Dreams of loading up the kids and jaunting around town together one day, traipsing through woods and creeks the next, and then cozying up with piles of books and hot chocolate another… these were hopes and visions I’d long held.
Such an innocent and quaint word, yet so charged with disagreement, methodology, vehement emotion (from it’s proponents and opponents alike), and for some of us, adventure. Sometimes, depending on the crowd, I’ve felt scandalous even mentioning it, while I’m sure others have thought me scandalous for having my children in public school (a place I value and respect very much, by the way).
And though I was inspired by the opportunities homeschooling afforded, it was not yet the right course for our family. We had committed our focus and energy elsewhere for the time as foster and adoptive parents. Some people can do it all with Mary Poppins precision. I cannot, and have finally stopped trying. The last few years of living under the constant surveillance of outside parties, and the strains for caring for children with difficult pasts required (what felt like) every bit of myself -- body, mind, and heart. It has been so good, and so hard. But that’s another story.
While caught in the throes of the foster care system and attending to needs on the homefront, it was a relief trusting that our older boys were safely woven into the rhythms of their little public school, just a short walk from our home. That school has served our family well. The boys learned and grew, they made friends, and had dear teachers looking out for them. Probably best of all, it opened up our neighborhood, introducing us to all kinds of wonderful families.
Towards the end of last school year, we had the great privilege of adopting our youngest foster child, rounding out our boisterous, perpetually-moving trio of boys with a pink-loving, perpetually-twirling, boisterous little girl. And with that adoption decree, I felt catapulted into a new season.
Trying my hand at homeschooling seemed now somewhat achievable, though I’d still need to subdue my mental list of doubts. All-in-all, the prospect of experiencing education with new eyes alongside my children in the golden years of childhood was increasingly appealing, even exciting!
A word here on schooling decisions.
I’ve been privy to the discussions and arguments, have read the books, heard the speakers, and have now engaged on some level with the three main educational options: public school, homeschool, and private school. And this I believe more than ever:
We can’t cling to one method and pronounce it the key to success. We musn’t place our hopes in a single option and declare it as best for every family in every situation.
Yes, schooling decisions will make a difference and leave a mark on our children. No doubt. It matters how and why we choose. It’s our responsibility as parents to consider what we have before us -- our individual children and their needs, as well as what works for our unique families, our marriages, our finances, ourselves.
I have friends and family members from all three schooling backgrounds who are thriving, contributing, compassionate, and thoughtful members of society. I likewise have friends and family members from all three backgrounds who are floundering, making destructive decisions, and hurting those around them. All three backgrounds.
There’s not a single schooling method that will guarantee success later in life (and of course, success is measured differently by all). And alternatively, there’s not one that guarantees doom. There are so many other factors at play.
Personally, I have prayed for years on this topic, wanting to be sensitive to any direction the Lord might have for our family. And in the end, I trust the ultimate outcomes to Him, asking Him to move in my children’s hearts and lives despite the good and the poor decisions we make.
Choosing to homeschool this year was not a reactionary move primarily based on what was happening at school. It was more so about a pull to the opportunities and adventures we might have together given a bit more time, and the new family rhythm we could create if only for a season.
We’ve called this our Adventure Year, and that it’s been!
(Not relaxing. Peaceful. Amidst the chaos.)
It has been quite an undertaking, but one I’ve loved with all my heart. It’s required hours of planning and research, but has produced exponentially more hours of fun and memories. It has been an incredible gift to my soul, rejuvenating dreams and ideals I had tucked away for a time.
The boys have seemed to thrive, though I happily admit my bias.
Academically, we work hard. We keep pace with the state standards required public school students, ensuring they’d be ready to step back into school if or when that time comes. (Always praying for guidance and clarity). From there, we springboard, aiming to make the most of every learning moment we encounter. (Hopefully I’ll get around soon to sharing some of our favorite resources and curriculum. In short though, it seems nowadays if you simply have the internet plus a library nearby, homeschooling is more doable than ever before.)
Even better, educating the children at home has allowed the space and time for pouring into them in ways outside the bounds of academics. We focus on topics and ideas that I place high value on, such as character development, spiritual formation, initiative in work ethic, and global perspective, to name a few. Additionally, time outdoors plus hours per day of physical activity have been priorities.
In the social department, everyone’s doing just fine. As we obviously aren’t naturally with as many children throughout the day, friend time just takes a little more effort, but it’s effort I gladly make. (This was the main request on the onset of our adventure from my extroverted guy!) We’ve made wonderful new friends who are on similar journeys and able to play during the day, and come 4 o’ clock the boys are outside zipping around on bikes and skateboards with the neighborhood kids who’ve arrived home from school, often playing till dinnertime.
It has been, for these children, for this mom, and for this family, a truly marvelous year.
And like most good things, it has been arduous and demanding. We daily work through arguments (fights), disobedience, etc, requiring redirection, correction, discipline, and do-overs. Homeschooling will never equate with pure domestic bliss, obviously.
Lastly, I’ll notch off a few favorites here, perks amplified by more hours together in the day.
It’s not to say these don’t exist with other school options (hopefully that’s clear) and long lists could be made on the merits of private school and public school. But this post is about schooling at home.
We get good sleep, and we aren’t rushing around.
In addition to our core work, interest-lead learning has been a delight to dabble in. Apparently, researchers find that learning is much more likely to stick for the long run when there is first interest to learn it on the part of the student.
Soccer practice and the like aren’t dreaded. Nowadays they are fun outings we relish.
The kids are free to pursue personal interests. January was full of computer coding and chess tournaments. One child is itching to learn guitar once we can get our hands on one.
The kitchen is our laboratory, providing endless opportunities to teach food prep and discuss healthy eating habits. Lately, I’ve been having the kids tally how many whole foods are on their plate at a given meal. Also lately, the boys moaned their top grievance with homeschool: the lack of school cafeteria mini-corn dogs and mac and cheese. So we added that into the rotation occasionally. All about the balance.
One of our younger children attends various therapies each week. I have really valued that the older boys are a part of this experience. It produces countless conversations about difficult and worthy things. It’s been a gift to witness their compassion and empathy. I’ve tried to take something that could feel like a drain on our time and productivity, and see the great benefits for all of us in it, not just the child receiving therapy.
We visit parks and hike together. Being out in nature is one of our favorite pastimes.
It has been fun to observe more closely how the kids express themselves and thrive creatively. One is constantly drawing. He will draw up full scenes from his mind, or he’ll gather books and pictures to help create images he needs help with. Another loves drawing comic strips with captions. (This provides a great natural way to work on spelling, grammar, and punctuation as well.)
After his core work is complete, one son loves to curl up on the couch and read, with periodic breaks to fly around on his skateboard outside, or to tend to his pet rabbit. I have, more than once, spotted him reading while skateboarding on the driveway. Then I’ll find him at the table writing away, creating all kinds of stories with illustrations to match.
The brothers think up inventions and business ideas together all the time. We’ve acted on a couple, exploring themes of profit, marketing, supply and demand, etc.
We are free from other’s schedules. Some days it feels too good to be true.
I have learned so much! History has come alive. Earth sciences aren’t vague memories but real, living ideas all around me. I want to be a perpetual learner in life, and am not above soaking up third grade lessons on the earth’s atmosphere or the details behind the writing of the Constitution. I’ve been fascinated.
The boys, on their own, have taken on a real concern for people who are homeless. We’ve had the time to discuss lots of aspects of homelessness, and tell them stories about our work with this population while living in New York City. They have asked difficult questions, and we have spent time strategizing together about solutions. The boys raised money and gathered supplies to create and deliver bags of goods to men and women we encounter as we drive around town. The discussions and experiences have been priceless.
The children are constantly calling to me to come see some new marvel or specimen outside. A vulture, a yellow-tinted chickadee we’ve never before spotted, the red cardinal couple who are always coming and going, a dead snake, a hawk carrying a squirrel, a frightened turtle, a rogue armadillo, or a picture in the clouds. We have time to sit and listen, to observe, and take note.
In my experience, taking time to observe and cherish what is right in front of us propels us into a state gratitude. We talk about this all the time. We list out our gratitude daily.
Can all these things be done in some measure without homeschooling? For the most part, yes. But for me personally, it was not feasible to fit in all I wanted in the little window of time I had each day once we added in practices and homework, and dinner waiting to be made.
This year’s rhythm has given us the gift of time and I’ll be forever grateful when I look back on it.