What a task! This has been quite the journey and not an easy one in any way. So why do people take on this life altering task? Well, in my experience I have seen people do it for religious purposes, for more specialized schooling for the needs of their kiddo or for simple freedom. All of these are fine reasons to start homeschooling but I’d say my reasons for doing this were a combination of two.
It all began basically when our oldest was beginning to talk. I know this sounds crazy but hear me out. I did as I think most parent’s do. When a kiddo is interested in something, you teach them about it. Well, this continued throughout our daughter’s upbringing therefore by the time she was Kindergarten age she was doing long division. It wasn’t a pressured learning it was a very natural curiosity being satisfied. Our oldest would be curious about something and I would teach it to her.
Throughout this post I am mainly speaking of homeschooling with my oldest rather than with both of my girls which I do homeschooling with. I chose to do this because our little one is still in, and hopefully stays in, the phase of absolutely loving school with every bit of her. She often chooses to do her schooling before bed instead of being read to, which is saying a lot. Any down time she gets she works on schooling and is excelling greatly because of it. The journey with my oldest in homeschooling has been a lot more rocky which I thought may be helpful to others to hear about.
Our oldest has always struggled a bit with regulating her emotions, therefore raising her has been a bit of a dance figuring out what works and what doesn’t. She is a very clever girl and I thought if she wasn’t challenged in public school she would probably invent things to occupy herself which very well could get her into trouble.
Another reason why homeschooling sounded like a good option is because Justin had it in his cards to end his job with financial independence. We were given more freedom and with it we wanted to travel with our girls. For all of these reasons homeschooling felt like the right answer.
For the first many years, up until our daughter was about 5 years old, homeschooling was pretty smooth sailing. The beginning was clunky with me trying to find what learning style or approaches worked best for her but this was to be expected. If I tried an approach our oldest would let me know loud and clear if it was the right or wrong one. If I had picked the wrong approach for her I would drop the schooling for the day and try something else the next. No harm done but a lot of information gained. Something we learned very early on was that if schooling didn’t happen in the morning it was not useful to try later in the day. Energy and attention was running too low and emotions were running high. Not a good combination to learn anything. Another thing that was necessary was positive talk. If I phrased things or changed my tone to anything negative in the slightest, all was lost. These among many other things were notes that I took and my lessons were developed around her needs, preferences, interests and skill set.
Early on, many of our schooling consisted of hands on, full body learning with games I had created such a scavenger hunts or dances. This made things fun, easier for her to remember and involved her physically which is something she has always needed to engage. It involved a lot of effort and prep work on my part but it was fun and was working!
A little while after our oldest turned 5 years old she started complaining about schooling. This was a new thing. She sometimes disliked my approaches or got frustrated with not being able to learn something as quick as she wanted to but never had never complained about the act of doing schooling.
Our routine had been to work on schooling for about an hour or two each morning. We didn’t take weekends off per say but we also took days off here and there if we had company or had an event to go to or what not. She was and needed to be prepped for these days off whenever possible. Unexpected change is something that our dear one struggles with which is helpful to know. We basically made schooling fit our life schedule as it unfolded. When I say we “worked on schooling” I mean this was “sit down” or active schooling time where I had a lesson planned, it was presented and our oldest completed it or worked on it for an extended period of time. Throughout the day obviously all sorts of life challenges or tasks come up that also require schooling such as going to the grocery store, baking bread, etc. We chose to do no weekends off due to the fact that our daughter does much better with routine and I found that when we took weekends off she would struggle for 1-3 days to get back into a schooling routine when we would start back up on Monday.
Once our daughter started complaining about schooling I put a twist in our schooling. The new twist always looked different but the flair never lasted more than a week or two before I had to change things up again. The twists in schooling sometimes took the form of physically changing our setting such as going outside to teach. Sometimes in involved making incentive charts or changing the material I was presenting and focusing on a different subject for a while.
Two of my most successful twists were making our upstairs nook of our house a permanent “classroom” for her and creating a “no whining chart.” Creating a permanent space gave her the stability she was craving at the time (remember she thrives from routine) a place to display the diagrams we had made and space where she could go on her own to work privately. The “no whining chart” consisted of pogs (she decorated) that she earned at the end of each morning school session if she didn’t have an excessive amount of whining. After a certain number of pogs, which was determined between the two of us prior to schooling, she would earn a prize. This prize would sometimes be 15 minutes of extra reading time or a cookie for snack, varying day to day. We started off with just one pog earning her a prize and worked up to 4 pogs. This was extremely challenging for her but more days than not the thought of earning a prize was enough motivation for her to not whine excessively.
Just before I put that chart into effect I was getting more days than not of her complaining throughout the entirety of schooling, maybe getting 3 math problems done in an hour. It was extremely frustrating and painful for me to sit through and stay patient, as I’m sure it was for her too. I am very far from perfect and a couple of these schooling days in a row would end with me having a conversation with her about calling up the local public school and enrolling her because “this isn’t working anymore!” Were these productive conversations? Absolutely not but I was stuck and felt trapped.
The two weeks or so leading up to this 6 month road trip were terrible! Justin and I were very stressed out. I can’t speak for Justin but I was at my whits end and on the verge of a breakdown most of the day, every day. The stress of finding renters for our main house, finding cleaners for our Airbnb rental, getting things lined up for emergency back ups for tenants, packing, sewing, a list that kept growing of odds and ends and so many other last minute things, all this was too much! This anxiety came across loud and clear to anyone who lived under the same roof as I did. Therefore schooling rapport tanked. I had little patience, she had little patience….the result wasn’t pretty.
When we first got on the road our oldest and I were angry at everything. We took a little breather from schooling until we got into the swing of being on the road and letting go of the stressors that led up to this point. This is no easy task for an adult let alone a little girl. We pushed ourselves too far to prep for the trip and I hope we have learned from that mistake. It took a good 3 weeks to recover as a family.
During this recovery period we had started up schooling with little success. I couldn’t be quite as creative with lesson plans as I had been at home due to limited resources and space so that combined with our recent damaged past was a recipe for disaster. It got to the point where we were thinking about calling off our trip, driving back home, living in our driveway in Wobbles (as we already rented out our home for 6 months) and enrolling our oldest in our public school.
Everything was falling apart! So, obviously, I called my Mom sobbing. And, obviously she talked some sense into me. If you don’t know my Mom than you don’t know that she’s a superhero in disguise! Truly!! Ask anyone who has spent time with her! With her loving patience she made me realize that we needed to take a break. Our daughter was 3 grades ahead of where she needed to be academically and clearly needed to take a break. Schooling was becoming a forced thing where it used to a fun thing we would both look forward to. How did this happen? I wondered. I was so worried that if we stopped she would forget her skills she had worked so hard to learn.
My Mom was right, of course, that we needed a break. We BOTH needed a break! So, we just stopped. I had an honest conversation with our daughter about where we were at and told her we were taking an indefinite break from schooling. This was such a relief for me as I’m sure it was for our daughter as well. It got to the point where I would start dreading schooling the night before we had it planned for. What fun is that?! Learning should be fun!! It always had been fun and we needed to get back to that point.
Over the next couple days and weeks our daughter started doing schooling on her own in little games she would play with her little sister or during her alone time. She would present her finished work to me with excitement. Hurray! We were getting somewhere!
I continued to hold off doing a formal schooling time and our oldest continued to sporadically do schooling on her own. I decided we needed a total revamp of schooling. I had held off getting technology involved in schooling except for looking up information on different subjects we were learning about. I was worried that I was going to get her addicted to the screen which is something I am very much against. However, there are many great schooling supplements online that help make learning more fun and appealing. I swallowed some of my stubbornness (I don’t know where my oldest gets her stubbornness from!) and tried some out. I learned that I need to test everything I present to our daughter before I plan to use it for schooling otherwise her anxiety shoots through the roof and the plan is dead on sight. Frustrating and unfortunate. After that happens it takes quite some time for our daughter to be willing to test that tool out again. I’ve learned this the hard way more than once!
So, here we are with a 6.5 year old and we have been doing schooling through ad hoc daily encounters and through video game/online games for a couple weeks now with success! This is a REALLY really big deal. Our daughter’s anxiety is not doing well right now with the setting of being on the road with little space and changing locations so frequently. This comes with its own giant challenges that I won’t go into in this post but, despite this, she is enjoying schooling again which is a total win!!
The moral of this long post is that, nobody is perfect, we all are unique and we all deserve second, third and 100th chances. Homeschooling is a challenging endeavor for sure but I still feel like for the unique needs of our oldest, this is still the right choice. I’m sure we will hit bumps and boulders in the future in the road of homeschooling but for now both our daughter and me feel good about where we’re at. To all of you homeschooling parents out there, I hope you continue to not give up on yourself or your kids. This is hard work but it will shape our kids into the adults they will become. This is the most important job you might ever have. Hang in there!