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Wednesday April 4th 2018

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Homeschooling Walden-Style Part Two By Theresa Willingham

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By Theresa Willingham

We were also reassured to learn that she was probably nearby. Mother rabbits don’t live with their young, instead leaving the babies alone to avoid attracting predators and returning to the nest only once or twice a day, usually at night or very early in the morning, to nurse their young. All the literature said we probably wouldn’t see the mother. Perhaps my daughter had missed very tiny bunnies nestled in the grass? Or perhaps the mother hadn’t given birth yet? One of the articles suggested placing small crossed sticks on the nest at night and checking the next day to see if the nest had been disturbed. My children ran to find discreet looking sticks.

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They think because they have time to themselves to do so.

Moderation, as many great solitary thinkers have said, is the key to everything. The trick is to balance sufficient social interaction with vital solitude. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received, when I first decided to try home learning over nine years ago, was to avoid becoming “over busy.” I took that advice to heart, and early in our adventure decided that a maximum of three outings a week was more than enough.   The rest of the time was home time, to use or not use as needed. It was time to read and talk and draw or sit under trees and not do anything.

Boredom, my children and I have learned, is not fatal. It is, in fact, the grandmother of invention. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen was my three children playing with bamboo sticks one afternoon.  They alternately rode them, battled with them, had an Olympic javelin event and made teepees out of them. They spent an entire, imagination rich afternoon with those sticks of bamboo and acted out a wealth of historical and literary knowledge with them, to boot.

We looked the next day and the next, but the sticks were undisturbed. The rabbit, we concluded, had decided to nest elsewhere. Or perhaps she simply hadn’t had her babies yet. “It was nice of her to put the mulch back,” my husband observed. We laughed. Yes, it was.

My children became self-sufficent in self-gratification early in their lives. Their  supplications of “I don’t know what to do!” have always been met with “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”  We did not offer suggestions of television or video games. I did not volunteer to take them to the park or call friends, when they were bored. And I only rarely condescended to play with them myself. I spent – and still do spend – a great deal of time with my children that included play time and I seldom felt the need to stop what I was doing to amuse them on my time.

As a result, they learned to amuse and occupy themselves. Quite often, their boredom alleviation efforts take the form of education, from exploring the backyard to bug collecting, to doing impromptu experiments with water balloons. And very often, they fill their time with reading and art. Discussions with my children show their thoughtful and reflective natures. They think about a lot of things. They think because they have time to themselves to do so.

I looked outside the other day and there were my daughters, crouched in the yard by our butterfly garden. Before them was a small rabbit. The rabbit was grazing, unconcerned by my girls’ quiet nearness. The three of them together were still and content. It was a precious sight and in today’s hurried world, I suspect a rare one. “I think that was her,” one of my daughters told me later. Perhaps it was. At any rate, they all had a nice time together.

I don’t think we have to lose our unhurried time to enjoy time with friends. We simply need to be very selective about how we schedule our social time. Things that can be done easily enough and with sufficient fulfillment on our own – a nature walk at a familiar park or beach, a trip to the zoo, a visit to a museum – we can do by ourselves or with just  a couple of friends. Things that are otherwise expensive or that we don’t have the knowledge or experience to appreciate by ourselves – a sophisticated science or arts program, a theater performance or a visit to a usually restricted facility – we can turn to our groups to better and more cost effectively enjoy.

Nowadays, I call a friend when I feel the need for company. My friends’ children are usually my children’s friends, and so we all have a lovely time together. Our social time – and our learning time, when we share it with friends – is rich and meaningful because it is spent with people who mean a great deal to us. Once a week get-togethers with our support group fills yet a different need to be with others like ourselves.

“It is easy in the world to follow the world’s opinion,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, a contemporary of Thoreau’s. “But the great man is he, who in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

As home learners, we have a better opportunity than most to let our children experience that “independence of solitude,” and to fully enjoy the gift of unhurried time.

A postscript: I wrote this article fourteen years ago, a couple of years after I started homeschooling. I’m pleased to say we stayed the path of the solitary homeschoolers for the most part. Sure, I organized events and hosted workshops and conferences, and enjoyed group classes and field trips. But we were home more often than not, and today, with just my son learning at home, this is still where we spend most of our time – in the peaceful sanctuary we’ve created, where we can think and talk and read and spend time with friends and family. And I’m even more pleased to note that my grown children are as comfortable alone as they are with friends; that they clearly appreciate “the independence of solitude.”

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