That Homeschool Chick: Magic and Misgivings

Dear Friends,

There is so much about homeschooling my children that I love. The idea and feeling of it just feels right. I could write a long and passionate essay about all the reasons why I feel that certain rightness, and maybe someday I will.

But today's writings are about another feeling I've been having.

A feeling of unease.
Of fear.

For the years leading up to this one, My Lissie's Kindergarten year,  I have had so many plans. So much inspiration. So much conviction.

Homeschooling was definitely the right thing for me, for my family.

I was homeschooled. I've made so many homeschooling lists. Talked with so many other homeschool families. Gave homeschooling advice. Answered homeschooling questions. Responded to homeschooling scepticism. Shared homeschooling opinions. Read so many homeschooling books. Discussed homeschooling so many times with my family - from my husband and mother, to my siblings and children. Even was a substitute homeschooling monitor for my four sibs while my parents were gone for two weeks.

I've been planning for this moment for ages. Since she was born, actually.

But the truth is that even though we've done a lot of projects, read a lot of books, learned a lot by living, talked about many things...

I. Have. Never. Homeschooled. Before.

That's where the pressure comes in. The realization that I am responsible for my children's education.

That's huge.

I remember a similar feeling looking down at my nursing newborn daughter and realizing that I was her only source of nutrition, and her primary source of comfort and protection.

Talk about no pressure, huh?

So what's happening in these fearful, kinda nervous first days of our homeschool?

Well, I've learned a lot already. I thought this was supposed to be about my children's learning! But here I am, the one with the lightening, AH-HA! moments going on around here.

Some important things I've learned are:

One: My Daughter doesn't learn the same as me.

Two: She doesn't learn the same as I thought she would.

Three: She doesn't learn the way I hear other parents talking about their children learning.

Four: She doesn't learn the same as her brother.

This threw me for a loop. I confess that while I reassured many of my friends, who noted the learning styles of their children differed sibling to sibling and didn't fit into the books, that their children were fine. That it was okay to use different books with each kid. It was okay to go at different paces with each kid. That it was important to find what worked for you, your child, your family.
That's the beauty of homeschooling.
The power to choose.
The liberty to customize.
The potential to maximize.

Blah, blah, blah.

I didn't understand the implications of my own theory. I had very strong expectations for exactly how things would be. Those didn't die easily. I'm a stubborn soul.

I bought the reading book that was highly recommended by the curriculum I planned to use. I started the program with great gusto. Imagine my mental upheaval when the reading book that was so highly praised by many, many people didn't work for my girl.

Each lesson was like banging my head against a brick wall. It ended in tears and frustration. Hers and mine.

Then there was the flashcards. I had thought, well she must not be ready for the whole reading book thing. We'll back up. Freshen up on the basics, the alphabet and it's sounds. Doesn't get more basic than that.

Turns out it does. The flashcards went the same way as the reading book.

I was tearing my hair out.
How can I teach this child of mine?
She adores lists. Lists of names. Lists of chores. Lists of wishes. Lists of rules.
She quotes them word for word. Every day.

But she gets sketchy when it comes to the alphabet?

I was mortified.
Who is this child? I knew that I just had to have birthed a child who was as interested in getting a classical education as I was in giving one. Where was my wonder child, who spelled 18 letter words before she was eighteen months old?

But the biggest question...
Why was I having this inner struggle with a snide little voice that kept saying, I don't know if you can do this? Maybe it would be better to give up and let someone else handle this. At least they would have experience with learners like your daughter and would know what to call it and how to fix it.

I felt so defeated.

But you've never been one to like labels, unless they are firmly affixed to containers in the organized home where you dwell in your imaginary life. And you know your daughter better than anyone else. And there is boundless information about teaching your children available today. Think about all those online resouces! And you do know how to read and how to apply what you read to real life. And you've always been able to do things you set your mind to.

This is what another softer voice told me, my mother's voice.

But, Ho! The learning didn't stop there! Oh no, it couldn't be that easy.

It turns out my schedule was as unrealistic as my perception of my daughter's learning style.
There is simply not enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do.
Need to do.
Have to do.

And I just have to get over that.
And move on.
Some wants have to be put on the back burner.
Some needs have to wait a bit.
Some Have-to's have to be stream-lined.

I think we'll get it together.

The last lesson is harder for me to admit. It involves facing my own depravity and confessing my pride. That's never easy.

Here goes:
I have always found in immensely gratifying to read little tid-bits like "Homeschoolers consistently score higher on standardized tests." And nothing has made me grin like reading about homeschoolers winning national spelling bees or other honors. I have been pleased as punch to note certain famous and highly successful individuals who were homeschooled.

It's not that I have a problem with people who send their children to public school. It's not even that I think that homeschooling is right for everyone.

It's like those homeschool kids and I have the same alma mater.
We're homeschool alumni.
We root for each other.

But what happens when your child isn't brilliant?
What if she can sing every word to, Beyonce's "All the Single Ladies" instead of the National Anthem?
What if she doesn't always remember 14 comes before 15 - let alone what they equal when added together?
What if she can write several words but none of them are her very own name?
What if she doesn't know all the letter names when taken out of sequence?
What if she doesn't learn things in order like her mother?
What if she doesn't do math as well as her brother?
What if she spends hours drawing pictures instead of learning the intricacies of grammar?
What if she wants to be a garbage truck girl instead of a college professor?

And. She's. Six.
(And would be in first grade if she was in public school)

So where does that leave me?
Does the World end?
What do I do?

Well, I didn't drop her off at the local school with a wave, a "Ta-Ta" and a, "Do with her as thou wilt!" - even though, I really, really wanted to. It would have been so easy.

No, instead I sucked up every drop of conviction, strength and hope I could. I ignored how small the resulting puddle was. I talked to my mom. I made a list.
A list of what we had going for us. What she had going for her. None of notated items reflected my own skill. This couldn't be about me. That particular angle was what got us in the dither in the first place. Nope, it was a list of what I know about my daughter.

Then I experimented a little. And I observed a lot. And I prayed. I bought a different reading book.

And the answers came.

The light came filtering through.

This is what I found out:

She can learn anything if it is related to science or art. So we'll let animals herd in letter sounds and clay sculptures usher in the learning of numbers.

Do one thing at a time. She hasn't mastered multi-tasking. Letter sounds or letter names. Not both. For now.

She is anxious to please me but doesn't work well under pressure. When I relax so does she. Then the knowledge flows and we both get excited.

If I read to her she watches my finger while I point to the words and she starts pointing out letters she knows and sounding out a few words here and there without my prompting. She is learning to read.

Whew! What a relief!
We do much better when we stop trying to 'Do school' at home. Yes, we need to be organized. Yes, we need to have goals and expectations. But public schools are set up to accommodate large numbers of students and the time restraints of their rigorous schedule. We aren't in that situation so we don't work the same way. Period. It's okay if our structured studies only take us one hour each day.

And amazingly, I'm okay. No, my daughter isn't a genius. But I love her just the way she is. No, most of her skills aren't marketable. But she's amazing to me.

Yes, our lesson plans may be a bit unorthodox. But they are working. Pajamas, un-done hair and everything.

Yes, she loves Science. Thank you, Magic School Bus.

Yes, her brother likes reading about Fancy Nancy.

No, her bed isn't made properly. But remember I said we are working on the getting-it-together part.

It isn't what I expected but it is what I learned.

Maybe that's the magic...

I guess that is what it's all about.

Not Giving Up (in Nebraska)

P.S. Her brother doesn't appreciate that I included the bit about him enjoying Fancy Nancy. He says, "It's jus 'tuz she has a dog! An' I like dogs! An 'sides, Mom, boys can read books about girls even though they are not girls!"

How right you are son, how right you are.

At least I have one child prodigy in the family.
And considering the trouble I went to to birth him...
Maybe one is enough.

The end.


  1. your post comes with perfect timing.
    I've struggled with homeschooling the past few weeks (due to our situation)
    It ended with tears (mine), hair pulled out(mine), frustration (mine). Then I realized, he IS learning, despite the circumstances. So I wiped my tears, took a deep breath and sent him to the woods with Daddy for a science lesson :)

  2. The funny thing about any child's learning, is that you can't tell at 3 or 4 or 6 or even 14, how much they will know and what they will know later in their life. They should know how to add and read and spell as well as they can. They should be read to and read to and read to. And, then of course, there is the fact that they will keep on learning all of their lives.

    And, it just may be that just because someone seems "smart" or "not so capable" in some areas now, it can change. I'm finding in my daughter, that love of literature and words and language, but it isn't the same as mine. Which seems sad for me, but it woulnd't be so good if every person was exactly the same.

    And it doesn't really matter. It is far better to have a quart of brains and use them all than a whole gallon and only use a quart.

  3. I don't have a lot of advice in this area, but I do have a lot of admiration for all of you that make your own paths through the homeschooling maze.

  4. I'm not a teacher nor have I homeschooled, but as a mother of three very different individuals, I strongly feel it's important to not expect our children to be "us" or compare them to "them" (siblings or others), and to help them learn at their own pace and find their own strengths. Aside from that, have you had her eyes checked? Could she have dyslexia? Those things can definitely affect learning/letter recognition/reading.
    Just a few of my thoughts ... wishing you the best as you find her best way to learn!

  5. Your child may or may not be brilliant in one area at 6, and totally different by the time he/she is 10--or 16.
    Remember, I had a child who flunked reading in 1st. grade, but could read (yes the words) in comic books at home.
    And I had a child who didn't read until he was 10, but passed his high school reading tests with an excellent score.
    And as you well know, one of the most wonderful advantages of HS'ing is that they CAN learn at their own pace, in the way that's best for them!

  6. Thanks for this post. you put into words all the feelings I have when I am working with my kids. I have one that exceeds every possible benchmark and another that struggles to even meet the basic reading benchmarks but can solve chemistry problems in his head! I have beaten my head against a wall so much, then realized that if the worst struggle he has is that I have to read history out loud to him in order for him to understand it, we can probably adapt to that! And lo and behold, when we back off the stress of reading, and tell him it is okay to read slowly, he is doing it, understanding and enjoying it more. I don't think he will ever love reading, but he is at least not fighting it so much.

    And you are so right, that when you relax so can they....but I think I need that on my desk top to remind me!


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