Monday, November 23, 2015

First Year Homeschooling Confessions- 5 Things I Did Wrong

We are now in our 4th year of homeschooling. We have hit the "sweet spot". We have made it through the first 3 years, the first year of overachieving, the second year of doubt and burn out and the third year when we finally had the confidence to step outside of the box and do what worked for our family!

It is from this place of comfort that I can share with you the foolishness of my first year of homeschooling . I share this to encourage as I wished that someone would have shared their first year mistakes with me. When I pulled our pumpkin out of public school I wasn't really sure about what a day in the life of a homeschooler might look like. So I re-created school.

I bought three desks, put all of the three girls into one bedroom to open up a spare room for a "school room". I bought a white board and set up a reading corner and I (hanging my head in shame) even had a bell. I also had a schedule. Yes- this was my schedule for grade 1. We started and she was only 5 years old.  I figured we would start "easy" so I could add in Latin and Greek on occasion. I keep this page to remind myself of how far we've come.

Let us take a moment to laugh together.

Bible Lessons
Money Management
Nature Science

I also "knew" I needed time for copy work but I thought that would probably best be done during Bible lessons. I also "knew" that all homeschool families were finished by noon so we would have to push ourselves so we could have time for field trips, socialization (whatever that was) and so the children could do cool projects- you know- the save-the-world type things that I'd read about homeschooling families doing together.

It was - not surprisingly a disaster- I had a grade 1 student (who was only 5 when we started in September) and a 3 year old and a 2 year old and I was a mess. No one stayed in their seats for 2-3 hours of lessons I had planned. And they wouldn't just quietly in the reading corner either!  I think we lasted less than 2 weeks. They cried, I cried. My husband thought this was a disaster.  I decided I was obviously not cut out to be a homeschooling mamma and I would have to admit defeat and send my children back to school. But I didn't want to.

So we took the next week off . I needed time to regroup. I bought the DVD series of Magic School Bus. Let everyone take some time off. Purchased a subscription. Took a deep breath. Poured over homeschooling blogs, reached out to other homeschooling parents in my area.

We muddled through the first year, I pushed too much, but the younger children pushed back (thankfully) and insisted that we take a lot of breaks and then only a couple months in I realized that we had finished the aligned curriculum. Months ahead of schedule. My house however was a mess, I was stressed. I wasn't living the fantasy but couldn't even define it  more less work towards it. I had spent so much time and so much money and I wasn't (if I was being honest) sure that my stack of worksheets I had so proudly accumulated really amounted to a hill of beans! And we didn't always love it.

I am so glad to say we have come so far from those first few days and weeks and yes even first few years of homeschooling. I made many mistakes but here are the top 5.

1) I tried to re-create school at home!

The fear of the unknown is very powerful. As a child I went to school, I played school. I had wanted to be a teacher. I figured that this was the only way to teach your children. What I had to learn though was that homeschooling meant having the time and the flexibility to truly educate my children. I could teach them the skills required for success in daily life. I could model for them my own love of learning and rather than squash their natural curiosity I could feed it. The model of a school is designed to have many students and one teacher. Many curriculums are designed with this model. There are advantages to this model, and it is these advantages that i knew so this was comfortable for me. However I did not have a classroom of students who were all the same age. I had a family of children who had different needs and different abilities. Once I accepted that it would be better to work with what I had things improved. Family models of curriculum are also available but I had never heard of such a thing that first year. Curriculum designed to cover different grade levels- at the same time- and different learning styles. One great example is Mystery of History where we have a story that I read outloud to the children and then there are lots of different suggested activities to reinforce the concepts. Activities for different styles of learners and different ages. Our favorite science books are Apologia books because they have real information- and lots of it- but it is presented in such a way that we can read it out loud together and everyone understands.

Today I look at my children as the people they are and I try to encourage them and challenge them as individuals. This is such a blessing. They are individuals and I have the time and the resources and the support to treat them as such. I know their strengths and their weaknesses. I also know mine. I have learned so much about myself during this journey.

I believe that in my homeschool there is a place for sit down learning, jump around learning and even hang up side down learning. We took out the desks and the whiteboard and the bell and we converted the "school room" into a library with a cd player and comfy chairs and our spare bed. We made it a space that everyone wanted to hang out. We even put up an old horse saddle on a wooden stand as a cool reading seat. It doesn't look like a school anymore and we couldn't be a happier!

2) In the face of criticism and concern I reacted by pushing my children too hard and tried to do everything.

Ever try to swim upstream? If you are a homeschooling mamma chances are you have had to battle against homeschool criticism. It doesn't seem to matter that study after study shows that homeschooled children are - on average- doing better academically, more involved in their communities and it doesn't matter how many studies say that "socialization" is not a valid concern and that homeschooled children are successful. As a new homeschool mother people asked me why I thought I could do it, why I dared to do it and many many many people showed concern for me and our entire family.

I also had my doubts - afterall my dream schedule had failed, I still didn't really have a plan , and I wasn't sure how we could be one of those super families because I certainly wasn't a supermom!

So I did what people do in the face of criticism, I set out to prove everyone wrong . I pushed my children. I confess. I wanted to be good enough. In fact I wanted to be better than good enough. I wanted to be AMAZING. And that first year I thought that meant that my poor children had to be AMAZING. I didn't understand that my children's greatest successes wouldn't be mine to brag about - but theirs. I didn't understand yet that my job wasn't to be competitive but to be loving and trusting. Trusting in the fact that I was their mother and that they were born in the image of God and were capable if only I would just get out of their way sometimes.

I am ashamed to say I pushed them , thinking that their ability to read early would quiet the naysayers. I pushed us all to do more extra curricular activities than we really had time for so that we could say we did it all too. I pushed for quantity over quality. And at the end of the day or week or month I knew that wasn't right, so I tried something else. One program after another. Not realizing at first that it was me that had to change.

Homeschooling is a paradigm shift.

3) I bought WAY too much stuff

Thinking it was the curriculum that would solve our problems I bought them all. Well, maybe not all of them, but so many that it felt like it. I bought learning games (that we didn't have time for) and I bought worksheets and programs and learning DVD's. Most of which i've since consigned to the homeschooling store (for all of those other first year mammas who find comfort in having the stuff !). I kept Teaching Textbooks for math, and ONE set of math manipulatives. I love the Apologia books for science and A Child's History of the World is still one of my favorite read aloud books. We do Mystery of History as well. For LA I love the Lessons for a Well Trained Mind and in the beginning I love the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Everything else is just unit studies and books, lots of living books!  The only online program that we kept was readingeggs/mathseeds which everyone loves. I still have two totes of curriculum we will not use but i'm not ready to part with it yet.  One day.

My advice is to find a homeschooling store and buy everything used until you find what you love!

4) I let the housework go- in fact I let everything else go for the sake of "education".

I love homeschooling, I love how it is true to life and how the lines between education and living are blurred. In order to be sustainable over the long term I realized that I would have to somehow make these two different worlds "education" and "life" work together- not as separate entities! This was a hard lesson to learn. For that whole first year and a good part of the second year my house was a constant mess, sticky floors and piles of laundry-to-be-sorted heaped on the couch. It was stressful for all of us.

The worst part was I couldn't seem to figure out the food, I would set the table and make breakfast and then by the time everyone was finished eating and that was cleaned up I had lunch looming over me and by supper time I was exhausted and didn't want to cook the wholesome meals that I was used to.

After a while and lots of trial and error, and tears, and prayer I realized that education and life are one. The skills of perseverance and hard work that I was trying instill through education were easily found in chore time. We started our day with family chores, these are not individual chores like cleaning your room or picking up your toys, but family chores like doing dishes/laundry and cleaning floors. We learned to work together to make our home a happy and clean and peaceful place. It helped that the girls were growing up and once we realized we were spending more time at home we wanted it to be a nice place to be!

5) I didn't have a goal or mission statement to keep me focused on where I was going.

They say if you don't know where you're going it doesn't matter how fast you get there! I have always been a very conscientious person who appreciates clear goals and objectives. When we started I didn't have them. I pulled our children out of the system for many reasons. My daughter who had completed kindergarten used to bring all of the food that she was given at school home in her back pack. I told her I would pay her for every piece. Turns out she got junk food and treats almost EVERY day, she had allergies and yet that didn't stop people from giving her suckers in the hallways when she was walking quietly or candy in the playground when she lined up nicely. The staff and parent volunteers were not checking in with her teacher regarding her allergies. This was alarming to me because our youngest has much more severe dietary requirements and limitations. I couldn't be sure that she would be able to manage in a school where food was handed out willy nilly! Coupled with a few negative experiences with the school and with some amazing research about the successfulness of homeschooling we took the plunge.

These things do not make a mission statement. They are a list of things I didn't want. It took a lot of prayer and conversation and soul searching to find out what we really wanted for our family. Trying to teach with the end goals in mind allows us the flexibility and freedom to change our plans as necessary when they are no longer helping us reach our goals!

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