When I speak about unschooling, or delight directed learning, I use the phrase “wide margins.” I use it in the sense that, in order to cultivate a love for learning and a lifestyle of homeschool, there has to be space held sacred. It is in those sacred spaces where true learning takes place and passion ignites.

Facebook groups, Instagram, Message Boards, Forums, friends, family, aquaintances, the church, the world, your kids… would all like to tell you how to homeschool. All those voices can lead to sensory overload and a ton of mom-guilt. Am I doing this right? Am I failing them? Why don’t my kids look like those kids over there? Are we doing enough? Am I enough?

Keeping wide margins in the homeschool day, week, month, and year allows space for exploration. This can feel out of control and unproductive at times. In our fast paced world, to have space for nothing in particular feels awkward and weird and somehow coming up short. Because if someone happens to ask what you did all day, and your answer is “Nothing really. The kids were in their hammocks for two hours”… well… I mean… what do you do with that?

Holding wide margins and creating sacred space means that I know the weather was unbelievably beautiful that day. Rain was in the forecast and I told the kids to take advantage of the nice day. I know that their dad built them a hammock stand to go with their hammocks they received from their grandmother for Christmas. I know that they spent some of that time reading and some of that time playing charades with each other. I know that they cloud watched and sang and breathed in the spring like air. I know all four of my children who are in very different stages of life spent time together. I know their time was not wasted and I am happy with two hours in the hammock.

I know these things, but still it feels like wasted time. I have to remind myself that it is not. Space to be still. Space to be bored. Space and time to be creative… these are important. Dare I say, they are more important that book learning as we know it.

I guess it comes down to what we value and why we choose to homeschool. In ten years, twenty years, thirty years… what do I want for my children? What will have mattered? What are the things I hope will stick? Here are my top five:

  1. Love for Jesus and the Kingdom
  2. Biblical Literacy
  3. Love of reading
  4. Creativity
  5. Friendship- that they would be good friends and have good friends

I could keep going. Strange how double digit multiplication or frog dissections are not on my list. I am not saying those things are not important. I think whatever my kids are working on, they should give it their best effort. They should invest and follow the steps to gain information and knowledge.

But at the end of the day… it’s in those wide margins of space that passion ignites.

What do I mean… on a real life level? How do we get from the idea to the reality?

This girl has been asking me to teach her how to make earrings for the last couple of weeks. We inherited a bag full of jewelry making supplies from some dear friends and she had found it when we were recently cleaning out. Creating wide margins looked like taking the time to teach her and giving her space to create. She worked for an hour one night and then got right back to it as soon as she woke up the next morning. She is my early bird… usually up at least an hour before the rest of the crew. Space also meant giving her a physical space to be messy and spread out. This jewelry making project spilled into our “school time”… but that’s ok. She was being creative and learning and making and gaining confidence as she went.

While big sis was busy making earrings, this gal wanted a project as well. Part of creating these wide margins is a willingness on my part to put aside my agenda and take the time to teach. This friendship bracelet maker was in the supplies we received from our friend. It took all of five minutes for us to look up and watch a tutorial on using the contraption (similar to this one)… then little sis was well on her way to making a bracelet and I was able to get back to work on a project I needed to finish.

When my son was in middle school, he found his love of film making. Wide margins allowed him to write, direct, and edit his own movie. He cast several of his friends, sent them scripts and a schedule with different dates and filming locations. Wide margins allowed me to drive middle schoolers all over the mountains of Western North Carolina and then put on a party when the movie was completed so they could watch all they had accompished.

Wide margins allow for spontaneous game play or working puzzles. We have a shelf of games in our school room. I am thrilled when I find my kids plopped down on the floor, deep into a game. Puzzles… I could take them or leave them… I actually hate them… there’s a history… I’ll spare you the details. However… my kids enjoy them. So I can hold space for them to enjoy something even if I don’t.

I was knee deep in work one day. I get pretty focused and probably missed the part where I approved this little experiment. My brain tuned in long enough to hear, “We are going out to bow and arrow.” They had been in the garage and found a box full of old bows and arrows another homeschool mom had dropped off. A quick talk about safety… you know.. don’t shoot each other… or the chickens… and off they went for hours of fun.

Wide margins. It is not always possible. Some seasons are busier than others. Our Spring fills up fast with theater and soccer and other commitments (who said homeschoolers aren’t social???). My encouragement is to create sacred spaces in your homeschool. Allow for boredom that leads to creativity. Don’t be afraid of the chaos and mess. I am currently surrounded by earring pieces, math papers, an Ozobot, and friendship bracelet yarn. It accurately captures the beautiful chaos of my day.

One quick tip I’ll share and then I’m finished. I have learned in the last few weeks to change the mindset about school with one simple change in wording. So as to not devalue or make assumptions that jewelry making and playing games and hammocking are not school, I have stopped saying, “I need you to come do ‘school'” and started saying, “I need you to come sit with me and do language arts.” or “I need you to spend some time now on your math paper.” It gives the idea, at least for me, that school is not limited to certain things… but rather a culture of learning that defines our days.

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