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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Stopping What You’ve Started

Written by contributor Amida of  Journey Into Unschooling

Recently, my kids wrapped up their science lesson from the previous weeks. They had a little mad science action going on as they mixed different substances to see if there was a reaction, both with specific combinations and ones of their own choosing. I think this particular lesson went a little too long (three sessions) and for the most part was a bit redundant, as far as what they already knew.

One of the moms in our co-op had acquired a complete chemistry curriculum with almost all the materials necessary for a middle-grade class. It included everything from textbook, experiments, lab books, and even teacher resources that told you exactly how to teach the class — all of which seemed very exciting but  was, in actuality, a little on the dull side.

Which of course, leads to the question, why was it so dull? They’re sitting around out in the beautiful sunshine (mostly), hanging with their best friends, and learning about what promises to be an engaging, well thought out exploration of chemical reactions. They get to conduct experiments, fill out lab books, and learn state-aligned science standards! What was wrong with these kids?
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Amida’s Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Saving Projects for a Rainy Day

Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling

I used to be a hoarder, stashing away all sorts of goodies for a rainy day. Sometimes, these were fabulous books I had found that I wanted to look over with the kids. I’d read them (in private) and put them away for that perfect time to share. Or I’d acquire some new art supplies, and then store them away for that next great project.

Other times, they were more ordinary things such as math manipulatives or even interesting paper. A big component of my secret collection were the science kits for every subject imaginable, from owl pellets to solar models, carefully hidden away in the garage.

Unfortunately, the rain never came and my wonderful resources just collected dust. Sometimes the perfect opportunity presented itself but I either couldn’t find the time to share the item, forgot where I had stored it, or worse, forgot it even existed.
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