Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Our homeschooling evolution...Part I of V

Don't worry, this post isn't about evolution vs creationism! It's about how our approach to homeschooling has evolved over time.

Once upon a time, I had a glorious vision of books, curriculum, a beautiful abacus, and so much more! I envisioned us fresh faced, happy to meet the day with walks at sunrise, a healthy breakfast with fruit and whole grain waffles made from scratch, followed by play with Waldorf inspired toys, then reading fairy tales, learning math on an abacus and using blocks, and so much more. The light would shine in gently through the open window. Birds would sing beautiful songs...

Then I woke up. Ha!

Yeah, homeschooling for us never even came close to looking like that! Instead, it was a big messy pile of fun, hilarity, occasional reliance on curriculum, and mostly interest-led learning.  But, along the way, we've tried different approaches, keeping some, ditching others, and making it all work for us. 
Our "school" space early in our homeschooling journey was a kitchen table in a bedroom that we shared while living with my mom. I was a single mom, raising my son, working, homeschooling, and we lived with my mom. It was a lot of work but totally worth it!

Homeschooling lesson #1: "Make it work for you and don't worry about gaps."

There is no one set way to homeschool and no one set way to learn. If you are new to homeschooling, or you've been at it and are feeling frustrated, keep that in mind. What works for my family, for my friend's family, for that stranger's family may not be right for you. It's ok to change your approach. It's ok to start one curriculum, hate it, and get rid of it. It's ok to not use any curriculum at all. It's ok to use only a little curriculum. It's ok to use a lot of curriculum.

We have been homeschooling for over seven years now, and our approach has changed many times. We've loved some curriculum, hated some curriculum, and found others to just be so-so. We've tweaked and changed things. We've returned some materials after trying the first lesson, and we've loved others so much that we bought the next level. Through it all, my son has continued to learn and grow.

I don't worry about not finishing a curriculum or text or having gaps, because schools do these things all the time! I don't recall ever finishing an entire curriculum or text (other than novels in English class) during my education - the year would end before we finished that history text or Algebra curriculum. My mom used to be a teacher and rarely could get her entire class through the entire curriculum. I spent time volunteering in my son and niece's classrooms and their teachers almost never finished a curriculum - it's the nature of the beast, and it's ok! I hear from new homeschooling families regularly about stress in not being able to finish a curriculum (or finishing "too fast" - more on that in the future), and my advice is to relax! Your child isn't missing out on anything. There is so much to learn and know that there is no way to learn and know it all! We ALL have gaps in our knowledge, and that is part of what makes living and interacting with others so interesting!

Homeschooling lesson #2: "There is no single right approach."

We actually didn't start out homeschooling, although I wanted to homeschool my child long before I even became a mother. In fact, I wanted to homeschool my future kids when I was still in elementary school myself and dissatisfied when I asked my teacher about mushrooms and was told, "You don't need to know about that right now..." The message I heard was, "Your interests don't matter."

My son went to public school until halfway through 4th grade. He went to excellent schools. His teachers were top-notch, absolutely amazing at their jobs. But, my kid wasn't a fit for the public school mold, even when his teachers made accommodations and worked with us to help keep him engaged. My son's idea of playing on the playground was to discuss astronomy and make up intense, in-depth role-playing games. Most of the other kids wanted to play soccer or run around and climb the jungle gym. My son was frustrated by the rules of the writing curriculum, even after his teacher told him that he could go beyond the rules of the curriculum. My son was bored. He was frustrated. I was already doing a ton at home to supplement his school experience, including helping him manage his stress after school. My son was falling apart in public school. I looked at other options, including the local Waldorf school, some alternative schools, and so on, but none of them really touched on what I thought my son needed: understanding that he is an individual with intense curiosity, strong emotions, and creative impulses, and the ability to express those things.

I had already spent years researching homeschooling, approaches, curriculum, etc. I finally decided we were going to do it and set a date - the winter break would be when we left public school and began homeschooling. I had read a lot about deschooling - the idea that children need to decompress and destress from the structure of school once they are transitioned to homeschooling. I didn't like the idea of my son just laying around and doing nothing of structure or substance though so I decided to jump into homeschooling right away, but gently and slowly.
We found lots of free activities, including an archery clinic, during our homeschooling journey. Homeschooling is as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be. The opportunities to have fun, enriching, low-cost experiences are amazing!

Homeschooling lesson #3: "What does my child like and dislike?"

In the couple of months prior to starting homeschooling officially, I began to think about what motivates my son to learn and engage with the world around him. He loved science. He was particularly into chemistry at the time, and he already had a chemistry set, but that set required a lot  of extra work and research to make it meaningful. After researching homeschool science curriculums, I came across Noeo Homeschool Science. I loved their well-rounded curriculum, and although the company's Christian/creationism beliefs weren't in line with my own beliefs, I liked what I read and saw enough to buy their Level I chemistry program. We both loved it! The books were fantastic, the experiments were great, the step-by-step progression through the material made sense and wasn't overwhelming. We could easily go faster or slower through the material as needed. Once we got started, we were both hooked! It also turned out that the curriculum relied very little on creationism or evolutionary theory, and if you prefer one or the other, you could easily add other materials to go with your beliefs.
Our first science curriculum from Noeo Homeschool Science. This is one of the few things I splurged on. Everything else was as low-cost as I could make it!
On our first official day of homeschooling, I also sat down with my son to make a list of all the things he wanted to learn or do. We also made a list of all the things he did NOT want to learn or do. I let him list whatever he wanted in either category - it didn't matter how easy or hard or impossible the lists were. This was just to get a sense of where he was at compared with what I thought was should be doing. I also wanted to be sure that my son was engaged in his own education - that he wanted and was motivated to learn.

With our science curriculum that felt more like play than curriculum, and with my son's lists in hand, we were well on our way to a fantastic homeschooling journey. In my next post, I will tell you more about what came next - our first curriculum choices, trying out lots of structure vs no structure, and why we did most of our formal work at night instead of during "school hours." Stay tuned!


Check out Part II HERE!


  1. Homeschooling is such a blessing and enables us to learn much of what they are interested in, along with other things. This is a huge benefit to them in jobs later on or in learning to pursue learning, or in so many ways. Thank you for the post. :)
    Gentle Joy

  2. We've been homeschooling over 12 years now, and our homeschool has evolved over the years as well. The children grow up, more children were added, needs changed. I think that's the beauty of homeschooling, being able to adapt to the changing needs of the children and the family. Thank you!


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