Kneading Expectations

Welcome back to the series, Becoming a Homeschool Baker.

I’m writing this a week late because last Saturday we were in the midst of the funeral process. It’s cathartic to write about working through the hard as we go through something so hard as a family. Because the truth is that as beautiful and as fulfilling as homeschooling is, like parenting, it is hard. We fill ourselves with expectation of vigor and beauty, of idyllic natures and unrealistic pastimes. The more we go down the philosophy rabbit hole the more we find ourselves smitten with the idea of what our home life could be. Managing these expectations against the realities of life is often sobering.


Sometimes it’s tiring. Whether we have an older child who is reading independently and requires pre reading, or a new reader that is struggling with the cvc words the prep work and the mental stamina needed to keep up with homeschooling is more exhausting than we are often led to believe. Other times it’s a war of the wills. There are days when no one wants to work and days when it seems a foundational subject will never be learned. When stubborn is far more than a description and may even feel like a sentence.  There are days when the wrong side of the bed seems like a very real possibility or when you wonder where your child learned to be so rotten. When you wonder where your sweet little child has gone. There are days when there are just too many subjects to juggle and you wonder how on earth people manage to get all of them to fit into a week.

Social media is filled with the good moments, the good seasons and the great days. Oh and they really are so encouraging too! They fill you with hope and ideas while simultaneously making you feel like you can do anything. The inspiration gets your imagination flowing whether you are new to homeschooling or not. As a veteran homeschooler I often find myself wondering if I need to change things or add new ideas, its not always the most constructive way to spend my time and its not always very helpful in managing my own personal expectations but its very different than it was as a new homeschooler when I tried to create an image of what I thought our homeschool should be like. But life is more complicated than a picture on a screen.

Homeschooling is about life. It’s learning while living. And life is never all sunshine or good days. It’s hard times and good times. It’s happiness and sadness. It’s the tension between extremes that we find our everyday experiences that come together to make up a beautiful life.

Baking bread is the same. It’s not always easy. Once everything is mixed together and it’s had time to rest it’s time to get to work. The baker needs to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and work out those hand and arm muscles not normally used. Kneading is the process through which you work the dough until the ingredients that were put together unite and begin to transform. It is through the hard work of your own hands that the flour begins to release gluten, which is what gives bread its texture.

Some people can’t have gluten and so a different process is needed that requires different ingredients and a different process. Knowing what you’re working with is a part of becoming a homeschool baker. Each baker knows their kitchen better than anyone else. You know what ingredients you have on hand, you know how your oven works, you know how warm it is or how much space you have and you know if your recipes need to be gluten free. Just because we have recipes doesn’t mean we don’t have the freedoms to move around as well.

In most cases baking bread requires hard physical work. There are recipes that skip the physical labor but those replace the physical work with more time needed Homeschooling is the same. In many cases the foundational subjects require our hardest work. For others the hard part of homeschooling is remembering to add in music, art and creative pursuits. Some can only manage history or science in bursts spread here and there. Subjects like reading, writing and mathematics, often need consistency and dedication. Meanwhile, other subjects require planning or materials, or spontaneity, or an ability to make connections… each of these aspects pose a different challenge for different homeschoolers. For some consistency is natural, and for some kneading is enjoyable and relaxing. It’s still physical work but it’s an enjoyable kind of work. For others consistency is the hardest kind of work thinkable and likewise any recipe that boasts no knead bread is a quick favorite, even if it takes twice as long.

Yet even still, kneading represents the need to work. It’s the pushing and pulling of the moldeable dough. It’s the process of gently punching down and gently tugging from one direction to the next. It’s the preparation we need for life. It’s learning how to live through hard things. It’s learning how to respect the process and grow. It’s not all about the pushing and pulling. There is such a thing as over kneading a dough which can make the dough tough and create too much gluten in the process. This makes bread with no stretch and no chewy texture. It’s still bread, but it’s not what we aim for when we start baking. Over kneading in a homeschooling environment is possible too. As a parent it is almost easy to push too hard. To expect too much. Sometimes to even forget how old our child actually is as we get caught up in their expansive growth. Over kneading when you are inexperienced, tired or overwhelmed is a simple fail that we can all fall into without even thinking about it. We want a rigorous education because we’ve been taught that this creates a strong mind or we want to make sure the foundation is solid and so we over push the basics because they are, well, foundational.

Our children are people, and children at that. They don’t need coercive or manipulative actions, they don’t need to be pushed until they break. They need gentle pulling and stretching. Gentling tugging and molding. They need to know that getting through the hard times is possible. Sometimes they need a strong back to remind them to keep at it when they think it’s too hard and they want to quit. They need to know that your love is never ending, even if they can’t quite figure out the math problem… again. They need the encouragements but they also need the supports. They need to know that you are listening to them too, that when they say they can’t do it again and again, that maybe they really can’t but they don’t have the words to express why. In those cases you need to become a detective, and usually a rest is needed.

The opposite is true too, it is possible to under knead bread as well. The effect is almost the same. Hard bread with no chew. So as a homeschooler how do you find the balance? Not enough hard work or challenge is just as damaging as too much. Play based learning is a wonderful tool and there are a million ways to facilitate a challenge that look nothing like traditional school, but a life that is filled with ease does not build character or facilitate growth. Some children naturally learn quickly and easily, others learn slowly but don’t communicate that they are ready to move on. Either way or any in between how do you find the right level? To answer this, I refer again to the baking analogy. Test it. Bakers test the dough to see if it is ready. They stretch a small piece so that it’s thin enough to see light through but doesn’t tear. Flexible dough is the sign of a well kneaded product.

The same is true for homeschooling. A well kneaded homeschool is able to handle a challenge, learn from the challenge and grow during the rest that comes after. Your children are adaptable and even if they are not adaptable due to a diagnosis, they are more adaptable then they were. The proof is in the growth you see. You know the dough is good when it rises again after being kneaded. During that last rise time the product is covered and left in a warm place. It’s allowed another resting period and during that resting period the yeast grows, the gluten stretches and the bread takes shape. It’s still not finished but it’s closer to its end product.

Becoming a Homeschool Baker

Some breads have one knead time which is really more of a thorough mix and then one extremely long rest, others have a rest before the knead and another after, others require several small bursts of kneading with short rests in between before one long rest at the end. You know your ingredients, you know your recipe, and you’ll know which kind of bread you are working with- even if only after trial and error. Eventually you will be the expert on your kitchen. Just know that whichever way you choose to work your bread, a little challenge is good for the process.

Thank you for joining us again here and come back again next week as we finish up the series with our final installment.

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