What I Learned from Our First Year of Homeschool

May 28, 2016 at 2:35 am

Last night I was reading John Holt’s Teach Your Own before bed, wishing it wasn’t a library book so I could highlight my favorite passages. Instead I kept ripping up a piece of paper to mark the parts I loved. It seemed there was something on every page. This might be a book I need to own. I’ll share some John Holt quotes in this post, in part because I want to have them written down somewhere to refer back to.

firstyearhomeschool

This blogpost has been writing itself in my head for several weeks now. But it never felt like the school year was complete for the same reason that it never feels like the school day is complete. Homeschooling never ends because children are always learning. We have “school” plans that extend throughout the summer. It seems sort of strange to even define grade levels now. I can see how they will all bleed together as we simply incorporate “school” into our lives year-round. But since the traditional school year has ended for the local kids, I suppose I can write this blogpost now.

 

1) The more time I spend with my kids, the more I love them.

I know lots of moms savor the time their kids are away at school to recharge and get things done. I wondered if I would miss having a quiet house during the middle of each day, but I haven’t at all. The more time I spend with my kids, the more I love them. We have had so much fun learning together. Watching them make discoveries and work together and create and grow has brought me so much joy. I feel like I know my kids better and love them more than ever. I love this description from John Holt:

We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away (Teach Your Own, p. 46).

Homeschool has been healing and wonderful for all of our relationships. However, this may be entirely attributable to the fact that my kids get to sleep as late as they want to. They are so much more cheerful and pleasant to be around when they’re well-rested. And so am I. ;-)

 

2) Sitting still is overrated.

An older woman I go to church with asked, several months ago if she could come observe us “doing school.” She said, “I’d like to see how you get them to sit still in their chairs and be quiet.” I laughed out loud and said, “I don’t.” She seemed very confused. I think a lot of people have a picture in their minds of what school has to look like, and so they assume homeschool must look that way too. It is rare, in fact, that my children are sitting in chairs quietly listening to me. They’re usually scattered around the house or out on the hammock. When we do gather at the kitchen table, it’s usually because we’re doing science experiments or creating things, and even then the kids are usually standing, bouncing on the yoga ball, or moving around. And that’s a good thing!

  • “Children use sensory and motor activity to learn . . . which is enhanced through physical activity. Exercise has also been found to improve attention and the ability to remain on task. Over time, it may also trigger the development of new cells and blood vessels that lead to improved cognitive performance” (Source).
  • “Research by Dr Mark Benden from Texas A&M Ergonomics showed that pupils showed 12 per cent more engagement in tasks when using standing desks compared to traditional classroom seating. During tests of their executive function – their ability to analyse problems and solve them – pupils showed increased neurocognitive function when standing up. The researchers also found using standing desks burn between 15 and 25 per cent more calories compared to when using traditional classroom seating” (Source).

Stand-More-Live-Longer

3) I’m not really a teacher.

As I have done my best to build my children’s learning environment, I have developed so much more respect and appreciation for their innate curiosity. I have grown to understand that what they are choosing to do with their time is often more important than what I would choose to do with their time. Children want to learn and they are always learning. My job isn’t to spend all day teaching them. Often, my job is to get out of their way. John Holt sums up how I feel about my role as a “teacher” to my children:

  • “Children don’t need, don’t want, and couldn’t stand six hours of teaching a day, even if parents wanted to do that much. To help them find out about the world doesn’t take that much adult input. Most of what they need, parents have been giving them since they were born. As I have said, they need access. . . . Perhaps above all, they need a lot of privacy, solitude, calm times when there’s nothing to do” (Teach Your Own, p. 48).
  • “Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it” (TYO, p. 49).

einsteinquote

 

4) There’s no such thing as “getting behind.”

I consult Pinterest a lot for homeschool ideas. A lot. On one occasion I saw a Pin about “getting behind” in homeschool, and it totally spiked my inner guilt-o-meter. Here’s the thing: I know that my kids are not learning all the same things their peers in public/traditional schools are learning. I know that without a doubt. Sure they’re learning some of the same things. But by some measures of scholastic achievement, you might say they are getting “left behind” their peers.

So many times over the past year I found myself getting frustrated with my now-7-year-old when he didn’t want to write in his journal or practice math skills. One of the primary things his 1st grade teacher was concerned about with him (before we started homeschooling) was his handwriting. And now, eight months later, his writing is no more legible than it was. It might even be worse. Sigh.

Over time, I’ve come to feel totally at peace with allowing my children’s school experience to be unconventional and “ahead” or {gasp} “behind” grade-level. For my son, I’m finding that as I demand less writing from him, he is more eager to write. And as I use fewer worksheets for math, he enjoys practicing math skills a whole lot more.  This old saying from Finland is something I like to remind myself frequently: “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”

DSC_0663

I care much more that he is happy and enjoying learning than that he is “keeping up” with where a 7-year-old “should” be. How many first graders in school get to build and use a trebuchet, watch Spanish language films, spontaneously sit at the piano for extended periods of time and compose their own songs, go on multiple field trips per month, learn keyboarding, or go swimming for P.E. nearly every day? One way or another kids will learn what they need to learn. And allowing them to “fall behind” in some areas gives them the time and energy to exceed expectations in others they find more fascinating. It all evens out in the end. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. ;-)

DSC_0003

 

5) Age is no barrier to friendship.

I suppose this wasn’t really something new to me, but it was certainly made all the more clear this year. At the beginning of our homeschooling journey last fall, a little toddler girl at a homeschool event took my 12-year-old daughter’s hand and pulled her around the park as though they were the best of friends. My children have become closer friends with each other as they have spent this year together, and having our new baby mid-school-year just deepened the love between all of them.

A few days ago, we got a card from our ukulele teacher, an elderly retired schoolteacher (who also taught my daughters a poetry class this year). She and my 10-year-old daughter have had awesome ukulele folk music jam sessions every Monday morning for the past eight months. Having lost my dear grandmother four years ago, I have so enjoyed having a “grandma” figure to visit so regularly. We have come to truly love this beautiful woman. She has been such a gift in our lives, and it was so lovely to read her card and find that we have also been a gift to her.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 7.08.34 PM

 

6) Let them play.

John Holt gives a whole chapter of Teach Your Own to the subject of play. It’s titled, “Serious Play” and I haven’t finished it yet, but I love these words:

We must also resist the . . . temptation to think that this part of children’s lives [fantasy play] is less important than the parts where they are doing something “serious”–reading, or writing, or doing schoolwork, or something that we want them to do–or to think that we can only allow them time for fantasy after all the important work is done, as we might give them a little piece of candy after a meal. For children, play and fantasy are one of the main courses of the meal (p. 129).

Playfulness is like fertilizer for creativity and discovery. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” and “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” I’ve written a whole blogpost about the importance of play, if you want to know more. My children play a lot, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So I love it when news articles and blogposts say stuff like this:

  • “’In the early years – and that’s up to around eight – a play-based methodology makes a lot of sense.’ She cites New Zealand research indicating that early formal literacy lessons do not make children any better readers by age 11, and may even put them off reading” (Source).
  • “When children play, Osei Ntiamoah continued, they’re developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. A recent research summary ‘The Power of Play’ supports her findings: ‘In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. . . . When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,’ the researcher concluded” (Source).

I spent so much of my childhood in imaginative, unstructured, free-of-adult-intrusion play. We made mud pies, caught grasshoppers, built clubhouses, climbed trees, played Monopoly, Sorry, and hide-and-seek, pretended to inhabit countless imaginary worlds, and walked to the corner store for candy, ice cream, or baseball cards. The adults in my life didn’t try to micromanage my time. They let me be a kid. I wish the world was safe enough to let my own children roam as freely as I did, but at least I can let them play.

I'm the munchkin in the middle

I’m the munchkin in the middle

 

It has been such a beautiful year. We have learned and grown so much as a family. I don’t know if homeschool will be the right thing for us forever, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was the right thing for us this year. The kids are definitely in favor of hiring me again as their “teacher,” and I can’t think of any other job I’d rather accept.