A teacher learns to homeschool

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So, when I started writing for Wenatchee Mom Blog, I knew I’d end up sharing about my adventures at home with my girls. Homeschooling, though not in any traditional sense of the word, is a part of my wild and crazy stay-at-home-mommy ride, for at least this season of life.

I am a teacher/learner down deep in my soul. I chose to be a bilingual elementary school teacher when I was 10 years old. Yep. Really. I was so driven and determined. I watched my teachers while they taught other kids in the classroom. I used to beg my teachers for extra homework, and in turn, my mom had to beg me to stop doing my homework every night, go to bed, and “Please! Just take a B!”

So, when I decided to stay at home, I attacked that challenge with just as much intensity. I started writing out plans…OK. Here are all the subjects I want to teach my budding pre-school aged eldest daughter. And this will be our tentative schedule. And we’ll do art, and then go outside, and I’ll teach her reading, and and and…

I am so thankful that a good friend of ours was living with us at the time. She is also a teacher, and stopped me dead in my tracks as she listened to my plans. She actually chuckled! (At least I think she did.) I was not pleased. I’m sure that I glared at her. But then I listened, as she told me that I was already teaching all those things and I didn’t need to plan it out. My daughter was already learning NATURALLY, because I just posed questions, helped her solve problems, and conversed with her.

In other words, I had the know-how, from a public school teacher’s perspective, of what I thought she should know, and how we were going to get there. But did I really know HOW I was teaching my daughter and what would be best for her? I needed to stop being a kindergarten teacher and “un-learn” a bit (that’s actually a thing).

So after my moment of indignation, I threw away the list of scribbles (who looks at their lists once they write them down, anyway?!) and decided to tie my hands behind my back, figuratively speaking.

And then I got online. I found some incredible local resources on Facebook (Wenatchee Valley Homeschoolers and Washington Homeschool Association), talked to some really encouraging friends who are already doing it, and chatted with my pals Sharon and Dwight down at Academic Toolbox. I love them.

These were some of my major conclusions and “aha’s”:

1. I don’t have do to anything official until my kid’s eighth birthday. Really. That’s Washington State law! That goes for everyone. Even if you want to do public school or private school but you just don’t feel right about starting them so early, you are allowed to “wait till they’re eight” (that rhymes)!

2. I don’t think I need to spend a lot of money to do this. Learning can happen just as well with broken crayons as it can with regular ones, as my daughter reminds me often. And the library is FULL of stuff. Did you know she can have 100 books checked out on her account at any given time?! Not to mention movies, plus the online resources like Khan Academy and pbs.org.

3. I know how I taught a class of 25 kids, but I don’t have a clue how my totally unique, rather quirky and introverted class of one actually LEARNS. So I really am going to tie my hands behind my back as I figure her out. (BTW, I think that’s an important lesson for a parent or a teacher; just to watch and learn.)

So, a little bit more on #3 before I close. My daughter notices everything. And she beats me at memory games probably 80% of the time. She. Is. Impressive. She is an auditory learner, which means that she doesn’t have to look at me to hear and understand. (Can I just say that is soooo aggravating?!! It also makes me feel horribly guilty for all the times that I insisted that all 25 kids in my classroom LOOK at me while I taught them! Ugh. Why did I do that?! I bet they were just like her!)

What is more, she is so very stubborn. Oppositional, even. She wants it to be her idea. She has so much going on in her lovely, imaginative, analytical inner-world, that she doesn’t have the energy to follow my agenda all the time. Most of the time, if it’s my idea, she doesn’t want to “learn” it. She has questions of her own to explore. She has stories she wants to read (or have me read to her – NO! I don’t want to read ONE MORE SENTENCE of your Frozen story book anthology! Please! Can we have a discussion about the difference between this book and REAL literature, please?…Oh, alright…) So, she and I tend to butt heads. Can you tell?

But as I’ve continued to peruse the internet and talk to other people in this valley, considering educational theory and different homeschool approaches, I realized that there’s this method called “Unschooling.” It’s pretty rad. Here’s the first two sentences of the Wikipedia definition: “Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction.”

I think that at least for the moment, my daughter is an “unschooler.” I am amazed by what she’s figuring out, mostly on her own. So, besides parenting her, following this method makes me one of her mentors. I guess that’s what I had been doing all the time after all, which was empowering to realize. Because it still means that I get to put my foot down sometimes and say,

“Um, nah-uh! You’re not going outside to play until you write another thank you note…aren’t you glad you have that new coloring book your grandma gave you?!! Yes, of course I’ll help you sound out the words…”

And she did. And it was wonderful. And THEN she went outside to play.

And now, without any expensive curriculum, or even crazy test booklets, I’ve made a mental note that she has learned most of her letter sounds, but I’ll need to start teaching her some of the rules about vowels, next. She’s already figured out the “th” blend, is noticing the -ing sound at the end of words with help, but she definitely still needs to work on writing her S’s. And that’s enough. All from one little thank you letter. Thank you, “unschooling” method. I am ready to do some real-life learning stuff again tomorrow.

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