If there was one quality that our school year centered around this year, it was this: flexibility. Over and over again, I was required to bend, twist, and leap around my own expectations and plans in order to create the kind of education that my kids needed while meeting each family member’s needs for self-direction, joy, and rest.
This year, in the name of flexibility, I chose to embrace field trips and real-world experiences in our homeschool over rigidly adhering to my beloved schedule, which usually revolves around a good deal of book work.
We explored state parks and historic sites. We raised crickets and plants. My older daughter desperately wanted to volunteer at our local animal shelter, and I set aside my fears over dog bites and heartbreak and said “yes.”
I will admit that I started off the year in typically rigid fashion. I adhered to the curriculum I had chosen, even when my kids were clearly miserable and not thriving with the given format. I pushed my youngest when I should have pulled back. But, eventually, I realized the error of my ways and began to hand the reins to my kids from time to time. I began to trust that I didn’t have to force learning to happen. We still did traditional academic work, but I began to see how much my kids could learn outside of my perfectly planned, academic boxes.
The animal shelter ended up being a tremendous source of joy, learning, and yes, heartbreak for our family. We gave love and elbow grease, we realized our limitations in helping so many animals, and we developed a tremendous amount of respect for the workers and rescue groups who slug it out day after day trying to make animals’ lives better.
My kids, my husband, and I experienced profound loss as we realized that we could not provide the right environment for a newly adopted dog with aggression issues, no matter how much love we had to give. Upon the advice of our veterinarian, we sent our beloved friend into a rescue situation where she would be homed properly. Having always had a “pets forever” ownership mentality, we felt like we had failed this special animal, but the dangers were real. Our hearts are still aching.
There is no curriculum for learning to deal with sadness, guilt, and regret.
There is also no curriculum for teaching hope and resilience, but we are learning nonetheless. Despite our family’s devastating feelings of loss and “what ifs,” we’re headed back to the shelter to do our best to help as many as animals as we can. There are cats to pet, dogs to walk, and cages to be cleaned. We are considering fostering, despite the tremendous emotional risk involved.
More than mastering the multiplication tables or phonics (though we’re definitely working on those!), my kids have learned that life can be incredibly hard and disappointing, but we can’t just give up and stop trying. We can’t judge people or animals until we really get to know them and their stories, and there is always more to learn.
Mastery is a myth. Life requires constant learning and that magic word: flexibility.
Here’s to a hopeful, healing summer.