Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Eight Years of Homeschooling

Facebook has this feature whereby it will suggest that you share a ‘memory’; a post or status update that you’d shared previously. Occasionally that’s a knife to the heart if they suggest something you’d rather not relive, but sometimes, the suggested posts are a reminder or evoke a sense of wonder at how far you’ve come.

That was the case this morning, when I got this suggestion:

It’s particularly relevant at this point in my life, because I remember scurrying around to get everything set up so we could start homeschooling. My kids’ last day at school was spent rushing to get their desks set up, doing the final once-over to make sure we were ready with curriculum… and trying to make their last day at school special in some way. That mirrors what’s going on in our life right now, as we’re still mid-transition in the recovery process from hurricane Harvey’s flooding. Our house is getting there, but still not finished, which means that our schooling spaces are not anywhere near as polished as they were when we began this journey. Just because our house (life?!) is in chaos doesn’t mean that school can be on indefinite hold though. So I spent most of last week doing the same thing I did in the beginning – scurrying around trying to make sure I had everything we needed handy. I’m still missing a 3-hole punch. Go figure.

I actually had to take some of my own advice as far as what was strictly ‘needed’ (and I maintain that this is sound advice): a good printer, an electric pencil sharpener, a heavy-duty stapler, and a really nice coffee pot. (That last one started out as an indulgence for Mom, but has slowly warped into a necessary part of everyone’s day).  We’ve moved away from some of the recommended items, so I feel like it’s time to update that list a bit (or at least edit).

Where once I recommended a laser printer (and cheap toner), we’ve since gone back to an inkjet. I’ll be honest: it’s mainly because of the cost of ink/toner. It seems like they flip-flop every few years as to which one is less costly. As I mentioned previously, I print quite a lot, so whatever we have needs to be the most cost effective option. We just bought our second Canon Pixma MX922 with this refill ink from Blake Printing Supply from Amazon and I’m pretty happy with their product. The only advantage of a laser over inkjet is that laser toner doesn’t get ruined with water; inkjet ink runs. That’s not really a problem in most instances, but I craft/art journal and sometimes tea or coffee-stain pages I’ve printed. I can print first, then stain with laser printing; with the inkjet, I have to stain the paper first, then run it through the printer (which can create issues if there is coffee or tea dust on the pages, but I haven’t run into this problem). I also bought a cheap stapler since my Swingline bad boy is in storage – I cannot wait to have my office set up again so I can have my ‘real’ things back (at least; the things that didn’t get ruined in the flood).

The electric pencil sharpener though, I stand by. I recommended the Westcott iPoint Kleenearth Evolution Recycled Electric Pencil Sharpener in 2012 (after a year of use) and I was still using that same pencil sharpener in August 2017 when it got ruined by the flood. I replaced it with the Xacto Vortex 1730 (because that’s the only corded one that was in stock when I went to Office Depot). It remains to be seen if it will hold up as well as the iPoint, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it. It sharpens faster and doesn’t get as bogged down as the iPoint, so we’ll see how it holds up.

Planner-wise, I am using a bullet-style journal/planner this year. For a little while, at least. I’ve been printing and a ‘Bossy Book’ of my own design for years, but since I lost access to my computer after Harvey, and didn’t have access until well into January, I wasn’t able to plan or print my book for this year. I may still print one later, but for now I am enjoying having ‘something different’. I am still planning out the week, and using our ‘Work This Week’ page that I print for myself and the kids each week.

This is a light week (obviously), but you get the idea.

I am leaving a lot of flexibility in the kids’ school schedule right now, because we have so much going on at the house; they need to be able to work or go help with something. I figure that some school is better than none right now, and there’s always time to make it up over the course of the rest of the year. Despite 2017’s many wrenches, we’re not as far off schedule as I’d initially feared; we should be back on-target before the 2018-2019 school year begins, even with a light schedule right now.

Otherwise, favorite schooling things come and go, but those are pretty much my go-to minimums. You can safely add a good, sturdy 3-hole punch to this list, as well. We’re slowly replacing other things we’ve loved and lost. It’s slow-going, but we’re getting there.

Anniversary and birthday posts tend to require some sort of re-cap, or ‘what have we learned’ type of reminiscing, so here’s my .02:

  1.  invest in time spent with your kids – book learnin’ is great and all, and necessary to some degree (IMO), but when it comes to what counts, building your family up has to be a priority, otherwise, what’s the point? Among all of the families I know, whether it started out as their priority or not, a side effect of long-term homeschooling is the connection you build, and maintain, with your kids.
  2. invest in your community – I say this from a position of being burned out and taking a step back from almost all commitments that are outside of my house. It has a lot to do with hurricane aftermath, but the burnout was strong before that, too. In every community, there are ‘doers’ and there are ‘takers’. I don’t mean that to be insulting to people who are introverts, or shy or have social anxiety; all I mean is that they take advantage of what’s offered, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The ‘doers’ tend to take the lead, plan things, organize things, make things happen. That’s a good thing; it’s very likely in their nature to do so and they enjoy it the vast majority of the time. But if your ‘doers’ are asking for help, and you tend to be a ‘taker’, then please, honestly evaluate your contributions and step up and take some of the burden off of them. If you want your homeschooling community to thrive, then you HAVE to contribute; you just have to. Otherwise, your doers will get burned out and stop doing all the things and you’ll have nothing to take from. If you’re in a position where you absolutely can’t help, then be a good taker – rsvp when asked to; show up on time; have your necessary supplies; be communicative. There’s nothing worse than organizing a thing and having every last person flake out at the last minute with absolutely no warning or communication. I cannot tell you how many times my kids and I have sat waiting on people who never showed up and didn’t let us know they weren’t coming. Don’t be that guy! That said, ‘doers’ tend to make the world go round, and I am fortunate to have several capable ‘doers’ and equally awesome ‘takers’ in my homeschool group. As I’ve stepped back, others have filled the gap, and it’s lovely to be part of a consistently thriving community.
  3. Be flexible – Dude… life happens. Whatever plans you make, there’s a 50/50 chance that something will happen that will disrupt them. don’t get bent out of shape about it; just flex a little and go with the flow. To illustrate this point (perhaps unnecessarily, but absolutely accurately), the picture above has had not one but TWO major changes to the curriculum since I started working on this post on 1/14. And, thanks to Loverly Husband’s unexpected week off and my getting sick for that same week, the monthly schedule in my planner has also changed. C’est la vie!
  4. Learn to say NO – it’s easy to over-extend yourself when you’re homeschooling. People think that just because you’re ‘home’ that equates to time they can impose upon. Side-note: They can’t, and it’s okay to tell them that. Additionally, without a regular ‘out of the house’ school schedule to follow, sometimes social engagements or extra-curriculars can start poaching on your school hours! I know ‘socialization’ is a big deal in the homeschool world, but for us (and most of the families in our group), it’s more an issue to having too many opportunities to socialize than too few. Being ready and willing to say no when you need to (or want to) is sanity-saving. This also applies to getting caught up in ‘my homeschooler is better than your homeschooler’ type of mommy conversations where everything seems to be a competition. Man… there ain’t enough time in the world, or any student accomplishment so grand that will satisfactorily shut these types up. Unless maybe your kid won a Nobel Prize or something, but even then, I bet they’d just change the topic to something their kid excels in. Just avoid them entirely by saying NO. Furthermore, it also applies to well-intentioned (at best) and nosey homeschool-doubters (at worst) who want to quiz your kids every time they see them. Put those people on the Nope Train with the One-Upers and enjoy your newly discovered peace and quiet.
  5. Try to say YES more – Having said the thing about ‘no’, the opposite is true as well. When opportunity knocks, don’t be so schedule-bound that you can’t take advantage of it! Try new things – co-ops, classes, sports, field trips, travel… give your kids (and yourself) the gift of freedom; take advantage of any and everything that you can. Living life to the fullest is often just as great a teacher as 3 hours behind a desk. Don’t lock yourself into thinking that only ‘formal’ or semi-formal learning is the only way. Lots of kids learn best in a group environment, and group learning can be a fun and valuable addition to your regularly scheduled solitary or family-based book work.
  6. If you’re just starting out, de-school for a bit before committing to anything. We jumped right from school-school to homeschool, and even though we did a ‘light’ version, I wish we’d taken time between the two. All in all, it wasn’t a bad transition for my kids though. Just in hindsight, I’d have done it differently. My kids were young though, so it may not have made much of a difference. For teens though, I’d definitely recommend de-schooling before jumping in. Join a group, meet some people, do some activities… it’s a culture shock for them; give them time to get their feet wet before making a bunch of expectations and requirements.
  7. In the early years, take your time – there’s no rush. Our first year, we only did the basics; 2 R’s, really, plus other crafty stuff. I added in other foundation subjects like history and science in our second year, and still more in the third year and as we went on. There’s plenty of time when you’re homeschooling. Not all kids are bookworms or geniuses, and not all kids are going to be homeschool prodigies; there’s no need to rush them through everything so they can be the ‘best’. It’s totally okay if your kids are just normal kids. Mine are, and they’re still spectacular.
  8. When you (the parent) get burned out, take a break. You will get burned out, trust me. Homeschooling is awesome, but it’s also hella demanding, and takes a lot of time on your part to be successful. When you need a break, it’s totally okay to enroll your kids in an online school, or hire a tutor or otherwise outsource their education for a few months (or years, even). There are some very reputable online schools that do it all… don’t be afraid of giving them a try if you need to be less responsible for a while (or at all). Better yet, plan your year with dedicated breaks so that you can rest as well. But if you plan on homeschooling for several years, know that burnout is real and try to stay ahead of it. It’s easier to take breaks as you need them than it is to power through and end up needing an unplanned  significant rest because you over did it!

Eight years, eight lessons learned; eight bits of homeschool-y advice… seems right, so I’ll end that there. Feel free to chime in with your lessons learned in the comments; I’d love to know what your important bits are!

Looking back, as a newbie homeschooling mom, I was way more eager than I was knowledgeable. I was pretty honest and up front about that in the beginning; my blog served as a place to archive our journey – mostly for my kids. I still keep things updated mostly so they’ll be able to look back and see the kinds of things we did; places we went, memories we created together. I used to scrapbook, but time and Hurricane Harvey took care of that, so I’m glad I transitioned to online documenting. Blog format is just because I enjoy writing. But that blind enthusiasm is what it takes sometimes – just an absolute willingness to jump in with both feet and make it happen. Most of the best things I’ve accomplished in my life have come about because of exactly that kind of determined passion for a thing. If you’re just starting out, don’t let a lack of knowing what you’re doing stop you. Connect with other homeschooling parents, read, research and work with your kids along the way; you’ll figure the rest out as you go.

We have done some truly awesome things over the years – maybe not so much in terms of individual events, but certainly in terms of the cumulative value. Field trips are totally my jam; there are long stretches of time where we literally went on a field trip of some sort every single week. Camping trips, behind the scenes access, travel, exotic animals (outside of a zoo)… it’s been a great time. That’s the kind of thing I hope my kids remember. Now that they’re older, we do less educationally aligned field tripping and more socialization with their friends (per their request), and the trips are more future-oriented than ‘discover the world’ in focus, but with no less enthusiasm. I am so grateful that we’ve had circumstances that allowed for, and intentionally worked to create and sustain, this kind of life for our kids and family. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it.

Both of my kids are in high school now; officially, there are only 3 more school years left in my journey. That’s absolutely crazy to write and read and think about… my oldest is 16 now, and will be starting his junior year of high school this fall. I don’t even understand how that’s possible, but it is, nonetheless true. Having a definite deadline makes me realize how much we have left to do, and how little time there is to accomplish it all. But whatever happens, I’ll very likely still be writing about it. So, here’s to another few years!

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Mmmm… coffee ❤

Thanks for reading along!
Warmly,
~h

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