Friday, January 4, 2013

What I Would Do Differently

I don’t consider myself a homeschooling veteran.  We’ve only been at this gig for a little over 3 years.  We pulled Punky out of public school in October of her 2nd grade year.  We are currently in our 5th grade year.  On top of that, we still struggle to find what works and a good balance.  Truth be told every time I think we’ve found it (I’ve found it), I’m wrong.  There are a myriad of reasons why I think that is the case.  I’m not going to blog about them all though.  I’m going to focus on just one of the reasons, because I think it is the best homeschooling advice I never took.

Punky had JUST turned 8 when we pulled her from public school.  She had a horrible Kindergarten year at a private, Christian school.   

As an aside, I know it sounds weird that I had my child in a private, Christian school – me the secular homeschooler.  But the reason was this school had a half-day Kindergarten program, 9am – 12pm, and I did NOT want Punky in school all day during her Kindergarten year.  At the time I was still snowballed by the idea that she ‘had to attend’ a brick and mortar school. 

We had attended Pre-K there and she had a lovely experience and the only ‘religion’ she was exposed to was through cute little songs and stories about how God, and Jesus, loved her.  I could live with that, or so I thought.  Kindergarten was a different story and all because of the teacher she had.  This woman was a hard-core, right-wing, Bible-thumping, burn-in-hell, Born Again believer.  I won’t go into all that Punky was exposed to, and suffered as a result, expect to state two things.  First, by Christmas time I knew in my heart that I should pull her and I didn’t listen to myself.  Second, aside from the religious shit that was dumped on her (which I didn’t find out about in full until almost the end of the year – still my bad, I know), I found out, very late in the year that this teacher would make Punky and other students stand at the front of the room and say, “I didn’t finish my work, I’m not ready for the 1st grade.”  Damn, my blood still boils when I think about it!

I sent sincere pleas into the Universe that her 1st grade year at public school would undo as much damage from Kindergarten as possible.  My pleas were answered.  She had the best 1st grade teacher ever and Punky LOVED 1st grade in a way I’d never seen another child embrace school.  Every day when I picked her up from school and asked her, “What was the best part of your day?” her answer was always, “Everything!”  The relief I felt was overwhelming.   

Entering our 2nd grade year was a rough time.  My husband had deployed for a 3 month mission to the dessert and Punky’s best friend moved to Virginia.  Both these events left us sad.  Punky’s 2nd grade teacher did not have the warm, fuzzy personality that her 1st grade teacher had.  Bad news for Punky.  If Punky has one ‘heightened’ skill it is her interpersonal skills.  She reads people really well – their unspoken communication in particular.  Having a teacher who seemed to hate her job, dislike her students, and gave off negative vibes the majority of the time made Punky nervous and stressed in the classroom.  Every day, upon picking Punky up from school her answer to the “What was the best part of your day?” was “You picking me up.”

With less than 2 weeks discussion and preparation, I pulled her – while hubby was still on deployment.

I’m rambling a bit, I know.  Bear with me.

So, we woke up and we were homeschoolers!  Daddy came home and we took Punky to Disney World for her birthday.  Upon returning home, I quickly set up the spare room as a schooling room and loaded it with all the supplies I’d bought through internet and local bookstore.  As soon as that was done, Punky woke up, went and sat down in the school room, looked at me and said, “Good Morning, Teacher.”  And so we began.   

And therein lay my mistake.

I should have breathed and let it alone.  I should have put aside all my worries and fears and told Punky that we were going to do something called de-schooling for the next few months.  Then, I should have gotten out interesting and fun books to read, arts and craft projects to do together, and stockpiled the school room with games, games, and more games instead of what I had stockpiled.  After a few months of moving along like this, I would have gradually added in maybe 30 minutes of English and Math instruction time.  I would have moved at a snail’s pace.  I would have gradually introduced homeschooling to Punky in this manner, instead of the way I did:  doing school at home.

Because of the way I did precede with homeschooling though, it took Punky two years to let go of the idea of receiving grades.  It took her until near the end of 4th grade to let go of most, but not all, of her fear and anxiety over getting something wrong.  She still has not re-discovered her love of learning.  And THAT was the best homeschooling advice I never took - allowing her to get in touch with her own natural, inquisitive nature that would have her following her interests and curiosity to learn.

They say you can always begin again; sure, but back-tracking is hard.  After I had some homeschooling epiphanies and realized what I had done, I began the back-tracking process.  But Punky was now 4th grade and the shit was supposed to get serious then, right?  So, I couldn’t ‘let go’ too much, right?  Wrong.  Second mistake – which was really just the cousin of the first mistake. 

If only I had listened to the veterans of homeschooling when they gave me the advice:

1)  De-school her.  Allow her a month of de-schooling for every year she spent in Brick and Mortar.

2)  While they are lower elementary, let the learning be fun and guided by her with little formal instruction.

3)  For the upper elementary grades, introduced instructional time slowly and never for more than an hour a day.

 I didn’t trust what they said.  I didn’t trust my own heart.  I was too concerned that I would ‘ruin her’ by homeschooling her.  I was too concerned that she would drop below ‘grade level’.  I was too concerned that she would learn nothing and be an idiot.  I was too concerned.  Fear was my guide.  That’s a lousy guide.

I’m not saying that my experience would be what everyone experiences.  Each family is different and unique and requires a plan that works for them.  But, I see where I went wrong.  I see where I still hang on to, albeit less so, the propaganda of what ‘learning should look like’.  This is why we still struggle, I think.  This was my biggest homeschooling mistake and the ONE thing I would do differently, if I could go back and start again. 

~Mari B.


  1. Your post resonated with me. My kids have always been homeschooled, but as a former PS teacher I fell into the school-at-home trap. I used excellent, school-at-home, "boxed" curriculum (Calvert and then K12). This year for 3rd/4th grade, we have moved away from that a bit and things are going much better. If I could go back in time I would play with them more and make them do less sit-down work. It's hard to back-track in 4th grade. We're baby-stepping backwards. It's the best I can do.

  2. This is my first year homeschool my daughter (kindergarten) and at first I did the same thing. Then I read up a lot on different developmental and education theories and realized what I had done. She was already begining to fight about "schoolwork" and she was losing some of her innate joy of the learning process that, I believe, most kids have. Since I switched my approach to homeschooling, we bake, clean, go for nature walks, put on puppet shows, read on picnic blakets in the yard, go on "digs" at the beach/park/wherever. Then, all-of-a-sudden, I will have a panic attack thinking, "dear god, I am screwing her up forever. She's going to fall behind and never get into college or get a good job." When those moments hit, I will make her sit down and do more conventional "schoolwork", before sanity returns and I realize that, even though she isn't sitting at a desk all day reciting spelling words, shapes, colors, numbers, etc., she is learning so much more than the kids who are. She is learning to discover her world and the joy of the learning process. But I am constantly second-guessing myself. It is the biggest obtacle of homeschooling, from a parental perspective. I love this post.

  3. Gosh - what a wonderful post! I can connect with it on each and every level. I pulled my oldest out after 3rd grade (which should have been after K!) We had some awful teachers and some great ones. One thing that was painfully obvious was that my oldest's physical disabilities (Arthrogryposis and double leg amputee) meant that we'd have to fight tooth and nail for EVERYTHING. My middle child was gifted - so bored out of her mind. All of this while my husband was on his 5TH deployment....need I say more? I jumped from public to "at-home public" - worrying that I would damage them more by slacking. Only now, 3 years later and with another 1 1/2 year deployment (Korea)facing us, have I taken a step back. We are dedicating this year to creative empowerment and rekindling the love of learning. I am happy to say that it's the best slacking I've ever done! I see the love of learning sparking in them, and that is better than anything a boxed curriculum could possibly teach :)


Thank you for commenting on my blog! Upon a quick review of your post - to make sure you have not made me cry or really ticked me off - your comments will appear!