I’m so happy to introduce you to Cate Olson, the newest blogger to join the home | school | life team. Cate will be writing about her experiences homeschooling her four kids, the oldest of whom is now in high school and the youngest of whom is 6. I bet you’re going to love getting to know her as much as I have!
If you happen upon these words after the sort of day in which each and every last excruciating diphthong and consonant blend had to be coaxed out of your emerging reader or the sort of day in which your young teen spent the better part of his day dawdling through an impossibly short lesson on multiplying exponents, demanding unnecessary hand-holding, I have something radical to say:
Homeschooling is not supposed to be like this.
Please, indulge me a moment. Think back to when you first made the decision to homeschool. Remind yourself of how you might have naïvely imagined every day spent under the warm sun, plopped on a picnic blanket atop lush green grass with attentive, well-groomed children itching to read the works of Aristotle by age five and with a functioning understanding of trigonometry by grade six.
Well, okay, homeschooling isn’t supposed to be exactly like that either, but behind our wide-eyed, simple daydreams were two kernels of truth: First, we understood that the learning process itself could— and should!— be extraordinary, and, second, we wanted to experience those almost transcendent moments of comprehension and understanding alongside our children. We guessed what we now know to be true, that learning something new is an astonishing feeling, and practically the only other feeling that comes close to beating it is being the curator of that moment for your child.
Now, of course we are going to have bad days, even no good, very bad days where we have online enrollment forms filled out for local schools and we are one mere whine, catastrophe or dropped pencil away from clicking submit. Being imperfect beings, these days are inevitable, but in my experience, they happen with diminished frequency when we focus less on the nuts-and-bolts of how we homeschool and give ourselves more freedom to daydream boldly and recapture whatever it was that initially inspired us to homeschool.
Example. The sun is out and the temperature is above fifty. You live in the Midwest where, if you are lucky, you might string together two spring-like days in a row before the next blizzard rolls in. It’s late morning and you’ve spent the past thirty minutes (has it really been only thirty minutes!?) on the cusp of a mental breakdown while your child continues to struggle to sound out the word d-o-g for the eight hundred and seventy-fifth time of the day, a word she read fluidly just yesterday, and you have already started wondering if lunchtime is too early to crack open the Merlot that you were saving for cocktail hour.
This is the moment where you need to harken back to your doe-eyed homeschooling daydreams and just quit for the day already. Do you see the sun out your grimy, fingerprint-covered windows? Do you hear those birds chirping over the din of the dog barking? The best cure for a bad day at the homeschool table is to put away the workbooks. Go for a hike. Dig in the garden for some worms. Go build a snowman, or even make some tea and read a book to yourself while your children tie pillows to their stomachs and pretend to be sumo wrestlers.
The curriculum will be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, and one day soon— and this is a promise— your child will have the breakthrough that you were earlier trying to force.
Anecdotal evidence: One of my daughters was struggling to learn long division. Divide, multiply, subtract, and bring down; she could recite the process in her sleep, but she just couldn’t remember what to divide, multiply, subtract, or bring down. We let math go for a day or so, or we worked on multiplication fact worksheets when we did do math. As she seemed receptive, we practiced a long division problem together here and there. She can do long division now with the best of them, and all this was achieved with no tears or fighting, and, most importantly, she does not hate long division.
I think that the farther away we get from our homeschool daydreams of yesteryear the easier it is to forget that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Children don’t learn math because they finish the math text; they learn math because they understood the concepts the math text taught, and it’s up to us to be able to discern the difference therein.
Confession: Of course I do not always remember to take my own advice. Just last week I locked horns with my six-year-old over a phonics lesson that, in all likelihood, was reinforcing a concept she had already mastered. I persevered. There were raised voices, a thrown pencil, and no thoughts on my part of doing anything other than winning the battle of wills in that moment.
Yes, I ultimately “won,” but what was gained in that episode with my six-year-old? Certainly she did not gain an increased understanding of words starting with “th” and “sh,” but she did learn that maybe she didn’t much want to see her phonics workbook for another few days.
It is precisely in these darker homeschool moments where I think we need to allow ourselves more daydreams about backyard hammocks and lazy grammar lessons going hand-in-hand. We need more stargazing and less navel gazing. We must remind ourselves that homeschooling is a way of life, and not just something we do for a few hours every day. In short, it is essential to rediscover the joy and the beauty of learning that brought our kids home in the first place. Once the joy of learning is rightly realigned at the top of our homeschool priority list, abundant, deep, and real learning will—nay, must—necessarily follow.
I’d love to hear about it. If you’d like to reach me, I’ll be cuddled up in bed with a messy-haired, dirty-kneed, disheveled kid who is, inevitably, teaching me as they learn.
CATE OLSON is a former political hack and freelance writer turned homeschool mom. She lives with her husband and their four kids in Milwaukee.