For the purpose of my own reflection and planning, I thought it would be helpful to write some reflections about this first year of homeschool. Those who are curious, can feel free to peruse this post, which will likely be pretty long, to see if any of these thoughts are helpful for you.
If you are just wanting the short and sweet, the conclusion is that we are going to continue homeschooling next year, which means that the good outweighed the bad and the ugly.
Starting in the Middle
If you read my initial post about homeschooling, you can see that I had some particular reasons for choosing to start with my 6th and 8th grader. My 4th grader stayed in public school and will continue to. Starting in the middle is hard. It feels like many or most homeschoolers are already in groups or a groove by this point. Finding a niche is tough and because the wonder of elementary school is a bit gone, the learning curve is steeper. I thought I would be able to reclaim some of the wonder of childhood by bringing them home, but I think I was a bit idealistic. For others who are starting in the middle, here are a few things that I think I did right and a few things I wish I’d done differently.
Things I’m Glad I Did
- Last spring I made a point of reaching out to many of my friends and acquaintances who homeschool and taking them out for coffee or just calling them. I kind of “interviewed” them or picked their brains about their experiences. Since I know these people personally, this was the most helpful kind of research I did. I was able to ask about specific practices, curriculum, and routines that they used, and determine if similar things would or wouldn’t work for us.
- I joined a lot of local homeschool Facebook groups, Christian and secular. One thing that I realized VERY early on, to my dismay, is that there is a lot of exclusivity and even nasty attitudes separating the religious and the non-religious homeschool groups. This kind of disgusted me, and I made a decision that I would attempt to stay publically neutral. While I have personal beliefs that I hold for myself and teach my own children, I never want to let my beliefs about the age of the earth or politics supersede the way that I treat others, interact with them, or value them.
- In the same vein, I also tried to be a voice of balance for those who, like me, have public and homeschooled children. I found that a lot of homeschoolers are a bit techy and defensive about homeschooling to the point of attacking public schools. Proclaiming a negative public school experience becomes a way to receive applause for deciding to homeschool. This feels super tacky to me as a former public school teacher and a spouse of a current public school teacher. Homeschool teachers KNOW that teaching our own small group of children is a privilege and a challenge. Why on EARTH would we disparage those teachers and schools who are struggling to do the same in much greater numbers?! If you want to be a champion for home education, do it! I think it is best to stay positive in my approach to ANY and ALL avenues of learning, remaining thankful that I’ve been able to homeschool and public school.
- I started a class in my home teaching a subject I’m passionate about. Many co-ops and homeschool groups were already full or cost prohibitive for us. Having a class in my home gave me a chance to teach and gave my own kids classmates and interaction. It also provided income to fund the expenses of homeschooling. I won’t say that I set it up perfectly this first year, but for the most part, I’m really happy with how it went and I plan to continue with even more classes next year.
- I’m glad we stayed offline for classes. We did not do any online classes and we only used one online program (CTCMath) for our learning this year. There are COUNTLESS opportunities for homeschool classes online, but I just don’t feel like the relationships between students, teachers, or information is the same in that environment. I’m going to continue avoiding online classes. This is not to say that we didn’t go online for research, projects, YouTube videos, etc; we did. While I certainly agree that the internet is a wonderful sort of library to find information, I am hyper aware of how the internet has increased cheating. It is ridiculously easy to google EVERYTHING and, using a solid ability to cut and paste, skate through hours of work. Many students do not view this as cheating, but simply think they’ve “found” the information to answer the questions. I tutored a student who would cut and paste google answered into her live classroom thread and finished the class with an A without genuinely processing ANY information. I am hoping that I can continue to find LIVE offline ways for my kids to interact with people and information. I know we are in the internet age, but as long as I can, I’m going to keep classes IRL.
- We began going over to a friend’s house and reading to her quintuplets once a week. This was a very small thing, but I started (or continued) noticing that my kids were self-centered brats. 🙂 By doing this tiny act of helpfulness for someone else, I think they became slightly less self-absorbed.
- We did some cool field trips. If this were one of those awesome blogger posts, I’d show you photos of each place and rave about where we went, but this is just a general statement about how it is good to go on lots of trips. my kids seem to remember experiences more than worksheets or bookwork.
Things I wish I’d done differently
- Other than being happy with my Humanities class, I wish I had deschooled the first 6 months or so. Last summer I read about deschooling, thought it sounded lazy and unproductive, and dismissed it as for the weak. Then I made a big organized spreadsheet and lesson planner. I thought, “I’m a teacher. I know what I’m doing, and I know what my kids need.” I made a lot of assumptions about what would work for them and how homeschool would look for us. I dove headfirst into a lot of curricula because I am a giant book nerd and planner. I’m not going to say that was a total waste of time, but we had a lot of false starts with different curricula, and it has been tough, to say the least, getting into a groove with my son who has ADHD. In a very frustrated moment this spring, I reread an article about deschooling. Y’all, I felt that it was describing us. I met with a friend who had deschooled for a year and got her advice on whether it was too late for us to start. Long story short, I am going to be doing a bit of partial deschooling (is that thing?) with my son. I WISH I had just done it from the beginning. (More on this in almost every point below.)
- I wish I’d kept binders for both of them as we went through the year. In many ways, I was very organized and had good records, but in some ways, I got a bit scattered. I wish I had kept a big binder with subject tabs with copies and worksheets and photos of everything we did this year, especially for the non-book work stuff. We have many records and they both have their own notebooks, but it would take a bit of doing to really organize it into a cumulative year binder at this point. I wish I’d just started it from Day 1 and kept it myself.
- I wish I’d been less traditional and book focused. If I lost you in the above comment about deschooling, maybe this will be more palatable. In my HEART, I wanted to focus on loving learning, experiences, living books, and life skills. But in my HEAD, my kids and I were wired by traditional classroom experience to view “school” a certain way. If I didn’t fit in enough book work, science experiments, subjects, or written work, I would scramble to restructure it. I probably needed more retraining in this area than they did. My brain often went into listmaking and lesson planning rather than letting them just soak in an experience. I would get negative and frustrated with them if I felt we hadn’t been “productive” enough and to some degree, I think I prevented them from learning in practical ways (cooking, shopping, gardening, etc) because I was in the background seeing how it aligned with some arbitrary list of what they “should know.” This is another reason I’m hoping the deschooling process will help reset ME.
- As part of the above, I wish we had experienced more success with their religious or spiritual education, especially in the area of serving others. We tried a number of different bookwork type things, but I never felt like we found a good fit of curricula or daily practice. I’ve always felt a bit disappointed that their many years of church attendance has never resulted in a very solid education in the basics of Bible characters, etc, so I was hoping we would be able to remedy that at home. They never really latched on, and I was inconsistent because our daily schedule fluctuated. A lot of the curricula was far too conservative and dogmatic, and some were just downright cheesy. I’m intolerant of bad writing which was ABUNDANT. Just call me a devotional snob. Other than reading to my friend’s quints, we really didn’t do much service. Hopefully in the future, this will be an area where we can improve and grow.
- I wish I’d saved money on books and ink for my cheap, cruddy printer and just bought an amazing super expensive awesome color printer.
That’s all my reflections for today. I hope to do more parts of this series, reflecting on specific things that we liked and didn’t like AND some thoughts about homeschooling ADHD sixth grade boys. Feel free to comment or ask specific questions about anything I mentioned. Also, this post is going up unedited, so you can help me look like a smarter writing teacher by letting me know if there are typos and mistakes. #nerdharder