The day I started officially homeschooling our 3 kiddos back in 2009, I had my eldest (who had been in school for 2 years already) sit at our little table, happily complete the tasks I'd set out for her that day. She'd been an excellent student in her infants school so I was not surprised that the tasks I gave her were met with enthusiasm and submission.
We had our 4 year old playing on the floor with preschool-style activities that I'd carefully chosen and set out (colourful blocks and trains and a few puzzles). He seemed happy.
I was almost ready to pat myself on the back in a somewhat self-deluded and semi-conscious state of ignorance until I turned to our then middle child.
(My creative then-middle child)
He was not yet old enough the be registered officially for homeschooling but was doing some colouring in at the table. He was 5 turning 6 later that year. He'd been diagnosed as being autistic at the age of 4 and we knew that school was not the right kind of fit for him. What would be even more clear by the end of that first day was that everything I thought I knew about learning and education would need to be challenged to help my son.
I'll forever be grateful to him for 'not fitting into the traditional boxes' because we have been on a journey for the past decade and a bit that has meant we have stopped trying to keep up with where a child 'should be' instead seeking to meet needs. We learned to ditch timetables for rhythms, seek connection over content and in doing so have been able to give ALL of our children an incredibly well-rounded education. Had he been a different kind of child, I don't know how long our journey would have lasted.
Don't get me wrong.
It hasn't be easy.
Each step of the way I questioned what I knew.
I wondered if I was going to be royally screwing up my kids for the sake of some faddish-style of learning BUT it felt right the more we gave into it. Swapping out structure for simplicity, we favoured read alouds together with tea times over highly structured learning that needed to be corrected with red pens. We encouraged enthusiasm and depth of learning rather than skimming topics of interest and box-ticking. If they wanted to dive right into an area of interest, we went there. We experienced learning first hand. We went on bushwalks, collected tadpoles and snails, observed masked lapwings with a clutch of eggs in our backyard. We talked about amazing artists who sometimes had tragic stories, learning about problems, places and people that we'd never otherwise encounter. We said yes to visits with friends at nursing homes and counted it as learning when family stayed unexpectedly so we could create summer memories of water balloon fights and walks at sunset.
It wasn't easy. I'd been a straight-A, school captain, valedictorian-at-uni kind of student. I'd loved school and was still (AM STILL!) in touch with my teachers for whom I've always remained incredible grateful. I am NOT anti-school and have never been!
It's just that school was not the right kind of fit for my kids.
In trading out registration at school, I instead was telling the state that I was going to be responsible for giving opportunities to my kiddos to learn. That I was willing and able. I wanted to do this and my only point of reference to begin with was of course school. I tried to recreate school-at-home. That makes sense because essentially it's in the name of the whole endeavour: homeschooling (home-schooling). However, what I learned from our then middle child was that the more I made it school-like, the less he liked it and the more angry, disengaged and resentful he became.
I had never really seen another homeschooling family in action but I knew that if we were going to stick this thing out for 6 months as we had initially planned, the last thing that was going to happen was that we were going to be able to get through it if our days were punctuated by moments of anger, upset and tension.
He was 5. In my mind that meant he should be able to write. After all, I wasn't asking him to write an essay, it was a simple sentence of copy-work. Yep. I'd done my homework in the Summer holidays leading up to our start and I knew for sure that I was going to make all the kids do copy-work once they turned 5 and could hold a pencil. That was THE way to get engaged kids. I knew it because I'd read it on several blogs and it was from an old style of practice and therefore that held weight and must be right. Right?! Wrong. Well wrong for THIS child in THIS season at THIS time. I was yet to learn about seasons of learning. I wanted it all right now. I wanted to be able to look the nay-sayers in the eye and tell them they had NOTHING to worry about - my kids were EXCELLENT homeschoolers. That's what I wanted to tell everyone. Why? Because I was yet to deal with the people-pleasing aspect of myself that wanted to keep everyone happy. Eventually, I'd let that go and allow the decisions that Brett and I made to be right for OUR family regardless of what others thought. In time I would be incredibly humbled by God who was going to show me that He had a different way of doing things. I knew that my way wasn't superior but I thought when it came to my kids, I surely would KNOW instinctively how to teach them. After all, I was their mother!
But time and time again the things I suggested were met with tears, tantrums and torn paper by my middle child and eventually also by child number 5.
Both of these beautiful boys were dyslexic. I had no idea about any tried and proven methods for helping my boys so I went straight into research mode. We threw away money, time and effort into unfounded and frankly unhelpful modes of 'help'. Eventually we would learn about MSL through the sharing of kind friends and we would see changes in our boys.
I found though that that BIGGEST changes occurred when I changed myself. I had to bring into the light everything that I thought was right, true and normal and would hold it up to examine it and ask if it was right for THIS child. I would eventually stop requiring copy-work which was done about topics they had no interest in and would instead look to what they were naturally delighting in and use THAT as the place from which to begin engaging my children. If they were interested in Lego, we'd use that as the starting place. I stopped making them write things until they were showing signs of readiness. I started writing down their stories for them instead of demanding it of them. I got them to sketch their ideas and would suggest they write down something practical like a birthday card or a shopping list for an afternoon tea party they wanted to hold. Comic strips were created, stop motion planning was done, maps were made and instructions were followed. They still learned to read and write, we just didn't end up with as many tears and tantrums in the process.
I've since developed an online program that I share with others called 'How to Engage Your Reluctant Homeschool Writer'. You can find more about it HERE. In the meantime, if you have a reluctant writer, I hope that sharing my experience with you here may help you to know you are not alone and that you don't have to replicate school at home. Remember that this is a journey and that journeys do go through the seasons of life. Take a breath in and out and remember the bigger picture. Don't hesitate to drop me a line if you'd like to connect. Happy learning and living, Lusi x