I would be lying to you if I told you homeschooling your child was the easiest thing you could ever do. I would also be lying to you if I told you it was the most frustrating thing. What I can tell you is that it’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, aside from giving birth to my daughter, of course.
When my husband and I first got engaged to be married, we sat and discussed the plans for our future, including how we would try to raise our children. I say “try” because we all know we can plan all we want for our children’s lives, but it never works out that way. When it came to education we had a very deep discussion about what we were going to do. My husband was homeschooled from third grade through graduation and I spent my K-12 years in the public school system. As we discussed his childhood I realized that I originally had the wrong idea about the homeschool world. I had the typical thoughts that homeschooled children were weird, anti-social, and secluded from the world. He quickly cleared up those misconceptions, letting me know that, depending on the co-op you’re a member of, you’re able to participate in group sports, yearbook, and even attend prom and graduation!
One of the first things I noticed about my husband is the manner in which he carries himself. He’s so polite, intelligent, and has the highest work ethic of any man I’ve ever met. The complete opposite of the young men I graduated with, and I’m three and a half years older than him. When I compare the two worlds, I strongly believe that homeschooling played a large part in that. He wasn’t forced to succumb to peer-pressure, spent a lot of his time around individuals older than himself, and had a personalized education. I firmly believe that education is not one-size-fits-all. That’s not to say that there aren’t individuals out there that attended public school that possess a lot of the qualities he does. I promise, I am not bashing the public school system in any way, shape, or form. This is a view from our home.
I started dipping my toes in the water when my daughter was two years old. I scoured Pinterest for ideas to teach her the skills she needed to know at her age and begin to encourage a love of learning. We started with reading books such as If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I supplemented these books with printables and kid-approved projects. She seemed to really enjoy the “work” I placed in front of her, picking up on letters, numbers, and colors fairly quickly. She also thoroughly enjoyed sensory bins (I threw some uncooked rice into a 13″x9″ pan and put different plastic animals in it) and stringing beads. Her hand-eye coordination was absolutely amazing and I encouraged independence as much as I could. We also participated in a lot of outdoor activities and the campground we were living in at the time had a ton of room for us to explore. My husband and I enrolled her at a place called My Gym and she just thrived there. They are a children’s fitness center and encourage learning through play, so a lot of the little lady she is now can be attributed to the amazing employees at that establishment. Her balance and self-confidence is absolutely amazing and I can’t recommend that place enough. If you have one near you, I highly suggest trying out their free class.
We continued to do Pinterest ideas and a lot of play until she was three and a half. Then I decided that, for my own sanity, I needed something that was solid. However, I did not research full curriculums at that time and decided to create my own lesson plans, planning a week ahead and writing it all out in a notebook. I thought I was doing an awesome job because she was soaking the material up like a sponge. That girl seemed like she just could not learn enough! After a few months, I realized I was teaching her all the wrong things. She was a preschooler and I was teaching addition and subtraction as well as biology including the parts and function of the spinal system. She memorized all the parts of a pumpkin and, on her own, explained to me the pumpkin using her five senses (she even licked the raw pumpkin!). I do want to make it clear that I never forced her to complete her schoolwork. She thought of it as fun play and was excited to go to our “classroom” (I had set up the spare room in our house as a classroom).
She loved learning and completed everything quickly and I was surprised at how naturally the information was retained by her. She has a January birthday so she wouldn’t have started Kindergarten in the public school system until she was nearly six. Since she was taking to preschool so well, my husband and I made the conscious decision to begin Kindergarten early. She started Kindergarten at four and a half. After a lot of research and asking my mother in law about a million questions, I decided to purchase the Timberdoodle Elite curriculum for her. Since I was teaching her stuff that should have been a little too advanced for her in preschool, I wanted something that laid it all out for me so I wouldn’t constantly be second guessing myself. The curriculum itself consisted of all the subjects: arithmetic, spelling, beginners reading, geography, science, history, a few STEM-based games and quite a few games that encouraged critical thinking. She started Kindergarten at the end of July and was finished by February of the following year. She was absolutely thriving. This homeschooling thing seemed to be so easy to do!
Preschool and Kindergarten were a breeze. Then came First Grade. We decided we were going to school year-round to allow for the flexibility our lifestyle requires so we gave her a one week break from schoolwork. If you haven’t read about us yet, we live a very unconventional life. We travel a lot for my husband’s job and currently live in a fifth wheel camper. You can read our journey HERE.
I continued using the Timberdoodle Elite curriculum because it worked so well for Kindergarten and I have heard nothing but rave reviews about it from parents and professional educators. She started the first few weeks out pretty good and then it was like we hit a brick wall. She started fighting her schoolwork and refused to do it. What used to take us an hour or two to complete was now taking us all day. I started to explain to her the importance of an education, but it seemed to go in one ear and out the other. She had a made a friend at the campground we were at in Arkansas and wanted to spend all day with her. It took a lot of bribery and I began to give her a bit of freedom with her schoolwork, allowing her to choose which book we were going to do next instead of just going through that days checklist, but we eventually got her on track – for a little while. She also fell absolutely in love with Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. We were using The Story of the World for her history and everything I read to her about that time period she retained. Three months into first grade we moved from Arkansas to North Carolina. She went back to a regular schedule and I was able to use a trip to the campground’s pool as a prize for completing that day’s work. It worked great for a while and then we moved to Michigan a few months after arriving in North Carolina.
Michigan was rough. I slacked off a bit with her school schedule, but pushed myself to get somewhat back on it. Instead of completing coursework Monday through Friday, we would take a day or two off in the middle of the week and catch up on Saturday and Sunday. We started going to the library regularly and read a stack of books every day. She loves being read to. There was also a little while where she would have to do two days worth of work in one. A lot of times she didn’t even noticed the extra load and completed it in the same amount of time as it would take to complete one days worth of schoolwork. I was also able to enroll her in the local Girl Scouts troop so she was able to expand on her social skills and learn a few things from someone other than mama. She absolutely loved it. First grade was finished in December of that year, meaning it took us ten months to complete the grade instead of the seven it took previously.
We are now in our fifth month of Second Grade and she has only completed twelve weeks worth of work. Some days she sits and asks to learn, completing her work in record time, but most days it’s a struggle. She strongly dislikes reading, even though she is actually very good at it, and no longer enjoys Math as she once did. Since it’s the same addition and subtraction she was taught in preschool, part of me wonders if she is no longer feeling challenged, but I also believe she needs to complete the work assigned to her before she moves on. She will solve for the unknown (A+5=12) all day long, but if you ask her to add 322 and 451, she will tell you she doesn’t know how to, even though she’s been answering those same questions for the last twelve weeks, getting them correct every time. She really enjoys physics and is very interested in Newton’s Laws of Motion and Gravity, excels at Geography and loves to read maps, and can recognize a pattern almost instantly. I am just stuck when it comes to everything else and she is so stubborn.
A lot of people have suggested I give her a break or put certain subjects aside until she’s ready, but if she’s not trying to do them, how will I know she’s ready? She has also taken about a months worth of breaks total. Shouldn’t a Second Grader be reading mini-chapter books by now? She loves the old Dick and Jane books, but she’s mastered all the words in the books I’ve purchased for her and reads them with ease.
Lately, there are more days than not where I am doubting our decision to homeschool. I wonder if she would do better with an instructor who doesn’t have the comforts of her mama and maybe she wouldn’t heat butt them when it comes to sitting down to complete her assignments. My husband and mother are always giving me words of encouragement, stating that I’m doing a great job with her and that I need to remember that she’s a grade and a half ahead of her peers. However, I cannot help but feel the frustration that I am failing her in some way. I know she’s a very smart child, but what if this is where she plateaus?
I need to remind myself that the beauty of a home education is the fact that I can change things up to suit her attitude, learning style, and interests at any point. Although I purchased an entire curriculum, I am not bound to those books and games alone. Sometimes I like to sit down with her and ask her what she wants to learn about and her answers are sometimes surprising. She has asked to learn about how things are made, asked to plant a garden (turns out she has the greenest thumb!), and one day we even decided to take a trip to our local state park and learn about minnows. It was a nice break for her, but still makes it difficult to get her back on track with everything else. I hope that her negative attitude right now can be solved quickly, but it will be a series of trial and errors and will likely change again as she grows.
However, I can honestly say that I am so happy to be there for all of her “firsts.” When a concept clicks I am right there with her to see that smile hit her face and watch the joy light her eyes up. I am also there to wipe her tears when she just does not understand a topic. I know I am doing the best I absolutely can with her, but also that if it becomes too overwhelming, I can either switch it up or do not have to continue alone.
The decision to homeschool is one that should be handled with care and a quite a bit of research. You need to discover what would work best for your family and explore all of the different options associated with a home education. Some people “unschool” and choose to learn through just living and enjoying life and others are very rigid, following a strict curriculum and schedule. There are also a lot of approaches out there: Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Secular, Non-Secular, K-12 (essentially public school online), etc. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources available for those currently homeschooling and those considering it. Facebook has a large community of homeschool families from all across the Nation and some days I am so thankful for the group “Crossing Over to Homeschooling.”
Please remember that homeschooling laws vary by state, so your friend’s sister’s cousin who lives three states over may have more or less freedom than you do. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA.org) is a phenomenal resource when it comes to researching your state laws, including what standards you need to abide by and what age you need to file your letter of intent to home school. There are a handful of states that do not require you to even submit a letter while others require yearly standardized testing. It is very important to know the laws in your state.
As I said previously, education is not one-size-fits-all so what works for one family may not work for another. Whatever you decide, do so with passion and care. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.