I am in my own evolution as a homeschooling momma, who was publicly schooled herself, who was and is entrenched in the culture of “school” and what kids should learn and when they should learn it and how they should write paragraphs each day in neat grammatically correct handwriting starting in 1st grade. They should learn about history whether they care about it or not. They should do seated work for hours each day. They should experience the bulk of their learning by listening to teachers talk.
That is what my inner-schooly voice whispers to me when I start to panic because my daughter refuses to do formal reading curriculum, opting instead for her markers because she has another story in her head that she needs to draw on paper right now, Mom. And when I realize that despite all the math my son does, his publicly-schooled friends are doing complicated long division and we haven’t gotten to that yet.
Panic sets it. Not because I doubt my kids can learn the things they need to learn. Oh, I know they will. They’re bright kids. I panic because I think other people will think my children are not smart. They’ll say to themselves, Oh, so that’s why she’s homeschooling them. Because they’re behind. They’ll shake their heads as if to say Oh, isn’t that a shame.
But, they’re not behind. I watch my kids and I know. I marvel as they explore their passions everyday. My daughter, illustrating and composing stacks of books and my older son, obsessed with learning computer code and my littlest guy spouting animal facts gleaned from watching Wild Kratts. That’s my reality check.
My kids will be just fine. I am panicking less and less these days. That part of me is evolving. I can let go of the “shoulds” and get out of the way and they are doing just fine.
Not so in the beginning.
It was the summer of 2009 and I was full of joy and hope and promise. Thanks to the internet, I had found the secret to homeschooling.
I was going to classically homeschool my children.
I clutched my copy of Susan Wise Bauer’s Well Trained Mind to my chest and proclaimed the wonders of chronological learning of history, copy work, and Latin to my husband. He agreed it sounded awesome. We both wistfully thought about what it would’ve been like had we been educated in this manner.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying anything negative about classical homeschooling. It’s a beautiful method. It works for many families in its’ entirety. We just don’t happen to be one of them. We pick and choose the parts that work from this method, and from many others. We’ve grown all eclectic. But in the beginning….
Well, I implemented the classical approach and guess what? Mostly, it was a poor fit for my 6-year-old child. A few things worked, he was engaged, but mostly, he just wasn’t. We started to have the same struggles we’d had with public school: I don’t like learning. This is boring. Refusal to write.
I learned three things that first year:
- It’s not the child, it’s the curriculum
- If you change the curriculum and it’s still not working, then the child is not ready. Put it away. Try again in 6 months.
- Six year olds do not NEED to do copy work and their unwillingness to do so is not a predictor of future academic failure.
I let go of a few things, but with others, we still plugged away. It was very difficult and there was much oozing out of one’s chair onto the floor and fussing and refusing.
Reading was one of these areas. I had read about kids who read later but having not seen that for myself, continued to freak out that my child was not yet reading proficiently and continued to push him. He continued to tell me, via his behavior, that he wasn’t ready to read. And, finally, I let go and just read to him.
We read a tremendous amount of books. He could sit for hours while I read chapter after chapter. I read Narnia, and Little House on the Prairie and the entire Harry Potter series to him. And this child, I don’t know how, this child who could only read very simple cat/sat/hat type of words, suddenly could read chapter books. A switch was turned on in his brain perhaps? I don’t know but soon his reading speed was increasing and now, at age 9, he is devouring library books at an alarming rate.
Now that I’ve seen this, I am not freaking out that my daughter is not reading more proficiently than she is. Nor that she abhors anything math like. She is 7. We will get to math and she will read, oh, I know she will. Right now it is essential to her being that we do more art than math, more reading-to-her than phonics lessons.
I’m evolving. I’ve learned that there is no need to push. This is not a classroom of 20+ kids who must be moved along at roughly the same pace, otherwise we must invoke remedial approaches and call them “reluctant learners” and figure out what other labels may apply.
My classroom is only three-plus-me and we learn when we are ready. Because it’s faster and easier that way. We learn what moves us. What inspires us. What fills our cup. And sometimes we realize, Hey, we need to spell better because we want to text our friends, so we do. We pick up traditional curriculum and we do it. There will be times when I will say: This is the kind of math you need to know if you want to go to college or keep track of a bank account or understand what the mortgage on our house means. And we will do it.
So what are we?
Are we unschoolers? Sure, I suppose I’ll take that often misunderstood term, or whatever variation thereof: delight-directed, child-led, interest-led, passion pursuing.
Are we eclectic? Yup, that, too. We use a classical history curriculum. Sometimes. But we deviate from it. A lot. We use living books a lot so I guess we have a streak of Charlotte Mason in our approach. Sometimes a Montessori activity catches my eye.
There are probably a few other ingredients/approaches in there as well, I don’t know, because I don’t often stop to reflect on it. I’m doing what works for each kid. We try a lot of stuff. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t and if that’s the case, we move on and we don’t look back.
This is where we are right now on this journey, so different from where we were when we began. No doubt, different than where we will be in a few more years. We’ve found our groove. It’s our groove. It’s different from everyone else’s.
But this is the cool thing about evolving and finding one’s groove: This journey becomes less stressful when you get comfortable in your own homeschooling skin. Know that, if you are at the beginning, it will get easier. And if you are farther along the path than I, you will no doubt have some wisdom to share about your own evolution.