Our first year of homeschooling is behind us. We are now halfway through our second year and my first year teaching both of my boys at the same time. I have TONS to share about our second year too but that’s another post for another day. Today I want to talk about our first year homeschooling. I started homeschooling my oldest son, Owen when he was four years old. He has autism and had started preschool in an autistic based support classroom. He did well in preschool but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he could do better at home. Six months into his preschool year my husband cautiously consented to homeschooling and that’s where our homeschool journey began.
I’m learning in life that the first year for most things is usually the most difficult. I’m hoping that’s the case with homeschooling too. I’ve found that homeschooling is a lot like parenting, then add in a child or two with autism and it becomes a whole new kind of difficult. With these challenges come some discouraging lows but also some incredible highs. Homeschooling, like parenting is teaching me patience, unconditional love and faith. I’m shown daily that I’m not in charge despite how desperately I want to be. Homeschooling is not just like parenting it IS parenting…on steroids.
The reaction I get from most people upon hearing that I homeschool my children is a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. Depending on my level of confidence at that moment determines how well I represent the homeschool community. When someone asks me if I like homeschooling my knee jerk reaction is, “Yes, I love it!” That is the truth. But believe me when I tell you that there are days when I’m banging my head against the wall and questioning my ability to parent my kids let alone teach them.
One of the hardest parts about homeschooling is that there is no one else to blame for my children’s education. I believe that’s why there is so much fear and self-doubt in new homeschoolers, like myself. Much like new parents, we feel the weight of the world watching us, comparing, and making judgements. The outcome ultimately is how our child performs on any given day. It’s unfair to ourselves and our children to heap that kind of responsibility onto their shoulders. Just as it’s unfair to expect our child’s teacher or school to be entirely responsible for their education. Each child learns differently and at their own pace. My responsibility is to figure out how best they learn then encourage them to take it as far as they want to go.
Our first year of homeschooling was, at times, take-me-to-the-breaking-point HARD but just as I was about to wave the white flag in defeat, Owen would get it. Whatever “it” was that he was struggling with. We’d spend weeks, even months going over the same thing with no reaction from him. Nothing indicating that he understood or was even interested in the topic. Then one day he’d get it and just like that we were on to the next thing.
A great example is in this wonderful picture of Owen using scissors correctly for the first time. That day, that moment was a big deal for our family. We worked for well over a year practicing how to use scissors. Owen has some delays with fine motor skills and using scissors was really difficult for him. I felt as though we had tried everything and was starting to feel like this skill was something he’d never be able to do. Then one day while we were playing with clay I picked up the scissors and began cutting the clay into pieces. His fascination with clay combined with the sensation of cutting clay instead of paper motivated him to practice using scissors until he got it right. He spent the next twenty minutes working diligently to cut the clay into teeny tiny pieces all over the table and floor. Just like that a new skill acquired when only moments before it seemed like an impossibility.
I just love the look of determination on his face. With proper motivation there is absolutely nothing this kid can’t do. Go Owen Go!
That’s what homeschooling is all about. Spending time with my children and finding different ways to motivate them so that they enjoy learning. Encouraging my children to learn, create and grow at their own pace and in their own way is a privilege. Watching them struggle and then flourish is pretty incredible and I feel blessed that I get to be a part of it.
During our first year, I learned that homeschooling doesn’t come with a manual. What works for one family doesn’t always work for the next. I read article after article on how others homeschooled their children. Each article sounded wonderful on paper but when I tried applying it with my children it frequently ended in failure. In the beginning, I was too insecure in my ability to teach my children to try it a different way. So I kept doing what others were doing. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. All of it was a learning experience.
It was about three months into our homeschool journey when Owen decided that he didn’t want to do school anymore. At that time, I only had one way of teaching him and that was no longer working. Now what? What if I was wrong and I couldn’t teach him? What if we have to enroll him in school and he’s fallen behind academically and socially? These were some of the fear driven thoughts that ran through my mind at that time.
Fortunately, instead of giving in to my fears, I prayed and tried harder. Over the next three months I tried various homeschooling methods. I was mixing things up every week which makes things difficult for a child that thrives on routine. Nothing seemed to be working. I was all over the place therefore he was all over the place. I tried the casual unschooling method and let him dictate what we’d work on. Then I tried school at home, where he sat at the table and I hovered over him, making sure that he completed all of his school work until we both ended up in tears. I tried bribing him with stickers, toys and treats. I tried several online programs and tons and tons of library books. Nothing seemed to work. Those few months were very discouraging and self doubt began shaking my faith in our decision to homeschool.
Instead of throwing in the towel, I did what I’ve learned to do whenever I’m getting in the way of life. I surrendered. I stopped pushing Owen and myself. Allowing us both time to just be.
It took him a full week of absolute nothingness before he began playing with his school materials again. It took me almost three weeks of prayer and soul-searching to come to the realization that I was putting an enormous amount of pressure and expectations on my four year old son as well as myself. Homeschooling is a journey not a race to the finish line. It seemed that I was more concerned about proving my ability to homeschool than I was about actually homeschooling him.
As a result of our much needed break, I stopped trying so hard and began playing more. When school time became more about having fun together it stopped feeling like such a chore for both of us.
I continued to research homeschooling methods and curriculum until finding one that I felt was a good fit for our family then slowly began adding it into our activities. I purchased Confessions of a Homeschoolers downloadable Letter of the Week preschool curriculum for $15. I highly recommend this website to any person new to homeschooling. It’s so organized, easy to use and informative. The best part of the curriculum is that it comes with detailed weekly lesson plans. It took the guesswork out of homeschooling and that’s exactly what I needed in the beginning. It allowed me time to find a routine that worked for us. With a schedule to follow, Owen began to look forward to school time and I began gaining confidence in my ability to teach him.
We hit our stride halfway through our first year. Owen successfully completed the Letter of the Week curriculum by the end of that year. It was a big moment for both Owen and I. In that first year there were a lot of mistakes and confusion but a lot of laughs and successes too. I’m not sure who learned more me or Owen.
By the end of our first year I learned that it’s not what homeschool method I choose, the curriculum or even learning style of my child that matters most. It’s spending quality time with my children, being present and interested in them and enthusiastic about what they are learning that matters most of all. My presence, attention and encouragement was all the motivation he needed. In the process I learned to loosen up a little and have fun. What’s the point in homeschooling if we don’t reap the benefits of it?