There are two types of people who think they know everything about children; those who don’t have them, and those who have grown children and have forgotten what it was actually like. I find the same is true with teaching. Those who have never taught, and those who have but have become disconnected with the process. In the actual trenches of parenting and teaching, we are faced with an ever growing landscape of unknown and uncharted territory. Never a dull moment, and endless opportunities to challenge our beliefs about how best to do the “right” thing.
Before becoming a parent, I was a nanny and a licensed teacher for many years. You can imagine my level of expertise and arrogance that I had when I was preparing to welcome our first child into the world. I truly felt that I had it all figured out; after all, I had the job experience and degree to prove that I was an expert. I knew exactly what I’d do and wouldn’t do with my child. I was aware of the ups and downs of the day to day and felt that I was more than prepared to execute my role as a mother as perfectly as was possible.
Then, I held my firstborn son in my hands, and my heart took over the lead. At that very moment, my mama bear instincts took over, and my number one priority was to do whatever was needed to protect, love, and provide the very best for my child; even if that meant going against popular advice and scholarly training. Instinct took over, and I began making decisions based on his unique needs and personality. My expert status was quickly reduced to that of student as I learned everything I could about this new and beautiful little being.
As time went on, and our family grew to 2, 3, and 4 children; this learning process began all over as new little personalities and abilities required different things from me. Any seasoned mother will tell you that each child is so different, that they feel like first time mothers every time another child is added to the family. This is both the wonderful and difficult thing about being a parent. The minute you feel you might have things figured out; things change. Another baby comes along, or a child goes through a developmental change that shakes things up.
When my oldest child was kindergarten age, and we began assessing school options, it quickly became obvious that traditional schooling was not the best choice for him. Although a mastermind in anything mechanical, he showed very little interest in independent writing or reading, and his body was going all the time. We decided to begin the homeschooling process at the age of 7 and felt good about it. My teacher instincts kicked in, and I quickly accumulated lots of materials to help him in the areas that I felt he needed to master. My training told me that, at his age, he should be at a certain level in academics. Although many parents were comfortable with the unschooling or even more relaxed style of homeschooling, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of self directed learning when it came to subjects like math and reading and spelling. This began our push and pull relationship with homeschooling that had me falling back on my training while my son kept showing me that he was simply not ready. My fear that he would fall behind and not succeed in life dominated our first year or so of our homeschool journey.
One day, amidst the tears and yelling, I made the decided to just stop. Stop pushing. Stop pressuring. An amazing thing happened. I documented this moment on social media just a short time later.
“We didn't start homeschooling my son until he was 7, and even then, he really wasn't ready. Although obviously very intelligent, his skills did not translate to paper and pencil learning.
So, I pushed. There were tears, and it sucked. This was not how I wanted things to be, so I backed off, way off.
The first year that we did standardized testing, I had to read the whole test to him. The year after, he scored at or below grade level on everything. Still, I trusted that when his brain was ready, that he would learn what he needed. The maximum amount of time that I would spend with him on directed teaching per day was one hour. All other leaning was completely self directed.
This year, in 3rd grade, he was finally able to read all of the directions and lessons by himself. He is 9.
Within the short 8 months that we've been schooling this year, he has blossomed. Last year, he was barely reading, and certainly not doing it for fun. This year, he plows through chapter books in 2 days.
The maximum amount of time we spend on written, non-self directed work is 90 minutes. We formal school this way an average of 3-4 days/week. Most days consist of hours and hours and playing outside.
We just completed his yearly testing using the Peabody exam. His overall score has doubled since last year. He is above grade level on everything but math. In math, he is exactly where he should be. My non reader just a year ago, is now at a 7th grade comprehension level.
This progression has been 100% him, and 100% me backing off and allowing him to be a kid and grow at his own pace and pursuing things of his own interest (robots, legos, inventions, animals).
Had he been in the school system, I strongly feel that he would not have had these successes. You cannot force children to learn when they are not ready. Testing does not indicate intelligence. A long school day with hours of sitting is not conducive to learning.
As a licensed teacher, I thought I knew all there was to know about these things, but no. I've learned more over the last 3 years schooling and unschooling my child than I did during my years in college learning theory and application.
So if you are thinking that you can't do it; that it won't be enough; that you need a degree to teach; that it will be too complicated, I'm here to tell you that you absolutely can; that it will be enough; that you don't need a degree, and that it does not need to be complicated.”
Although I am certainly grateful that I figured out a way to make homeschooling work, I wish that I had known that even more concrete skills like reading and math would come on their own. I wish that one of the books that I had come across would have told me that each family’s flow is, can, and should be different; and that’s ok too! Basically, I wish that I’d been able to have access to a book like the one by my good friend, Kathy Oaks.
Meet Kathy Oaks; blogger, homeschooler, and author of the book, “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits”. As a response to the common questions regarding homeschooling; how to start, what to do when stuck, and where to access information; Kathy began writing in 2017 and published the book in 2018. As is obvious to me from the book, Kathy’s mission is to encourage and inspire families to give homeschooling a go, no matter their unique situations.
If you have read any how-to or help books (I certainly have), you may be used to lists and checks that can be complicated and that leave one feeling that, perhaps, they are even less qualified to perform the task at hand than they originally thought. In “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits”, Kathy exudes a sense of calm and confidence that reaffirms the fact that anyone can homeschool if that is what they choose to do. Heck, I feel better about our day to day school/unschool, and I’ve been doing this for a long times now.
One key thing that Kathy communicates very clearly in the book, and that I believe is missing from the homeschooling discussion as a whole, is the idea that being connected as a family unit, no matter what your family looks like, should be a priority in this learning process. By connecting together in sharing our passions and frustrations, our goal as homeschoolers is to inspire a desire and joy of lifelong learning, not the memorization of a ‘one and done’ topic that we’d generally experience in a traditional school setting. Even though I “know” much of what I was reading, re-learning and exploring my own feelings, beliefs, misconceptions, and ideals in the words of another homeschooler was reaffirming. I found my head nodding in agreement and the little voice in my head whispering, “Yes”, many times over.
There are just so many gems in this book. I feel that if I covered them all, you’d have no need to buy the book for yourself. On my second time through, I identified my favorite section. You see, this year has been a challenge. Baby #4 arrived in January of 2018, and although we took the time that we needed to adjust to a new little one, we failed to adjust our expectations of one another and our day. All of the frustration came to a head over the winter. I honestly felt as if perhaps homeschooling and me had met our end times. As I re-read Kathy’s book, and came upon the section “What if homeschooling isn’t working”, I had a light-bulb moment. In that section, Kathy speaks to creating a homeschooling mission statement and establishing goals. In other words; why are we doing this, and how should it look? These two things were very simple when the children were young, but now that my oldest is nearly a teenager, I realized that we need to explore those two areas again.
Another favorite part of the book is the Learning Style Questionnaire. Although meant for children, I took it too! It was fun for my kids to see how I was the same as and different from them. A few answers gave us a good laugh as it was obvious why we butt heads sometimes.
When I asked Kathy what made her book unique, she mentioned that she had covered sex ed in her book. Truth be told, I was curious as to what her approach would be. I have not yet found the “perfect” book on this, so my husband and I have just relied on the truth. Calling body parts by name, explaining puberty and development in a matter of fact way, and answering questions as they come. This does not come naturally to me at all, but it has been tremendous for the kids. They are not scared or ashamed of their bodies, and don’t think the changes our bodies go through are weird or something to be embarrassed about. If you are looking for a great read on this topic, skip to the end of Kathy’s book. In just a few pages, she covers just about everything. Again, it was nice to see just plain old common sense applied to what can be a delicate and uncomfortable topic.
Lastly, do not pass up the resource lists in the back of the book. I have only begun to delve in, but what is listed are quality links that can help get you connected to lots of useful information from resources to games to topic specific information.
Anyone can homeschool. Whether you are one to have a strict, organized schedule and intense curriculum, unschool, or toggle between the two, “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits” can serve as both affirmation and a resource guide for information and ideas.
As a special bonus, if you purchase “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits”, you will receive Kathy’s Homeschooling Resource Kit which includes:
eBook: Top Ten Ways to Make Your Homeschooling Journey Better.
Webinar: Roadschooling—How to make a trip to see the relatives fun and educational.
Roadschooling Resources: Packing list, resource links list, list of car games and activities.
PDF Guide: Five Steps to Improve Your Self-Care Today, by Ellen Rondina, author of Self-Care Revolution.
Kathy will also be at this year’s Minnesota Homeschoolers Alliance (MHA) convention on April 15. She is offering special pricing on both her print and ebook. More information on the convention and Kathy’s participation can be found here. On social media, you can find her blog on parenting and homeschooling on Facebook.