What you did last spring was not homeschooling.
Seriously. It wasn’t. No one would ever consider homeschooling if that was actual homeschooling.
What you did last March or April was something entirely different. It started virtually overnight with content quickly cobbled together by teachers who were scrambling to take their vibrant classroom curriculum to Zoom, Google, and other not-live-classroom settings. It was emergency virtual schooling done by teachers who were completely dedicated to making things work who were often overwhelmed in the process. Who wouldn’t be? I can’t say my first days seeing patients via telehealth went any more smoothly than those first Zoom classes did. At my clinic job as a PA, I felt useless at points, unable to listen to my patients’ lungs and hearts, unable to really sort out that rash. (“Bring the phone a little closer…closer… BACK UP FROM THE CAMERA!! So, does it itch?”) It’s medicine of sorts, but it’s hardly an excellent physical exam.
What you’re considering now, most likely, is real homeschooling. It’s better than what happened in the early Spring, I promise. You choose the curriculum, formal or not. You decide how much time you’ll spend each day and each week. (You might be surprised how many homeschoolers manage with four or even three days of structured learning.) You decide what’s worth learning at that time. Yes, if you’re returning your kids to school when the pandemic ends, you may want to keep an eye on your school district’s general goals for a given year, but that’s often optional.
Actually, a lot of it is optional. And that’s scary, especially for those of us worried that somehow our kids will get behind. But when your alternative is gluing your kids to Zoom classrooms all day or deciding whether those half-day in-class sessions are worth the risk, “scary” is relative.
I took the homeschooling plunge when my older son (now 23) was seven years old. He’d been unhappy and bored in two schools, and he was becoming discouraged and depressed. He’d decided he wasn’t smart because, per his logic, no one gave him anything hard to do. I’d been preparing for this possibility for several months (an advantage, to be sure), and thanks to some good friends who let me explore their materials and minds, I felt confident enough to bring my son home.
It was a huge relief. The best thing I did was to start gradually. I didn’t launch us into all the subjects. Instead, we started with the Civil War (his choice) and math (his passion). We added more as we went, but seven-year-old brains are sponges. They learn easily and happily (most of the time), assuming you’re remembering that the educational process is about them and not about checking boxes. It’s about learning at a comfortable rate. It’s about being appropriately challenging. It’s about making your child’s world a bit bigger. It’s about learning to love learning.
So when he first came home, we watched the Ken Burns series on the Civil War. We read books about the war. We explored maps and even made a board game about that time in history. We made hardtack. (A learning experience, although not one we repeated. Yuck.) We asked questions and, as this was pre-internet learning time, we went to the library to find answers. Aside from the board game and the hardtack, little was produced. (Very few trees died those first few years with my older son, who hated writing — and struggled to write, thanks to a learning disability.) What he did was learn. Oh, did he learn.
Yes, we bought curriculum. We liked some of it. We loved some of it. And some just sat until it found another home. (It’s okay to let it go if it doesn’t work for you, although note that what works for one child might not work for another. Honor those differences, unless you love conflict. I’ve made that mistake.) We eventually wandered into online classes, with Online G3 being our go-to vendor. My older son tried Art of Problem Solving, but the format didn’t work for him. (It’s an amazing program for the mathematically inclined, which my older son was, but, like anything else, it’s not for everyone.) My younger son benefitted from high-school level Well Trained Mind Academy classes and a host of other online options. There are more options available than one could ever try.
And that’s part of the challenge. There is so much out there, and it’s easy to think that you’re doing it wrong because you are using the wrong curriculum or are t. It’s impossible to explore all that’s out there, and yet it seems, at points, irresponsible not to explore all of it. It is, after all your children’s education you’re managing here. It’s their future. And if they don’t write more than a paragraph until they are ten or failed to learn any foreign language despite several tries with several languages, you’re a terrible homeschooling parent and your kids are, well…behind.
Poppycock. Yeah, it’s poppycock.
Sure, if they are returning to school the next year, benchmarks matter. Maybe. It’s an odd time, after all. I’d guess school’s going to be a bit messy for several years to come, even once our children are back in classrooms that feel like the classrooms they left in March 2020. You may, however, decide to keep homeschooling after this pandemic ends. You might come to like the time with your kids, watching them learn and learning along with them. You might enjoy the freedoms it affords: days off because you need a day off, less opportunity for illness, control over content and pace, room for your children’s passions, and more free time overall.
And if you don’t enjoy it, that’s okay, too. It’s not for every parent or every kid or every school year. It’s not a failing to hate it or to find it tedious. It’s hard at first, or it often is. We have expectations, the kids have expectations, and we’re all together all the time. It’s intimate, homeschooling, and it can be intense. It’s as much a lifestyle as an educational option.
What you did mid-second semester in 2020 was not homeschooling, though. Don’t judge homeschooling through that lens. Look, instead, as homeschooling for the next year as an opportunity to look at education differently and to know your children a bit better. Watch how organically they learn, and celebrate what they learn. Let them teach you — you’ll learn a good deal. You’ll have some bad days — and a few astoundingly bad days. Learn from those and move forward. Homeschooling might just be something that lasts beyond this pandemic.