One Way To Manage the Stress

We homeschool 2 of our fringy kids and we love it.  But, as our oldest is entering Middle School age, I’m noticing some things.  The first of which is he gets freaked out when there’s too much formal learning.  I’m not really sure where this comes from.  Correction:  I know this comes from the intense, innate perfectionism that frequently accompanies giftedness, but I’m not really sure what I’ve done to contribute to this.

We don’t really test.  I don’t grade.  I’m often sitting right by his side as he’s doing his work, even if he’s working independently.  He helps me choose curriculum, topics of study, books to read, schedule, etc.  Over and over I emphasize the process over the end result.  And yet, he gets stressed out when we have “schoolwork”.

One of the reasons we homeschool is for the flexibility of learning.  I believe that the most effective learning occurs when we are simply engaged in the pursuit of expanding our understanding of things we’re interested in.  I learn most and fastest when I am curious about something or have a client presenting with symptoms I’m not familiar with and want to know more.  I’m all for informal learning.

But, my son is at middle school level.  He has goals of attending college.  Every year we discuss if we want to maintain homeschool or if he wants to go to a brick and mortar school.  Part of my job is to prepare him to be able to meet the demands of more formal projects, whether in school or work.  If he chooses to continue his education or enrolls in a more traditional school setting, he needs to be prepared to enter the domain of papers and assignments and tests.

And, if I’m honest, my public schooled brain gets a little anxious if we don’t do some degree of formal learning, at least in Math and Communication skills.

And so I found myself in a quandary.  Wanting to promote interest-led, free-form, relaxed learning, while simultaneously wanting to assist my son to regulate the stress he feels when formal learning is expected and wanting to prepare my son for possible entry into an education system that isn’t so interest-led or free-form.

Thank goodness I ran across Melissa Wiley and Tidal Homeschooling!  It has been the answer to the dilemma and the pathway leading out of the quandary.  As she describes it, tidal homeschooling involves high tide and low tide seasons.  Formal learning ebbs and flows.  During high tide, learning is purposeful, more formal, directed.  Low tide learning is more relaxed, accidental, and free-flowing.  We’ve instituted our own version of this model into our lives and it has been a beautiful thing! 

And notice, I say we’ve instituted it into our LIVES, not just our education.  As anyone who homeschools knows, it’s really a lifestyle more than just an education option, so there’s that.  But, also, I’m finding that the more we can be intentional about providing low-tide times into our whole lives, we all can feel refreshed and ready to hit the next high tide running.

So, we have stretches of weeks where we intentionally lay out learning tasks and are more formal with assignments and subjects.  High tide.  During this time I’m guiding my son through study habits and organizational skills.  We use math, history, science, language, writing, and spelling curriculum.

Then we have stretches of weeks where we intentionally meander.  We maintain the Japanese study and flute playing so we don’t lose those skills, but beyond that, we never know where the day will take us.  We might have a fire blazing, wrapped in blankets, sipping hot chocolate and read aloud all day while building lego creations.  We might do an art project.  We might bake.  We might go for a hike or watch documentaries or simply play preschool learning games all day.  We might each pick out a game and gather snacks and play.  Low tide.

And in life we have stretches where one or two children are involved in highly committed activities.  We are running from one place to the next and getting caught up in the fast-past highly scheduled lifestyle of so many families these days.  High tide.

And then we have stretches where we intentionally choose low tide.  No activities, or only ones that have more of a drop-in approach.  We say no to more activities and invitations.  We rest and play together as a family and take naps and are still.  Low tide.

Of course, life never matches up perfectly, nor do I refuse to allow some things invade our tidal time.  But, our overall pace is intentional and guided.


This balancing of high tide and low tide life has been so good for our souls and, if your family is feeling stressed or you’re looking for a chance of pace, I encourage you to try it out.  In the world today, we all complain about how overly scheduled we are.  Anxiety is rising in our kids because of this overly scheduled pace.  This tidal way of life is a fantastic way to engage with modern life while being mindful and slowed down so that we can also care for our own well-being as individuals and as a family.