Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: What works (and doesn't work) for us

A year ago, I was just a couple of months into our first year of homeschooling. As an unlikely homeschool mom, I was honestly surprised by how much we enjoyed Maya's second grade year here at home. After the wrenching decision to make the initial leap last time, this year's choice was 100% easier. Homeschooling was, again, where we were being led.  My concern for this fall, though?  Adding a kindergartner to the mix!

While the adjustment to teaching two kids spun me around in the beginning, we are hitting more of a groove these days.  I'll do a post sometime this month about what our typical school time is like, but I want to begin with some realizations about a few often-typical elements of homeschooling that fit our family, and some that don't.  The beauty of home education is that it can look so different in each home!  Here is some of what it looks like in ours.

What works for us:  An organized curriculum.

I cannot even tell you how crucial this is for me.  In a future post I'll write more about what we use and are studying, but let's just say that I would be lost without a very detailed curriculum.  I do not have a teaching background, and the thought of just searching out lesson plans and pulling together a few things to create a unit study makes me want to go curl up in the fetal position.  I know that many homeschooling families use their own curricula, and I deeply admire their ability to do so.  Me?  I need something that's prepared, complete, and lets me know which books to open up each day.

I maintain a strong attachment, also, to making sure my kids are learning at least the same traditional academic concepts as their public school friends.  I'd actually like to be more relaxed about this, but the reality is that I'm much more comfortable if my kids are "caught up" or more in terms of math, reading, and language arts.  Then the history, science, Bible, and other great stuff in our curriculum is an awesome bonus.

What doesn't:  A dedicated school space.

I know many of the books and blogs highly recommend that homeschooling families create a specific space in their homes for school to happen, and I totally get the idea behind that concept.  I just have zero desire for it here.  We like to do reading on the living room couch, language arts at the dining room table, and spelling on the go.  We pack up our books every Friday to go do school at the local coffee shop.  For me, one of the perks of homeschooling is that it's...homey.  I know that if I had to physically shift us to a school space when our daily studies began, it would feel like a chore, and I wouldn't enjoy it as much.  So while I drool over the Pinterest posts of gorgeous school rooms along with everyone else, I've decided that this is one of those "homeschool DOs" that works for many families, but just doesn't work here.

What works for us:  Getting done in the morning.

With two kids and two sets of studies to get through, dedicating our mornings to school has become incredibly important.  That has meant saying no to a lot of things that I know we would enjoy, or could have been possible last year when we were only working with one curriculum.  It means keeping busy, and often eating lunch on the late side, but our days go so much better if our afternoons are open for free time and non-school tasks.  Since all of the kids extra-curriculars are also in the afternoon, it also means less fatigue on their parts if there's a good break before we pack up for music, piano, or dance lessons.

What doesn't:  Stretching school leisurely throughout the day.

I would be the worst "un-school"-er ever, as evidenced by several of these points.  While completely enamored by and (to be honest) envious of the families who can just live life and just let learning happen, pretty much all of us in this house are a little bit too task-oriented to allow that lovely, relaxed approach to school take over.  We tend to fall into the "is this task/job/lesson/venture complete?" "can I check it off my list?" category - right down to my five-year-old, who has been known to ask me to put additional jobs on his chore chart just so that he can turn the cards around when they're done.

All that to say, while we enjoy our school work and it feels shockingly un-chore-like most days, we have to give it a compartment that can be closed upon completion.  So even the idea of saving our school read-aloud books for bedtime feels a tiny bit stressful (crazy alert!), because it's still that one little part that isn't quite done yet all afternoon and evening.  This is weird, I realize.  But it's honest.

What works for us:  Counting our blessings.

We talk a lot with our kids about the joys of doing school at home.  They love it (and so do I) that they don't have to wake up early and rush to meet the bus, and that they're done so much earlier in the day than they would be if they were attending traditional school.  We talk excitedly about the books we're reading together and the eras of history we're currently studying.  It's important for Mark and I that our kids realize that homeschooling is a family calling for us right now, and that it comes with so much to be thankful for.

What doesn't:  Fear.

I want to say this carefully, but I still want to say it.  I've talked with homeschool mothers (and read their posts) who are incredible crusaders and defenders for the cause of homeschooling, and against any perceived or actual threats to the freedoms that homeschooling families enjoy.  That is fine and good!  For me, though, as someone who is naturally prone to worry and alarm, I just can't get pulled in.  So when I read advice about not letting your kids play outside too much or not bringing them to the store frequently during school hours?  No.  I won't live like that.  We will live our lives and abide by the laws, I can make my voice and my votes heard when the time is right, but we will not live fearfully or angrily about this - because I can naturally slip into both of those modes.  I will not click on every screaming headline or listen to every radio program about the forces coming after homeschooling families.  I appreciate the advocacy, but too often these things do not offer any sort of advice on rational action to take, but instead just send a message of "be warned"!  No, thank you.  I want to stay informed without living alarmed.

I recognize, too, the helpful factor that we are not anti-public school.  While the longer we walk the homeschooling road the more we love it, we still know that this will be an ongoing decision.  Along with keeping our kids on par academically with their public school peers, I also want to foster a fear-free attitude in their hearts toward the idea of learning in that environment, in case we ever decide that it would be the best thing for them again.  I want my children to appreciate - even celebrate - the blessings of our homeschooling lifestyle, without any shuddering or condescension (pet peeve) on their parts toward public school.

I love homeschooling.  More and more I can see us continuing on indefinitely, which is something I never thought I'd say a few years ago!  But traditional schooling works beautifully for millions of families, we had a primarily positive experience with Maya's two years in public school, and if that is what we decide on again at some point in the future, I want us - and our children - to feel ready and confident to take that step.

So that's where we stand at the beginning of year two!    Now, to make breakfast and get these kids started on their math!


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