Our decision to homeschool was made about 5 years ago. I was working as a caregiver for children with special needs and had an infant. After speaking with the families I worked with and spending months researching the topic, my husband and I agreed to stop vaccinating our daughter just before her first birthday. In California, religious and personal exemptions are no longer available upon entering public school or childcare. You either keep up with the vaccine schedule or you homeschool.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but our decision to homeschool was one based on fear. It was our last resort, our only option.
Fast forward 5 years to summer 2016. Betsey is 5 and ready to start kindergarten, but I hadn’t even thought about enrolling her in school. In a panic, I called the local school district to find out the current situation on exemptions. I left a message but never received a callback. It’s funny how God works isn’t it? Amazingly, I wasn’t freaking out about the fact that my daughter was supposed to start school in a few months and I had virtually no plan!
A few days after making that phone call, the name of the charter school I graduated from popped into my head. Hello! I called the school and got all the information I could on their home study program. I was nervous about their vaccine requirements, but as it turns out our charter is considered a “non-classroom public school” and vaccines are not required for home study or academy classes. I was so relieved and excited to start our new journey. The next month was spent putting together our homeschool classroom and back-to-school list. I was in OCD heaven!
I planned out everything we needed and where we’d get the best deals. I put it on the credit card because we needed all of it before the year began.
Have I mentioned yet that our third baby was due the week Betsey started school? HA! Again with the God humor. We got together with our EF (Educational Facilitator, like a school counselor) to map out our plan and pick up materials/curriculum for the first month. I didn’t have a preference for what we’d use so I let her decide what would be best to start with. We began our homeschool year two weeks early to allow time off when the baby came. I spent an entire Saturday putting together a detailed schedule with pretty color coated calendars complete with a lesson for each subject in each day’s box. It hurts a little to write that out because we spent approximately 5 minutes following that lesson plan. My sweet daughter’s excitement about learning had us crossing off 5 days of reading and math in the first hour. After a few days of doing a few assignments for each subject, I watched her excitement turn to exhaustion and frustration.
I learned quickly that asking my 5 year old to follow a lesson plan was a fantastic way to kill her love of learning.
I was so thankful to have learned that lesson before our new baby came! Our first few months of school were very minimal due to our new schedule and my lack of sleep, but I did my best to keep the kids excited with various crafts and activities that I found on Pinterest. Most days we worked on pages torn out of workbooks. I learned to let her work on one subject until she was ready to take a break or move on to the next. And if she was struggling to understand a concept, we’d get creative and work on it until she mastered it.
I had to let go of my expectations and be intentional in allowing her to feel like she’s in control of her learning.
Every moment until this realization was made I had been trying to control every aspect of our homeschool. I chose what we worked on, when we started, and what materials we needed to use. I was tired and overwhelmed trying to check off every box on the ‘what-your-kindergartner-needs-to-know’ page. I was bringing my newborn and 4 year old to Betsey’s morning swim lessons. Lessons that toward the end she didn’t even enjoy going to! Which brings me to my next revelation:
Realize when something isn’t working, and allow yourself to quit!
And when I say quit, I don’t mean at the beginning of next year, I mean as soon as you realize it’s not benefitting your family. In the beginning of the school year, Betsey was signed up for several weekly classes outside the home. Swimming, pottery, kids engineering.. She had a wonderful time in most of them but getting us all there on time was a major source of stress for me and ultimately led to grumpiness in all of us. Since freeing our schedule, we have had more time to dig deeper into what they’re learning and schedule the things we really want to be doing, like hiking with our nature group.
Our schedule isn’t the only thing that we minimized after the first few months. Over winter break I went through all the supplies. I threw away what we didn’t use at all and put out of sight the things we that don’t use often or need sitting out (construction paper, glue, paint.) This was huge because when a 4 year old sees scissors, she wants to use them; and she was eyeing those scissors multiple times a day for a good few months! We also purged their bedroom of all excess toys and have been working on replacing them with open-ended toys such as play silks and MagnaTiles.
My new approach to homeschooling is to keep it simple.
Kids are learning machines. Between the ages of 4 and 10, their brains are more than twice as active than adults’. They are going to continue learning whether you provide curriculum or not. Their spongy little minds are constantly picking new ideas up and growing. It’s an incredible miracle to watch! I’m not saying our children don’t need our help to learn and grow, but that it doesn’t need to be something that causes anxiety. One of my favorite benefits of homeschooling is that there is no pressure to have certain concepts learned by a specific date. We get to take as long as we need to understand the concept and move on. If one of my children is curious about something unrelated to math or language arts, we get to put those aside a few days to allow them to explore their new interest. What a blessing!
In the last 6 months, I learned to rethink homeschooling. I no longer see it as our only option, but as the best option for our family. I’ve learned to appreciate the freedom homeschooling gives us and use it cultivate our relationships and interests. I see the world differently. My fears of my children growing up in this world have become dreams of hope and excitement for their futures. They get to decide what they like and have all the time they need to grow their interests into skills that will make them successful, no matter what direction they choose to go in. Again, what a blessing.
I’d love to hear your stories about how homeschooling has changed over time! Maybe your journey hasn’t changed much at all. Let me know in the comments!