Are you a not-so-ready homeschool mom like me? It’s been several months since our ready-or-not homeschool officially convened. I’m tempted to classify them as long, hard, slogging days. But if I take a step back and put on my objective lens, they haven’t been quite that bad. They just don’t look anything like the idyllic portraits of homeschooling I see on Instagram…it takes a hot minute before my objective self can remember that Instagram isn’t the standard I’m holding to. And sometimes I do have to remind myself to choose joy in my everyday homeschool. Because it is a choice. It’s not something that magically happens when everything is going according to plan…obviously!
Last month, I shared about the initial focus I’d set for our homeschool, and I’d say we’ve done well at it. We’re all getting into the flow of new rhythms, setting aside things that aren’t critical in this season, and building our gratitude muscle by constantly looking for things to add to our thankful jar. In evaluating the first few weeks of our journey, I’m struck by the transformation I’m seeing, even in these very early days. I might’ve once likened it to peeling away the layers of an onion; but having recently dived into our first new curriculum, the image of unboxing is much more appealing. Life is like a box, as the saying goes. Maybe it’s chocolate, maybe it’s books, maybe it’s the layers of yourself or your kids you thought you understood. We’re all unboxing something.
Unboxing Me: The Not-So-Ready Homeschool Mom
I am still a mom trying to focus on kids, a household, graduate school, freelance work, and pandemic survival. All those layers, for better or worse, are still with me. Every. Single. One. Perhaps I can hold out hope for a few of those things to be unboxed someday. But for now, I’ll be grateful for these new layers of myself that I’ve noticed:
I am becoming tuned into the unique perspectives of my children. My daughter sees life as one big quest to discover all the things, and she asks the most amazing questions. I spent three years of high school in a Socratic program and distinctly remember agonizing over my inability to ask questions. It’s fascinating to me how quick she is to question pert near everything. There are far more questions happening in our homeschool than there are answers, and I’m learning to be ok with that. I don’t need to have all the words. She is so quick and so sharp; I am learning to appreciate her innate curiosity and talent for learning. This is the beauty of our homeschool journey.
I am resting in the unconventional nature of my role during this season. While my husband’s career in live events is in a strange holding pattern and I’ve assumed the role of primary provider, I don’t get to do as much of the teaching as I’d like. And that’s ok. Everything we need for this day has been generously given to us: my opportunities to work, his opportunities to be here and participate in our homeschool journey. This won’t always be the case. Occasionally, I have to unbox the guilt that wants to grip my heart for not being fully focused on the kids. By unboxing it, I can name it and release it bit by tenacious bit.
Unboxing the Kids
I remember thinking when I was a brand new mom that I would not let anyone put my kids in a box. To be honest, I’m not sure I did so well with that; I’ve certainly learned it’s not as easy as it sounded back then. I have renewed that commitment to myself to allow my kids to explore the world on their terms and to discover and follow their passions free from conventional standards. This is quite a shift from the boxy classroom approach they’ve had the past couple of years; the sudden freedom to not conform has certainly taken some getting used to.
They’ve been such champions this season. Cantankerous? A little. Fidgety? Most days. Messy? More than I’d like to handle on occasion. But they’ve also pivoted on a dime, adapting as their ready-or-not homeschool teachers have gotten their bearings, and kept chins up despite the unfamiliar nature of all the things.
I knew that the expectations they’d formed during their time in a traditional classroom would take some time to undo, so I’ve not been concerned with packing our homeschool days with schedules or rigid structure; I just wanted us all to settle into a rhythm. And they’ve done that. I borrowed a concept they loved from our Montessori pre-school days: the workplan! It’s a flexible tool that provides the kids with both autonomy and accountability. Some sources list specific activities for each day, but I keep it simple and only list subjects since we don’t really have multiple options per subject these days. The workplan lets the kids know what’s expected and also allows them some control over the course of their day.
Someone asked me this week if homeschool would be rigorous enough, and I was able to confidently reply that I’m just not concerned about rigor right now. There’s a time for everything, and eventually I will be concerned about how hard they’re working and what progress they’re making. But right now, I want to make sure that we reignite a holistic interest in the act of learning. How quickly they can recite math facts is far less important to me than whether they are learning to think mathematically. I could force them to spend dedicated time in rote memorization, but I’d much rather watch them unbox a love of learning and know that the math facts will come in time. When they ask if we can read more Life of Fred at dinner and again at bedtime…I know we’re on the right track.
Unboxing Our First Curriculum
Our house is a testament to my deep love affair with books. There are shelves in every room, and I am always overdue for a purge. But really, is there even such a thing as too many books? I think not! But I digress… When we unboxed our first curriculum, it was hard to say who was more excited, the kids or me. Side note: that they’re as excited as me about a box full of books may be one of my favorite accomplishments of motherhood to date.
So Many New Books!
My kids were skeptical at first when I told them our new schoolbooks had arrived from GeoMatters, but by the time they had all the books unboxed, they were begging to get started. From character studies to encyclopedias and atlases, this collection of books will take us through the early exploration of our country in a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. (Note: No matter what curriculum you use, you really do need great books to homeschool successfully!)
Paths of Exploration provides our framework for history, geography, science, language arts, and creativity. I was hooked from the minute I heard it was literature-based and only loved it more as I investigated, finding its roots running deep in Charlotte Mason philosophy of the natural flow of subjects for holistic education.
Learning how to think is one of my top priorities, and this curriculum is informed by the research of Drs. Benjamin Bloom and Ruth Beechick, both of whom studied the paramount nature of thinking skills in the learning process. At the same time, given the ready-or-not start of our homeschool journey, the step-by-step parent-teacher guide removed nearly all of the overwhelm I felt at the prospect of sourcing and crafting comprehensive lesson plans. Every single thing we need for each lesson is all in there…amen and hallelujah!
They enjoy the variety of activities within their student notebooks. My son has even come to appreciate the copywork at the beginning of each lesson! Differentiation is built right in so that we can adjust for their unique needs from one activity to the next. I’ve enjoyed the ease with which we’ve all taken to this new framework; we were able to fully engage with it from the outset, no easing in required.
Always Something New
In reflecting on the past few weeks, I’ve realized that homeschooling will likely be a journey of unboxing one thing after another. Something will always be new and emerging: sometimes it will be new pieces of me, other times it will be new insights about my kids, and yet other times will be the excitement of discovering the new places our journey will take us next. The thing I need to do right now is learn to make the most of those unboxing moments because that’s the beauty of homeschooling.