Monday, March 25, 2019

A Day in the Life of an Accidental Homeschooler

Hi I’m Darby and I’m an accidental homeschooler. Homeschooling was never on my radar as something that I would even consider as an option for our family.  In fact, I'm ashamed to admit, but growing up I was guilty of maintaining a lot of the stereotypes regarding homeschooling families.  And here I am now with two little ones (ages 3 & 4 in preschool and kindergarten) that I love homeschooling, and a huge enthusiast and advocate of homeschooling.  Isn't the Lord funny like that? ;-)  And I must admit, that my preconceived notions, were WRONG!
While I never expected to be a homeschooling family, the careers of my husband and I didn't either.  We are a homeschooling family where both parents work full-time. We are an anomaly and I'm okay with that because it works for us.  How does this full-time working family also homeschool? We juggle. We struggle. We juggle some more. We communicate. We are flexible.  We pray.  We are continually reaffirmed in our decisions to homeschool. Let me share with you how we are making this work for us.  (Disclaimer: I'm not saying that our way is the right way, or the only way.  I only express this as what is working for us right now.  It might change, but for now, this is how we are managing).
We entertained the idea of homeschooling, and ultimately made the decision to homeschool our children, because we wanted control over curriculum where Jesus was taught, to enable deep thinkers, to linger over subjects, and the flexibility of time both in and out of the "classroom".  I was also a bit discouraged with the industrial education system, but I am not opening that can of worms today.  To cultivate a culture of learning while working full-time, we have firm boundaries; we say "no" to a lot of extra stuff so that we can say "yes" to the learning lifestyle in our home.  We feel called to this lifestyle so we do not feel guilty about putting this mission field above all other things.  We school non-traditionally throughout the week, and sometimes Saturdays.  If we’re not schooling, we take a field trip on Saturdays, but always rest on Sundays.  Because we have such flexibility, we also school throughout the summer.  I thought initially my kids wouldn’t like that, but it turns out, we all appreciate the structure and atmosphere of year-round schooling. 

Our approach to homeschooling is, what I would call, a hodgepodge: a combination of Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Classical, and Waldorf. I tend to lean more towards the natural side as far as units & manipulatives. I typically choose natural fibers over plastics or sounds. I like to leave a lot of room for the imagination to blossom. And, of course, I turn to books and I schedule in a lot of time for reading.  Scheduling all of this was a little overwhelming at first, but we have established our rhythm and I will share with you what is working for us now, though always subject to change, and I still have so much to learn.
My husband works in the oil and gas industry and works very long hours.  I am a university professor with an unusual schedule.  While I do work full-time, I do not work traditional hours, which provides me flexibility with my time.   Every morning I am up at 6 am, to get myself ready for the day, prep breakfast, read something for myself, and answer emails.  The kids get up at 8 am, are dressed, and head to the kitchen for breakfast.  During breakfast I read the Bible, we practice our memory verse, sing a hymn, and then read a story for something that we are learning about.  These activities are standard for every morning, but from this point on, our days differ.
When I am at the university during the week, we have someone at home with our children.  We call this recess.  After breakfast and our standard activities, the kids play a lot and are outside.  When I get home, we eat and then have what we call Book Day.  In our home, Book Days include getting into my bed, or curled up on a blanket on the living room floor, and spending the afternoon reading aloud over piles of books pertaining to whatever we are learning at the time (insects, music, the solar system, etc.) or just something that we really enjoy.  Our Book Days are very relaxed and do not include a single worksheet, just books, discussions, and sometimes tea.  This has worked well for us because it is scheduled time for reading that reinforces the content we are covering.  We all expect those afternoons and look forward to them.

On other days when I'm not at the university in the morning, after breakfast we have Morning Basket.  This basket isn't really a basket anymore.  It used to be, but now it is more like a bunch of activities that are sprawled out on the kitchen counter for me to quickly grab that I set up the night before.  While still at the breakfast table, we spend 1-2 hours going over activities that are mostly review, fun, hands-on, and highly engaging activities (mostly from our book club subscription or pertaining to a current event or holiday).  Each child has their own activities but we are all working together.  Around 10:30 am the kids get up to have some free play while I clean up the kitchen from breakfast and morning "basket".  Around 11:15 am we have Book Time.  This is always on the living room floor around a bowl of popcorn.  First, I read a picture book aloud to the kids, and then we have quiet reading time with our own stack of books.  I set a timer for 10 minutes for quiet reading time.  When the timer goes off, if we’re all still okay (with our little wiggles) we keep going.  When I first started this exercise, I did small 5-minute increments (because, toddlers), but now we do 10-15 minutes, and usually go up to about 50 minutes of quiet reading together.  We do this about 3x a week.  I like this because I actually get to read, my kids get to SEE me reading, & they get quiet time to flip through their own books.
After our reading time, my youngest goes down for her nap, and then I work one-on-one with my son in our school room.  This is the time during the week where new concepts are introduced, where we work on language arts (phonics, reading, handwriting, word families, comprehension, sight words, etc.), math (comparisons, addition/subtraction, time, money, counting, etc.), science (the solar system, life cycle of a frog, nature exploration, etc.), social studies (the pledge, geography, etc.), and the arts (music & art).  Around 3pm, he goes to my bed for a quiet time, where he will sleep, rest, or read a book.  I quickly clean up his schooling, and pull out what I have prepped for my youngest.  She is only 3, so her schooling right now revolves around a book and we cover numbers, phonics, & art mostly.  A lot of her school is hands-on and active.  Right now, schooling for my kids, and introducing new concepts is conducted one-on-one.  I know that will not always be the case, but that works best for us right now.
After rest time and one-on-ones, we all come back to the kitchen table for tea time.  This always includes art, poetry, and cookies. This lasts about 20-30 minutes, and then the kids are ready for some free play while I cook dinner.
After dinner, my husband usually comes home and there is wrestling, golf or tennis in the backyard, something physical and....... loud lol  Then it's bath, book, and bed time.  My kids are in bed at 8 pm.  We live away from family and do not have free childcare, so it is essential that we keep strict bed times so that I can see my husband and have conversations with him.  Monday nights are our check-in nights.  We always schedule this time.  It isn't a formal meeting, but it is a time where we check-in with each other.  We have to be very intentional with our time and this "scheduled" time has worked well for us and kept our marriage healthy.  Other evenings during the week, I will usually watch a show with my husband before he heads to bed around 9:30/10, or I teach a night class.  But when the house is quiet late at night, I am in Go Mode.

I don’t think I have always been an introvert, & I don’t think I will be one forever; however, in this season of my life, while homeschooling my young children and working, I am an introvert. I don’t get a lot of time alone where I can refuel, & I really need it. The only time that I have found to refuel is when the world is sleeping. So I stay up late. Like really late.  I would rather be sleep-deprived & sane, than rested & crazy. (sidebar- I attribute my ability to work on little sleep to doctoral grad school). I see bedtime for my house as “second morning” for me.  I stay up late because I want to answer emails for students, update lectures, prep classroom activities, edit manuscripts, read scholarly journals, prepare advising materials, to zone-out, to read a book, to be creative & write a blog post, to mindlessly scroll through Facebook, to enjoy the silence, to laminate, or to prep the next school day in peace.  I find the evening is when I'm most productive with preparation for school but also for my own mental health.  I typically head to bed around 2 am.

After a day, whether it was a day I was at school or a day where I was at home schooling, I have found that no matter what, I am educating.  I am leading and teaching All. The. Time.  I don't think it is something that I'm perfect at, but it does come natural to me.  It is something I have been called to do and thus I work hard at trying to be better and to serve more.  I have great peace using the gift God gave me.

I never imagined that I would be a homeschooling mother.  I never imagined that I would be a working mother while juggling homeschool.  Sometimes I think I’m crazy to try and do it all.  But then.  But then.  But then, there are those moments, where I see my children flourishing, and loving the learning experience, and choosing to linger over subjects because it brings them joy and they want to.  And then I am encouraged, and I know that it isn't just about what I want, but what our family is called to do right now.  I know that we have made the right decisions to be jugglers. With a huge dose of patience, a dash of flexibility, a deep desire for elaborate learning and critical thinking, and a colossal quantity of Jesus, we are thriving accidental homeschoolers, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.
xoxo Darby
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