Homeschooling is on the rise -- and I'm not talking about virtual learning that's done through the public school system (I'm sure that is challenging, difficult and poses it's own set of frustrations, but I have ZERO experience with that, so I don't want to talk about something I know nothing about.)
What I'm talking about today is the parent who has pulled their child out of the public school system and has taken over all of the responsibility for their child's education.
I did this 13 years ago, starting with my son who is now 20. He was getting ready to go into the 3rd grade at the time. My situation was a bit different from some of the parents who might be opting to homeschool now -- you see, my son was diagnosed with Autism. I was fed up with the teachers who thought they knew it all, the long IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings, the excuses, the lack of accountability and his lack of progress. I was 6 months pregnant too, with my 5th child who was born August 19, 2008 RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SCHOOL YEAR (Well, the beginning of the public system school year, anyway). As I write this, I realize how "crazy" that sounds, but in the moment, I was JUST DONE. So, I probably -- no, I did -- make an impulsive decision partly born out of anger and frustration with a desire to do what was best for him as well.
To say I hadn't really thought this out OR that I didn't have a plan is the understatement of the year. I was 100%, totally and completely UNPREPARED. I had not done a lick of research, had no resources, didn't even know all of the Indiana Homeschool Law that I needed to know. Looking back, I'm sure other people thought I was just "nuts" and they may be partially right. What I did know is that what I was experiencing when dealing with the public school system was NOT right. Period.
**Now, before some public school teacher or avid proponent of P.S. gets on here and starts blasting me for being against public schooling, teachers, etc.. JUST STOP. I am speaking about MY personal, FIRST HAND experience of which you know NOTHING. I have two older kids who were in P.S. at the time and for the most part, the experience with them was fine; They, however, did not have special needs and were not in need of an IEP (or a 504 as is the case with some kids). So, check yourself before you comment. You weren't there, I was.**
Our first year as a homeschooling family was........ difficult. I'm not sure if that adequately describes it but it's the best I can come up with right now. My son's schedule was disrupted, I was pregnant, about to give birth, still seeing two other kids off to school each morning and scrambling to figure out what I needed to legally abide by in Indiana (TIP: Don't trust your local school to give you the info. Contact a local homeschooling group or state homeschooling organization to find out what the laws are in YOUR state, because it varies. HSLDA is a great site to refer to for individual state laws.) Once my daughter was born, I was doing all of this as a sleep deprived, nursing around the clock, recovering from birth, overwhelmed mother of 5.
Sounds fun, heh? Not so much.
The days were lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng. Painfully so. And I questioned my abrupt decision often. But, even though my decision was not well thought out or planned, every time I had these intense doubts, or a thought entered my mind to re-enroll him in P.S. this little voice came and said "No, this was the right thing to do. You can figure this out. It will be ok. I'm here to help." For me, that voice is always the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps I'd made the decision to homeschool a little prematurely, but I do believe that it was in my future all along and I would have ended up homeschooling my children no matter what. I might have just moved the time table up a bit -- LOL! (Who else is thankful for God's unmerited, unending GRACE when we get ahead of His plan???? ME!!!!)
That first year was full of so many mistakes, wrong choices, bad decisions (and tears) but it was also full of learning, discovering, growing, laughter and fun. I did what a lot of first time homeschooling moms do: I tried to recreate the very structured environment of public school in my home and that was the decision that led to all of the other frustrations that I, and my son, experienced that year. Home is not public school and never should be; Home is well, HOME. It's the place where we go to relax, let go, get comfy, shut out the rest of the world and decompress AFTER school and work, right? Turning it into an institution of learning takes away all of that safety and security that we all want and need. It takes away the comfort and the "homeyness" of it.
So, things have morphed, changed, evolved and transformed over the years into something that is a lot more like what I had envisioned but it is still a work in progress too. I don't ever stop being aware of how it might be better or how to improve things. My goal is this: To teach my kids to see LIFE as a long journey of learning, personal, emotional and spiritual growth and maturity, that you are never "done" learning -- just because you are no longer considered "school age" by the state, or nation, doesn't mean you stop learning, growing and evolving.
My hope is that I create an environment where they know it's safe to ask questions, to discuss their thoughts and seek out their interests without judgement. It is my job to guide them, not control their path, to maturity (or to a specific job/career). My responsibility as a parent comes first and above all, I want them to see me as a place of love, safety and security. I don't always reach that goal on a daily basis --but it is not something I let go of just because I failed the day before. If God's grace for me is renewed daily, then the grace I must show myself must also be as well.
I no longer beat myself up over a rough day where my patience was thin or I was stressed. I apologize and move on --thus showing my kids it's ok to give grace to others and to yourself.
I no longer have specific times for subjects or a rigid schedule. If I want my kids to enjoy learning then the environment they are learning in has to be conducive to that and that is not what works for me, necessarily -- everyone has their own learning style and I work to discover what that is for each of my children.
One child reads from his bed, does book work from an extra table we have or stretches out on my couch to watch a video. He wants to learn to play ever instrument he can, so we do the best we can to support that goal. It is part of his education.
Another child asked for a desk in her room and goes back and forth between that and her bed in her room -- sometimes she sits at the kitchen bar on a stool. If she's watching a video then she is on the couch, curled up with a blanket and pillow.
My youngest, does most of his learning from the corner of our sectional with lots of pillows and a soft, cozy blanket.
They all like books, use pencil/pen and paper and they also like to use the iPad to learn from some apps and they also use video for learning too. They all do some hands on learning too. We have some board games that teach as well, while being fun to play. We use what works, not a one-size-fits-all approach.
This year, I'm exploring the possibility of using Audible for some learning as well. I'll see who likes it and let them use it if they wish.
I also make it a habit to regularly ASK THEM what they are interested in learning. I believe that if I want to instill a love of learning in my kids, I have to give them the space, freedom and time to explore what sparks their interest. This year, my oldest wants to learn Russian. My daughter is interested in Art and learning more about it - painting techniques, etc.. The 9 year old hasn't chosen anything yet.
Now, I don't just let them only explore their passions; Some skills and subjects are necessary for life and well being. So, while I seek out their input I also have other topics of learning for them. Math, reading, writing, grammar, history, science, etc.. are all part of their education. So is government, economics, politics, religion/spirituality (We are Christians), cooking, nutrition/health, Bible History and for my 16 and 12 year old -- how to identify Safe People from Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (I use Right Now Media for some classes for them.) The 16 year old is also diving deeper into his own spiritual journey. He is doing this by using some plans on a bible app, reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and some classes on Right Now Media that deal with some tough subjects that teens are facing today.
As life happens, there are those "in the moment" lessons too. Discussion about accountability, responsibility, kindness, love, doing what's right, learning from our emotions and how to not let them lead us around by our noses, honesty, respect for ourselves and others, and the list goes on.
Our day starts around 9 a.m. I do need some structure, but I have worked at not being rigid with them. They have 90 minutes to get their breakfast, do their chores, take their showers if they want, get dressed, etc... If there are any lessons I do with all of them on any given day then we do those first before they scatter to their rooms or the couch. I do keep a planner for each of them with a list of what they need to get done that day but they get to choose the order they do them in once we are done with our group lesson. They write or talk about what they learned from it with me and answer questions in the books, or if it's a video lesson we discuss at length -- We have had some GREAT conversations as a result of this. They eat lunch when they are hungry and we stop at 2 p.m.
What ever they don't get done that day is carried over to the next day to be completed first.
No tests. No quizzes. (Unless they are already worked into the book or subject matter).
We talk. We discuss. I try and tie in something that I know they learned that day into things that just happen in life. I ask them questions so they can "show off" what they have learned. I do my best to get them to THINK because in this day and age, learning how to think is vitally important. We desperately need kids who will grow up to have critical thinking skills. I don't want to raise robots, or parrots, who just mindlessly go through life doing what they are told.
It's not easy. As a parent who is responsible FOR my kids, I also have to navigate setting boundaries for them while considering the other people in the home as well (There are 8 of us). The parent/child relationship does call for some elements of control (without being controlling and dictatorial) by the parent and obedience on the part of the child too. It is not an easy balance to achieve. Children do need structure, boundaries, guidelines and even rules at times. I also want to remain nurturing, caring, loving, kind, model a good example and be a safe place they can come to --- NOT EASY. (I fail often -- but there's that need for GRACE again.)
However, I often talk with them about not being blindly obedient and that even if someone in authority asks you to do something that you know is wrong, it is OK to say "NO" and in fact you SHOULD say NO. It is my job to protect them while simultaneously helping them to grow into the person God wants them to and it is not easy. There is so much pulling at kids these days and if parents don't speak up and speak INTO their child's lives, the world will. We have to drown out the voice of the world so they can learn to listen to God's voice instead and to that small voice on the inside that I mentioned earlier. Some people call it intuition or a gut feeling, as I said before I believe it is the Holy Spirit and more of us need to listen to it. Kids need help to hear it and they need to have someone encourage them to trust themselves so they don't rely on others to tell them what to do all the time. We are born with instincts, God given, and over time we have forgotten to trust them. At some point, these children God gave me will become responsible for themselves and I'm trying to do my best, with God's help, to make sure they are equipped to do so when the time comes. We talk about developing personal integrity, character and our personal "code of conduct" and how we stand up to people who want us to violate that because we are the only persons we can truly control -- we can't control others.
I am putting into words, just a part of what parenting, mentoring, educating and guiding my children is all about for me. Most of this happens without me thinking about it. It is just part of daily life and doesn't require a book, curriculum, notebook, video or any type of formal instruction. So much of what our kids need to be successful doesn't come from a book -- it comes from being shown and taught how to be the best version of ourselves.
This is one of my longer blog posts. I hope you've stuck with me to the end. I don't have all of the answers nor do I have a perfect process, or system, but what we do works for us.
If you don't take anything else away from reading this, then I hope you grasp ahold of this:
Do what works for you, your family and your children. It can be what you want it to be. Some parents buy a specific set of curriculum and that works great for them, others don't. Both are fine. (Be sure you are following your state's laws on homeschooling).
There is no perfect formula that works for every child. You will have to discover what that is for yourself. And in the process, you will mess up -- but you will also learn a lot about yourself and your child and that is worth everything in my book.