I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a fellow homeschooler where the conversation doesn’t fall into our curriculum choices, where we’re at, and what we’re working on. It’s to be expected. I mean, we’re somewhat isolated, no one taught us how to homeschool, unless you count the school system you were educated in.
The best thing that ever happened in my homeschool life was meet homeschoolers who would tell me the truth. They didn’t give me the jive that you learn to give strangers in public. They were honest with me about how much time they spent doing seat work, what they struggled with, what they did well.
These other mothers choosing to be transparent with me made a huge difference in how I homeschooled. They all echoed the same thing: “It will come when it comes.”
Meaning, sure you can push your kids to read, write, memorize, etc., but they’re not going to grasp the information until they’re developmentally ready.
It took me a while but I finally figured out that education is not an emergency.
At the beginning of our homeschool journey 14 or 15 years ago I had the kind of confidence anyone who has done a lot of reading on a subject has. I was armed with books that told me what my child needed to know when and was prepared to stuff my little kindergartner full to the brim. By second grade she and I both felt confused about the whole ‘school’ thing.
For me, her education was not going the way the books said it was. For her, her education was not going the way her brain said it should go.
I suspected dyslexia was part of the problem, but my intuition also told me that there was something else at play. My little one had things to explore, things to do, and I was holding her back with seat work and hand writing. I was impeding her development.
So I let her go. She and her little sister spent most of their waking hours outside, creating an imaginary world, learning about how nature worked on their own, and climbing trees. I started reading Charlotte Mason and John Holt, but also just watching them. I answered questions as they came up. We learned to identify birds and trees together. We attempted to garden.
In fact we attempted a lot.
I have a headful of unfinished projects, and a handful of favorites that stuck.
I found that I was learning right along with them, and by the time our number 3 child was school age playing was a huge part of our homeschool lifestyle.
I wish I could say that it was easy, or idyllic.
I still struggled with shoulds and have-tos in my own life and I pushed that onto my kids.
Some of my favorite memories of learning at home with my children revolves around read alouds, impromptu puppet shows, tea parties, and breakdancing. Those times were punctuated, though, with moments where I forced things on them because I thought I should, or felt we had to have a certain subject mastered. There were tears, from me and them, and more than a little reluctance about school.
Some friends thought that tears were a normal part of learning. I wasn’t convinced.
Of course, sometimes you have to do things that you do not want to do. That’s part of life. Kids are natural learners, though. They are instinctually curious about the world around them, how things work, and want to get to the bottom of the great ‘Why?’ They also want to please their parents. Those are their two main drives. So why make them compete with each other?
On a side note, I was also coming to the realization that my kids had a learning issue that was keeping them from moving forward the way the books said that they should. I had thought that perhaps my teaching was wrong, that I just needed to do it harder.
I learned the hard way that gentler was the way to go.
All of my kids have dyslexia, just like their Dad, and some struggle with dysgraphia and dyscalculia, too. Sometimes sounding words, decoding, came easily, and other times it was like they had never encountered the word before. Copying was possible but tedious. Painfully tedious. Memorization was impossible. My husband’s sad story of being the only child in his 3rd grade class to miss the ice cream party for not memorizing the multiplication tables breaks my heart.
I refused to be the one breaking my children’s hearts.
A friend said to me, “If they haven’t memorized the multiplication tables by fourth grade, they’re not going to. Just let them use the multiplication chart.”
In other words, give them the tools to succeed.
Over the last 14 years my whole educational philosophy has shifted. I rarely think of ‘school’ as sitting down at a table and doing worksheets. I’m not afraid to change things midstream or research other ways of doing something. This year chemistry has thrown my daughter for loop, something that I cannot really offer a lot of help on. I can encourage her, though, and enjoy listening to her excitedly tell me about a different way she learned of doing things.
What I’ve learned is vast. I’ve learned that when my kids make huge leaps in learning, like reading or math concepts, they need time to process and reflect. Mastering a concept does not mean it’s time to push them forward. They need to play with the newly acquired information, to feel it out and experiment. They need to learn what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, and where they can apply the information.
It felt scary to let them take the lead on some subjects, especially the ones that are the hardest for them. There are times that I have to force intention into our days. We are all happier with rhythm. That said, kids have an amazing ability to learn if we let them. I need to provide the materials but let them chart the course.
I’m loving history but Spencer, who is 13, was not loving it. After a couple of weeks of frustration I asked him what DOES interest him about history. He immediately answered that he wanted to learn more about inventors and scientists during the colonial period.
Of course that’s what Spencer wants to learn about. He doesn’t care about wars and battles and Kings and Queens. But he’ll learn that stuff as he learns about what he’s interested in because that’s how information is acquired.
All I had to do was ask. He already knew what he wanted to learn about. He didn’t need me to tell him what, he needed me to show him how.
Take some stress out of your life and remove the 911 from your homeschool. I know it’s countercultural, I know it feels like people are breathing down your neck waiting to see what your kid knows. It doesn’t matter what others think of you and your life.
Education is not an emergency.
Write it down, heck tattoo it somewhere if you need to. Know that they will get what they get when they get it.
Be brave, misfits.
Go learn some stuff together.