Most summers my anxiety level surges as the new school year approaches, but this August I felt strangely peaceful. Three years into homeschooling, we just opened the books and took off, no big deal. I didn’t fret about curriculum choices or methods. Armed with a consult from A Delectable Education, my school year was planned, my schedule finely tuned, my heart fully committed to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.
The journey never stays smooth for long, though, right? That little word “home” in “homeschool” means life and learning are bound to collide at some point. As the girls and I enjoyed a wealth of stories from the Bible, history, and folklore, another story played out in the next room. As art, music, and nature study awakened our souls to life, my father’s life ebbed away in a hospice bed.
Our days became a confusing juxtaposition of joy and suffering, life and death. Reading, crafts, singing…ever-so-gently arranging clean bed sheets under Dad’s wasted limbs…pressing the first beautiful autumn leaves…watching Mom care enough to comb Dad’s hair after an all-night bedside vigil…teatime with treats and tales on the back deck…“This is love,” Mom said after another weary day of trying to make Dad comfortable…capturing the last of the black swallowtail caterpillars so we could witness a miracle…imagining my father’s own transformation as they bore his flag-draped bed away on that achingly beautiful fall day.
And then the onslaught of tasks, details, plans. My mind screamed that we should just stop, be quiet, remember Dad, but there was SO much to do. We sorted through his basement workshop, tore apart his painstakingly organized shelves, sold the workbench where he spent so many hours inventing and creating. And with his workshop gone, he felt truly gone. I wish I’d spent a little more time with him before he left.
Grief is a private, individual thing. Perhaps it’s not meant to be splattered across the Internet. Quiet and time provide true solace. But I share with you, dear reader, because I know I’m not the only one to find life shattering their perfectly calibrated schedule. In the midst of chaotic days and emotions, I had to find a way to recover the “school” part of “homeschool.” Throw in a 12-hour-road trip to my Maine hometown for my father’s burial and two weeks of school could easily vanish into the mist.
So I figured I would just take school on the road. RV’ers do it all the time. But when I took stock of what that actually meant, my pluck shriveled. We’ve been enjoying a number of lovely resources this fall, like Children of the Open Air for Solfa and Bestowing the Brush for brushdrawing. The dubious backwoods Internet connection quickly nixed those lessons from my on-the-road school plans. Well, I supposed I could let those go for a couple weeks.
Handicrafts? Visions haunted me of embroidery needles getting lost in car seats only to stab an unsuspecting passenger years hence. Geography? Kinda tough without maps and globes. Nature study? Oh dear, that means journals, art supplies, field guides, magnifying glasses.
History? My mind reeled. We’ve enlivened our And There Was America readings with a troupe of Playmobil Vikings, Native Americans, and explorers plus their assorted paraphernalia. Not to mention the enormous maps I printed to trace their journeys. And the little figures we cut out from Interactive 3D Maps: American History so the girls can send the explorers in their ships across the Atlantic Ocean to lands unknown. Plus our ever lengthening timelines of historical events. Must we rent a UHaul?
I knew in the back of my mind that we could take two weeks off and make them up later while everyone else enjoyed their first summer trips to the pool. A thrilling thought. Then revelation dawned. If school on the road is going to be different anyway, why not really do school differently? What I seemed to need most in the days after my father’s passing was quiet, peace, and time to cherish my dear ones. What we love most about school is the stories we read together. Why not find a way to make stories and time together the focus for our school on the road?
The answer ultimately sat in a battered eBay box tossed casually on my doorstep. I lifted the lid on a set of vintage Childcraft books in all their astonishingly orange glory. My vague but cozy memories of poring over them as a child had prompted me to snag a set. “Homeschooling done right,” the advertisement promised. As I leafed through the volumes, I was amazed to find myself holding an entire rich, varied, easy-to-use Charlotte Mason-ish early years education right there in my lap.
“It’s all here,” I muttered to myself. Poetry, fairy tales, myths, history, stories of children from other lands, nature study, composers, art, handicrafts, even Bible stories. All written by beloved authors like Roger Duvoisin, the d’Aulaires, and Alice Dalgliesh. (Now mind you, you must get the vintage Childcraft books from the 1930’s -50’s, garish orange notwithstanding. The modern ones just don’t cut it!).
“We’re going to do Story School!” I realized. Forget all the paraphernalia. How easy to slip a few Childcraft volumes into the van. We’ll do a math worksheet, make a snack, and snuggle down for a few good stories from the volumes. Narrate, discuss, savor. And done! In time we’ll get back to our schedule, resources, extracurricular activities, but now is a time to slow down, bolster our souls, and grow closer to one another. What better way than gathered round a treasure trove of beautiful stories?
I would love to hear how you find grace at the intersection of school and home life. Blessings on your journey!