VACATIONS, BEACHES AND SLEEPING IN....
SCIENCE PROJECTS, FINES ARTS CREDITS, TESTS, AND SCHEDULES???
Well I'm not. I'm going to allow this year to be the homeschool year I had always wanted but was too afraid to make a reality. Well to be honest, I've always started out really structured and with a beautiful, color coded, even hour by hour, schedule lined up and eventually my year becomes who I really am. I'm always afraid to plan it this way, but this year with a lot of help from some pretty amazing homeschool moms, I'm leaving the blocked schedules and just starting off the way I always end up anyway. It's wild and free, it's free range and although well planned and some color coordination has been involved, its looking a lot more like a good fit for our family.
Let me start from the beginning and try to explain this freeing transition of embracing my homeschool style. I was homeschooled, until high school. Then I attended a public high school and 2 years of junior college. My husband was attending a private college and working towards his bachelors in elementary education. I ended up getting a great corporate job and working my way up the ladder and was making more than my husband's teacher's salary. We decided very early on that we wanted to homeschool our children. Soon, I was pregnant with our first child and my husband was looking into a different career. I quit my full time with benefits job and took a part time job with the City, planning events, teaching dance and drama classes and looking forward to staying home with the baby. However, It wasn't until baby number 2 that a new career path for my husband allowed us to see a future of me staying home full time and homeschooling our growing family. By the time baby number 3 was on her way, I was beginning to formulate a homeschooling plan for our two boys. I immediately purchased box sets of Abeka materials and taught traditional phonics, math, handwriting, bible and on it went. Thankfully my oldest was easy and this made me feel like a total winner. I was on my way to becoming homeschooling mother of the year. Cue music...wah wah waaaah.... yep, you might have guessed this was a little early to celebrate my great victory. After baby number 4, schooling got a bit more serious. I was a little overwhelmed. Boxed sets of curriculum weren't easy to finish with a 3rd grader, a 1st grader, a kindergartener and a baby in diapers. I kept leaning towards this school of thought that my kids behaved better, learned more and enjoyed life when we played a lot, read books and discussed out loud what we were discovering. We made up plays, we painted and we read a lot. But this nagging person in my head kept telling me that that wasn't enough and with one of my boys showing real signs of learning disabilities that what I was doing was falling short. So the next few years I found myself in full research mode, always trying new things and always feeling a bit overwhelmed and a few steps behind other homeschool moms. Finally I gave up and went back to a more relaxed day, reading a lot, doing art projects, nature studies and lots of outdoor time. I spent a lot of extra time with my kids who were struggling and we did some special exercises and picture cards, but always we did copy work and read alouds. When sitting with other homeschool moms I usually felt like I wasn't doing enough testing, writing, book work, co-ops, or sports. There were a few other moms who encouraged me to continue to teach the way that I was inspired and the way that worked for our family. I took it in and I listened and although I still fell back into failure mode and would buy too much curriculum that we'd never really finish, we pushed on. I wanted my children to love to learn and to remember what they learned. I wanted them to be independent and confident in what they knew. Although I knew we were accomplishing all of thison an emotional level, I wanted to be sure we were keeping up on an academic level. But who and what do you compare yourself to? A failing public school system? Other homeschooling parents? Charter Schools and Private Schools? And then I still had my doubts about my son who was dyslexic. I had been doing research and creating a learning plan for him that was showing signs of progress. However, he was at least 2 years behind in reading according to the public schools. So I took him to the public school and had him tested. For 3 days he sat with all the specialists. My son was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. He was going to need specialists, reading, writing, speech, occupational, but only if I put him in school would he qualify. I was torn, I wanted what was best for him. I wanted to give him everything this world had to offer. So I sat down with a room full of teachers, psychologists, therapist and the principle of the school. It was our meeting to discuss what was best for my son. I brought all my curriculum, I brought my research, my colorful sight word cards, my exercise charts, his copy work book, a list of all our read alouds, his artwork and explained our daily rhythm of school to these very kind, very educated, very invested individuals. After a few moments the school's special education teacher looked at me and with a big smile said, "I wish we could do all that you're doing for your son with our special needs kids, there is no way we could give your son the time and attention you are". The entire room agreed and continued to ask me more questions about the research I had done to create his daily routine. I left that day understanding in a deeper way how much my kids needed me to continue on the path we were on. That was over three years ago and to this day I still wonder if I'm doing enough for each child, and each year something happens to re-confirm that this is what's best for our family.
Our homeschooling style is very basic, I use unit studies to incorporate all the kids so we can learn together. I create a lot of my own blends, using pieces of curriculum instead of box sets now. I like to use a lot of nature and art with good literature. We use very traditional math programs, but that's because I'm not very good at math and so I need the outside help from the internet. We use co-ops for sciences with labs and drama club. The kids do a sport activity here and there, depending on their interests. We've done dance, theatre, soccer, baseball, flag football and team roping. Mostly for the experience. If my children were going to be professional sports players I probably would have noticed earlier on, so mostly they just like to do these events for the pure enjoyment. I still have my mom friends who think I don't do enough formal schooling, but I have others who do less than me. I have found a tribe of women who support me even if we homeschool very differently.
It's been a long, teary, joyful, regretful, elated, enlightening, journey. I am still in the trenches and I still continue to question myself, but the last few years have been a turning point in all those doubts. Not because I became smarter or my kids became more obedient, but because I am more confident on the path we're on. Homeschooling doesn't have to look like traditional school or your best friends' school or the Christian school up the road. It has to be the things that not only fills your child with a love of learning but excites and interests you.
I challenge you to close your eyes and imagine the perfect homeschool day with your kids. Whatever that looks like, do it. And work at it until one day it becomes the reality you have. Your kids will crash that plan on a regular basis an you'll yell and people will cry, but one day for like an hour, it'll happen and you'll feel very accomplished. Well until you remember you forgot to put the meat out for dinner and you find the dirty laundry under your teenage boys bed.
Yep, it's that awesome.