I Was Homeschooled And You're Doing Great
By Molly Getchell
No one is experiencing this the same way. Here in my home office, it's me and my tablet, and sometimes the TV. My dog is asleep on the floor and sometimes he snores, but it's pretty quiet. My husband is an essential employee and still goes to work at night, and as a result I sit at this desk and do my work in almost complete solitude throughout the day. I don’t have children, and only need to focus on myself, my work, my health, and my goals during this strange and trying time. But I’m thinking about you.
I might not have children, but I can picture you all, in your homes across this state. I can picture the tousled hair, the mismatched pajamas, the fuzzy slippers (one on, one off) and the small fingers, sticky from pancake syrup, gripping pencils, crayons, and erasers. A whole generation of kids sit at their kitchen table and flip through workbooks with gray, recycled-paper pages or carefully pick out logins and passwords on a laptop to get to their online learning games and curriculum. I can hear the highfives when a concept is finally mastered, and the tears because one of the six similar math problems on the page is just very simply unsolvable.
I know these scenes - the joy and the frustration - because I was homeschooled, too. However, there was one very simple difference: we made that choice, over the course of about 4 months, and we had all that time as a family to prepare to tackle the challenge. For so many of you, this was not a choice at all, but instead put upon you as an instant necessity when the schools closed and everything shut down all at once. I don’t know you, but I know there’s a solid chance that you’re asking yourself; “How do I do this?” You might be thinking “I didn’t sign up for this” or “I hated school; there’s no way I’ll know what to do.” Your kids might be excited one minute because they get to show you what they're working on, and the next minute giving you side-eye because you haven’t had to learn common core concepts until today (and it's not going well).
Thinking about my childhood, and my sisters’ childhoods, here’s what I have to tell you: don’t worry, no matter what you do it’s going to be great. Homeschooling is not a specific, rigid, step-by-step process. It's a playground of different options that you can explore. In one part of the playground (maybe over by the more arduous monkey bars), of course you have those more structured activities: the text books, the work books, and the online quizzes and modules to click through. Those have their place, and making time to get through some kind of bare minimum (“Let's finish just one more page today”) will undoubtedly have its place in your daily goals. But I would invite you to explore the rest of those possibilities, and climb around the other parts of your playground, because that's where the real magic happens.
When I left public school at the age of 11, my first at-home school days followed the same type of schedule I was used to. I had a crate of curriculum and would rigidly dedicate set amounts of time to each subject. But over time things changed. Instead of drilling math equations for hours I was allowed to spend all afternoon on a sewing project. Instead of essays, I wrote historical fiction stories, which were my favorite at that time. I also spent hours reading whatever I wanted each day. I waded in streams, went on adventures in the woods, and started teaching myself how to draw and paint using books in our house as examples.
Looking back, I remember some of the things I learned in textbooks, but I remember a lot more of those other experiences. Many of those things have made my life fuller and more enriched from then until now. For my sisters, the larger portion of their childhood education looked more like my least structured days. My youngest sister received little formal schooling before she prepared to start taking college courses at the age of 15. And then she was able pick up the concepts without issue, because of the previous 10 years where she learned how to “pick things up” when she needed to or had an interest in doing so. Even better, she hadn’t had negative experiences around flashcards and timed tests, which in my case produced a test taking anxiety and a deep running hatred of math. She excels at math, and her grades throughout her time in college show that there is no subject she can’t excel at.
Of course, we’re all different and your children’s needs will be different from their peers, and from mine or yours when we were kids. We didn’t have the same technology and endless resources (and distractions!) that characterize the internet today. But I like to think that even now, regardless of all the things that have changed, there could be this similarity between all kids; that the time we spend exploring things we’re interested in, or passionate about, can lead to the most rewarding and memorable experiences we have.
I know that this is just temporary, but when I see the families on my timeline struggling, I can’t help but think that as hard as these times are, there is a chance to do something different, if only for a few weeks or months. Maybe this isn’t just a time to catch up, review or drill into those required subjects. I know that it is still unclear for many families what the expectations will be when the children do return to school, and I understand that a lot of people are likely feeling the pressure of trying to live up to those expectations, even though we might not know what they are yet. But if you can...take some time each day or whenever possible to let those kids explore the rest of the homeschooling playground. Dig in the mud, swing from the trees, cover everything in glitter glue and tell eachother stories. Give them the freedom to learn about animals or space stations or ancient mythology or whatever amazing thing they are fascinated by - even if it isn’t a subject they are expected to learn about (maybe especially if it isn’t a subject they are expected to learn about).
My mother has a saying that when you feel like you might be getting sick, sometimes it's like a sign from your body that you’ve been working too hard, stressing too much, and you need a bit of a break. While our nation works to get through this epic and terrible sickness, maybe this is a chance for all of us to look at kids’ education the same way. If you’ve been working too hard, stressing too much all this time (or if your kids are) then take a rest. And then get out there and explore that playground. I promise, no matter what you find, it will be great.