It is still the beginning of the school year here in Canada and I know there are a few of you
crazy brave ones who have decided to take on homeschooling your kids for the first time.
First of all…were you getting bored of all that personal quiet time you had while your kids were at school? Was uninterrupted coffee dates with your girlfriends getting a little dry? I see. You needed a challenge. I get it. I was there once too.
It took me a solid year of researching and reading about and talking to other homeschool parents before we made that leap too. I was so gung-ho that I pulled my kids out of their amazing, little francophone school where they were learning a second language, had made friends, and looked so damn cute in their little wooden desks singing “Bonjour Mes Amis, Bonjour”.
I had this pie-in-the-sky idea of what our home learning experience was going to be and charged into my first homeschool convention to soak up every bit of wisdom and teaching tips I could find. After a day of seminars and 4962 booths of curriculum sellers, I felt like a Maserati about to take off on the indy 500….only with glazed eyes, enough curriculum to get us through 15 years of grade 1 and 3, and a new respect for the sales skills of a certain religious sect that still dressed like Little House on the Prairie.
On my return home I unloaded the haul of curriculum and my kids came running to help sort through what looked like fun…. from the outside. I sat back amazed at their obvious excitement of all the knowledge I was going to fill them with and let them peruse the awesome textbooks they were going to love learning from. They quickly tossed the academic stuff aside and went straight for the science kits , puzzles, and art supplies squealing like it was Christmas morning.
Zoe ripped open the art supplies and quickly disappeared to practice getting paint and oil pastels on the one good section left of the playroom carpet. While Mayah ripped into a science kit for learning force and motion immediately breaking a crucial piece needed for the experiments to happen. She looked up at me with horror expecting an angry outburst and I knew I didn’t want to ruin homeschooling before we even started so I took a deep breath and said something really wise like ” OH NO! You have broken the most important piece!….(lowering my voice from shrill to calm) I mean….which….is what this kit was for (legitimate eye twitch). Your motion… caused a force… which snapped this piece in half. So good job learning force and motion!” .
YEAH! I was going to rock this homeschool mom thing.
Our first real day of homeschooling was magical, I mean stupendous amounts of learning happened, I mean we made big headway and set the bar high….for the first 5 minutes.
I woke up with a grand plan; Get the toddler busy so he doesn’t interrupt, make a healthy breakfast with fruit cut into little letters, put on some classical music because it isn’t just for the baby Einsteins, lay out our awesome lessons for the day and wait for my eager little students to arise fresh and ready to be studious.
It looked a little more like this….two bites each of breakfast and then the little angels run off to watch TV and fight over the remote control because one wants to rule what everyone watches and the other needs let the world know( at the top of her lungs) that she was fit to make big decisions like watching Hannah Montana over Peep and the Big Wide World.
I clearly needed to handle this and get my kids back to the table to learn so I pry the remote from their death grip, turn off the tv and demand they treat each other with respect…AND to stop grabbing the remote from each other. To which they replied in unison “well you just grabbed it from us!” .
It only took 15 meltdowns, 22 arguments, and some good old-fashioned bribery to get the little…um…scholars back to the table where I began my first attempt at filling their little buckets with important and exciting things like learning latin roots of words, math drills, and spelling skill because I needed to produce super human spelling B champions so the world could see that homeschooling IS a good idea for us.
It literally only took about 4 seconds before I heard ” I hate this. It’s boring. Can we go play?”
“Is it the Vivaldi?” I thought and went to change the music to something more motivating like AC-DC only to find my toddler in the kitchen teetering on the third highest drawer handle with a handful of wet coffee grinds he had freshly scooped out of the filter and was flinging freely all over the white kitchen. Meanwhile, as soon as my back was turned, the girls army crawled to the playroom to find their toys.
This is when I discovered that maybe homeschooling was not really my thing but was too afraid to say it out loud, for fear that someone might realise that maybe parenting was also not really my thing and perhaps I should not be in charge of making decisions…like how to best educate people.
So I had a choice;
- Pack my bags and go find new kids who were good at homeschooling
- OR….Add vodka to my morning coffee so my sense of humour could shine through
- OR…get help from a local homeschool support group
As tempting as 1 and 2 were I did go to the support group where I showed up to only listen and maybe ask a question or two and find out how everyone else taught their kids latin and produced spelling champions.
I was asked to share my story and immediately cried….because my crazy had no self-control and I explained, while sobbing, how I clearly had made a big mistake taking my kids out of school and how I was ruining them and that they would be better off being raised by wolves because I am not cut out to be a homeschool parent and probably should just hand my kids over to the government while I am at it so I don’t make any other life altering decisions that crush their future chances of a normal life.
When I finished my explanation I waited for their response. I waited for them to tell me that I was right and there was still time to put my kids back in school. I waited for them to high five my crazy and hold me until the mental health professionals showed up.
What I received instead was this;
- Empathy – We know how you feel because we have been right where you are
- Honesty- This is one of the hardest things we have done too…but it gets better and it can be life changing….in a good way
- Teaching – We have come to understand that homeschooling is as much about what we learn and let go of and model for our kids as it is for them to learn AND it is rewarding when we live that truth
Then they told me about something they did called De-Schooling and a light came on. A big, bright, I think I found Jesus light came on. In order for this to work, I needed to shed an old idea about what learning looks like. There needed to be a monumental shift between my lifelong view of education only happening from filling in blanks and memorizing textbook knowledge to one of igniting a spark in hopes of creating a flame of desire that leads to lifelong learning.
De-Schooling meant putting away the curriculum and take some time to get into a rhythm of being together. I needed to get to know my kids as learners and find out how to best light that spark that would lead to a flame.
So we packed up the giant stack of curriculum and headed to the library to find some Living Books to read aloud as the kids played or as we snuggled up in my big bed. I spent time cooking, and hiking, and shopping, and playing games with my kids and started to see what really piqued their interests and when they asked questions we searched, together, for the answers.
This was perhaps one of the best times in our now 9 years of homeschooling and allowed all of us to get into a new rhythm of life where learning happened a little more organically and looked less like “school” and more like inspired learning. We waited until the second half of that year to introduce curriculum and kept it simple with a math program and some writing and reading practice.
De-Schooling was the pause that needed to happen so we could all (kids too) shed our world view of education and allow the space necessary to build trust and openness. After all, home is where our kids come to rest and to be nourished. To be safe and cared for. To be real and vulnerable and live wholeheartedly. When all of this can happen, they will be open and when they are open…when we are open we learn the best.
BTW- Zoe is now in grade 12 at a Fine Arts school( she stepped back into public education in grade 11) and although she still gets paint in my carpets, I am extremely proud of the amazing young woman she has become. The spark is definitely now a flame of passion for fine arts and she is thriving in a public school situation with a confidence I never had at her age, getting top grades and excitedly applying for University. I only had to get out of her way and watch her go!
Mayah continues to pursue her education from home and bypassed grade 9 to get a head start on grade 10 ( her choice). She is a goal setter, extremely ambitious & competitive, and an excellent example of how self-directed learning works. University is also on her radar and in spite of living in a house of artists who seem to thrive on chaos, she has her next ten years mapped out in a neat and orderly fashion. Again….I only needed to facilitate her learning not force anything her way but De-schooling had to happen for me to see the value and set the pace.
Ethan and Sophia are in Elementary level and by God’s grace and lots of coffee, I continue the homeschool journey and learn how to best parent each of them.
Some resources that have helped me;
We HS Eclectically and glean from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education.
The Homeschool movement can give thanks to Ivan Illich because along with john Holt, he inspired many to step out and look at education in a different way
This book was one of the motivators for me to begin my homeschool journey and Gabor Mate is one of my favourite human beings for his work with addicts and mentally ill in Vancouver’s downtown east side.
* Just a note to say that even though I am writing about my personal experience and craziness, my husband and I are a team. Although he was pretty uncertain about the whole homeschool thing, in the beginning, he works hard at his career to make it possible for me to remain home and to homeschool and has come to see the benefits and fully support the idea.
Cheers my friends and whether you homeschool or public school I wish you a great year and hope you will share your stumbles, joys, successes and parenting life with me!