Riding the Waves

Sometimes I, like Erica, try to categorize what sort of homeschoolers we are. I know we’re unschooly, as we don’t force learning in any way for my six-year-old son, but my husband and I are eager lovers of learning and do a lot more “strewing” of materials than most unschoolers, I bet. I first got interested in homeschooling when I read Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling, and I love her ideas, but I can’t remember the last time my son actually had a project that we called a “project,” though he’s always making things (most recently, a huge Nerf gun tower that resides in our living room). Last year sometime, I heard a podcast about something called “Tidal Homeschooling,” by Melissa Wiley and I think this perhaps comes the closest to describing what happens in my family, at least so far.

On her website, Wiley writes, “We have high tide times when I charter a boat and we set sail with purpose and direction, deliberately casting our net for a particular type of fish. On these excursions I am the captain; I have charted the course. But the children are eager crew members because they know I value their contributions. And also I provide generous rations. No stale or moldy bread on this ship: no dull textbooks, no dry workbooks. My sailors sink their teeth into fresh, hearty bread slathered with rich butter and tart-sweet jam . . . And we have low tide times when we amble along the shore, peering into tide pools and digging in the sand, or just relaxing under beach umbrella. The children wander off in directions of their own choosing; they dig and poke and ponder.”

Though I am not quite comfortable with the image of myself as captain and suspect that Wiley’s homeschool is more structured than mine during high tide, the ebb and flow that Wiley describes is very familiar to me. Indeed, it seems to be what we’ve naturally fallen into as homeschoolers. Sometimes my son seems to be learning at a rapid pace, sometimes aided by my husband and I, and other times he tinkers around, plays, and dreams.

I notice the ebb and flow the most when the flow is on, which has been the case since the New Year turned (this means, in hindsight, that much of October-December was a sort of ebb). I’ve always gotten a lot of energy from times of the year that feel new and since 2017 hit, my son has also been on a learning and creating wave. He’s been starting to recognize words, he’s been calculating equations in his head (of course, he always does this), and he’s been coming up with more intricate narratives for play.

The most fun part of this wave for me has been that my son has become interested in painting again. I say “again,” because when he was a toddler, I bought tons of art materials and dozens of art books and we painted all of the time. But as a 4 and 5-year-old, he mostly lost interest in anything painting or drawing-related, though he has continued doing the art that comes most naturally to him, large art installation-type machines and photography. Boxes of crayons, watercolors, construction paper, and markers sit on a table in our living room largely untouched. (I am not invested in him necessarily doing art one way, but I also want him to feel like he can use all of the materials available.)

The reason he’s been interested lately is that I have been doing a lot of creative work myself. As a professor at a research university, my job requires writing, which is sometimes hard to make happen amidst my overpacked teaching and advising schedule. So far this semester I’ve gotten a lot of leverage from combining writing days with dreamy sessions of playful artmaking and intuitive painting. I have been taking an amazing online art course called Lifebook 2017 (offered by Tamara Laporte), which features a lot of inspiring lessons including painting kind animals to symbolize qualities that might help us in the new year, and, perhaps also relevant to my son’s interest, I have been collecting shiny new art materials to do the sessions. Brave Writer’s Julie Bogart calls doing activities for ourselves that inspire our children “awesome adulting,” which I suppose I will own! I’ve had to buy extra watercolor paper because my son has become so prolific. And it’s been fun for me to rediscover a love for painting and drawing, which I did a ton as a kid, but largely ceded to my sister as we got older, since she was the one deemed to have more artistic talent.


As soon as I began to use the wonderful materials arriving at our house—posca pens, gel medium, collage papers, watercolor crayons, acrylics—he immediately became interested and painted up a storm, usually inviting me to sit beside him, contributing too. I’ve noticed that he really likes collaboration—and tools, always tools. One night he wanted to sleep with an ink brayer.


He’s moved back to his large installations a bit now—but with new ideas, like taking all of the packing peanuts from the boxes my art materials were shipped in, smashing them, rolling them in gel medium, applying paint, and gluing them to a large industrial pallet.

In all of this, I’ve realized that there are two kinds of flow—the kind that is really active and productive, and the other that is open, connected, and immersive. Often, they go hand in hand, but sometimes not. This is why perhaps the ebbs are so important; sometimes they are just processing and downtime and sometimes they are flows of a different kind.–Anne


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