Escape in the Homeschool

Escape… from everyday life, from drudgery, from normal days of school, from people we spend too much time with, from our own minds… This sounds a little on the scandalous side, as if I might be talking about drugs or some other addictive habit. But really, I’m talking about stories, imagination, and art.

Life can feel constricting sometimes. Long division problems creep up to get you. Copywork stretches endlessly down the page, no matter how much you write. Your mother keeps turning the pages while you’re reading out loud, and you don’t think it’ll ever end. And then there are the boring moments when nothing you could play with seems interesting. For homeschool mothers, there are those loud confrontations you wish you could run away from (except you can’t, because you’re supposed to stop them, train your kids not to argue without being argumentative yourself).

Escape is necessary for sanity. Some days require more of it than others. Lately, our read-alouds have been excellent for escapism. We’ve enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. We escaped into colonial times, into a yummy fantasy, and into the underground world of super-intelligent rats. Much better than staring out the window at melting snow!

Sometimes I wonder if escape is somehow unchristian. You know, we’re supposed to live in this world though we are set apart by God. But isn’t death the ultimate escape? And aren’t we called to fix our eyes on the goal of eternal life? We are not to fix our eyes on the things of this world. True, the above books I listed are things of this world, just not things of our particular household. I don’t think any of this makes escapism bad. As in all things, we need to keep our motives in check. I think it’s a good idea for me to balance out my fiction escapism with Bible reading and devotional-type reading.

I learned that some books are the opposite of escape: books that cause me to examine my life closely. I really have to balance those out with escapism, or I get too upset with my failures. I wonder if that’s a key to healthy homeschooling: balance out the close examination of schoolwork with plenty of leaps into imaginative work. Sounds good to me.

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Justification for buying lots of books

I recently attended a book workshop by Jan Bloom, who goes around the country with her husband and a trailer and rescues books. She buys good books from thrift stores and such places and resells them at workshops and homeschool conventions. Jan is a funny lady and very knowledgeable about reading, authors, and (of course) books. I loved hearing her talk, but most of all, I loved her selection of books. She only sells books that she loves herself, so her boxes were full of wonderful stories that have passed her test of being good, quality literature for children and adults. I went home with a box of books myself. I did confess the cost of the box of books to my husband, although all the way home I planned not to reveal that number unless asked directly.

Here are some things I learned from Jan to justify buying lots of books:

  • A living book takes its home in your life.
  • Petting and loving books is a great thing.
  • If your kids suddenly want to know more about something, it’s best to have the appropriate book on your own bookshelf. By the time you get it from the library, the interest might be gone.
  • Not everyone will learn the same things from the same books. Therefore, don’t make your children read the exact same books on your homeschool curriculum. Have available many books about certain topics. Allow children to explore different books. Learning is about principles, not particulars.
  • Bookshelves can be easy to make. (While Jan was speaking, her husband taught the dads at the workshop how to build bookshelves.)

Already, I feel like I should have bought more books from Jan!

The Reader

The Reader, Jean-Honore Fragonard, circa 1770-1772
The Reader, Jean-Honore Fragonard, circa 1770-1772

Such a tiny book! Maybe it’s poetry. Whatever it is, she seems immersed in it.

I find myself reading more and more. I don’t read fast, but lately I devour the written word at every spare moment of my day. Other than my devotional books (which are placed at strategic places around the house), I have bookmarks in The Best American Short Stories 2013 edited by Elizabeth Strout, The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman, The Frederick Manfred Reader, Drawing With Children by Mona Brookes, Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, and Rush Revere and the First Patriots: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans by Rush Limbaugh. That last one I’m reading to my six-year-old (and my husband when he’s in his chair pretending to read the newspaper). And now I’m looking at my list and thinking I really ought to add a book of poetry to round things out. I wish 18th century paintings had zoom so I could see what she’s reading!