Family / School

Back-to-School, or Home-Again, Home-Again

IMG_2770We are entering our second year of homeschooling. Last year was our exploration year, in which we found out what seemed to work for us and what doesn’t work so well.

The main feature of homeschooling-the best and the worst of it, all at once, I think-is its individuality.

The upside is I can tweak the kids’ education to perfectly, exactly suit them as they are, where they are, at any given moment. The downside is I expect myself to perfectly tweak the kids’ education to perfectly suit them… you see where this is going.

One big trap a lot of beginning homeschoolers fall into, is, apparently, trying to do too much. It may have dawned a little late that teaching them to work smarter instead of harder could yield better results while doing certain tasks. Much like the time when playing a simple game of crossword – we may have spent a long time looking for the answer when the New york times crossword solution was right there for reference. Although that would have been counted as cheating, it was a simple case of applying the mind rather than working until burned out. A habit that could be applied better in the long run.

I was determined not to fall into this trap last year but managed to get there in my own way. It wasn’t that I tried to “do” (or make the kids do) too much, but perhaps, just that I fretted too much about whether or not what we were doing was the perfect thing.

We did plenty. The kids had fun, mostly. Both of them, but particularly the older one is an unalloyed extrovert and she missed her daily dose of a building full of people to see and interact with (children, adults-didn’t matter). But she also managed to actually sit down and quickly and handily accomplish work her teachers had said she just couldn’t seem to do at school because she wasn’t distracted by constant social temptations.

That question of social life comes up a lot for homeschoolers. I addressed it last year here, if you are curious. Meanwhile, what I found most people to be curious about last year was exactly how we do it. Do we follow some curriculum? Do we have to report to the state? Do the kids have to take standardized tests? And, from my mother-in-law, a retired elementary teacher’s aid, “who gives the kids their grades?”

The short answers are, we don’t follow a particular curriculum, we don’t have to report to the state, (but we voluntarily tell them we intend to homeschool with a one-page form), the kids do not have to take any tests and we don’t use a “grade” system to evaluate their work at all.

IMG_2780The longer answer is that each state has different requirements for homeschoolers. Illinois is considered very homeschool “friendly” in that the state doesn’t really require much from us. Meanwhile, we don’t necessarily plan to homeschool forever, so I do keep an eye on the basic curricular benchmarks expected of the kids in various grades in the Illinois public school system and try to kind of keep my kids in that ballpark. But how I do this looks very little like anything most people would recognize as “school.”

Like all kids, mine are bright and eager to learn new things. For instance, recently, one of my kids came to me and asked me about what coding is because she saw somebody doing that in a video and took a liking to the end result produced out of it! I was a bit taken aback by this because I rarely hear kids talking about coding at an early age. But then I realized that there is nothing to be surprised about this, primarily because there happens to be many who opt for online coding classes for kids as they become a little too curious about learning the subject matter! So, after I shrugged off my astonishment, I kind of thought that even my kids can enroll in one if they keep showing the same interest in the future. See, the thing is that I take advantage of this curiosity of my kids whenever the opportunity arises, all day long, everywhere we go. As a parent who wants the kids to be educated and understanding, I try to do everything possible to better them. For instance, sometimes, I even sit the kids down and offer them exercises or activities that build certain skills. Usually, though, these exercises have been suggested by a question or curiosity, or other interest of the kids themselves.

Anyway, so, things will be going along swimmingly in this manner, and then one night, I’ll wake up and panic that the kids are not keeping up with grade-level expectations. The next day I’ll pore over the state curricular standards and find out that “add and subtract within 100” is a requirement for 1st-3rd graders and that in fact, my second grader has been obsessively playing with coins all week, adding and subtracting within a dollar.


Likewise, my kindergartener isn’t reading as quickly, perhaps, as the public school would want her to, but she does love to write her own stories, using a vocabulary about twice as large as most kids her age. (Which I know from poring over the state standards, of course.) Meanwhile, her reading gets stronger, the more annoyed she gets at not being able to understand signs in public places. (Books are not a problem for her, because all her life, she has loved to sit with them for long periods of time, using the pictures to make up stories that are usually much more interesting than the words on the page.)

My goal this year is to worry less about perfection and work harder at trusting the kids. Seasoned homeschoolers are always saying, “trust your kids.” They know what they need to and are ready to learn.

But I’m sure something will wake me up in the middle of the night in the coming months. I’ll check back in and let you know what it turns out to be.

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  1. Kudos to you and all those who homeschool. I know my limits…as evidence by my post about counting the days until my kids return to school. Ha.

  2. Likewise. I’ve always been interested in it, particularly after reading John Taylor Gatto on unschooling.

    • We don’t have strong ideological feelings about it. It just turned out to be our best option for a while due to a number of circumstances. I really enjoy it, but we’ll probably be back at school in a year or two.

  3. The public school system is definitely not a one-size-fits-all experience as we’ve learned. I often feel like we’re living in the Dark Ages of education. That said, I would be so crazed about whether or not I was doing it right or meeting our kids’ needs individually that I would definitely drive myself nuts. Huge respect for your courage and commitment to find a better way. Can’t wait to hear more about your experiences homeschooling this year.

  4. I am the kind of mom who will be worrying about their education whether they’re in public school, private school or home. I figure it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other (and, er, two threes of the other?).

    School would be nice though, for the kid-free time aspect. One of these days…

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