It’s that time of the year.
The email for the homeschool science program that I run at the local science museum is going crazy. New homeschoolers are frantically trying to pull together their school year: Google searching for classes, racing to find and buy curriculum, creating school rooms at home, and filling up their schedule. I spend a bit of time with the new families, answering questions about the science program, and then we some how spend time with my reassuring the new family that they can do this. It doesn’t matter if they are Kindergartners starting out, or a middle schooler starting a new track of schooling. Homeschooling for the first time is scary.
I was once there. New homeschoolers.
Sort of. By default we started homeschooling. My husband Carl thought we should homeschool, bought me a stack of homeschooling books, mainly John Holt, for my birthday. I looked at the stack, Andrew was two years old, and I thought, this would be crazy. How am I suppose to homeschool and be a teacher of the Deaf? At that point, I was teaching part-time, and child swapping with my sister-n-law, who was also working part time. The “twins” were months apart in age and together for 12 hours each day.
Little did I know that a year later I would leave my incredible position, my students, and the school for the Deaf. Andrew was very, very sick, my grandfather had died, and my grandmother was heading into hospice. Everything works together for some greater plan than I could have ever imagined. And then at the age of five, we were homeschooling.
My own childhood was a hybrid: half-time homeschooled, half-time traditional schooled. My father’s job was on the road for half the year, and we “schooled” under my mom’s tutelage as we followed him on the road. I LOVED the time we homeschooled, but back then, we called it tutoring. My mom still swears to this day, “You were not homeschooled, we just tutored.” It was illegal to homeschool in the 70’s. After reading several homeschooling books, I had this ah-hah moment and realized, my favorite schooling had been our tutor-home-schooling, and I wanted to make schooling for Andrew as rich as my school experience.
Sitting down for our first year of homeschooling, I knew more of what I did not want to do, than what I wanted to do. It takes time creating a flavor or finding a philosophy. Being a teacher at a school for the Deaf, I adhered to their “flavor”: traditional textbooks from major publishers or teacher-created materials. Homeschooling flavor is going to change through the first year, and will keep evolving over the course of homeschooling. My first years were a blend of classical Charlotte Mason and Waldorf education, and eventually I scaled back and we have more of an eclectic Classical education–minimalist style.
Knowing where you want to end up is the first step for starting homeschooling. Is it to avoid a dreaded teacher for one year of middle school? Or is it to give a solid start for the first two years of school, and then take it year-by-year after that. No farmer plows a field looking back. They set their sight ahead, gather their best tools, and puts their hand to the plow to push forward steadily to the finish.
Even with my youngest starting high school this year, I am still analyzing what we are doing. What worked for Andrew didn’t match our foster Deaf kids. And Emily has a whole different style of learning than Andrew. But the core belief is still at the center. As Minimalist Homeschoolers, it really does not matter what philosophy is at the center, rather, that we are not running around, buying more and more stuff. Our environments are not visually and auditorially overstimulating.
We are not signing up for more classes than our schedule can handle and only able to give it 50% effort or attend half the sessions. That we are not trying to teach in the middle of constant chaos and spending the first 45 minutes of the day searching for the textbooks or our musical instruments.
Finding center, a philosophy of why we want to homeschool and what we expect of our children and ourselves when we reach the end, will help us to focus and simplify our homeschooling lives.
I am on my homeschool retreat for 72 hours. Enjoying creative time, knitting time, cello practice (for myself!), and a cup of homemade decaf latte. As I watch panic filled emails arriving in my science inbox and flag them for Tuesday, I continue to reflect on where I am going this year and does it match my end goal.
Take some time, think about your own minimalist homeschool expectations. Are you a new homeschooler? Veteran homeschooler? Or homeschooled for your own education? Do your expectations match with your homeschooling philosophy? Do you have a philosophy (reason/style) for homeschooling? You might stack your homeschooling guide books in piles and focus on the ones that inspire you the most. What is written by those authors that you want to copy? Who have their children become? Create a mental collage of who your children, your family, your future adult children will become when your homeschooling journey ends. And then, the next stage of this process is figuring out how you will get there.
That will need to be my next post.