(Benjamin shows off one of his many fearsome LEGO creations)
Some of the most frequently asked questions I get from readers are about why and how we’re homeschooling our kids. Currently, we’re only officially “schooling” one child–our oldest, Benjamin, age 5. But I thought I’d share a bit about why we choose to teach him at home and what exactly we’re doing.
Why Are We Homeschooling?
Daniel and I were leaning toward homeschooling when our firstborn was an infant but, as he grew, we became more firmly convinced that it was the right path for our family and particularly for him. Now, toward the end of his second year of “preschool,” we’re really happy with how it’s turned out. Our reasons for homeschooling are extensive and teaching our children at home just fits with our personalities and family situation at this point in time. I’m not saying it’s the right choice for every family or that we’ll homeschool each of our children every year, just that it’s the right choice for our family right now.
I can imagine our oldest daughter in a conventional school setting (it’s unlikely that we will send her, but I can IMAGINE it playing out). She is relaxed, methodical, and eager to please. She would probably thrive in many different educational scenarios. But our son….well, not so much. He’s a five-year-old boy with unfathomable energy. He can. not. sit. still. By that you probably think I mean that he won’t sit still…..NOT SO. He cannot sit still. Most nights he falls out of his chair at the dinner table because….well, I’m really not sure what he’s doing….except that he’s not sitting still. The child needs to MOVE.
He’s also quite a talker. While his sister can sit meekly, he cannot. He asks questions all day. Truly, it’s a constant mind-bending stream of curiosity: “Why is Sauron an eye? Is he good or bad? Why is he bad? What does he DO that’s bad? Why did he do that?” or “Are all snakes with hoods poisonous? How much venom do they have? One drop or a TON?! Do we have Cottonmouth’s in Florida? What kind? When they bite are they bad, or just being snakes?”
He is five. He is supposed to be learning about the world with his incredible God-given curiosity all day every day. But honestly, by the end of the day I am mentally exhausted from trying to answer all the questions. I cannot imagine him sitting in a classroom bursting with a thousand questions that he simply cannot ask because there are a dozen (or many more) students needing to be taught. If he asked every question he wanted to ask, he would be monopolizing the teacher’s attention for the whole school day and that’s understandably unacceptable. There are other students. Talking all day just won’t work. But my concern is that his natural curiosity would be discouraged in order to make a conventional classroom run smoothly. Or worse, that he would start to think his (honestly, sometimes annoying) curiosity was a bad thing, or that he was a bad student because he couldn’t sit still and be quiet.
Some might argue that sitting still is a skill he needs to learn at some point. That’s fine, but we don’t think age five is that point. Right now, all we require is that he is quiet and still during Mass. It’s hard for him, but after five years of practice, he does very, very well. The rest of his hours, he’s free to wiggle. We are sure that he will learn to sit still for longer periods of time as he gets older, just as he has developed the same capability over the years at Mass.
Another attribute that makes him challenging to educate is that he is not a people pleaser. He is a strong-willed child with an intense internal drive. He loves to learn, but it needs to be his idea, at his own pace. It would be like pulling teeth to have him in a conventional classroom. Now, there are AMAZING teachers out there who can work incredible classroom magic. But, for my son, I really can’t imagine a better learning environment than having access to the outdoors all day to run out all that energy, along with unlimited access to an adult (me) who can help him channel his overwhelming curiosity. Because he is my only student I can answer his questions, and because I’m his mother I will still love him after answering question #2,879 of the day.
In my opinion, for preschooling at home, there are only three things that are essential:
Access to the outdoors, access to books, and access to a parent.
Of course, I’m not a structured sorta gal. We have a weekly rhythm, but not a rigid schedule. When the baby’s asleep and little sister is coloring, Benjamin and I will do some “school.” But typically learning is just woven into our day and rarely shows up as sitting down at the kitchen table with pen and paper (this will change somewhat as he gets older).
Although, there are many things I was excited about teaching him this year, I really only had one primary goal for Benjamin: helping him move toward literacy. He just turned five and he was showing us that he was ready to start reading. But we I also knew that unless it was his idea, he would dig his heels in. So, we didn’t push it (and I’m really glad we didn’t.)
Here’s the curriculum we used this year:
26 Letters to Heaven by Sarah Park. This is a Catholic preschool curriculum that we used as a jumping off point, primarily for it’s fantastic picture books lists (no twaddle!). We’re on Letter “T” right now. We rarely do the activities, but we always order the books from the library and that has given us just enough structure. You can read my review of the curriculum if you’re interested!
We also started using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons in the late Fall. Y’all I LOVE this book. When it arrived, I was concerned because it looks a little boring. But, to my surprise, Benjamin thought it was awesome! We’re a third of the way through the book and Benjamin is taking off with reading 5 and 6 letter words. It’s phonics-based and I LOVE it. Now that he’s very familiar with the sounds letters make, he is starting to read things everywhere we go and that is just so exciting!
But we did hit a snag with Teach Your Child early on, though, because Benjamin didn’t want to do the letter writing practice at the end of each lesson. He was so indignant about it that I let it go for a time because I didn’t want reading time to become a chore. Then a friend in a nearby city with a homeschooling little boy just a little older than Benjamin asked if the boys could be penpals. This did the trick! He was so excited about sending and receiving mail that all his stubbornness about practicing writing his letters disappeared and he’s been excited to practice since then.
We just started memorizing the Scripture verses in 26 Letters and practicing copying out the words. He also likes making everything from birthday cards to grocery lists and I’m just jumping on that enthusiasm while it’s here.
We’re also using a Montesorri-inspired home catechesis curriculum by Moira Farrell and the kids really like that, too, although it’s a bit over Lucy’s head, as she’s only two and it’s designed for ages 3-5.
But most of the time, we just play, talk, bake, do read alouds, etc. And I think that’s just how it should be.
If he continues at the rate he’s going, now, he’ll be reading without assistance by this summer which will open up a whole new world to him. We will start incorporating some basic math (I’ve heard great things about Life of Fred), keep tending his little raised bed garden for science, keep listening to a ton of read alouds, and perhaps start some fun history here and there. But still, at age five I think little boys should be climbing trees, digging in the dirt, and building LEGO, and asking questions.
I hope that little run down was helpful to some of your who are in the same boat and just starting out like we are! Veteran homeschoolers, feel free to share your wisdom in the comments!