Confessions of a First Year Homeschooler

We’ve just kicked off our second year as homeschoolers. On one hand, you’d think I’d feel like my experience prepared me for the second year, and it did, at least a little bit. But since Isla was due to start kindergarten, we added her to our mix, which means this year is an entirely different ball of wax–another year of growing and learning for me, I guess? Anyway, I’d been meaning to put down in black and white some of my observations on our experiences as novice homeschoolers. I wonder what my list will look like at the end of this year as “second time first year homeschoolers?” lol

On pulling a child out who had already been in public school for a while || this worked to our advantage. Gabe has a strong personality and dislikes it when others are in charge of him. Had we homeschooled from the get-go, establishing authority would have been a challenge. But because public school had done the work of setting up the structure and expectations, I could simply slide into using them without having to face confrontation after confrontation with him resisting.

On deschooling || I’ve seen a number of discussions about how if you’re taking your child out of public school, you should take a period of time to do basically nothing as a “deschooling” period – a chance to reset the norm and reengage with a love of learning. We didn’t really do this, but I don’t regret ignoring this piece of advice. What I did learn this year is that for the health of our relationships–not the health of our education, but the actual relationships–we all need some level of structure, and deschooling would have quickly devolved into chaos and power struggle. I’m not saying deschooling is bad or no one should do it; I’m just confident that it would have been a problem for us.

On independence || I didn’t foster much of it last year. Gabe wasn’t particularly motivated to take responsibility for his learning (unless it was learning Minecraft moves/commands/building structures). This is an area in which deschooling might have helped us, but probably to the detriment of our overall relationship. I’m hoping to foster more independence during the 2017-18 school year.

On being with my kids all. the. time…… || if there’s structure, this is okay for me. If it’s all free-form time and people are asking me to play with them/get them a snack/help them find xyz/whining about being bored every few minutes, I lose my mind. Structure gives us a framework around which to hang our day – me included. Granted, I didn’t do a great job at implementing structure. I treated our first year as an experiment in which we tried to figure out what kind of homeschoolers we’d be. However, now I know, or at least I have a better idea. Over the summer, I gave a lot of thought on how to muster the discipline needed to stick to a routine. Left to my own devices, I’m not great at this.  But with three people depending on me, I really need to hone this skill.

On finding curriculum || starting out, I bought things that looked fun and interesting to me. I’m not an all-in-one traditional curriculum person, so this eclectic method appealed to me. However, I quickly realized that a highly eclectic method puts a lot of the burden directly on me, and I started burning out. Around Christmas, we made some curriculum changes, and this was for the better.  It also meant we didn’t finish all of our curriculum by June, so we’re continuing much of it this fall. We’ll see how that pans out.

Fun things we did || beach days, poetry tea times, going to the children’s museum, staying up late to chart election returns, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, (mostly) daily morning meetings, keeping a year-long weather tree, an archery field trip, creating a time capsule…Fun stuff is where I imagine homeschooling to shine, right? There’s so much room for creativity and exploration! We did some things but not as many as I imagined we’d do.

Things we didn’t do || participate in a co-op. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by commitments, so I decided to stick to the things we could do close to home or group events that were one-time things. We’ve joined two co-ops this year, so we’ll see how that’s different and which is a better fit.

Things I wouldn’t do again || I signed Gabe up for an online writing class, which was like pulling teeth for him. I wish I hadn’t done it because it created so much conflict and the benefit he gained from it was insignificant. It wasn’t a particularly interesting class. I also picked too many things that required hands-on planning and instruction on my part, which was exhausting and hard to keep up on.  Another area in which we struggled was getting our hours. In Wisconsin, you have to do 875 hours of instruction; however, I didn’t anticipate Gabe’s level of anxiety kicking in so much at varying points of the year, and this made sticking to a schedule difficult.  This year (along with some other interventions), we’re going to front-load the year with hours so that if we run into similar situations, we won’t feel as pressed for time as we get toward the spring.

Best books we read || by far, our favorite family read-aloud was By The Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. I also loved doing Lentil with the little kids in the Five-In-A-Row manner. Gabe and I enjoyed reading The Omnivores Dilemma together, too. I’m hoping this one has some long-term payoffs in terms of his dietary choices.  Also, can I just say how much I love family reading aloud? Even with Gabe, who is plenty old enough to read himself. It’s just a really fun time of bonding over interesting stories!

Books we disliked || we super disliked The Phantom Tollbooth. What was that about??? So bizarre. This book has quite a committed following, but we did not get the allure. We also weren’t crazy about Danny, Champion of the World. It was okay but went very slowly for us. I’m not sure why because it’s not a long book. But it took forever!

I’ll be back another time with an update about things we’re planning for this year. We’re about a month into it so far, and it’s going fairly well!

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