Tuesday, October 18, 2016

10 Crazy, Life Changing Things that Homeschooling Has Taught Me So Far

I haven't been able to write as much or as often as I've wanted to about our journey to becoming sudden homeschoolers. I think this is because, for every single day of the past year, I've been learning more and more life changing realities of what it means to homeschool. Each week and month that went by shaped my thoughts and opinions, and it always seemed like I was in the middle of a process.  We were busy living and learning our new life and I hadn't yet come to any solid conclusions.

Now though, I'm at a place where I think I'm getting a deeper, more complex and emotional understanding of what homeschool can mean. I see the ways that it has the ability to shape our present and future.

Before I share with you the crazy, life changing things that homeschooling has taught me, I want to put three things out out there:

A.)  I know what some of you are thinking.... I used to think the same thing,  that homeschool sounded interesting, but torturously difficult and draining. I had heard all of the cliche' concerns over home education, like: "what about socialization?" and "how do the kids get into college?" I listened to all of the responses to these questions, and good as they were, I STILL thought homeschool seemed a bit backwards and more like a hippie dream.

It wasn't until I spent a full year living in home education and reading many many books on learning  and education, (so many that the library inter loan almost banned me) that I TRULY understood that homeschool wasn't a foolish choice. In fact, I see today that it can be a wonderful, nurturing, respectful, amazing choice!

By the way, here are just a  few of the books that I have enjoyed reading the most this year:

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray

How Children Learn  by the late John Holt

A Path of Their Own: Helping Children to Educate Themselves by Lael Whitehead was fantastic! I know this might sound a bit shocking to some, but over time, UNSCHOOLING philosophies have made SO MUCH sense to me. More on that another time, but unschooling elements certainly come into play everyday.

The list goes on and on and would make this a much too long post. If you're interested, look up books by  Alfie Kohn , John Gatto , Julie Bogart, Pam Laricchia  and Sandra Dodd, again to only name a few.

B.)  All of that said, I think homeschool and SCHOOL are BOTH great options. I'm not black or white, A or B on the subject. I love schools and I love homeschool! My personal opinion is that some children thrive in a school environment and some at home, that we're each unique and different and how great is that? I've read about some amazing hybrid schools too, they take principals of unschooling and homeschooling and mix them into their organizations. Little "cottage schools" and learning co-ops and homeschool groups and math circles and super progressive education centers where you can explore your child's interests. It's amazing and it's all so out there in the word! I never knew that until I looked....

C.)  I have to be up front, for those of you who don't know, I did not CHOOSE to become a homeschooler. When hearing that Noah and I started homeschooling, so many sweet, caring people have said to me that they are impressed at what I have taken on, and that they "couldn't do it" themselves. The truth is, I HAD NO CHOICE and the truth is also, honestly, YOU COULD DO IT TOO, IF YOU HAD TO.  During the first week of 5th grade, Noah started experiencing overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks. He began what is called "school refusal," and for the next three months, we tried every single suggested solution under the sun to get him feeling better and back into school. Jon and I had Noah at appointment after appointment, doctor after doctor. We tried rewards and consequences and baby step plans. Nothing worked, and in fact, the stress and wear and tear on Noah and Jon and I just got worse. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child depressed and panic stricken each morning, and feeling external and internal pressure to deliver your child to just the place that is causing him the feelings that he is not equipped to handle at the moment. Noah wasn't being "bad," he wasn't trying to upset us all or upset his school, but we weren't truly  listening to him. We thought we knew what he needed- to be back in school. Frankly, I wish I had listened to him years and years ago. From the very first day of his first year of preschool, Noah struggled with out of the ordinary anxiety in school. It was on-going and detrimental to his little body, mind and soul for such a long time. Pushing him to "stick-it-out" and stay in school never made him "tougher," never made him feel better and never made him "conquer his fears."

The stress of delivering a crying child to drop-off for nine years, nine years worth of phone calls to pick up your inconsolable kid, it really ate away at all of us. I had dreams of homeschooling sometimes, but every time they snuck into my head, I'd dismiss them as "crazy," as not a good option and as "giving in."

Although we came to homeschooling through tears and sudden, unexpected ways, I am incredibly thankful that it all happened, because it has opened up my eyes to understanding and options that I never even imagined were possible!

So now, we finally come to the main part of this blog post, the part where I tell you about the 10 CRAZY,  life-changing things that homeschooling has taught me. If you would have mention them to me a year ago, I would have never believed you! ;)

1.)  Homeschool has taught me to stop and question everything that I take for granted or do automatically - learning, parenting choices, the way I live my life and how I interact with other people.  This isn't about going around, being oppositional, arguing over every social norm, societal norms often stick because they work! Rather, it's about sussing out whether there are additional options and paths and ways to be in this world. Also, just as importantly, homeschooling has reminded me that it's not worth going blindly into ANYTHING. Questioning, learning, understanding, deciding- they are such important actions that I was not always taking.

2.) At some points in your child's life, investing in emotional well-being and your relationship is just as important, if not more important than chasing the perfect education. It's true. If we hadn't listened to Noah and worked to understand his needs rather then pushing what society tells us is the "right way," we'd still be struggling against the current and I fear that we would have destroyed any hope of a good parent-child relationship.

Homeschooling taught me to stop! Stop, slow down, take a deep breath and try to understand what my child was feeling and why. It made me realize that mutual respect, dialogue and empathy will get you much farther than punishments, rewards, deals and other authoritarian ways with some kids.

Homeschooling healed the relationship between Noah and I. Not that it was so bad before, but we have learned to co-exist in a place of less frequent power-struggles because he knows that I respect his opinion, hear his voice and trust him. We don't battle over homework or bedtimes or food or anything as often as we did before. Most importantly though, now Noah knows without a doubt that we're always going to be there for him and that Jon and I are flexible enough to consider what Noah feels is the best fit for him in this journey called life!

3.) Homeschooling taught me that I should have listen to Ricki ages ago. I've written about this before, but when we attended the funeral for our beloved neighbor Ricki, I was struck by the main message of the great eulogy that her Granddaughter gave. Basically - Life is too short, live on your own terms.  Ricki was giving and caring and did things for others ALL OF THE TIME, but she also said "no" to the invitations and people that just didn't work for her. She was honest, up front and set the boundaries that she needed. This is something that until now, I have never mastered. (I've tried, believe me, I've tried.)

Now I can politely decline invitations and asks of help when I have to, with half the guilt that used to plague me. Nothing like suddenly being thrust into the full-time "job" of homeschooling to make you eventually shout: "SORRY! I JUST CAN'T TALK!!!!"

That's the thing, it's like Cheryl Richardson's book: The Art of  Extreme Self-Care, you're just kind of forced by necessity to step away from some of the invitations and the potential new obligations to make time for all the other stuff that is going on in your life. In a way, the universe (and homeschool) gave me the message loud and clear that it was time to speak up for what I needed too. 

Now here are the juicy bits......

4.) Homeschool taught me that everything that I THOUGHT was true about education in America, is not the whole truth. Scandalous!!!! (Ok, remember that I'm not anti-school. I didn't pull my child from school because I thought I could do a better job or because I disliked our school. I actually loved it a lot!)

For example, would you be shocked to know that you DON'T HAVE TO BE PART OF THE OVER-SCHEDULED RAT RACE to get into college, let alone a good college?  You don't need homework or years and years of middle and high school or even a SCHOOL to be accepted into a university. It's true! I didn't know that! (Also, just food for thought, but college is not the only way to live a successful and fulfilled life.) Jon and I expect Noah to go to university and so does he, but homeschool taught us that there are so so many paths in life that are acceptable!

This post would be pages long if I went into explaining my reasoning on all of these points and sighting papers and statistics. Know that even 83% of UNSCHOOLERS go on to higher education. Homeschoolers and unschoolers often possess a drive and passion for their areas of study. Higher education understands this, and special admissions processes for homeschoolers are popping up more and more often at institutions around the country.

Last year I would lie awake in the middle of the night, WORRYING about HOW Noah would get into college. Now, I don't sweat it so much. Now I know that we have a lot of routes to take - he could go back to school at anytime or for high school. Noah could enroll with a fantastic private school in Ann Arbor, Clonlara, and take part in their homeschool program for high school. At the end of their program, just like any other school, if he fulfills all of the state's requirements, Noah will have a degree from the private high school. He could study hard with his tutor Kevin to do well on the ACT or SAT, and learn to be a strong essay writer and apply to colleges. He could find an interest, take classes at our local community college at 16, earn an associates degree there and transfer into a four year college at age 18.  I'm just rambling off different "paths," but it's so much more extensive that I ever realized.

The most important thing is not WHAT my child becomes in life, it's that he's happy and healthy and homeschool has taught me this!

5.) Since now I realize that you don't have to retain every single info bite that you are expected to remember in 6th-12th grade to get into college, and do well in life, I can chill out and focus more on fostering a love of learning in my child.

Learning is incredibly diverse. You can be a visual-spatial learner, a kinesthetic learner, an auditory learner and so on. Some people learn through reading and note taking, others through listening to audio books, some from watching educational videos and others- hands on experiments.

Through lots and lots of trial and error, I have surprisingly come to know that Noah dislikes online learning and that he much prefers workbooks and text books. I learned that he is quite an auditory learner too, loving being read to. In fact, when read to, he retains all of the information and spits it right back out to me or through typing with no problem! We are working our way through the classical "Story of the World" series and it's phenomenal doing our history read-aloud together. Everyday Jon also reads to Noah. He reads from the New York Times, which is a special part of the day just for the two of them.

How surprised was I that no, you don't have to reproduce the usual school method of listening to the teacher speak, reading your textbook and then filling out your worksheets to retain knowledge. Even simply having vibrant discussions on what we have read, truly fosters understanding and competency. I never knew that!

So when learning the parts of an animal cell became incredibly boring and a big drag on Noah, (even with the super awesome model we built and the parts-of-a-cell animated rap song) I felt completely fine taking a break and moving on to a different science topic of his choosing. Something that Noah found more interesting. There is time to cover it all when you homeschool. You've got the gift of time.

Remember when you were a child and you wanted to learn about something or master a skill? You probably read everything you could on horses, or figured out how use a hammer, nails and a saw to build a tree fort. I wanted to learn Japanese, so I did. At one point, I was fairly fluent in my Japanese speaking and writing. I wanted to become a good snowboarder, to write a blog, to know every single thing there was about the Beatles. I taught myself about 19th century American life and how to sew. Homeschoolers often get the freedom to find their intrinsic motivation in learning something, and that is priceless! When you have a personal investment in what you're learning, you learn more deeply.

Case-in-point, while the animal cell unit was a flop, (and I'm sure, if it ends up being a necessity or interest, he'll learn it in a snap at a later time) computer sciences was a hit! It's what Noah picked as his focus for the month. He spent the next four weeks finding and  downloading old, open-source Nintendo games. The developers opened these games up to people to "mod" or modify the coding. Noah gladly spent hours modifying the characters, their attributes and the world they travel through. It was really amazing!

Let's learn how light waves interact with water and prisms and about phosphorescence today. Ok!

6.) Never underestimate the need to NOT get up at 6:30am. Yeah, I feel a little badly about this one. Look, I do not take the gift of being able to be at home, homeschooling my child for granted even for a second! I feel very very lucky.

Jon and I woke up at 6:00am- 6:30 for over a decade. The alarm clock would buzz and I would bemoan needing to get up when that's the last thing that I wanted to do. We'd have to drag Noah out of bed too, especially on the school mornings when it was still pitch dark outside.

Then there would be a flurry of getting ready and rushing and breakfast and quick "goodbyes" and Noah and Jon would be out the door.

Homeschool taught me that unless we had somewhere to be, or something to do with a deadline, there was no reason waking up before we had to! The truth is....I regularly wake up and pop out of bed at 8:00 or 8:30. Even Jon wakes up later than he used to because he works from home now! For Noah, I sometimes let him wake up on his own, but most days I quietly go in and open his shade a bit around 9:00am or 9:30. When you have schoolwork to do and you're a homeschooler, it doesn't matter if you start in the morning, afternoon or the evening, you just do it! Some days when I know that Noah is over-tired or was up late the night before, I just let him sleep and get my housework done until  he comes hobbling out of his room around 10:30 or 11:00. He is indeed, becoming a pre-teen. On those days, no biggie, we just start and finish our work later. It's wonderful to feel well-rested.

7.)  You don't need to do seven hours of "school work" in homeschool, you can fit it all in, in two, three or four hours, and you can do it while laying on the couch in your pajamas! True story. Think about it, at school there is recess and lunch and time to travel between classes. There is instruction time and busy work time and time for the teachers to work with the other 20-30 kids in the class. When you break it all down, the super focused learning is only for several hours a day at most, at least for kids Noah's age.  You also don't need homework (yay!!!) because you are already just working...at home! Hooray! No homework battles anymore!!!

We have our focused work time which is usually two hours in the morning. We might break for lunch and then have an afternoon session. The thing is though, sometimes I just spread our different subjects throughout the day. For example, the evening can be a great time for social studies and current events. We read from the New York Times and have family chats about it around the dinner table. Or just yesterday, we watched a movie on World War Two in the late afternoon. Each day is different.

8.)  You can drop everything and go on adventures. An amazing freedom comes with homeschooling!  Like last week when we thought we'd run up north mid-week for a couple of days to see the fall colors. No traffic, no lines, just freedom. Freedom and life learning. There's a lot to learn wherever you go- history, math, geography, it's what you make it!

Hey, let's go up north and see the fall color. Ok, bye!

9.)  If you want socialization for your kid, don't worry, just become a homeschooler.
I feel like it might be THE quintessential homeschool skeptic's question: "but HOW will they be properly socialized!!?"

Ok, let me tell you how - by playdates with old school friends and kids in the neighborhood. Through art classes and gym classes and chess class and one of the MANY homeschool-coops out there! Through Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and study groups and get-togethers with other homeschool friends. Through the CONSTANT field trips being offered with the FOURTEEN LOCAL HOMESCHOOL GROUPS THAT WE ARE MEMBERS OF. You guys, the opportunities are endless. Noah actually has more opportunity to socialize with kids of all ages in more varied settings than ever before! There's a homeschool theater group, every sport you could imagine, every interest covered including STEM groups, art groups, writing groups, and social get togethers.

Not a week goes by without an open playdate invite or three+  educational/social field trips that are organized across our metro area. We can't wait for next week when we are going to a Tween Homeschoolers Halloween get-together and potluck! There's also homeschooler's week coming up at Sea Life, an amazing aquarium nearby, where tickets for homeschoolers are on a deep discount and there aren't any mid-week lines. :)

Oh and let us not forget Noah's online friends from all over the world. They DO count too. I firmly believe that. Through online classes and even dare I say, "Minecraft servers," Noah has forged real friendships. One former online classmate's Mom and I even became online friends too! The world is a different place than it was when I was a kid. If my child is in a group online learning and solving problems, chatting and sharing with a new friend, who's to say that's not socializing or real friendship.

10.) Homeschool has taught me to find your tribe and you'll never be alone. I thought, in the very early days, that I would never find any parents who understood what we were really going through. I felt as though nobody could understand the stress and intensity that a family shoulders with a child who has anxiety and true school refusal. No one who could relate to the despair and the confusion, the embarrassment and the loneliness. Then- I joined the Facebook group: "Homeschooling Parents of ADHD Kids Support Group," and the "Secular Homeschoolers of Gifted Twice Exceptional Kids Group," and the "Homeschooling Kids with OCD and Anxiety" group, and the "Gifted Unschoolers," and the "Unschoolers Who Love Pokemon, " etc....etc....etc..... and before I knew it, I met a VILLAGE OF FAMILIES WHO HAD CHILDREN JUST LIKE MINE. :)

Yep. They were there all along and I didn't even know it. One of my favorite, favorite, favorite new pages is Tilt Parenting: The Revolution for Parents Raising Differently-Wired Kids. I love their Facebook page too, and the podcast. So much support and encouragement.

And there you have it! 10 Crazy, Life Changing Things that Homeschooling Has Taught Me. 
Of course I have my days where I have doubt, where I shake my head wondering what happened to the life that I was used to have. There are occasional nights that I lay awake worrying about college or 6th grade math, but they seem to be getting farther and farther in-between.

Beyond the ten things that homeschooling has taught me, I 've also learned that without a doubt, I am so incredibly grateful that life has given us this adventure, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Until next time, go out and learn something because you love it!!!!
Lauren :)



KristenMary said...

Thank you for sharing your story!

Lilypad said...

Howdy, I haven't commented since November 2015 and on your first homeschooling post in October 2015 but I wanted to thank you for this post. I had a lot of similar doubts when I first took my son out of school, particularly about college. But as time went on and we both relaxed and I learned more about it, I stopped worrying so much. Now that he's almost 15-1/2, I sometimes get stressed about where we go from here, but I try to trust that things will work out for him. He LOVES computers, everything about them from coding/programming to making and playing online games. We moved to this particular school district because they have a deal with a local technology institute for highschoolers to take classes at a greatly reduced rate. As of now, the plan is for him to start that next year at 16. There are also lots of "boot camps" locally (here in Seattle, it's tech heaven) where people study for a few months and then graduate with a certificate in a certain computer language or whatever and companies recruit graduates immediately, so he could do that, too. It's not cheap but it's way less than a full college degree, which he's never been too interested in. He's self-taught in all this (I couldn't code to save my life!) and I've enjoyed watching him learn amazing things. That he has the time to focus on this overwhelming interest is such a gift. There's no way he would have learned all of this if he also had to do hours of busywork homework each week. We've been unschoolers most of the time since he left school at age 8. We also read news articles and talk about politics, social issues, etc. as you mentioned. We want him to think critically and question authority and we respect his right to have his own opinions in life. That is so different than how I was raised, I hope he grows up feeling comfortable in his own skin, something I have never been. As an anxious child (with an anxious mother), that time to rest and to breathe and to take on the world at his own pace is priceless, as you know. (Plus sleeping in and not rushing around to get to school on time, and not arguing about homework saved our relationship!!) Best wishes to you on your journey and please keep posting about this. More people need to know about this lifestyle and its benefits.

Lauren said...

Dear Lilypad,

Thank you so so much for your comment. I remember your comments from last year!!! Thank you. Honestly, without the support of other homeschooling and unschooling mothers like you, it would be such a more difficult and lonely path. Thank you for your vote of confidence and sharing with us. It sounds like your son is thriving and that Seattle is an incredible place for tech-minded homeschoolers and unschoolers. I have to imagine it's a pretty great place for any homeschooling family no matter what their children are interested in! It's so nice to hear about "alternatives" to straight four-year college. It's nice to have options and choose the right fit. Also, I could not have said it better than you did about homeschooling/unschooling giving anxious kids (and their parents) the time to rest and breath. Thank you from my heart Lilypad! I'm glad that you're here. xoxoxo

Lilypad said...

I was just thinking about you because my son is currently playing a game with one of his online friends and it reminded me of you mentioning in your post that online friends count, too. He's been in hermit mode for the last year (adolescence is tough on sensitive souls) and prefers to make new friends online. (He still sees a few treasured "real life" friends in person but hasn't want to take any classes or go to any teen events lately.) The friend he's talking to right now is in Israel! How cool is it that kids today can find their tribe no matter where in the world they live. It's the same with us moms---we need to support each other and inspire each other. I'm happy if I can offer the tiniest bit of help to you, and know that your blog also helps me feel less alone. Your pal in Seattle,

Unknown said...

Hi Lauren! So, first you were one of my inspirations to go grey (now completely done and loving it) and now I'm back on your page prepping for homeschooling my 9 year old daughter starting September. The more I learn the more I know this is the right choice at this time for us for all the reasons you've said. We haven't started yet of course and I know we will learn so much as we get in to it. But thanks again for being such an inspirational and reassuring voice for me. Love Blaire