Last year, I jumped into homeschooling. I had girls 4 and 5 and big plans to get them through Kindergarten together (because who has time to do kindergarten two years in a row?)
I also had a 1-year-old and a newborn.
And the math and reading programs I picked were both AWESOME. And by awesome, I mean REALLY THOROUGH. And by really thorough, I mean SUPER INTENSE PREP.
We became accidental unschoolers.
I have no problem with unschooling when you’re talking about purposely following the kids’ interests and letting the learning unfold naturally. But my kind of “unschooling” was 100% slacking off. We did about 10 lessons each of math and reading over the course of the last school year, and mostly I tried (with reasonable success!) to keep the kids alive and the house
clean standing. I was not watching for teaching opportunities (except the character kind) and when they wanted to learn, I told them, “Later. Mommy can’t right now.”
Of course, it was kindergarten. 4- and 5-year-olds are smart and wired to learn, so each semester I went through our district’s learning targets and they kept up just fine. But a steady diet of coloring, Disney movies, and Wild Kratts does not make a real education.
This year, I have to do something else. I could homeschool for real or unschool for real or send them to other people who know what the heck they’re doing, but I am aware I can’t just keep coasting. Well, maybe I can for one more year, but past that I fear they’ll wind up actually behind. (And wait. What is this “behind”? Who are we racing? Do we care if we beat them???)
Anyhow. This post isn’t about things I did to make homeschooling successful. I don’t have any evidence to point to any success on my part. What I will tell you is what we’re trying.
I ditched my very wonderful and involved math curriculum for the “workbook-page-a-day” kind. Oddly, the first day we had it, I had to CUT THEM OFF after eight lessons. (Full disclosure: I was offering m&m’s for every lesson completed, so it’s not like they were doing it just for the joy of learning. But still. They made it through almost as many lessons in the first day as we did all of last year, and they did it in the time it would take to prep and execute a single lesson of the other stuff.)
I’m still working on the reading part- I have something I’m trying (the ubiquitous “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons!”) but I’m not totally sold. But do you know what else I’m not sold on? The requirement that my kids be early readers. They’re both so interested in reading and writing that I don’t believe illiteracy is in their future, so what do I care if they read this year or next? I don’t. (Please don’t call any authorities on me for this.) I’ll keep teaching, and they’ll learn when they learn.
The rest is read aloud, and it’s FUN. They don’t even really know it’s school. Again, I have to cut them off. We’ll call it a win.
I read this awesome (if drab-sounding) book a few years ago about checklists and it CHANGED. MY. LIFE. Until about the time Lilly was born… then I fell off the wagon, stopped checklisting important parts of my day, and my life went to shambles again.
We’re bringing the checklist back, this time for the kiddos. They love checking things off (“I got up! Can I go check that of?!?”) and it keeps us on track. At 5 and 6, life to them looks like a great mystery every single day. Are we going anywhere fun? Somewhere boring? Is someone coming over? Nobody knows! The checklist gives them a layout of their day so they know what to expect. Bonus? They aren’t asking me, “what are we doing NOW???” every six seconds. I put it on the checklist and then we go through the day, checking off all the things. I don’t have any idea why this is so revolutionary (the aforementioned book explained why this is a big deal, but, as I mentioned, it’s been years, so I don’t recall anymore), all I know is that it works. For now.
I had this hilarious picture in my head of what homeschool would look like. It was a combination of what I experienced in elementary school (firm schedule, desks, raise hands to ask questions, cheerily decorated bulletin boards, lots of fun educational crafts) and what I have seen my mom and best friend do over the years (I can’t verbalize appropriately how organized they both look to me, and again with the crafts). None of these allowed for my actual life with my actual kids. For that matter, there was no space in either picture for me.
So I’m learning to embrace school as it is, with my busy kids and noisy toddlers and disciplinary battles in the middle. It’s fine if we don’t do “circle time” or light candles or any of the other legitimately cool things other homeschool families do every day. It’s even okay if I can’t handle the ridiculousness of my kids doing things with scissors, glue, or paint. That’s why the Good Lord invented Children’s museums.
I’m homeschooling again this year, because that’s what seems best for my kids and my family now. I like having them home. (I’m not going to lie- I can see the appeal of outsourcing it, too.) I suck at it sometimes, but we’re all going to be okay.
And that’s kind of why I share this with you. I want to show you my ridiculous full-of-fail life to remind you that you will also be okay, fail and all.