We homeschooled for the first time during the 2021-22 school year. It was both more rewarding and difficult than I anticipated. Initially, I was tempted to write a review of our curriculum choices. But, as most homeschoolers already know, the what doesn’t matter as much as the how.
Homeschooling was a blessing in many ways, but it came with a new set of trials as we tried to navigate this new world. As a linear thinking person, I was eager to do our school routine in a certain order, schedule field trips regularly, and consistently provide art activities. As early as September, I was able to tell that this wasn’t going to work. Fluctuating moods, unexpected sick days, and other challenges led us astray and knocked us off our agenda regularly. I even ran into resistance from my kids that I wasn’t expecting. Homeschooling sounds like a dream to those of us who have a more introverted nature, but it’s easy to lose sight of this. I realized I had too. I was no longer shuffling the kids off to school while I worked my remote job, always aware of the tight time frame I had. I had the luxury of starting school when we chose and taking our time, no longer chained to 45 minute time slots. But even though this sounds good in theory, the lack of accountability and large open time frames made us feel a bit unsteady.
I believe it was the anchors that kept us afloat. Consistent routines and weekly groups helped give us some structure. Regular therapy appointments helped us process and keep healthy habits. We started each day with a read-aloud. Every Monday, my daughter took a class with our local Homeschool Connections group. She took engineering and coding - both topics that I didn’t feel comfortable nor called to teach. Every Tuesday, my son and I attended a nature pod created specifically by a local homeschooling mother for young children. The pod gave us regular time outside together (yes, even in January in Michigan!). We sang songs, reviewed letter sounds, created art, and most importantly, spent time with others. Each day, I made math and reading a priority. In my homeschool dreams, this looked like us studying fractions while baking together or spending hours poring over books of our choosing. Some of these idyllic scenes emerged in a more organic, messy way, but using an open and go curriculum worked too.
This year, I am trying to resist overbuying curriculum before we even begin the school year. We will stick with the same math program as last year, incorporate daily read-alouds, and continue to build my son’s phonics and my daughter’s comprehension skills. We are going to try religious education with our parish, and building Bible stories into our weekly plans. I will try to follow my children’s interests and weave them in whenever possible, even when that just means pulling up a YouTube video. I had a lot of idealized versions of homeschool swimming around in my head, but have found a community of homeschool friends who have assured me that this is common and to challenge those ingrained beliefs. A process of unlearning is under way and I suspect this is only the beginning.
Speaking of friends, we also found that leaving the house most days and meeting up with other homeschoolers to learn and connect with was of great importance for our mental and emotional health (kids and parents, alike). This year, that will look like Homeschool Connections classes, a homeschool art class at a local studio (speak up- businesses are listening!), and a weekly learning group we have formed with fellow homeschooling families. We will have monthly book clubs, nature walks, field trips, and culture studies. This will give us all some accountability, structure, and a chance to build skills that can be difficult to hone in an isolated environment.
As with anything in life, there will continue to be challenges and rewards. Our society prioritizes academics and being involved in countless activities, but relationships, experiences, and mental well-being are the most important for us. If we feel connected and safe, the rest will follow. I am looking forward to this next year of homeschooling, trying to take down any idyllic visions I still have and replacing them with the reality of imperfect learning and time together.