I love my work as a family photographer: the fascinating people I meet, playing around with lighting and landscapes during the most beautiful time of the day, watching families love on each other, everybody tired and content from so much giggling when we finally head back to our cars.
“If you love your job it never feels like work.”
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown.
But “photographer” is just one of the many hats I wear (isn’t that true of all of us, these days, and don’t we wish we had as many brains as we had hats?!).
I am also a teacher...
of a very small classroom...
a classroom of two.
A comment I see again and again on social media is that there just isn’t a good option for schooling our kids this fall. So many parents do not feel comfortable sending their kids to in-person school, but feel ill-equipped to teach their kids at home.
When my daughter was a kindergartner two years ago, I felt a similar dilemma—not because of Covid-19, of course, but there were concerns that made me leery of sending her to the local public school. I couldn't imagine sending her off to school each day; I wanted more time to be together to help shape her character and decide what values would be the foundation of her education.
So, I went into homeschooling with a pretty confident understanding of the “why” but very little grasp of the “how.” Although I myself was homeschooled a few years, I did not remember the logistics of it; especially not of those early years. My memories are of climbing trees, feeding chickens and elaborate games of pretend—not of long hours spent under my mom’s watchful eye, which is perhaps exactly what I wanted for my own kids.
I had a few friends who gave me some wisdom for those first baby steps into homeschooling, and I thought I’d share the best of it here as an encouragement to those who are looking at this up-coming school year like the black hole, toward which they are being hurdled without any sense of control. That is exactly how I felt heading into our first year homeschooling, but we survived, even thrived, I’d say. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that you and your kids do, too!
1) Make a schedule
When we first started homeschooling, my daughter was experiencing a particularly challenging phase. She was what some folks would call a “spirited child” with very strong opinions about how things should be done. I was terrified that I wouldn’t have the strength to direct her or get her to respect me as her teacher. The best advice I received was to let go of that need for control and instead focus on being a guide, working towards her education alongside her. Our first step in that direction was deciding together what our school day would look like. Basically, we found that two blocks of the day worked best—a couple of hours in the morning focused on reading skills and a couple hours in the afternoon focused on math and science.
Here is the rhythm we eventually settled into:
Start the day with reading two books aloud, she picks one and I pick one (now that she’s reading, she reads one and I read the other).
Next is our reading curriculum. We really enjoy Sing, Spell, Read and Write because of the variety of learning tools: music, games, charts to mark progress, worksheets, assessments, easy readers, and even prizes for reaching certain levels. I usually let her choose our learning method for the day (although by the end of first grade, we did have several pages of the workbook left that we’ve had to keep working on through the summer. However, she reads incredibly well, and a little schoolwork in the summer is probably good for keeping her brain engaged).
Finally, we fill in the remaining morning time with Bible, Spanish or a reading from “What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know.”
Usually, while little brother naps, she and I focus on her math skills, again using a variety of methods—songs, video instruction from Math-U-See, flashcards, worksheets, games (Uno, Dominoes, Rummy, Monopoly, store, etc).
We discovered something called Mystery Science that we both love. It is online, and I worried it would be like a TV show, making the kids zone out, but it’s very engaging and provides lots of opportunities to pause and discuss, plus hands-on activities that really demonstrate the concepts in clever ways without a lot of prep or extra purchases.
Finally, we finish out the day with more reading. It seems silly to say so, but books really are the key. We routinely check out 2-3 huge bags of books, some that the kids select and some that I find for them. As you read more and more together, you quickly get a sense of your child’s level of understanding. There are also very helpful guides like Read Aloud Revival that can help you choose the best books.
2) Work on the floor
I was tempted when we started homeschooling to put an emphasis on order, and I envisioned something like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s schoolhouse: children with straight backs and perfect penmanship, etc. Instead, we never even made it to the kitchen table! In our house, all the homeschool stuff is stored in a treasure chest in our living room. We start the day by spreading it out on the floor around us and end the day by putting it back. The floor is where they are happy working, and just because I personally would think more clearly if things were neat and tidy doesn’t mean that’s true for them!
3). Be disciplined, gently
Like in many things, I find in homeschooling there’s a delicate balance between being driven toward success on one hand and following your intuition on the other. I find it helpful to keep a journal of what we’ve done each day, so I know how many days of school we’ve completed. This makes it easier for us to take a day off if someone isn’t feeling well or we have an opportunity to visit family. I am terrified of failing to educate my children, of them discovering gaps in their knowledge, but I push past that fear, clinging to the hope that if I give them ample opportunity and stay engaged, they will get what they need to be capable, responsible and contributing members of society.
This fall will probably be different from what any of us want, regardless of our situation. Much of this advice assumes that homeschooling is mostly what you will be doing. Even in my busiest season, my work as a family photographer is part-time, and I feel for those parents who are working full-time plus educating their children. Whatever your situation, please have grace on yourself, on your kids and on others as we all try to navigate this difficult season as best as we can.