We officially start homeschooling tomorrow. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, it means a decisive landmark in the journey that has gotten us here.
Eight years ago, a friend of mine talked about homeschooling. I thought she was nuts, for two reasons: 1. Our firstborn daughters were less than a year old; and 2. Only crazy people homeschooled. Public and private school were the two options on the table—a table that wouldn’t need to be built for several more years. Those days were filled with park play dates and coffeehouses, new moms’ group and Kindermusik.
Fast forward past private preschool to aforementioned daughter’s first full day of kindergarten at the local public elementary school. Her little brother and little sister watched Zahra get on the bus that picked her up at the front door. No tears were shed. Zahra was THRILLED to be going to school. And though she came home exhausted and complained that it was too loud, she made friends quickly and was so happy to go to school. Every day. Her teacher was a fun, loving presence in her life who helped sustain the love of learning in a girl who could read novels in preschool. First and second grades went, for the most part, without a hitch, with caring teachers who went out of their way to find ways to keep that little eager beaver interested in school.
When it became little brother’s turn to go to kindergarten, this mama was sooooo happy that he would also have Zahra’s beloved kindergarten teacher. And though Noah looked at me with terror in his eyes when the teacher led him into school for the first time, he bounded back out of the classroom later, shouting enthusiastically, “I want to do that again!” Of course, different children, different paths through kindergarten, different navigation skills. Noah didn’t jump on the bus with glee; he trudged up the steps. Noah didn’t win any good citizen awards; he struggled with different reward systems to control his impulsive behaviour. And on most days, when he walked in the front door after school, he walked straight through the house and out the back door to disappear in the woods behind our house for a good hour before he was ready to come back in. I walked sheepishly into that first parent-teacher meeting, only to walk out with my head held high. Same amazing teacher, I should have realized, who recognized Noah’s strengths, loved his sense of humour and was dedicated to helping him develop his social skills. He finished the year with many new skills and new friends.
But that same year, something else happened. I didn’t register little Leila for preschool. I had already started making my way through a stack of books, including How Children Learn, Weapons of Mass Instruction, and Why We Do What We Do. I had started poking around the internet, reading homeschooling blogs, joining homeschooling Facebook groups. I did sign Leila up for Kindermusik and an art class, but we spent most of our time at home together or riding bikes or visiting the local farm. We joined the local homeschool co-op and met some wonderful people who would become part of our community. We started our own little fruit and veggie buying co-op. I read everything I could get my hands on and found people to answer all my questions. I started to dream about what education could look like for my own children who still have that passion for learning and zest for life that I believe all children start with and that is part of our family culture.
We started to talk about it as a family. My husband Saïd and I talked about educational philosophy and how we wanted our children to spend their days, what personal characteristics we wanted them to develop, what values were important to our family. He was a hard sell at first, so I piled books on educational philosophy on every table in our home and sent him articles on how Ivy League schools were seeking out homeschoolers because they were mature and independent and knew how to take charge of their learning. He was slow to warm up, but lucky for me, he approaches any philosophical discussion with gusto and we spent countless nights exploring the merits and potential hiccups of homeschooling. He came around and was soon ready to field any questions from interested (or skeptical) bystanders. We talked with the kids about what they would like to learn, how they would learn it, how they would spend their time if they had more of it.
And before the end of that school year, it was official. We’re homeschoolers.
More than a year went into building this project. It took me a month to lay out the educational milestones we need to meet to appease the local school board and to plan how we’ll get there. It took me weeks to gather supplies. We put months into renovating our house so that we could squeeze an extra room out of the back of the garage and turn Saïd’s old office into a homeschooling room.
Will it last a year? Through elementary school? Until university? Only time will tell. This will be a year of discovery, for me as well as for the kids. We rarely say no to an adventure, and this is the best kind.
Speaking of that homeschooling room—which we’ve named the Work Room—a lot of blood, sweat and tears went in to making it the lovely space that it is today. So I’m pretty excited to show you pictures of it.
This shelving unit is full of raw materials for the kids to use for projects. We’ve opted for Project-Based Homeschooling to fill most of our time, so we have all sorts of materials on hand: crayons, coloured pencils, markers, paper of all thicknesses and colours, cardboard, foam, corks, pipe cleaners, clay, felt, fabric and more. The wire on the right will let the kids display their art projects.
That’s my table and the only piece of furniture that I knew I needed when we were still emptying the room of its previous contents. I picked it up at a secondhand store for $65 (score!) and completed it with a bench from IKEA and two extra chairs from my dining room table.
This shelf holds educational manipulatives (like our circuit boards and Cuisinaire rods) and preschool materials (many of which are from Montessori By Mom). We also have our board games here.
This hutch belongs to my favourite piece of furniture in our whole house: my dining room table. Since we don’t have room for a hutch in our kitchen, it has taken on a new life as a painting supply cabinet. My books on the shelf above and reference books on top of the hutch. More on that rock later.
It’s sort of an L-shaped room. Lots of light.
I predict it will stay in this immaculate condition for less than 24 hours. But isn’t that the point? In fact, before I could even finish putting the supplies in the shelves, they were taken out again and used to build an acorn village that spent a few days here before being relocated to the girls’ bedroom.
I love a fresh, new start. And while I will definitely miss that first-day-of-school excitement of finding one’s new teacher, arranging one’s school supplies in a new desk, I’m giddy with all the possibilities that our own new year holds as well.