Emily B., California
What is your greatest struggle when it comes to homeschooling?
I think for me, it’s letting go of my idea of a schedule in our schedule. I do better with a set structure, saying we are going to do this until such-and-such time. I have to remind myself that when my kids are really into something, that’s the time to let them enjoy and immerse themselves, not cut it off because we have to move on to the next thing.
I try to set daily goals, but need to remind myself that there’s tomorrow, too…and the next day, and the weekend. I remind myself one of the reasons it’s great to homeschool is that allowance of flexibility…but I DO have to remind myself quite regularly.
It’s also tough being so close to them that you KNOW what they are capable of. So when they aren’t excited about something or close themselves off from new concepts, I try not to push them too hard…but in my head I’m yelling, “But you can do this! You are good at this!”
If you could go back in time, what would you change or do differently?
Maybe I wouldn’t have waited so long before joining a co-op or having regular meetups. They have been beneficial in a lot of ways. Other than that, I am having trouble thinking of something I’d do differently…honestly, I find myself changing or tweaking our activities when they don’t work that great, so I don’t really dwell on doing things differently. I just try doing them differently.
How do you feel about the current political landscape in regards to homeschooling?
I think there is some contention about how much the government should be involved in homeschooling, but I haven’t found myself wrapped up or affected by it, particularly because I don’t mind participating in testing (I use it to gauge my older son’s growth and what we may want to focus on next), or turning in work samples or even having home interviews. I homeschool through a charter and I know it’s a privilege to be able to use public school funding to do things we want to do and learn what we want to learn. The government oversight we experience is such a minimal price for me to pay to be able to be with my children throughout their day. I hear some negative chatter from other parents about standardized testing or the possibility of home checks, or even vaccinations…but I’ve learned regulations are a hot topic with many people and I don’t start conversations with people itching to argue.
How has your homeschooling changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our homeschooling hasn’t changed in a major way; in fact, I have found our homeschooling is a very valuable tool for stability right now. I know many parents are experiencing a great deal of stress during this time, but we have been able to carry on with our daily reading, math, science, and play as we usually do, but just us…Of course, there is a bit more screen time (regular social activities and classes we’ve been partaking in have been moved online) and the boys do miss their friends…but somehow they haven’t expressed too much anxiety about this situation, and we regularly video chat and write letters to friends. Our in-the-home life has been a reliable nucleus for us during this crazy time. We feel safe and normal here, together.
What are your thoughts on the growing diversity, or perhaps lack of, in your homeschool community?
We are fortunate to live in an area where homeschooling is quite popular and there are plenty of social opportunities available throughout the day with other children. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the diversity of social activities and in our community. The boys’ closest friends come from various backgrounds, but realistically I know my perspective may be skewed because we live in Southern California. What I view as diverse may be more diverse than rural midwest, but not diverse at all compared to even Los Angeles, which is just down the way, and is much more of a major metro area.
Now that we have gotten to the heart of the interview, tell me a little about yourself, your family, and why you chose to homeschool. Do you work in addition to homeschooling your children or did you leave a career behind to do so?
I have always worked with kids – in after-school programs, as a preschool teacher, as a full-time nanny, as an instructor in an early-reading program, an SAT prep course…I graduated with my B.A. in English and was fairly certain I wanted to be a teacher. But honestly, after a bout with a strange and sudden ailment that made me doubt whether I would ever even HAVE children of my own, my first son came as a surprise. And after having him, and holding him, and really talking with my husband about our experiences in public (and private) school, we knew this was the choice for our family. We’ve made a very conscious choice about our children not being watched or influenced by strangers without our participation.
So far, it has really been a wonderful situation. Our older son is happy, healthy, full of energy and enthusiasm, and doing really well academically. And I have learned so much with him through this journey! My younger son is now reaching school age and participates more and more in our academic activities; he’s more stubborn and has some differing interests and strengths, so we’ll see as we go what his path looks like, and if the same curriculum choices and approach works for him. Really, as long as it keeps working the way it has been, this is the life for us. If one day it doesn’t work for one of us, then we’ll explore new avenues.
How do you find balance and time for self-care in the midst of daily life as a homeschooling parent?
If I’m being completely honest, I’m probably not very ‘balanced.’ I dedicate a lot of waking hours to either planning, implementing, driving to and from, talking about, or cleaning up our homelife, which is our school life. At least it feels that way sometimes. And sometimes that IS overwhelming, but most of the time, it’s what I choose to do – as in, I know I could choose to do other things, but at the end of the day, this is what I find most important and fulfilling to me.
That being said, I do make a point to wake up before my kids most days and work out – whether it’s a HIIT class or a jog by the beach, it happens almost every day. Some days they wake up and come downstairs and just snuggle up on the couch while I finish my weight training or online kickboxing session. Every few weeks I also make a point to do a puzzle or watch a movie with a friend. Another thing I really enjoy is cooking and baking. I make cakes for parties, and love trying new recipes. These are things I do to decompress, things that are “for me.”
In a perfect world, what would your ideal homeschool day look like?
Hmm. For the schooling part, it would be something like this:
I make myself a cup of coffee and breakfast for the boys. I sip my coffee and read aloud to them while they eat breakfast. Then we do an art/writing activity, usually based on the book we are reading. It could be a picture and summary or a prediction, or something about a character or comparison to another book.
After writing we would go out for a bit to run around. We live by a beach so we do spend a lot of ‘P.E.’ time digging holes and building castles and having races. Or sometimes we go to a park to play with friends, sometimes we ride bikes or scooter to our local library and switch out books. Anyway, it’s runaround time for an hour or 2. Getting the ya-yas out as we call it.
Then home for lunch. Usually over lunch I am reading to the boys from our history book then a history activity – could be map work, or a recipe from the part of the world we are reading about, or a follow up video. After lunch and history, we’d do a science lab, which we do a few times a week. After cleaning up the inevitable mess from a science lab, we’d do math worksheets and supplement with some online math games.
That’s pretty much the core of a really good school day, but depending on the day there would also be a co-op meetup, an online class, or a zoo or gym class to do with friends. And after the official ‘school day’ is done, we’d play outside (they love freeze tag or popping bubbles with swords or bows and arrows). The boys pretty much do their own thing for a while before bed, usually building with LEGOS or listening to music and dancing. Before bed we read a story or two, or do a MadLibs or two. And my older boy loves to read in bed – he picks out and reads library books in his bed forever before falling asleep.
But in reality, what does your typical day look like?
It pretty much looks like that ideal day…but not all of it always gets done on a typical day. Or they are like, “We dont want to write about that!” and they make up Pokemon comics instead. And there are the days where it’s just not feeling great, or emotions are running high. So we just write off a lot of it. Maybe pack a picnic and go to the zoo instead. And that’s okay, too.
How has your homeschooling changed over the years? Do you subscribe to any particular homeschooling philosophy?
In the beginning, I was reading about all the different ‘styles’ of homeschooling and might have been like “oh yeah, we’re totally going to follow such-and-such method,” or my desire for structure was screaming “school-at-home!” But realistically now we are eclectic, and that’s just a fancy way of saying we do a bunch of different stuff, some definitely guided by me, some that the boys choose based on their interests.
What are your best homeschooling memories thus far?
Oh man. There are a couple of memories that stick out but I just know as soon as I am done answering these questions, I’m going to remember some others.
I loved that after we raised some caterpillars into butterflies and learned about their life cycle, we went on a field trip to a place that had a whole enclosed butterfly garden with several types flying around. Seeing my boys stand oh-so-still, with their fingers out or crouched like a statue by a bush, and how much they loved it when a butterfly finally landed on them.
After learning about the periodic table and different elements, we went to an ice cream parlor that used liquid nitrogen to make ice cream, and they were amazed that it tasted just like ‘real ice cream!’
Also any time we do a poll to practice collecting and graphing data – hearing them call family and friends on the phone and survey them . And really just so many moments where there has been a struggle to understand something new, and I can literally see their little faces change, from tense to relaxed and smiling as the light goes on in their mind. I never get tired of it.
Finally, do you have any wisdom to share or tips to pass on to those new to homeschooling?
Just that some days it’s going to seem hard to get it all done, but remember – there’s tomorrow, and the next day, and the weekend. And even if it doesn’t all get done today, you still got to spend time with your kids today. And that’s a good day.