Book Review: Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie
"Teaching from rest is meaningful learning and growth—but without the anxiety and frenzy so common in our day."
Sounds nice, right?
Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie describes how our mindset when approaching homeschooling determines the outcomes. If we remember what the true goals of education are, if we remember our personal values and direction, then we'll find peace as we homeschool. The book is a glassy lake on a lazy summer afternoon: tranquil, gentle, connecting you back to what matters.
I picked this book up on the recommendation of another homeschooling mother. I'm spending some time this summer reflecting on our homeschooling philosophy and gathering inspiration about how we ought to continue. (Read my reflection on the 2021-2022 year!)
Mackenzie, a Catholic convert, writes from a Christan perspective, and as such, the book will appeal to any Christian homeschooler searching for the virtue of letting God lead your day, not a rigid curriculum. That said, even non-believers can learn something useful about being present and peaceful in daily life from this book!
What is the goal of education?
"The true aim of education is to order a child's affections—to teach him to love what he ought and hate what he ought. Our greatest task, then, is to put living ideas in front of our children like a feast. We have been charged to cultivate the souls of our children, to nourish them in truth, goodness, and beauty, to raise them up in wisdom and eloquence."
I was reminded of a talk given by another homeschooling mother about managing stress. The real source of stress, she said, was a lack of clear vision. With a clear vision, we know what we're supposed to do every day. Without, we amass mismatches between our expectations of what we ought to be doing, and our ability or desire to do it. Develop your vision, your family mission statement, your personal values and goals—then you'll know what to aim at. You'll be able to ask yourself each day whether your planned activities build toward your vision. If not, drop them.
"The heart of this book is about remembering what our true task really is, and then throwing ourselves in completely. Giving our all. The raising of children, the teaching of truth, the sharing of life, the nourishing of imagination, and the cultivating of wisdom: these are all His anyway; we are merely His servants."
She asks us to consider who you're serving with your children's education. Who are you trying to please? What kind of success or failure is there? Mackenzie says she's trying to please God, and success in God's eyes may not look how she expects success to look. Ask yourself: what would success look like to you?
We've got to finish this—don't want the kids to get behind! Got to keep those kids schooling, or they'll fall behind!
Behind what? What is the finish line you are racing towards? As the author says time and again, curriculum is not something you buy. Rather,
"It is a set of encounters that form the soul and shape the intellect."
A diligent education
Mackenzie argues for a diligent education, where the measure of success is about achieving understanding, learning to love what is lovely, enjoying the process more than attempting to check things off a list and finish the book.
"If we started thinking about "school" in terms of encountering certain ideas and mastering certain skills rather than finishing a particular book or "covering" material, we would free ourselves to learn far more than we can by binding ourselves to a set of published resources."
Mackenzie reminds us that so much learning isn't easily measured by tests and can't be demonstrated in conventional classroom settings.
When planning her homeschool days, she orients around three fundamental skills: remembering, thinking, and speaking. Then, she keeps it simple. She says the simplest method is:
- Read to your children everyday
- Have children write something everyday
- Do math everyday, at least some
- Live your life and involve children in it, whatever that life is, with yours, adventures now and about, spending time with family, creating, making, growing.
That last point is important.
"Our lives are, by nature, integrated. Our school day should reflect that."
I'm reminded of the joke about how a homeschooling family changes a light bulb:
I was curious about Mackenzie's homeschooling style and who influences her (classical? Charlotte Mason?) but she didn't explicitly say in this book. She talked about navigating the thin line between negligence and anxiety, of over scheduling versus not doing enough---common worries among homeschoolers. And she recognizes how much about learning is on the learner, not the teacher.
"Some of the best alerting happens when a child encounters an idea for himself. We are responsible for presenting the feast, but we can't always predict when or how that encounter will happen."
(See my TEDx talk: Kids can't be taught, but they love to learn!)
Schedules, curricula, and the day-to-day
Mackenzie includes a range of advice about structuring your homeschooling life.
As a guiding principle, she says to try this exercise: Picture your children twenty years from now. When someone asks them what being homeschooled was like, how would you want them to describe the experience? Use the words and phrases you come up with as a guide for choosing what to include in your homeschooling days.
Next, don't over schedule; plan for time to review and assess. Expect that some things will go slower. Expect your kids to need more time for certain topics or subjects. Plan to reassess your curriculum—Mackenzie says she plans her schooling in 6-week chunks, and reassesses every 6 weeks. There's no reason to conform to conventional public school calendars. Divide up your 12 months however you like.
Mackenzie highly recommends using looping schedules instead of day schedules. This was a cool idea—I'll probably use it. For example, say you have four books that you're reading aloud. Put them in a list. Every morning, read a chapter from the next book on the list. That way, even if your schedule is interrupted because someone's sick or you have visitors, you're still on track. You're not behind because you missed three Wednesdays in a row, you're just ready to read the next chapter of the next book.
She also recommends Morning Time (an idea from Cindy Rollins). Morning Time can be 20 minutes or 2 hours, the amount doesn't matter so much as the content, which is beauty. Encounter beauty with your children, every morning. Poetry, classics, scripture, fine arts, music—rotate through. Learn about the history of the piece; discuss it; go more in depth when the kids show interest and as they get older.
If you have the chance to seek advice from more experienced homeschooling mothers, ask what they would change if they could go back in time. What would they do differently? Mackenzie says you'll probably get answers about focusing more on relationships and helping their children preserve wonder and perceive truth.
In fact, Mackenzie recommends putting relationships above everything else. Be present in the moment, set aside some of your multitasking, and be present with your children.
"[A]s important as it is to give our children a solid education (and it is important, don't misunderstand me), it is far more important that we love them well."
As another homeschooling mother I know said recently, no matter how much "educating" we're doing at home, being loved at home is far better than anything our kids would get in a public government school.
(Read my review of Homeschooling with Gentleness by Suzie Andres.)
Fill your own pitcher
Mackenzie reminds us that,
"A peaceful and happy mother is the real key to successful homeschooling."
You, the mother, need to thrive in order to lead your children in thriving. Fill your own pitcher with inspiration and energy. Find your own homeschooling path:
"Trying to be something you're not, trying hard to provide your kids with the education that the homeschooler-next-door is giving hers, will burn you out and make you want to quit the whole project entirely."
Cut back on activities, outings, and curricula until your home is peaceful and happy. Make your own daily routines.
One of Mackenzie's ideas for filling your own pitcher that I liked: Choose a literary mentor for the year. Pick an author. Read several of their books this year; see how their ideas influence yours. Pick someone new each year. She shares some of the authors she has chosen: C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Elizabeth Goudge, Flannery O'Connor, Wendell Berry, P.G. Wodehouse, Tolkien, Charlotte Mason, Jane Austen, Tennyson, Anthony Esolen, James Sire, Dorothy Sayers, and T.S. Eliot.
"Teaching from rest means we don't panic when things don't go according to our plan—in fact, we plan for plans not always to work well."
A huge aspect of how any day goes is our expectations about how the day will go. Mismatches between what we expect and what we get are the greatest cause of frustration and unrest.
Mackenzie emphasizes that the first step in gaining unshakeable peace is letting yourself be open to what is rather than worrying about what could be or what ought to be, if only we could stick to our cleaning schedule, if only our toddlers helped clean up messes, if only our older kids wanted to finish their reading lessons without whining, if only, if only. Life isn't Instagram. Be present with what's real in your life right now. This is a common theme both in the Christian and Eastern traditions, probably because it's so reasonable.
This quote from the book sums up these ideas nicely:
"Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that is."