I didn't want to homeschool. Not really.
The thing is I was homeschooled. My education-trained mother and business-degree father did a marvelous job teaching my brother and I, ensuring we received help from tutorials, mentorships, and plenty of extracurriculars. I had friends, went to jobs, and entered college with fairly little angst. All things considered it was a good experience that I was prepared to pass on to my kids. I even expected to!
Except then I had kids.
Raising kids is harder than I ever dreamed it would be, and as my daughter's fifth birthday approached, the idea of getting some help during the day sounded really, REALLY good.
"We have fabulous schools here!" I reasoned. "My kids would be so lucky to go to any of these!"
And I would be so lucky to get seven hours a day to myself.
But then a little thing called a pandemic hit and the very thing that I was edging away from came and wrestled me into a bear hug. I realized homeschooling it would be for our family. As much as I wanted time to myself again, I wanted the early years of school to be good experiences for my kids, rather than one fraught with sickness, quarantine, and daily uncertainty. We would have that enough, but I could lessen it a little bit (and gratefully I acknowledge that my husband's job allowed me the optiion.)
It hasn't been easy. Veteran homeschool moms have gently joked with me, "So who's learning more? You or them?"
I call a tie. We're all learning. That's the thing, and while I am in increasing awe of my own mother, and desperately wish I held the title of All-Knowing Teacher, I'm growing in the maxim that life-long learning is all we have-- school-aged and school-graduates alike. Honestly I feel if the pandemic has taught us anything, I feel that it's that we must always be learning.
A few things have certainly helped and are helping me along the way. So whether you're considering homeschooling, are homschooling and need a boost, here are five things I learned about homeschooling in 2021.
1. I Don't Have the Patience
I start by being a little facetious here, because this is what most moms tell me when I say I'm homeschooling. To which I say, "It's okay, I don't have the patience either."
I knew that by sleep-deprived night TWO after I brought my daughter home.
I'm a fairly patient person on eight hours of sleep. Cut me off at less than five on a regular basis and I'm the next Disney villain. Now put with me a six year old and handwriting pages.
I've disappointed myself more than once this past year for my frustration while teaching my children. I'm not Mary Poppins after all. But after my first failings I've begun to incorporate my own learning into our curriculum. I'm teaching my kids about patience, love, grace, and starting new, and mama gets to learn those things, too.
2. I Don't Know Enough
I have a master's degree in English Literature so I initially felt pretty confident about teaching my 3 and 5 year old about phonics. I quickly realized that pontificating about literary theories doesn't always prepare you to sing Little Baby Bum anthems for hours on end. I frantically realized this year I didn't know enough about child development or leveled course work to start my kids in school. I would have to learn that along the way (as my current reading list attests).
Do you know what college courses did prepare me?
This year I have mentally and emotionally mined every single arts-oriented credit I ever took to expect the unexpected, say yes more often, and create with the material I'm given. I'm learning the other things-- reading books about child development, learning styles, and guided leveled work. But like every single dance class, rehearsal, and performance taught me, I know to just keep going, keep practicing, figure it out. It will eventually come together the way it should, even if it's not quite what I expected.
3. I Need Help
I don't like to bother people with questions, but right after I realized the above, I learned it was time to start asking for help. Specific help. Like, "My son is running around the house while I'm teaching, and my daughter is afraid of the letter S" help.
I found such support in corners like the Homeschooling in the Boro Facebook group where I'm pretty sure you can ask any question possible and at least three other people will say, "Me too!" and provide some perspective.
I realized local spots like Discovery Center, Smyrna Outdoor Adventure Center, the Rutherford County Library System, and Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation offer programs every month to help with homeschoolers and school-aged children and their caregivers, so I never have to feel alone.
My church, while not hosting an offical homeschool group, has a network of mamas only too happy to lend a hand or shoulder to cry on or a much-needed laugh. Sometimes I text a mama with a quick question, sometimes we linger on the back porch to yak about ideas. It all fuels my homeschooling style, but I had to realize I needed help and not try to lone gun this one.
4. I Need Social Media
This was a little funny for me, but just when I was about to write off social media for its many agonizing characteristics-- incorrect information, useless arguing, timewasters-- I would find something that helped. So I took a lot of social media sabbaticals this past year, going full days or even weeks in order to detox from the onslaught of information, but when I came back I had a better idea of what I needed social media for: encouragment, education, insight.
I followed social pages for local organizations like I mentioned above.
I drew inspiration from pages like Teach Them Dilligently that helped with education theory as well as ideas for practical application in ways that make sense to me.
I used Murfreesboro Mama to connect with other moms and organizations who want to connect better with their families and their community.
It's a process and one I'm always reevaluating, but I'll keep my social media apps around.
5. I Need the Outdoors
I learned a lot more this year, but I'll end with this one: I learned tath I need the outdoors more than ever. I've always loved it, but so much pooh-poohing on indoor gatherings reemphasized it. Having two very busy kiddos nailed it. From screen detoxing to enhancing observation skills, to lessening anxiety, to giving more purpose at home, spending time outside has become a fundamental part of our homeschooling, and few days go by that we're not outside for 2-3 hours. The kids are calmer and more focused, I have less anxiety, and something about talking through lessons outside has helped us integrate our learning in more practical and meaningful ways than time around our school table alone.
Local pages like Bloomsbury Farms and nationwide movements like 1000 Hours Outside emphasize the role that trees, dirt, fresh air, and gardening play in making us whole people, and I've realized that's what I'm most after anyway. Aren't we all? If the past two years have taught --or at least reminded-- us of anything it's that many of our man-made systems are up for change (SUCH change). But the fundamentals remain: our relationships, our homes, our earth. When we're learning to take care of those things, we're learning things we can carry with us, whatever new normal comes our way, whatever the future brings.
Happy New Year, and welcome to 2022! Here's to lifelong learning.
Laura Beth Payne is a writer and homeschool mama who lives in the Blackman community with her husband and two bouncy kiddos. She finds her me-time early in the mornings where she reads nonfiction and writes stuff. Follow what she's up to at @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram. Not on social media? Never miss a Murfreesboro Mama by signing up for the Murfreesboro Voice email on the "Newsletter" link.