When I was a kid, my best friend and I loved playing schools. We'd take turns at being the teacher or the student. I loved playing out what I saw at school and I was very fortunate to have had some beautiful, kind and loving teachers teach me over those formative years of my life.
When we decided to try out homeschooling for 6 months, I did what almost everyone does when they begin their learning-at-home journey: I recalled my own years of schooling and decided to try my best to replicate that at home. Also, I didn't know then that our 6 month trial would continue for 14+ years! The very first year I registered Stassi and Elijah for homeschooling, I had a strict timetable written up. Every minute of our day from 9am until 3pm (school hours) was accounted for. The timetable was tight and included breaks for recess and lunch, just like at school.
Stassi had been attending school for 2 years by that point and when we explained we'd be homeschooling her, she insisted that she line up outside the door at 9am and that I ring a bell. She said that wearing her old school uniform was something she really wanted to do too. We had both been taught what traditional learning looked like in a school. It looked like what I was trying to recreate at home: set times for learning set topics. Lining up. Uniforms. All the structure. And hear me please when I say that none of that is inherently wrong! As a child, I loved school and I will always tell families that I consult with that homeschooling isn't the right or best fit for every family. So know from the get go, that this isn't a school-bashing post. This is just me sharing part of our own journey with you.
Our very first AP (authorised person) came out and looked over all my plans. She was so kind and gentle with me. She was impressed by what I had put together but then she said something that I'd remember always. She placed her hands on my timetables and plans and she said warmly, 'Lusi, this is all great. But just remember that homeschooling doesn't have to look like school-at-home. In fact, they are two very different things. You are doing life with your family and learning through it so if there are days, weeks even months where your days don't look like these, remember that it's ok because your children will always be learning anyway". Wow. I remember thinking at the time, "Well, you're saying that because you don't know me. I can and WILL stick to my plan". After all, that's how I'd graduated highschool in the top tier of the state for history and how I'd gotten through college too - I had put my mind to it, was disciplined and I did it.
The Early Days
As the early days of homeschooling turned into the early weeks of our learning journey, I was feeling very worn. I had children melting down because they were in sensory overload. I had an undiagnosed dyslexic child who refused to write and would tear up papers as soon as they were left alone with their work. I had a toddler who just wanted to play and was NOT interested in sitting still doing the puzzles and morning activities that I thought he MUST do in order to be 'ready' to begin a more formal homeschooling approach the following year. I couldn't keep us to the timetable. We often started lunch time later than I had expected which threw our afternoon plans out. I was annoyed when people dropped in to say hello because it meant a disruption to our schedule. Honestly, by the end of that first week, I knew the strict approach was not something I could keep up for another month let alone long term. A wise homeschooling friend of mine (who had been on the journey already for about a decade - Sal K you are the best!) encouraged me to try read alouds. At the same time, I was reading Sally Clarkson's 'Wholehearted Child' book and learning about all the different ways learning could be incorporated into our lives. And in that same period of time, while I was fumbling my way through 'playing schools' like I used to as a kid, I read a book called 'Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles'.
It was in this book that I read about how to engage children on a deeper level. From my friend, Sal, I was challenged to hold fast to to why we felt compelled to homeschool in the first place. Through these books, I read stories of children who were given time and space to discover their passions. I read about parents whose heart was to see their child bloom regardless of where they 'sat compared to others'. They had decided to have learning journeys centred around their children, their learning styles and favoured modes of communication. They shared a variety of resources they used and gave insight into things I'd never considered like projects, car-schooling and how to best honour a child with a disability. As I read, I knew I wanted my kids to fall in love with learning. I wanted them to learn HOW to learn. I wanted them to begin to gain life skills that would help them stretch towards lives of independence, purpose and passion.
Finding Rhythms That Worked
As we made our way through our weeks and months, I let go of the timetable and instead began reaching for little anchors in our days. These were more activity based rather than time-focussed. Instead of saying, 'at 9am we will begin our first lesson', I was encouraging the kids to get up, have their breakfast and do their personal chores. Once they had done that and we were all ready, we'd sit at the learning table and start our first lesson. I have written in depth about rhythms of learning in those early days and you can read that HERE.
I introduced moveable velcro photo boards so that the kids could know where we were heading but also so that we could be flexible in our approach - because LIFE! In the early years, I made fun headings for our learning times like 'crafternoon' and 'bonkers about books'. As the kids grew older, these things changed too but it was fun.
I also had open baskets that had lots of 'grab and go' kinds of activities in them for little learning hands and inquisitive minds.
And of course above all else, what we focussed most on was relationships in our family and in our community.
This approach gave us opportunity to be flexible. Kids became more play-focussed and curiosity was encouraged.
Going With What Works
What works best for you and what works best for us might be wildly different but the best thing about the homeschooling journey is the freedom to do what is right for YOU and YOUR CHILD/REN in YOUR HOME.
I have some friends who have used a more routine-classical approach to their homeschool and it has worked well for them. Awesome! Be free, friends! Do what works for you and keep on tweaking and experimenting and trying new things until you find a good fit.
These Later Years
What works well now with only 2 homeschooling each day is a much more natural-learning focus. Our kids have projects on the go constantly that engage them and they love having (yep there's that phrase again!) the time and space to be able to follow their interests. I can always tie their learning back to the KLA (key learning area) Stage Outcomes and have no problems now with my own confidence knowing that YES they really ARE learning all the time (just as that kind AP first said to me so many years ago).
Today, Miss 13 has sewn up 3 reversible bucket hats made out of old towels. She had been following a YouTube Channel called The Essentials Club and had come across the bucket hat tutorial. Zippi thought that making it out of a towel would be great and she gave it a go. Success! She is sewing these up now for a night market that she is participating in for the first time this coming Friday. She also worked on designing and printing her own business cards (logo, card dimensions, using Canva herself, etc). She has written up a list of all the tasks she wants to complete before the market and has already asked about going up the street later to purchase a chalkboard that she'll use as a price display.
Today, Mr 11 has shown me an amazing Lego motor pencil shooter. He was watching Dr Engine on YouTube and found a tutorial for a pencil piercing through an apple. Zeeki wondered if he could make one too. He talked to me about small to big gear ratio, walked me through how we was tweaking the model he'd started with to see if it would actually fire. He realised that he froze the apple too long. When he took it out of the freezer, he observed the layer of frost that had started covering the skin. We talked about how the cold inside the apple was clashing with the warmth outside the apple and how that was creating the frost on the skin.
These things might seem pointless to some but to me they are perfect examples of learning. Are they extending themselves in knowledge? Yes! In understanding? Yes! In skills? Yes! In independence? Yes! In curiosity and ingenuity? Yes!
Incorporating Interest-Led Learning into Your Rhythms
Later today, we will do a chapter of our read aloud. We will also do some of our Story of the World (SOTW) read aloud and mapwork. The kids will probably do a page or two of their Math U See workbooks. They will most likely play a game of some kind and will help with some grocery shopping and chores. Their days often consist also of checking in on their various Outschool Classes and Groups.* They love the Outschool Groups because they have posts that people can leave comments on. Zippi joined in with a Spanish class last week while we were out and about. The scheduling of that class doesn't work for us so I've unenrolled her (I love that it's so easy to do that - and no guilt involved!) and then we will aim for another class at a time when we are home and she can focus and interact in the class better. As our children got older, they wanted to do more online learning. I wish I'd known about Outschool back then for them. There are so many classes that I know they'd have found interesting. They would have loved how interactive these are, that they could have been their unique neurodiverse selves and it wouldn't have fazed anyone! I love that I get to have a second chance at making the most of this with my younger two now getting into this format for online learning. So far our experiences have been very positive using the Outschool Platform. Have you tried it yet? If not, why not use my code THL20 at the checkout to get yourself a $20USD credit for your first Outschool Class? I'm grateful that Outschool offer my followers and THL friends a discount.
The Outcome of NOT Replicating School at Home?
Over the years, allowing our kids to learn through life's activities, challenges and experiences has made for a much more enjoyable and long-lasting approach to learning at home. They have seen us trust them and their processes and this has helped build our relationship too. They have stayed interested in learning. They don't refuse learning like in the earlier days with our first couple of kiddos. There are very few battles because they are learning about things they are WANTING to learn! There is no sense of frustration or resentment towards the way they are spending their time. It has purpose and meaning which continues to inspire them to want to learn more new things! Can't complain about that!
More soon, Lusi x