We have been homeschooling for about four years now. In those four years, each year was different than the next. There have been major successes, challenges, moments of regret, but from those regrets come learning experiences that helped to shift our homeschooling approach along the way.
As a former classroom teacher, I originally envisioned that my homeschool approach would feel and look similar to my experience in a brick and mortar classroom, just with much fewer students. I imagined we would have a schedule for my “students” (my children), and we would go through each subject, have recess breaks, and be done in the early afternoon. I initially set up my homeschool that way because that was my comfort zone. That is how I had been running things in my classroom for the six years prior to starting homeschool.
When I tried to squeeze in everything I had initially planned, I found that some days, that just didn’t work. Some days I felt so accomplished finishing all the planned lessons. Other days maybe a meltdown threw us off, sick family members, challenging lessons took us longer to accomplish, or the kids just felt even more inspired by a particular topic, so we spent more time on the activities.
The shift to routines, not schedule
With each day, we would go through these ebbs and flows of homeschool. We learned so much from each other, each child’s learning styles, strengths, and challenges. By finding more of our groove in homeschooling, I stepped more out of my comfort zone and felt more comfortable moving away from the “bell schedule” that I was so accustomed to in the classroom. I, who am a major planner by heart, worked more outside of my mentality of trying to finish math and reading by the morning snack time, for example. I began to appreciate more of the flexibility of homeschooling and realized that we do not have to stick strictly to a clock. We focused more on routines, not schedules.
This was the typical rundown of our day initially:
Reading & Writing
Science or Social Studies
Art or Elective
It looks similar to a school schedule, just minus the exact times. It worked for our family for a while too. Until it didn’t.
We became a growing family of five, so I had my third child who was leaving his baby routines of long naps during the day and was entering a very mobile, curious baby/toddler stage. With that, our routine listed above did not quite go as planned each day. It kind of threw us off, however, we adapted.
The shift to lessons vs. subjects
Our daily lessons, originally organized by subject, worked well for us at the start, but it took another shift. Our days instead were completing lesson goals. So for example, our routine would look more like this:
It became more vague and not concrete in which subject we would be completing. I know it sounds totally against the “routine” and may throw off the kids who are comfortable with knowing math comes before lunch, for example. However, it shifted this way for a couple of reasons. One main reason was because the curriculum we were using is cross-disciplinary, so it incorporates and blends the different subjects into thematic units. So if we were doing a lesson on measurement, for example, it would be incorporating stories with measurement for language arts, the mathematic component of measuring, and maybe a science experiment requiring measurement or a history lesson on the origins of measuring tools.
Because of the blended approach, it would be harder to say we were doing one particular subject at a time. So our day would be doing bits of the lesson and completing the activities as we fit in our day. We really enjoy the multi-disciplinary approach because we can see how concepts can be connected and intertwined.
Another reason why our day was no longer organized by subjects was because of my growing toddler who has his own schedule in his mind. It became a balancing act of deciding which lesson activity could my older two children complete independently while I attended to his needs. Or which lesson activity could we do all together as a family? If my toddler took a nap, which lesson would be ideal to do without having a hands-on toddler? Those were some of the various factors in deciding how the day would proceed.
The shift in philosophy
A more recent shift in our homeschooling approach was inspired by educational philosophy. As mentioned above, I was a classroom teacher, and so brought with me the approach to teaching according to the standards set per grade level. I would see certain topics that piqued my children’s interests and it made me realize that if there was a particular topic of interest they wanted to learn more about, why not build lessons around that? Who said that just because the parts of a plant needed to be taught at a specific time of year that my children must do so at that time? If my children are very curious about studying the solar system, then why not divulge their curiosity and do a unit on it at that time?
I read somewhere that people retain information that are the most meaningful to them. Therefore, if it is not relevant to someone to memorize the names of the Presidents in order, then that information will not stick. If a child is fascinated by the life of Harriet Tubman, then doing a study on her would be more interesting and more engaging for the child.
Another philosophical approach that completely shifted my mindset in homeschool, particularly in writing is from the Brave Writer lifestyle. I learned about Brave Writer this year, and am so inspired by Julie Bogart’s approach and way of thinking. One of the biggest things that has shifted my approach this year is the idea of really growing the depth of knowledge and interest in the learner versus trying to get my children to learn the mechanics and structure of writing. Inspiring children to have in-depth conversations and to immerse them in language-rich environments is so much more important to facilitate, and is also the foundation to communicating what they have learned whether verbally or in written form. Teaching the structure of a paragraph or a five-paragraph essay is not going to be successful or meaningful if the student does not have the ideas to talk about the given topic.
I have then put the brakes on our fill-in-the-blank type grammar questions in our workbooks and have been putting more emphasis on reading really good quality and engaging books. We have been reading different genres of books and are watching shows to go along with the books. Instead of handing them worksheets that test their comprehension and knowledge of what they remember after each chapter, we have more open discussions. While I do think it is fine for people to be able to demonstrate their understanding by writing down answers to questions, I feel that initially having those discussions where a young child isn’t stifled by how to spell certain words or the mechanics of their written answer can really help foster their learning and engagement with the content. It is a great way to see their outlook on a story and to see what they still might be unsure of, or what they would like to learn more about.
Shifting homeschool approaches can be scary at first because of the fear of not doing it “right,” messing up, or setting your child farther behind than where students their age are measured up by standards.
The question that I keep reminding myself whenever I feel doubt is, “Why am I homeschooling?” And the answer always sets me back on track: “To help my children continue to be inspired learners and respectful, responsible members of this world.”
As long as I see their spark of curiosity and passion for learning…
As long as I know they are trying their best to be problem solvers…
As long as they are learning to be mindful, cooperative, open-minded citizens…
Then I know that we are on the right path in our homeschool approach.
Who knows what future shifts we will have along the way. All I know is whatever transformations we will undergo, it will be for the right reasons, and it will be what fits our family.
Every unique homeschooling family undergoes shifts and each one approaches their homeschool in the best way that fits them.