Unschooler Karen M. Gibson relates her feelings and experiences during her family’s beginning months of homeschooling. It was a time of overwhelming choices and decisions concerning learning styles, curriculum, textbooks, home education methods, etc. She explores what caused her family to move from a very strict regimented school-at-home schedule to a more relaxed, interest-led learning experience.

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The journey is long through advice, but efficient through examples.
~ Seneca

    Beginning Your Homeschooling Journey
    Karen M. Gibson

    There have been many times when I wished I had home educated our children right from the very beginning. I'm almost envious of those parents who knew, even before their children were born, that home education was their choice. But, like many of you, I didn't know about home education way back then. And even if I had, I'm not sure I would have been ready for that knowledge. It seems as though you have to be at a certain place in your life before you are open to such a wild and crazy idea as home education.

    Once you begin to consider the possibility of home education, the world seems to explode with so many choices. The information available to homeschoolers now is overwhelming: learning styles, curriculums, textbooks, home education methods, distance learning programs, and so on. How does one begin to make sense of it all?

    This will be the primary focus of this column (See note below): assisting you during your first year of home education. I talk and correspond frequently with other home educators who are trying to navigate that first year, and it wasn't all that long ago that I was there myself. I remember feeling like I was trying to run in deep water. It was all I could do to keep one step ahead of my children, while trying to remember to breathe!

    When we began our home education journey almost four years ago, I was petrified. That first morning we started, I was sure I was making the biggest mistake ever. What was I doing, thinking I could teach better than the teachers could? Who was I to think I could guide my children without lots of 'expert' help? My children were in the first, third and sixth grade. Wasn't I crazy to think that I could start out teaching all of them at the same time? I kept hearing those questions that well-meaning friends and family had asked me echoing in my mind.

    I knew nothing about learning styles. I certainly didn't know anything about homeschool methods. I re-created school at home. We studied the same subject at the same time each day, using textbooks and following an orderly progression through them. We had recess and snack time. We followed the same school hours that we knew from years in the public school system. The only thing we did that I thought was really novel was studying history with all three children at the same time using books from the library rather than a textbook.

    We managed along for a few months this way, but I could tell that this wasn't going to work in the long term. Too many things weren't working for us. We still had major stress from the schedule we kept, which was one reason I had always hated public school. The schedule we thought necessary was ruling us. The textbooks were ruling us. I can't count the number of times we would be reading together and something would spur a question about another topic. I never felt we could take the time to follow up because I was worried we'd get behind in our 'required' work. The children were still bored with all the review that the textbooks was 'requiring' them to do. And they weren't getting the time to study the things that they wanted to, even though I tried to incorporate some of their desires into our schedule. It was time to regroup.

    I declared a holiday after Christmas, with no formal schoolwork to be done, and I spent the month of January reading more about the different homeschooling methods. I joined some email lists and talked with other homeschoolers. I read homeschooling books and websites and anything else I could get my hands on. I discovered there were as many ways to homeschool as there were homeschool families. I also discovered that, while my children were on 'holiday' and I was not requiring any formal schoolwork from they, they were still learning. They were following their own interests and learning on their own. They didn't need me to do all the directing. And maybe all my 'teaching' and 'directing' was actually hindering their learning experience. That was such a revelation to me!

    One thing I would like to relate to you today concerning our own first year of home education is something which took some time for me to discover. When I would read aloud to my children I would always get irritated because it appeared that they weren't listening to me. David would always have something in his hands to play with, usually Lego's. Charles was almost always moving – pretending to shoot a basketball, drawing pictures, playing with toys – very rarely did he sit still to listen. It would distract me to see them doing all these other things rather than sitting quietly listening. But when I would question them, they always knew exactly what I had read. I gradually realized that this had to do with their learning styles, which were very different from mine. They were auditory learners, but also very kinetic and motion was a necessity for them to be able to internalize what they were hearing. Once I realized that, I was able to read with more pleasure to them, rather than the irritation I had originally felt.

    I often say that the first year of home-schooling is the most difficult, especially for families whose children have been removed from the public school system. As parents, we can be overwhelmed with the amount of new information that we have to assimilate. I believe that our children probably learn less that first year than we adults do!

    Copyright February 2000

    Note: Originally published in March/April 2000 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine) as an introduction to a regular column entitled "Beginning Your Journey."

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