April 28, 2018

thoughts on our homeschool year...

thoughts on our homeschool year | yourwishcake.com
It's kind of crazy for me to realize we're only a couple months away from finishing up our first official year of homeschooling. Even though we aren't completely done (and we will most likely continue doing some things throughout the summer), I wanted to take some time to reflect on everything we've accomplished. To share a bit of what I've learned, what my daughter has learned, what we ended up changing from our original plan, and some rather big takeaways that I'm grateful for when all is said and done.

In short, I'm absolutely grateful we have been able to make homeschooling work for our family. This last year has shown me many things, but above all, I've been able to see such growth in my oldest daughter—mentally and otherwise—and growth within our own family. I've loved being completely immersed in her education and seeing her develop new skills, passions and interests. I'm learning how she best processes information, how she reacts to frustration when learning something new, and ways I can encourage learning as a lifestyle (and not just within the confines of official "school" work).

It's also just been plain fun.

As for the long answer, let's start here: To be honest, it's still out of my comfort zone to be doing something that is rather unconventional, and to end up being an advocate for and representative of homeschooling to those who are unfamiliar with it (or opposed to it). We stand out everywhere we go during regular school hours, because Eisley is clearly of school age and, well, not in school. People are often curious and pepper us with questions about homeschooling, and most often I feel so inadequate with the answers I give. I know these things will only increase as the girls get older, so perhaps I need to work on my Homeschooling Elevator Pitch (or my general ability to put my thoughts and opinions into spoken words as opposed to written words, which I feel much more comfortable with).

But it is nice being able to represent homeschooling in general, and to hopefully help people see it in a positive light. There will always be those critics who are unwilling to consider the benefits or value of educating our children in this way, but I realize that much of it has to do with people not knowing anything about homeschooling or the many different ways people homeschool. I'm guessing the average person hasn't even met someone who was homeschooled and only knows what they've heard about them being socially awkward, raised in a bubble, or bonkers crazy. (Being a second generation homeschooler is nice in this instance, because I can tell them that I, myself, was homeschooled. And hopefully I come across as, you know, a fairly normal human being.) It's probably good that I'm in my thirties now and more able to realize that my goal in life isn't to please everyone—or to even convince people to see things from my view. And I also have to remember that because we're doing something considered unconventional, that I should come to expect questions and concerns and general wonderings from those around us.

In any case, I'm still confident in our decision to educate our children in this way, and hopefully we will be able to continue to do so! Even Jay, who has always been a little meh about the idea of homeschooling (he was one of those people who generally saw homeschoolers as weird) is seeing the benefits. I like to think he'll wear his Homeschooling Dad label as a badge of honor. (I'll wear him down someday.)

As for my biggest takeaways? Here they are:

Trust the process. A huge part of the beginning years of homeschooling is overcoming the false expectation that school at home can (or should) look anything like school at school. I would sometimes second guess myself, thinking that we didn't put in enough dedicated school-time during a day. My daughter did five minutes of math drills one day; was that enough? We haven't done any history curriculum this year—are all the dozens of nonfiction books we've pored over together and discussions we've had enough? Does my daughter need to do more extracurriculars in order to be "properly" socialized? These are all things I've asked myself over the course of the last school year. But now that we're at this point, I've seen all the successes we've had and am absolutely confident that what we are doing works. I even had a panicky moment about halfway through the school year and went online to check the standards for first grade within the state of California and I realized that we were totally on track with everything. Eisley was even far beyond where she needed to be for things like reading and spelling. Can I get a hallelujah? Can I get an amen?

A structured Morning Time routine is essential. I'll be posting more details on this (hopefully) soon, but this year we started going a daily morning routine that takes 30 minutes to an hour every day, and it has been a huge benefit. This is the time of day we go through things like bible, hymn, poetry, memory work, the catechism, read alouds, copywork, and various worksheets that Eisley completes while I'm reading (anything from math to geography to language arts). This is the time of day that we do the most schoolwork—the rest I do one-on-one with Eisley after Cora has gone down for her afternoon nap, but that portion typically doesn't take more than 20-30 minutes. It's a joy to begin the day with so many good things. And even though Cora isn't officially doing any schoolwork of her own yet, she benefits from these things as she joins us at the table every day, too, which I love!

You don't have to be a "purist" when it comes to your teaching philosophy. We stick mostly to Charlotte Mason education around here, but I realized soon after we began the school year that some aspects of the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy just didn't work for us. I had planned on following the outline on the Ambleside Online website for most of our studies, and after a while I realized that although I saw the benefit of reading classic, living books, when it came down to it I just didn't want to read Shakespeare with my six year old. And most of the history books we started were so dry and boring that I was dreading picking them up. I also didn't like reading each book in tiny bits for weeks or months on end (I prefer reading more on our own timeline). My daughter also reads a fair amount of what Mason would consider "twaddle" but I'm not going to stop her from being a voracious reader by limiting her books to only classics. (I'm obviously interested in the content of what she reads, but as long as the books don't involve only bratty, sassy-pants kids and are age appropriate, I'm generally fine with it.) So, a Charlotte Mason purist I am not. Neither do you have to do only Classical or Waldorf or Montessori or any of the other styles of education. There's nothing wrong with a mishmash approach. I am about 75% Charlotte Mason and 25% mishmash at this point, and I'm fully content with that. Less stress; more happy.

Reading is like comfort food. We are still very much in the Charlotte Mason camp when it comes to a huge emphasis on literature and reading aloud. Even when we've had a rough morning or a dreadful day overall, when I sit down at the kitchen table and crack open a book to read to the girls, I feel better. I feel a peace that makes me take a deep breath and realize everything is okay. Reading is absolutely my comfort, and I know I've passed along my love of books to the girls because they already beg for just one more chapter more times than not.

Find people who are one step ahead; listen to them, and learn from them. I've been an avid listener of homeschooling podcasts and reader of homeschooling books, and have done my best to find resources to help encourage me in my own journey. It's so important to learn from women who have already been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. Above all, my mom has been a godsend to me, as she's been homeschooling one daughter or another every year for the last 20+ years. She's nearing the end of her homeschooling years (just one graduation to go!) and she has so much wisdom and insight into the early years (and beyond) of teaching at home. I'm grateful to have her brain to pick when I'm second-guessing myself (which I totally do on a regular basis) or have just had a rough day and need someone to tell me it'll all be okay. 

Even though we aren't yet done with the current school year, I'm starting to look ahead to Eisley's second grade year, which we will begin this fall—as well as planning some preschool activities with Cora, since she's already at the table with us during morning time, anyway. I'm going back and forth between continuing to homeschool privately (on our "own little island", so to speak, which I've really enjoyed during these early years) or through a charter (which offers funds for curriculum, supplies and extracurricular activities, but also requires educational check-ins and testing). Decisions, decisions.

Either way, it feels rather good to be finishing out this school year on a high note.

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