When You Begin, Start With Yourself – When Determining Why You Homeschool, Which Curriculum to Use, and in Your Daily Teaching

After a year and a half of homeschooling, almost 6 years of parenting, and almost 34 years of being alive, I’ve learned that I am an introspective person, and I value that in myself.  For some people, the difference between being an introvert and an extrovert is a challenge, especially if they are an introvert, with our long thought processes that sometimes make us seem slow or unwitty, and necessity for lots of personal alone time, yet, introspection and reflection on our lives and those of the lives around us, and sometimes about how we ourselves impact the world though we seem so small, has a very important place in our communities.  We are the deep thinkers, often compassionate and sympathetic; we are people who weigh our actions against the reaction that will be made to it, and often err on the side of helping others and doing that which will uplift rather than get a lot of laughs.

But, we aren’t perfect either.  As I read through my last few posts, I see how I put some negative energy out with the positive.  Some of the posts I’ve made haven’t added much positive to the world at large, but in other subtle ways I think I had little veins of negativity in my last post on Seed To Seedling, that my readers may not even have picked up on but that I have carried around with me, wondering why I did that.  My past post on Seedling, elicited the need to apologize to someone close to me and modify my final, published draft. I’ve been wondering how this happened; throughout most of my blogging history, I feel I’ve been pretty careful to avoid stepping on toes or saying things that I ought to keep private, but there will always come a time when we make mistakes, and I am no different, no matter how many times I read over my draft or how conscientious I try to be when writing other people into my posts, which I mostly try to avoid if it’s not something that I was inspired by (and of course, this hasn’t included my (ex)husband), so I apologize for any hurt feelings and unintentional negative tones I’ve added lately.

I think that I have put too much stress on myself at an all ready stressful time of the year.  In trying to get my book typed up by a certain date, I did put important things to the side that, in retrospect, I ought not to have done.  There is no guarantee about anything regarding my book, right now it’s a shot in the dark, and thus, it has no right to be the priority over things that are more important – like our schooling and being there for my children.  It also has no time-table as it is right now, it is still in my hands and not those of an editor or agent, so there is no real rush.  For years I have said that it will be done when it is done, when the time is right.  That is still the same, and I regret having left my kids hanging as I did.  And it is noticeable.  Not only were they sick, but the holidays were nearly upon us – an incredibly hard time of the year because it is so hard to wait, and the greed of wanting stuff is weighted by having to wait, and then all the promises of stuff but they don’t know what stuff it will be… – and I was holed up in my room with my face glued to the computer for – for nothing really; I have not gotten in contact with my friend who was willing to edit the book, I have not printed it.

I was so burnt out after I got it all done last Friday, the 18th, that I’ve watched Jurassic World every night since then; but I feel better now after having done so, and having some time to think.  In retrospect, it’s pretty awesome how much of my book I got done in so short a time, around the rest of our lives; it proves to me what I am capable of.  It also feels good to have publishing in my mind as something real: I AM going to pursue publishing, whether it happens sooner or later.  (Check out my post on Seedling about chasing this dream: Feel the Fear and do it Anyway: Chasing the dream to publish my book.)  But I also need to know myself and what is important to me, and remember what my priorities are: my children.  I never want them to feel that they are on the wayside of something else that has taken first place over them, and I feel that I did that over the past month, especially to Elizabeth.

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Whole Child, Healthy Planet curriculum guides

For Christmas, I got the Global Village School (GVS) curriculum guide, Whole Child, Healthy Planet, for first grade, though I have no idea if I will be able to homeschool next year or not.  One thing I regretted about my last post was a negative energy that I put out towards a job interview I had.  Actually, after the interview, I feel that the job would both fit into our lives in a wonderful way that would allow me the flexibility to homeschool and pursue publishing and be present with my kids, and that would also be something that I’d really enjoy doing because the work has such positive impacts on the surrounding communities.

Start with you when determining why you homeschool

In the GVS guide, the authors have a section about beginning with yourself and doing some self-observation, and they address it in the context of looking at the baggage that you are bringing into the homeschooling with you in general, and that which you are bringing in on that specific day.  We all have baggage, and as you can see, it will come up eventually.

It is important to assess our own hopes and fears concerning school, homeschooling, life, and parenting even when we are addressing homeschool.  What do we hope for our children – and what if they don’t achieve that?  What do we expect of our children – and what if they don’t meet our expectations?  What do we fear for our children – and what if it becomes a reality?  What do we fear about their schooling – and what if such fears become reality?  What is our main goal in choosing to homeschool as opposed to sending them to public school – and what if it is not attained?  What if we find that goal to be unattainable once we get into it – can we find a new goal, or will we crumble, or will we continue to pursue it though it is out of reach?  What if we are told that something is unattainable yet we wish to pursue it – will we try to push ourselves out of our boxes or let the naysayers have the last word?  There are many more questions to ask ourselves, and many of them cannot be easily answered – if they can be at all until we are in the throws of it.  So many times life goes in directions different than the maps we had drawn for ourselves – what if our homeschooling does too?

After exploring why we are homeschooling in general and how we will handle the fly balls that get hit our way, we can also analyze our homeschool this week or this month, or even this day and this hour.  Is our student happy?  Is our student enjoying our school?  If not, why and what can we do about it?  Is it worth it to homeschool if our student doesn’t like it or if everyone is burnt out on it?  Or, would it be worth taking a different route in educating?  Can we give it over to public schooling for a year, or could we take another approach such as online classes, a different curriculum, or unschooling?

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Sometimes it’s like peeking through the trees

We are all different personalities, a huge jumbling of different personality traits mixed up as dominant and recessive, introvert, extrovert, love languages, learning styles, ethnic backgrounds, income levels, highly creative and prodigy, learning disabilities, and letter grades.  What if we were none of these things – or all of these things at once?  What if there were no labels –  or we each held every label?  What if labels held different connotations?  What would happen if we turned ourselves upside down like a burrowing owl and looked at things differently than what we usually do, how would that affect our teaching?  How would it affect our lives?  Asking all these questions will help us analyzing what would happen if things don’t go according to plan, and hopefully help you stay focused on why you chose to homeschool in the first place, yet also bend like a sapling in the winds of life as your route detours around unexpected events out of your control.

Start with you when you choose a curriculum

When choosing a curriculum, I think it is important to start with yourself and end with your student.  We, of course, want our kids to enjoy their work, but we also need something that works for us as educators, something that imparts our values and teaches in a way that we feel comfortable with.  I know that I personally could never use A Beka Book, which I had to use when I taught in a bilingual school in Honduras for a while.  Ugh, it was like school textbooks: boring, rote memorization, and I’ll leave it at that because I know a lot of people like it.  If it works for them, cool, but I need books and not just excerpts; I like stories and non-fiction, big pictures and colorful artwork and beautiful photography and am always looking for moral messages that are well written.  Not that A Beka Book didn’t have these things, just not in a way that inspired me.  This is how we parents need to begin with ourselves in choosing a curriculum: we need to know what is important to us, and what our goals are as educators of our children.

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Part of my homeschooling mission

I read it suggested somewhere to make a mission statement for your school before you begin homeschooling so that you know what direction to take.  I did not actually do that, but my mission became apparent to me during my first year homeschooling and I better defined what my goals were for my children and for myself as their educator.  I merely want them to be validated in who they are, and through that believe that they will learn to become motivated, inspired, creative, compassionate people.  I also want them to learn that they are a part of this world that we live in, about who other people are and how those people live, whether they live down the road or across the world.  I also want them to learn that their actions have close and distant impacts on all strands in the web of life that encompasses the globe, in such a way that they can make decisions with intention on how to make their line fall, how to impact the web if they so desire, and how to choose at all.  A friend and I recently were conversing about some situation with her brother and we both agreed that ‘making no decision is still making a decision.’ I would like my children to learn lessons such as these, and in a safe and validating environment.

While we are searching for our teaching styles and materials to use to educate our children, think about what values and goals you have, think about your  mission statement and what it means for you and your child.  Does the curriculum we are looking at or using impart all of our values or just some of them?  If just some of them, how can we modify or supplement it to be well rounded?  If we find our curriculum lacking, how can we still use it without wasting the materials and our money?  If we purchase one curriculum and then feel it doesn’t work for us and so therefore get another, what lesson does that teach our children, and is it a lesson we want them to learn?  Do we usually finish what we begin?  What if we do get behind – which I think happens a lot, so don’t feel bad.  How will we handle certain units that don’t meet our expectations?  How will we handle literature that doesn’t meet our values?  Can we build off of them anyway and turn a negative into a positive?  Do we need to have everything pre-packaged and laid out to the letter, or do we need something more free flowing?  Are we accustomed to modifying a highly organized curriculum anyway?  If so, what’s the point in having one that is super organized?

These are all good questions to ask while choosing a curriculum – if you do use one at all.  You may be deciding what teaching method you want to use: Waldorf, unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, etc.  All great places to start and move through.  In general, my suggestion is to read, read, read.  I myself just read everything I could find on the internet and in a few books while deciding on my first curriculum.  Then, I read all the curriculum descriptions I could find, and all the reviews I could find.  Remember to read positive and negative reviews, and that what is a negative for one person may be a positive for another!  In choosing a homeschooling method, what calls to you is still usually borne from ourselves: what your strong points are and how much time you have and where your interests lie – which is perfectly fine!

Start with you today

The GVS curriculum also urges to consider how we feel on this particular day – what are we bringing with us today when we sit down (or do jumping jacks, or stand at an artist’s easel, or bike around the block, or whatever non-sitting activity we do instead) with our child.  What outside stresses are we bringing in, especially that our student may not understand?  What anxieties are we dealing with in our personal life that show up when things don’t go our way?  And do you seem to display them in an ugly manner to your student when they don’t follow your rules to the T?  Is there some annoyance with the curriculum that needs to be analyzed?  Do so.  Our kids are innocent, yet very observant.  They are keenly watching and listening to what we are doing and saying, even if they put on a front like they aren’t.  And are we projecting too many adult characteristics on them?  I sometimes wonder if we don’t assume the worst from kids because that is what is/would come from ourselves, when the children and teenagers are really just trying to figure things out – and are using us as a model!

As such, I am also constantly beginning with myself in personal development, I am always analyzing my personality – not in a self-degrading way, but in one in which I am striving to make minor adjustments to become the best me that I know how.  Because of this, I like myself, I like who I am and I like the things I do.  In acting in this way, and talking about it with my kids, I believe that my children learn about the things I do just by watching me, and hopefully, will learn to do them as well.

So, today, start with yourself and what you are bringing into your school space with you – both the negative and the positive.  Before you enter the room, or sit down with your child to “do school,” as we put it in our house, think of what you are dragging around like a ball on a chain; what is weighing you down, what is uplifiting you, and how can you turn that into lessons for both you and your child?

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What’s hiding in the closet?

Conclude with your child

In no way do I want to imply that homeschooling ought to be about us, the parents, on the contrary, homeschooling often feels like a great act of kindness that I impart on my children, an act of self-sacrifice that I make for their wellbeing.  I homeschool partially out of selfish reasons: I love to be with my daughter, and I love guiding her learning, and I would be incredibly jealous to turn it over to someone else.  But I also do it for her.  Originally, I did not want to send her to all-day pre-k, but she is not in pre-k any more.  Now, I wish to not impose on her the millions of nonsense standardized exams that are given to pretty much all grades.  Nor do I wish to press her to get ahead just to get ahead, but want to allow her to take her time and come around to things like reading and writing so that she can learn to love them as I do.  I also know she is a strong-willed little girl, and most of the time she is left to take the lead on her projects when we ‘do school,’ but I know that being one of 30 kids in a public school environment where everyone has to do each assignment as the rules are laid out would take some serious “adjustments” for her, and she would not enjoy that adjustment.  I love to see her creations – colorful and sometimes completely surprising at her technique and talent.  Lastly, I don’t wish to impose a school-day schedule on us, I love how we are free to paint this morning or to go outside to explore the next.  I love the connection my kids have to our woods because we spend so much time in them, and I can hardly bear the thought of having it diminished.

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“When we are whom we are called to be, we will set the world ablaze.” ~St. Catherine of Siena

Share your thoughts:  In what other ways do you begin with yourself in relation to your homeschool?

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