So you’re thinking of quitting home school. Ask me how I know? Read on.
This is only our second year home schooling. It’s only April yet we completed our curriculum about a month ago.
Our two-volume textbook, Trail Guide to Learning – Paths of Exploration, I purchased used on eBay. The textbook provided a list of recommended books for each explorer unit. For these we used the library. I only bought one other book. The North American Wildlife Guide was recommended as a companion book. We used this beautiful guide daily.
The all-inclusive textbook used a core historical base focused on American explorers. The other subjects branched out from there. For instance, while studying Columbus, geography lessons were about map skills and studying all the places he went.
Science covered navigational tools, weather, stars, boat designs, and salt water experiments. The types of animals Columbus would have seen we read about and drew using the wildlife guide. We studied them further using videos.
Reading consisted of his journals and biographies. We viewed art works created at that time. Listened to classical composers. Studied inventors and other influential people of that era. Writing assignments revolved around the unit.
An included CD-ROM that allowed printing of worksheets, however since there were over 3,000 per child for the year, we used the ones we wanted and often just did the assignments on regular paper. One 3-ring binder held everything.
The curriculum was great because it gave assignments for multiple learning levels. I could choose different books for higher reading levels. I could also skip over assignments that didn’t fit us for whatever reason. Maybe the kids were beyond the level of assignment, such as vocabulary, grammar or spelling that they already knew.
Sometimes I substituted materials I could not find or didn’t like. I did my best to avoid anything boring or redundant. The internet and the library were our greatest tools. Virtual field trips. YouTube, Amazon Prime, Netflix and a DVR were invaluable. I reviewed the lessons by unit in advance, picking and choosing what I wanted. I created a plan for each week, one or two at a time, and rearranged as was necessary.
I kept track of what we did in a simple spiral bound notebook. Sometimes I gave out assignments for the day, sometimes per week. Each child got what worked for them.
Math was the only subject not included. So I made up examples from what we were studying. We calculated how far apart places were on maps, calculated costs of voyages, square footage of houses, measured rain, and just practiced math we use every day in our household. Fun games either board games or online, strengthened their skills.
Even though we typically finished by noon, we also worked on days other kids were off from school. We didn’t need snow days or teacher education days. Though holidays are a valid way to observe the impact certain people or events had on history, we chose to keep working.
There were times they would not have been well enough to go to public school, but no one was ever sick enough not to do their work. Because we were not restricted to a schedule, they could go slow, or take breaks.
Each unit was designed to take 6 weeks. We found that dragging it out like that was near impossible. Time ranged from 4-5 weeks, one ended up being only 2 weeks, but that was really too quick. Though that’s the unit everyone seems to have retained the most.
That’s not to say we never took any days off. The flexibility of homeschooling allowed us to do our work anytime, anywhere. Reading and math facts could be done in the car or the doctor’s office. They worked under trees, on the patio and in their beds. They quizzed each other while hanging upside down on the couch or laying on the floor. Sometimes they even sat at the table, but they worked.
So we’re done. Now what? There are two more Trail Guide to Learning texts we could start in the fall knowing it worked for us.
Though for now, it doesn’t mean we’re not learning. They still have math, reading and writing assignments. We are starting a vegetable garden for the first time. Home improvements and home repairs have offered ways for them to learn something new, gain confidence and to contribute. These also give opportunities to use math, reading, following instructions, planning strategies, and goal setting. They have worked on ideas to make money for themselves with mini-businesses. Computer skills and working as a group that takes differences of opinions and styles into account.
The boys are very active in our local scout troop. Playing and being just kids is a huge part of their day. They also have a huge yard on a dead-end street with woods for plenty of adventures. We all have a variety of individual pursuits that keep us learning everyday. I said “we” because I have learned and continue to learn right along side them. It’s been a good year.
Last year we spent a lot of time trying to figure ourselves out. That’s the polite way of saying I had no clue what I was doing. I am not an educator by profession. I have a very eclectic attitude and approach to homeschooling. I agree that knowledge and learning are tantamount to evolving as human beings. However, the traditional setting of school, as well as the loss of important subjects don’t really gel with our opinions.
We had just moved one town over, into my grandmother’s home to care for her. It was a perfect opportunity for a reset of old paradigms.
Starting from scratch, we tried out many different styles of curriculum. A series of fits and starts, really a jumble of ideas and methods that we tried to carry out. Every trip around the world-wide web resulted in new information that seemed like a good idea. Fear of doing the wrong thing kept us jumping all over the place. I kept trying to do all of it and was sticking to none of it.
There were many days of yelling, crying, whining, bickering and pleading. From all of us. It was tiring for everybody. I knew how I wanted our home school to be but my past experiences with school kept returning us to a default setting out of habit. We wanted home school, not school at home. Desks and strict structure was not going to work for us. We’ve all been conditioned to how school should be. There were bumps and lumps for all of us as we tried to let go of what each of us “knew” about school.
I spent my entire K-12 in public school. Overall it was a good experience. I was a better than average student. I grew up in a house where academics were highly valued. I’m sure my mother could run a small country. After I finished high school, my dad became a middle school teacher. My brother has a degree in political science and another one in law.
My husband went to private Catholic school for K-8, then public high school. He was raised mainly by his grandparents, who emigrated from Canada. They had only 7th grade educations, but they had amazing work ethics fueled by devout religious beliefs, common sense and a desire to provide for 12 children. So they all learned from each other, but often times were left to figure it out alone. He was a wild one who squeaked by on a wing and a prayer. My wings and his mother’s prayers.
Our kids all started preschool at 3. One attended through 5th grade, one 2nd grade and one Kindergarten. Their experiences were a mix of positive and negative, but nothing out of the ordinary.
We eventually abandoned all of it and just tried to learn to get along again. We focused on learning something each day. Tons of reading, together and alone. Math was cooking and grocery shopping. We played board games like Monopoly and Yahtzee. Puzzles with hundreds of pieces. Days upon days spent outside building forts of their own design, bonding with each other. They learned to plan and collaborate. Debate and compromise. Trial and error. Huge amounts of snow gave opportunities for lessons in work ethic and service to others.
They also individually got to go to work with my husband, who drives an 18-wheeler. They learned. I learned. As we went along, I got a better understanding of their learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, special talents and preferred interests. This wasn’t because I didn’t know them well before. Now I was learning it with a goal in mind. Yet the year finished with me feeling as though I had failed. I was still measuring a new idea with an old ruler.
Going into the summer I really wasn’t sure what to do. My husband felt it might be good for everyone if they returned to school. My older son didn’t really want to go back to school, but missed the kids there. I didn’t want him in that environment.
My daughter was adamant about staying home. Despite not seeing her old friends everyday, the mean kids outweighed everything else. Was I holding her back, causing anxiety where there should be none?
The youngest who had all positive school experiences wanted to go to the elementary school in our new town. He’s so far ahead now, what will they do with him? He hasn’t had a crappy teacher yet, if that happens will he lose the love of school like the older one?
See-saw. Back and forth. What to do? Too much time to think. Thoughts of having time to myself again, insecurities, and still wanting to home school swirled in confusion. The fear of screwing up someone with permanent consequences is daunting. My father assured me that wouldn’t happen.
My dad had just retired after 20 years of experience as a middle school teacher. He said, “You are doing the right thing. Your kids are learning more here. Even if you are doing next to nothing, the kids are ahead of what’s happening at school. Thinking the kids are missing out by not being in public education is like saying people miss out by not going to prison.”
He reminded me of the reasons I had started doing all this in the first place. Our local schools aren’t performing well, our students aren’t performing well, and the environment is physically and emotionally deteriorating. Old ideas being held onto, while eliminating other necessary subjects.
Back to the internet. After reading tons of homeschooling blogs, recommendations and reviews, I discovered the textbook. I figured I could check it out over the summer and resell it if I wasn’t happy. It arrived and seemed a good fit. I’d had those misconceptions before, but was eager to try it. Determined to push harder and jam that square peg into the round hole. That usually works right?
This time the structure held up. The curriculum gave the components we wanted, while we had the freedom to fill in the rest. I had the flexibility to move, but a backbone to support it. The day became fluid. That doesn’t mean it was all happily ever after. I still worried. I still shouted. But this time we stuck with it. Difficult days or moments, we could walk away. Take a break. Start again tomorrow.
I realized that was okay. That made all the difference. We weren’t on a forced march. It could look like we wanted. I just needed to find peace with the direction we were going and relax that it all sorts itself out. The only measurement necessary is comparing ourselves today, to ourselves yesterday. The funny thing is, this year looks a lot like last year. But this year I see it as a success.
Guess we won’t be quitting home schooling any time soon.
I expect this won’t be the last time my views change. How has your perspective changed as the years go by?