Shabby Chic Homeschooling

I love the look of cottages. I love decorating and lifestyle magazines that feature the cottage look, especially the cluttery English cottage that probably exists only in someone’s imagination.

Slipcovers whipped up freehand, quilts tossed casually but perfectly over a slouchy sofa, distressed wood, old benches as coffee tables, slightly rusty birdcages as decor, cafe curtains made from vintage dishtowels — these are elements of that comfortable cottage style that look fun and funky to me.

I do not even think of attempting it.

I am a very messy person prone to extremes of clutter, and lots of dust bunnies. That “shabby chic” cottage style — or whatever you want to call it — merely looks shabby in my house. I have many good qualities, but the ability to pull off that artful artlessness is not one of them. I am comfortable with this, and I have learned to develop a style that (once you hide all the books and papers in the closet and give it a good dusting) looks good to me.

Here’s the analogy:

I read many lovely homeschooling blogs. Many of them are much more unschooly than I am. These mothers seem to pull together disparate threads of daily life and casually weave them into a beautiful tapestry of unscheduled, unplanned, and unparalleled learning and family togetherness. Just like how the cottage-style decorator seems to take a collection of random flea market finds, family heirlooms, and a cast off from an elderly neighbor and create a living room that is gorgeous, comfortable, and highly personal.

I bookmark these blogs and mark posts as “starred” on Google reader, just as I used to stack home-style magazines by my bed. I admire the sense of relaxation, the closeness to nature, the organic and authentic feel that I get from these blogs about happy “rabbit trails.” There is an attention to detail that seems to elevate random observations into exciting discoveries strung together by surprising, unexpected, yet profound connections. This kind of homeschooling looks gorgeous, comfortable, and highly personal.

But I can’t seem to do it.

I have various theories, mainly designed to make myself feel better about it, but in both home and homeschooling the basic cause is the same: too much stuff. There’s too much stuff crammed into my house, too many activities crammed into a day, too many ideas crammed into our heads. It’s that last bit that makes me feel better. There are several very bright people in our household, which means that we are bursting at the seams with stuff to think about and do.

Like many bright children, mine want to sing, and act, and play piano, and play soccer, and learn 2 languages, and also draw a comic strip and study Japanese history and be a detective and read Harry Potter 15 more times and go to the science museum and learn figure skating and plant a garden. If their parents are any indication, as adults they will want to sing, and act, and play piano, and tap dance, and learn guitar, and learn 2 more languages, and scrapbook, and write stories, and lead the parish council and the homeschool co-op and write the MOMS Club newsletter . . . We can’t do it all, but by God, we are going to do as much as we can.

So many interests and abilities on the part of so many people in one house requires a level of planning, scheduling, and organizing that I know would feel very limiting and very wrong to many people. Too much Martha Stewart, not enough Mary Englebreit. (Then again, I have always sympathized with Martha in the biblical story.) But for me it seems freeing — structure makes it possible to explore more of our interests and give more of ourselves than we could otherwise.

I had a chance to reflect on this while on “vacation.” As is often the case, I had a working vacation. As a self-employed person, I sometimes get frustrated that I am on-call 24/7. Add homeschooling to the mix and I sometimes feel overwhelmed with doing two 24/7 jobs at once. The flip side, of course, is that I *get* to do so many things at once: travel, be with my kids, write about Descartes or Martin Luther or Tristram Shandy, see my parents, knit, learn Chinese . . . It’s not easy to pack it all in, and our lifestyle is not for everyone, but for us it’s worth it.

When I look at it this way, my bloglust and envy subsides, though my admiration for those relaxed, unschooly families is undimmed. Likewise I am sincere when I gush over a friend’s fun and funky living room, decorated with garage sale finds and whatever the previous owner left in the attic. In my house, though, the pictures are all hung symmetrically, and I refuse to consider an overstuffed chair or a sofa with loose pillows in the back. My way looks good to me.

The longer I keep at it, the more I think my way of homeschooling is OK. Yours probably is too.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Homekeeping, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Remedial Domesticity, Why Homeschool?

16 responses to “Shabby Chic Homeschooling

  1. domesticallyblissed

    What a great post. I think those of use that are more organized, structured, linear than others will always struggle to emulate the ‘just pulled together’ look that more ‘go with the flow types’ achieve so easily. Whether its their homes, their art, their parenting, or their whole lives, I can never understand how they pull it off. I want to break it apart, figure out how it works, read the manual. Its nice to know there are others out there with the same symetrical style!

  2. knittingthewind

    I can so relate to this post. Although for me I envy both the relaxed style AND your pumped-up jam-packed style. We live a very gentle lifestyle here, we get exhausted if we have three things to do in one day, and I’ve often wished to be one of those families that is busy busy busy all the time. My homeschooling seems very dull in comparison. But we like it.

  3. Angela, MotherCrone

    Doing what fits for your family is the key, and no two families are alike. I can relate to this, from the other end. I did so well maintaining a classical education wth my son, discussing the Great books around the fire, and taking Latin classes together. Yet my daughter has other ideas, which constantly lead me down rabbit trails, where I need both puddle boots and pails for collecting. Even though much of my daughter’s schooling could be equated with “shabby chic, I have somehow found a way to transition into that, but I do feel bittersweet about the other parts we won’t be sharing. There’s so much to be said for embracing the reality and enjoying it! Good for you!

  4. Great post – I tend to feel more like knittingthewind above – that our relaxed homeschooling is rather boring compared to our friends who are running around – yet, like her, we’re pooped when we try to cram too much in.

    But….we moved to a home in the country so we’d be HOME – and that’s how we like it. Every family is different – and that’s good.

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. Great post. I think the important thing is to identify your style (including your objectives and desired level of activity) and then just get comfortable with it. I think that is what you are doing.

    And it seems to me that if one of the big things about unschooling is to enable kids to learn to their own agenda, that is exactly what you are doing. The level of activity requires a certain amount of coordination but your kids wouldn’t be learning those subjects if they were in school. And you really wouldn’t have time for skating, music lessons, drama, etc.

    I’m with the crowd who gets tired if there is too much going on (just looking at the list of what you are doing makes me kind of burned out) but if that is what works for you and your kids, then that’s absolutely what you should be doing.

  6. Thanks for all the supportive responses, guys. It helps! There is so much blazing your own trail in homeschooling, which is great, but it is easy to feel lost at times, and a little “good for you” goes a long way!

    Angela — I am sure my youngest is going to take us all into new places. My oldest is much more like me — like my mom, actually, whose nickname is “Fireball.” I hope I can keep being open to my kids, as you have done.

    JOve — you are so right about homeschooling and activities. I know there are public school families who do lots of activities every night and weekend — now that *does* make me feel exhausted just thinking about it. With homeschooling my kids still get plenty of downtime, like right now, when the sitter is here and they are playing — gasp! — Barbies! (They got fairy Barbies from a friend for Easter, so they hauled out the old forgotten Barbies too.) I shouldn’t be telling you this, but right now there are three naked Barbies who have been named Footless (our dog chewed off a foot), Scabby (from the tape residue stuck to her), and Nameless (no distinguishing features), sisters who escaped from an insane asylum to start a rock band.

    After reading that you won’t be encouraging my homeschool style so much!

    But thanks everyone for the nice words anyway.

  7. Great post! Love the shabby chic theme!!!!

  8. Great post! I am new to homeschooling. This is my first year homeschooling and it has been real tough to research what everyone else does, and finding what will work for us. It is really tough when I always seem to second guess my self. It is working great so far so I guess I am doing ok. This post reassures me, thanks!

  9. adsoofmelk

    Oh, I can SO relate! Right now, my DD is sitting there surrounded by books from the library, all of which she wants to read — nanotechnology, Catherine the Great, _Tuck Everlasting_ — and it seems like we can never really catch up with everything. Sometimes, it’s like drinking from a fire hose, isn’t it? SO glad that not everyone has this perfect interwoven tapestry of lovely homeschool experience.

  10. adsoofmelk

    Oh, and I just wanted to say that with our dust mice now having metastasized into dust opossums, “shabby chic” for us looks more like “shabby freak.”

  11. I think a lot of us have “shabby” and just tell ourselves it’s “chic.” 🙂 Otherwise we’d have to buy new furniture.

    Hopefully that’s not true in our homeschooling, though. Like Angela, I’ve got kids with vastly different learning orientations — one who likes structure, order, and sitting at the dining room table doing work with me, and at least two others whom I think of as natural unschoolers — I’ve had to learn, with my oldest, to take her drives, interests and inclinations and help her to shape them into an education (and occasionally repeat, in as gentle a voice as I can muster, “Just finish the algebra. Just finish the algebra . . . “). Not sure what my youngest is going to be like yet. But with the ones who have decided ideas about how they want to do things (ie not my way), homeschooling is a lot like a) having a picture in your mind of how you’d like your house to look, and b)having your family press on you all this great hand-me-down furniture that you can’t say no to without damaging important relationships irreparably and forever. So you just figure out how to make 1 and 2 work together — somehow.

  12. I love your Shabby Chic comparison (my fave style by the way). I do not homeschool and probaby never will. I admire you and others who do though. I suppose everyone has their own style of how they run their ship. You probably do just fine with your family, as do others with their family style. I guess when it comes to homeschooling no way is really the right way. Atleast that is what I think, but then again I have no idea what I’m talking about. 😉

  13. I LOVE LOVE Love your post. There is a paragraph in there that I could have written about our life. (You know the one.)

    I like all homeschooling types when I see that they have a special energy that is made by the individuals. I feel the same about home decorating.

    During the last year or so, I have become more confident and settled in our homeschooling style. Like my home it is full of books and everything has it’s place (not that everything is always in its place but if it could get there, there it would be.)

    My home is very individualized. It is decorated with treasures from our past and things handmade. But of course we also have a few laptops and make use of the latest technologies. The seating is ultra comfy, there are plenty of places to put our feet up and we have a big big table to spread out our papers on. But then those papers go away into coordinated files, arranged alphabetically.

    I could go on. I wont. *grin* I love the analogy. I think it works quite well. I wonder how many other people can see their homeschooling style in their home decor.

  14. Great stuff. Confidence that we are doing things our way, even if it’s not everyone else’s way, is a good thing.

  15. Pingback: How is Unschooling like Santa Claus? « Red Sea School

  16. Yours is MY bookmarked and starred blog so you must be doing something right 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s