Our Homeschool Journey....can I really do this?
What you'll find in The Romantic Mom.com
Does this look like "school" to you? Not really? Looks more like a couple of kids playing in a bucket of something...probably don't want to know! Well, here's the shocker...it is! It's our version of the "Outdoor Nature" focus program...the kind of hands-on, experiential, quality learning that the public schools tout so highly (and that you pay a pretty penny for in private schools)! It may not be the sort of prototype preconceived notion of "school" most are way too familiar with, but what these kids are doing is quintessential learnin'...and in homeschool, good ol' basic learnin' is what it's all about!
There are really so many benefits to the homeschool life...flexibility, freedom, adaptability, specialized attention, more quality time together as a family, and the list goes on. Despite all the positives, however, many families are still unsure or even intimidated at the prospects of homeschooling their own children. I can very much empathize because I struggled with the whole idea myself in the beginning...and my anxiety grew to monstrous proportions especially as my twins were approaching kindergarten age.
Just because the homeschool topic has become more or less mainstream today, doesn't make it necessarily any easier to take on what seems to be a formidable endeavor. Sometimes the sheer amount of information and resources make it even that much more daunting. Once again, I can totally relate...as can many homeschoolers out there! When coupled with the fact that most parents spent the better part of their childhood herded into classrooms of one variety or another and have little or no personal experience to draw from, it becomes all the more clear why homeschooling seems intimidating...or challenging...or the gaping black hole ready to swallow up and devour any and all who come within its reach.
So, with this in mind, I'd like to share with you our discoveries and revelations in this world of homeschooling and how we have made learning a natural part of our lives as opposed to our lives centering around the school. I use the term "our" loosely here because my husband was homeschooled for awhile by his mom and loved it. I, on the other hand, had no handy little delightful childhood memories to cull from so I was not enthusiastic...to say the least. I never cared too much for my public school experience and that did help...somewhat...but overall, I was in apoplectic fear of what this homeschool thing meant for me.
So I read and read and read and asked tons of questions from other homeschool families we chanced to meet. I thank God everyday for the internet and the divinely considerate parents out there who have also shared their journeys into the homeschool realm. I have researched till my eyes popped out and gleaned from all sorts of homeschool types and curricula. Out of that plethora of information, we have settled into basically three general concepts that have greatly enhanced our family homeschool experience.
The essence of our homeschool is predominantly captured in the ideas or philosophies put forth by the Victorian educator, Charlotte Mason. The second is the concept of "Unschooling" initiated by John Holt. And, thirdly, what I call the "old-fashioned one-room-schoolhouse" which revives the old McGuffey's readers or Ray's Arithmetic among others, and has been expounded upon in recent years by Sam Blumenfeld. The reasons we hearken to these general concepts the most is that they are more or less "tried and true" as well as encompass what we see as a more biblical approach with respect to who a child is, or more explicitly, how children are defined, as well as how children genuinely thrive and learn in their own unique ways and abilities.
I've only scratched the surface here, but if any of this piques your interest or speaks to your heart, let me please urge you to investigate these topics further. My children, nurtured and encouraged in these areas, have really blossomed and grown in so many beautiful ways. and I know many, many others have too. If you have any questions, comments, or success stories along these lines, please share them with all of us! Learning truly lasts a lifetime!
Now, if you'd like to read the ultra-long version, then warm up that coffee (or tea) and just keep on a-scrollin' down!
My Homeschool Journey - Long Version (written 10/2006)
The home education process is more or less a natural outflow of the “romantic” childhood ideas I had already embarked upon with our children. It was basically a continuation of what I truly desired for them and remained very consistent with all the various aspects of the gentle child-rearing and child-instructing lifestyle that I felt was so much a part of my heart. I wish that I could say that this transition just followed as naturally and systematically into my way of mothering and educating our children as it most certainly could have done.
However, in all honesty, there have been a few bumps and hiccups as well as a few of my own personal challenges to overcome as I purposed to travel along this path. As much as I believed in the greatness and goodness of the home school room, the practical applications of it all left me in many ways very perplexed and daunted. It’s not by any means the way it had to be, but I had some of my own lessons to learn and God still needed to do some convincing in my heart as much as I attempted to deny it at the time.
Before my husband and I even had children, we had basically made the decision that we would home school our children. I have to admit that I was rather startled at the whole idea initially because, quite honestly, I had not even really heard of the notion in the first place, and it was certainly not something my parents would have considered doing. My husband was home schooled for a brief time when he was young and really valued his experience. His mother has also been a teacher for many years in the Miami public school district and has greatly encouraged us to do all we can to home school our children. Once I began talking to her and hearing all the problems she encountered and witnessed first hand facing children in the modern public school arena, I became convinced that we needed to do all we could to keep our children within the home.
This conviction became especially true once I became a Christian and met other home schooling parents that helped me realize even more keenly the concerns in that whole area and the pressures put on children. I have always felt a deep desire to do all I could to preserve the innocence of my children and I was already aware of what they would certainly encounter in regard to exposure to the public school system as well.
Despite all these convictions though, there was a part of me that was greatly intimidated by the whole endeavor. I saw other mothers seeming to handle the process so adeptly and with great confidence and no small amount of organization. I was baffled by how gracefully they moved through lessons, subjects, reading, and math and kept it all age appropriate with some of the children even exceeding peer requirements. The doubts and fear that began to well up inside me insidiously started to shake my resolve. I didn’t feel that there was any possible way I could come even remotely close to what I was observing around me. I defended the home school position gallantly to all who would ask, yet secretly I was trembling inside and all of my assertions and supposed confidence rung hollow in my own ears. The questions and accusations would run through my mind: Won’t your children miss out on the nice school room experience? Won’t they enjoy making new friends and doing all sorts of fun crafts and games? Won’t they feel left out when all the other children are grabbing their new shiny lunch pails and feeling so ‘grown-up’ as they step onto the bright yellow school bus? Aren’t you depriving your children of some great opportunities and learning?
If that weren’t bad enough, I also felt sensitive to remarks and insinuations that maybe I wasn’t really cut out to be a teacher. After all, where were my credentials? Did I have any idea what children were supposed to be learning and when and how they were supposed to be learning these things? When I told certain ones that we were going to home school they would say that they could never home school their children because they knew themselves well enough to know that they definitely didn’t have what it takes to commit to such an endeavor.
Little did they know that I felt the same way about myself, yet here I was trying to convince myself that somehow I had to make this happen for our children. Did I have the perseverance and self-discipline necessary to make this form of education a reality for my children? Given some of the skeptical comments I fielded, I was quite sure that some definitely felt I didn’t. Moreover, I was beginning to agree with them. What was I thinking? How could I presume that this was really something that I could commit to without having, at least in my mind, the slightest idea of what I was really supposed to be doing?
As the twins got older, my lingering doubts led to outright panic. My overwhelmed feelings began to give way to frustration and paralysis. I began to question God and the sacrifices He seemed to be requiring of me and my obvious lack of understanding and skill. September rolled around once we moved to Maine and we were still living in the RV on our land. The twins were five and the little girl who was our neighbor’s grand-daughter started kindergarten. My daughter, at that opportune moment, asked if she could go to school, too. Why couldn’t she go to school like the other children were? With all the enthusiasm I could muster, I explained to her that we were going to home school..!!!! And learn some wonderful new things, too...!!!!....???? Just like the other children!! But that’s not all. She also wanted to ride the school bus!
I can’t express enough how God has taken me and humbled me yet has never abandoned me. Here we were, thousands of miles away from what had been our home, six of us crammed into this RV and me with an infant and a two-year-old and winter quickly approaching. Our log home was far from finished (and still is!) with only the ground work done and I’m looking at myself, this “romantic” mom, out in the middle of nowhere supposedly taking on this new challenge of the “formal education” of my children. Many an institutional expert and public educator would have lamented my situation (as I most certainly was) and pointed out how clearly inept my situation was for our poor children. However, many a valiant home school mother (and I personally know several of them now) in my situation would have said to themselves, “You’re in a perfect spot for educating your children! Look at all of nature and all the things you can do and learn! Pull out some scissors, paper, and glue and let the children do some fun things with leaves , grass, and seeds! Press some dandelions, make a wreath of leaves, make potato stamps—this is just kindergarten, for goodness sakes!”
And, you know, it makes absolutely no difference what age or stage it is. Home schooling can be and has been done all over the world in all sorts of circumstances. We don’t need a formal classroom with a credentialed teacher to somehow make our children learn. In my heart I knew this, but my confidence at this point in time was sorely shaken.
As I mentioned, God didn’t keep me in this pathetic state for long. Down the road from us, another neighbor informed us about the riotous behavior and foul language she had heard coming from the school bus our children would have been riding. She also told me about a story time that was held each week at the Pittsfield Library. I started taking my children there each week and we joined the library so we were able to have lots of nice books to read. The lady who did the story time was absolutely excellent and had wonderful little crafts that corresponded with her story themes. Heather was also making great progress with her letters and spelling small words while I continued to just allow Andrew to be a little boy—playing in dirt piles and breaking sticks—and, of course, reading to the children every day.
Once we finally found a house to rent and got settled there, some of the mothers at the little church we were attending and within the immediate area started a small home school group. We started getting together each month and planning some fun and educational outings for the children. I couldn’t believe how God had come to my rescue! My children were introduced to other Christian families who were committed to making home schooling a priority also. I suddenly didn’t feel so alienated and adrift. I also met some other home schooling parents at the library as well as discovering some good resources.
When the next school season came around we found ourselves in Florida and I was on my own again. Through some rather tumultuous turn of events, we ended up living on a beach and also within a three minute walk from a great little library and a fire station in Highland Beach near Del Ray. The twins were now six and in many respects I was gaining some confidence but I still felt disconcerted at times. I prayed and cried to God some more and during one of those times, I heard God tell me, “You just take care of your children’s little spirit and I’ll take care of the rest.” I can’t tell you the peace I felt. Somehow I knew that I was on the right track and that He would continue to guide me through all of this...one step at a time.I had already been thinking and praying about instilling more Godly wisdom into our children’s hearts and spending more concentrated time on the scriptures and Bible stories. There were some good bookstores close by and we were able to find some really neat children’s books that focused on these areas. We also began to make some friends there, with one dear lady becoming our own private ballet instructor. She came over every week and we learned creative movements put to Bible verses and Christian songs. She was very talented and so marvelous with the children. She even gave us videos of ballets she had choreographed in the past with new renditions of Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel story lines put to Christian themes. It was such a treasure. She and her sister, too, had home schooled their children who were now high school and college age. They both continued to support and encourage me with our little ones.
In addition, we experienced so much about sea life and the sea shore. There were fisherman who would often catch different types of fish—at one point even bringing in a seven foot shark! We got it all on video. At Christmas time we saw a beautiful yacht parade along the canal behind us, and also took some excursions down to the keys where we visited the dolphin research center. We had several dolphins cruise by our beach on different occasions and one man we got to know had a big katamaran that he took my husband and the children for a ride on. We collected buckets and buckets of seashells and found all sorts of sand crabs, hermit crabs, and curly tailed lizards. We saw sea rays, tarpin, sail fish, and many a bally-hoo and man-of war. When we weren’t on the beach, the children were avidly drawing dolphins, whales, sting rays as well as Bible stories. I collected their stacks and stacks of pictures and have them stored in a big scrapbook. I just decided to relax and let nature be our “school room” and I haven’t regretted that decision.
After returning to Maine, we are presently immersed in the “first-second grade” for our twins. Caitlyn is four and is already reading. We’ve gotten involved with our wonderful little home school group again and have already been to pick apples at an orchard, the fire station, a potato farm, had a state trooper give a small presentation, and visited the Land Transportation museum in Bangor. There’s much more already planned for winter and spring and it’s only the end of October! In addition, I’ve been doing all sorts of research and due to my findings I’m more convinced than ever that home schooling is truly the absolute best way to go. I happened on to an article by Charlotte Iserbyt concerning the book she wrote The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. If you haven’t read this book I strongly recommend that you do so. I also discovered the Victorian educator, Charlotte Mason, who offers remarkable insight and wisdom into the whole process of how children learn and the best ways to preserve and encourage in each child a lifelong love of learning and a genuine desire to read just for the sheer joy of knowledge and learning.
I personally wish that I had discovered Charlotte Mason’s writings years ago when in fact I have only discovered them a few weeks ago. This woman is truly someone after my own heart. It would have saved me much anguish earlier on and given me the much needed confidence I yearned for in following the intuitions of my heart. Many of these “romantic” childhood ideas I’ve expounded upon in this book are covered in great detail by Charlotte Mason in an educational context over a hundred years ago. I feel it’s so tragic that most of her philosophies have been lost or obscured over time. She strongly advocates the home and the mother within the home as being the best and “most proper” school room for children. She recommends much unscheduled time devoted to children spent out of doors and immersed in nature—and the wilder the better. She encourages youngsters to keep nature books and diaries with an eye to all the changes throughout the seasons. She completely disallows dry text books and facts and figures in lieu of what she calls “living books” of great literature. She, like me, was highly sensitive to the intelligence of our children and frowned upon the general tendency, even back then, to dilute or talk down to the intelligence of young ones. She writes extensively on the importance of good manners and habits and how they can help establish a child at a very tender age in ways that will foster the intellect and build character. There are now many resources and support groups that provide invaluable help and accessibility to her educational philosophy.
If you have been reluctant to take the plunge into the home school arena, I encourage you to “just do it!” No one could have been more intimidated or feel less accomplished than I did, believe me. However, the benefits far outweigh any of the reservations and there are so many books, studies, and articles which very articulately and concisely shore up the powerful arguments that support the home schooling decision. I'll continue to include web sites, books, and information pertaining to these and other home schooling topics.
The main focus, however, that I would like to emphasize is the sheer pleasure and freedom you will definitely experience if you simply allow yourself and your family the opportunity to settle into this type of lifestyle. It is with this emphasis in encouragement and illustration that I would like to go ahead and share with you. The “loves” that we have as parents...like baking, biking, art, literature, music, gardening, horses, farming, tinkering, sailing, whatever it is...can be encouraged and developed in our children and once these “loves” are instilled they can remain a cherished passion that carries through to a lifetime of fuller living. These “loves” or cherished passions in turn get passed down to the next generation and even the next. (Written Oct. 2006)
On this web site I have attempted to pull together some stories and anecdotes that have brought me inspiration and through which I’m now beginning to inspire my little ones. I also want to include examples of families who embody the essence of choosing to live the “romantic” life with their children and for their family. Honestly, I think we all do this in so many ways. We just haven't been taught or led to think that what we're doing is all that important...or that our children can actually be included. Please leave your comments and questions on my Contact page. I'd dearly love to hear your journeys or anecdotes as well! I can't tell you how encouraging it is for me to hear from others! Contact Me
Take me back HOME, please.