Monday, September 28, 2020

411 On Homeschooling Durinng The Pandemic

A cute kid doing a research project on her own on a Sunday afternoon. This was nothing that was assigned. She wanted to learn about Anne Frank, so she researched and made a diagram on her life. This is typical since we've started homeschooling our kids. They learn for fun. 

This week marks one month since our homeschool adventure began. I've learned A LOT in the last month. I feel like I've said that over and over again since March, but it's true. Seriously, do you know how much one can forget about igneous rocks or adverbs? I've spent a fair amount of time feeling incredibly stupid, but also totally smart as everything comes back to me. It's more than just third, fifth, and seventh grade subjects though. Right off the bat I realized that our homeschool adventure is really a life adventure, as homeschooling is more of a lifestyle than an education style. It's realizing that there can be something to learn in nearly everything our children do and supporting it, no matter what time of day or night it is, whether we're in desperate need of a break or not. My husband and I are our children's only teachers at the moment and we haven't taken that lightly.

Let me start with the type of homeschooling we chose. Iowa has very lenient homeschool laws. We literally could have written a note to our school district that we were pulling our children to homeschool and that would be that. We chose to go with our district's homeschool assistance option. I can teach whatever curriculum I'd like, in whatever way I'd like, including creating my own curriculum. We have access to our district's resources, including the same curriculum my children would be using if they were in school right now, plus free access to textbooks and a visiting teacher who meets with us once a month (sometimes more). That teacher is available to answer questions, help when needed, test our children, and assist in the overall teaching of our children. To say I have utilized our visiting teacher and the assistance office is an understatement. They did everything for me, including pointing me in the direction of what textbooks my children needed, to getting my children un=enrolled in our school district, to holding my hand as I created their education plans. 

I was reluctant to give homeschooling a try in the beginning because I would be losing our supportive school community. It's a community of friends, my children's friends, teachers who have become friends and sounding boards, and resources that are needed during a pandemic. To gain another supportive community has eased many of my fears and helped us begin the school year comfortably. I feel as though I haven't really lost anything. I'm hoping it stays that way. Meanwhile, though we're able to take full advantage of the district's resources and textbooks, I decided to piece together my own curriculum for the minis for the school year. This was decided upon knowing what I, realistically, can and can't accomplish in a single day (and school year) and taking into account what the minis requested to learn for the year. 

Taking the mini's requests into account has me readjusting our school days quite a bit. They are anything but typical school days. While most of our school days begin at 8:30 a.m., they can continue well into the evening, night, and even weekends (with many breaks in between). Later this fall, we'll be taking an indepth look at planets and stars.This means many of our science classes will be held at night as we star gaze! It's definitely not a typical school day experience, but that's also part of the appeal of homeschooling. I can provide a stability that schools (at the moment) cannot and it can be done safely. Not that every day is easy breezy though.

Nearly ten years in childcare has taught me that if I'm frustrated or a child is frustrated, to walk away. Put something down and walk away. Since I am attempting to homeschool AND run a business at the same time, this is an important piece of the puzzle. I know that if my children are having a hard time understanding something, or a topic needs to be explained more indepth to them, or I don't have the time or patience, the best thing to do for both of us is to put it down and walk away. There have been many times I've told them to put a subject away, take some free time (which is usually just playing with friends), and we'll come back to it at a later time in the day or evening. For a while there, one child was doing social studies at night and had a four hour break in the middle of the day. 

It also means we can fit two days of math into one, or a week's worth of grammar lessons into two days. The school work can be done at just about any time or place (although, some lessons require the use of a computer and Wifi). In the month of September I took Fridays off. We hiked in State Parks, we had science class outdoors as we searched for geodes and looked at fossils, and the minis did their other schoolwork in the car in between excursions. Sounds pretty great, right? This is a big mark in the pro category, but it can also be a con.

This schedule means I (and my husband) rarely get breaks. It means that even though my workday has ended, I may have a subject or two to teach, in addition to getting dinner and prepping for other lessons for the week. I've had to re-evaluate how I take my "free" time and what is most important to me. One day I might prioritze taking a 45 minute shower and the next it may be taking a late night walk with the dog. I've had to take steps back (for the time being) in many aspects of my personal and professional life, so we can simply have an open schedule. This means I can't have busy weeknights, just in case a lesson needs taught (or re-taught) or a lesson is taking longer than predicted. We've had to adjust our life, not just how our children are learning. Surprisingly, this hasn't been a huge adjustment. It helps that we've been leading our pandemic life since March, so we have had a few months of practice!

To be completely honest, being mom/teacher/daycare provider is exhausting. It's A LOT of work. I can't have one moment of being unorganized or I will have failed in a day of learning (although, don't doubt for one minute that at some point this school year I'll be utilizing documentaries for a day of learning). I found myself on my Sunday sleeping in until 9:30 and then watching mindless TV for half of the day. I simply need that shut off time. It's been hard for me to sit down and write because I need to be in a different head space that I can't quite get in. Friendships and other relationships have taken a backseat, so I can make sense of what our life looks like right now. Thankfully, I have a life full of very understanding people and for that, I am eternally grateful for.

While I'm exhausted, I'm okay with it because I've watched my minis flourish. There is absolutely zero fight in getting them to do school work because they are eager to learn. I like to think it's because they're learning things they'd like to learn in ways that suit their learning styles, but the truth is, I have no concrete reason why. There have been times I've found them voluntarily doing school work or using their free time for more learning activities. I have also heard very few complaints about helping with chores. I'm not completely sure if it's because the minis have gotten older or if they're home all of the time to see what it takes to make a household work, but either way, I LOVE this aspect of homeschooling. In the spring we tackled cooking. As a result, I have kids making meals several times a week for us plus doing dishes, vacuuming, taking the trash out, dusting, and picking up as needed. I don't take the help for granted! Mostly I'm pleased to see them blossom in their independence with their newfound skills.

Of course, choosing to homeschool during a pandemic is full of uncertainties. At this time, EVERYONE is doing something new and different. Whether it's navigating virtual learning, a hybrid schedule, or getting used to what school or life is now for your family, everyone is lost in something different. It makes me feel less alone. As a result, our tribes and support teams haven't changed much because we're ALL doing something different and new. Sometimes, when our tribes are at different places, it makes it hard to relate. Instead our tribes have found the common ground of newness and uncertainty among us. Unfortunately, because of the uncertainty during the pandemic, many of the homeschool groups my children could be a part of aren't currently meeting or in session. We definitely are not getting a typical homeschooling experience, but it's working for us.

My husband and I are buckling up and hanging on for dear life because this ride doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. I'm hopeful we can get into a better routine, so I don't have to be busy from sun up to sun down. Overall, our homeschool experience has been positive with many learning curves. I'm sure the weeks and months ahead won't always be rosy, but at this moment in time, I am extremely happy we chose to homeschool our three minis for a plethora of reasons. I've been asked many times if we'll continue to homeschool past this school year. At this time, that is not the plan, however, if 2020 has shown us anything it's that our plans mean nothing. We're trying to enjoy the now and the memorable moments it brings.