Thursday, September 1, 2011

Starting the school year-Jumping in vs. wading in

Our school year has generally followed a pretty distinctive pattern, that goes something like this:
August: Mom (me) reads a homeschool book or article about a family using a method that creates organized, well-rounded, socially-adjusted geniuses. She reads up on that method, and decides it will work perfectly.
Mom then spends hours and hours reading about this new method. Then she spends hours planning how to make this new method work for the five distinctly different learning styles and personalities.
Then there's a family meeting.
At the family meeting, Mom lays out the new schedule. Generally this schedule bears a close resemblance to homeschool boot camp. Everyone up at the crack of dawn, breakfast and chores done lickety split, everyone settled and following the schedule immediately afterward. And we don't stop until we finish what's on the schedule, I said more times than I can count.

It was about five years ago when I realized that I needed to modify our fall routine. We sat down for our family meeting and I went over my latest masterpiece of scheduling wizardry. I was about halfway through when Skylar, then seven, burst into tears. My first thought was that someone had kicked her or something. After all, she couldn't possibly be reacting to what I had said-this was the most exciting plan ever. So I asked:
"Skylar, honey, are you okay?"
Wailing. I pulled her into my lap.
"What is it, sweetie?"
 (Still crying) "How are we going to do all that? And when will I read? And I don't know anything about..."
At this point, the oldest two are laughing. Irish comes over and gets Skylar and leads her to the couch.
Irish starts to talk to her in what I can only assume is a stage whisper.
"It's okay, kiddo. Mom does this every year. Just humor her for a month or so, and everything will go back to normal."
(Sniffling) "Really? Just a month? I can do this for a month."
She hops up off the couch and comes back over to me.
"Sorry, Mommy, I didn't know it was only for a month. Go on."

I've never seen a story about a wonderful, talented homeschooler or a really challenging and exciting way of homeschooling that didn't make me feel inferior. What if that method would have given my children more...of anything? What if that homeschooler's parents are really better at this than I am, and I should have left this to the experts?
So, every summer I used to doubt myself, and this vicious cycle continued. I was finally able to let go of the yearly freak-out this year, and I'm very proud of myself. Part of it may be that I've run out of methods to try, but I doubt it. I think it really is that I've started to trust my children's ability to get what they need.  I'm not trying to turn them into superhumans any more.
Instead, making sure they're getting the core knowledge they need and helping them find new ways to embrace learning are my real focus. Does that mean I never get excited about something new? Heck, no.
Bits and pieces of everything we've tried have woven themselves into our learning and enriched our daily lives. It has definitely been worth the journey, even if the path has been ridiculously winding. Now if only I could develop a similarly zen-like attitude towards getting organized...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nice to meet you, I'm Kate

Hi there!
My name is Kate Frishman. For the last eleven years my family has been on a magical journey called homeschooling. It has been a wonderful, crazy, challenging adventure.
Our family consists of Irish, a twenty-year-old college junior; Holly, an eighteen-year-old college junior; Skylar, who's twelve; Scarlet, who's ten; and Grayson, who's eight.
Then there's me-I'm not going to tell you how old I am, but I'm old enough to have a twenty-year-old, so you do the math. My husband Alan stays out of our homeschool goings-on as much as he can; however, he is the resident science, computer and math nerd, so he gets dragged into it regularly!
When we started homeschooling in 2000, I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I am not homeschooling for religious reasons, and we're not particularly anti-anything. I started considering it because I had some concerns about the kids' education (they were in first and third grade at the time). I might not have ever made the leap if it weren't for a fateful parent-teacher conference.
At first, it went like any other conference. We discussed Holly's progress, blah blah blah. Finally, I screwed up my courage and said the words:
I'm thinking of homeschooling Holly. 
I waited for her head to explode. This was a twenty-five year veteran teacher I was talking to. She was so good, they had talked about having a lottery to get into her class. I had read that teachers weren't impressed by the homeschooling movement, and I expected an icy reception to my big idea. What I got instead has stayed in my head ever since.
I think that would be wonderful, because sometimes I look at Holly and I think about what I'm stifling and I feel guilty and inadequate. 
Needless to say, we started homeschooling.
I've wanted to write about homeschooling for a long time, but I never felt "qualified." I mean really, at what point do you become an expert homeschooler? Looking back, I could have started a long time ago, because homeschooling has a very specific reality that homeschooling parents need to embrace:
We are the only experts in our children's homeschooling. 
I can tell you what worked for each of my very different children.  I can recommend tools that I found valuable with all, or some, or one of them. I can also tell you stories about how we managed to homeschool with both parents working full-time and through physical and financial challenges. I can tell you about unschooling, Charlotte Mason, unit studies, and classical curriculum. Mostly, though, I'll talk about the Flifkin Homeschool Method, which is the strange, eclectic mix that we've developed over the years.
I'm sorry to inform you that you can't use it, though, because you don't have the necessary ingredients. It can only be used by the family that created it, just like you can only use the methods and madness that work for your family.  Your method will evolve as you get used to your children and your children get used to you. It will be a work-in-progress for as long as you're a homeschooling family.
I do have one single, solitary piece of advice that will work for every family out there, and I'm going to get it out of the way in this first post:
If you don't embrace the journey, you won't be happy with the final destination. 
Like I said, though, I'm not an expert, I just have a lot to say. I look forward to learning from new and veteran homeschoolers who stop by here, and I hope I can help you find what you're looking for.