The following is a guest post from The Vegan Bee.
There are many different labels and categories floating around out there for homeschoolers to choose from – classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason homeschooling, eclectic homeschooling, Christian homeschooling, secular homeschooling, unschooling. We might be purists, falling into only one category, or feel comfortable straddling several.
In our household, we are definitely straddlers. We also fit into another category – vegan homeschooling.
Because of the rise in popularity in the vegan diet (it seems it is all the rage, even Oprah tried it!), there is a misconception that it’s just that, a diet. Diet is only one part of the vegan lifestyle, though. Vegans strive to avoid animal products as much as possible – in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the health and beauty products we use, the household cleaners we use, and even the entertainment we take part in.
As homeschoolers, life is education, so of course our vegan lifestyle plays a significant role. Our children’s learning experience is not limited to textbook learning, standardized tests, and early morning bus rides. While our school experience does include book learning, it goes so far beyond that.
Food is part of our homeschool. I am teaching my children (okay, maybe not the baby, yet!) to cook – we cook all vegan food here, so we do a lot of from-scratch cooking using all natural ingredients. Our five-year-old daughter is learning what foods we do and do not eat, what ingredients are okay for us to use, alternatives we can use, and most importantly, why we do not eat certain things. Eating a ton of processed foods is not her normal. She is learning what real food is and how to prepare it.
We also garden. She gets to see food growing in the dirt, she participates in watering, weeding, picking, and then she gets to eat the final product.
Navigating the social aspect of eating is also something that is a daily learning process for us. In our culture, food is a central part of birthday parties, holidays, social gatherings, etc. Because most of the food offered at these gatherings are not vegan, learning how to navigate the social implications of our lifestyle is necessary. This may be politely refusing an offer of non-vegan food, bringing a substitution when possible to gatherings (we try to bring a cupcake to birthday parties), or if necessary, doing without food when no other options are available.
Raising children with an understanding of why we don’t eat animal products is so essential here – our daughter understands why we sometimes don’t eat when others do, because the food contains animals. If we just gave her a laundry list of “NO” foods without an age-appropriate reason, she might be resistant or resentful.
We incorporate humane education into our homeschool curriculum. Our daughter understands that we do not eat animals because of the way they are treated and because there are plenty of other options. Treating living beings with respect is something that we stress in our household. We also stress living a gentler lifestyle and being mindful of our footprint on our planet.
Our humane education does extend to humans – we cannot come at people from a place of judgment and expect them to accept or embrace our lifestyle. Education, compassion, walking the walk daily – these are the ways that vegan ideals are passed on.
We have a mixed household – the children and I are vegan but my spouse is omni (that’s vegan-speak for omnivore, or sometimes-meat eater), so this is important. While we have a “no meat cooked in the kitchen (outdoor grill only)” rule, our children do see consumption of animal products on occasion by dad. Our daughter, while she does ask dad to not eat animals, is also learning to be compassionate and understand that some people do eat animal products, but that it is more productive to educate our friends and family than to pass judgment.
One very important part of our education is understanding the importance of the choices we make. As vegans, we sometimes do without certain things – food, health and beauty products, types of clothing. In homeschooling, our choices also extend to educational opportunities – we do not participate in homeschool days at Sea World or the local zoo, and pass on social outings to petting zoos, circuses and rodeos. Instead we find opportunities that are more in line with our ethics – we love the botanical gardens and children’s museum, and we have a wonderful farm animal sanctuary nearby.
Like most homeschoolers, we do a lot of reading. I try to include books that feature vegetarian or vegan characters, and cover topics such as kindness to animals, and living a more natural lifestyle. It is helpful to have reading choices where our lifestyle is encouraged, and reinforces our ethics. This is no different from seeking out books that feature homeschooled characters, so that our homeschooling lifestyle is not seen as anything but normal.
Our goal for homeschooling our children is to raise compassionate, educated, independent thinkers with a strong awareness of the world around us, and with a kind heart. I think that incorporating vegan ethics into our homeschool will help us accomplish this.
You can read about Vegan life and homeschooling at The Vegan Bee.