Our Homeschooling Journey ~ Chapter 1

I figured that it was about time to tackle the whole homeschooling thing. It's such a huge part of my life, but it really is unexplored territory for most, and I thought it was time to talk about our journey. And also an opportunity for you to ask any burning questions you might have. This post morphed into many, many pages as I wrote, and so I have split it into three separate posts in order to thorougly cover all that I'd like to. Please, please ask any quesions that you'd like, I'd love to answer if I can. This post only reflects our way of approaching schooling and I don't pretend that this applies to any other family out there. In fact that's one of my favorite things about homeschooling, the freedom to approach it as you chose!

Some of the books that we're currently reading...
Homeschooling. What a loaded word. I know for a fact that this one word brings to mind many different stereotypes, some possibly true, and others that miss the mark completely. Perhaps to many an awkward, antisocial genius child, wearing a sweet and modest prairie style dress pops up as your mental picture. Really, don’t be ashamed if this is so. In fact, it’s exactly what appeared in my mind when my mother decided to homeschool my sister about 20 years ago. My other sister, my brother and I went to public school (some more happily than others), but when this same path appeared to be reducing my little sister to a depressed, panic stricken young girl, desperate measures were called for. Eventually the only option left to my mother was to pull her out and teach her at home.  Even being safely at home, it took many years to restore some sort of balance to my sister’s life, and I shudder to think where she’d be now if my mother hadn’t been brave enough to do the unconventional. Not that she had much support from any of us, sadly. But, one thing I’ve learned is that life has a wonderful sense of humor. And here I am 2 decades later choosing the same path as my mom, but with a very different opinion and outlook than I had at 15.

My three girls have always been home with me. Many children start off in school, but when they find the fit to be a miserable one, only then does the homeschooling journey begin. In fact, one friend of mine told me that her son’s teacher told her he was the perfect candidate for homeschooling, and I’ll admit that surprises me. Sadly, I haven’t felt supported by many of the teachers we’ve come across, so this story was a pleasant one to hear. Other kids start out at home, and somewhere along the way want to give public school a shot. Some stay, others head back home as fast as they can. The girls were never given that choice when they were younger. It was my job to do what I felt was right, and public schooling never felt right. If you think this is unfair, take a moment and consider this ~ how often do you hear a public schooling parent giving their child the option to learn at home? Each parent does what they believe to be best and home was where I felt my girls needed to be. Later, as they grew, they decided for themselves that learning at home suited them just fine. I don’t know what decisions I would have made had they come to me and wanted to try school. It wasn’t an avenue we had to explore. We were all happy with the arrangement.

Taylor and Jordan's area in their studio. Their own space to read, write, work on the computer, craft... or sing at the top of their lungs! ;)
Back when it was time to enroll Taylor in school I really couldn’t imagine putting my sweet, innocent, super sensitive little girl on that bus and sending her out into the world yet. She was just too small. If felt very, very wrong to me. She belonged with me where I could guide her, teach her and allow her to play and explore. Since the day they were conceived I have felt a large sense of responsibility. Wholly and completely. Now I realize that I was simply living out a deal we agreed upon before we began this lifetime. I promised to guide them, in an unconventional and often unusual fashion, towards adulthood. My teachings wouldn’t reflect the norms of society, but it would get us all to where we ultimately choose to be ~ happy. With a deep and steady sense of self.

As they grew older people would often ask me what I planned on doing once they hit high school, often assuming our days at home would abruptly end. I never spent much time worrying about the ‘hows’ of things. I imagined that when I got there,  then I’d figure it out. Really, that’s what I’ve been doing since they day they slid into this world… why stop now? And here we are, 15 years later. I have two girls in high school and I find these to be some of the most exciting years yet. Full of challenges. Yes, I spend much time relearning things I’ve don’t really remember learning  in the first place, but with the help of the Internet and some amazing books, it hasn’t been a struggle at all.

Riley's very own personal (and very pink!) space
Taylor is now 15, Jordan almost 14, and Riley Mae will be 12 in April. My girls have never walked the halls of a public school, suffered through a long and miserable bus ride, lost a locker combination or been ruthlessly tormented by a bully. They have never suffered anxiety over tests, experienced detention, been pressured to have sex or offered a joint. They have never had to ask to use the bathroom. They have never smoked a cigarette or had a beer. They have never forced down a school lunch. ;)

What they have experienced is life. Not the life contained in a classroom, but many different facets of life and the world around us. They’ve had time to read, time to play, and time to grow without the pressures of society bearing down on them. They enjoyed time to find their way without being told a direction or a goal.

Anyone who knows my girls can tell you that each is different. Taylor loves to learn and does so with ease. Someday I will miss not having her constantly around to refresh my memory on things we’ve learned, names and dates that have slipped my mind! She has always been very obedient and well behaved to the point of creating anxiety in herself that we spent much time healing. She’s one of those easy kids you always hear tell about, but don’t actually believe exists… ;) And then there’s my Jordan… a bit more of a challenge. She is the most like me in temperment. She is highly creative and has explored every craft I’ve tried and then some. She doesn’t beat around the bush, but does often gets in trouble for speaking her truth. Not because it isn’t important to do so, but because it is very important to be kind about it. And then there’s Riley Mae, my youngest. She’s also been pretty easy, although now is testing out some limits. She and Jordan enjoy spending hours and hours together with our many pets, and so along the way Miss Riley has picked up an attitude or two. We’re working on that. ;) She is a player, in the very genuine sense. She’ll still drag out all her dolls and spend hours teaching them school or feeding them dinner. Her imagination is a grand one, it’s had ample opportunities to develop. Homeschooling hasn’t been about creating carbon copies of myself, but instead granting them the freedom to discover their truths all by themselves. And accepting them when they differ from mine.

Perhaps, as most people do, you wonder about the social aspect. I will warn you that if you are ever to happen across a homeschooling mom or dad, you might want to refrain from asking this question! ;) It is most tiring. After all, when I think of my years in public school, I’m shocked they didn’t stunt my social abilities! Do you believe that high school was the place where you grew the most, and discovered how to behave kindly and with compassion? I can only speak for myself, but what I remember is a lot of disrespect and cruelty. Survival of the fittest.

School finds us where it finds us. During a recent frigid spell we were most comfortable gathered around the wood stove in the basement. This week the couch has been my spot of choice.
I am also not one of those moms that tries to create tons of social situations. I’ve never been one to fill all available time with activities. While it works for some, it’s just not my thing. We don’t do dance, or karate or sports. The girls always been left to their own devices for entertainment and “I’m bored” has never been allowed in my home. Literally. When they were younger entire days (who am I kidding? Entire years!) were devoted to Harry Potter alone. Scenes unfolded in our backyard, or my living room, complete with a stick wand they made in the backyard. Spells were hurled through the air with glee! And books, there have always been tons and tons of books. Or craft supplies, they fill every available space. Animals bark, meow, maa or cluck at every turn. In fact Jordan and Riley are upstairs as I type this snuggling and loving their new ferrets, acquired today as birthday gifts. We’ll add them to the rabbits, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, rats, lizard and hamsters that we already have. Who could ever be bored with so much to do???

When they were younger their devoted playmates were my sister’s kids, their three cousins. They were as close as siblings, and often fought like them just to prove it.  Two other friends also served as weekly playmates and that was enough for us. But, time marched on, their cousins were put in school and the other friendship slipped away. We spent some time exploring the local homeschool group and participated in a couple of science fairs and history fairs. We’ve hung out at Park Day and Craft Days. As they grew, Teen Group became their function of choice. Every other week the homeschool teens get together and hang out. Some weeks they bowl, or maybe roller-skate, but most often they just want the opportunity to be together. Laughing, talking, joking and sharing. In this group they’ve managed to find a couple of truly cherished friends who get their humor and don’t judge them for the choices they make. In fact, one of their best friends became a vegetarian after meeting the girls. Pretty awesome stuff.

So,  as to the social aspect… they don’t run with a big crown. Well, okay, any crowd. But even in their small group they’ve tasted it all. The Bully. The Know-it-all. The Whiner. They’re all there, providing ample opportunities to grow and figure out the best way to handle any situation. Hands down, kindness has proven to be the most valuable and powerful tool, even in the ugly face of jealousy.

To be continued...

Peace & blessings ~ Melinda