I get asked a lot about how homeschooling is going for us, especially in light of my goal of simplifying life in our house. On the surface, it would seem like homeschooling adds more chaos to our lives. And to be honest, it does in some ways. But in many others it doesn’t.
The short answer to their question is: homeschooling is a major challenge, but it is AWESOME. It has been a lot of work, and a lot of trial and error, but so far, we are all loving it.
Homeschooling is more work, there is no denying that. But, in many ways, it is simpler and easier. Yes, I am responsible for their education and they are ALWAYS HERE. My children never seem to leave my side, which can be a bit, well, annoying, for a mom who is used to having several hours a day of time to herself for work, errands and other responsibilities. But I’ve found the slower pace we keep, and the way we break things down makes life simpler. No more getting up at 6 AM anymore and cajoling a cranky teenager out of bed and onto the bus. No more racing to make sure homework is finished, lunches are packed and planners are signed. No more parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, permission slips, fundraisers or any of the other million and one things that being in a school requires. Instead we wake at a reasonable hour, we take our time over breakfast, read the paper, take a walk together, read Proverbs together and enjoy the morning. Then we get down to our schoolwork.
But what does schoolwork look like? If you’re imagining a traditional school classroom at home, you’re not alone–but you’re wrong. I had the same vision in the beginning. Textbooks open, sitting at their desks, learning and reading. Worksheets and papers showing exactly what they’re learning. Hahahahaha, boy did I have a lot to learn!
This is what homeschooling looks like for us:
LittleMissSunshine, the one who was struggling the most in school, is doing wonderfully in homeschool. Right here she is studying the American Revolution, by watching one of her assignments from Discovery Education. She is working on an art project at the same time, a cross stitch Santa. Don’t tell her, but the cross-stitch project is actually an exercise in fine motor skills and following sequential steps. (Both of which are crucial for a child with dyslexia and processing issues.) How much can she really be learning from a tv show, you ask? How can she learn while doing two things at once? Well, early this morning she climbed into bed to snuggle with me, and decided to tell me all about the Boston Tea Party. She quoted this obscure but profound quote from Benjamin Franklin:
“The heart of a fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of a wise man is in his heart.”
To know how important this is, you need to know that LittleMissSunshine has struggled most of her life to remember basic facts. She struggles with working memory and with reading comprehension. It would take a great deal of concentration for her to tell you something simple like our phone number. But here she is, not only loving what she is learning, but remembering it, and able to tell me about the context of the quote as well. This afternoon she will open up her netbook in the kitchen and bake cookies from a recipe she’s researched–learning science and math along the way.
I know it looks like JD is just playing games on his computer, but there’s a lot more going on in this picture. He’s actually working on his computer programming class. He is currently studying Java through Khan Academy. A few minutes later he switched that off and opened his blog, where he’s been working on research and analytical writing. He’s thirteen, so the piece is on the history of a video game…but hey, he’s engaged, it’s in-depth and he’s learning skills! Later today he’ll climb back into the same spot and work on the novella he’s writing.
But wait, you ask–How exactly does any of that equal simplicity? Isn’t that more work for you?
Yes, it is. And no, it isn’t. You see, I see my role less as supreme teacher and more as a facilitator or coordinator. I listen for their interests, I spend time researching materials and options, and then I give them the tools they need to TEACH THEMSELVES. This has been a major change for all of us. They were used to being consumers of education–they sit and someone else teaches. They get up and do something when someone else instructs them to. Now, they are instead beginning to direct their own courses, and teaching themselves. The schools did a great job at what they were good at. (Please don’t hear me bash the schools, because we loved them!) But now we see both JD and LittleMissSunshine taking the skills they’d learned in school and building on that, blossoming and opening up a whole new world of learning.
We focus on keeping it simple by teaching them the routine and the rhythm of a simplified life. We follow a routine every day, starting at 10 am. We build in healthy habits, like a daily walk, bible time, journaling time. We take an hour for lunch and get away from the classroom space. Each afternoon has a rhythm as well, with each day of the week having a different subject focus, but a repeating schedule. We manage to build in routine and yet have variety as well. They know which subject they are working on each day, but they are given a range of options to choose from within that subject. They are responsible for completing those tasks by the deadline assigned. I am there to help if needed, but honestly, most of the time they are working on their own. We take time to talk, to laugh, even to nap! We have a full school day, but we have a healthier rhythm to it that keeps things simpler. Even better, when we are done for the day, we are done! There are no projects to complete, no homework, no paperwork to fill out.
This is where the teaching simplicity part comes in. You see, our culture values busyness and cramming in as much as you can into the day. We cram and we cram and we cram–and then we wonder why we are so stressed! What we are instead trying to teach our kids is that you can accomplish great things each and every day, you can be highly productive, but you can do it in healthy ways. As adults we tend to feel lazy if we take breaks–and heaven forbid we take a nap! But breaks and naps are healthy for us! They make us more productive throughout the day. I have focused in and tried to structure the day so that they organically learn these rhythms of simplicity.
One of the fun things we’ve seen as we’ve developed is that the kids are finding subjects they’re interested in and asking to learn more about them. Often when they go upstairs at the end of the day the learning doesn’t stop–they continue writing or researching in their free time. Since our goal for homeschooling was to teach them to be lifelong self-directed learners, this makes us very happy!
By the way, if you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure to stop by JD’s blog and say hello!