We are currently immersed in our second year of life as a home-schooling family. The girls are now six, almost five, three years old and fourteen months as I write. Our school-run days are firmly behind us, and we have definitely settled into a happy stay-at-home rhythm. I often get questions about what that looks like for us, so I thought I would recap on what the early days were like, and give you a glimpse into our new ‘normal’.
(FYI – Homeschooling was never part of my plan. And I do like to plan! For those of you who missed it, you can catch up on our journey from primary school to home educating our girls here. Also – this article contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links.)
THE EARLY DAYS – ON WRESTLING AND REVELATIONS
With hindsight, a lot of our first year at home after we pulled our daughter out of primary school was spent “deinstitutionalising” my daughter’s (and my own!) notions of what school and learning should look like.
She was letting go of classroom conventions. I was wrestling away from comparing her and what she was and was NOT learning to her peers in school.
I constantly felt like I was failing her by not being able to keep pace with Year 1 teachers. At the same time, as I watched her while away hours with with her sisters, climb trees, run around the garden, fall in love with history and fashion, play, draw and read to her hearts content, and as I enjoyed the shape of my girls cuddled next to me as I read aloud to them for the umpteenth time, my gut told me this was worth seeing through.
In the wrestling, and over time, I found my place and my peace.
I had a very simple revelation about who I was and who I was not that changed everything –
I am not a school teacher. I am their mother.
And as such I am well suited and amply qualified to teach my children.
I may not be an expert at managing a classroom, but I know my own children better than any other teacher out there. I do not know everything there is to know on every topic your average five year old should be well acquainted with, and I definitely cannot keep up with the rigours and demands of the National Curriculum. But I love to learn, and wanted to pass on this love of learning to my girls.
I recognised that it is not my job to teach them everything there was to know. My job is to understand who they are, what motivates them, excites them and inspires them, and to nurture all of that beautiful potential as best I can. My job is to pass on my own genuine love of learning, and expose them to truth and beauty, great ideas, literature and art, and to equip them to fill in any blanks in their education themselves as the need arises.
Armed with this revelation, and reinforced with encouragement from all sorts of homeschooling mothers whose stories I devoured in books, blogs and podcasts, I drew a line in the sand and decided my “compare and despair” days were over. I decided that I would not bring classroom conventions and dynamics home. Instead, I would focus on cultivating a loving, safe environment and family culture that encouraged togetherness, a love of learning, and a can do attitude.
THE SWEETEST OF INTERRUPTIONS
Halfway through our first year of home school, we welcomed our fourth daughter into the world. And as her sweet sisters had done before her, our youngest reminded me that all else but holding and nurturing this precious new life could and should wait. So we put away our books, set aside my carefully laid plans, and just hung out. I rested and healed. We got to know our girl. And to my surprise, learning still happened, just not in the way I had anticipated.
By the time we started easing back into gentle homeschooling rhythms, I had simplified my own expectations of what we could achieve, and decided to take things even slower than I thought possible. And so began the familiar rhythm of living, learning, reassessing, making mistakes, and trying again.
OUR HAPPY (IMPERFECT) NOW
As the days have rolled into months, the new shape of our family life has emerged. In essence:
- We prioritise time outside in nature wherever we can. Rain, shine, or growling winds, we head outside every week for a long walk and unfettered play. It can be such a battle to get all four outside some days, particularly in the early days with a newborn, but some of our most precious memories and happiest moments have been made on our nature walks, so it is worth it. I’m also hugely thankful for a little garden they can run about in on the days we do not make it out anywhere adventurous. My husband built a very basic mud kitchen out of mud pallets that has also been a great way to entice them to get outdoors in all weather and get their hands dirty.
- We read. A lot! Oh how we read. We read snuggled on the sofa or snuggled in bed before lights out. We read at the breakfast table and while the littles play blocks. We read poetry, history, fables. We savour beautiful picture books and linger over literature. We read and we re-read. And in doing so, I have watched as the stories we share and enjoy together weave us together in ways I had only dreamed possible. (If you struggle with reading aloud to your children or haven’t quite caught the vision for why it is so valuable, I highly recommend Sarah Mackenzie’s inspirational book, “The Read-Aloud Family“).
- We go slow and simplify our schedule. I am so grateful to have the flexibility to focus on the things that we enjoy, and to step back from the things we don’t. At this stage in our lives, it means schooling four days a week, committing to one extra curricular activity and one playdate a week, and alternating a bi-weekly home ed meet ups and church mums meet-up on Fridays. This leaves us with plenty of free time for play, drawing, free reading, and unstructured all sorts, which is an important priority at this stage in our family’s life.
- We rest regularly. I recently instigated a ‘family reading hour’ while our youngest naps, inspired by one of my favourite book mentors Sally Clarkson. Each of the three girls gets a “station” laid out with a blanket and pile of books, and I ask them to read quietly, without talking, for an hour. Our three year old can wriggle and try to chatter, but mostly it works, building in the girls habits of resting recharging mid-day, and immersing themselves in good books. On the (rare!) days when our toddler refuses to nap, she gets her own basket of books too, and sits alongside her sisters for as long as she is able to. Crucially, this also gives me a precious window of quiet and time to read myself. As an introvert I have learned the hard way that if I do not weave in windows of more restful time where I am not “needed’ and am able to fill up my own tank, I will get cranky and be less able to serve my children well.
- We prioritise a culture of togetherness. We do everything together – schoolwork, doctor’s appointments, supermarket runs, library visits, playdates. This “come one, come all” lifestyle means the girls have to learn to look out for each other, pitch in and help with the littles when needed, and think about how to accommodate each other. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
- We learn together. On days when we are schooling, I break our learning time into three chunks over the course of the morning- Breakfast Time (for bible reading, devotionals, hymn study and memory verses), Morning Time (read-aloud time for all the girls that includes literature, poetry, history, geography, music appreciation, picture study) and Table Time (maths and language arts). For the most part, save for age and stage disciplines like maths and language arts, I teach all the girls the same thing at the same time, accepting that the littles will take in less than their older siblings, but will still benefit in their own little ways. This both saves time and reinforces the idea that we are in it together.
- Mummy is a student too. Cindy Rollins, a homeschooling mother of nine(!), often talks about how as mothers we get to repair the ruins of our own education by opting to teach our children at home. Already, I have found this to be so true for me. My time at school and university taught me more about passing exams than learning for learning sake, and I’m sad to say that I have not retained much of what I was taught. In my efforts to expose our girls to truth, goodness and beauty, I been surprised to find myself enjoying learning about things I was never exposed to along side them, mainly in the way of history, great literature, classical music and art history. I’ve also really enjoyed immersing myself in educational philosophy.
- We are intentional about building family friendships. People always ask about whether we have friends (!) now that we are out of mainstream education. I’ve learned that while we might not have the same breadth of friendships that we had when bouncing from school to nursery, we are able to go deeper with the people that we do care about.
- We adapt – constantly! Life with little ones is constantly changing. I am learning to be flexible within the boundaries of what my children need to thrive at their current ages and stages, tweaking our daily and weekly rhythms in an effort to find better fits and flows for us all. When my third and fourth daughters were younger for example, we would maximise nap time for focussed learning time. Now my three year old no longer naps and our one year old has dropped her morning one, we jump into learning in the morning so that we can wrap up all school work by twelve. It is sweet chaos – toys all over the floor, a table full of books and bits, intermittant music and interruptions galore – but we are together, taking things one step at a time, and it works.
Charlotte Mason says that “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life”. I have found this maxim so helpful as I explore how to disciple, nurture and teach my children at home. The longer we do this, the more the lines blur between parenting and home educating. Learning together is part of our lifestyle. Learning happens all the time, not in specific “school” time blocks. As I have embraced my new role, taking risks and being brave in ways big and little, and watching the first fruits of our choices emerge in our girls and our family life, my confidence has grown louder than my own questions and doubts, and have drowned out the opinions and filters of others in my own head and heart.
What has homeschooling NOT given us?
It hasn’t magically made my kids perfect little people. They still bicker, I still referee, we still get on each others nerves and have to apologise and ask for forgiveness. Nor has it made me the perfect mother. Being around our little people all the time can bring out both the best and the worst in me, regularly. Being responsible for our children’s education can sometimes feel overwhelming, so I’m constantly having to remind myself that all I need to do is show up, do my best, and trust God to use that and do the rest – thank you Sarah Mackenzie for that revelation! But I have to believe that the fruit of this intentional togetherness and our giving the children permission to delve deep into the activities and subjects that they love are building a solid foundation for their futures.
So there you have it – our homeschool journey so far and the shape of our current everyday. I will share more about the education and parenting books and resources that have been most helpful sometime soon, so look out for those. In the meantime, do follow me on instagram, I would love to connect with you there! You can also sign up to my newsletter here!