So there we stood. Knowing that we were withdrawing our kids from their school and still feeling the nerves as we tried to really dig deep in our research and figure out our approach to this whole educating-our-kids-ourselves thing. We have a child in 7th grade, 5th grade, 1st grade and Kindergarten. That’s a lot going on and to manage. Especially not knowing if we will ever be back in the public school system for high school. So we decided that we would take the first two weeks off. We would chill out. We would breathe. We would calm down from everything. And we would start fresh on October 1st.
We talked to the kids for the first few days. What had they liked about school? What did they not like? What subjects were the most interesting to them? What excited them? What were their goals and what did they want out of being “homeschooled”?
The day after we withdrew the kids, their first day just being home and decompressing, Blair came to me that afternoon as I worked in the studio and she asked if she was going to go to school the next day. I stopped what I was doing, pulled her onto my lap and explained to her that we weren’t going to be going back. “But Mom, I’m so bored. Can we do something?”
I told her to give me five minutes to wrap up what I was doing and then she and I would sit down and read together. And it was then that another wave of clarity hit me. The difference between my older children and Blair who was only a month into school. She hadn’t been dragged through years of grade chasing, test taking and the rest of the politics that can come from public school. She hadn’t seen the stressful parts yet. She wasn’t exposed to the negative parts of it all. Her brain was still fresh and unassuming and she has a joy for learning that is a natural human quality for all of us. I’m sure if I let her she would do workbook after workbook, read book after book because her natural curiosity is still intact. It hasn’t been chipped away at. Nothing has had the chance to wear it down yet.
There were two YouTube videos by Sir Ken Robinson I watched almost immediately when we were trying to make a final decision. And in fact, after watching these two videos, we knew that public school wasn’t the best thing right now for us. His first one and the most popular TedTalk to date is titled Do Schools Kill Creativity. And the second of his videos was another TedTalk titled How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. Incredibly insightful and right on the mark with the things that we have lost sight of over the years when it comes to the children and the generation we are raising. And it also completely validated all of the feelings we were having.
And then I came across Jenna Wright’s blog post about their ten reasons for homeschooling their five children. Like me, she never saw herself homeschooling until she and her husband met and she saw what that type of upbringing did for him. Her testimony of it moved me to tears as she spoke about having time with her children during their most critical and important years.
It was after watching those two videos and reading Jenna’s blog post that we knew not only that public school wasn’t for us, but also that homeschooling wasn’t for us. I didn’t want to jump from being in a classroom for endless hours each day to being at home doing the same thing which is the picture I have always had in my head of families who homeschool. We knew that our family would not be able to keep up and follow the structure that I knew of homeschooling. Back when I was a kid, the kids that were homeschooled started in the morning and worked through the whole day in the room that their mom had set up as a makeshift classroom. They had a chalkboard and tons of workbooks and basically kept the same schedule us schoolhouse kids did. And I knew it wasn’t for us. We would burn out. We would lose sight of the WHY we are making this huge change for our family.
And after more research, I was pleasantly surprised as to how much has changed in the world of homeschooling. Families are handling education within two to three hours each day and enjoying life for the rest of the time. Their kids are scoring higher, are doing more advanced things than they were doing prior. There are so many more resources and opportunities available. So while I knew what I didn’t want for us, I still didn’t know what I DID want.
There was unschooling which I knew was too radical for us. I mean, I’m a bit of a free spirit and we have an extremely creative family, but we had to still cover certain bases with not knowing if our kids will attend public high school or not. And plus, to be honest, I was still trying to adjust my thinking for outside of the picture of public education. There was no way I was going to be able to go as far as unschooling. All the power to those that do.
It was then that I came across Logan LaPlante’s TedTalk where he talked about hackschooling, a phrase coined by their family. To hear a 13 year old speak about all of the opportunities he is able to enjoy while still getting your traditional education? It was all I needed to know that hackschooling was for us. Still trying to come up with our own branded phrase. After all, it’s kind of what I do… wink!
I mean, I’ve been hacking life for the better part of 15 years. Didn’t go to college? No problem. I can teach myself how to run a business. Need to design a website for said business? No problem, I can watch a handful of YouTube videos and research to figure it out. Photoshop skills to further my career? Yep, I can teach myself. Why not the same approach for my children? If you haven’t read my manifesto yet, you can find it here. And it’s all about living creatively. Which means to go against the grain. To not waste any opportunities. To live a full life. This was just another time to put that philosophy into action.
We didn’t need a curriculum to follow. We needed to create our own. We needed to figure out what the kids want to learn about. What excites them. Build on areas where they are already showing passion. Teach them in real life situations and help them gain skills that will actually serve them later in adulthood. So that we can reinstill in our older children that same love of learning that our sweet Miss Blair has. Heck, so it can come back to Jarett and I. We should never stop learning and I have a strong feeling that he and I will be learning quite a bit.
So what does this look like? Well, today was only day three, but so far we have enjoyed morning scripture study and prayer as a family, we have taken the time to journal daily. The older kids have started on their first books. Owen has already learned how to do addition in a faster way and both he and Blair have re-learned how to write certain letters correctly because they were doing them backwards. All of the kids are working on better handwriting (that was honestly the first issue I wanted to take the time and tackle – go figure) and everyone learned more about money. What president is on each bill (a basic fact that all of us Americans should know, but neither Jarett and I got all of them right), the youngers learned what each coin is worth and the olders learned how to give proper change depending on the final total and the amount of money paid with. There’s a reason that all registers are digital and figure the correct change automatically for the cashier. Because we as humans are lacking some of the most fundamental things sometimes. Because public school either didn’t take the time for it or because we are relying too much on technology.
For math, the kids will be using Teaching Textbooks which we have heard amazing things about (and we are doing the physical textbooks and foregoing the online option – less technology for us is the approach we want to take). For english, I am simply covering the same principles they might in school, but giving them the freedom to approach things in their own way. For instance, learning how to keep notes in a bullet journal style approach to be able to write essays more efficiently and in a more organized way. Things you don’t have the freedom or time to discover while in school. And I am definitely having to dust off my AP English skills. Thank goodness I paid attention in those classes.
Owen wants to learn about the Grand Canyon so we have plans to dive into that and visit it later this year. Blake has always taken a strong interest in Photoshop so she and I will be sitting down once a week for me to teach her a basic principal within the software and my plan is for her to be editing my photos by summer. Tanner loves making and editing videos so we are going to work together so he can learn lighting, angles and better editing practices. Tanner also is looking into theater classes at the local organization and Blake will be attending monthly art classes to further her skills in different mediums. The older kids will also be a part of our church choir and all of them are very involved in the youth organization. Our family is extremely interested in history and we are going to dive into the American Revolution first. It doesn’t matter the age, we can all learn as a family. And the same goes for science which Dad has already lined up several experiments to do with the kids. We have also purchased memberships to our local zoo and science museum for regular outings and look forward to being able to have more getaways and small day trips to go discover new things. We are also looking for opportunities to serve our community in ways that we never felt like we had time for before.
While yes, our kids will be covering the same things kids their grade level are covering in public school (since we don’t know what will happen in the future and if they do go back for high school we want the transition to be easy), we aren’t saying no to something just because of their age. Or just because we are “supposed” to be working on something else. Everything is open to them. We are using everyday life and finding every teaching moment possible for them to not only learn skills, but to become the best individuals they can. And while we still have structure every day and there things we do every day (scripture study, journaling, creative writing, reading, etc), we also are enjoying the flexibility of having space to dive into anything we want. We are enjoying the time. We are enjoying the freedom.
Our hackschooling experience will look different than anyone else’s, but that’s because we are tailoring our education to fit our exact needs. To fit our exact interests and passions. And we will do this while living creatively. Because that’s what it is all about…
P.S. The outpouring of love, support and cheerleading has meant the world for this mama just trying to lead her family in the best way she and her instincts know how to do. Please know that it has meant the world. Thank you so much for everything.