Return to main Live and Learn page
Introduction/who we are
Thoughts on keeping our balance and coping with family life
(More quotes and thoughts on education will be added later)
Introduction/who we are:
We’re Lorraine and Joanna Hoyt, a homeschooling mother and her adult daughter, now living and working at St. Francis Farm Community in upstate NY.
Lorraine: As a child I annoyed my parents and teachers with too many questions. My best years were third and fourth grade in a two-room schoolhouse in Maine where I could help younger students or listen in on a lesson being given to older ones. After my first child taught herself to read when she was two, people started suggesting homeschooling. We didn’t buy a curriculum and I told anyone who asked that we used the same one that had worked so well for learning to walk and talk. (Curriculum, by the way, is from Latin and means a racecourse.) I’ve always been interested in how people learn and, in any teaching role, prefer responding to questions rather than presenting my chosen information. So I hope the simple ideas I’m offering will be a starting point for conversations at a time when it’s harder to meet in person.
Joanna: I’m Lorraine’s daughter. I grew up with a sense that learning wasn’t separate from the rest of life; the world was full of things that I wanted to understand and to be able to do, and my mother helped me with that in various ways. When I got to the point of reading biology texts, they meant something to me because I’d grown up watching birds, trying to identify trees and wildflowers, and raising frogs from eggs. Thanks to my mother’s approach to timelining, I felt some continuity between the web of family relationships and stories I’d grown up in and the larger stories of my country and my world. Math was less bewildering to me than it might otherwise have been because measuring activities and math games helped me to understand numbers and proportions as tangible parts of the real world.
As an adult I live and work with my mother and brother at St Francis Farm, where we try to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles as an alternative to the consumer culture, and where we invite people to come explore nature, farm and garden, pay attention to what’s going on around them, and learn to work with their hands. During Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff Week), and sometimes at other times of year, we’ve invited kids and families in for games and activities that encourage flexible and critical thinking. For a while we staffed another agency’s afterschool program. We offered some of the measuring activities and math games I’d grown up with to the students there, who liked them but maintained that they couldn’t possibly be math because they were fun.
Keeping Our Balance (by Lorraine)
When people used to ask who taught the children, me or their father, we answered that mostly they taught themselves. I helped them keep their balance, until they were able to do that themselves, and also served as a sort of reference librarian. So here are a few ways we coped with life from day to day.
We didn’t have a ‘schoolday’ schedule with time slots for different ‘subjects,’ but we did have a roughly regular schedule for meals, bedtime, and getting up in the morning. And each day after lunch there was an hour or so when each of us had time to ourselves. When Joanna had long outgrown an afternoon nap, but Zach still took one, that became our quiet time, and it continued to be helpful long after he too had outgrown napping. It gave each of us a break from a day spent largely together. At first the children stayed in their rooms, but when they were old enough to be outdoors alone, Joanna might spend the hour up on a branch in ‘Grandmother Pine’ and Zach might be out playing with his trucks in the sand. The only ‘rule’ was to be quiet and leave others alone.
I don’t remember when or why we started our ‘keeper book’—a blank book in which we recorded at the end of the day the good things we wanted to remember. But I believe the habit of focusing on our blessings helps us maintain balance in times of stress and grief. On the other hand, ignoring negative emotions isn’t helpful either, so when things had happened or we’d done things we wanted to acknowledge and let go, we wrote them on scrap paper, crumpled them up, and burned them in our woodstove. I remember hearing adults tell children, “You aren’t really scared (or angry or anything negative).” I told my son, “I hear that you’re angry, but you can’t bite your sister,” then told my daughter that you can hurt someone as much with your tongue as with your teeth. Some days we were just all tired or stressed or just grouchy for no particular reason. I’d suggest a ‘group tantrum’ and we’d hold hands in a circle and stomp and growl and roar until we fell into a heap laughing.
Keeping our balance was easier because our days weren’t often rushed or crowded. That was partly because I’m visually impaired and had never had a drivers’ license so wasn’t able to chauffeur my children to numerous activities. They attended some groups or classes, but whenever a new ‘opportunity’ was proposed, we asked ourselves what we would give up in order to fit it in and decided if it was worth doing.
Now it is online information that needs to be chosen carefully to maintain balance. We had a long section from a roll of paper on the back of a closet door where we put questions that we couldn’t answer with the resources we had at home, and we looked for answers on our next trip to the library. Now the internet replaces many of the reference books we used, and if anybody has a question you can just google it. The benefits are obvious, but there are also pitfalls. The sheer volume of information which is of mixed accuracy can be daunting. The answers are so immediately available that it’s tempting to ask another and another without thinking through the information and instead of thinking out your own next question – algorithms suggest a list of next questions with answers just a click away.
For us balance was essentially a spiritual practice. We attended first church and then Quaker meeting regularly. We used material from Alternatives for Simple Living during Advent and Lent and prayed together at home although we weren’t always what some would consider ‘orthodox’ or ‘traditional.’ Joanna talked to trees as well as writing liturgies for her dolls and stuffed animals. After Joanna prayed aloud for Saddam Hussein (love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you) Zachary prayed, “Please bless the devil and make him good.” We came to cherish silence in the hardest times—when my sister died suddenly leaving two young children, or after the attacks in September 2001—finding comfort in the depth that opens when we are still and listen. We still find that sustaining spirit when we gather for morning prayer or look at the stars on a clear night or hear the first peepers and see the first green shoots of spring.
(Quotes and thoughts on hands-on learning will be added soon… this page is very much a work in progress.)