Thursday, March 31, 2016

Homeschooling Lessons I Learned the Hard Way: Don't Lose the Big Picture

Our family has been homeschooling now for just over five years. I don't think I'd say I'm the most laid back homeschooler; I stress over making sure we've done enough, and that the boys are far enough along for their ages and grades. However, no matter what the boys have learned, what I have learned is to trust my instincts, and look at the big picture - the proverbial “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.”

When we first started homeschooling, Jude was our only homeschooler. The older three kids were in grade school, and Damien was still a toddler. He'd play while the others got ready for school, and then early on in the day while I got Damien organized, gulped down some coffee, and got our books for the day ready. Then I'd look at my watch and say, "Oh, we better get started!" and it would be time to stop playing and get serious. Out came the workbooks and printables, the crayons and classic literature, and it would be time to sit.

Sure, I tried to keep things interesting and engaging, but I'm not certain that "have fun" was at the top of the list. Anything that was fun was almost coincidental -- I was so wrapped up in making sure he progressed and we didn't become "that kind" of homeschooler that I was afraid to just let things be. You know what I'm talking about -- the kind of family that says, "Oh, we homeschool," and the children can't put together coherent sentences. We had developmental specialists -- doctors, therapists, etc. -- all questioning our decision and pushing for Jude to go to a "regular" school. We tried it their way, and it was a disaster, but it didn't stop them from pushing us to "send him back to school." I don't think I had a chip on my shoulder, but I was determined to not give them any crack to slide in anything that resembled "I told you so." Every task had an ulterior motive: printable coloring pages doubled as practicing letter identification, kneading bread dough worked fine motor skills, and a stop at the grocery store was a lesson in counting.

The first 18 months of homeschooling felt like barely controlled chaos. I was so intent on proving the "professionals" wrong that there were lots of tears - both his and mine! We did everything to try to get Jude to "crack the code" and read, and he just couldn't. I wish I had been able to believe, "It'll happen in time." I wish I had been able to say, "If he enjoys Super Why! then I'll let him watch it and count it as helping him learn phonics," rather than saying "No, must do it on paper for it to count, so we have a paper trail."

Then Luke's school closed, and we decided he’d finish high school at home. My doubts said maybe I was doing OK with homeschooling a kindergartener, but it was only kindergarten, with probably the lowest stakes of all. Luke only had three years until he had to go to college! How was I going to manage homeschooling a high schooler? Truthfully, I had zero clue, but took comfort in "If Jude isn't falling farther behind, I can't be a total failure." I made lists of what courses we needed to take, and cross referenced them lists of with potential courses, stressing over whether those courses were "strong enough." How many books and papers made an English course? It didn't matter if a public school's history class covered from the Cold War to 9/11 at a decade-every-other-day clip, my homeschooler had to know all about every major event, from LBJ's barbecue fundraisers to how many jellybeans were on Reagan's desk to the number of "hanging chads" in the 2000 election so nobody could say we were slacking! And if a high schooler had physics lab once every six school days, then six into 180 minus assembly schedule days meant how many labs to plan? We hadn't yet grasped how to homeschool; we were still stuck in the "do school at home" phase.

I wish with Luke that we had taken a little more time to de-school, and figure out what he wanted early on, rather than panicking and saying "Must...find..chemistry!" I think I would have said, "Ok, you need six courses this year, let's not stress over spending one hour on each of them every day, let's pick three, get our feet under us, and then go from there." I think we wouldn’t be stressing so much now as his senior year comes to an end. As my second high schooler, Matthew is getting the benefit of this experience, but as always, the oldest is the one Mom learns on.

We started homeschooling because the boys needed something "different" from what brick-and-mortar schools were providing. Coming from a science perspective and society where objective data reigns supreme, it’s been hard to change to a mindset that tests and book reports aren’t the only ways to prove you've learned. Last summer, Matthew's explanation of architecture made a National Park Ranger stop talking and listen to him. Jude may still be struggling to find definitions in a dictionary, but when asked "Have you ever shown anyone hospitality?" he replied, "We gave Aunt Jo and Uncle Brendan a place to sleep and showed them our country." Luke is able to engage in a political conversation with co-workers about the upcoming election. Yes, we do need some tests and evaluations, because the doctors like quantifiable progress and colleges like transcripts with grades that objectively prove the boys grasped what was taught. However, we’ve finally come to realize that learning isn’t about passing tests, but passing life. As Luke says, “It’s not as important that I can remember when Lincoln was inaugurated the second time, but that he was and in his speech said we had to figure out a way to be friends, not enemies.” I wish I hadn’t been so wrapped up in the details that I missed the point.

Today is Day 4 of the Schoolhouse Crew Review spring Blog Hop. There are over 50 bloggers participating in this season's theme, 5 Days of Tips for Homeschool Parents. I'll be featuring a different group of bloggers each day, and encourage you to check their blogs out and see what advice they have for you!

Adventures with Jude
Day 1: Choosing Curriculum
Day 2: Homeschooling Isn't Cheap
Day 3: Creating a Customized Curriculum
Day 4: Don't Lose the Big Picture (this post)
Day 5: 8 Truths about Homeschooling (live 4/1 @ 8 am)

Dawn @ Double O Farms
Dawn @ Guiding Light Homeschool
Debbie @ Debbie's Homeschool Corner
Desiree @ Our Homeschool Notebook
Diana @ Busy Homeschool Days
Diana @ Homeschool Review
Elyse @ Oiralinde: Eternal Song
Emilee @ Pea of Sweetness
Erin @ For Him and My Family
Jen @ Chestnut Grove Academy

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