If you told me 5 years ago, I would be just a few weeks away from wrapping up our first year of homeschooling I would have laughed in your face. While I have been intrigued with the idea since I was young and had cousins that homeschooled, I never thought it would be a reality for our family. If you want to know what led us down this educational path, read here. Now, here we are finishing up our first year and we all survived!
The year has been full and satisfying, but also busy and hard. I imagine it is a bit like running a marathon, lots of hard work and dedication. At times you want to give up and quit, but the feeling in the end makes it worth it all. There were days I cried out of frustration over my kids behavior or just being overwhelmed. But, there were also days I went to bed smiling and satisfied and filled with peace and joy over our schooling choice. Some days I questioned my methods and my sanity,
but than we had days that were so unbelievably wonderful and encouraging
that made me feel I was indeed doing the right thing.
Overall, I have been so blessed by this year. I learned my attitude was key for a successful day. I needed to be on top of my game and prepared for the days to go best. I initially had to learn to be more disciplined with my own time and re-evaluate some of my expectations and ideas on what schooling looked like.
The first few months, were some of the most challenging. I spent hours prepping, making a daily schedule and lesson planning and I was very discouraged when the boys did not meet my expectations of sitting quietly and happily doing all I asked of them. In fact, it was the opposite, they questioned every assignment, dickered with me over the amount of work I gave them and ignored my requests. This was very frustrating, how dare they not respect my requests, I am the teacher! They would never question their teacher at public school, they would save their complaints for home, and I could always just say, "well don't do your work and you can talk to the principal about it." That statement held so much power for my kids. I realized that by homeschooling, I had lost a bigger motivator for my kids.....the dreaded PRINCIPAL!!
I came to the conclusion that, we really needed to work on character development and make some changes in how our household was run before the kids would see me in the teacher role, as well as mom. For our family this is what some of those changes looked like.
1. Discussing expectations vs. privileges. My kiddos had a real confusion between expectations and privileges for living in our home. Once we cleared up the difference and made a list of the two, we posted it and talked about them alot. For example, they saw eating out at a restaurant and treats after dinner as an expectation not a privilege. Instead, I told them helping set the table and doing schoolwork were expectations and the others were privileges, that they received when they met our expectations. I plan on doing a more detailed post about this.
2. No free time or screen time at all until chores and schoolwork were complete. This became the best motivator for my kids.
3. No kids downstairs until 7:30am. It is as if the kids have a sixth sense as to when I awake and they just can't wait to start our day. I was burning out quickly, being with them non stop for 14 hours a day. So I told them not to come down until at least 7:30. This allowed me much needed morning "me" time without the constant demands (and hunger) that come from the mouth's of my babes. We are still working on this one.
4. Me admitting the fact that I wasn't supermom and I couldn't do it all. We have no family where we live, the closest is 8 hours away! The kids are with me or my hubby all the time, unless we hire a sitter. So, I hired a helper who comes once a week for 4 hours she does some cleaning, folds all our laundry, and watches the kids if I need her too. This was a game changer for everyone. Finally, our weekends were not spent doing laundry and cleaning house. The kids look forward to her visits and she has become like family to us, I am so sad she is going to go college in August.
5. Have the kids prepare their own breakfast/lunch/snacks several days a week. Meals just about did me in, with the kids home, I was responsible for 30 meals or snacks a week! I decided to have my boys help in that department. They (mostly my oldest, but the middle is in training) make eggs, smoothies or waffles, sandwiches, mac and cheese or just fix cereal or have granola bars or snack lunches (sausage, cheese, fruit). This has been a huge help!!
6. Change MY expectations and way of thinking about school. This was a hard one for me. I was raised in the public schools and in my mind school looked very different then what homeschool can look like. The first several months I was trying to recreate "school" in my house. I wanted the kids to sit still at the table and desk, quietly finish all work without complaints, and not balk at my demands to not only do the lessons I had created or purchased but ALSO do all the stuff a typical 2nd and 4th was learning at PS (just in case they went back, I wanted them to know what other kids their age were learning.) We were all exhausted. Our days were so crammed with worksheets and busy work no one was enjoying learning. I finally re-evaluated our chosen curriculum (the one I spent hours preparing and organizing over the summer) and deemed it not a good fit for our very active boys and stopped worrying about what PS was teaching. I embraced that learning can be fun and the reason I choose to homeschool was because I loved the idea of education fitting my unique child's learning style and custom fitting it to their interests and levels.
7. Get support! In November, I knew something had to change, or we were not going to make it through the year. I was frazzled and frustrated. I decided to visit a local Classical Conversation, group that meets weekly and follows a Classical approach to homeschooling. This meant completely changing my approach to homeschooling and I found a mix between the Charlotte Mason and Classical approach to be a better fit for our family. After we decided to join this group, things greatly improved. We all loved seeing the same families each week and the kids enjoyed class so much. I got a much needed break during the week and most of all I saw my kids start to love learning! I began to relish my time spent with other homeschool moms. It was therapeutic to sit and chat with other moms facing the same challenges and concerns. We shared ideas and encouraged each other and it was a tremendous help!!
At year's end, I reflect on how much I have seen my children grow. For the first time in 4 years, I see my middle son more then a child with a "label" that needs "fixed" because he doesn't fit the expectation public school had for him. He has excelled more in the last nine months then I have ever seen. He is bright, kind, inquizative, funny, loving, polite and absolutely LOVES learning and has the most incredible memory. I constantly find him reading history books and connecting facts he has learned with real life situations. Once the labels and expectations for how children "should behave and learn" were removed, this little guy excelled in major ways.
As for my older son, while he enjoyed and did fine in public school, what I have seen improve in him is a huge change in attitude. His self confidence has increased, his attitude has improved greatly from being self-centered and difficult to more caring and helpful. Even family and neighbors have commented on it. He has become more dependable, creative and self aware of his behavior and actions.
My kids have spent hours in imaginative play, building forts, making up games, building bridges and studying rocks or just exploring the outdoors . The amount of screen time they desire or seek out is minimal and mostly happens on Saturday morning, like when I was a kid.
And don't even get me started on the social aspect of their lives. I know this is always the concern to people who don't homeschool, but this is another area we have seen tremendous growth for both our boys, all while homeschooling! My older son has has grown so much in learning what it means to be a good friend, being caring and compassionate towards others and most of all blessing others with his talents and gifts. While my middle son has improved on conversation skills and listening attentively and more age appropriate behavior in social settings as well as developing friendships with others. The improvements for both of them in this area, is the biggest blessing to our family....all achieved while homeschooling!
As for our overall family life, things are not so rushed and hectic. Some evenings are spent lingering over dinner or hanging out together watching TV or playing outside. The morning rush has been replaced with book reading, game playing or outdoor adventures before school starts. My boys have become best buddies and have so many more responsibilities around the home. I thoroughly enjoy teaching my kids and re-educating myself. For the first time, I am developing a love for learning too. I find history fascinating and have spent a few nights refreshing my fraction skills to prep for 4th grade math. I see real purpose and self-worth in my new job as teacher and how important and blessed I am to have the opportunity to educate my children in a very personal way.
This is not to say, homeschooling made my kids or family perfect, we still have good days and bad days, but the improvement I have seen in all of us this year has been very evident and encouraging. The bonds we have made as a family unit far out weigh the hard days.
My oldest son just walked in and asked what I was blogging about, when I told him our first year homeschooling, he said, " are you going to tell them how it has made me a more kinder person and how much I have learned and that I actually like school now and how close it has made our family." "Yes, I said all that!" I told him. It 's moments like that, that make up for the worst days, make it all worth it.
Homeschooling has been wonderful for us this year. I don't know how long it will be the best fit for our family, but for right now it is working and the kids are not only learning, but thriving. As of right now, we plan on continuing with it again next year for all the kids.