During my thirteen years of home schooling, my mother played many roles in my life: parent, breadwinner, principal, teacher, guidance counselor – and, as she only half-jokingly told our friends every day, chauffeur. My childhood schedule, like the schedules of more and more children today, was packed with extracurricular activities. From birth to the start of college, I can remember receiving formal instruction in six sports, six kinds of dance, three instruments, and three foreign languages, in addition to performing in no less than ten different musical groups and four theatrical organizations. And that doesn’t even count the miscellany of knitting classes, watercolor workshops, and other crafts and pastimes I have long forgotten.
My mother thus spent most of her days balancing her chauffeuring duties with her full-time job. She would set up with her laptop and her files in one room of my French teacher’s house while I struggled to conjugate the passé simple in another; then she would drive me to the other side of Chicago, drop me off at a Catholic church, and go pick up groceries during my Irish dance practice; then she would bring me to my taekwondo class and go find a café to work at until I finished kicking things. Even the weekends weren’t spared – Saturdays were filled to the brim with acting classes and Irish band practices, and Sundays were for sports games and orchestra rehearsals.
People often assumed that my mother and I must drive each other crazy since I was a home schooled only child and she worked from home. But in reality, most of our one-on-one time was spent in the car, en route from one obligation to another. In my mind, many of the most memorable conversations I had with my mother are associated with the sight of trees and shops whizzing by outside the window. Now that those chauffeuring days are long gone, my mother sometimes reminisces fondly about them, specifically because they were the closest we came to that mythical “quality time” that is supposed to hold families together.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder: if this “quality time” was that hard for me to come by, as a home schooled only child, what must it be like for all those families with children who go to school and parents whose jobs are not flexible enough to allow them to work from home (and from coffee shops and French teachers’ houses)?
More importantly, how can we make it easier for busy families to find time to spend together? I often hear people talk about how they’re too busy, something needs to go, they need to spend less time at work, they need to participate in fewer activities, and so on. But somehow people never seem to make the necessary schedule cuts. I suspect that neither children nor families are going to get less busy any time soon. So maybe the answer is not to sacrifice activities for the sake of family time, but to integrate families into activities together.
This is the strategy recently taken by a local Jewish congregation in overhauling their Hebrew school program. With the help of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Temple Beth Shalom “designed a Jewish educational experience that will involve the entire family.” The website describing the new program lists 7 specific curriculum changes – 5 of which specifically mention integrating families into what used to be children-only classes. Apparently, many Jewish parents don’t just want their kids to go off to temple and come back knowing a little more Hebrew; they want to join their children in exploring their culture, traditions, and beliefs.
Here at our own Humanist Learning Lab, we’re trying to do a bit of that, too. This Sunday, our classroom will go public as we invite community members of all ages to join us for a fun, educational, and inspiring tour of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. All are welcome, but we especially hope families in our community will take advantage of this opportunity to experience nature’s wonders together. Space is limited, so be sure to save your spot early by buying a ticket here.
As the year continues, we hope to organize other opportunities for families to explore Humanist values together. If you have an idea for a family activity, please leave a comment below! And remember, the Learning Lab is still enrolling students – more information is available here.