I am SO excited to have my first ever guest post. Katy is a good friend of mine, a fellow dance and homeschool mom. She is my go-to when I have questions about anything homeschool related or when I need to geek out about our common interests. She is honestly my role model when it comes to being a mom and homeschooling. Katy runs The Simple Schoolhouse page on facebook and I encourage you to check it out! I hope you enjoy Our Homeschool Experience by Katy Ann.
I love learning. I love lighting fires in imaginations and feeding them with books and music and art. I love gathering up sources from different genres and timelines to show their similarities. Most of all, I love making people curious so they will set out on their own paths to learning. This love lead me to a career in teaching and then on to be a librarian. And even though I am huge advocate of public schools, I always knew I wanted to homeschool my own children, even before they were born. But what would that look like?
Flash forward to today, and I have two children. One is 11, working on a 7th grade level, and she consumes more books in a week than many people do in a lifetime. The other is 7, and somewhere between 1st and 2nd grade, and he can put together puzzles and Legos all day, seeing the builds in his mind before his hands touch the pieces. We’ve settled into a traditional homeschooling method that helps both children thrive and pursue their own special interests while allowing me to easily switch between grades and work from home as a university composition instructor. We have what many consider the ideal homeschool set up and relationship, so we want to share it with others!
What is homeschool?
There are many misconceptions about what homeschool has to look like. While virtual state and charter schools are dominating the system right now, they aren’t required. Homeschool is, and always has been, a parent directed, child-focused approach of educating that can use a mixture of methods and media. It can include tutors, co-ops, activities, virtual academies, and online courses, or it can simply be old fashioned books, paper, and pencils. While the requirements vary from state to state, most agree that parents should be covering language arts, math, science, social studies, physical education, the arts, and technology on a grade appropriate level.
When and how did we start?
I started “homeschooling” my children when they were 2 years old. This was mostly play based with puzzles, blocks, play doh, music, and other creative activities that reinforced letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and citizenship. We did a few worksheets each day to make table time a habit, but this only took 5-15 minutes. With each year of school, we added a little more time. We also focused on reading together every day. We started with board books and by they time they were 5, I would read from chapter books each day. Exposing children to reading is a key strategy for improving listening, reading, writing, and thinking skills, so I prioritized it, especially on days when doing table work seemed too overwhelming.
What do our days look like now?
After years of refining our habits, we have settled into a gentle routine. When they kids get up, they serve themselves breakfast and read or watch a little tv (just a little). Soon after though is chores. They are responsible for keeping the spaces they use tidy and clean. Getting the chores done first also helps wake up muscles and get out the wiggles. The kids also take care of their hygiene and plan out what fun activity they want to pursue when their work is over (video games, outside time, baking, etc). During this time, I am usually doing things like cleaning up the kitchen, sorting laundry, or checking on the classes I teach online. After all that, we sit down together to focus on school work. We consider a “full day” as being 6-8 completed subjects. I try to lay out similar subjects for both kids so my brain doesn’t have to jump back and forth too much. The kids prefer to do 2-3 subjects and then take a lunch break. After lunch, we have reading time and work on more course work. If it is a longer day, we may have a midafternoon break and then finish up. We don’t always keep the same order for subjects. Why do math if your brain is ready for spelling? We follow our own rhythm so we have as little fussing as possible. When the schoolwork is done, we get ready for activities outside the home like playdates or art or dance classes.
But why homeschool?
It was important to me to offer individualization for my children. I wanted to know them and know what interested them so I could feed their hunger for knowledge. When my daughter had an interest in ocean life, we went to the aquarium, watched documentaries about the ocean, made a huge under sea collage on our wall, and read about all the creatures of the deep. When my son excelled at math, I let him work at his pace to get ahead instead of pacing him at grade level. I also wanted to keep a family-focused approach on education. My children have an amazing friendship which they wouldn’t have if they went to public school because of their age gap. They know how to work together, and they include each other in their interests. Watching them work together also gives me a better chance to see just how different they are. They have their own learning styles, and I modify our curriculum to appeal to what they need.
What about socialization?
Rarely a month goes by without someone asking how my kids socialize with others. Easy – I give them opportunities to be with kids who share their interests and values! We meet up with other homeschoolers, we visit our local library and participate in reading groups, and we sign up for traditional afterschool activities. Even with COVID, we have found ways to have virtual meet-ups and classes. My kids also message and video chat their friends. In many ways homeschooled children are more socially adjusted because it can be common for them to go out in public more to tag along on all the trips to the store, appointments, meetings, and projects their parents work on.
What advice would I give to new homeschoolers?
Find what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to homeschool. Your child may learn better online or just by reading. What is important is that they are learning. Also check your state requirements on what is required, but don’t feel the need to go overboard. Your child may have interests that don’t necessarily align with the guidelines, and it is worth it for their development to explore. Growing hearts and minds should always be the focus. And if someone isn’t happy in your homeschooling situation, don’t be afraid to change it! I have changed curriculum mid-year, abandoned extra subjects, subbed in more reading for less worksheets, and even brought in films that explained things better than any book could. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to fellow homeschoolers. Many of us have been through enough to relate to anything you could be going through. We want to help you find your place in the homeschool community, and we never want you to feel pressured to be just like anyone else.