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A Homeschooling Experiment

Hi Readers,

I am taking a slight diversion from my typical posts regarding children’s books to introduce you to a young friend of mine who I think you’ll enjoy meeting and getting to know as much as I have.  Susan is a New England transplant, whose life on a New Hampshire farm took an unexpected turn  when her husband changed professions and was hired in Southern California.  She is currently stepping into the waters of home schooling her 3 preschoolers and I think you’ll enjoy her insight and thoughts as she prepares and plans for the “school” year ahead!  Susan will be contributing more of her musings as her journey takes her further into the world of children’s books for her preschool children, which will help to make this blog more relevant for all of you young mothers!

Starting Our Homeschool by Susan Arico

Homeschooling was always something my husband and I considered for our children’s education, something we talked about.  He’d earned a Master’s Degree in education and spent three years teaching in public schools – enough time to convince him that he’d rather not involve his children in them (and to realize he was better suited to an alternate vocation).  His own dislike of school as a child cemented my husband’s opinion that learning at home was a great idea for our kids.  I was open to the idea and could see its benefits, but I’d greatly enjoyed my childhood schooling and figured we’d sort out our plans later.

A few months before our eldest child turned four (and a week after our third was born), we enrolled him in preschool two mornings a week.  It was a sweet school we all loved; however, things went south quickly the December week he befriended a rowdy classmate with Sensory Integration Disorder.  At school our son continued to behave well but at home he began acting out significantly, trying out the misbehavior he was observing at school and flouting our authority.  After working with him, meeting with his lovely teacher and eventually the principal, and giving the situation six weeks to even out (it didn’t), we pulled him in February.  It was a jarring, sad process.

The homeschooling discussion was suddenly relevant and central.  Would we have him try preschool again the next year – and enroll our daughter (who would be three) too?  Why outside schooling, would we be better without it?  I began praying and reading extensively about homeschooling, talked with homeschooling moms, and attended a homeschooling conference.  We decided to keep both the oldest kids home the following year with an eye toward homeschooling them in kindergarten and beyond.

So this fall I’m embarking on a homeschool-like experiment with my preschoolers.  I know it’s unnecessary to do any formal learning with children prior to kindergarten age, but I’m using the year to optimally position ourselves for homeschooling, and also to experiment (as much for my benefit as for theirs) with different methods of teaching and learning.  The month we pulled our son from preschool I’d begun teaching him how to read using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (by Jessie Wise and Susan Buffington), because I realized that if our son wasn’t going to be learning letters at preschool I’d better step up to the task.  His enjoyment of reading lessons and quick progress encouraged me to continue on that path – as did my awareness that his learning to read would give him a degree of independence that would benefit us both greatly.

As the fall approached, I stepped back to think through what needs my children and I would face that I’d like our weekly activities to fulfill for us:

The needs for friendship and community, paramount for all of us;

The need for both my preschoolers, but especially my active son, to have ample opportunity to be active and expend physical energy;

The need for my children to have exposure to authority figures other than their father and me;

Their need to interact with their peers without a parent standing over their shoulder so they can practice navigating interpersonal relationships on their own;

My need to have one or several short times during the week away from my children;

Our corporate need to engage with people beyond the few families we routinely see at church programming and playgroup (because, as we’re recent transplants with no family nearby, our world in the day-to-day can feel confining and small);

Finally: the academic side of things – the actual schooling.  Because no one has even hit kindergarten in our house, this almost feels like the easy part.

I have no interest in becoming a parent who over-schedules her family and runs all over town.  In fact, the freedom of schedule and slower pace that homeschooling allows are two of its more appealing aspects to me.  But conversely, our being continuously cooped up at home would not work at all for our crew, so balance is critical. We need activity and flow throughout the week, allowing all of us feel constructive and sufficiently engaged in the world, while also having ample time at home to play, read, learn, bake, tidy, and be.

I’m feeling optimistic about our fall schedule as a solid first effort that we can tinker with as we go.  Our mornings consist of three away-from-home mornings: a preschool co-op with four other families; a mother’s church program in which the kids are in preschool-like classes by age; and a town-sponsored art class, 45 minutes in length, for the two preschoolers while the toddler and I play outside.  Then two at-home mornings a week in which the big kids do an hour of “school” with me while the toddler naps.   One afternoon we do a weekly playgroup with other families; another my son has soccer practice. The remaining afternoons are free.

All the while I’m positioning myself for what I want to teach my kids and how (and when) I want to teach it.  I’m experimenting with a ten-minute morning “circle time:” calendar, prayer, Bible verse, song.  I’m trying out Five in a Row, basically an enhanced daily reading enrichment program using top-quality children’s books; this takes 20 – 30 minutes that we can do at any time of day.  And most challenging for me, I’m working through the organization of it all.  Where will we keep our supplies?  Where will I hold circle time and position our calendar? Where can I put additional bookshelves?  I’m realizing that adequately preparing my mindset and our corporate space will make an enormous difference to my enthusiasm for homeschooling, both this year and in the long term.

Susan Arico

Susan and her husband are New Englanders currently living in southwest California where they’re raising their three children (ages 1, 3, and 4).  She is a strategy consultant to Christian nonprofits and blogs about parenting preschoolers at Heart Pondering