Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Chari coined a new word to describe what we are both going through this year in our homeschools, and we have referred to it several times in our phone calls in the past months.     It is often accompanied by another dreadful thing called Burn Out, and it looks like Chari is drafting a post about that which will either show up before or after this one.

Here's the word:


You probably all know about Catholic Unschooling.   Willa wrote a chapter in a book about it.    Some people think unschooling means the same thing as non-schooling.  But the two things are different, qualitatively different.

Catholic Unschooling is about building on a child's nature... as Aristotle said, all humans by nature desire to know, and this is a truth also recognized by Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers in the Catholic tradition.    With Catholic Unschooling, your family environment is formed in such a way that learning is a natural part of life, not compartmentalized into a certain room, a certain time of the day, or a certain set of books.    Parents and children work and explore and question together, and learning becomes an integral part of the family picture.

Chari and I both strive to have that type of environment in our homes, in our own different ways, even though both of us make use of some structured times and curricula as well.  At least in our planning moments : ).

But this is not Catholic Unschooling I am talking about in this post.

It's Non-Schooling.

This would be described as  "Mom already has a full workload with everything else going on, and Dad is busy trying to provide for his family, and so the kids just don't really do school.  Nor do they unschool. "

Or as Mrs Pepper puts it in The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, in words that are very poignant and heartfelt to me right now!

"Poor things!" she would say to herself. "They haven't had any bringing up; they've just scrambled up!" And then she would set her lips together tightly and fly at her work faster than ever. "I must get schooling for them some way, but I don't see how!"

This Non-Schooling phenomenon has happened to both Chari and Willa more than once during our years of pregnancies and new babies and medical issues and house-building or repairing projects.     We used to call it "Default Unschooling."   But in this season of our lives we seem to agree that it's more like, well, just some kind of scrambling or basically, Not Schooling.

Yet, I don't want to paint too dark a picture.    Because guess what?  God gave us a whole world to live in, even if we barely leave the house because we are too busy or it is too blizzard-y outside.   He put us in a family, even if Mom is distracted and preoccupied and not thinking much about the childrens' education.

I've experienced it before -- after entering some kind of life tunnel where there is hardly any margin, where every day has its own agenda and I feel good if the kids have eaten 3 somewhat square meals and very good if they have brushed their teeth and said their prayers, they still manage somehow to learn.

Paddy showed up the other day and asked me to mail a letter.   He had written it to a good friend of his big sister's, who was visiting us from college at Easter.    I have recently written how Paddy, a longtime reader, has been handwriting on a pre-K level and spelling on an early first grade level.

Well, this letter was handwritten on a late-first grade level and spelt on a second or third grade level.  Pretty good grammar, and no spelling mistakes.   Entirely legible.   This is big progress in about 4 months of nothing resembling a language arts lesson.

And this same Paddy made up his own novena to Saint Patrick praying for the eternal repose of his grandparents, and has invented another nightly prayer which goes, in part:

"Please bring all the robbers and murderers and other kinds of bad people to justice and if it is Your Will and they have any good left in them, help them come to You and become better men."

(I love the firm, conclusive way he rolls out the Better Men part, and I love the whole prayer and am guessing that those robbers and murderers can really use those extra prayers).

Obviously these are small ordinary things and you will have your own list of cool things your 9 year old  says and does.

My point here is that Non-Schooling, though distinct from Unschooling, and often very humbling and discouraging to the beleaguered mom, is still not "Non-Learning."   Kids are human and humans learn because it's in their nature.  They take raw material of life and digest it and use it for energy and growth.

If we are part of the kingdom of God, we have a further factor.  You are furrowing and planting in God's field.   He is with you even if your baby is having multiple surgeries and your 9 year old does not read yet and your 13 year old is spending too much time on the computer.   It's no fun while this is going on, and your mother's heart feels pained and scrambled and crushed, but He is with you.

Non-Schooling, while it may be a painful interlude in our lives, is not the same as the dread Educational or Parental Neglect.   Having lived through several seasons of Non-Schooling  and seen several grown children do well in college and life despite it, I can see there is a difference.   Schooling and Education are two very different things.   They sometimes overlap, but the lack of the first does not mean the lack of the second.

Though I am talking about the value of even these rock bottom seasons in our lives, I am not trying to encourage myself or anyone else to "settle" there.   Rather, I think that the best way to climb out of the troughs is to start by acknowledging that God is there in the details of even these wilderness times.    And one of the signs that He is there is that children can grow and develop even in "scrambling" circumstances.

In future posts I am hoping to have more normal homeschool things to write about!  But it helps me to start from where I am, and if you happen to be there right now, I hope it helps you too!


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  2. I too loved this post. Currently, I am working full-time as well as homeschooling four, preparing to send two children off to college in the fall and raising two others (10, 13). Needless to say, I don't have time to do all the 'cute' school stuff I would like to-- BUT the children continue to make progress despite my efforts or lack there of--

    The use of their time is critical. We have NO TV and limited computer and phone access. Thus the children must do something with their time. We have invested in music lessons and so when they are not engaged with 'school' they play music. They read on their own. They play physical games resembling exercise. They explore. They notice the bulbs coming up. They sing songs. You get the picture. As you said, they naturally learn if given space and tools to do so. Unfortunately they rarely write on their own. :)

    Sometimes I think they are getting a better education through my lower-level of direct education because they can enjoy creativity. Having said this, I do look forward to 'climbing out' as the older two go off to college and I can focus entirely on the younger two.

    God Bless- Anne in GR anne at sergeant.com

  3. I can so relate to this, Willa. We had nearly a year of this sort of learning and I began to think it would be our norm, so I looked for the positives in it. But, now, I find we're all motivated to plan and learn new things. So, we're looking for more enriching resources and some structure to what we do. I think you're right that the learning never stops. Both ways are good. And, I also found God everywhere we turned when we were were non-schooling. It was really peaceful and fruitful in a different way to our normal type of learning.

    God bless:)

  4. Thank you for this. I was 'here' all of last term. I hope to be able to crawl out over the next couple of weeks to start next term 'not here' but we will see. As you say, God is in the details.

    In Him



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