I’ve received such great feedback from homeschoolers and aspiring homeschoolers about the Homeschooling is Scary piece I wrote in November.  It was written two weeks after we made the huge (and life changing) decision to pull our children out of a good public elementary school and chart a different course for their education…and, really, our family life.

In response to your emails and comments requesting an update…I’m obliging with today’s post.

So, How’s it Going? You ask…

Honestly, it’s still going so much better than I ever expected or even hoped it would.  My children are relaxed, enjoying learning, and just plain happy.

I can’t over emphasize what a change this is from where we were in mid-October of last year.  Nervous habits, stressed-out fits and fights, and general lethargy towards life and everything in it, was more how I would define my children’s lives before the change.

Now, they seem more confident and more comfortable, everywhereAgainst the popular misconception that homeschooled children are socially awkward– I would say that in the three months since my kids have been home they have been better able to relate to their peers and handle social situations.  Yesterday I watched both my kindergartner and my first-grader stand up in their co op classrooms and give individual presentations on what they want to be when they grow up.  They fielded questions and acted as if they were experienced presenters.

This was an amazing thing to observe.

Just about four months ago, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher told me that she was very quiet.  She said she was bright, but didn’t always speak loud enough for the teacher or others to hear her.

This may not seem like a big deal to you. She’s only five years old.  But, these words cut straight through to my heart as I remembered, vividly, hearing my sixth grade teacher express the same complaint about me.  Part of me remembers not really knowing why I couldn’t speak up in class.  I was confident that my answers were correct.  Yet, fear had stolen my voice.

History was repeating itself.  I had to take action.

It was with tears in my eyes that I witnessed that same little girl volunteer (little hand waving in the air), to speak in front of her co op class last week.  She stood relatively still. She spoke audibly.  She didn’t hesitate or stumble to find the right words.

This is why I decided — scratch that —needed to homeschool.

Hack Schooling

A few weeks ago a thirteen-year-old boy did a video for TEDx on how homeschooling (or what he referred to as hack schooling) had changed his life and his opportunities.  It was widely circulated on social media and was a fantastic testimony to the amazing opportunities and freedom children that are taken out of the traditional school system are able to experience.  Though I disagree with him somewhat, our life goal should not be happiness, alone. His points about why this way works well were spot on.

The term “hack schooling” resonated with me because that’s what I feel like I’m doing, most days.  Personally, I’m a jumbled mess of OCD AND disorganized creativity.  Sometimes the organized part of me takes over and wants checklists and pages from a book to complete.  (On these days I make binders and schedules.)  Sometimes the creative part grabs the wheel and wants to download a worksheet for us to do, or pick this educational video to watch.  (On these days I’m totally winging it.)

Honestly — my near schizophrenia in this arena scares me a bit.  So, I frequently have to talk myself down from the ledge and remind myself that it’s ok.  They are learning and we are not even close to being the word that every type A, over-achieving mother dreads: behind.

According to this article from the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund, a high school principal who had to homeschool his daughter during a prolonged illness found that it took him, on average, six minutes a day to get through her school work every evening.

This is what I tell myself on the days where I’m not sure if we’ve done enough.  Did we get our six minutes in?  I think so…

So What EXACTLY Are We Doing?

There are so many ways to skin the homeschool cat, so I’ve had many people ask me exactly what we are doing.  Here’s the lowdown:

1)    We have joined a Classical Conversations group and are following the CC curricula.  I love Classical Conversations.  I wasn’t even close to being an education major in college…so different styles and theories of education were never anything I researched or followed.  But, from just the little bit I know about the classical style, I love it.

Here’s why:

1)  My children learn in the ways children learn best — songs, motions, and rhymes.  Do you still know the ABC song? The words to your favorite song from the 80s? Humpty Dumpty?  Yet, do you struggle to remember other important pieces of data day-to-day?  There is a reason for this.  This is what the classical style of memory work taps into.

2)  My children are learning the history of world events and the order in which they happened.  I have a Master’s degree in public policy and before we started Classical Conversations I could not have told you when events in American history happened in relation to events in European or any sort of Asian history.  I had no way to integrate what I knew of Biblical events into what little I knew of world history before Christ.  My seven-year-old can sing for you the history of the world from creation through about 1950 (we are still working on the last 30 or so events).  I could not be more pleased.

3)  We have a co op.  On Mondays we spend three hours with our co op learning the information for the week from the Classical Conversations program.  Our co op is small but there are two classes with about eight children each.  My son is in a class with 8 through 11-year-olds because he does just fine with the older children.  My daughter is in a class with 4 through 7-year-olds and has made many new friends.  They learn. They play.  They do science experiments I would never, ever do at home on our own.  They do art projects that (again) I would never get the supplies to do on our own.  We love it.

2)    We are doing a program called Math U See for our supplemental math.  Classical conversations does have a math component which is learning math facts, but the OCD in me felt like we needed to do more of the traditional types of math activities they had started in the public school.  Yet, Math U See isn’t really a traditional program in that it uses blocks (which kind of remind my kids of their Legos) and teaches in a tangible, “feel the math” kind of way.  They watch an instructor on a video and then do the worksheets.  Math isn’t their favorite subject, but it gets the job done without too much frustration.

Math U See is hands on math that the kids seem to like.

3)    Words stuff.  Because I’m more of a language arts girl, I wanted to supplement spelling and vocabulary enhancement.  My daughter knew many site words but was not yet reading when she left public school, so I knew we had some work to do.  I have not purchased a curricula to do this part because I’m cheap and there is so much available on line.  A month ago I gave my son a giant spelling test.  I asked him to spell every single word on the first grade spelling list–for the ENTIRE year.  He only missed one word out of about 300.  We are working through second grade vocabulary and spelling now and that’s going fairly quickly as well.  Because he reads at a fourth grade level, I fear he would have been under challenged all year on the spelling front had he stayed in public school.   My daughter is an independent learner (like her mother) and she loves my iPad.  I have purchased her apps from Hooked on Phonics along with some other vocabulary and site word programs.  A few weeks ago, I grabbed the large stack of so-called “word wall words” that my son brought home from kindergarten.  I quizzed her on every word in the stack and she knew all but three.  Again, this was the entire list of words that she would have learned in kindergarten. It’s only January.  She knew all but three.  Would she have been bored too?

4)    Schedule.  So, I like my freedom but see value in routine.  Right now, as I type, we are ten minutes late for starting school (we usually start at 9am) because I am lost in writing and all four children are playing together happily upstairs.  My motto is: Why mess with a good thing?  We’ll start when they stop getting along.  We are at co op on Mondays until 1pm and we don’t do any other school that day.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays I focus on math and language and then we work on our Classical Conversations memory work in the afternoon.  It takes us about 2-3 hours a day to get through all of it.  On Wednesdays we do some “bonus” activities to support what we are learning in Classical Conversations – like watch You Tube videos on the topic or draw pictures of what we are learning.  They also spend time writing their memory work on this day.  On Fridays they have to recite all their memory work to me.  If they can do it early, they are essentially done for the day.  If they don’t know it, they work on it until they can tell me.  They also have to read for thirty minutes — which is longer than I require on other days (10-15 minutes usually).

Can You Homeschool and Have a Life?

I cannot emphasize enough how much MORE free time I have now that I homeschool. Completely counter intuitive, right?  I think its about energy distribution.  I do feel like I have more of it — and I wasn’t even the one going to school everyday!  It’s also about the fact that my older children enjoy playing with my younger children and together they all do better.  I absolutely love the fact that they have the opportunity to just be home, play together, and for lack of a better term: bond!

I’m not tired because I wake up essentially when the (two-year-old) baby comes in and says,  “I want breakfast momma, get up.”  That’s usually sometime around 7:15am.  I don’t have to rush anyone through breakfast. Yell at anyone to hurry up.  Feed them junk because it’s fast.  Worry about whether or not I signed reading logs or slap together lunches.  No, I just get up, fix breakfast, and tell them what time school starts and how much time they have to play and get dressed before that time.

My afternoon is not interrupted everyday by an inflexible school pick up time. And, I no longer have to fear what moods my children will demonstrate when they walk through that door.  I also don’t have the pressure to make that little bit of time that they are home “count” for something.  (Honestly, I struggled to even have a decent “What did you do today in school?” conversation before we started homeschooling.)  I really enjoy the fact that my children and I can talk all day long.  They kind of like asking mom “learning” questions and I think the fact that I’m teaching them helps diminish confusion over who the real authority figures are in their lives. (I think they knew they had to listen to their teachers all day in school -but when they got home it was a struggle to get them to listen and obey mom too!)

In summary, what I think I’ve figured out is that there are two types of people, generally:  Those who are zealous about homeschooling and those who have never tried it.

Am I ready to say EVERYBODY should do this.  No, of course not. I don’t know your child’s special needs. I don’t know your situation. I know not everyone can…for one reason or another.  But, if you have the opportunity, if you can try it… I would highly encourage you to try it.  There will still be hard days.  Some days I do “worry” if we are doing enough or doing it “right.”  But, then I remember, they are my children. The most useful skills for eternity will not be how well they learn to dissect a sentence but how well they learn to love God and love others.  Homeschooling has given us the opportunity to incorporate that into our children’s education.

Tell me how homeschooling has changed your family life?  Or, are you afraid to try it?  What do you think?

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