We finished the third grade and kindergarten today, and while I don’t pretend to be an expert in any stretch of the imagination, we’ve totally come a long way, baby.
From my early forays in to “homeschooling” during the preschool years (which involved stuff pretty much every parent does just by being a parent) to a rather rough first grade year with my oldest (which led to my putting her in a traditional school for second grade), this past school year was definitely our best yet. And since we finished today, I’ve been a bit reflective.
(We don’t really do it like this. The kids are just playing school.)
I keep meaning to write a post about our favorite learning tools, particularly the ones we plan to take with us on the road, but in an effort to procrastinate on that effort, I thought I’d share a few thoughts I’ve come to embrace about homeschooling—what it is and what it isn’t.
This isn’t me being an expert—this is me being a fellow parent in the trenches, remembering this stuff because it’s not years behind me—it’s minutes. (Oh, and just so you know, I tend to take a classical unschooling approach, which pretty much makes no sense, but it works for us, so there you go.) Here are my observations, in random order.
1. You really don’t need to do much for kindergarten. Really.
My middle kid finished his kindergarten year today, and I’ve come to learn that at this stage, you hardly need to do anything to make learning happen. Seeing as kindergarten isn’t even a requirement in most American states (though not everyone knows this) and isn’t even a thing in many countries, this stage is basically prep for a love of learning.
Reed explored reading, writing, and math this year… and that’s pretty much it. He joined his sister with extra stuff that interested him, like geography, science, and history, but it was only because he wanted to. His day involved a few minutes of handwriting (a tougher skill what with his fine motor delay), basic maths like number ordering, counting, addition, and subtraction, and reading out loud one book per day. Yep, he became a reader. We’ve got ourselves a reading Reeder. This routine took about 30 minutes to an hour per day, tops.
In fact, I’d argue that at this stage of age 5-6, the most important thing is exposure to tons of delightful books—and if they show signs of reading readiness, a gentle approach to phonics (but no big deal if they’re not ready). We were way low-key about this process, and one magical day, we discovered about halfway through kindergarten that he could read. I assumed he’d be my most challenging kid to get reading, but it just clicked for him.
So lots and lots of books plus tons of free play, with a sprinkling of numbers and letters tied naturally into the day… that’s about it for kindergarten, I say.
Let them play and play and play some more. Learning will just happen.
2. A major component to learning is setting up a quality learning environment.
I’ve come to value environment as one of the most important tools in the entire learning process. Create a rich environment that fosters a love of learning, and you almost can’t screw up. Lots of books all over the place, art supplies at the ready, music that inspires beauty and concentration, and as much natural light as possible are all our key ingredients.
There are additional essential ingredients, however, that also make learning happen in our home: these include a daily quiet time (when everyone heads to their room to do whatever they want for an hour, so long as they’re quiet), no screen time until after quiet time (unless it’s directly related to learning), and parents who are also genuine lovers of learning and therefore model the whole process to the kids.
Creating a rich learning environment isn’t always easy—but it’s simple. And essential, when you want learning to organically happen. No need to recreate a school room in the house. (Montessori had a lot to say about learning environments.)
3. Books, books, and more books.
You could focus on reading a truckload of books as your primary learning approach, and pretty much be set. You can’t possibly learn everything there is to learn, so why try? Dive deep in to books that fascinate you and your learner, and you can’t not learn stuff.
Tate reading at one of our local favorite coffee shops.
4. Let the curriculum serve you, not the other way around.
It’s so easy to feel like you have to Finish The Book in order to feel like you’ve officially learned, or to keep at a curriculum you paid good money for, even if it’s not working. Let it go. The curriculum is there to serve you and your learning experience, it’s not there for you to finish at all costs. Skip around, slow down, don’t follow the directions exactly as written, or move on from it all together—do what needs doing to make real learning happen.
On the same note, I’ve discovered the beauty of learning without curriculum at all. This past early spring, we decided to shelve our third grader’s math curriculum for about a month and do nothing but work on her times tables. We played songs that helped her memorize skip counting, we created a daily fill-in-the-blank times table, we used Multiplication Wrap-Ups, we played math games, and we did verbal math problems off the cuff. Guess what? She memorized her times tables through 12s, and when she went back to her math program, it was lightyears easier and she started flying through the lessons.
Homeschooling doesn’t always mean learning at home—it simply means taking charge of your family’s learning experience. As an entrepreneur who juggles both work and homeschooling, I’d lose my ever-loving mind if I did it ALL myself. We’ve used extra-curricular classes around town, tutors, and self-teaching curricula to make for a decently-rounded learning experience.
The kids in their homeschool snowboarding class this past winter.
We personally don’t homeschool to have all the control. We homeschool because it fits our lifestyle, and because for now, it’s a great educational option for our kids. I’m happy to let others do the teaching when they’d provide more knowledge than me.
And this isn’t really outsourcing, but Kyle and I both share the load of guiding our kids’ education. It’s not all on me. At all. We’re homeschooling parents, I’m not a homeschooling mom flying solo.
6. Be you.
Which leads me to this last bit. Our reasons for homeschool are probably decidedly different from many other homeschoolers. We don’t fit in very well in either homeschool groups nor with mainstream schoolers, but we’ve learned to embrace that and shrug our shoulders. I also read very few homeschool blogs, to keep the comparison beast at bay—no need to battle an inferiority complex when only minutes before I was just fine with what we were doing.
Your homeschool environment will ultimately take on the personality of the family, not the other way around. I think some people are scared to homeschool because then they’ll turn in to “those” people (fill in the blank for whatever stereotype you may imagine), but unless you’re already “those” people, homeschooling won’t turn you in to them. You’ll still be you. And your learning experience will reflect that—which is hopefully a really good thing.
Kids playing pirates.
We embrace these reasons for learning this way—the flexibility, the freedom to travel, the individual catering, the vast amounts of time to explore and learn—and we don’t embrace anything that isn’t us. Ultimately, we’ve learned not to worry if we don’t fit some mold of what homeschooling is “supposed” to look like (hence the “classical unschooling”).
It’s supposed to look exactly how it looks in your family, with all your personalities, goals, values, and quirks. It can be beautiful.