I know so many of you are struggling with what to do with your kids this upcoming year. I’ve been on many calls lately and a couple Q and A’s with moms and dads who are looking at the option of homeschool. The following are my answers to a few common questions.
But first, let me say this. Whatever you decide, you are NOT going to mess up your kids. Homeschool, remote school, public school with masks….there will be ups and downs and second thoughts and struggles. But also, THE KIDS ARE GOING TO BE OK. Generations of kids have survived way worse than going to school in masks, and parents have been doing some version of homeschool since the beginning of time. So, take your fear of screwing this up, and just try to set it aside. For now, just gather information, make the best decision you can for your family, and just know it’s going to be ok!
Now, if you are curious about homeschool, here are my responses to some of the most common questions I’m getting:
- Don’t kids HAVE to go to school to be successful?
Free and public schooling is a very new concept when you look at human history, and while valuable, is certainly not the only way to educate kids. Our founding fathers, for example, were tutored, self -taught, or in the cases of powerhouses like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, they were homeschooled. Thomas Edison was homeschooled. Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Pearl S. Buck, Nikola Tesla…. Countless trailblazers and great thinkers of all kinds have been homeschooled. The point is…There are lots of ways to get an education. School is one way. Homeschool is another. History backs me up.
- But don’t I have to be a teacher to homeschool? Or at least have experience teaching?
There are three ways to legally homeschool in Colorado.
- Be a parent. Submit a “Letter of Intent” (LOI) also called a “Notice of Intent” (NOI) to any school district. Some schools will even have a form for you to fill out. Your kids will need some sort of assessment every other year starting in 3rd grade. Easy to do, more on that in another post.
- Be a parent who has a teaching license. Same as above, but you do not have to take part in testing.
- Join an umbrella school. Totally not necessary, but an option if you want more guidance and support. Google umbrella schools in your area to see what they provide.
Two more things apply to all Colorado Homeschoolers.
- You must instruct a variety of subjects, including reading, writing, math, history, science, etc. DON’T FREAK OUT. These subjects do not need to be taught every day, every week, or even every year. These subjects are meant to be included in your child’s education at some point. They are a long term guideline, not a daily checklist.
- You must provide 172 days of instruction for an average of 4 hours per day. If this sounds like a lot, IT IS NOT. Every homeschool mom I’ve ever talked to about this finds that reaching these hours is almost effortless. More on why later, but do not stress even for one minute about whether you will instruct enough. You will.
3. BUT WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?
Ahhhhh yes. The question every homeschooler is inevitably asked. Another post on this later, but let me say, homeschoolers tend to laugh at this question, because sometimes it feels like we do all the stuff with all the people. Pre-COVID we had a weekly “forestschool” meet up group with other homeschool friends, music lessons, soccer, tennis, online classes that the kids chose, recess at the local school, etc. It takes a little more effort to connect in an area like mine, where most kids are in public school, but it is very doable. Point is… if you want to be social, you can be. If you want to be a homebody you can do that too. Most likely you will ebb and flow somewhere in between, depending on the season and what works for your family at that time.
4. Ok, what does a typical day look like in your house?
Before I answer, please understand that every homeschool looks different. You have SO much freedom as a homeschooler, and you get to roll with what works in your house.
In our house, we generally follow this rhythm…
I wake up 7ish, make coffee, and walk around in the garden or check email. Usually the kids wake up around 7:30-8am. (If they sleep in, no worries!) They stumble into the kitchen and make themselves breakfast while they read, talk, or play a game.
We roll into the homeschool room (or couch, kitchen table, etc) by 9am most days with mugs of coffee, chocolate almond milk, and chamomile tea in hand. We always start with “read aloud”, which just looks like me reading awesome books to them (Neverending Story! Girl who Drank the Moon! Tale of Despereaux! Odd and the Frost Giants!) while they work on whatever they want that is quiet, which might be building with lego, drawing, craft projects, snap circuits, kinetic sand, etc. Or they might just stretch out on the couch snuggling one of our class pets. People of ALL ages love to listen to interesting books. Audiobooks are totally allowed and encouraged. We do this for at least an hour.
After mama reads, we grab a snack (and more coffee) for reinforcements… BECAUSE MATH. It’s the one curriculum I buy and actually follow. Because it’s just me and two kids, math is usually fairly painless. If they clearly understand the day’s concept, I have them do a sampling of the problems and if they nail it, then we just move on. If they need help with a concept, they get that help one on one, with no rush and no pressure, until they understand it. If there is frustration, we add gum or mini marshmallows for strength. Major frustration? Maybe it’s just not our day for math. Try again after dinner with dad, or just pick it up tomorrow. It all works out by the end of the year.
Next, we “loop.” This just means I have a list of things we want to learn about that semester, and whenever we cover that subject, I check it off. In reality, I often step back and let the kids lead.
A couple examples….
They love history, so we often listen to the Story of the World audiobook (basically a history textbook for kids) and then do some activities that go with that book, or watch youtube videos or documentaries about the subject we just learned about. Again, no rush and no pressure. We spent over a week on the gladiators because the kids were obsessed. We dive deep into things that fascinate them and move on when they’ve had their fill.
They have learned that they love science, so we have an Usbourne book on the basics and history of science. If some concept really interests them, we search to find some cool kitchen experiment or a nearby place we can visit. When we got to the section on black holes last year it was alllllll over for them. (If you haven’t heard of spaghettification, google it now. I’ll wait.)
We usually cover 3-5 subjects per day in this way, then clean up a little when we are ready for lunch. Sometimes they listen to a podcast (Wow in the World is a favorite), and for an hour or two after lunch, they do what we call “freeschool.” This means, they can do basically anything that is educational in some way…. But our definition of education is BROAD and inclusive. Baking counts. Writing counts. Board games count. Hikes count. Minecrafts counts. Mad Libs counts. Watching documentaries under blankets with popcorn counts. Chores count. It’s all learning and it all counts.
5. How do you manage chores, house, self care while homeschooling?
I am ridiculously introverted, and that I NEED quiet alone time to be able to do this homeschool thing. So, when we do the afternoon freeschool time, that’s when I regroup and recharge. I pop in ear buds, listen to a book or some music and I do what I need to do. Laundry, cleaning, projects, dinner prep, or sometimes just sitting alone on the back porch. I give them my all the first half of the day, and then I recharge while I work around the house. It works for me…. You will find what works for you.
6. What counts as homeschooling in your house?
This is a very important question, because it gets to the heart of one of the main reasons we homeschool. The world our kids will be entering after college is one we cannot predict. The career your kiddo wants to pursue might not even exist right yet. We cannot expect to teach them all the exact knowledge they will need for their future, but we can foster the passion for learning and the skills and habits that can help them succeed. We can teach an appreciation and understanding of history, art, literature, science, and numbers. We can model positive thinking, resilience, and curiosity. We can encourage them to know themselves. We can show them how to pursue a goal that matters to them, and give them the space and encouragement to do so.
To that end, soooo many things count as homeschool. In our house this looks like everything from actual book/workbook/computer learning, to building a chicken run (math, biology, tools/building skills, etc), to playing a board game (tons of skills depending on the game) to comic book writing (handwriting, art, literature, reading) to each family member learning how to play a song on the ukulele (music, fine motor skills, basic internet searches, perseverance). It all counts.
7. Crises schooling felt like a constant battle…. How hard do you push in homeschool?
Guys. This thing you all did last semester when COVID hit was not homeschooling. Those amazing teachers scrambled, you guys scrambled, there was a global pandemic stressing us all out and and everyone just tried to do the best they could… but in almost no way did your experience represent homeschool. That was last-minute remote “school at home” and even the most seasoned homeschooler would shudder at the thought of attempting it.
One of my favorite homeschool gurus, Julie Bogart, says that, “if the tears come, the writing is done.” This extends to any subject, and really comes down to taking the time to allow your kids to have feelings, then to teach them how to notice and honor these feelings and move forward in a positive way.
Think about it. If you are completing something for work, and it frustrates you to the point of tears, do you push on at all costs? Hell no! You step back, take a break, go for a walk, make some tea, call a friend and vent. You get centered and you come back in a better mindset. What an awesome lesson to teach kids! Education is not a sprint, and frustration is not the enemy. In fact it could be just another lesson for your kiddo on how to overcome, be positive, and succeed.
Now I know what you are thinking…. “But they will just manipulate me with tears so that they never have to do anything!” No. They won’t. Human beings enjoy learning things that are meaningful. They enjoy being successful. They enjoy overcoming challenges. Homeschooling allows more freedom to hand much of the choice and responsibility of a child’s education to that child. As a former teacher and now teacher to my own kids I can tell you…. Kids tend to rise to the occasion when they are trusted with something so important and meaningful.
8. So, if I really want to homeschool, what do I do next?
First, DESCHOOL. It sounds insane, but seriously, do it.
Deschooling is this concept that claims that in order for kids to find their motivation and truly take part in their own education, you basically have to LAY OFF. For weeks. You need to let them sleep in and get bored and peruse library shelves and read *completely* at their leisure, and spend long stretches of time on youtube with the freedom to go down whatever (age appropriate) rabbit hole they find interesting. Go outside a lot. Bake and read books they choose and play games and watch 80s movies.
You can leave cool things and books around the house for them to see, but you must not push or cajole them to “do school.” Just leave them alone for a while and let them settle into themselves. The idea is, without being told what they have to learn at every moment, they will find their way to what actually interests them. And YOU, dear friend, will learn that given the freedom to choose a life of sloth or meaningful work, kids may choose the couch for a while, but then will search for meaning. You will learn to trust them.
So there it is, and I have to stop myself here, as this is turning into more of a book than a post. 🙂 Hope this was helpful to any of you curious about what our homeschool looks like. Sending love to all of you, and good luck to all the kiddos this year, however and wherever they go to school!