5 Ways Homeschooling is Like Writing a Novel

Home education and writing a novel sound like two very different endeavors. But since I am engaged in both, I suddenly realized the other day that there are some parallels between the two: Are you a 'pantser' or a 'plotter'? 

Some writers can sit down at the keyboard and compose stories from what seems like thin air, or 'by the seat of their pants', hence the moniker 'pantsers'. They have a few ideas about what they want to accomplish, but they enjoy experiencing the story much as a reader would. The advantage is that if they are 'surprised' by a plot twist, surely their reader will be as well. The down side is when they have to edit their manuscript. Inconsistencies now have to be corrected, and occasionally entire subplots rewritten.

A 'plotter' needs an outline of some kind. Character sketches, plot lines mapped out, research notes about setting... a plotter writes better when they have a plan. The most obvious benefit is the consistency in details and pacing. A disadvantage is that planning a 400-page novel sounds daunting.

Likewise, there are homeschoolers that are plotters- they research, plan, outline and chart their child's school year, and sometimes their entire educational course. They rarely change methods or resources. They have found what works, they know their goals and objectives, and they stick with it.

Some homeschoolers that are pansters simply 'know' what they want their children to learn. They may have started with a core curriculum to teach basic skills like reading, writing, and math; but after that they have launched into the deep with nary a map or compass, except the one they carry inside their heads.

We might look at these descriptions and feel we are have a bit of each inside of us, but there is a basic bent toward one or the other. What is interesting is that the other side always looks more attractive to us. The pantser may see those colorful charts and comprehensive plans, and worry that they are leaving huge gaps in their child's education. The plotter looks at the free-and-easy pantser and wishes they could do school in such a natural, organic way.

Understanding your abilities, your limitations, and the needs of your family is key. Find what works for you, and don't be seduced by all that is shiny and new in the homeschool market. 

Having a purpose in mind, a story to tell

The novelist often starts out with a question- "What if a scientist, obsessed with discovering the secret of life, builds a monster out of the body parts from disinterred corpses?"(Frankenstein) "What if some boys are freed from the expectations of adult society by being marooned on an island?"(The Lord of the Flies) Then they proceed to tell that story in the most realistic and engaging way possible.

The homeschooler starts with questions too- "Should I use a boxed curriculum, unit studies, Charlotte Mason, or Classical?" "How many hours a day should we spend in academic pursuits?" "What about college?"

The primary question we should ask is "What is my true purpose in homeschooling my child?" We may have begun with the idea that home education is purely academic, but it isn't very long until we discover that we have a whole child, who requires spiritual food, nurturing of character, moral guidance, emotional support and comfort.

Our child's life is ultimately their story- how do we want it to read? How do we teach them to take the pen and paper from us and plot it themselves, keeping the ending in mind?

Beginnings, middles, ends

Just as in a story, there are beginnings, middles, and ends; each one having it's own particular virtues and problems. The first lines are exciting, with the yet unfulfilled promise stretching out before us. The middle can be fraught with diminished motivation, wondering why the end still seems so far way. But toward the end, we can feel the conclusion coming. Sometimes this is as thrilling as the beginning, but then we may feel a lonely kind of dread that it is all coming to an end.

Each phase is as equally important- we must go back to our initial purpose, our plan, our spiritual compass, and not let circumstances slow our pace or determination to finish with joy what we had begun.

It's about character

The plot may be intense and delightful, but unless we care about the characters, we are unmoved by their triumphs and tragedies. They are 'cardboard', merely providing moving parts to make the action happen.

Our children are our 'characters' (sometimes in more ways than one), who have needs that must be addressed on a daily basis. It isn't enough to make sure they have food, clothes, and a roof. Shelves full of books, manipulatives, games, and educational resources do not mean they will receive a quality education. Children also can't be carbon copies of mom and dad, fulfilling their parent's unsatisfied longings for success.

Their unique talents, their particular struggles, their place in God's plan- all are exclusive to that singular child, and we must keep their individuality in mind as we guide them through academics and life.

The underlying theme

At first, the point of the story seems obvious. The bad guy is caught, justice is served, the good guy gets the girl... but as we deconstruct the plot, underlying themes come to light. A disillusioned 1930's America results in a corruption of society (The Big Sleep). The link between knowledge and sin, revenge as a perversion of love, and a struggle against a society-determined identity. (The Scarlet Letter) Those ideas aren't explained on the cover, or on the dustjacket blurb, but in a careful reading of the text.

We are writing the stories of our lives, and whatever we think we are communicating with the side of ourselves we present to the outside world, our children are carefully reading and deconstructing the text. They are receiving subtle, unwritten message from us about what is and isn't truly important in life.

We can say we love the Lord, that the Bible is His Holy Word- but our actions will expose our true beliefs about God and Scripture, obedience and compassion, holiness and devotion.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11