The fab five on a homeschooling trip to the Butterfly Conservatory during our first official year of homeschooling all of them.
The next question I am normally asked involves curriculum and what I “do” with the kids:
How did you choose a homeschooling method/curriculum?
Each homeschooling method is like a different outfit. Sometimes you have to try it on for a bit to see if it works for your family. Sometimes you need to try on a few before finding the perfect one that fits your needs. Before choosing anything, it’s important for you and your partner to discuss what is a priority for your family.
Here are my big ones:
1. RHYTHM. To establish a family rhythm. With 5 busy children, rhythm is important for me. With rhythm comes ritual and tradition.
2. OUTDOORS. To go outside often. We need to spend a lot of time outdoors – whether it’s through a program which is how we began this journey or with our homeschooling friends. (I was a product of the urban concrete jungle and the kids teach me every day how to be more comfortable outdoors.)
3. COMMUNITY. To build connections with other homeschooling families – a place where we can come together and become more of a family, where my kids can look to the other children as siblings and the parents as mentors because of the long-term relationship we have fostered.
4. ARTS. To nurture the visual/musical/dramatic/physical artist within each of them.
5. FAMILY. To be together. All 7 of us: meal time, our days, our afternoons, trips.
It wasn’t easy to decide on a method. To be honest, I still waver sometimes – the battle between structured and unstructured. I thought I would unschool. My oldest was the first to homeschool. And what did my 12 year old do that year? She spent the year “deschooling.” #1 fondly remembers reading close to 100 books that year – every book that she had to put aside or had no time to read because of school. She read everything from the Harry Potter series to the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird– her favourite book to this day. And she made a quilt. Ask her about it and she’ll tell you the story as if she had conquered Everest. It was a real test of will power. She also had a fascination with American History.
I was first exposed to Waldorf pedagogy in #2 and #3’s alternative school. They introduced Waldorf-inspired activities: handwork, an outdoor kindergarten, verses, drawing with crayon blocks, watercolour painting, beeswax modelling, and the idea of main lesson blocks. They also celebrated festivals as a school. It resonated with me. I was drawn to the premise of teaching the child in a holistic way. This post and this post from Carrie at Parenting Passageway sums up what I keep in mind as I plan and how to figure out what and how to teach my lessons. I love this: “Our goal at this age, as it is at every age, should be our deep wish to know our children.” Homeschooling gives me that time to deeply know my children and as they grow older, I can see how they can change in an instant.
I read the following books:
Rhythms of Learning : What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers by: Roberto Trostli
Heaven on Earth by: Sharifa Oppenheimer
Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven by: Barbara J. Patterson, Pamela Bradley and Jean Riordan
and many of Melisa Nielsen’s wonderful blog posts and early years curriculum material. Here is a post and here is a post about choosing Waldorf from Melisa Nielsen. In our first homeschool year, I bought Gr. 3 Christopherus and Gr. 1 Waldorf Essentials. I formulated a circle time by collecting seasonal verses, poems, finger plays, songs, movement games, and stories for the youngest ones. I used Seven Times the Sun: Guiding Your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day
by Shea Darian for a lot of the verses and stories. For the littles, a lot of their year was spent tagging along, playing, and crafts. I spent that first year of homeschooling designing a rhythm that worked for our family. I knew that my main lesson wasn’t going to be more than 2 hours a day and I wanted them to have a lot of time for this:
…and outdoor time. Here were are on a hike with our friends…crazy to see #5 in the wrap while I am guiding #4 down the hill while maintaining my own balance so we all don’t come tumbling down:
And family time:
And family meals. (Sorry for the dark picture.) Although this photo of us having breakfast together was taken during our first year homeschooling, we still are able to eat a sit-down family meal twice a day (sometimes three times) on weekdays and three times on the weekends. This is a huge priority for our family.
I’m happy I bought the curriculum because I was able to use it and figure out what worked and what didn’t work.
My oldest daughter does a bit of Waldorf with us – form drawing, handwork, and she listens in on all the blocks I never covered with her – but she is mostly unschooling and working her way out into our community, our city, our world.
After being home for a full year, #1 wanted to attend a student-directed alternative school for Grade 8. No compulsory attendance, no grades, no tests. It is modelled after “democratic free schools.” After a year of commuting across the city, she realized that she was able to pursue studies of interest at home. For high school, she wanted to apply for a sports-based program in a local high school. The sports-based program met her needs but unfortunately it only occupied a fraction of her high school experience. The time spent on busy work and on courses that simply did not interest her started to affect her love of learning again. I noticed how concerned she was over her grades and getting work done for the sake of getting it done. We made the decision with her to leave school again after Grade 9. She has chosen to complete her high school diploma through online courses and has been trying anything and everything – apprenticing in a local Shakespeare theatre group, becoming a member of an arts youth council, working part-time jobs, traveling abroad, and playing competitive volleyball. We spend a lot of time together talking and I spend a lot of time listening to her bounce ideas and future plans off of me.
In our first year, I had two littles, a first grader, a third grader, and an eighth grader who was home half the time. A lot of our rhythm was focused on keeping a schedule for the littles and for the first grader. The third grader “deschooled” for a little while and just played with her siblings as we came to Waldorf ‘late.’ Although she missed Gr. 1 and Gr. 2, she is often around when her younger siblings are doing their own lessons. Both #1 and #2 often stop and listen to the fairy tale or the fable from the dining table as they do their independent work.
I often learned the hard way what really didn’t work with our family. We needed a daily and weekly rhythm. We needed time with our homeschooling friends. We needed the outdoors. With a first grader who was very much into imaginative play, I didn’t push reading or math. We told stories. She was an avid storyteller. She still is. Anytime we can act out a story dramatically or with puppets, she is engaged. With each child and with more time, I became adept at meeting them where they were. Sometimes I would introduce a block or a concept and it would be a disaster – that was the times table with my third grader. I left it and we came back to it in fourth grade and she picked it up in less than a month. #3’s interest in reading picked up in Grade 2. She was reading chapter books by the end of that grade because she was ready to learn to read. It took me awhile to realize that we can drop everything and head outside. If I am feeling stressed out, we can all take a break that day and just read together under a cozy blanket. My days are often filled balancing the needs of the little ones who still love to play and the older ones who are asking questions and who want to be challenged.
Some photos from our first year:
#1’s infamous quilt…144 pieces give or take…she can’t quite remember now although it’s her prized possession:
#3 as a first grader…
#2 as a third grader…before she was able to do this project with her step-grandfather…
#4 and #5 sorting beads and then playing with some crayons we made…they wanted to do some “work” too…
Here they are having fun on the felt board I made for storytelling…
And sometimes #2 set up a desk for #5 after she was done her lesson…
We also had a lot of outdoor days and meet-ups with our homeschooling group. Those days were pretty important for us that year and remain a priority as the kids have grown up with these families over the last few years…
And a lot of playing the day away:
Lesson planning is spent watching my children and seeing how they react and respond to situations. I often don’t plan a whole year because who they are keeps shifting within that year. I often find myself switching around blocks or pulling different resources off the shelf at the last minute because I had a late realization about what the child needs. I also assumed it was smooth sailing after I finished a grade. I mistakenly thought that I could just repeat the same material with the next child. Nope. What worked for one doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for another. The shelters block I just completed with #3 completely bombed with #2. My first grader now, with three older sisters, has an urgency to read RIGHT NOW and is sick of reviewing the letters and sounds. I had to re-do my entire Gr. 1 plan. For me, that is the beauty of homeschooling. The curriculums that I invest in have now become guides and less as material that need to be covered.
I remind myself that this isn’t a race. If I failed to cover or introduce something in the year, I can always return to it in the summer or even next year. I remind myself to slow down and not compare our family to others because this is about a life we have created that fits ‘us’ very well. I remind myself to enjoy every minute because this time I have with them is so short even during the days when I “feel the five.” I remind myself I can always change my mind if things aren’t working out the way I envisioned or the way that curriculum said it would.
If you’re a homeschooler, tell me about your story of how you chose a method/curriculum in the comments. Did you have to try on a couple of different “outfits” or did you find the perfect fit the first time around?
And please ask questions if you have any!
Tomorrow I will answer the question: What do you do all day? (That’s always a fun one to answer…especially when you ask the kids!)