Should I Continue Homeschooling? A Disastrous Year
© Beverley Paine
"Why should I continue homeschooling next year when I feel like this year has been such a disaster?"
Homeschooling always feels like a disaster. Well, not always. Some days shine, but in my experience there aren't that many of these. I found that my perception, usually led by my mood, and I'm naturally depressive, coloured my experience of homeschooling. What was actually happening was a lot better than I thought it looked. The only way I know this is that I recorded, off and on, in a fairly meticulously way for about a decade (most of my books and writing are based on these records). What I wrote in Learning in the Absense of Education and Learning Without School was what happened. Reading it always gives me a buzz.
Accept that homeschooling isn't idyllic. It's not the answer to everything in education or parenting. It's hard. Really hard. And the bit that sucks the most (for me anyway) is the way it isolates us as parents. I found the fact that society doesn't reward or recognise parenting (having a 'nice' house gets more attention than having 'nice' kids) really depressing. I was doing such a good job with teaching and parenting my kids but no one cared. They'd like and love me more if I were working and my kids were in child-care. I always felt the pressure to 'be' someone other than a mum.
We're pioneers and that means that what we're doing is hard work. We're forging a way through wilderness - few parents actually want to spend time with their children and we're made to feel weird, or worse, abusive to our kids. Sure, we have bad days, weeks and months. It can be hard to continually bolster one's faith in what one is doing when everyone else is doing something different! I liken my journey to that of a pioneer settler. Twenty years of hard work with little to show for it, apart from the odd jar of prize jam at the show, the sudden downpour after a long drought, while it happens, but now I sit back on my well built productive and pleasing farm and know that I'm going to reap the benefits until the day I die. (Life isn't that predictable, but by now -thanks to the hard work of pioneering - I am totally accepting of that).
Social children - especially extroverts who are stage managers and directors - do need time to play with other children, preferably children of all ages. This can be difficult to organise and it means you will have to dedicate a fair bit of time to organising it. No more than a mum with a virtuoso violin player or a dirt bike genius would have to do to arrange opportunities for their child to develop the skills they want and need to... The easiest way to find friends for your child is to organise learning clubs or homeschooling playgroups. Start them or join them. Get out as much as you can. You'll burn out and hopefully your enthusiastic youngster will start begging for some quiet time at home (usually displayed as irritability, crankiness, non-cooperative behaviour at home, crabby with his siblings, ill-health, hyperactivity, inabilty to go to sleep/bed at a reasonable hour at night, teary, etc - sometimes though, he may ask to stay home instead of going out).
We also need to play with our children. Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting , and Lawrence Cohen in his book Playful Parenting stress the importance of being play partners for our children. I believe that our success as homeschooling parents was because we took time most days to actually play with the children. When my children played dolls or cars or LEGO I played with them. It was hard, very hard, and most of the time I simply constructed props or sorted the bricks, but every few minutes I was able to get involved in the 'drama' and play. Parents who can do this are instant hits with children of all ages.
We began homeschooling with a list of goals - long term and short term. I would have been lost without a learning program, even as a natural learning or unschooling family. My learning programs and record keeping - described in detail in my book Getting Started with Homeschooling Practical Considerations - were the backbone of our homeschooling experience. They were my main support structures at a time when few people homeschooled and all my regular friends felt threatened by our educational and parenting choice... Writing things down makes them concrete, easy to keep in mind and aim for. It's not a forever task, and it isn't to please someone else or to get approval to homeschool from the authorities. I found it an essential element of teaching my children at home. Louise Wilton's naturally learning learning program and review - available in booklet form from $4 from Always Learning Books - demonstrate the power of recording to instil confidence, not only as you go, but when looking back on the last year.
I'm an overachiever and do everything to the nth degree - usually go overboard, and it wasn't long that I found myself overwhelmed and exhausted. Being chronically and constantly unwell with allergies and depression didn't help. After twenty years I still haven't learned to slow down and keep life in balance. I'm enthusiastic, like a puppy - there's no stopping me. Until I 'crash' and then I don't do anything for days... I think my children were grateful for those quiet times, even though dealing and coping with a depressed mum wasn't a lot fun. All this lead me to thinking about and researching strategies for relieving stress and I wrote these down too. I began to understand the importance of not over-socialising, of getting to bed at a reasonable hour, of eating well, especially fresh and raw food, of getting adequate exercise and resting each day (not the same as sleep). I discovered the importance of having an existence separate from being a mum - having a hobby that satisfies some deep need to be creative within me. And honouring that need. I discovered that my husband is my best friend, not my kids and that I need to play with him just as often I do the kids. And that it's essential to have at least two or three good friend I can confide in, and to share stories with, whenever I needed. It took energy to set life up in such a way that my needs would be met, most of the time. I'm a learner - these lessons will take me a lifetime to perfect!
Talking to sympathetic and understanding friends, reading books by sympathetic and understanding authors, and writing in my journal were the tactics I used to uplift my spirits and rebuilt my enthusiasm when I felt negative. Homeschooling newsletters were my life line way back then, which is one of the reasons I'm such an active homeschooling author, writing and producing the Homeschool Australia website, newsletter and yahoo groups (see below). I know how essential it was for me to receive information from more experienced homeschoolers on those days when everything was going wrong... The best books and articles didn't preach at me, they shared their stories - their ups and downs, the things that worked and the things that didn't. And I learned that there are no right or wrong ways to homeschool, and that eventually everything seems to work, in it's own way. It's all a learing journey and mistakes are just opportunities to learn from.
I found that by giving up unrealistic goals of myself and my children, and spending the time I would have 'educating' them, playing with them, solved most of my problems with coping with a baby and a busy four year old while trying to teach my six year old. That's all our children want - is for us to be involved in their lives and to let them take an active role in ours. We played and did chores together. It took longer to get things done, that's for sure, and I learned that having a 'House and Garden' home wasn't what I really wanted. I'm not a lover of housework so it was easy to cover the basics and feel okay. Windows were washed twice a year, and became family fun, though it's still a chore. I just had to pick a day the children were more willing to sacrifice a couple of hours...
We've always lived in small country towns and we've always found this challenging. At first we didn't want to be social in the ways folk in the town were social - playing sport on the weekend, going to the pub on Friday and Saturday night, and Church on Sunday. We got involved with community service groups but as owner builders didn't have a lot of time and didn't persist. Our eldest, April, now a young adult, once wrote that it's essential to get involved in country town life as a homeschooling family. Don't wait for homeschooling community to grow around your family - get out and become involved in the community you live in. This is true socialisation. Not school. Not homeschool. But becoming an active part of a vibrant community. Sure, it takes time and we need to compromise and be less judgemental, but it's worth it. We didn't do this and it made homeschooling much harder. I know families that did and homeschooling was a lot more fun and easier and the parents had less insecurities. An added bonus is that the community gets to see that homeschooling is a viable and successful alternative to school. And your kids are more likely to find part time jobs and work experience in their teen years.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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