When we first started homeschooling in 2014, I was excited, but apprehensive. I felt empowered to create a unique school for my then 2nd and 4th graders, and worked diligently to make it fun for all of us, but this was new territory. I knew it had to make sense for everyone in our family, in order to succeed. But how?
After careful research and planning, I got to work. I set up a school ‘space’ for our books, clipboards, workbooks and supplies by re-purposing an under-used sunroom in our c1872 home. I added some pale blue paint, rugs, comfy chairs, maps and art; I was ready.
I placed my curriculum orders online, waited and prayed I chose well. When the books and materials arrived, I was both giddy to start and full of anxiety. Waiting out the summer until September, was a nervous time for me. So I compiled a home-grown list of “Homeschool Heroes” which was critical to my positive glow. These awesome people turned out OK? Although they are old-timers, I found strength in their names and stories. Hand-written and crumple-edged, I have kept it on my desk ever since. Anytime I feel over-whelmed or anxious about the kids, or our school being “good enough”, I pull out my aged list for strength and support. It works every time.
That first fall, our kids showed up completely willing to learn; they brimmed with school-love-energy and were (and continue to be still) great students. I established ground rules for our learning, which helped us understand our time together. I asked my kids endless questions, like, “What are some important goals for you right now?” and “If you could learn about anything, what would it be?” and “Describe your perfect school day.” This information helped me lay out a plan for us, which included what I expected from them, while honoring what aligned with their wishes, goals and interests.
“Everything changes when we give ourselves permission to be more selective about what we do.” – Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism
Over the years, we continue to build our school together. Now in high school, we combine State and University requirements with core interests which make our days interesting and FULL. I still ask quality-of-life type questions to be sure what they are learning meshes with how they are learning it. We have done so many things with, for and by our kids, and like every parent, we hope our efforts will someday appreciate like an old government bond. As homeschoolers, we can allow our kiddos and teens to stay absorbed in their interests. There are no bells or time-limits to their passions and the style and manner in which they learn is based in a style or system they helped create. Isn’t that how it should be? Isn’t that such a natural and beautiful thing?
The meaningful approach to our learning and home time that we have cultivated over the years, is paying off for us in mega-loads right now. Living confined to our home is not wildly different than living confined to our boat or other place we have traveled with our kids. Author Priya Parker reminds us that in life, “Meaning is created through specificity and structure around a specific purpose.” This is a homeschool home-run. She also advises us about getting along together, “Ground rules help us create a common social contract to be able to enjoy each other.” Homeschool foundations are cast on this model.
There have been some articles in the news lately about home-schools vs distance learning setups. To those writers I would ask, please don’t “vs” us, pitting one against the another. This is not a competition. The only thing these two school-ish arrangements have in common, is that they both happen at home, with books and kids. In all our collective schools (private, public, parochial, home), we have years of experience organizing, researching, planning and executing our specific learning models. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and he was right. Tony and I did not arrive here in our place of homeschool-confidence overnight, so anyone new to this must allow it time to grow, should you decide to stay with it. If, after the home-stay period, you chose not to have anything to do with school-at-home ever again, then that is fine too.
Long-term homeschool is absolutely, categorically not for everyone. In the meantime, find strength where you can.
Priya Parker is the author or “The Art of Gathering”. See her latest Ted car-talk here.
My un-sourced, homemade short-list of Homeschool Heroes:
Abraham Lincoln (there were no schools where he lived, he was mostly self-taught)
Alexander Graham Bell (father was an inventor, mother was an accomplished artist and musician and was deaf, but she did the teaching)
Benjamin Franklin (15th child and youngest son, attending formal school only 2 years, otherwise taught himself)
Frederick Douglas (secretly learned to read and write while a slave)
George Washington (homeschooled)
Margaret Mead (homeschooled by her grandmother)
Mark Twain (partial homeschool)
Nathan Hale (homeschooled, went to Yale at age 14)
Patrick Henry (homeschooled by father)
Thomas Edison (attended formal school for 3 months, then homeschooled by his mother)
Thomas Jefferson (homeschooled by father)
Winslow Homer (self-taught drawing and painting)
Woodrow Wilson (homeschooled by father)