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Vegan Children

Homeschooling and the Vegan Family
by Melanie Wilson

I've met hundreds of veg families, and it seems to me that, compared to the average population, a large number of them homeschool their kids. Maybe it's that we're already open to "alternative" lifestyles, or that we see it as an extension of our natural living. Or maybe, like me, those other families realize that allowing our children to learn at home gives us the opportunity to instill strong vegetarian values without the conflict inherent in public school curriculum assignments related to nutrition, health, animals, and the environment.

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The reason we chose to homeschool our children has little to with being vegan. However, because we are homeschooling (unschooling, really) our "curriculum" includes subjects from gardening and nutrition to nature and environmental awareness, all with a heavy veg focus. Our talks, games, and reading often center on healthy eating, love of animals, and respect for the earth. Whenever we broach a new topic, we consider how to weave compassion into the lesson.

I have to admit that, years ago when I first talked to faith-based homeschoolers, I thought that the idea of homeschooling to avoid certain topics in the public schools was ridiculous. But as time goes on, and I consider how different our lives would be if our 5-year-old were in public or private school, I see the wisdom in this philosophy. Let me reiterate that we don't homeschool because we're vegan - in fact, I picked up my first homeschooling book long before I was even vegetarian - but I've discovered that it makes the job of instilling our veg values that much easier.

I don't have to contend with a nutrition curriculum that teaches young children to believe that meat and dairy products are essential to their diets. My daughter doesn't have to grapple with the issue of what to believe from the various authority figures in her life. She doesn't have to endure the teasing that invariably haunts a veg child's lunchroom experience. And she doesn't have to explain to anyone why she's eating differently than they are until she's good and ready to handle such confrontations without mom by her side.

That's not to say that we want our daughter growing up in a bubble, nor that we want to shelter her entirely from disagreements and conflicting points of view. But homeschooling allows us to selectively expose her to outside influences as we believe she is ready to receive them emotionally and intellectually. We are able, in these early and impressionable years, to impart our vegan values and give her a strong base from which cope with the world.

Of course we count among our blessings that she will be more slowly indoctrinated into the commercial culture of chips and Coke, that she will think less about spending and fashion, that she will be safe from school violence, and she will be granted the privilege of choosing her topics of study and learning at a comfortable pace. She will be free to stay up late with me on a "school night" to watch an educational show on National Geographic without suffering for it in the morning, to take a trip to the local museum any single day of the week, or to take a hobby and make it a week-long project. Certainly these are experiences that many a non-homeschooling family shares with their children, but we are freer and our schedules more open to experience these things.

In some ways I feel a little guilty that we are not participating in actively working toward change in the public and private school environments. I know that lobbying for veg lunch options in the local school cafeteria and sharing new ideas for nutrition lessons in the classroom would not only be valuable learning experiences for my children, but also do good for the veg movement on a wider scale. There is a chance, however, that later down the line one or both of my girls will want to give traditional schooling a try, and I'll have the opportunity to be more of an activist in these areas.

Until then, I am proud (and often relieved!) to be a homeschooling vegan mom, and I can't imagine my children's education unfolding in any other way!

Melanie Wilson is the former editor and publisher of Vegetarian Baby & Child magazine. She edits the family section of VegNews and manages Vegetarianteen.com online magazine.
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