Last spring, our family made the decision to homeschool our two boys for this academic year. I haven’t written much about homeschooling for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don’t feel entirely qualified to write about the topic. Our boys are dual-enrolled, spending a day at a program through the public school and the rest of the week educated at home, so we are both homeschoolers and public school advocates. It’s our first year, we are still getting our feet wet, and I don’t feel ready to offer advice on the subject. However, my lack of credentials doesn’t seem to stop me from writing about anything else, so maybe I shouldn’t let it get in the way here either. The other reason I’ve shyed away from writing about homeschooling is that the conversation I want to have isn’t really about homeschool vs. public school or curriculum choices or even the reasons that led us down this path. Those are all great conversations, and there is no shortage of them happening on the Internet, but the conversation I really want to have is about the changing face of education. It’s about open-source courses and self-organized learning environments, or building a school in the cloud and a radical paradigm shift in the way even define school. I want to talk about this and this and this. And I will, in a future post. When I do, I hope you’ll join the conversation. Or maybe we can meet for coffee to have that conversation in person, which would be even better (because of both the adult conversation and the coffee).
But for now, I’m going to share a little about our homeschooling adventure. When I run into friends I haven’t seen in awhile, the first question I get is, “How is homeschool?” This question is always asked from a place of genuine curiosity and I welcome it, but I don’t really know how to answer it. If you’re one of the people who has asked it, you’ve no doubt heard me say something like, “Oh, mostly great!” or “It’s an adventure, that’s for sure!” That’s because this question is like someone asking you, “How was Europe?” when you got home from studying abroad for a year. It’s hard to sum up in a sentence or two, but I don’t want to overwhelm my friend who I’m chatting with in passing at the grocery store with the real answer either.
So, if you are that friend who has asked that question, this blog post is for you. It’s long, and I won’t be offended if you close this page right now, but for those of you still in, grab a cup of coffee and find a cozy chair, you’ll be there awhile. Welcome to a day in our life.
Early morning, before the sun – An alarm clock chirps and our dog joins the chorus. My husband lets him out while he pours the coffee and after a few sips while still under the covers, I open my laptop and read or write. The click-clack of my keyboard is drowned out by the pounding of my seven-year old’s part-elephant feet. He barrels into our room, colliding with our bed and wedging himself between the two of us. His rambunctious entrance is at once punctuated with his sweeter than honey snuggles and I soak them up while I finish the writing and reading and emails I squeeze into these early morning hours.
Sunrise – My husband leaves for work and my youngest and I head to the kitchen for breakfast. The ten-year old is honing his sleeping skills for the teenage years ahead, and I face at least ten inquiries to “just see if he’s awake yet” in the next hour. The answer is always no. We eat breakfast together and listen to music. Some days we read, other days we take the time to work on speech therapy or cursive. At some point we dress and brush our teeth and prepare to get started “for real.”
Morning by anyone’s standard – If sleeping beauty has not emerged, we peek in his door. Most mornings he is awake, reading. This one wears books like an appendage. Some mornings he is still asleep. If he is sleeping, we give him another half an hour. If he is reading, we ask him to come to a stopping point and join us. Big brother eats at the table while little brother gets started on his work. On a typical day, we approach our more formal curricular pieces first, which include a mix of any of the following: word study, grammar, cursive, speech, logic, etc. After we wrap up the pencil to paper language arts pieces (not their favorites) we move to both brothers’ favorite – math. The boys use a combination of Singapore math (following the same curriculum as our public school) and Khan Academy (for additional video instruction and a far more enticing technological interface). Math is self-paced and both boys are eager to learn and master new material.
Mid-morning –We head outdoors with our dog if the weather permits or find some other way to burn some energy indoors, whether that is yoga or catch or wrestling. Afterward I put on a pot of tea and we turn our attention to social studies or science. Right now, we’re studying rocks and pouring through little brother’s ever growing collection while learning the differences between the three types of rocks and how they are formed. In social studies, we’re using Story of the World as a spine and are currently learning about ancient cultures in the Americas. We supplement our reading with a lot of documentaries on any part of history that is of interest and also John Green’s Crash Courses on YouTube. A lot of days, social studies blends right into lunch and we’ll eat and watch a documentary at the same time. I refer to this as a “working lunch.”
Noon – Time for Spanish. I have a degree in Spanish, lived in Spain in college and used the language in most of my pre-kid working life and have been completely remiss in not teaching my kids this language sooner. We are still learning a lot of silly and seemingly useless things like “I see the fat spider next to the tall man” but my kids are engaged and that is a win in my book.
Early afternoon – We take an hour or so every afternoon to spend time on our own in our own space (bedrooms or backyard hammock or clubhouse). This time can be used to read or study anything of interest, work on a project, draw, dream, create. The only rule is that it is done independently and in relative quiet. It took me a couple of months as a new homeschooler to realize I needed this and it is still my saving grace some days. After our quiet time, the boys usually wrap up their to do lists, whether it is their chores or drum practice, and we’ll often head back outside or pick out a board game or pull out the art supplies or work on coding until the neighbors all get home from school and start knocking on the door.
Late afternoon – The boys play with friends and I wrap up my own to-do list, throw back another cup of tea, and start dinner.
Evening – My husband gets home and we eat dinner. Tonight, we head to the YMCA for rock climbing and open swim. Everyone gets a shower there which means when we get home we are ready to put on pajamas and curl up in bed with a good book. Little brother’s eyes get droopy after twenty mintues of reading, and he still requests his song every single night and I still sing it to him, my favorite audience of all. Big brother will be up reading until he has eeked out his last plea and finally succumbs to sleep. My husband plays his ukulele, I read or write or sing and play along. Maybe tonight we’ll get to bed on time, but probably not. And we’ll wake early, tired and ready to do it all again.
Morning – After ignoring the chirp of the alarm clock three times, I roll over to a still warm cup of coffee left by my husband, who is now dressed and smiling at the door. He’s ready to leave, and I’ve missed our time together to chat and my opportunity to write. Little man is out in the kitchen pouring his cereal and singing showtunes and ready to start the day. Determined not to let the late start ruin my day, I chug half the mug and join him, bed unmade, pajamas on. Big brother joins in too but only after we open his blinds and pull off his covers.
After breakfast – We start our lessons and the boys are working at lightening speed. I sense there is an energy in the air today of just getting it done to be done and decide we need to switch gears. We get dressed (we were still in our pajamas, don’t judge) and pile in the car and head to the local park, discs in hand for a round of disc golf. We’ve been studying rocks, so I encourage the boys to collect and identify a few along the way, and a lively debate ensues about how the park was formed, whether there was a volcano in Missouri, and when glaciers swept through this area. Promises are made to find the answers when we get home.
Mid-day – We stop at the grocery store on the way home, picking up a few things from the deli for a quick lunch and a short list of needs. Big brother calculates all the prices per unit and relishes in telling me when a deal isn’t really a deal, and little brother weighs the produce (even the produce not sold by the pound) and pushes the cart. One more quick stop at the library to return a few books and pick up the ones waiting on the reserve shelf and we are on our way home.
Mid-afternoon – We put on a pot of tea and spread out the rocks we collected earlier that day. We roll out a huge sheet of butcher paper to categorize, sort and graph the rocks. We look up the answers to our questions online and end up watching videos about glaciers and climate. The globe is pulled out and explored and we discuss the movement of ancient peoples across the continents and whether there is life on other planets, which naturally leads to watching Dr. Who. I look up and see the time and am gripped by a familiar panic about not having “done enough school” today. The boys oblige by working through the day’s planned math lessons, and I remind myself that days like this are one of the reasons we are exploring a different path for education. After math, both boys pull out their new EV3 Lego robot and work on coding a new objective for it. Before we know it, friends are ringing the doorbell to play.
Evening – After playtime and dinner, my husband pulls out his clay so he and the youngest can work on a project for the program the boys attend once a week through the public school. They are working on a sculpture of a Blue Spix Macaw and while they mold the clay and make a mess, older brother and I work on some ideas for a cartoon about our dog Hobbes. Suddenly, it’s half past bedtime, and the boys quickly get in bed, snuggle up with a book, and stay up too late reading. I set the alarm even earlier, determined to start tomorrow on time.
Either of those scenarios could have played out in our homeschool on any given day, and are pretty accurate representations of the kinds of days we often have, but here’s what really happened the day I wrote this (January 28, 2015) :
Early morning – Little brother wakes in our shared hotel room and announces the arrival of morning. Big brother and I both pull the covers over our eyes, unable to welcome the morning after a long night of blanket stealing. But, as we look around and remember it is our last day here, we are eager to get dressed and a little sad to be moving on.
Morning – We head downstairs in my aunt’s Texas bed and breakfast and greet her, her husband and my granddad who is staying with her for the winter. My grandmother passed away in November, and my granddad just finished his first road trip without his wife in many years. We join my aunt in the bed and breakfast’s kitchen where my boys get a crash course in napkin folding and table settingfor guests. They have spent the last two days asking many questions about managing a bed and breakfast, the professional tools in her kitchen, the ghosts that roam the third floor and even about her dog Max and she graciously answers them all.
Mid- morning – We accompany granddad on a walk around the block and the boys bicker over who gets to ride with him on Jazzy, his motorized scooter. We all enjoy the warm reprieve to winter that Texas brings. We pour over the petrified wood and gems that my aunt and uncle gave the boys from their backyard collection and they are now eager to bring home to add to our own collection. We’ve been studying rocks and we talk about the differences between petrified wood and sedimentary rock and even get a chance to climb up and jump off some of the largest pieces of petrified wood I’ve ever seen in person.
Mid-day – We share one more meal with our family before piling our belongings in the Prius and hitting the road. It’s two hours to Austin and we’ll spend the first part of it working on logic, spelling, cursive and math in the backseat with the workbooks we packed and a couple of handy apps. After, big brother picks up his book and little brother and I settle into an audio recording of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Before we know it, we’re pulling up to our hotel in our old familiar town, where we immediately jump in the pool (because what’s the point of staying in a hotel if you don’t swim in the pool?) and wait for my husband to arrive on the airport shuttle. He flew in from St. Louis to join us for the last leg of our road trip.
Evening – We head out to dinner at Hopdoddy’s Burger Bar to meet my husband’s cousin who drove in a couple of hours just to see us. After a great meal and a little shopping on South Congress, we head back to the hotel for a good night‘s sleep. Tomorrow we’ll show the boys all our favorite stomping grounds from Barton Springs to Kerbey Lane to our tiny apartment to Dad’s old art studio on the UT campus and we need our rest to tackle it all. This trip reminds us how unbelievably grateful we are for the flexibility this year has allowed. We’ve visited my mom at the Jersey Shore in September when it was warm enough to swim but the crowds were all gone. We’ll visit more family on our way home from this impromptu January roadtrip. We’ve signed up for classes that we never could have made it to within the confines of traditional school hours. We’ve left margin in our schedules to explore new interests and dive deeper into others. We’ve been able to say yes to things we didn’t have time for before, and are learning to say no to things that don’t line up with the goals and values of our family. We’ve discovered that the road less traveled isn’t as scary as it looks from the highway. We don’t know yet what the future will bring, and remain open to all education choices for our boys, but for now, we are truly enjoying the homeschool journey.