Monday, May 5, 2014

Reflecting on Our First Year of Homeschooling

I'll start by saying that we are about to be preparing for our THIRD year of homeschooling our children (my about-to-be 7 year old son, 4 1/2 year old daughter and soon to be two year old son). Just typing that makes me realize how far we are into our journey! I haven't been around here much to document all this in real time, but hopefully if you are just starting out or considering homeschooling your little ones, you will find this helpful!

If you've been around a while (you know, since before I fell out of the blogosphere), you may remember that I was debating on what direction we would take with our son's education. I wanted to homeschool, but I was concerned about having a new baby in the mix. We considered doing an online public school, and actually had almost completed the enrollment process. Thank God for Holy Spirit, I just didn't have total peace about that choice, and at the last minute, we decided to homeschool independently.

Why did we decide against online public school?

I'm so glad you asked!

I had concerns. I'm a reader of the fine print (usually) and it seemed to me that their requirements might be a little much for us. One thing was, I didn't like that we had to log two hours of online work each day, and if we missed a day (due to illness or vacation or anything) it had to be made up. (I know some devote longer than two hours a day to homeschooling, but for us, for just starting out, for kindergarten, it seemed a bit much.) One of my personal reasons for wanting to homeschool is the freedom it affords. All states are different, I learned. Some have strict laws about how much time is spent on education, some don't. Ours doesn't. Initially, I thought that not having to plan lessons and such would be a blessing with a new babe in the house. But then, I figured it might be even more demanding of me to make sure those hours get completed. I would have to facilitate whatever he was doing for school work, and keep him on task. With a new baby, it's hard to find two hours to devote to anything (except for the new baby, of course!) And if I understood correctly, it was two hours of computer work, plus the other non-computer learning he had to do.

As it would happen, I also ended up seeing a couple of threads on Facebook and elsewhere about this very thing, and some of the experienced parents confirmed my suspicion that this was a lot to deal with. There was stuff I hadn't thought of, like the fact that teachers interact with students via webcam (not sure if this would be at the kindergarten level, but I'm thinking it is)- but, hello! Kinda out of my comfort zone (not that it would be unsupervised, but still). Then, of course is the fact that it is a state-sanctioned, secular program along with whatever ideas and ideals they might present. I just didn't want to deal with that. (Again, these were our concerns, someone else might be perfectly fine with this set-up).

What we did do:

The first year, we kinda winged it! I explored a lot of options, and with our fairly limited budget, I used many free resources online. I loved exploring Pinterest and getting ideas. I frequently found other resources through homeschool blogs and homeschool pages on Facebook. I utilized our local library (and also interlibrary loans) for books. 

By the time we began "officially" homeschooling, we had accumulated several inexpensive workbooks and packs of flash cards from places like Target and Dollar Tree. These I would grab up any time I saw them during the back to school sales. 

I heard about Five in a Row, and I immediately fell in love with the concept of literature-based learning. A big bonus being that Five in a Row is a Christian organization, so the book selections are in line with our values and world-view. I bought the first volume from Amazon, and started to explore. We rowed a few books, but I did have trouble tracking down some of the titles at the library, and didn't want to pay a lot to order them online.

We also had purchased a membership to the local natural history museum. My son was obsessed with dinosaurs, so that choice only to do. We went at least every couple of months during that year, and guess what? He was hardly into learning about the dinosaurs. Apparently, I signed up for our membership on the tail-end of his obsession! There was one room with a marble run-type contraption with PVC pipes that had magnets on them that you could arrange and re-arrange on this metal section of wall. You're supposed to line them up and drop a ping pong ball and watch it roll down the track you make. Both my two older children were occupied with that for the longest time. At the natural history museum! :-)

What I realized:
  • Children's brains do not care about grade levels! Learning happens all the time, with or without a curriculum! Last year, my son was five years old, and technically in kindergarten. He was learning "kindergarten level" things well before we ever seriously considered homeschooling. He had already learned to read by age 3 ½ (I was an early reader as well, and we read a ton around here).
  • I like focusing on really good quality literature, and that year, we discovered many favorite authors and stories.
  • I'm not so good at the planning (yet). There, I said it. I think I would try and try to plan out a week or two or more in advance, and part way through it, kinda feel like poking my own eyes out. Not really, but it could be agonizing. Naturally, I'm the type that I feel like I must make the absolute right choice in any given circumstance (I'm quite notorious for taking forever to order in a restaurant- so now, I usually check the menu online to alleviate some of that!) I think it's all about learning what works for everyone. One needs to assess the amount of direction the children need to continue on their path of learning and how much planning and preparation is required of the parent before it becomes a huge, monumental task that becomes disheartening and discouraging for everyone.
  • There is a lot of support online! Lots of groups, helpful Facebook pages and blogs. I am not alone!
  • Our homeschool is NOT going to look like pretty much anyone else's homeschool. We have a different approach to learning, different values, different space, different resources and different needs.

Moving Onward:

Have we found our groove? I'm gonna go with "no" (or maybe, "not quite") at this point. We are (as I'm sure we will continue to be) an evolving unit, and I will continue learning more about my children's educational needs. One idea that has intrigued me this year is unschooling. Currently, if I had to label our approach, I would say we are "eclectic", pulling our learning from various areas, fields of thought, and experiences, while still trying to stay in line with suggested grade level material (for the most part). Unschooling sort of throws all the convention out the window and allows children to forge their own path. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the philosophy of unschooling to see if it is a good fit for our family and our individual learners. I remain open to God's leading- I know He will show me (as always) what path to take!

Do you homeschool? Are you considering it? Share your thoughts in a comment!

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