We started back to homeschool after a long break for the holidays. It’s been a special, wonder-filled two weeks. There was nothing especially magical about it, but I know that at the end of each day, my children’s minds and hearts were full.
I am six years into officially homeschooling, and there are many, many days where I have felt like a homeschool failure. Homeschooling is an endeavor like no other. It’s part science, part art, part intuition, and a complete adventure into the unknown.
Much like parenting, even with the experience of homeschooling one child, the experience of homeschooling another child leads to new challenges and unique results. No matter how many “experts” try to sell you the perfect homeschool curriculum or planner, there is nobody who can tell you what works best for your own family.
This fact is probably the reason why we’ve strayed from most formal, structured curriculum options. Instead, I’ve opted to put together my own plans each year designed to meet the needs of my children each new school year.
But even with the best laid plans, our homeschool is constantly evolving and changing.
What Homeschool Should Look Like
Social media has a lot of upsides including connecting us with others around the world. I first joined Instagram five years ago because a friend told me there was a large community of homeschoolers positing about their lives and educating their children. I was amazed to find so many people doing the same things we were doing every day- math, geography, reading, art, and more. I was amazed to see all the different methods and materials people used to educate their children.
But I have to be honest that one downside of social media for me has been comparing myself to others. Though I know that social media is just a snapshot of a person’s life, it’s hard for me to look at someone’s perfect homeschool room and watch them gather around for lessons every day in a way that just doesn’t happen in my life.
Homeschool for us has been much more…organic. I don’t plan a ton. I don’t pre-read everything. I don’t know what we’re going to do every day, every week, or every year. I don’t coordinate lessons and field trips and read aloud.
Some days, I only have the energy to snuggle on the couch and read. Some days, we zoom through 15 subjects. Some days, we spend the entire day outside. Some days, we spend the entire day cooking and cleaning.
Through all of the inconsistencies in our homeschool, my children are flourishing. They are learning more than I could have ever imagined. They are curious and seek out knowledge about things I never would have thought to plan a lesson about. They are flexible and resourceful in a way that I know will be an asset to them in whatever careers they choose.
I’ve tried on many homeschool labels over the years.
I discovered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy on education when my oldest child was only 2 years old, and this method has continued to serve us well over the years. I wholeheartedly embrace CM’s approach to the early years, I believe in using living books to teach children, and narration has become one of the most powerful tools in educating my children.
I like to think that we homeschool with a bit of a Waldorf flair. I discovered Waldorf education when my oldest was still in the womb. I read Simplicity Parenting (all-time favorite parenting book!), and many of the ideas in the book have guided us through more than a decade of living as a family.
In our homeschool, we love using simple, natural materials. We’re a low-tech homeschool, and I strive to serve as the gatekeeper to protect the innocence of my children for as long as I possibly can. We embrace the concept of rhythms and have several staging rhythms that guide our days.
We have a meal rhythm (meals at 8am, 12pm, 5pm that always follow the same template) and a book rhythm (family read aloud to start school, audiobook at lunch, historical fiction in the afternoons, picture books before bed) and a general rhythm to our days (wake, work, play, connect).
Some might even call us unschoolers. Respecting my children is something I value. Their input and their desires matter more to me than any lesson I might prepare. Our studies are quite often born from their questions and desire for knowledge.
I believe in creating an environment with the best tools and resources where the children can explore in their own time and their own way. Our homeschool doesn’t look very much like a traditional school setting at all.
But recently, I’ve been feeling the pull to officially let go of labels and embrace the beauty of the homeschool we have, not one that we’re continually striving for.
Our homeschool has been intimately linked with the rhythm of our home life and the natural world since the beginning. Rhythmic homeschooling is recognizing that our ability to work and focus is not linear; we alternate periods of work and rest each day, week, month, and year and that rhythm is affected by the sun, moon, and our hearts.
Our homeschool rhythm has ebbed and flowed through the years as we’ve managed life- new babies, new houses, new jobs, illness, vacations, house guests, and everything else life entails. When we have a season that moves us away from more traditional ideals of school, I have now come to realize the bountiful benefits that come through focusing on life and living for a time.
It has been in these seasons of lifeschooling the that my children have learned some of the most amazing things. My kids have learned knot-tying, creative writing, how to build circuits, woodworking, sewing, knitting, Spanish, cooking, gardening, and so much more during times where I once worried because we weren’t “doing school.”
The older, wiser me has come to accept that this ability to lean in to rhythmic homeschooling is in fact one of the biggest blessings to homeschool. We do book work when we are feeling great. We get outside when the weather invites us out. We follow rabbit trails of learning that we never could have gotten to if I had planned everything out months ahead of time. We lean into subjects when there is interest and dip out of them when the interest wanes.
We took a vacation to New England last fall. To prepare for our trip, we dug into geography and history. We covered the pilgrims and Puritans, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, and the American Revolution. We studied Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond. We learned about John D. Rockerfeller and his work to preserve Acadia National Park. We studied bald eagles, peregrine falcons, puffins, and moose. We read a biography on Maria Von Trapp and learned about the real Von Trapp family and their escape from Austria before WWII. We learned about apple trees and apple cider. We studied fall trees and seeds.
We exchanged a box of goodies with an Instagram friend in Tasmania. This spurred a months-long study of Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia, the British Commonwealth, and the Queen of England.
A beach trip a few years ago inspired learning about sea turtles, crabs, and other sea creatures.
Playing with Knex inspired learning about bridges and the engineering behind them. We’ve gone to visit several types of bridges during our travels and have done a ton of experiments testing different types of bridges.
Learning inspiration strikes in places I least expect it.
Two years ago, my husband came to me a little concerned about our homeschool. We seemed to spend all day painting, knitting, and reading books. “When are they going to learn about science and STEM topics?” he wondered.
This school year, my kids are obsessed with science. We did a physics unit on energy and circuits, we’re doing an extensive full-year study on plants, we’re following the moon cycles and learning about the night sky. We check out no less that 15 books on science topics every time we go to the library. They can’t get enough science!
Somehow, it all balances out. I’m trusting my own intuition and my children’s to know that we’re heading in the right direction. If you’re not doing school every day, if you’re not following a strict schedule, if you find yourself not fitting in to any one homeschool label…you’re in good company.
Will we cover everything by the time they graduate high school? Definitely not. Will there be gaps if they decide to transition to public school at some point? Most likely, yes.
Will they have a love of learning and deep curiosity that will allow them to learn whatever they want for the rest of their life? That’s my goal.