Freedom to Roam

Segues – A Benefit of Homeschooling
written by Irina Gallagher

It’s Monday again and, for the first time in several weeks, instead of squeezing school lessons haphazardly into our day, I spent a large portion of the weekend planning and writing out plans for each third grade lesson that we would finish during the first part of this week. My intention at the beginning the current school year was to plan more effectively than last year so that my daughter, who tends to be much more interested in her own projects than schoolwork (so say we all), can have more visual/list-based cues that could help her stay on task. My plan was working brilliantly until our family became so busy with Fall activities that I lost my planning momentum.

This week would be different. With my planning, I would get us back on track and regain our far gone momentum. During breakfast, we read a Social Studies lesson about Elissa (Dido) of Carthage that would be the starting point to a day’s worth of Social Studies lessons. Afterwards, we went on a walk in our neighborhood to diffuse the grumpy, snippy mood in which we all awoke. My daughter and I were trying to figure out what kind of daily rhythm would be most conducive to both the completion of school work and to time for her numerous personal projects. But, that short stroll changed all my fruitful planning without intending to do so.

We noticed that some native wildflowers had started blooming and this lead to the collection and plant identification of 7 different species of wildflowers in our neighborhood. The tiny blossoms and their gentle existence changed the course of our week. We spent the entire day looking through regional plant guides and making field notes and sketches of our native plants. This seemingly small segue is actually a huge part of homeschooling. This is ultimately the ability to roam; it is one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling.


PSA to Homeschooling Skeptics

Written by Irina Gallagher

KiteAfter a busy summer spent with family and friends near and far, we have just finished the first month of second grade. I’m so excited about the beginning of this school year. We’ve accomplished a lot during the last several weeks – cultures have been explored, paintings have been drawn, kites have been made, books upon books have been devoured. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of empty libraries, parks, museums, and beaches, we are also back to homeschooling commentary from well-meaning and, in some cases, outright critical members of our community. In the summer, no one cares much to ask about your child’s schooling, but as we return to our extracurricular activities and find ourselves out in the world during regular school hours, we encounter our share of remarks on the subject.

Over the last several weeks I have been a part of too many of these interactions. The latest was with a woman who was very concerned about how many hours per day we spend on school, how I examine my daughter’s progress in any given subject, and how we socialize. It’s fine to ask these questions; I can safely say that a majority of homeschooling parents don’t mind being asked about our schooling logistics. I think most of us are eager to talk about our homeschooling lives; after all, this is an enormous part of our time. What we do care about is that when we’re asked how we choose a curriculum, how we report our kids’ progress to the school board, what our days look like, and the deluge of other questions that we are confronted by regularly, that people do so without implying that we could not possibly be capable of teaching our own children and that our children are severely lacking something crucial by being homeschooled.


Note to Self: Homeschooling Edition

Written by Irina Gallagher

ComparisonThis week, we survived the first week back to school after a long holiday break. This marks the beginning of the second half of the school year in our household. As the semester moves forward and we imminently edge closer to the “Have we done enough?” stage of the year (or May, for short), I thought that it might help my future May self to have a few reminders jotted down in which I can later take a bit of comfort, or perhaps more like a list of homeschooling goals for the remaining five months.

Dear homeschool-teaching self,

  • You’re doing great.
  • Keep trying to chill the f*** out. In all realms, really, but in homeschooling especially. No one is benefiting from your freak-outs. Also, congratulations on losing your composure less. Those B complex and magnesium supplements seem to be helping. You’re the poster child for patience and serenity. (Maybe by May this will be true.)
  • Realize that everything you don’t accomplish in your scheduled plan isn’t a failure; it’s a lesson in the complications, surprise opportunities, and unexpected nature of life. Count what you have achieved because of said “failure” rather than the “failure” itself.
  • Don’t compare your kid’s accomplishments with anyone else’s. So what if another kid is doing calculus in second grade? Good for them. Your kid has her own amazing capabilities. There is no need to be arrogantly defensive; other children’s successes have no bearing on those of your child.
  • Keep your scheduling in check. You know that your family needs to sandwich days of social, outside stimulation in between quiet days at home with no outside influences.
  • Pause at least once a day to reflect on how thankful you are to be able to homeschool and cherish the moments that wouldn’t be possible without this gift.
  • Don’t let people’s questions dampen your spirit. Every homeschooling parent has heard them, “How do you know that you are doing enough?” “How long do you plan on homeschooling? Surely there’s a limit.” “Aren’t you concerned about socialization?” Know that some people are asking with good intentions and from a place of positive interest, while those that ask in condescension clearly don’t know how awesome your homeschooler is. Spam them with some of the hard number infographics you’ve found on Pinterest of why homeschoolers are soon going to be ruling the world (basically).
  • Remind yourself constantly in spurts of “we need more extracurriculars” that you don’t need to boost your anxiety levels with extra activities, nor do your kids need to be dragged around classes-galore and on massive amounts of field trips. We are just not that family. It’s not in us genetically. Yes, of course, don’t miss incredible opportunities afforded to you. But don’t involve yourself just because you feel like every other family is participating more than yours in such endeavors. Just because there’s a field trip, doesn’t mean you have to go.
  • Contain yourself when you find the “perfect curriculum” that will carry your kid all the way through their entrance into college. Remind yourself of the last time you found the, ahem, “perfect curriculum” and decided to go all in, spent loads of money, and decided – upon further consideration with all parties involved – it wasn’t so perfect after all. Don’t commit to years of something. It’s not practical and it’s ill-fitting to your homeschooling style.
  • Remember that your strong-willed kid arguing with you endlessly about not wanting to write (or equivalent), is just a prequel for when she uses that steadfast brain of hers to do something absolutely extraordinary in the world. That tenacity will be most warranted then.
  • Don’t give up. Take a break, step away, reassess, and remember that changing your mind about your homeschooling approach or homeschooling in general is allowed. Don’t make any rash decisions after a particularly hard days.
  • Enjoy it. Even the absurdly difficult days. Like everything else in parenting, this time is very short-lived. Enjoy it.
  • Buy wine. (Magnesium will only take you so far.)

Vacation School

Written by Irina Gallagher

Anna Maria Island SunsetI am a firm believer that experiences leave much bigger impression than do textbooks, so when we embarked on the homeschooling journey with our eldest kid a year ago, I told myself that field trips were a must. How much do you remember from textbooks or worksheets as opposed being “in the wild”? I’m guessing that the ratio is heavily weighted towards getting more memorable information from the real-life experiences of field trips.

My husband was lucky enough to live in Germany for a couple years as a kid. For his fifth grade trip, Dan’s teacher orchestrated a series of fundraisers so that her students could go to Holland for a week. Holland, people, HOLLAND. More than twenty years later, what do you think is one of Dan’s most prevalent school memories? It wasn’t his history textbooks that glorified Columbus, it wasn’t the hundreds of math worksheets, or any of the busy work. A school experience which he remembers more vividly than most was that fifth grade trip to Holland. Understandably so, how can a worksheet leave the same impression as stepping into Anne Frank’s hideaway? A weeklong field-trip to Holland is certainly not feasible for us currently, but we work with what we have and we savor the small field trips to parks, nature preserves, and science centers, because they absolutely still count.