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sus·tain·a·ble

[suh-stey-nuh-buhl]
adjective
1.
capable of being supported or upheld, as by having its weight borne from below.
2.
pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse: sustainable agriculture. Aquaculture is a sustainable alternative to overfishing.
3.
able to be maintained or kept going, as an action or process: a sustainable negotiation between the two countries.
4.
able to be confirmed or upheld: a sustainable decision.
5.
able to be supported as with the basic necessities or sufficient funds: a sustainable life.

In the local and organic food realm, the term “sustainable” is used quite often. It means that we want to treat the land in such a way that benefits, builds, strengthens and nourishes the soil as it then gives back the gift of beautiful, healthy, nutrient-rich food to us. It is a way of farming that is not short-sighted. It is a system that works and benefits all for the long-term.

When we demand too much of the land by planting the same crop with the same method on the same spot year after year, the plants become no longer healthy. The ground has been stripped of its nutrients, and now these unhealthy plants draw in pests who now destroy them from the outside. So more chemicals are added to kill pests and synthetic fertilizers are used to “help” the plants, but what we really have is a broken response system of adding unhealthy to the already unhealthy. We need to build the soil again. Add in heaps of compost with its reputation of being “black gold”. Plant cover crops in the winter to give some nutrients back into the dirt. The crops need to be rotated to other places and locations. Certain areas need to lie fallow and rest.

Homeschooling is a gift. It is a beautiful way of life where we can learn and grow right alongside our children in the dailiness of waking and eating and going. Every day can be one of beauty and curiosity and creation and exploration. We can talk about Jesus. We can figure out the weather. We can read great books. We can dig in the dirt. We can ask good questions and quickly go investigate the answers. We can offer a unique and personalized education.

But it can also become an unhealthy lifestyle. We can demand too much from ourselves and from our children. We can “stay planting on the same land” with certain educational philosophies (whether highly structured or relaxed) that no longer fit and support us. We can try the “fertilizer” of boxed, conveyor-belts methods over and over again on our children hoping for different results yet continuing to receive the fruit of unhealthy relationships with each other and with learning. We try harder, we buy more, and we stay frustrated and confused and tired. We stay with methods that may have worked in the past but aren’t working anymore. They aren’t producing healthy growth.

We must find a way for each of our unique families to build sustainable homeschooling. Even though we may choose to put them in a public or private school in the future, I hope it would not be from mama-burnout or fear or stress or poor familial relationships or from a place of dried-up, uninspired learning. The way for each of us will be different. For some, sustainability will look more structured with the right textbooks and online classes or hybrid schools offering the answers. For others it will be to toss the formality and read great books from great minds, follow their interests, and explore creative outlets. There is no right solution for every family.

We must ask, “What is sustainable homeschooling for our family?”

Right here, right now, this semester.

  • How can I build the soil of learning? How can I make our environment of growth healthy again? Decluttering the bedrooms and learning spaces? Redecorate? Make the relationships more important than the demanding to-do list? Say that I am sorry for creating an emotional environment of fussing and negativity and control? The soil will be both physical, emotional and spiritual. How can you add some “black gold” to it?
  • What “crops” or areas of study need to be rotated and moved? Does a child need outside classes? A different math curriculum? Some fresh books from Amazon?
  • What areas need to lie fallow and rest? Do we just need to shelve a topic for a while? Do I need to say no to some outside commitments that are stretching me too thin? Is this not the right timing for a great idea but maybe in a few months?
  • Does the farmer need a vacation!? Farming is tough work that demands an incredible amount of time, energy, dedication, wisdom, and vigilance. But even farmers have winters that cause pauses for rest and planning and re-working. Mamas, are you giving yourself spaces of rest and margin and self-care? You cannot homeschool with joy and inspiration for very long unless you are getting refueled, fed, inspired, and rested. You must give yourself some mental space to rework plans, gather new information, and let go.

The middle years of home education usually require this evaluation and reboot. Many of us become discouraged in the middle because we aren’t willing to change courses or feel like we have permission to chart a new course. We may need to unbrand ourselves from the homeschooling philosophy we aligned ourselves with in the early years. If we believe that home education is still the path for our family, then we need to be humble enough to change and know that we are loved enough to do so.

May the Lord grant each of us the grace and wisdom to take a summer pause and figure out how to build the soil of our lives and grow fruit in our relationships and in our learning that is healthy and beautiful and sweet.