Starting out with the best of intentions (& switching gears along the way)

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The following is a guest post written by Gwynyth Kier of Grapefruit Jam.

When we started this homeschool experiment, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to approach learning.

I think I swore up and down that I wouldn’t be sitting at a table doling out lessons, but I also had a voracious appetite for inspiration and validation.

With only one other child, who was a year old, I enthusiastically followed my 4-year-old son’s every whim, with field trips and stacks of books from the library.

After a year, I began to feel a little overwhelmed. There were a lot of hours in the day, and my son’s interests seemed to change faster than I could switch out the library books.

So I ordered a few curriculum materials.

I was drawn to Waldorf for its gentle, delayed approach to academics, and its story- and arts-based foundation.

The plan was to use this very loosely, as a means of inspiration for those times when we needed a bit of guidance — or just something to do.

Around the same time, I met some wonderful homeschooing mamas who used a different Waldorf curriculum. As I listened to them talk about it, I thought, “that sounds better than mine,” and before I knew it I had that on my shelf too.

Funny thing about these guides though — once I started reading them, I quickly slipped into the mind state of needing to complete the program to a T.

We spent a couple of years happily learning letters, interpreting stories with crayon drawings, and meeting a family of squirrels who stored up their winter provisions using the four processes of math. All good stuff.

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But into grade two, the cycle of story, artistic output and finally academic practice became tedious and the tears began to flow.

I was letting the curriculum, bought to ease the overwhelm, turn learning into the struggle I was trying to avoid by homeschooling in the first place!

Along the way, that second baby grew, and another was welcomed into the fold. Life got busy and the things I started out homeschooling with as priorities began to take a back seat to getting through these weekly lessons: things like reading aloud well-written books everyday, actively exploring their interests with them, spending a lot of time together in nature, and welcoming them in the daily running of the house.

Then one day, while trying to keep his attention on a lackluster story illustrating different resources, my son dropped a bomb on me:

“Mom, I don’t like learning through these stories. If you want me to learn something, I wish you would just get to the point.”

Oh. Excuse me for a moment while the entire framework of how I wish to educate you shatters around me and I regroup.

It makes sense –he is a fact loving kid, preferring stacks of non-fiction to my own inclination towards stories, and this is about him, right?

And so, while offending my own alternative education sensibilities, I bought a couple of workbooks, and made a deal: We can toss the curriculum for a while if you are willing to practice your skills in these books on a regular basis.

His face lit up, “Thanks Mom!”

I never thought I’d see my child excited over a workbook, but that just goes to show, we may have the best of intentions and a beautiful vision, but that doesn’t mean it will work for our children.

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I had intended to follow those lessons to the end of the program, clutching on to the comfort of control they gave me. Instead, we are getting back to what inspired our homeschooling days at the start.

It has not been easy for me to let go of the hows, whens and shoulds of educating, to trust that my child’s own innate desire to learn will lead him to practice those basic skills I want him to master, but it is happening!

I see it when I slow down and engage with him in his interests, even when robots and Legos and science don’t interest me.

I have had to take a different approach to my checklist, watching closely for moments when instruction is meaningful. When it truly is, I see him happily learning in leaps and bounds.

I am reminding myself constantly that the relationship I have with my children is more important than staying on a prescribed path of learning.

We have a long stretch ahead of us, and I’m realizing its important to stay open to the many different paths that will get us “there” in the end.

These days we are all exhaling with relief.

We are finally finding that sweet spot of inspired learning that satisfies both kid and parent goals, with the curriculum books relegated to their original purpose: as one ingredient in the stew of their education.

About Gwynyth Kier

Gwynyth Kier is mama to three rambunctious boys, a dog, and a whole lot of fish. When she isn’t out adventuring with her brood, you can find her writing, drinking tea, or cozied up with a good book. Stop by for a visit at her blog Grapefruit Jam.

Comments

  1. Kierstin says:

    yes! We started homeschooling in part because our family relationship is so important to us but sometimes it’s hard to remember that when you have a mental checklist of everything that needs to be done and your child seems to think today is a play day. How she chooses to learn is the most important, even if it just seems like “play” to me lol.
    Kierstin’s latest post: Fish Dissection

  2. sheila says:

    Your son sounds a lot like my son. We are Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers, and I am also continually trying to balance all the ideas and ideals of homeschooling. It is a constant journey of refinement, reassessment and readjustment. Loved this post.
    sheila’s latest post: Autumn Trees

    • Gwynyth says:

      Thanks Sheila!
      All the reassessment and refinement can feel overwhelming (and discouraging!) at times, but I think in the end, this tweaking is what makes each individual homeschool great.

  3. Kelly Sage says:

    Such a good intention to set :) I’m finding myself in a similar place- just left full time teaching to be home with our 3 year old and thought we’d do “Preschool”. Circle time and calendar, a letter a week, were just not working for either of us. I’m letting go and we’d learning whatever she feels like learning about that day- Blood, Cats, Harry Potter (clearly Halloween themes last week), lots of books, and me saying Yes to whatever imaginary play is wanted, is what is working- for now :)
    Kelly Sage’s latest post: Letting her Lead

    • gwynyth says:

      Three is such a great age to just soak up all their creative ideas and enjoy being together. Your relaxed preschool sounds lovely!

  4. Jenny says:

    It seems like your son is a straight to the point kind of person and he knows what works for him and what doesn’t. I’m sure God created you son this way for a reason.
    We use a combination of different things. A lot of literature, lapbooking, notebooking, educational dvds, exploring outside of the home, etc. We use a math workbook but have a lot of hands on math activities as well. Workbooks are not our enemy. It’s definitely good to know your child’s learning style.

  5. Faigie says:

    What a great lesson! I can really relate as I have a Master in education from a very progressive graduate school and also always thought that the non traditional way is “the best” way to teach kids , however we also did learn that we need to give each kid the best learning in the style that suits them as well. I can feel your frustration in his non interest in your method.

  6. Mary says:

    We are about to adopt 3 kids, adding to the 2 that I currently raise/homeschool…so this advice is so timely! I know my 2 birth children\’s strengths and weaknesses, but adding 3 more to the mix scares me sometimes. We have a nice \”routine\” that works for us, but it may not work for all of us in the future. It will be new to me to have to learn their learning styles, but it will be well worth it for all of our family!
    Mary’s latest post: At 6 Months Paper Pregnant

  7. Amanda says:

    This sounds so much like us right now. I bought curriculem, but we’re kinda using it, for the letter and number worksheets. Otherwise it’s learn as we go, an I’m great full for information from YouTube.

  8. Heather says:

    As always, I’m so glad I stopped by. I always look to this sight when I am insecure about homeschooling or in need of inspiration or understanding. Thank you Gwynyth for this post.

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