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Our path to home learning

Life has such a funny way of proving us wrong. I always wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom, until I had children. In fact, I even remember overhearing a conversation in a pediatrician’s waiting room, when one woman told another that she homeschooled, and the other woman responded, “that sounds great, except for the part about being around your kids all the time.” And I totally gave her an imaginary high five. That lady knew what was up.

If you’d told me then that I would LOOOOOVE being a SAHM and homeschooling, I would have laughed in your face. Total transparency: if you’d have told me that 6 months ago I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are, and friends, I finally have a good feel for this thing.

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The messy project thing is really not for me. Occasionally though, I make an exception for these two budding artists.

When the hubs and I first got married, his non-negotiables were that we would have more children, and that one of us would stay home with them, preferably to homeschool them. Not because we want to shelter our kids, but because of what we saw as our girls progressed through school. He and I are thinking people. He has a journalism degree and one of my majors was economics. We love to debate the efficacy of one another’s viewpoints. We watch documentaries on our date nights, argue about the actual agenda of news stories, and race each other to the internet to find answers to random trivia as the moments present themselves. It’s what we do. So when our children began to dread learning- our sweet, early-reading, flash-card memorizing, girls- we knew we needed to do something different.

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My little readers. And yes, most of those are coloring books. It still counts.

When I worked, I was all-in. I loved my job and had an amazing career. But it took so much commitment from me- I met the babysitter for James at 6:30 every morning and dropped the girls off before 7:00, and I picked them up at 6:30 (or 6:29, since they locked the doors at 6:30) every night. I remember staying up until 9:00 with them working on homework, and realizing that I hated learning too, if that’s what it took. I got a note home from Cora’s teacher, asking me to stop her from “reading ahead,” because she wasn’t on the same page as her classmates, and she needed to stay on schedule. So she was bored and in constant fear of being in trouble for finding something else to do. And as Celia and I battled wills to sit at the table long enough to do the 30 math problems and social studies reading and science reading, I wondered whether or not all of this was worth it. My favorite was the time we had a fill-in-the-blank book report, and Celia’s first sentence was “Frederick Douglas was a funny guy.” She also included that his favorite activities were riding in boats and eating chips. An autism-spectrum take on American history. Her teacher was less than amused, and we had to rewrite the report. Which really means that I rewrote the report rather than spend 2 hours negotiating whether or not my child even understood who Frederick Douglas really was.

Now we have a different approach. It’s not centered around how our performance will be measured twice per year, but how we as parents want our children to grow in their understanding of the world. To us, education should “spark an interest and fuel a passion for learning.” Cora loves art and penmanship, so we put a big emphasis on cursive, fine arts, and music. James and Kent love to be read to, so they participate in all our readings (two per day- one of a classic children’s picture book, and a chapter from an age-appropriate book for Cora, which is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for now). We’ll start reading the Greek Myths in the spring, and have the Little House Christmas Treasury to look forward to over the next month and a half. I add history and social sciences in based on what we’re reading (we just did railroad history with Harry Potter, and studied owls in science, and we’ll shift to agricultural sciences as part of the Little House study).

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Here’s Miss Co, helping me make pesto sauce and rosemary-infused olive oil. Because, you know, we’re cultured like that.

Another non-negotiable for the hubs was food- we don’t eat out and we eat together every night as a family. That has been amazing for us. We’ve made that decision and stuck to it, and now the kids can be a part of that. Cora helps me make sauces, jams, and preserves, and James and Celia help with setting, clearing, and wiping down the kitchen table. When I need to do laundry, it’s a lesson in home economics (or as we call it, eventual-self-sufficiency). And we have the freedom to go to discounted shows at our favorite arts centers and museums, whether as home educators, or because we’re going at non-peak times.

I thought this would be so much harder than it actually is. And in the first several months, I’m pretty sure I made it harder than it should have been. I spent a fortune on curriculum, invested in a bunch of “homeschool planners” and attended a ton of homeschool conventions. While all those things have certainly been worthwhile, the truth is, they’re not for me. So in reinventing this thing for simplicity’s sake, I use a curriculum manual I like, leverage our library and eBay to get inexpensive or free children’s books, and use Google Calendar to keep my lesson plans organized. I thought I’d never see adults again, but truthfully, I have no problem working in a weekday morning Bible study and chatting with other moms during the week at kids’ activities.

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Doing the workshop after a showing of “Click Clack Moo!” which we read as part of our “on the farm” unit.

I miss my job, and the days of knowing where I stood performance-wise. I miss counting on a bonus as a reward for a job well done. I miss the corporate ladder and will probably always wonder what could have happened if I’d stayed. But I love seeing these little monsters excited about learning every day. I love being home when my husband gets home at night, and not being too tired to talk to him. I love that I’m not on the verge of a breakdown from trying to have it all. It was tough- we certainly had more financial freedom during the short time we were both working. But it didn’t compensate us for the stress of racing through traffic (which was more like crawling through traffic) to get to our kids, only to stay up all night working on their school work and seemingly never having time for each other.

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My planning station for the next six weeks. In this instance, it was my bed, with Parks and Recreation reruns playing in the background.

I’ll say this: the biggest credit in all we went through was staying connected to our community of faith. When I was working and he stayed home, when we were both working, and as we decided whether or not I should come home full time, we made the decision that our church connection was a non-negotiable. We needed to recharge our batteries and be surrounded by people going through the same struggles as us. Community is a powerful thing. And somewhere between parents like us in Sunday School, older adults who’d raised children in our Bible study, and encouraging messages from the pulpit, we found the direction we needed to make the leap. It wasn’t easy. But as it got harder, we had encouragers all around us to help us stay the course. Instead of blaming each other and pulling away, we leaned on each other and on our friends. And now life is pretty doggone perfect. (Okay, not perfect. But it’s the okayest it’s ever been.)

What are your non-negotiables? Do you have them? Do they give you direction when you need it? And who’s in your community? Do they challenge you with tough questions? Do they reassure you with their own experiences? I’ve found that’s what makes all the difference in this house. We negotiate a lot, but not on the things that define us. And it’s made for one hell of a ride.

xoxo~ LWH

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