Our First Year of Homeschooling: A Summary.
Well, we officially have survived our first year of homeschooling! I mean, we’ll still be doing stuff through the summer (more on that in a minute), but as far as the typical school year goes, we’re calling it.
WE MADE IT. It's already two weeks into summer, but I wrote the bulk of this post at the end of June...it makes more sense if you read it like that.
It’s been quite the year, I’ll tell you that. In fact, I’ll tell you aaaaalll of ‘that’ if you have the patience to get through this post. I’m going to lay it all out there and let you see the naked truth, from wrinkles to cellulite…metaphorically speaking, of course.
Spoiler: It’s been really good, and I want to continue. It’s just also been a STEEP learning curve, luckily one with a good payoff, though.
I was going to include a run-down of some basic homeschool philosophies so that my struggle to settle into one was easier to understand…buuuuut it meant this post was, like, a novel. SO I deleted that part. You’re welcome, or I’m sorry, you pick.
Okay, SO. The beginning of the year began with me kind of giddy, kind of nervous. I was excited to put my ‘teacher muscles’ to good use as I made little lesson plans and critically researched homeschool curriculum materials out there and philosophies galore. I was adorable. I felt like Renae would probably do well with a more student-led approach, but feared that (if we gave our whole selves to it) she would not be prepared to re-enter grade three at regular public school if we decided not to continue homeschooling after this year. I wanted to make sure we stuck close to the same curriculum she’d be covering at school so that she was ready if that was the case. We decided to declare ourselves “aligned” (meaning you align with the regular provincial curriculum) instead of “traditional” (where you follow different curriculums or learn as interests arise…basically “choose your own adventure”).
With that decision made, I set out to create awesome lessons for her. But she resisted, LOTS. I know many of you have mentioned that particular risk as your concern for trying homeschooling...and let me tell you, it’s LEGIT. You literally CANNOT make a kid learn something who doesn’t want to learn it. They might memorize something under duress, but it won’t stick (example: cramming for every test I ever took in my first year of university). Even though I knew this, I thought if my lessons were awesome enough, exciting enough, jazzy enough, I could “trick” her into learning anyways (or at least spark her interest), even if she was feeling stubborn. But, NOPE.
I mean, I definitely tried to keep the pace of things easy and light, consistent with (what I thought was) a “school detox,” but she was mostly just grumpy about pretty much ALL of the things I wanted her to do. However, she was really passionate and engaged in the things that were her idea and that she was interested in. I let her do plenty of the latter, which included lots of art projects and creative play, lots of time spent outside, and audiobooks and my reading aloud to her, and trips to the zoo…and I felt good about all of those. They really were all excellent learning experiences, and she was definitely learning, even if I didn’t get to mark a cute worksheet.
But still, I pushed. I would tell myself to chill out, that she was learning just fine, but then would start to get worried about covering the material we were “supposed to.” I would start to get driven by the fears that I would get in trouble or something if she wasn’t learning the material from the provincial curriculum and, like the smell of skunk, she could sense it on me and was instantly turned off of whatever we were doing that I tried to introduce in this state of anxiety…no matter how well I masked it with my cheery teacher-voice or plastered-on smile. The smell of obligation to learn radiated from me anyways.
Around Christmas/January, I finally gave in. I just kept feeling more and more strongly that this way of doing things was NOT working for Renae. If I was being honest, I had been approaching education like a to-do list, checking off boxes to appease my own fears of “covering things,” (which, consequently, tends to be the way we can approach education in public school as well) instead of really letting the deep love we both had of learning to lead the way to truly educating ourselves. (And yes, I’m including myself because I don’t think I can be an effective mentor on educating and learning if I’m not passionate about pursuing my own education in my areas of interest).
I finally realized that we weren’t even really giving homeschool a real shot at being amazing unless I let go of meeting these expectations that I was imposing on our experience. If this was supposed to be a true “trial year” for homeschooling, then shouldn’t I be letting it be every bit as potentially cozy and carefree and fascinating as it could be?
During this time of gradual surrender I was also reading (well, listening to) the book “Hold Onto Your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate…as well as the book “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay…as well as making a small investment in a homeschool workshop by a lady named Bonnie Landry. All of those things sealed the deal and seemed to be telling me the same things: my daughter was the most important, her unique skills and talents were her gifts and also the gateway to gaining the knowledge she needed to develop them (and holy, just respect that already!), and our relationship was more important than any arbitrary learning outcome. Keeping things simple and non-coercive was the key…and it was all going to be okay.
So I officially let go of my grip on very tidy and clear expectations, which was scary. It still is, actually. And I picked up my sweet girl, our relationship, and her unique talents and worked hard at helping her learn the skills to let them shine. I’m still figuring out how this works, but it feels SO much better…so much more like I’d hoped it would feel.
Our days look like a lot of different things: plenty of open-ended play where she often comes up with elaborate games of imagination with intricate story lines, lots of bike-riding, lots of building traps to try and catch the plentiful wildlife around where we live (as yet unsuccessful, haha), watching the birds outside lay their eggs in their nests and learning their names and how they’ll nurture those babies to adulthood, “saving the worms” after it rains, creating “secret hideouts,” organizing her siblings into putting on show after show (after show…) for us parents, doing art projects, learning different art techniques from YouTube videos (so long as mom isn’t the one to choose it…*eyeroll*), doing work around the house, helping in the kitchen, learning to cook recipes on her own, coming up with her own recipes, writing her own books and stories, visiting her older lady friends and bringing them treats she’s made, audiobooks in the car, educational DVD’s on long trips, quality educational iPad games, and read louds from beautiful books of literature in the evenings before bed, and SO many discussions about all the hows and whats and whys and I-wonders about allllll of those things and more.
The beauty is: there’s plenty of time leftover for chores and for organized afternoon activities like gymnastics, piano lessons, swimming lessons, and playdates with friends. One of my concerns with her being in school so much of the day was making sure she had plenty of free time after school to decompress, be creative, and just play…which meant I was hesitant to engage her in learning family chores in the evenings or enrolling her in MORE instructor-led classes after she’d been doing that for 7 hours already. It feels good to have time for ALL of the good stuff: learning from passionate instructors, learning family work and community service, and still having time for wide stretches of wildly imaginative open-ended play.
Oh, I still sneak things in as far as instruction and curriculum-covering goes, but it’s gently and without the stress I once felt. I have more faith that she’ll learn it when she’s ready. We like to do science experiments together, so I’ll choose ones generally along the lines of what her peers are probably doing in school, if she doesn’t have something she’s particularly eager to learn about. We read aloud throughout the day and in the evenings before bed (homeschool has no hours, haha) and I’ll make connections between the literature we’re reading and things we are doing throughout the day to encourage discussion. She loves to help me out, so I get her writing practice in by having her write out my shopping lists or meal plans while I dictate them to her, all while I verbally muse about interesting spellings of words we happen to be including in our lists. She is weirdly good at memorizing things so she’ll memorize poems here and there to perform for the family or for grandparents. We still do little formal math lessons and math games together almost daily, but I try not to push it if she’s having a moment about it…she will do three lessons on a good day and make up for the ones she’s missed eventually, so it’s not worth forcing her to do the work when she’s in a mood where she won’t retain it and will only resent the process. When she’s ready, she gobbles it up and we have a grand ol’ time together. I think she’ll be more receptive to my suggestions as our learning relationship heals…but for now, I tread lightly and respect her readiness and interests. And in all our time outside, I like to be there (or at least available), sincerely interested and involved in her discoveries and eagerly sharing what I may know about the things she’s found. I also like to take out books from the library on certain topics to spark interest…but don’t push it if it doesn’t “take.”
I save the “Too bad! We need to do hard things anyways!” lectures for character-building things like cleaning her room and contributing to the family through household chores. I think the lessons in perseverance will transfer. I’m also not convinced learning and school should ever feel like a chore, like it did for SO much of my education; wouldn’t it be great if it could always be a labour of love? Like you were always hungry for the work it took to learn deeply about something interesting to you? I don’t think that’s such a fantasy…I think it might be possible, if you weren’t forced to learn things you didn’t care about and regurgitate them mindlessly for tests…if subjects like math, science, and literature were always connected somehow to improving your understanding of something you were deeply passionate about. I feel like I could learn everything in the whole world if it were within the context of something that was meaningful for me…and I also had, ooooh, 65 extra hours in my day. Y’know, give or take.
Now: naked truth. If you ask her, she’ll actually tell you that she doesn’t like homeschool. For one, she misses her friends; that part has been tough living out on the acreage. We hang out with family friends often, I think, but not often enough according to her. She also just loves organizing people. I don’t know how else to put it. So she loves making new friends and managing her old ones. She is good at bringing people together. She misses flexing those muscles.
But the real reason she’ll say she doesn’t like homeschool is mostly because she equates homeschool work with those times when “Mom made me sit down and do stuff I didn’t want to do, with threats of withholding the things I love until it was finished.” It’s understandable, really (sheepish mom face). It’s also what makes discussing whether she wants to homeschool next year verrrry difficult because we’re interpreting the word “homeschool” differently.
She likes that we don’t do “too much homeschool anymore” (haha…) and that she gets to do lots of interesting things that she enjoys. What she doesn’t quite get yet, even though I’ve tried to explain, is that we totally are doing homeschool, just even better than before and learning even more than before. She just raises an eyebrow and pretends she gets it while skipping off to play “addition war” with her brother. It’s because of allll this that we aren’t really taking summer “off.” We’ll still have short little one-on-one learning times with Mom (with each of the kids) most days…even if it’s just a little reading practice, fun science experiment or math games together. We’ll just continue what we’re currently doing because it doesn’t feel burdensome or like we need a break from it yet; it’s low-key, fulfilling, and rejuvenating. And if it wasn’t, we would take the breaks where needed anyways, soooo…summer, here we come. Ha.
I think we will, in fact, wind up homeschooling again next year, if simply because I don’t want to lose our momentum now that we’ve finally found what works. We’ll be moving into a town in the Fall, a town with a vibrant and active homeschool community…which means more friends, and an easier time hanging out with them! (Renae cheers). My son would be joining us as well, and having them both learning together at home would be so fun I think. I also hear it’s easier with two because they get to do more things together. It will also facilitate a feeling of consistency when we move instead of taking them out of a classroom they’ve adjusted to in order to throw them into another one.
So we shall see. We’re taking this homeschooling thing one year at a time, and I firmly believe you can still go to public school and NOT be a drone about education with the right tools, so both home and public schooling avenues still have their appeal for different reasons.
If you finished this post, you deserve something rad. If you're feeling chatty, tell me how awesome your summer has been below! I love summer so much. Hearing about all the fun summer activities you all are up to is the BEST.