New homeschoolers are everywhere I look, so here is a little bit of advice based on my experience. Homeschooling is weird. For most of history it was the go to form of education with the only exception being the extremely rich who could afford to outsource their children’s educations. Fast forward a few millennia and enter free compulsory education which in turn creates a massive paradigm switch culturally sending homeschoolers to the fringes of society. Until now. Now homeschoolers find themselves stereotyped, mostly misunderstood and dare I say… trendy.
I began the research when my son was 3. Preschool was fine as long as we only had to pay for one child, but we were already expecting our 3rd and I knew that at some point my standards would clash with our financial capabilities. When he was getting ready for Kindergarten I signed up with the Homeschooling Charter option in our Southern California district. Two months in and rebellion had ensued. Life was miserable. School was impossible with a newborn, toddler and preschooler on top of Daddy being deployed.
Public school was worse.
We moved. School was decent, his teacher AMAZING but now we knew just how little they could do for his constant need for new information so it was time to look at Homeschooling again.
This time I researched learning styles. I explored lots of new educational philosophies and fell in love with CM and Unschooling. I learned so much about natural learning. Then, I hit the jackpot of concepts. I don’t know where I first stumbled across this but within a few days of blog trolling I noticed that it was mentioned in almost every newbie homeschooling post I could find.
You mean it’s normal for my kid to completely reject the idea of sitting at the table during normal school hours doing all sorts of school like activities while his siblings play with toys nearby? Or that he will reject reading aloud for more than 5 minutes at a time if it means he has to sit still? There is no way it is normal for my 5 year old child to scream at the thought of writing anything more than his name after the novelty has worn off? You also mean that when my 4 year old is begging to go to school its really because she just wants to wear a back pack, carry a lunch box and ride bus…all of which can be done without attending school?!
You can’t be serious. Wait… it takes a long time for them to transition from the idea of going to school to schooling at home?
There I was wallowing in despair because I seriously thought I had failed as an educator due to my inability to recreate school at home only to find out that there is no need to even do that. To find out that even kids who have never been to school will still have this idea of what school is supposed to be all because of cartoons and books that regularly show this kind of school! Only to realize that I need to spend time getting them into a new groove that bucks against the traditional image that has been ingrained within them.
Yet even after internalizing this awesome concept, I still found a disconnect.
Everything I was reading talked about de-schooling the children. The focus was on helping the children get ready for a new normal, preparing the children for a life that goes against the norm, and introducing them to a new normal. At most I would find a sentence or two about how homeschooling doesn’t need to look like school at home which was aimed at me, the mom, but that was about it and that was not enough.
The more we De-schooled, the more I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. The closer we got to unschooling, the less productive I felt as an educating Mom. Everything I thought I knew about learning needed to be re-evaluated.
My first foray into the world of homeschooling began in the fall of 1995. My family had been stationed in Iceland for a little over a year and I attended the local DoD elementary school where I made a handful of friends quickly and generally got along with others. That was a first for me. Maybe it was because it was a military school and everyone was new to each other, but for once there was no need for me to try and break into cliques and groups of friends who had known each other since diapers. Then, just as we began to form decent friendships, everyone else in my class prepared to transition into the new “grown up” school but I was forced to prepare to stay at home.
The thought of me, asynchronous and emotionally immature with my younger age, entering a Jr High/Senior High mixed school (it was a small base so all the students from 7th-12th grade attended the same school) was more than my parents wished to go through. Several of our neighbors and friends of my mother were successfully homeschooling already and with my mothers background in Education it was an easy choice for them to make. I however, was distraught. Some of those kids were weird, really weird. Almost all of the normal ones were boys and I was trapped in that awkward stage where I was just beginning to be aware of boys as an interest but at the same time I just wanted to build forts and have fun. I only had two friends that were girls and we didn’t get a chance to be together too often because of conflicting schedules. On top of that I was still being schooled, just at home. I used textbooks with workbooks, we had school hours and preset breaks. Recess was coordinated with the neighbors. My mom created grading rubrics and a syllabi for each subject. The difference was that I could speed through at my own pace.
Looking back now that was an awesome year. I was surrounded by really cute guys, guys all the public school girls had crushes on but couldn’t get near. I had a chance to fully explore Iceland in a way that would not have been possible if I had been stuck in a traditional schedule, monthly we would hike down a cliff and go exploring along a stretch of beach known as Junk Beach and we had a chance to drive around the whole island staying at little bed and breakfasts or hostels along the way…and it was all called school! We were also able to visit our family in the States and drive up and down the East Coast during the coldest and darkest months of the year, so while everyone else had to go to school in darkness we were in Florida visiting St. Augustine.
Hind sight is 20/20, because back then and pretty much all the way through high school I swore that I would never, ever miss out on the school experience again and that I would never subject my own children to that kind of torture.
If we had kept going I probably would have realized how great I had it and my Mom might have changed how we schooled, but we didn’t. That next summer we moved to our new duty station and I went back to school. Our experimentation ended before I even head a chance to get into things. I never had a chance to de-school, or rather to get that traditional school mentality out of my head.
Fast forward 20 years and circumstances being what they are here I am betraying my 12 year old selves solemn vows. I am trying to reject my own 13 years (pre-K -12th grade) of traditional schooling plus college and grad school in order to provide my children with an education that excites them and challenges them. Their school experience is minuscule in comparison. They don’t need to go through a longterm process to rid themselves of preconceptions, they don’t need to change the way they think about learning. I do.
I need to stop thinking of assessments as tests, quizzes and reports.
I need to stop thinking of busy work as progress.
I need to stop thinking that sitting still automatically means a child is listening.
I needed to learn that playing pretend is not a waste of time because it challenges their social conceptions, helps them build characters, plots and settings, helps them process ideas and internalize them, teaches them interpersonal relationship, forces them to problem solve and so much more.
I needed to learn that legos or blocks are teaching them city planing, engineering, executive functioning and challenging them to view things in a visual-spatial manner in addition to the creativity and problem solving that occurs.
I needed to learn that screen time is not evil. That 5 minute YouTube videos could be more educational than an entire workbook or printout. That computer games could be more engaging than the prepackaged activity I bought at the educational store. That a new love of fine arts could be found from watching a silly cartoon.
I needed to learn how to talk to my kids. We have always had conversations. We have always answered their questions. We have always approached them as human beings capable of conversations and never stooped to baby talk or talking down but we still didn’t know how to talk WITH our children. We usually talked AT them, completely unintentionally. I had to learn how to bring up new ideas in everyday conversations. How to ask them questions. How to answer their questions without giving away answers. I had to teach them how to think through talking to them in ways which made them think.
I had to learn that relationships and conversations were more educational than any activity we did for school.
It is always the 15 minute drive to the grocery store that starts the most rich conversations, not the fancy encyclopedia set that sits on our shelf.
It is the hour of quiet time in the afternoon that produces the most curiosity.
De-schooling is by far the most important part of the homeschooling transition and the person who struggled with it the most was me. I had to journal conversations that I overheard during play, in the car or at the store. I had to list activities and then think about everything that went into the actions analytically. I had to learn how to translate play into schoolese.
Within 6 months my children were completely de-schooled, which is a long time considering my son had only been in a school environment for 2 years and my daughter had only been exposed for 4 months. We are now 2 years into this journey and I’m no longer a n00b but I’m not a veteran either. Two years and I am still struggling with de-schooling me.
So if you happen to be new to homeschooling, are struggling with whether or not you are doing enough or are just in the research phases remember that you are trying to change a lifetimes worth of preconceptions that do not fit your current paradigm. Homeschooling is nothing like traditional school. Regardless of your educational philosophy, regardless of the range of learning and teaching styles that exist in your house hold, regardless of your schedule or income. No matter what, your reality of educational success will look nothing like a classrooms idea of success.
There will be days with too much TV.
There will be days spent entirely outside.
There will be days where no reading, writing or school like studies will take place but Learning is nonstop.
There will be days where math looks a lot like chocolate chip cookies and Uno.
There will be days will where chapter books are read aloud as blanket forts and nerf wars are simultaneously taking place.
There will be days when the fighting or attitudes are so bad that you throw the plans out of the window and try something completely new only to find laughter and family have saved the day.
There will be weeks when everyone wakes up at 9 am and you don’t get to “school” until 4pm or on Saturday.
Maybe you will discover the joy of unschooling, maybe you prefer the rigors of a Classical Trivium either way take the time to change your mind and focus on de-schooling You. It’s the most important thing a new homeschooler can do.