surprised by this guilt and have to ask myself why I still carry it.
One of many blessings with home schooling is that our classroom can be the entire world and that classroom is available all the time! While we do have some structure in our learning at home for consistency, we also have the malleability of being able to change our schedule when needed. I can choose each week and each day what will optimize his learning best. And when I get stuck in a box of my own closed mindedness on a subject, I can remember how to step outside of that box and explore new ideas. When I worry that he's wiggling too much to get any of his work done, I remember that he might need a movement break or that his wiggling body might actually be helping him work through a concept.
I do still practice asana on the mat, but being a home school teacher has truly become my biggest mat of all. I am constantly having my own reflection shown back to me through my son. For every day, while I strive for balance and smoothness, I have to recognize that I am different each day. Some days I feel tired, some days I feel irritated, and some days I have the eagerness and energy to tackle the world! I have to take note of this each and every day so that I can foster as much patience as possible to be my child's teacher, because he will test me. If I am not grounded and steady, his strong will can easily challenge my ability to stay calm and positive. Some days what would normally take 20 minutes or less to complete a worksheet, ends up taking 2 hours!
But I have learned that this is OK. As much as I get frustrated, we both can learn something through this process. If I understand that I might be different each day, I have to then also give my child the same space and freedom to be different each day too.
There are going to be days where he is tired. Days that me may feel agitated and down and other days where his eagerness to learn will surpass mine to teach! And the more that I meet myself where I am, to then meet where my son is on any given day - is where I will find in that moment what will serve as the best for both of us.
It may mean we take a rest day, it may mean we do more assignments. But it means that we both honor each other and strive to be at our own highest potential.
This, IS YOGA.
Yoga never demands us to be anywhere than when we are right now. Yoga is always willing to meet us wherever we are.
So this is my premise to home schooling my son. Without expectation, without assumption, I work each day to meet my son where he is. And I pray for guidance and grace to be the best I can be each and every day.