When you strip away the academics and try to build your foundation for life (not just homeschooling, but living), you'll find that certain things are important for your family. Taking a break from the academics I've learned a few things about what makes things work for us.
Number one is environment. It comes before rhythm, before nourishing meals, before snuggling, singing, and stories. In Enki, environment is a warp thread on the web. For me, right now, I prefer the analogy of the womb.
Before we were ready to create life, the environment had to be prepared. For most of us, that is our homes. They need to be welcoming, nurturing, warm...not necessarily perfectly clean and organized, but liveable. For me personally, things need to be fairly well decluttered and in their places. I function better when I am not looking at visual chaos (okay, I also function better in the absence of aural chaos...I don't do chaos very well). I don't need bare surfaces, but I like things simple and not cluttered. My kitchen needs to be clean.
There are homes you walk into and you just feel the warmth. The style may not be yours, but you feel welcome. I love a home where you can curl up on the couch. I love eating spaces that are small and intimate, and obviously used. I love a big bed that the whole family can pile into. I love warm colors, golden wood floors, and candles that actually get burned. I love front porches and open doors, and garages in the back.
When my environment is sustaining me, I can move on to other things, such as rhythm and health. I'm not sure if one has higher priority than the other; health is necessary to sustain rhythm, rhythm is necessary to sustain health. I suppose though, that health follows close on the heels on environment (and really, it is all interwoven...how can I create the environment if I don't have health?).
At its very core, health is simple. Physical health requires good nourishment, moderate exercise, clean air and water, sunshine, and rest. We approach nutrition with whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, and fish. The more simple I make it, the easier it gets. Some people are going to eat beef, chicken, and/or pork. Some will be vegan or vegetarian. I believe that the focus on whole plants foods is what contributes to health, not whether or not one eats meat. Someone who eats steak, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit is probably going to be healthier than a vegan who lives on French fries and soy ice cream. Not that people can't eat those things...just that for us nutrition is a big part of physical health. I don't want to accept diabetes, stroke, or heart attacks as part of aging. I want to do what I can to prevent the preventable cancers.
Our family needs to be active, and for the most part that needs to be uncontrived exercise. Walking and riding bikes are the cornerstones of our fitness. I've spent my time working out at the gym and it isn't for me. I like exercise that takes me somewhere, especially exercise in sunshine, fresh air, and nature. I like activity that has purpose, such as riding to the grocery store or walking to the post office.
Emotional health is something that has been harder for me to find and sustain. At the core, I need close relationships as well as more casual friendships. I need community, which I finally found in my homeschooling group. I need time to pursue things that make me happy and fulfilled, such as reading (head), crafts (hands), and singing or other artistic pursuits (heart). These are the same things that keep my husband and children emotionally healthy as well.
Spiritual health is individual to each person. I think the important thing is to be content with whatever beliefs you have, and to question them if need be so that you can know they are yours and not something you believe because that's what you were taught.
Rhythm ties together health and environment. It is the container that holds our lives. When I was a child our year moved through familiar patterns of ordinary days intermixed with birthdays and holidays. Children naturally look ahead to the next festival without losing the here and now.
Not only do we have an annual rhythm of festivals (be they holidays, birthdays, observances, etc.), we also have seasonal rhythms. As a child I was attuned to the seasons, however, as an adult I got on the treadmill and lost that seasonality. With a full time job I didn't have time to savor the seasons. Central heat and air conditioning, as well as an air-conditioned car, meant it didn't matter if it was 40 degrees or 110 degrees outside. The ability to purchase melons and tomatoes year round also dulled my perception of the seasons. It was only after I had children and slowed down that the seasons gained importance once again. The long nights of December, which used to bother me because I had to drive home in the dark, instead become a time for candles and fires, homemade soups, and fresh-baked bread. The long days of summer give us more time for outdoor activities as well as our beloved summer music series. Spring sends us searching for nestlings and tadpoles. Autumn brings falling leaves and pumpkins, the harvest moon, and basketball.
There is a monthly rhythm as we observe the moon, and then the weekly rhythm of the days. Park on one day, the farmer's market on another, weekdays and weekends. Nights that we have certain meals, a Friday family night, the weekly BMX race. These little things anchor us in time. Even household tasks weave into the weekly rhythm: laundry days, baking days, cleaning days.
Each day is a container itself, filled with waking and sleeping, eating, playing and resting, laughing, loving, and learning. Our lives are not merely chaos; they are an empty musical staff, waiting for us to make the music. Each day is different, yet they all contain similar motifs, half notes and whole notes, staccato and legato, measures of rest. We read, we have focused learning times, we sing, we move, we cook, we clean, we play, we rest. There are hurts to soothe, a dog to quiet, a floor to mop. There are friends to talk with, errands to run, hats to be knitted. We pour all of these things into the container of our days.
Sometimes it really helps to sit back, observe, and discover the foundations of your life. I did the Enki family web exercise months back, and pulling out my web just a moment ago (after writing this entry) I see that what I identified in theory is what works for us when we stop trying to do and just live. Family and Community are our outer ring, our threads are health, rhythm, nature, travel, learning, music, environment, and relationship.
I have said it before:
Wisdom, Vitality, and Compassion are my birthright.
They are the core of all humanity, in all times and in all places.
They may be clouded over, or tarnished, but the brilliance is there,
Unchanged, to be discovered again and again.
May I constantly seek these things in myself,
that I might find them in everyone.