The first day of school looked a little different for us this year. We all got up early and got dressed in outfits carefully selected the night before, ate breakfast, had a mini photo shoot on the front porch, then went right back inside the house and went to work! Our decision to homeschool was not made lightly. We agonized and discussed all of our options at length. As it turns out, we could not be happier with our decision to do things a little differently.
Covid19 dramatically changed all of our lives, not the least of it has been the changes to our education system. But honestly, homeschool has been on my mind since the first day I sent my oldest to kindergarten. This might get a little long, so stick with me…
When we first decided to make a change and move back to the small town I was raised in our children were two and four. Up until this time, our oldest daughter had been attending a fabulous private preschool. I sometimes worked long hours as an attorney and I assumed once my children were in school I would work even more. But then everything began to change.
We reprioritized our lives, purchased our place, and dove headfirst into the homesteading life. We no longer had the option of a fabulous preschool. In fact, we had virtually no childcare (let alone preschool) options at all. Because my daughter was accustomed to school, and because she is by nature a lively and vivacious learner, I decided to homeschool preschool. I changed my work schedule to allow for longer hours, but fewer days at the office, and committed to a loose structure of learning at home. I ordered one month of the fabulous Experience Early Learning Curriculum.
At that time, we were deep in the middle of serious renovations on the little house and living in our RV. But in spite of all that, we loved it! I loved spending a large part of my day focused on my children. The flexibility and engaging activities of this particular boxed curriculum were exactly what I needed to focus on having fun with my kids! I cannot recommend this program highly enough if you are looking for some structured learning with a few preschoolers. It gave me the tools I needed to get confident in guiding my children through learning while playing with them. We used the Experience Early Learning Curriculum for a full year and loved it. Every day wasn’t perfect and we did not always follow the program exactly, but we developed a loose structure and more importantly, it gave me some much-needed confidence that I, as my children’s parent, was their most important teacher.
Maybe I am not giving myself enough credit here, because I love learning and teaching and so do my children. Right up until I began applying to law school I always thought I would become a teacher. Learning and teaching are a natural part of our family and are always taking place in our home. But before I scheduled time to “teach” my preschoolers, I had trouble shaking the dreaded billable hour that haunts every lawyer. I worried that if I wasn’t cleaning, cooking, or billing clients, I was wasting time. It wasn’t until I implemented this program that I learned how to allow myself to enjoy teaching my kids. It seems silly in retrospect, but homeschool preschool gave me permission to *just* hang out with my children.
A year passed, and I sent my oldest daughter to public Kindergarten. I had some concerns, but what Kindergarten mom doesn’t? She attended the same school I attended as a child; an excellent school with small class sizes and amazing teachers. My mom, her grandmother, was one of the seven elementary teachers at our school. How worried could I be when I knew my mom was right there with her every step of the way? And folks, it was great! I have nothing but wonderful things to say about our local school and our experiences within the educational system. She learned. She was happy. We sailed along. Two years later, my younger daughter joined her and attended Kindergarten. She too excelled. Life was good. I slowly geared up to take on more hours at work after a year-long maternity leave with my son and we continued on that path up until March 13, 2020, a year ago.
March 13, 2020, we, along with just about all the rest of the country, got the news school would be moving to virtual learning due to the covid19 pandemic. I was actually excited! Our teachers had awesome ideas and I was proud of how our school community was quickly adapting to ever-changing circumstances. But… and here is the big but, distance learning was the pits and that is an understatement. That initial excitement about innovation and adaptive ways to teach children in a changing world fizzled fast.
Not because our teachers did anything wrong, not because we couldn’t handle it, but because I, as the mom, found it unmanageable to manage. I was trying to juggle my children’s meeting schedule, my meeting and call schedule as an attorney working from home in a pandemic, the demands of a lively one-year-old, and… calving. This all went down right smack in the middle of the absolute most demanding and sensitive time of our ranching season. We finished up the school year virtually, but it was a struggle. I have truly never been more exhausted in my life, and I am the type of person that often bites off more than I can chew!
At the same time, the learning magic was happening, it just wasn’t happening in front of the computer screen. My children were still learning, but it was in spite of, not because of, the distance learning. My 6-year old often wanted to do her 8-year-old sister’s assignments instead of her own. There was no stopping her and she excelled! The pressure of doing something challenging brought out the absolute best in her. My baby was standing on the table amidst the piles of school work. A lot. He cared about what was going on, he wanted to be included and learn too! My older daughter was asking incredible questions. All-day every day! We had the time to find the answers. My oldest wanted to start a newspaper, so we did! Their articles were amazing! We hatched chicks for the first time, milked our cow, did chores as a family, played outside, and had time for amazing conversations.
I started toying with the idea of doing something else. What if we could go back to the model I knew worked for us, learning together as a family? Playing games, singing songs, having fun, and working together. I kept thinking there must be a better way.
Then we started to learn more about what public school in the fall would look like: the mask mandates, the eating lunch at your desk, the cohorts where different ages of children never intermingle, structured recess with strict rules so to prevent anyone from being within six feet of one another, and I just couldn’t do it. Not when I knew there was another option.
***Let me pause here and say a few things.*** I respect and agree with the protocols in place to keep kids safe at school. In our community, our local schools have remained open all year. The safety measures are working, and most kids have been able to attend in-person school most of the time because of them. For many kids, in-person school is the best option. There are many real reasons for schools to be open, kids to be in school, and families that rely on schools to have that support in place.
But for my family, something else works better, even if it is just for right now.
So here we are. One year later and I love it. The kids… they miss their friends and sense of community but don’t we all. They love all the incredible books we are reading, the projects we are doing, that we have time to make music and art a priority. They love the freedom they have to play outside anytime they need a break, grab a snack if they need one, and the autonomy to finish up their work and still have the rest of the day for free time to fill as they wish. Our now two-year-old is included in everything we do and it is incredible. Our children work together, challenge and support one another, and are all better for it.
I truly cannot believe how much they are learning. But just as much, I cannot believe how much I am learning! About my children and what is important to them; their strengths and weaknesses; their likes and dislikes. Phonics! Mental Math. Guitar and Fiddle basics. We have time to explore their areas of interest in addition to just covering the basics.
Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but I am blown away by how well it is going and so incredibly thankful for this opportunity.
So what are we doing, anyway:
We are using Bookshark as our primary curriculum four days a week. We start around 9:00 each morning and work until about lunchtime, picking up unfinished tasks in the afternoon as needed. Our early mornings are relaxed. We usually spend some time reading before we get started. The girls often read to me while I clean up the breakfast dishes, or fold laundry. We complete all history, science, read-aloud, and art projects together. The girls work on their math and language arts one on one with me and then complete assignments independently, but at the same time during the day. We use Singapore math which I cannot say enough about. The four-day week structure allows us one day a week for art, music, and outside time.
We supplement with The Glitter Bomb art curriculum, which is sooo good, seriously check this out! This winter the girls have taken an in-person clay class lesson once a week. They also take a weekly fiddle and guitar class with Outschool. Our afternoons are calm and quiet. I often work, we play outside, make dinner, read, create and play, and do our thing.
I put together an “Anytime Basket” filled with books and projects related to a common theme. I rely heavily on our lovely local librarian to keep this basket full. The kids can grab books and activities anytime they like and they help put together ideas for the theme. So far we have had an amazing unit on Mythical Creatures, Shakespeare, and are currently diving into Mysteries.
So why am I sharing all of this? Not because I am an expert or even because I know what I am doing! There are tons of great homeschool Instagram and blog accounts out there if that is what you are after. I am sharing because I am excited about how well things are going and want to share something that is working well for us. Homeschool goes hand in hand with our lifestyle and I am so thankful we took a risk and tried something new. What I offer is a word of encouragement.
We believe in joint decision making and my kids will always have a say in major decisions like how they learn. They love our community and they miss their friends. We also all understand that school right now looks a lot different than they remember it. At the same time, we all feel incredibly positive about how this past year has looked from an education standpoint. I do not know what the future holds and where we will go in the coming years. But right now, I am so glad we took a risk and decided to homeschool. I am enjoying these days with my children. As a parent, homeschool pushes me in ways nothing else has so far, but I am so privileged to have a front-row seat at all this incredible learning. My children are amazing people and I am so blessed to spend my days with them.