Homeschooling is not about having the most gifted, amazing, creative mother person at all… neither is it about having the most gifted, amazing, creative, eager students… neither is it about what other folk are doing… ever. I have failings and my kids have failings, and yet we seem to muddle along and learn. Homeschooling is not an exact science – it changes from season to season and child to child… so when someone asks you about homeschooling… and your homeschool specifically, you can only answer in the here and now. A snapshot really of what school is like today. It really is a snapshot, because school tomorrow may be on a different part of the journey and look totally and completely different. That being said homeschooling appears to be a journey with a steep learning curve… how to begin, how to continue and how to end…
Se7en + 1 Steps of a Homeschool Journey…
- The Fifty Million Questions of a Potential Homeschooler: There are always those initial questions: Are you allowed to homeschool and Is it legal? Yes you are allowed to in our part of the world, and if you are a grown-up enough to have kids you love and adore, then you are probably grown up enough to make decisions on how you want to educate them.
The next questions look like practical homeschool questions and yet seasoned homeschoolers tend to get a glazed look in their eye: How do you homeschool, where do you homeschool, what does your classroom look like, what time do you start in the morning… these are all questions about school at home and have very little to do with homeschooling. Homeschooling is a lifestyle, a journey of learning and not about school at home. You cannot replace your home with a schoolroom and redefine your routine with a school schedule and then call it homeschooling. Placing a desk and crayons and a couple of workbooks in a quiet corner of the house, and hoping your kids sit there from 9 to 12 each morning, will not transform your family into a homeschooling family. Any homeschooler will tell you it is nothing like that. Maybe on day one, and for some folk day two… but thereafter homeschooling looks more like piles of books everywhere, half finished artworks and experiments… almost everywhere, and collections – oh my the collections: stones, leaves, feathers, sticks… the fewer toys you have the more collections there will be. And you learn to let it go, because kids are natural collectors and they are happily learning… while workbooks lie abandoned… your kids will master maths in a hands on practical way that no math curriculum provider will ever tell you, because then you might not buy their math manipulatives.
- Choosing a Curriculum: Very quickly as the potential homeschooler realises that there is more to homeschooling than random piles of books. In fact, piles of books tend to have some sort of intention. Round about now the potential homeschooler discovers the magical word: Curriculum. And so begins the search for the absolute best curriculum, for the absolute best education for your child. There are millions of curriculums to discover and for every curriculum there is a hoard of excited families convinced that the curriculum they use is the best one. I call that the parenting bias, what we want for our kids is the very best. Whatever we choose for them must be the very best and we can be quite evangelical about it: think home birth vs hospital birth; cloth diapers vs disposables; preschool vs free play; the list goes on and on… college vs. gap year. The point of that long sentence is… you have to choose the curriculum you love, not the one your neighbour loves, not the one ten friends down the road love… the one you love. And whatever curriculum you choose you will have to adapt and tweak for your particular homeschool… and in fact many homeschoolers prefer not to even choose a curriculum, they wing it… and that’s actually fine.
- The Literature Search: After visiting countless friend’s homes you discover that no homeschool you visit is homeschooling quite like you would. Even the ones that you love the most… you would adapt a little. So you begin to look elsewhere for answers. The next step in our homeschool journey was definitely reading… and there is a lot to read. Homeschooling literature abounds. I read copious amounts – if the title had homeschooling in it, then I read it. Overwhelming, much. There are the books you read in a flash and the books you think… oooh, I am going to need this one again and again, and those encyclopaedic books that every homeschooler has on their shelves, even myself. But to be honest, while I like to have them around, like supportive friends on the shelf, I very rarely look inside them – they are there for peace of mind alone. Otherwise I quickly realised that it isn’t so much about homeschooling but a lifestyle of learning that I wanted to create, with intention, in our home… so homeschooling books fell away to books that would inspire learning… An atlas, nature books, travel books, factoid books, classic stories… Books in general. Lots of books.
- The Christian Home School (Gregg Harris): This is the book that made me realise that homeschooling was a calling for our family, rather than just a nice idea that we could pursue and if it didn’t work out we could always seek out a school for our kids. This book was the encouragement that I needed to commit to homeschooling and make it work for us.
- The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Susan Wise Bauer, Jessie Wise): This is a great big fat book of wonderment, every page is valid… take it slow. It has lists of everything you may want to cover in your homeschool ever. It isn’t prescriptive at all, but every time I dip into it I walk away inspired with something new to think about, explore or try. Every single time.
- The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (Susan Wise Bauer): This is the grown-up version of the previous book and if you think, but why? Then it isn’t the book for you. But if you read the previous book and you think, like I did, almost the entire time – I wish I had learnt this and I wish that I had learnt that, and why did nobody ever teach me about this and which classical books do I need to be literate… then this one – I love it, it inspires.
- A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning (Karen Andreola): There are two ways to read this lovely book: all at once: “inhale, exhale, sigh” be inspired and carry on; or, and equally valid, a little section at a time… until you find something you want to tweak in your school… make the tweak (keep in mind that when you add things you also have to drop things). When you find your balance again, read another little section and tweak again.
- Homeschooling: The Primary Years (Shirley Erwee) and Homeschooling High School (Shirley Erwee): These books are invaluable resources, and I wouldn’t want to Homeschool in South Africa without them. They are packed with information, not just South African, naturally, but the point is they are South African and so they cover all the legalities and the “should you/shouldn’t you register” questions… how do you begin and more relevant to us, how do you finish homeschooling and let your kids launch.
You can call it the launch, but I think if you talk to any homeschooling parent who has been there, they would possibly call this the “Blind Panic.” It is the moment in time when all your kids friends are finishing school, they have elaborate and well laid out plans… they have career paths and decisions made. And your kids that have worked all through high school, have mastered the art of volunteering to follow their hearts, the same kids that can write CV’s and applied for jobs and have figured out how to earn money, do courses online, attend college classes for fun… and these would me kids, have no specific idea what they want to do next, other than: Well carry on doing the same. Every homeschool guide book will suggest that they examine their high school portfolio, and follow where it leads. But alas, homeschooling guide books don’t seem to know homeschoolers all that well… homeschoolers have mastered a lifestyle of learning, most subjects they tackle, they look into because they had a slight interest, and before you know it they have encyclopaedic knowledge on the topic and it has become yet another passion. They literally love learning and narrowing it down to one or two topics is going to be interesting. We are right in this stage at the moment, and will have to wander our way through it before we blog about what actually worked for us.
For myself I realise that this journey and these years of busy-ness and the crazy times of schooling all eight are indeed pure gold, and faced with kids beginning to scatter I feel bitter sweet… of course I want them to launch and launch well, but I have so loved this time with all of them round the kitchen table. When folk say soon you will only be schooling one or two of them. Well I am totally not ready for that. Luckily just as they don’t all arrive on the same day, hopefully the won’t all leave home on the same day and there will be time to adjust and muddle along as we usually do.