Wednesday, November 15, 2006


This past fall, I have started to homeschool my oldest child. My husband and I had talked about the possibility even before we had kids, but for the longest time I was hesitant. I wasn't sure that I had what it takes. I knew that between the two of us, we are well educated and have lots of teaching ability in various areas. But, somehow the responsibility of schooling your own child when all you have experienced was public school and a mix of public and private colleges is daunting. People who were schooled in a certain way tend to think about schooling following that pattern. It is sometimes very hard to think outside the box.

The things that finally decided it for me were as follows:

1. Child number one has always been way out of sync with her age mates. She knew her 50 states by shape and location two weeks after her second birthday thanks to a map puzzle she was given, though she had some creative ways of pronouncing them (New Hamster was my favorite). She spontaneously started to sound out words around her at age 3 1/2. She could also count to one hundred by age 3. She has always had an enormous vocabulary for her age. She loves poetry and memorized a 65 line poem her Daddy read her from the Lord of the Rings. There was no way that this kid was going to fit in the traditional public school setting.

2. We visited this summer with my husbands Uncle and Aunt who homeschool their kids (not many years older than ours) and got to talk to them about what they do and what does a typical day of homeschooling look like. I got ideas about how flexible homeschooling can be. How it isn't as labor intensive as I feared (or doesn't have to be). Talking with them sort of opened a door to the possibilities for me.

3. There is a homeschool supply store near our house that I would drive by all the time. I stopped in one day and picked up a book that was basically an introduction to homeschooling kids ages 3-8. It was a one time read type of book rather than a resource that I would continually be looking back on. But it helped me see what working with a preschool age kid would be like, and how I had been homeschooling her from birth but didn't realize it. I think the key point that I took away was that kids that age want to learn and the homeschooling parent's job is to help them do that and not stifle it.

4. The store mentioned above also holds a "How to Homeschool" meeting once a month for interested parents. By the time my husband and I went to the meeting, we had done our homework and knew most of what was presented. I think we felt encouraged that we aren't the only ones trying to figure out how to educate our kids in the way that is best for them. We now know about some resources that will help us out in making our decisions.

5. My husband has found many resources online that have given us ideas of what to try with our child.

So this past August, feeling pumped to get started, I just started doing a little "school-work" with her every weekday (on weekends only if she asks for it). We are now nearly four months into it and I have learn a lot about how my daughter thinks, what works and what doesn't. She is making progress. She could read a little before we started, but now she can read better and doesn't get as frustrated as she used to. She doesn't feel the need to guess all the time when faced with a new word and can sound them out better. She has started learning some basic arithmetic. Her writing is more legible and she is starting to put spaces to separate her words. She loves art and wants to draw, color and paint all the time. I've been impressed how without any help she is developing ability to draw detail of a face (I love the way she does noses... it's like an exclamation point followed by a period). She varies the intensity of the color by coloring lighter or heavier. She mixes colors. She is starting to grasp some basic perspective by drawing some things behind others. Did I mention that she turned 4 less than a month ago?

I have learned that she may be advanced academically in some ways, but she is very much a 4 year old emotionally and socially (maybe even slightly behind on those). She has the 4 year olds' inability to stay still for very long. She has a remarkable attention span for her age, but only on things that she finds interesting (like art, stories, and music). She needs a lot of physical activity and doesn't get as much as she needs (I try tricycle rides in the neighborhood, parks with swings on occasion, and our backyard is good except when it is under construction). So, she dances ballet (her version of it) in the living room and climbs on everything. She gets social interaction a lot (socialization is one of the first things people bring up with homeschoolers). She is in Bible classes with her peers every time our church has them (4 times a week, actually). We attend a weekly meeting for Moms with an excellent child care program where she gets most of a morning of play time with kids her age (including playground time). She has lots of adults and kids of all ages who like to play with her and talk with her. With all of this social interaction we have learned that you can't make an introvert and extrovert. Our child is an extreme introvert. She isn't really shy, she is just in her own little world. The world going on around her is minor to her compared to what is going on in her own head. We see that she has made some progress. When people talk to her, she may actually respond to them on the same topic now instead of letting them in on the conversation going on in her head. But conversations with her are still pretty surreal. She is even picking up some things that the other kids do (typical I understand, but rarely desirable) so she must be paying some attention.

Right now, I find the biggest challenge with homeschooling is to give her the academics she is ready for (kindergarten and first grade) in a way her preschool body can cope with. Mainly I keep the structured part of the schooling down to about two 15 minute segments and then offer her lots of "play" that is somehow building skills and reinforcing things she has learned. I also give her lots of time to do creative things (art, creating her own stories, imaginary play, creating new toys out of old ones, etc.) My guess is that at least 50 percent of her day is productive learning and she has no idea that it is happening.

The lesser challenge has been involving and/or distracting child number two as needed during this process. I try to take turns doing things with each child so that they both feel like they have gotten attention and get to do things they like. I also consider myself homeschooling the younger child and try to help her develop her abilities too. She is on a very different level as a not quite 2 year old, so there is almost no structure to what I do with her beyond a typical daily routine.

This year is basically a trial year. I have no doubt that we will continue homeschooling, but not having done it before, this is our first year to try things out. We are constantly evaluating if this or that is working. We make adjustments as needed. It really helps that we figured out what we want to accomplish with homeschooling (our philosophy) and set out goals for the year to help keep us on a path. Our method right now is very "eclectic," but that is appropriate for our situation currently. We would like to introduce more stucture and perhaps follow a particular curricula at some point, but that will probably have to be a gradual change as our child's capabilities are up to it. So far, only four months into it, I'd say it has been a success for our family and we are hooked on it.

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