There’s no one way that homeschooling looks or doesn’t look. There’s no perfect ideal and certainly no perfect moms! Beware of the trap of comparison which leads only to discouragement and disappointment. What homeschooling should look like is finding the rhythm that works for you and your kids. Having said that, I will give some general conclusions about what homeschooling looks like from my own experiences with our kids and the feedback I’ve gotten from the homeschool community.
- It does not look like traditional school. It might even look a little unorganized because everyone is not learning the same thing at the same time. We don’t sit in desks, say the pledge, and listen to announcements. When people come to our house for the first time and see the room where we keep our school supplies, they sometimes ask, “Is this where you do school?” Well, yes and no. We do school all over the house. In the morning, they grab their daily checklist and their workbox and find a space to work. I am available, not lecturing or teaching in the traditional way, but as a facilitator. When they come to a new concept, I introduce the concept, pulling out manipulatives as needed. As soon as kids are able to read and write, this is how we roll. If I have a child in Kindergarten or first grade who is not yet independent, I am more directive in teaching them, but as they grow in their reading ability, I encourage them to be self-learners, to take ownership of their work. After we finish independent work, have lunch and play outside, we spend the afternoon reading together or pursuing individual interests, and that happens in our living room. The longer I homeschool, the more it grows on me that real learning is happening all the time. I am more aware of our lifestyle and less concerned about where we do school or our “school hours”.
- It looks like reading. A lot. I really can’t say this enough. They just read a lot. Why? Because they can. They have time, they have space, and they are curious. If kids have free time, not cluttered with schedules, not distracted with screens, they are natural learners. Children are born with an innate curiosity. We belittle them when we try to cram information into their brains. This child is a person, after all, not some cog in a wheel. If they have the freedom, if they have the world at their fingertips, they will reach out to grasp it.
- Sometimes it looks messy. This verse of Scripture comes to mind. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean.” Maybe if the house was empty part of the day, it would be easier to keep clean?! I don’t know, but when lots of little children inhabit one place continually, the 2nd law of thermodynamics is in full force! Papers, pencils, books, devices, Lego’s or Lincoln logs for the littles, math games… kids like to spread their work out! Often they are working on projects. To be inquisitive, to have ideas, to explore is not usually a neat endeavor! In our home, we try to keep things picked up. The kids have chores. We put school work away before dinner, but during school hours, the house looks lived in! I have often felt, especially when we had mostly young kids, that the focus could either be school or the house, but not both. Summer break is a good time to focus a little more on the house and to organize spaces that get neglected due to the priority of school work.
- More time (than traditional school) spent doing life skills. Again, because our “school” is a home and not a building, home and school often mesh together. We usually have at least one hot meal together. Since they are here for a lot of meals, they have learned how to cook. Because they are here three meals a day, they’ve learned to clean up, too. These skills take lots of practice. They are here when I pay the bills, when I go grocery shopping, when a neighbor needs help. They feed our animals and put them out every morning. Our older boys have learned how to sell items on eBay. They respond to offers, manage orders, and ship out packages during the breaks they get in their school day. Occasionally my husband is home during our school time and he can sometimes be found in the garage building things with wood. Whenever he is working on a project, you can bet he has one or two little people “building” a project beside him. We have a family tradition of canning our own applesauce every fall, and the kids always participate. I count it as a day of school. It is a life skill. They know how to process applesauce from start to finish and that happens not by doing something one time, but by being there, doing it, year after year.
- Targeting struggles. Homeschooling allows time to focus on problem areas until mastery. We don’t just move on to the next concept to keep up with the scope and sequence. When my child is struggling with, say, long division, we take it slow, and work through it until he is confidently mastering it. I’m not concerned about test scores or completing the state requirements. As their mom, my expectations for them go deeper than that. I don’t care what the other kids are doing. I want my child to be competent in long division so they can function in the adult world! I want them to know how to stick with something until they get it. As they wrestle through their own struggles, I want them to learn sympathy for people who struggle in other areas. I care about their character, and sometimes character is built by struggling and conquering. I want them to be challenged-whether academically, physically, socially, etc.- at the level that they need, and I feel that, as the parent, I have pretty close tabs on where their challenge level is-what is enough and what is too much.
- A close-knit homeschool community. In my opinion, it’s hard to succeed in homeschooling without a circle of close friends. We are blessed to be part of an amazing co-op. Our kids have had these friends since they were very young, some of them from the time they were born! Because families are involved in co-ops, meeting up at people’s houses is frequent, and the kids have formed close friendships. Homeschoolers also meet up to take advantage of empty places… like Bounce U or skate parks or birthday parties in the middle of the day. Last year, one of the moms in our co-op organized a group of girls to participate in the Lancaster County Envirothon contest. They met every Thursday to learn all the birds, mammals, insects, trees, and flowers native to our area. Our daughter was one of the girls in this group. She and her friends won first place in the competition, competing against many public and private schools! Our oldest son participated in a biology lab that another mom organized for a group of kids. They met up a few times in the year and dissected frogs, perch, and earthworms.
- Being OUT, making friends with people of all ages from various backgrounds. I think its safe to say that homeschoolers as a whole tend to seek out local events and be very involved. Though they may travel to and from these places with their family unit, they are not confined to one group of kids or one place. They interact with the working world. They see what happens out there all day. I remember thinking as a kid, “I wonder what is going on in the world while we are here in school.” Community activities, shopping, errands, markets, library classes, guided nature hikes…these are regular occurrences. Homeschoolers are out! Kids learn to ask questions as well as talk with adults and other children of all ages and many diverse backgrounds. They learn to make friends with anyone, any age, any where.
- Frequent encounters with living things. Because home is not sterile, kids are naturally in close relation with raw materials and living beings of all kinds. Beautiful flowers, baby babbles, people working, birds singing, fabric, music, food, smiles of old folks. Are the monarchs are on the milkweed yet? When do the Dark-eyed Junco’s first come to our patio in winter? The rabbits are burrowing their nests… soon there will be bunnies hopping around the yard! We watch for things like these every year. Elderly neighbors need help walking out to get their mail, tree services are cutting the tree down next door, the baby entertains everyone with gummy smiles.
- Spontaneous ideas. Homeschooling looks like kids suddenly get swept up in an idea or something they want to try and having the freedom to do it right then. When the idea strikes… why wait? It looks like kids experimenting, building forts, making up their own games, writing and acting out skits, playing in the rain. “Mom, can you show me how to knit a scarf for my American Girl doll?” “Mom, look we made our own stilts. Watch us walk with them!”
- Hard work. Lest I be accused of sugar-coating, I must concede that homeschooling also looks like HARD work. Being with children can be exhausting! Children are fountains of energy. They are little sinners just like us. Sometimes they mimic our flaws and it stings! Some days the toddler throws up, the teenager talks back, and you end up crying with your fourth grader over fractions. Yes, homeschooling looks like hard work. But when you really love something, it is always worth the hard work to do it. It is a kind of hard work that is freeing and beautiful, and for those of us who homeschool, it is absolutely WORTH IT.
If I could draw a word picture of what learning looks like for any person, I think this verse encapsulates it for me.
For precept must be upon precept,
precept upon precept,
Line upon line,
line upon line,
Here a little, there a little.”Isaiah 28:10
This is how homeschooling has looked for us…slowly building on concepts, a little here, a little there.
Think about how we learn as adults. Isn’t this it? We are curious. We have ideas. We discipline ourselves to pursue them by forming habits. We build on them, adding to the foundation as we go. Here a little, there a little. With time, it becomes a lot.