Be a Fly on the Wall in a Homeschool Family Life

What is it really like to be in a homeschool family?

Naturally, this might look different in different families.

I was having a chat with another homeschool friend (who was previously a schooled educator), and it dawned on me, someone else might be curious about the transition my friend made from an enrolled distributed learner to a registered homeschooler. In a nutshell, what that means in our province of British Columbia is twofold…enrolled students are considered distance learners of the school system and so accountable to the educational system in hours and curriculum, and get funding money; whereas, registered homeschoolers tell register their children exist and declare they will provide an academic program for their registered kids and get next to no monetary return of their educational tax dollars.

Krina and I didn’t plan this interview. It began as an afternoon visit. There were eight kids’ voices playing a nerf gun war in the background.

be a fly on the wall in this homeschool family

So you have used the books you already purchased last year and you don’t spend as much money on curriculum in general?

Honestly, after the initial few years of homeschooling, I spent curriculum money because it was there. I would buy Emma’s yearly curriculum package but then I wouldn’t have to buy it for Sophie, so I would have all this extra money.

Instead, I bought books and books and books. I love books, so I would go to the Usborne representative and buy a bunch of books and they’d all be educational but not perhaps what was on the student learning plan. Or I would buy the Lego sets or whatever.  Needless to say, my shelves are very healthy and well-fed.

I have little need for much outside consumable math books and such.  I also find a vast majority of things on the internet and now especially off of Pinterest to keep us busy. And the library is always a pleasant place to go.

When I was at the high school meeting (at the local homeschool support group) what I was surprised to hear was that they’re trying to emphasize “do you know that you’re not really a homeschooler, that you’re actually enrolled, part of the school system?” Did you see yourself like that before?

I knew the difference fairy early on. I also used the distinction when I explained to people that we homeschooled. I would say that actually we are distance learners. I explained what that meant because it was easier for those outside homeschooling to understand and ultimately accept.

That was part of my motivation for a long time, to have people accept what I did rather than understand it, it was/is hard to step out and say, we homeschool.

Yes, it is. Cause people think you’re nuts.

It felt safer to say that we are affiliated with a school…yes.

I know. I use a lot of books. But I still buy more than what I need to every year because I’m not sure where we’ll be, but you will still see me buying stuff when I’m at the conference. I like books, especially Usborne books.

They’re so nice to look at.

What is the difference in experience from being enrolled to registered?

Slower pace. It feels likes we get to enjoy a more natural pace with our learning, rather than feeling like we need to hurry up, hurry up.

We need to get to the next level of math. “We need to get to this in so I can show this in your writing…stop writing this story that you’re interested in writing, and write me this essay. Get on the computer and do that assignment for your teacher.”

I felt like I was always taking away all those teachable moments…they’d get lost in the “must dos, have to haves”  because I was trying to meet the curriculum outcomes for four kids in different grades.

Whereas now, everything is about natural learning opportunities. If they all want to explore Horrible Histories, then I don’t have to say, “No, you have to go over there and do something required.”

When the kids were enrolled, I always felt so scattered. I could never stop to focus on one thing because we were always trying to accomplish four things at once.

I feel for the first time that I don’t have a split personality. I’m not being pulled in so many directions.  We’re learning as a group and it seems so natural. So much more restful for everyone.

Even with our spelling program we can work that into their writing; I finally understand homeschool bloggers who write about integrating studies. Whereas I never understood how that was done before. I’d look into “how to organize your homeschool day.” I’d read about it and go “that doesn’t work for me.” Nothing worked! How do I organize four homeschool programs at one time?

This is so much more what we (meaning mostly me) wanted. I always had in mind what homeschooling would be, and then there was what we were actually doing.

I felt like I was compromising their learning almost every day because I would be like “oh no, we need to do a worksheet on this so I can report that we did that.” Ultimately, I always felt like we were never accomplishing a single thing, but rather a hundred small disconnected things.

So what do you miss from being enrolled?

I don’t miss anything. Honestly, I don’t miss the money, I don’t miss anything.

What about the guidance…you always had somebody helping you or giving you ideas…

I never did. It never happened. I never got that. I don’t know if it was just my luck.

I always ended up with a teacher, a guider, a helper who had never homeschooled before. Or they didn’t have kids (and had therefore never homeschooled before). But they worked with homeschool families so that was supposed to be enough. It was always frustrating that they knew about kids and they knew about homeschooling, and I appreciated all that, but they didn’t know how the two things came together in the home.

If you have not lived in a house with your four (or one or two or nine) children, while trying to homeschool and you have this life challenge and that learning challenge and this kid and that kid, then you don’t know where I’m coming from. You don’t know my heart or what’s going on in my house. So to explain it all repeatedly is exhausting. They could only give “teacher” answers, which I know because I was a teacher and I went to teacher school and I know many of those answers already.

What I didn’t have was the “parent as teacher” answers because I am my children’s parent first, not their teacher first. This is a whole different place to be as an educator because your heart goes out to your children first and then the “eduction” part second.

I so wanted answers to those questions – I wanted my anxieties heard and understood first and teacher advice second. Often, because I have so much “teacher” experience already, I was told “you’re doing great, you’re doing great.” So I didn’t feel that I had an equal partner who could help me.

As a schooled educator, how do you see your homeschool experience contributing to an education for your children, versus what you were taught in school?

Oddly, when you’re trained to be a teacher, one of the mantras we’re taught is that “each child learns differently at a different rate at a different time.”

Ironically, you were supposed to take the thirty students in a classroom and teach each one the same things in preferably the same time frame. And that’s impossible. They’re actually teaching educators an impossibility.

You’re to teach each child individually in order to meet their individual needs but teach all thirty bodies at the same time. Of course I believed that individuals were unique learners and had different styles of learning, and needs for learning, and I realized very quickly that my children were not going to get that in a classroom.

So the thing I was taught in university is what brought me into homeschooling. At least I can meet the needs of my four children, right? Well, there is a greater chance. So I would at least be able to provide them with that.

Are you meeting that?

No, honestly. Because I still have four kids.

I do sometimes dream about what it would be like to have one child to home educate. Sometimes, I think that would be the dream job.

But even if you had that one child…

Because you still teach that one child according to your own point of view, not theirs.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what they were going to do when they were twenty? Then you could teach to that?

Yup, we could ‘teach to the test’ (of their grown-up lives).

If I knew one of them was going to be a mom, the most important thing I could teach them is to be patient.

Yes, and no. We have the advantage when at home to recognize their natural proclivities and what they love to do.

Emma, for example, is a natural reader/writer. Now that we’re registered, one of the things we do is have writing time from ten to eleven, allowing her time to formulate and write her stories. There is no better thing I could do then to give her that time on her own to do the thing she most wants to do.

Do you teach her grammar and spelling?

I don’t. She’s a natural speller and grammarian. If anything, she teaches me. Anything I would break down for her would just confuse matters. That’s what happened to me. I naturally knew what I was doing but if I broke things down, I doubted what I knew. I will give her assignments regarding novels she has read so to give her essay writing practice because she is more interested in creative writing – and she will indulge me with some of those.

Each of them has a proclivity toward something.

Emma continues that writing after her study time as well. Another thing she’s really passionate about is coding. Computer programming. Writing computer software games. And there’s lots of Khan Academy or MIT Scratch program for that. These are the basics on how to build programs. So she started with that and wanted more and I put her on to Khan Academy. Its applied math skills, basically learning another language; it’s problem solving. She’s the one driving it, not me.

Yes, each of my kids has different talents and interests.  It isn’t always as easy to pin point the “area of study” for them as with Emma.  But Sophie is spatially gifted.  She can form things out of cloth, clay, paper, lego, k’nex–without instruction.  She problem solves spatial problems in her head – she “sees” solutions.  This means she can draw especially well with little effort, all of which opens many avenues and opportunities for her in the future.

While Ineke is more detail-oriented and “beauty” aware – I am interested to see how this develops for her, but at present it just is and that is enough for now.  Solomon is hard to pinpoint still, he is quick in math and incredibly verbal.

So you follow their interests. What about geology or astronomy or chemistry or physics?

We’ve covered those in the past. But those topics get covered as part of our reading assignments. We meet many of those needs through videos, Netflix, Youtube. If they come up with a topic, we find appropriate things on Netflix and watch them. But part of their reading assignment is picking a non-fiction book a week and it’s their choice. Emma just finished reading an entire astronomy book. She just read Sir Isaac Newton’s biography. Sophie read the Usborne Introduction of Art book.

If it’s on her own, would you consider that entertainment or an education?

Self-education is the motivation that determines learning more than anything else.

Krina Ulmer, Homeschool Mom of Four

Back to what I learned at university and what I learned in education is that motivation influences learning more than anything else. If you are self-motivated to read about the things you are interested in, then you are going to learn more about it than if you’re told to read your science textbook on such and such a page. So you read it, but you don’t retain it. I feel my kids are learning well, because they’re actually choosing it for themselves.

Part two of this conversation is found here.

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