(by Anne DeSantis)
Starting very early in their childhood, my two daughters and I had a lot of fun in the kitchen. The reason there was time for cooking, baking, and snack-making is that we were a homeschooling family.
I have a degree in teaching and always planned to go right back to work after my children were born. I had a Type-A list of what I wanted to do with my life, and it didn’t include being a stay-at-home mom. But once my daughters were born, I loved helping them discover the library and the joy of reading, and I’d heard about the interesting spectrum of home-schooling options, including a less conventional kind of “unschooling.” I did my research, asking a million questions of women who’d done it, and contacting my school district to find out the regulations. When we started, my older daughter was in kindergarten, and I had no intention of continuing for her and her younger sister’s entire 12 years of education. But it went so well, that's exactly what happened.
My daughters were entitled to use the same textbooks, curriculums, and standardized tests as any children in Pennsylvania’s public schools, and I had the support of a “cooperating teacher,” with an evaluation at the end of each year. There was no dress code—really no code of any kind, as we broke down the walls (metaphorically, anyway—no hardware required) of the classroom. We were not bound to sit at desks all day, incorporating more field trips and other innovative ways of learning. When the girls were little, their drawings didn’t have to travel far from the schoolroom to the refrigerator, and when they were older, they wrote papers and took tests (admittedly, I might have graded a bit generously on the “mom curve”).
One of the benefits of home-schooling is the opportunity for creativity. We got involved in a local food co-op, and every week we went to the farm to pick up our portion of the crop. The girls got to see the trajectory of fresh fruits and vegetables from the field to the dinner table. Earlier in life, I had not been eating a healthy diet—the day would often go from Cheerios to Oreos—but a few years before the girls were born, I had a kind of awakening about what was going into my body, and I became a vegetarian. Since my daughters ate whole foods from the very beginning of their lives, they always loved veggies—no turning up their noses at a parsnip or a gaggle of greens.
That’s not to say that there weren’t temptations around many corners. They participated in lots of programs with friends from our church and wider community; many of those kids ate fast-food burgers and wanted a dollar any time they heard the seductive bell of the ice-cream truck in the neighborhood. But since the girls and I could spend part of our day learning about healthy alternatives and making our lunches, it led to them creating delicious versions of soups, homemade granola, and brownies with a secret ingredient. As we were reading Emily Dickinson, we might be enticed by the aroma of sweet potatoes roasting for our lunch with coconut oil and cinnamon.
I’m proud to say that both of my daughters graduated from high school (yes, we had a cap-and-gown ceremony with others from our church group) and were accepted to excellent colleges. Home-schooling isn’t for everyone, but I’d always said that relationships and shared time were important to me, and home-schooling let me put those ideals into action.
Plus there’s always time for avocado brownies.
Anne DeSantis is a model and director of the St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation in Philadelphia.
1 c. oatmeal
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ripe avocado
1/2 c. honey
1 T. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mix all ingredients and spoon into a greased 8-inch square pan.
Bake for 25 minutes.