How one mom did it…
A friend of mine recently shared on an online forum about the transforming process she’d been through. I loved how she expressed herself, so I thought I’d start this week sharing her story with you. She gave me permission to post her experiences here.
For context, I had had a conversation with this friend two summers ago. She had been struggling with a reluctant learner and wanted to change her structured homeschool to one that was more relaxed. I told her that one way to change how you see homeschooling is to pay attention to how you live with your children during summer. Summertime is usually less scheduled, you feel freer to play with your kids, to follow their interests and take your time over things like cookies and lemonade. Imagine living that way all the time and think about how that outlook might change how you live the rest of the year.
It’s in that vein that my friend begins her story.
I had just finished a difficult and dissatisfying school year with my oldest son and took a much-needed break (choosing to rest instead of researching and planning all summer like I normally do). We had so much fun together that summer – we baked cookies, played games, read books, ate popsicles, painted, built Legos and Magnetix, went to the park, swam – time off from planning gave me so much freedom to really be with my children.
I’d had thoughts of more relaxed methods of schooling over the years and had even made some progress, but that summer allowed me to see how much learning was in everyday life (really was everyday life), how much my kids learned through their own pursuits (or through a little bit of “strewing”*) and begin to trust, listen to and act on what I knew and believed about learning deep inside. It was about this time, as I was contemplating how to change our school experience to match the summer, when Julie made her comment about summer being a guideline for the rest of the year.
It helped me see that the attitude of freedom and ease was the key and from that point on I began to re-evaluate everything (sujbects, curriculum, plans, schedules etc.) through that thought.
I spent the rest of the summer doing a lot of reading on unschooling, relaxed schooling, Montessori, Charlotte Mason etc. I looked at all the neat books and materials I’d bought over the years and never used. I thought of my kids’ interests and strengths. I reviewed our state’s homeschool requirements. I subscribed to some yahoo groups (livingmath.net was a great help – another recommendation from Julie). I read unschooling and relaxed schooling blogs.
I let all that stew and eventually a plan began to form. With our state’s requirements, I didn’t feel I could totally let go and pursue unschooling so my goal became to get the “basics” in but make sure it was through a “relaxed” method. For us (for oldest ds – 4th grade) that meant:
- giving up on Spelling
- switching to a grammar program that could be done quickly (Daily Grams and Easy Grammar)
- doing more reading for Math and do away with as much repetition as possible in Abeka lessons (and do Math with him whenever possible)
- have “free reading” and allow my son to choose the books to read
- let my son choose what he wanted to study for Science
- let my son listen to Story of the World CDs (instead of me reading it to him) and let him choose what he wanted to pursue (if anything) beyond that
- made freewriting (with Julie’s Brave Writer prompts) our only creative writing
- watched more TV shows (educational) and videos
- watched lots of Wildcam Africa of Pete’s Pond
- made Friday a “basics” free day and a day to pursue interests and/or art/music
- got a membership to the Science and History museum and went often
- made lots of trips to the library
- added “Tues. teatime” (ala BW lifestyle) to introduce poetry
I also gave my son the freedom to do what was scheduled in any order at any time (during the day). The only thing we kept from the year before was “assigned reading” time (ds reads for a set period of time each day) and Bible reading – both of which ds loved and there were no struggles over.
Overall, we had a great year. Attitudes changed and we began to learn together, mostly through everyday life. We remained relaxed and flexible all year – changing, tweaking, even giving up on the schedule and plans as needed. My son’s math scores on his year-end test jumped 4-5 grade levels – that score let me know that we’d made progress on his fear, “block” and hatred of math. The year wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t struggle-free but looking back, I think the most important thing was that we made progress – both in moving towards relaxed methods but more importantly, relationally.
My son was doing almost all his schedule independently (I’d made it that way too because of tension when we’d worked together before on the basics) but through his reactions when I worked with my middle son, I sensed my oldest craved the time together. I offered to work with him when he asked and he began to take me up on it. He told me he missed being read to – I made read-aloud time a priority instead of something I tried to get to. Some of the old struggles were still there but I tried different responses and over time, as he saw a new “me” and that I didn’t hold things so tightly, he began to relax too.
I think changing towards a relaxed approach and realizing learning takes place all the time (and not always in “schoolish” ways or subjects) really helped with getting past a check-list mentality. It takes time and trying different things to get there. I made some mistakes my oldest son’s schooling over the years (some out of ignorance, others out of stubbornness) and I think I had to earn his trust.
He had to get to a point where he could trust that what I put in front of him was relevant and catered to his interests and/or learning style. Plus I communicated to him that I was willing to be open and venture out and do things differently but that I’d appreciate some help from him during the process (attitude and initiative), especially with the “basics” I felt we had to get to. There isn’t much “just get through it” attitude left because there’s at least some element of each thing he does that he likes and enjoys.
I made some more changes for this year and so far things are going really well. It seems we’ve really hit a groove in some areas while others I know we’re still on the journey. I’m gaining confidence in our methods and love that our “schooling” (don’t even think of it that way much anymore) is getting closer and in some areas, totally in sync with my beliefs about learning.
Imagine if you lived and educated all year the way you do in summer.
Isn’t that terrific? I will post about my journey later this week, but thought it might be more encouraging to hear how another Brave Mom is making the journey to a freer, more satisfying home life with her kids, right now. I’d also like to thank her publicly for sharing about her life with all of the Brave Writer readers.
*strewing: unschooling term that suggests that moms leave cool stuff to explore, read, discover in the paths of their children to stimulate interests.