Lessons from the school year

Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling

For many of us here in the states, summer break has finally arrived. With it brings a collective cheer of joy from kids and parents alike. There is something about the end of the school year that just puts a smile on the face of every homeschooling mom I know. For me, just knowing that another essay or assignment isn’t required for a while is a welcomed relief.

Homeschooling is a tough job, and whether we take just a week or the whole summer off, sometimes, a well deserved break is just what the doctor ordered. As usual, after a couple rounds doing the happy dance, I like to take a moment to reflect on the school year.

Unfortunately, at first glance, this year hasn’t gone especially ideal for me. Going in, we had two new considerations to deal with — high school and speech therapy — both of which sucked up so much extra time and energy I didn’t have much left over for Kindergarten. Granted, I am a believer in playing-as-learning for the first year, but still, I wished I had been able to help my more daughter along her reading journey.

Added to the mix was a toddler who loved to climb and well, the days were just too busy and too filled with busywork. As we progressed through the year, however, I picked up a few lessons of my own.
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The good, the bad, the Internet (2012 curriculum fair)

Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling.
Ages of my children: 13, 10, 5, 1
Educational philosophies I pull from: eclectic, unschooling

We’ve gone through a lot of curriculum in our house.

There are a few favorites that I’ve offered for all my children (the Good) and then there are the duds that I wouldn’t dream of putting another child through (the Bad).

These days though, our go to source for all subjects is the Internet. 

The Good:

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Finding a Happy Medium

Contributor Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling

My friends and I were recently lamenting the end of our carefree days. It used to be that the group of us met up at the zoo or park every single week to play. This was when all our oldest were 7-years-old.

Seven years later, they are swamped with extracurricular activities and more rigorous curriculum, making it almost impossible to schedule a regular, weekly get-together just for fun.

The saddest part is that the younger kids in the group end up with the short end of the stick and never really get to experience that playtime that their older brothers and sisters did. In most cases, they end up tagging along to classes or worst, are left to fend for themselves as we work with the older ones on their algebra or science.

With high school looming ahead, the days of weekly play dates slip away from us even more. Even for those of us striving to attain a more free range education, it’s not always easy to ignore the pursuit of academics so ingrained within us.

We want the best of both worlds — one without institutionalized schooling and standards shoved down our throats and still be considered as “educated” as the next traditionally schooled grad. We want to be accepted into the best colleges. We want our kids to succeed in real life and somehow, in our minds, the two are directly related to each other.

I think as homeschoolers, and especially homeschooling parents, we are often left with a sense of guilt, no matter what we do. Whichever end of the spectrum we fall on, we’re either not doing enough for our kids or over-committing them.

If we follow a rigorous curriculum, we are depriving them of a carefree childhood and ruining their lives. If we don’t, we are not preparing them properly for the “real world” and ruining their lives. In my own experience, I often feel a need for my children to get more done and be up to standards, or I have ultimately failed.

Photo by scui3asteveo

Coincidentally, this feeling of pressure usually manifests itself around testing or reporting time.  Does this need to constantly prove ourselves mean that, as our older children climb up the academic ranks, we instantly have to give up on fun as more time is needed for serious study? I don’t know about you, but, even with a teenager in tow, I am unwilling to put away the finger paints just yet.

Lately, as I chauffeur the kids back and forth between their extra curricular activities, I find myself fantasizing about a different sort of routine. One without commitments. No attendance sheets to turn in. No classes to hurry off to. No assignments to complete. No tests to study for. No accountability.

But I can’t let it go. At least not all of it. I’ve come to realize that while the idea of an academia-free childhood fascinates me, it doesn’t really suit our family, at least not all of the time. We strive more towards a happy medium.

My children are still in this great experiment known as homeschool, so I don’t have all the answers. We may not get to play everyday nor are we always able to figure out at what time two trains leaving opposite stations at varying speeds will cross paths.

We don’t know what a hydrostatic skeleton is, or how to conjugate Latin verbs. But luckily, Google does. And if we really needed to know, we will figure it out.

As our family evolves from one child to four, so does our homeschool. I can rest assured knowing that one day (or week or month) does not determine our success as homeschoolers.

I am confident that, whether we spend any given day playing with LEGOs or cranking out 500 word essays, it will most probably all turn out ok in the end. I may forget often but hopefully, I can come to savor the days, as varied and imperfect as they be, and remind myself that it’s not all or nothing.

Today may just find us at home and frantically trying to cram for the algebra exam, but come tomorrow, we are going to the zoo.

Have you found your happy medium?

How to Feed The Kids (and Still Have A Life)

Contributor Amida writes for Journey Into Unschooling.

One of my biggest challenges when it comes to homeschooling is not the schooling itself but the fact that we are always home — and hungry.  Because we are home the majority of the day, mealtime — and hence meal prep — takes up a huge amount of time for me.

Being the sole cook in the house, some days it feels as if I am a permanent fixture in the kitchen, making breakfast, cleaning up, prepping for lunch, and brainstorming for dinner. By the middle  of the week, I am usually clear out of ideas or tired of cooking. On the days the children have multiple classes outside the house, it becomes even more challenging as I figure out how to feed them quickly and healthily.

It would be awesome if the children could cook for themselves, but that is just not always practical, especially for the younger crowd who still require supervision and a parent helper. To help move things along, there are a few short cuts and techniques that I’ve found helpful in the daily struggle to feed everyone (and still have time left over for life outside the kitchen!).

In the same boat and need ideas to get you started? Read on!
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Amida’s Homeschool Day in the Life (with a 1, 5, 10, and 13-year-old)

Written by contributor Amida of Journey Into Unschooling

A lot of people assume that, just because we are homeschoolers, we spend the majority of our days at home. But between field trips and lessons for three kids, there are days where we are anywhere but home.

So when my son suggested we have a Stay At Home Day, I was all for it.

It happened to be rainy that day and we didn’t have anywhere to be until 6pm. We ate a leisurely breakfast before spreading out some plastic on the table in preparation for art time. I had recently learned a new technique called Visual Teaching Strategies, and wanted to test it out on the kids.

It involved showing them a picture, in our case, a Ranger Rick photo, and asking them three questions:

  • What do you see?
  • What more do you see?
  • Why do you say that?

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