We have officially been schooling at home for a year. I never thought that sentence would come out of my mouth. To give you a picture of how much this has grown me as a mom and human being, last year when I announced to the world we were doing this, I couldn’t even say homeschool. Rather, I wouldn’t say it. I just kept saying “schooling at home” like that was any better or different. I hardly wanted to be associated with the connotation and stereotypes that that word brings.
Here’s the deal: Last year, I was convinced Kai needed to be in preschool. After all, he was turning four and had been home with me the whole time. Literally all of his other friends had been in preschool for two years already. I felt like we were behind, that I was doing something wrong and must put my child in some sort of school environment before I ruined him (that’s the kind of pressure I felt).
But, I had concerns, because I know my child best. I know him best because he is mine. I am raising him, I spend the most time with him. I know what makes him tick, I know what overwhelms and frustrates him, I know all his cues and signals, I know how to handle when he’s anxious, scared, angry, or sad. I know when he’s just being a boy and when there’s something going on beneath the behavior, because I can tell the difference. I was concerned with the amount of sensory input he needs that he just wouldn’t thrive in the typical preschool environment. I wanted something that would better fit his needs, better understand him, be a better fit for us. I ended up finding a great, very small, sensory-integration based “preschool” that met for 3 hours, twice a week. We visited once together, and he did a trial there on his own one day before they let out for the summer. It was a great environment, so I thought this was the right choice. Two weeks before he was supposed to start, Jonathan asked me to reconsider. I was mad at first. This was not the plan, I did not want to homeschool, and did I mention this was not the plan?
So, I took a few days to really think about it, chase the why of why I felt the need to do this in the first place. And you know what I discovered?
This whole decision was based on comparison. This whole decision was based on fear. This whole decision was based on what everyone else thinks.
I wanted him to go to preschool because that’s what everyone else was doing. Literally all of my other friends had their kids in preschool already, multiple days a week. I felt like I had to do the same because that’s just what you were supposed to do, and maybe he would be “behind” in learning and social development because I waited so long. Comparison.
I wanted him to go to preschool because I was afraid what might happen if he didn’t. Would kindergarten be too hard for him because he missed out on the preschool experience? I always heard teacher friends say they could tell which kids went to preschool and which didn’t. Was I ruining that for him? I don’t want my kid to be in a bubble, or socially awkward, or only be with people who look and think the same way. Fear.
Great, people already think I’m weird for all the diet and natural health and hippie voodoo. Now it’s going to be even worse if I homeschool. People will think I’m not qualified because I never got a degree in teaching. I feel like it’s more accepted if it’s something you got a degree in. Plus, I had my own misconceptions and stereotypes of homeschoolers (see above). What everyone else thinks.
We don’t base decisions on any of those things. I didn’t want to admit it out loud, but I was internally already having major concerns about sending him to public school in general. I knew we were heading in that direction, and I was digging in my heels as hard as I could because this is something I didn’t want to do.
Hear me, I am not against public school. I was in public school my whole life. But there came a time where I had to look at my child, look at his personality, his needs, his struggles, his gifts, our values, and when I took a good hard look at all of that holistically, I knew that right now, in this season, for this time, putting him in any school environment was not the right choice for him or our family. As a mom, it’s my job to put my own notions aside and do what is best for my child. If that is home education, then I will do everything I need to do to educate him well at home.
Jonathan and I decided that this something we would look at for each child individually. We know families with 4 kids who do 4 different types of school. Every child is different, and every child needs different things at different times, so we will be open-handed, open-minded, and do what is best for each one of them and our family as a whole when it comes to education. In this season, at this time, for Kai, we feel that home education is the best option. And that is not for anyone else to decide, but us.
I went from feeling super skittish and sheepish about it to just owning it and being confident in our choice. I’ve only got 1 year doing this under my belt, I’m a far, far cry from an expert, but here’s what I learned in the first year of home education.
- Don’t try to re-create school at home. Since I had no experience with homeschool, only preschool and public school environments, the first 3 months were a bit rough, because I was basically trying to take the preschool environment and do it in my home. Who cares whether or not he’s dressed or in pajamas. We’re at home! Who cares if he sits at the table, the floor, or does gymnastics while I read a book? We’re at home! We have the freedom to create a safe, educational environment in a way that helps him not only learn, but thrive. What’s the point in doing home education if you’re just reinventing the wheel that you’re trying to stay away from anyways? I had nothing but stereotypes of homeschool in my head. I knew what I did not want to be, but never took the time to sit and envision what I wanted this to be. Once I did the latter, it was so much better.
- Go with your gifts. Stay. away. from. Pinterest! Seriously, there is no greater comparison or guilt or let down than a mom looking for resources and getting on pinterest. Ok, pinterest has its place-it’s convenient and isn’t all bad, but it definitely made me feel like a failure because what I was finding, was not me. Again, when I first started, I was still trying to just recreate preschool. Everything I was finding was all these cute little worksheets and cutesy crafts. Y’all…I hate crafts. I am not crafty. I get no joy from doing crafts. I can’t even cut in a straight line with scissors, bless my own heart. Kai was bored and already knew how to do this lame stuff on a worksheet, and I knew I was going in the wrong direction the day an apple stamping craft went south and was a classic pinterest fail. Crafts and worksheets are not my thing, and they clearly weren’t Kai’s thing either. You know what I’m good at? Getting kids to move. You know what else I’m good at? Sensory play. You know how Kai already knew how to do that stuff on the lame worksheets? It had been naturally incorporated into our days just living life-counting how many times he can jump on the trampoline, sorting and making patterns while doing a sensory bin, baking in the kitchen, exploring outside. Go with your gifts, that’s where thriving happens for you both.
- Get a vision, and find resources that match it. When I figured out 1 and 2, I had a much better vision of what I wanted education to be for Kai, how I wanted this to look for our family, and got super excited about all the freedom home education brings. I had the vision, but just wasn’t quite sure how to execute it, what the details would look like and where to go from there. A friend shared with me about lifestyle homeschooling, and I read my now favorite home educating mama to follow’s book. As I read it, my brain was screaming YES! This is it, this is your vision, this is how it plays out. The thing I love about Elizabeth’s book is there is no pressure. There’s no judgement, something completely refreshing. It wasn’t a “do it this way or your completely wrong”, it was “this is what our family does, this is what it looks like. Here’s the framework, find your values and make it work in a way that best fits your family.” I felt so much freedom, and more empowered that I could do this thing.
- Let them lead. I do not mean that my child is the boss. What I mean is, I had to learn from him. I had to learn the way that he best learns, and I’m still learning that at times. If something isn’t working, you get to observe and find out why. You get to try other ways, or just understand now may not be the time to introduce something. We all learn in different ways and at different speeds. You get to explore and find what works and everyone wins. My rule at home is the minute frustration sets in, it’s over, we move on. No one learns anything when frustrated and attitudes are flying. It’s my job to hammer out the way later, but in that moment it’s relationship first. Also, he has really good, creative ideas! Sometimes I have a plan in mind, and he says “oh, I know what we could do!” Proposes his idea, and we go with it and turns out great! It’s such a confidence boost to him when he gets to have a voice and say in what and how he is learning.
- Play is best. Preschool and kindergarten are not required. There is nothing that can replace the power of play. Let the pressure and the comments roll off your back. Get on the floor, use imaginations, create, have fun, and just play. That is the majority of our day. We can get our school time done in 30 minutes. The majority of our day is play, and I don’t regret that.
So there you have it friends, the why we have chosen home education and what I’ve learned this first year. If this is something you’ve been contemplating, I hope this encourages you that you can do it.