"Did I make the right choice..."
"Am I making a mistake..."
Do these thoughts ever stop you?
No matter where we are in life, it's perfectly normal to have doubts, especially as a parent.
When the pandemic hit, the entire world was knocked off its axis. Maybe not literally, but figuratively. The world had changed and what had once been our norms were things of the past. Everything about how we lived was shifting. Masks became a new reality. Distance between others was the new form of respect. And the news became so grim that even the brightest of days seemed to end in sadness. How do you explain to a then five-year-old that she can no longer go to school, no longer see her friends, and that masks need to be worn every time we go outside? I don't know about you, but as a parent, I was living a nightmare...within a nightmare.
The tantrums became worse, the anxiety and sadness increased, and going out of the house had a whole new look. We struggled. I mean who didn't? We were all facing a reality we never thought we would experience. And if you were like me, you felt like you were drowning. I worked from home before the pandemic, but my kiddos were always in school. I now had to continue my job with a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old at home....and a husband stuck overseas. Feeling overwhelmed was an understatement.
I am thankful that six months before the pandemic hit, we moved out of the RV and into a house. If you followed my blog years ago, you may remember reading about our RV journey, if not, I am happy to share that in another blog post. We had some space to move and the walls weren't completely closing in on us once we were stuck at home. Santa also brought the girls a playset just before schools shut down which was also a blessing. The kids had a backyard to play in and a house to spread out in. Days were long and nights were even longer with a baby who wasn't sleeping, but I soon realized that the only way I was going to make it through was with patience, love and grace. And that focusing on the little things in life were what mattered the most....they should always be, but that is for a different post.
My husband was stuck out on detachment, but we took this as time to watch our girly movies and participate in our very own dance parties. Restaurants that we used to frequent were shut down, we took this as an opportunity to try new recipes. Kids activities we had once participated in put on hold, we turned our crafting and hobby into a mini business....I will get into that later too. And when schools shut down, we began to homeschool.
In the beginning, homeschooling was just a temporary solution so my daughter didn't fall behind. The younger years are so crucial in building a solid foundation for learning that I didn't want to miss that opportunity. Some will argue that the younger years are meant for play and social interaction, but working in higher education for as long as I have, I have met so many successful people, seen countless others make their life's work about learning and have witnessed the impact of a solid educational foundation. Now I'm not saying learning and play cannot go hand-in-hand, but let's just say that continuing to learn was essential in my book, so we didn't stop.
Then, they announced that schools would be reopening. What I thought would be music to my ears, become a source of anxiety and frustration. They put out that any cases or exposure would require the school to shut down for 2 weeks for quarantine, and that testing was needed in order to return. Recess would be limited and lunch would be held in the classroom. I know our school was following the district guidelines, as with so many others around the country, but how could they expect any kid to learn when they were constantly being quarantined? Returning to school was meant to reestablish some kind of normalcy, but how were masks, testing, and quarantines normal? They aren't and they sure aren't in my recipe for success for my kids.
So then the research began. How do I homeschool? Can I even homeschool with my schedule? What should kids be learning? How do I create a warm and loving environment that will foster learning? There were so many questions I had, and the answers I was finding were creating just as much anxiety as I had around the pandemic, but this anxiety was different. It was around whether I qualified to be teaching my kids. If I was going to fail them. If the curriculum I choose is the best option. Will they get enough of what they need to be successful. A lot of questions I didn't have the answer to, but I had to trust in myself and give myself a little bit of grace. It was a discovery period for all of us.
So the journey started. I quickly realized that homeschooling was not as I had expected. Having grown up in the public school system, I had the idea that school needed to be all day. That all subjects needed to be on the daily agenda and that if you weren't spending hours each day on work, then it wasn't enough. Let's just say that mentality almost broke me....almost broke us.
I started reading some blogs about the daily grind of the homeschool life, not just ones about the best curriculum like I had before. Don't get me wrong, curriculum is important, but structuring your day is just as important. I soon discovered that for younger kids, school only needs to be a few hours a day. Of course my public school mentality jumped in with "how can that be? How is that enough?" Well guess what? It is. Why? Because learning is always happening. Your kiddos help you make dinner from a recipe...they are learning about numbers, measurements, food groups, safety, reading, communication, health, and so much more. You go for a walk in your neighborhood....they are learning about directions, safety, seasons, landmarks, geography, animals, nature, weather, and more. They play at a park...they are learning balance, coordination, social skills, imaginative play, problem-solving, safety, risk assessment and more. Learning opportunities are all around us, we just have take advantage of them.
When we began our journey, we started with an online school and curriculum with teachers that would allow me to act more as a learning coach. They would do most of the grading, but I would lead all of the lessons. For the first couple of years, we were not sure if homeschooling was going to be a permanent thing for our family so we wanted to make sure we had the coursework, grades, accreditation, etc. we needed for if our kids returned to the school system. This worked for a while and gave me a glimpse into what life as a homeschool family could look like...and you know what? I loved it!
I got to see the excitement on my daughter's face when she figured out the answer. I got to witness her progression with her reading. I got to help her work through the frustration that comes with learning something new. I got to hear her laughter when she played outside for "recess". I got to be a part of her learning in ways I never was before when she was in school.
Still to this day, I remember when I had that "this is the way life is meant to be" moment years ago. We had set up a picnic in our backyard for lunch and worked on some school work while we picnicked. We were reviewing letters at the time and trying to find things in our backyard that started with each letter of the alphabet. We were doing pretty good naming things until we came to the letter X. X is already a tough one for younger kids and to be limited to what you see in your backyard was even tougher. I knew that my daughter was going to get frustrated and disappointed if she couldn't find something for each letter so in came mom to the rescue. I pulled five cups from the kitchen cabinet, filled each with different levels of water, put some food coloring in each and laid them out on her table. It took her a minute to figure out what I had just made, but next thing you know, she blurts out "a xylophone!" Both she and her sister found sticks in the yard and started playing each cup. It was magical. Her eyes lit up, a smile appeared, and she had a little skip to her step. That was it folks...the "this is the way life is meant to be" moment.
I realized then that I am her mama and I want to be present for all parts of her and her sister's life. The good, the bad, the hard, the frustrating, the happy, the tearful, the exciting, the playful, the successes, the failures...all of it. I want to be PRESENT.
Not everyone has the flexibility in their lives to make the decision we did, and it hasn't always been easy, but it is worth it. We homeschool around my work schedule, which means school doesn't always fall during the "traditional school hours", but it works. Works for us at least. The way one family homeschools is going to be very different from the way someone else does and that's okay. We all have to do what works best for us. If it means schooling everyday at 8 am, then do it. If it means sleeping in and schooling whenever you get up, then do it. If it means you work a 9-5 and you homeschool in the evening, then do it. If you prefer the unschooling approach, then do it. If you do school on the weekends and summer, then do it. Whatever works best for your family is the right way for you. I will get more into our daily life in a future blog, but for now, just know that whatever path you take, its the journey with your kiddos that matters the most.
The homeschool journey can be a bit of a roller coaster at times, but it is one of the most rewarding journeys you will ever undergo. Being both a teacher and a parent simultaneously can feel a bit like you are juggling flaming marshmallows, but with a little patience, love and grace, you will see something unexpected, yet beautiful unfold. And remember, you are never alone. There are Facebook groups, blogs, message boards, forums, and local co-ops all dedicated to making connections, sharing experiences, and gaining insights from other homeschoolers.
And we are here as well! My goal for this blog is to be a resource, a guiding force, and an inspiration. I want to share my hilarious blunders and awe-inspiring triumphs to serve as a reminder that you are never on this journey alone. Remember, no matter your questions of doubt, your what ifs can always be what ifs of opportunity, learning and growth.