Homeschooling, the first round

I’m writing from a sunny window spot looking out on sparkling fields of snow. After the snow fell over the weekend it was blown into pillowy drifts, and like clouds, they look like you could cushion yourself gently upon them for a sunny catnap. But they are composed of such light, dry snow particles that if you were to try, you would fall deep within their frozen burrows. It’s hard to imagine the ground ever emerging from such a generous sugary frosting.

It’s 2 pm, we’ve finished school for the day and I’m feeling content with all the work that was done, and also entirely weary of answering and asking questions. These things come together, in my experience. A memory of saying “And where is Damascus?” while one of the girls removed her nightgown and tied it around her shoulders like a cape, softly repeating my question as she gazed past the map and at the wall comes to mind. I want to be caught in my own mental energy for a while and maybe read the twitter feed of a food critic or possibly a new entry from a very bright and satisfied lifestyle blogger. The girls clearly feel the same way and are playing with marbles. I can hear them asking each other questions like, “Do you want Fuzzy’s name to be Sally?” and “Can we please go play with our dolls now?” Now the older two have agreed to a plan and rushed upstairs, and the youngest can at last chatter to herself with play uninterrupted.

It’s a little funny to answer questions about homeschooling when we’ve only been doing it for a few months. That, combined with our recent lifestyle change–living in a new state and new house–in essence, I’m radioing back trail updates from just a few steps down the path.

Homeschool is a strange adaption in an ever-changing world. It doesn’t make sense in any practical way to educate children separately from their peers. Certainly, it would far easier to have them all grouped together in a classroom watching the same lectern.

At yet there is always something appealing about it. The slow pace. The diversified interests. The magnified attention to the desires of the child’s heart and mind. The way the parent can walk the path alongside their child, instead of waving encouragingly from the sidelines.

It was a treat to read through all the questions I received on Instagram about homeschooling so far. I would like to write a longer post about how our day looks and what I’ve learned, but I thought these questions summed up their own sort of logic and I want to be sure to answer them clearly. It’s important to say I’m not trying to sell you on anything. Your reasons for this sounding like a good or bad idea are entirely up to you, your family, and perhaps most importantly: what your family needs this year.

If questions seemed to be in a similar vein, I grouped them together with a //.

Curious to know your “why.” We’ve homeschooled from the beginning and I love hearing what people’s vision is for homeschooling.

The decision came about at the same time that we were looking at changing our lifestyle–moving into a quieter part of the country and adapting Joe’s daily work to less traditional hours. We had a sudden strange craving for daily chores of a different sort–housekeeping, gardening, land management.

I think our biggest why was to reclaim the time and their childhood. We imagined we could give them hours of boredom and wandering. We hoped to see them comfortable in nature. We wanted them to be able to stay up late reading and sleep in beyond 7 am the next morning. We wanted them to play together for hours with elaborate imaginary games. We wanted them to have no idea that the things they were excited about were unique and different.

As parents, we wanted the luxury of planning long weekends and adventures for all three of the kids, without worrying we were disrupting class schedules or commitments.

I think when we signed up for formal schooling, we thought we could say yes to all of that, plus school, but eight hours is a long time to be away. You get your kid back and they’re worn out and tired. They can barely answer your questions about what they learned. And the year goes by–in a blink!

How has the transition been from public school to homeschooling? Our oldest is in public kindergarten, but homeschooling has been on my heart for some time now.

The transition is likely most disruptive for parents. It feels great not to hassle your kid about turning out the reading light because she doesn’t have to wake up at 6 am. It feels great to have breakfast together and do the dishes and tidy the living room together. It feels amazing to know what topics they are excited about and how to help them learn more about them.

But it can feel odd to not have the whole day regimented. It can feel like you’re not doing “enough” because you haven’t directed every moment of their mental energy. It can feel odd to find them gazing out the window in contemplation. It can feel like a personal attack when they don’t want to sit down and get work done together every single day.

I’d love to know how much time you spend on schoolwork, and what the girls think of it – especially Lux, since she went to a brick and mortar school for a bit.

We spend about three hours on schoolwork a day. There is some reading aloud and tons of (voluntary!) reading alone time in addition to that, but I like to be done with most of the group and individual work by lunchtime, if we begin around nine.

They seem to love it. If they were asking to do something else, we’d likely be doing it!

Lux was originally tempted into homeschool by observing the material her younger sister was learning through Classical Conversations when Lux was going to public school. We noticed she was very engaged in the material and often asked to study with Joan. On the mornings when she would ask to stay home, we would say she was welcome to homeschool next year if that was what she wanted. And she often said, “yes! That’s what I want.”

Lux remembers school very fondly and is nostalgic for aspects of it. Occasionally she will make remarks that reveal how loud and chaotic she found it, how the waiting and lining up was frustrating, how repetitive the reading material was and how that bored her. (These are things she either couldn’t articulate or simply never mentioned at the time.)

The things I remember are how little ownership she felt over any projects completed in class, how she was gone the whole day and couldn’t manage to get along with her sisters when she got home though I could see how badly she wanted to, and the general sense of edge-softening/dulling that seemed to happen to her unique curiosities and spirit.

I’d love to know what you’re using, what your days look like, and how you balance school with the little ones!!

We are using :

-Classical Conversations: “CC” A weekly group meet up with a memorized curriculum in seven subjects, science experiments, and fine art experiences.

-Sonlight Curriculum’s history & literature (about an hour of reading per day lined up for the entire year, 3-4 different books daily). This curriculum has a Christian emphasis but most of the titles are not specifically religious.

Handwriting Without Tears cursive (love the style of these books!)

Explode the Code phonics (Joan adores these)

-Life of Fred math & everyday math engagement with things like postage stamps and road signs

The newly three-year-old would be the first to tell you she does school. In fact at the doctor’s office when they asked her what was one of her favorite things to do, she said “phonics!” 

But really, the morning school hours can be boring for her, and she has to learn to be as least disruptive during this time as she can. It is amazing/delightful to see how much of the material she will engage with. She’ll ask what a word I just read aloud means. She’ll attempt to and sometimes successfully memorize the same material as the girls (a two-year-old singing Latin declensions is unbelievably cute).

She has her own books, crayons, notepad, and letters that come out during this time. None of them catch her attention for long…which is totally normal for that age and I don’t get discouraged by it.

And after each morning session, I gush over how patient she was, and we get a stack of books and read them together, just she and I. Then too her sisters have hours of the day after lunch to play with her and include her in their games—what could be more amazing?

Are you still able to do CC in Vermont and if so how is it going? We started it with my 4 and 6-year-old when we moved to Florida.

Yes! For each house we looked at while house hunting, I used the zip code check to see what CC was in the area, and often reached out to the leader to talk and ask questions about the town and community.

It didn’t determine where we purchased a house, but I would have been surprised/concerned if there hadn’t been a community within 45 minutes.

I know so little about homeschooling, so I’d love to find out how you homeschool three different ages at once. // It interests me so much but I don’t know much about it. Would love the basics including how you handle 3 different ages.

The primary approach with the reading is one-room-schoolhouse style. I read books aloud that the seven-year-old could theoretically read aloud to herself (though she would avoid them because they appear boring) and that the five-year-old may understand most but not all of the material therein. Sonlight Curriculum makes this easy by shipping you a box of books for those ages and laying out the schedule for the year.

But one shouldn’t think they have to pay lots of money to do this kind of thing. There are lots of free programs laid out online and you could compose it with library books and used book purchases in advance. Ambleside Online is a good place to encounter this world.

For CC, the girls memorize the exact same material. The older child is likely grasping the geography of ancient Mesopotamia in a more concrete way than the younger child. And it’s a little easier for her. But they both work at the same thing.

Handwriting, phonics, and math are individualized to their exact level. It takes us about 15-30 minutes with each to do each subject.

Do you have any suggested reading for those who don’t homeschool but would like supplement with the classical model?

You might enjoy purchasing Classical Conversation’s CDs for the car. Begin with the history sentence songs and see what your children think. I guess they would likely eat it up, and ask you to play it again and again. The Story of the World is also a wonderful book & audiobook (there are four volumes) that can enrich any daily life with history.

Another way to experiment with the Classical Conversations material is to download their app for this year’s cycle C1 (I can’t recommend other cycles as I think they have not been updated). My girls love this on their iPads and they casually review, I’m not making this up, 12 weeks of material in one trip to Boston. Excellent ancient world geography graphics here too.

Geography is a big part of classical education, so I have one more app to recommend: National Giraffic. It’s tough but excellent and fun! I think ages six and above for this one.

I’d love to know more about how to pick a curriculum… And yes, also more about balancing homeschool with multiple ages (my kids are 7 and 3).

This is a tough one because it has so much to do with your preference for emphasis and your child’s interests. If you know anyone homeschooling, you can begin to ask around and learn that way. Check what CC group is in your area (see above for the zip code link), email them and ask to visit and observe a meeting for a day—what’s the harm? I had heard of Classical Conversations for at least a year before I checked it out, and I was originally not interested. Then because it was for my four-year-old, and I had little to lose, I decided to just try it. I wish that I had just looked into it earlier, instead of steering around it.

Sonlight Curriculum’s website and the catalog does a great job of reviewing lots of curriculums for math, handwriting, phonics etc. Click around their language arts section and just see what appeals to you. After that google the names, and you’ll likely find homeschool bloggers talking about why they like it.

I got to see Sonlight Curriculum’s reading style growing up because my mom did it with my little brothers, which is why it was familiar and appealed to me.

For me, her approach was more of an unschooling style, plus I couldn’t grasp reading until “late,” around nine-years-old. Once I could read I embarked on my own curriculum of reading everything I could get my hands on, for hours every day.

The vintage book I review here might be an interesting armchair read for you. It goes into how she organically found a curriculum of sorts and how it morphed over the years.

Do you plan on sending them to a traditional school when they’re older?

I think so. I’d be surprised if we were still homeschooling after middle school. Perhaps if an alternative path became tempting to them—like if one of them wanted to go to culinary school, live abroad, become an engineer, and wanted to complete high school on the side.

As a kid I was homeschooled, transitioned to high school, and though I feel like those years had a lot of wasted time sitting in classrooms, I also loved the sports, theater experience, and close friends that came out of that time.

Do you feel pulled in lots of different directions? I feel nutso helping my 11, 9, and 6 year olds with homework after school with the 3 yr old cruising around…in my head I multiply that painful 1.5 hour of the day to equal a day of homeschool 😜 my kids beg to homeschool (their cousins do, and so does our babysitter) but I’m also worried I’d let a lot of things slide under the guise of “relaxed” schooling or “unschooling” or “guided learning.” I guess my question is…how do you be the only adult in charge and stay that way?? 😅

Keep in mind you are dealing with your kids after they’ve already had a totally exhausting day at school. Energy is low. Attention span is even lower. Interest level in the topics…probably all time lowest. Deep in their minds, they are processing all the social interactions and moments they had, whether to bring them up to you, what they meant, wait why did that happen, etc.

I’m reading things aloud that the girls say, “please keep reading!” when I’m done. They are proud of their memorization skills. I get to see them have the “aha!” moment with topics and work through them. Yes, it’s for sure distracting to them when the three-year-old interrupts every seven minutes with a random question.

Your older two would probably have quite a bit of solo work that they would be responsible to complete on their own (and could probably do in 15-20 minutes what would typically take a classroom “hour.”). The Unlikely Homeschool could be a good resource for you here—I’m not as sure about what the great curriculums are for those ages.

And you likely would have things that felt relaxed to you! Because as soon as a kid is interested in something (and they are able to read), they can often take it from there. That would feel easy, but in fact, you’d be watching as they took an interest and turned it into a passion, conquered it, and picked a new one.

Wondering how Lux is feeling about homeschooling after being in public school; and whether any of your daughters are extroverts, and if so, how you meet their need to gab & interact with lots of people all the time. (We’re thinking about homeschooling our kindergartener once the school year is over and these two issues are heavy on my mind!) // Do you feel like your children are getting enough “socialization” at home? Is that ever a worry for you? My husband and I are both introverts and I feel like our daughter is very extroverted, but I also feel like I was extroverted as a child, but a lot of school experiences made me more shy and introverted. I sometimes feel like I’m depriving her of socialization just because we would rather take a walk around the neighborhood as a family or go for a hike than spend the day with other families, even if she does seem perfectly content with these activities.

Yes, the oldest is an extrovert. That aspect of her is something I’m very sensitive to, and as a mom, I go a little out of my way to make sure she gets engagement. Whether it’s paying special attention to her request to take a class, a play date that takes some planning to make happen, potlucks, church Sunday school, willingly signing her up for sleepover camp, and just keeping tabs on how she’s doing.

In general, I don’t believe traditional school offers the unstructured social time extroverted children crave. I also don’t believe children need as much peer socialization as is often implied.

What’s working?! I feel like it changes a lot and sometimes my “philosophy” has to bend a little to make the day go smoothly.

What’s working for me right now is to strive not to take it for granted. Life feels brief, childhood feels even briefer. There are lots of moments that would feel easy to shrug at–giggling at Winnie-the-Pooh’s old fashioned language together, the girls reading to each other on the couch, cheerfully playing each other’s games with absurd rules, widening their eyes with curiosity at a new idea or topic, finding a new favorite aisle of the library to settle in for an hour.

These are in fact moments that are absolutely unique to a very short period of life.

all of the above and how you self care? really looking forward to this post 😘

Once I decided that 3-4 hours was sufficient for what we wanted to accomplish each day, I became pretty clear that my on-call time was done after that. At lunch, I’ll say, “what will you guys do this afternoon?” If I’m reading or writing and they keep (joyfully, no doubt) coming up to me with various remarks, I’ll tell them it’s distracting and I want to be left alone for a while.

If I’m doing any kind of housekeeping, I try to make sure they are aware of what’s going on and are asked to help however they can.

When I first considered homeschooling, I had a secret theory that most moms doing it had a hack that was helping them. A husband with a flexible schedule. A mother-in-law down the street. A house cleaner. A babysitter for a few hours a day prepping dinner and playing card games. (I mention this survival theory in my review of this book.)

And for the most part, I’ve found this theory to be proven true. My hack is that Joe is now working from home. And though he disappears into his office for hours at a time, he is still an adult presence in the vicinity and this goes a long way. He can stop by when I’m prepping dinner and chat for a few minutes. He eats lunch with us and quizzes the girls about their morning. He can stay with a sleeping baby if I run out to do errands with the other two. These little things help a lot.

Admittedly, I’m not getting ninety minutes of silence every day. I’m not even getting sixty minutes of silence. It’s a phases of life thing. Cuddling kids on the couch and read books. Hear their creative story unfold as they quietly talk to their toys. Wake up slowly and make pancakes. Put my feet in front of the fire and say, “wow I did that today.” Feel totally normal sprawled on the library floor playing Candy Land with all the wrong rules. Spend an afternoon worrying over a random fever and questioning a nurse closely over the phone. I get those things.

Like so many aspects of motherhood, the decision to homeschool can immediately become burdened with guilt. It’s all on me and I’m not doing enough crop up frequently. Signing up for too much and feeling like a failure when you can’t pull it off. Giving up as a result. It’s very important to avoid this for one big reason: If you are providing consistency and respecting the level of interest your child is at, it’s very difficult to screw this up. Honestly. The child’s innate curiosity and drive will win out.

Thank you! Lots of love.

gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying

deli_counter

After all sorts of discussion we decided to have Joan pass on her option for full day preschool this year. Parents! Sometimes I think we grow more relaxed by the year, and sometimes it feels like we’ve become psychoanalyst zombies who can’t help but minutely over-examine our children.

Joan is self-driven, often beginning her morning by piling up books for me to read her, filling whole sheets of paper with alphabet letters and doodles, and telling me things like “I want to get books about the human body.” So on the one hand, I feel she is teaching herself, but on the other, she can be a swift flowing river that doesn’t like to be redirected with my mossy sticks jutting out here and there. She is intensely imaginative, sometimes developing long narratives that she tells herself, barely noticing what her sisters are playing around her. After short social events, she likes to have plenty of time to play and read alone to decompress. These are all characteristics we mulled over when we decided to keep her home for another year.

My memories of Lux’s fourth year at home with me are some of my favorite. I have dozens of photos of our walks around town with her stuffed animals, making soft pink playdough together, the trays of paint she would pull out for the afternoon, the funny games she played with two-year-old Joan, like stacking spice jars in towers or packing snack-picnics.

I’m really looking forward to Joan’s and my year together. What a gift!

We are also joining a one-day-a-week homeschool community. This will give me a chance to experiment with curriculum (with no expectations on her, of course, just for fun and discussion) and give her the chance to have peers she sees every week and practice some public speaking. I found the national program, Classical Conversations, through my friend Jenny, my friend Kacia, and some of the online community that posts on instagram under the name wildandfree.co

I have to tell you, I don’t have high hopes for myself in managing a structure with much elegance. I will try to set about something of a morning schedule, but I’m sure it will take some plotting. In Lux’s first year of kindergarten last year, it took me a remarkable amount of time to figure out how to plan our days. It was practically April before I realized how nice it was to get Alma’s naps in earlier, in order to have her be rested by school pickup time. If you are entering a new schedule this fall, I encourage you to take it easy on yourself (of course!) but also to mix things up in all sorts of ways as soon as you can manage it. Change nap times, snack times, wake up times, all of it, until you can pinpoint a great rhythm for your family.

It’s September! I’m hoping to post soon about our new apartment and the move to a new neighborhood, what I’m working on in my alone time, some of my favorite fall things to do around here, and our travel photos from Maine.

secretly lunchable

I delayed in ordering a lunchbox so long—paralyzed, review-reading indecision—that Lux spent the first four days of kindergarten reusing a takeout container from whole foods. It accumulated food stains and the corners gradually grew crushed and stubby from the rubber bands pinging it together. She never complained about it though, though she did note to me that the loose carrots sticks were dyeing everything a faint orange color.

As I banded it shut one morning, I mentioned to her that I had ordered a new lunchbox. She looked so relieved: “I was hoping you’d say that, mom!”

On Friday her new lunchbox had arrived (I got one of those that weelicious makes look so amazing, the rover planetbox). She was so excited to bring it with her to school. At pickup, she unpacked it in the schoolyard to show me that she’d eaten every last thing out of it. When we got home that night, she insisted on washing it out and drying it herself, and putting it away in its box once again. 

And that is the story of accidentally inspired pride of ownership.

she’s going

Days and days of jungle humidity ninety-degrees here. Summery groceries: 1/ lemonade 2/ melon, tomatoes 3/ cold chicken, roasted in batches in the morning 4/ good cheese.

Unfairly to you my friend reader, I have gone from talking about homeschooling here to talking about the fact that big fish (Should I start using pseudonyms for the girls? They’re getting old for this, aren’t they.) is going to school.

The first thing that happened: back in March, I called the appropriate public school number on the appropriate day and they muttered over the phone to me that we got into the school we hoped to, but had always assumed we wouldn’t. Several of our neighborhood friends did not get spots, so believe me when I say we really didn’t think it would happen.

Then we started engaging with the school: a five day, 8:15-3pm program (those hours! heart stop). The meet-the-parents events, the meet-the-principal, visit the playground, etc. Then Lux started counting the days until kindergarten, and began telling me, every morning, how many days remain.

It started to feel like a great experiment, if not a great idea.

Maybe because homeschooling has always been an assumption for me, it was an interesting twist to consider public kindergarten instead. Underneath my curiosity about the program there was the shift at home too. Lux has been home with me every day for the past five years; it feels like I’ve watched in near slow motion as she changed from a quiet being who wanted to be only with me and resented intrusions to a girl who loved activities and became drawn to big groups with leaders.

It’s exciting to think how much she might enjoy the structure of school.

I ordered $300 of crisp, warm, adorable navy and white uniform clothing for the year. With the discount that Land End’s seems to circulate every other week or so, it was actually $200, but I’m putting it in the books as $300. 

Like a farmer muttering “Lord willing” over his crops, I’m remain internally watchful of it not working. My friends have warned me that there will be at least four weeks of exhaustion and adjustment. I get that, and I’ve got plans for our post-school afternoon relax and destress sessions, namely: begin with cookies and end with yoga stretches.

But the changes I’m watching for, that I would view not just as difficulties but as deal-breakers are: 1/ whether she became a poor playmate/partner to her sisters at home. 2/ if she became less curious in engaging new ideas than she is now. 3/ whether she becomes a shell of herself for the time she is with us—tired out, cranky, a slumped pile of oreo crumbs and uncombed hair awaiting the next morning’s challenge to begin again.

And perhaps most inconceivable, to me—if it was November, and she was asking not to go to school the next day, every day that week, we would be done.

And yet, I remain expectant l for it to be totally delightful. I think she’s going to find a gang of friends immediately. I think she’s going to love seeing them every day. I think she will laugh a lot. I think she will run victory laps around the playground. I think she will fall in love with her teacher and come home quoting her. I will hear confusing retellings of once factual stories. She will eye me with a worried eyebrow when I mention morning errands that we did without her. She will discover interests that we’ve never even thought to suggest. She will smile benevolently at Joan and the pudgy chocolate chip cookies Joan will offer her from our morning. She will take on school spirit like a new cape to be buttoned around her neck. Alma will keel over with delight when Lux walks back in, as she does now, even though it’s only been five minutes.

When she goes in September, I imagine it feeling like turning off half the lights in the apartment, and then going on with our day.

I hate that when Lux asks about fall habits—will we go apple picking? Will we visit that farm again? I’m thinking mmm…probably not. Joan maybe, but you won’t. But: perhaps Joan’s current three-year-old moody emotional spiral might be buffered with more of my patience to go around? Perhaps Alma will have a real afternoon nap and Joan will enjoy a quiet time again?

And the school itself, Joe characterizes it like Sesame Street—solid and urban, but soft around the edges. Worn-in bricks, stately fence, 70s tile cafeteria, the tricycles lined up in the hallway ready to race out into the playground. Amazing teachers, devoted parents, incredible principal. Who wouldn’t want to help their daughter engage with their city on that level?