As we head into the home stretch, I’ve been reflecting on our first year of homeschooling experience. To say it has been interesting would be an understatement. I’ve reminded myself of three things over and over again.
- One, Caroline is young and would be one of the youngest children in her class in a regular school. (Her birthday is at the end of September.)
- Two, Caroline reads well for a young kindergartener.
- Three, kindergarten is not required in Michigan.
Yes, it has been interesting. So here is how it went.
Finding Our Way Through the First Year of Homeschooling
This has been a finding our way year. I’m offering this honest review of our year in the hope it will encourage other homeschooling moms who might struggle as well. By way of background for any new readers, I’m a former elementary teacher and I’ve always planned on homeschooling. The concept of homeschooling was not new to me. Caroline is a spirited dreamer.
I did not really feel “ready” to start last fall. After the stress of selling a house, buying a house, and moving, I think we were all pretty burned out as we approached the fall. But we were good soldiers and jumped in.
We started off okay. I set up an area in our unfinished basement for us to have all our school stuff because there wasn’t an easily suitable room on the main floor and I have a lot of educational materials. After the lack of space in the previous house, I was thrilled to have a large area in the basement even if it was unfinished. Caroline… not so much. Frankly, all three of us in this home are really into beauty and aesthetics so an unfinished basement isn’t ideal. But I was focusing on space and having windows so we could see lots outside. I think Caroline was more distracted by the unfinished, basement-y feel of it all.
We did reading, math, handwriting, Bible and art. Really simple lessons and not large amounts of time. I tried to keep it really low-key.
We muddled through until we completely hit a wall in mid-November. We basically took the holidays off. Yes, from November until early January we did almost no formal school.
We started up again in January with me reminding myself nearly every day that Caroline can already do almost everything a kindergartner should be able to do. And that kindergarten isn’t required in the state of Michigan.
Somehow we muddled through the next few months. And I do mean muddled. I’m purposely not being super detailed because I’m trying to protect Caroline’s privacy. But to say I had a less than enthusiastic pupil would be accurate. To say that I threatened more than a few times to put her in school would be accurate. I really don’t mean to offend anyone by this next statement, but if I weren’t completely convinced that public school would be a disaster for her I would have put her in school months ago. It was that frustrating. It is a good thing God gave me a very strong resolve regarding homeschooling and we don’t have the money for private school because I lost track of how many times I fantasized about putting Caroline in school. And I mean seriously fantasized.
(Update: We discovered a few years later Caroline is gifted/2e which contributed to the challenges we had.)
So a few weeks ago I realized that we were going to have to completely change everything. It just wasn’t working for any of us. Now when I say it wasn’t working, I don’t mean Caroline isn’t learning. She’s learning all the time and she’s doing great. She amazes me with what she can read, how she solves number problems in real life, etc. But any kind of formal structure is met with resistance and struggle. And I know she hates the basement.
Changing Things Up
I was sitting in the living room with my mom a few weeks ago and mentioned how it would be dumb to have a couch and chairs in the living room and then also have a couch and chairs in the family room. The two rooms are connected with pocket doors. We hardly use the living room (where we have a couch and chairs as well as the piano). The TV is in the family room (as is my beloved fireplace) and we have glider rockers in there. So after living in this house for almost a year I decided to do what I really wanted to do from the start but could never bring myself to do.
I changed the living room into our learning room.
I resisted doing this because I didn’t like the idea of the first thing someone sees when they walk into the house to the right is our learning room. It felt like it should be a living room. But I decided that we live, work and school here 24/7/365 and what works best 99.7% of the time is way more important than what the house looks like when someone comes over. So the living room went into the family room and the living room became our learning room.
I also decided I was going to load the learning room with anything and everything that I thought Caroline might find interesting. I wasn’t going to keep anything back for planning units of study or for when I thought she would be “ready” for it. If I had it and it was remotely appropriate for her, I put it in the room for her to access whenever she wanted. (Updated: You can see our room here.)
Educating the WholeHearted Child
Around the same time all this was happening, Brenda sent me a copy of Clay and Sally Clarkston’s Educating the WholeHearted Child — Third Edition. The book pretty much confirmed what I had already figured out on my own and I saw it as a confirmation from God that I was on the right track. I’m really enjoying the book and I’m sure I will be writing more about it in the days ahead. I highly recommend it already. (Brenda – All those “delays” in sending it were for a purpose!)
I can say that rearranging everything was a good move. Caroline readily heads into the learning room a few times each day and gets something out to do (on her own! alone!). There are all sorts of things that she pulls off the shelf and explores. If I told her we were going to use the Famous World Landmarks flashcards that I got from Target (they have great and inexpensive flashcards!), she would have resisted. But because she pulled them off the shelf the other night after supper and had them all on the floor discussing them with David and me, it was great fun. Same thing with the U.S. Presidents.
So I don’t have any idea what comes next. I’m still managing to get a few math and phonics worksheets out of her each week (which she actually really enjoys once she sits down to do them), but beyond that I’ve pretty much just let it all go. I don’t know if that makes us unschoolers or not. I have absolutely no idea how we will “do” school come the fall. I’ve pretty much decided that as long as she keeps improving with her reading and math, I really don’t care. (Update: We are definitely relaxed homeschoolers and that’s how I teach her.)
We also do a homeschool co-op and that has been great. Caroline loves going and it has been a positive experience. We do playdates and take field trips. We have a huge basket that is always full of library books. We read many books every day. So I know that overall we have had a good year academically even though it looks like the biggest mess ever. I feel much more hopeful for the months ahead.
The other change is that I’ve firmly committed myself to homeschooling through high school. I know many people say they take it one year at a time and that has been my initial approach, but I’m not finding that mindset helpful. I am someone who naturally re-evaluates everything All. The. Time. I don’t need to do that with school. I’ve come to the point where I am committed to homeschooling all the way through unless God absolutely shows David and me that we are to do something else. I’m not even going to evaluate it each year. We are going to be homeschooling for the long haul unless God knocks us over the head with a new message. I really have to commit myself emotionally and relationally to this in order for it to work. Keeping an out in the back of my mind is not helpful for me. (Update: This choice was later confirmed by gifted testing.)
So that’s the long and short of it. We’re pretty much making it up as we go and flying by the seat of our pants.
These are the comments that were originally posted when this post was on another site.
April 4, 2012
It sounds like you’re doing wonderfully, even if things feel like a “mess” at times. You really have to figure out what works for your child — I know from experience that even in the same family, what works with one child totally doesn’t with another. Your descriptions of Caroline always remind me of my oldest son. Oh, the frustrations I went through because he wasn’t like bookish me (grin). He would be just like Caroline, enjoying discovering the flashcards on his own. I can say he’s now weeks away from successfully completing his first year of college. The big picture of where he’s at now looks so different from the day-to-day picture of years of ups and downs where I really didn’t know how it was all going to turn out some days (grin). You are doing great to constantly remind yourself of Caroline’s current big picture. It sounds like she’s learning lots!!
April 5, 2012
Your re-purposing of your living room reminds me of one of Sarah Susanka’s later books, where the living room of their new house became her husband’s office and reception room.
We’ve been doing very little formal teaching this year, our style seems to be developing along the lines of “classical-eclectic unschooling”. Our state has somewhat more stringent requirements (registration and annual testing) than yours does, so we’re going to wait another year before “officially” starting homeschooling. Also, the past year has had many exciting and educational adventures of its own.
April 5, 2012
I’m so glad it worked out. It was sitting in a box, ready to go, for at least a month but something kept coming up to keep me from the Post Office!
I loved that book when I used it in my first years of teaching Christopher. It is even far better now, no longer it took Clay years to update all of it.
Stephanie just started using the iPad for her two older kids (ages nine and ten). Her nine year old is very ADHD and it is very helpful for him (and Elisabeth loves it, too).
My new-to-be daughter-in-law is doing her Senior year project for her Education degree in the use of the iPad in the elementary classroom. She has been telling us how surprisingly helpful it is.
Stephanie has the two kids turn in their iPad in late afternoon each day so it will remain fun for their schoolwork. Otherwise, they still use a whole books approach to learning.
She was frustrated recently and when we talked about homeschooling, I told her I had to tweak what we were dong every semester. Not huge changes necessarily (although I wish I’d stopped using the math curriculum that was not working earlier) but sometimes just little changes.
She decided one big change… to try the iPads for the older kids (and Apple is offering a great price for the iPad 2 right now) and her little change was in their afternoon schedule. Both brought huge improvements. At least for now. 🙂
Oh, I loved it when we had a learning room in our bigger house.
April 5, 2012
In addition to all of Sallie’s wonderful books, try reading Karen Andreola’s stuff too. She has some great ideas. Charlotte Mason Companion was my homeschool “bible” for many years! 🙂
You’re making the right choices. I’ve been in your shoes. Feel free to email me and let’s chat about it — I’ll talk you off the ledge 🙂
Brandy @ Afterthoughts
April 6, 2012
So…are you going to post photos of your “learning room”? (Hint hint…)
Kindergarten is not required here, and so far I’ve only done it once, with a child who wanted it. I know Daughter Q. will demand it next year, as she demands preschool every day (but does not get it!) this year. Daughter Q. is only what? Six weeks younger than Caroline I think? But she’s in preschool! They are rolling back the age here and pretty soon the cutoff will be September 2 birthdays.
I know what you mean about not being able to play it year by year. I can’t do that, either. I mean, I always want to remain open to what God has for us, but I would feel rather half-hearted about it if I was only committed for a year. I only do that with things I don’t like. 🙂 It’s probably a personality thing. I’m sure some people can fly with the chance of change and re-evaluation every year, but I just can’t. I want the stability of knowing that, unless God intervenes, this is pretty much how things are going to roll…
April 6, 2012
I’m sorry I haven’t responded to these comments. We’ve been on the go the past couple of days. I’ll respond tomorrow when I’m not falling asleep in my chair! 🙂
April 7, 2012
Someone linked to this article on Twitter (I can’t remember who!) and I found it quite relevant to our discussion here: The Most Empowered Children of the Future Will Be Deprogrammed and Deschooled.
This jumped out at me for myself, not for Caroline:
Fear of failure breeds inaction and hopelessness. It’s a vicious cycle. When children lack hope, they will fear failure. When they fear failure, they will never act. They then take this formula with them and apply it in all instances of their lives. The result is that they never develop a positive mindset to hope for the best and that determines their reality.
One thing I did not learn when I was younger was how to fail. I only did things I was very confident I could succeed at. That’s another post, but that is something I want to try to help Caroline learn. Learning how to fail is just as important as learning how to succeed.
April 7, 2012
Thanks for all the encouraging comments. I haven’t written much this year because I just wasn’t sure what to write. But I look at so many of the homeschooling blogs out there and think – there is no way your days and months can be that positive all the time. I just wanted to be honest that it has been challenging in many respects.
Re: the learning room… Yes, I will try to post pictures! I thought about not mentioning it until I had pictures, but went ahead and posted about it. Our room is simple, but sunny and cheerful. (Two big windows and the walls are yellow.)
Re: the ipad… Caroline does use my computer quite often. (We don’t own an ipad.) We’ve used Starfall and ABCMouse quite a bit. I need to do a post on all the things Caroline has learned that I never taught her and where she learned them. We have utilized quite a bit of media (computer and DVDs). More than I would have thought before I had her. But it works for her and I’m not going to argue with what works.
Re: Caroline’s age and kindergarten… One of the benefits of homeschooling is that the child doesn’t have to be ready according to an artificial set of standards. So on the one hand, with a late September birthday she is young. On the other hand, she’s in the ninety something percentile for height and she looks so much older than she is. She was also so far ahead in terms of phonics that she would have been completely bored in a Young Fives or regular Kindergarten class. So homeschooling has been good in this respect. But, yes, we have to frequently remind ourselves of her real age because she looks so much older and she’s so incredibly verbal. I would love to know how she would test out in vocabulary and sentence structure because she has to be a number of grade levels ahead in that area.
April 7, 2012
Part of the reason people like you and me never learned to fail was because we were raised in that culture that said YOU (especially women) could go, do, and be anything we wanted. While I appreciate the feminism, I really do — it’s misguided. Nobody – man or woman – can do “anything they want” and succeed at it. Some do, some don’t. That’s life.
We were a generation growing up in a culture that said “YES YOU CAN” about everything.
You are spot on – kids DO need to learn to fail, and fail with grace, and more importantly, that the world is not going to end if you are not 100% perfect at everything you endeavor to do. Learn to lose/fail/whatever with grace and kindness, and most of all, learn how to pick yourself back up and start again, well.
April 7, 2012
I recently watched an interview with Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She is the youngest female self-made billionaire ever (and a Tri Delta!). In the interview, she said one of the best things her parents did for her was expecting her to fail. Every day at supper her father would ask her (and her brother) what she had failed at that day. She said she would be so excited to tell her dad what she had tried and failed at. She said the big thing she took away from it was that failing wasn’t not succeeding. Failure was not trying.
All the fellow control freaks out there will understand why that is a huge leap for some people to make. 🙂
I’ve been thinking of doing something like 100 Days of Failure for myself this summer. Not to blog about, but just to force myself to try 100 new things this summer and fully be okay with it ahead of time if I fail at 97 of them.
April 8, 2012
I really like that idea. I have a few “to do” things that I’d love to learn but I avoid because I’m afraid I’ll fail miserably at – like crocheting.
April 11, 2012
Hi Sallie. Glad things are going well with the HSing. The last part of this post really resonated with me…about just making the decision and sticking with it. I just went through the same thing, although it was for regular school vs homeschooling. We had to pull our child out of public school and then we HSed for a while. But then we decided to go back to “regular school” [private], with our two children by that point. And I spent all of last year second-guessing myself, maybe I should have stuck with homeschooling, etc. I decided that we had to just make a decision and barring anything really drastic, take it off the table. So that’s what we did, we are “schoolers” and that is it. You can make yourself absolutely nuts always second guessing.