How We Came to Home Education, Part 1
Meeting the Groups
I began joining homeschool groups' Yahoo lists and my sons and I attended park days. Being around and interacting with kids and parents who were homeschooling made a big impression on me. These people were pretty cool and their positive attitudes really got me thinking that this lifestyle could be a good fit for me and my family, too.
One highlight was participating in a History Fair that one homeschool group put together. Our oldest son was really into the Grave Digger monster truck and had seen a monster truck show with his Dad when they came to town. The little guy, at age 3, would put on a toy hardhat and sit atop the coffee table, his 'truck', in the living room with odd pillows and waste baskets placed as the 'wheels'.
Since I was learning to respond to my son's interests, I decided to use this interest of his as a jumping-off point for a family project on 'the history of monster trucks' for the History Fair. Our little guy painted a poster board very haphazardly and my husband and I helped to create a picture display from photos off the Internet with the history of monster trucks as the theme! Did you know the History Channel has a DVD about the history of monster trucks? We wore that out, watching it at home with our son. We even had my husband's laptop playing that DVD the night of the fair!
I giggle, looking back, how excited I was ! We invited the grandparents, who came, and our son had fun running around with all the other children who attended that night. This was a very good experience for us as a family. I was very enthusiastic and happy to be involved with other families whose focus was similar to mine, which was that learning-within-the-family was a fun and exciting lifestyle!
Lessons in Parenting
Since the birth of our oldest child, I have attended monthly meetings which taught me about the aspects of the normal course of breastfeeding. I also learned valuable skills of mothering and enjoyed getting to know other mothers who were in the same stage of life as me.
La Leche League was that guiding influence in my relationship with my sons and from what I experienced and learned through the people I met there, I chose to adopt an attachment parenting approach. I responded to my sons' cues to nurse, started solid foods when they were ready (rather than on a schedule), among other things.
Attending LLL meetings, regularly talking with other mothers who were interested in these things, and reading LLL's magazine, New Beginnings, as well as books the local group lent out, contributed to my education as a parent. I learned more and began to accept my role more fully as a parent, as a nurturer and a guide to my children. I began to really feel strongly that though books and extended family members / mentors and groups were there for us to learn from, the bottom line was that my husband and I were (and are) the experts when it comes to our kids. This was our turn to learn how to raise our kids, by our own experience. I understood that since we knew and loved them best and because we care, we could educate ourselves, seek out and then find the tools / resources that would enable us to meet our children's various and unique needs. We could do homeschooling and succeed at it!
My confidence was growing as I spent time with and learned what was working with my sons, especially where parenting and relationship-building skills were concerned. This was, believe it or not, very much a part of my decision to move toward home education. This time was filled with some very happy times, interspersed with personally challenging moments for me. I had to shed some negative mindsets and learned behaviors that did not serve our family well (like spanking and authoritarian parenting), as well as come to terms with difficult moments from my growing-up years, but things were getting better. I was striving to learn a better way, and was actively pursuing my own growth into becoming an authoritative, connected parent.
My husband has his own journey, though he was more positive in many ways than me at that point. He was a great help to me as I struggled with letting go of my need for control and I am grateful to him for his patience with me as well as his sound counsel. I am grateful for our experience of home education as it has helped me to grow more as a person than if I relied fully upon the school system. It has taught me I have a lot inside of me to give to my children and inspired me to shift and change in order to invite better working relationships with our children.
While learning to tune into and respond to our children's needs took practice, and certainly we also learned to balance it with our own expectations and attitudes, this way of living together felt natural to us, and created a more peaceful family dynamic and gave us better results than other models of parenting we were familiar with, which operated on fear, distrust and coercion.
It made sense that if my husband and I could tune into our children's needs on the physical and emotional level, and that it was working for us and the children, that we could continue to find ways to meet their needs educationally. Our decision to home educate, at least for the first few years, was growing firmer.
A New Home...
We moved across town for a new job for my husband. I had a lot of fun in that rental house finding ways to entertain my two little ones and keep us busy and happy. We took a lot of nature walks and took full advantage of the backyard this house had, as well as the many nice city parks surrounding it. Daddy was able to come home for lunch occasionally and we enjoyed his shorter commute.
I was still reading and absorbing information, only now I was participating in online forums with other parents who homeschooled their children or were exploring the idea. I read Teach Your Own by John Holt, The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, and a few books by David Albert. I subscribed to Home Education Magazine. That magazine taught me a lot by way of real families' experiences, and there was a variety of ways to homeschool presented, which was helpful for me to see.
The old 'flour in a bin curriculum'.
What? You haven't heard of it? LoL
Yes, this one really was started by Mom!
I wanted them to have lots of ways
to explore their world and their senses.
I wasn't wild about the clean-up, however. Sure made a fun memory!
Exploring dress-ups and being silly...
New Friends and a New At-home Co-op
After the move, I formed an at-home preschool co-op with new friends. I had learned enough from the first group we did co-op with to be courageous enough to invite other mothers to start a new group in a new city.
Fortunately, it was an involved group of women I invited to create this new group with, so I could sit back and enjoy the experience with so many helpful hands at work. We really enjoyed creating fun learning experiences for the children in the co-op. We took turns teaching all the kids, about 6 of them, in our homes twice a week.
My oldest son participated in this for another year or so and we really loved it. He enjoyed making friends and seeing them regularly in their homes. He liked being with their mothers. When it was my turn to host, we painted, played in the backyard, played with dress up clothing, practiced writing and colored. His little brother was about 2 by that time and had fun and loved it when all the children came to our house to play. We also participated in a playgroup, which my second son began attending.
Our third son was born (hooray!) and then we were all ready for something else.
A Difficult Time...
A new job opportunity came at a very opportune time. We were so thrilled about it! Since we had discussed home education for our family from the beginning, my husband and I purposefully sought out job opportunities that had flexibility and would still allow him to provide well while I stayed at home with the children. We felt blessed that this job was the step we needed in order to have the career we'd dreamed about and planned for that would allow flexibility of travel and schedules for the lifestyle we wanted to grow.
His new job required him to be out of town during the week and home on the weekends. There were many adjustments the kids and I had to make, which were hard and took time. I was, at that time, organizing and leading monthly LLL meetings for new mothers across town and also involved in a calling for church. Because of the new challenges we had with a third child and my husband's absence often due to work, my involvement with La Leche League and church was tapering off. This was a new era of life for our whole family.
We continued to visit with extended family, invite friends over occasionally and have play dates at others' homes, but I really did much less during that time. I had to save my sanity, understandably. I pulled back from positions in which I had previously given much time and attention to as a volunteer.
This was very difficult for me at the time because so much of my identity was wrapped up in that volunteer work. Though I will always look back with fondness on the friendships I made and the people I impacted positively through that stage of my life, I am glad I had the chance to focus back in on my kids and have the privacy to create better daily rhythms and become more used to really being home with my kids.
We did have lots of interesting, fun things going on at home and the kids did watch a lot of TV. Hey, at least it was PBS, right? Our oldest son was learning how to use the computer and started fiddling around on www.pbskids.org and www.starfall.com.
More changes occurred.
My husband and I had made some financial choices which we later found out put a big strain on our family's budget (read: Housing Market 2007-8). Consequently, we moved back to the city we had come from to settle in a small home so we could start paying off a large amount of debt we had incurred.
Our home we settled into was small, just two bedrooms and an office for a family of 5. Though our financial setbacks were discouraging in some ways, there were hidden blessings that became more apparent as time passed. We now were living closer to more family members again and had a lovely little city park just up the street from us. This neighborhood was one I had grown up in, so I really felt like I had come full circle! My husband was now traveling a lot less due to the downturn in the economy and that made home life lots more relaxed. Because I knew how to connect with homeschool groups via the Internet, we met other homeschoolers right away through attending Park Days and other activities.
The Daily Pace of Life Sloooooows Down...
Another unexpected surprise happened in the needs of our third son. I was finding that with three small children, and my youngest son being more needy at nap time than his brothers had been, that our time out of the house was rather limited. This was new to me! I really missed what I then-considered that 'special time' when I had just the two young ones and we were out of the house more often. I was not used to having to stay at home because of my children's needs. This was difficult because I often felt lonely and 'trapped'. I liked the freedom of being able to 'get up and go!' But, it was also an experience I chose to learn from.
We were finding a new "normal" and, to my surprise, it was turning out to be better than I thought. Because we were staying home more, I learned how to better balance my time between outside interests and personal and family projects. Though it was hard at times (I am a social person), it was also healthy for me to establish daily routines and rhythms for myself and my kids.
Happily, there were young children just a few doors up on both sides of the street! The neighborhood friends were a great distraction for a while, but as they reached school age, they started going off to school and were less available. At that point, we started inviting other homeschooled children over whom we had met through parenting and homeschool groups. That solved the issue of the times when my sons grew bored and wanted friends to play with.
We began to have extended family members over more often, as well--especially my two younger brothers who still lived at home with our parents. Other family members dropped by occasionally. We even had my youngest brother live with us for a while, as well as my husband's youngest sister (though not in the same ends of the house!). Did I mention, my husband and I are each second children in families of eight children? Talk about having things in common! Anyway, our sons thought this arrangement was perfect! Imagine, an on-call uncle who likes jumping on the trampoline, playing video games and Lego. They were living the little boy high life! It really was pretty terrific. I liked it because it met their needs and allowed me time to rest!
Then, our house guests moved out. I was expecting a new baby and soon our fourth child, this time a lovely daughter, was born. My sister, her husband, and their two young daughters moved into a home just a street up from us. The fun had begun! We began adjusting to being a family of 6 and having another family close-by to have dinner with and lots of play dates.
I fully realize how unusual this arrangement is and how really fortunate we are to have this experience of family close-by. It has enriched our home education experience and our lives, to this point, but even when we were not living near family, home ed. was still a great lifestyle. Someday we may live far away from our families, but when that happens, we have lots of good memories to keep them with us in our hearts.
The funny thing, to me, is that this all just fell into our laps as a happy accident, or perhaps more accurately, a blessing in disguise. The Lord knew what we all needed even if it didn't coincide with my grand plans and schemes. (Note to self: Trust the Lord more, worry less. Repeat. Repeat.) Our kids love to walk up to see their aunt and uncle and cousins and also have them over to play. I feel lucky that my sister is willing to trade watching children so we can get breaks and run errands from time to time. This situation we find ourselves in is working for now, while we are planning and saving for the near future (and, hopefully, another move).
Are you considering homeschooling?
You might like:
Stay Tuned for Part 3 in this series:
How We Came to Home Education Part 3:
Finding Our Own Learning Philosophy and Style
In the meantime, why not check out
some of my Favorite Homeschool Posts:
Learning is FUN!
The Baby IS the Lesson
Sometimes Preschool Really Is That Easy
Learning Her "Colors"
Our Art Table
Playdough and Computers
Hands-on History: Mummies
Nature Study: Birds
Reading With Boys
A Lego Curriculum
Scripture Study in the Home