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Embracing the Freedom

I am an unusual homeschooling parent in that I work AND homeschool my children, and on top of that, I am a teacher. I have heard it all and most of the time it comes down to only a couple of things people are perplexed by, 1) why don’t my kids attend a local school/how come we homeschool, and 2) how do we homeschool, because, um, I work! Actually, I think more and more it’s that last question I get asked most often. I’ve always been pro-homeschool and always had a feeling we would do it, and in fact my first child was homeschooled before he was even old enough to go to school because frankly, he was always wanting to learn, and being a teacher, I could tell it was more than just enjoying us reading to him at night. My home has always been an education rich home, and when my kids were babies, I was still in school, finishing teaching credentials, and then certificates and my master’s. My kids grew up seeing me learn and doing prep work and school work, and talking about learning and you know kids, they want to do what mommy is doing! We had word walls, everything was labeled, and we watched PBS and sang songs and answered every question asked with a complete answer, even if that meant we ended up at the library, or doing experiments and all the other things we “had to do” to get the answers that satisfied. Well, because both my husband and I worked, and even though all of my children did always enjoy “homeschooling” even if they went on to school, eventually our kids attended a private Christian school in town. Honestly, I am forever grateful for all of those experiences and the people that came with it. But one day, our beloved school was coming to a close, as many Christian schools have been forced to do across our country. We signed up for a local brick and mortar charter, mostly in an effort that my children stay in touch with their friends, that was their choice. By this time, many years had passed and I was also now divorced and raising my children all alone. My youngest, then ten and in the 5th grade, and a 7th grader, (who’d actually been pulled for homeschooling the previous year that was intended to be only for a year) and an 11th grader. The brick and mortar charter did NOT work and within three weeks the kids asked me to let them just homeschool. So they did not go back! Being a teacher, I knew I had this, but we had to figure out the how since I would be gone five days a week. I determined our curriculum, mostly ABEKA for my girls, which I loved, and I was quite familiar with high school curriculum since I have been teaching 11 and 12th grade for years, for my son! To be frank, we started by me micromanaging every hour, by text and the notes I’d left for them and the status I’d expected when I got home. Each child had a notecard with the daily expectations, page numbers and everything. I won’t say this was bad, but homeschooling the three kids was quite different than schoolin one and having a daily plan was what they’d know and what I knew. It worked for many months, they’d spend a few hours working on independent work daily and what used to be homework time when they went to school simply became the time we needed to work together on math and discussions and revising our work in the evenings. BUT, BUT, BUT…. BUT!!!!!! Then I had an accident and it involved a brain injury for me, requiring I take off work and just recover. I could not talk right, or remember things and sometimes, many times, I was too tired to just make dinner, or do really much at all. Man, my kids stepped up and took care of things. I’d taught them earlier in the year to cook and they cooked when I couldn’t and after about two weeks, after the shock and distress of my accident, they began to take control of their learning. It started with my notes that I’d laid out for the entire year at the beginning of the year. We started with my attempts to sit with them to just make weekly goals, hoping they’d do their work and help each other. But that was the evolution! They continued their accountability without my micromanaging, started making their own adjustments, tutoring each other, doing what I used to do for them “as their teacher” in starting discussions with me while I listened and tried piping in as I could, and they started finding their own resources to add to the books and topics, and to make projects to demonstrate what they knew. We finished the year and, with some changes (hotels only, no more camping), we still made our road trip that we’d been studying around and planning for all year, 23 states across the USA based on their studies and itineraries. As we planned for the next year, the change that was actually an evolution we weren’t aware of at the time, the kids were involved in what they were going to learn for the new year. We moved to a more ““free-schooling homeschooling” method in that we have a curriculum that we basically follow, I have standards and expectations for all such as learning our math without tears, learning to learn not to say we covered it, and throwing things to the wind and getting side-tracked when interests take over like more travel opportunities. This year, my son, just barely turned 17, started at a community college having graduated last May. He wasn’t ready to go away to school even though he could easily attend the school he wants a couple of hours away. He did just fine having had EAP scores that tested him straight into the college level courses. My girls came to me at the end of last year when we’d made a family decision to continue homeschooling but to leave another charter, (the one we’d homeschooled through before) since that school would now force my now 9th grader to participate in basically an online education and pacing guide. I knew this was not a fit for us nor what we had in mind as our homeschooling method. Rather than accept the change they wanted to place on us, we found Inspire. My girls have been so active, reminding me of my college experience, in planning and choosing what they wanted to learn and being quite vocal about it! They bring to me ideas, samples and resources they want to order. And I fly things by them, complimenting what they want with what I know they’ll need to know to get where they’re going. Even better than the collaboration I get to do with my coworkers, we found a mix of curriculum to support all the ideas of what they want to learn and the experiences we want as a family. Honestly, will they get it all done in a year? I don’t know, it really is much more than I’d have planned for them. But really, it doesn’t matter. I know that they are motivated to learn, they take initiative, they plan their time and collaborate with each other for help before asking me. We don’t manage time so much anymore and I know for a fact we accomplish more education in a year than most of the students I know in a public school setting. We don’t know weekdays vs. weekends, any day is a school day. Any hour has been available for school work (um, we are all late night owls and you’d be surprised how many times I have to tell kids to put the school work away and get to sleep) and despite the fact that I work, to receive a text from one of my kids with a “quick question” actually fits in with everything I’m already doing. Lastly and most fun, anything we go “do” is a field trip and since we planned and took that trip across the US, brain injured mom (mostly recovered by then), and her Number Two (my son, the now navigator), dog and all, we’ve become addicted to going to experience life! Ok, I started this blog with intent to support others who might work and wonder if they can homeschool. Yes I work, and I am quite busy sometimes, and tired--did I mention even after you heal from a brain injury, you’re quite tired more often than what I used to be? But when you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work, it doesn’t always feel HARD. I have been so blessed to have a situation that works for us, and children that grew into themselves. They are still kids, being silly and even bratty at times, though not often, but I see very few concerns. If my children had been any younger, would we have gone to homsechooling? I don’t know, maybe we’d have still found a way. Daycare, and homeschooling in evenings and weekends? Guess what, when you homeschool, the rules you think you have to follow are only in your head! Break out, think of all the hours there are in a week, in a month, in a year and decide when and how on your own! Find a routine that works. I am happy in that I know everything about my children. I was their first teacher and I continue to be their best teacher! They know that I don’t consume myself with what they have done by the time I get home. Instead, I’m quite sure that they know my most greatest priority for them is that they are just happy. And every homeschooling family that I know seeks just that for themselves, a happy family.

Natalie Valles is an Inspire parent.

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