Have you ever had the feeling that someone disapproves of how you run your homeschool?
Or perhaps, you KNOW they disapprove?
Do you have a persistent little, trembling voice who whispers when you get up in the morning or late, late at night :
“Am I doing this right? Will they turn out OK?”
And yet, you keep soldiering on, being a good girl & doing the things you’re “supposed” to do to teach your children. The wild thing is you’re actually more than half-afraid that someone will point at you &/or your kids & say,
I TOLD you this crazy homeschooling stuff wouldn’t work!”
No homeschooler is completely immune to these thoughts & concerns. I’m sure not!
Lately (OK, actually during the last 3 years or so….), I’ve been doing a lot of research & contemplating what makes a great homeschool . Mostly to ward off those little voices & because I really wanted to come to the point when I finally knew why I’m doing all this.
The BIG Question …
How can I make the time I spend with my children special, enjoyable & ultimately productive?
I chose to homeschool them because I believe that I can offer things school can’t – particularly one-to-one tutoring & developmentally appropriate activities that engage their heads, hearts AND hands.
And the answer is – complete customization.
At the beginning, I thought that homeschooling was as simple as buying a commercial curriculum, picking a start date, plopping them down & running through the pre-made lessons. I even had visions of speeding things up a bit so people (who ?) would be really impressed with how quickly my kids were learning.
Well, I was wrong about almost everything.
The thing that still freaks me out is that it took me so long to realize that I was faking it – I would do a lesson from the book, skip a few, do the next one that looked interesting & so on.
You could say that I had the sneaking suspicion that I was doing “homeschool” wrong because I wasn’t spoon-feeding my kids the pre-cut morsels of info that came in that spiral bound “curriculum”. Even so, I kept it up for a while. Until one day, I just couldn’t bring myself to go near that life-less book. It felt like kryptonite whenever I picked it up – my strength seemed to drain right out of me.
The DREADED Curriculum
When I realized how much I DREADED looking at that less-than-stellar curriculum, I summoned my courage & threw it in a drawer (literally) & started pulling our lessons together my own way.
I figured that NO ONE knows my children better than I do.
Plus, I also got so tired of the constant complaints from my “students” – this is boring, this is dumb, I don’t want to do this…!
It was easy to tell myself, in my best teacher tone,
“that is just what every child says when they want to get out of doing something. “
Yes, it is.
But, I LOVED learning in school – despite the dismal readers, demeaningly-childish classrooms & the constant need to “…wait until the others are finished” before I could go on to a new task.
My fondest wish
was that my children would feel the same way I do about learning – excited, driven to know more & filled with ideas of what to do with what I’ve discovered.
The Mysterious Missing Children…
This was NOT what was happening – there were times when they HID from me rather than begin daily lessons. I was barking up the wrong proverbial tree & there was no one to call me off.
It was damn scary to step away from the boxed-curriculum (particularly in light of how much it cost). There was also the terrifying fact that I had to face the ever-looming inspection – when the state inspectors would come to my home to decide whether or not I had taught my children “sufficiently” during the year.
( You know how everyone says there aren’t any homeschool police ? Might I point out that “homeschool inspector” is just a polite way of saying the same thing? Despite how pleasant they are, in the end checking up on me is their job. In the early days, I used to have nightmares about them…but things are so much better now!)
The Baby Steps…
There was a brief period of work-sheets (I’m not proud to admit) then came the clinging to every subtle Waldorf-based nuance* I could find.
Finally, it became clear to me that I could teach my children not just well but exceptionally well, when I stepped back, looked at them – I mean really OBSERVED them – and started from where they were & noticed what truly held their interest.
What they LOVED.
The LOVE Affair Begins…
Before, I jettisoned all caution to the wind I knew I had to be sure what I was planning would be better than the old way. I’d been reading a lot about how doing what you love is how to be happy & successful.
So, I turned to what I LOVE when trying to decide what to wrap our lessons around. I figured, if I’m engrossed in learning & doing, my energy will emanate towards my children & just sort of wash over them.
In case you’re wondering (but since you’re here- you probably have a pretty good idea what it was!) – the “core” of our new homeschool curriculum is Handwork.
As you can imagine, I didn’t jump lightly into this new radical idea –
– I’ve taken reams of notes, highlighted stacks of books & spent hours vetting this thought & that.
(Side note – it’s amazing how much more fulfilling it feels spending an evening pinning down new ways to teach my kids rather than pinning other people’s creations on virtual boards. Don’t get me wrong, I love pinterest too, but sometimes it can feel so overwhelming… end of side note.)
So, you’re thinking – “Wait – did she say she’s building a curriculum around Handwork ? In this modern, digital age? How’s THAT going to work ?”
Yes, an explanation is in order.
The old definition I set for handwork used to be rather strict. I had basically lifted it from my early readings of Steiner’s work. He classified it like this :
handwork is fibre based
Now, I adore fibre more than your average person but I knew I wanted to find a way to include many natural materials like paper, wood, clay, metal, wax & stone into my kid’s lessons & feel good about doing it.
My NEW Handwork definition :
using your hands to transform
a creative idea into something beautiful & useful.
In the new & improved version of our homeschool
– we spend way more time doing stuff.
This means lots of handwork, many freeform & directed art projects, tons of time outside, more cooking & baking as well as making sure everybody pitches in to help run our household. After all, we all live here.
These days, I spend a slightly longer time on our lessons – I always take the time to read TO them & make sure I work with each child before assigning homework (or as we call it INDEPENDENT work – like how I made it sound important, eh ?) .
And, this is crucial :
I make sure I step aside & leave them to their own devices for large stretches of time every day. This gives them time to integrate what they’ve learned, mull things over in their heads & quite often, act out new stories or ideas in free play. (In case you’re wondering – yes, I’m still around but I’m no helicopter parent.)
Now, when someone asks what it’s like to homeschool, I can confidently say – we love it.
Not that every day runs like clock-work, my kids don’t always rush to my side when I call for lessons but I don’t have to search for them any more either.
We still have those times when they aren’t totally engrossed in something but now that they know most of what we do together is interesting, they are better able to work through the not-so-thrilling bits in anticipation of the next part that will really grab their attention.
We still do times tables, grammar, writing practice & spelling since I still have to make sure I have everything I need lined up before our inspection but we also spend WAY more time outside, with far more focus on doing things that appeal to them which at the moment includes:
designing clothing for princesses, reading all manner of books, drawing mandalas, taking care of (& kissing) chickens, riding bikes, skipping, knitting – generally creating the ideas that are in our heads.
I do it all too (except for the biking & chicken bits).
Throwing off the shackles of a boxed-curriculum?
What made me finally do it ?
Because I decided to take a stand for my children & stop worrying about negative things that “might” happen.
What’s the point in wasting my energy there?
– I’m running this show & if anyone has
any problems with how it’s done they can come to me.
I’ll have quite a few things to say about why I do what I do ….
Our homeschool has gone from a necessary thing that needed to be inserted into our days to a central part of a fulfilling, family lifestyle.
Yours can too.
It just takes the guts to turn your back on those dark, tightly gripping fears & let the wonderful warm glow of love shine in your home. (Yes, I know that sounds a bit fluffy, but it’s TRUE!)
If you want to raise well-rounded, intelligent children who will go far in this world, in whatever direction they choose –
focus on what they love & you love & the rest will seem to magically fall into place.
(It doesn’t have to be handwork it could be nature or travel or anything else that beckons.)
Stand up for what is IMPORTANT to your family & step away from things you dread
It will change everything.
Happy Making (& Learning)
(* What we do in our homeschool is still well-steeped in the beauty of Steiner’s method, it’s just I’m brave enough now to read his indications & take what works for us & leave the rest – without feeling guilty!!)
PS – If you’re like me & understand the immense value of teaching your children to be creative & work with their hands – click HERE for some FREE projects to jump-start your own ideas.
PPS – Questions ? Post a comment below or email me HERE , I’d love to hear from you!
Elizabeth des Roches is a Hands-On Curriculum Designer who teaches forward thinking homeschoolers (& other enlightened educators) how to create artistic & attention-grabbing experiential lessons, help their children love learning & happily explore their world together.
Since creating Handwork Homeschool, a one-of-a-kind virtual school in 2010, (shortly after spiriting her family away from the big city to live in a beautiful old house in a small village in France), she’s shared her expertise around the world via her visual-feast-of-a-blog, many trainings & signature course : The MAKING Lessons.