Homeschooling our seven year old

I’ve had a few requests now, to blog a bit more about our homeschooling journey, so here goes….

I’ve known I wanted to homeschool my child since before I even got pregnant, so Jesse, who is seven, has never been to school. In many ways homeschooling feels like a natural extension of the care I’ve done for him since he was a baby. Every year it gets easier and more satisfying.

Since he was very little we’ve taken every opportunity to teach him things. I have always signed Auslan with him, including fingerspelling, and when we stuck a chart of letters on the fridge, it was easy to explain which letter corresponded to which fingerspelt letter. He learnt the alphabet easily. Once he showed a small interest in words, I made him up some word cards, and spent some time each day with him, arranging the words into sentences and getting him to read them out. He went off this after a while so we gave it a rest. He next showed interest in readers, and when he did I ran with that and we did readers every single day until he got the hang of them and could read by himself. A lot of my homeschooling efforts have been about grabbing a bit of impetus from him and taking it further.

Much of our homeschooling has happened through incidental conversation, such as the night when I was putting him to bed, and he asked “What is war?” Well that led to a very interesting bedtime story. It was just before ANZAC day, so we followed up by going to see the parade and have a look around the shrine.

We’ve also done a lot of lazy homeschooling, by telling ourselves that whatever he’s doing right now is education – playing with lego? He’s learning building, motor skills, organisation, etc. Reading? Well that’s literacy. A bike ride to the park and a play on the swings? Physical education.

When he was just 18 months old I had a great routine for a while, where I spent an hour each morning doing activities with him that were specifically focussed on him. We did stuff like playdough, drawing, yoga, etc. The benefit of this was it made me put aside my own activities and life busyness for a while, and actually get around to pulling out the paints or setting up activities that it’s nice for kids to do. But when we went travelling for 6 months we lost the routine, and didn’t really get it back, despite best of intentions and repeated efforts. He’d still do homeschool but it’d just happen whenever. We’d sometimes leave him a worksheet on the table, and he’d find it and dive in.

Having any kind of routine has felt really really difficult, since every time we’re in the swing of something, we go on tour and everything changes. Then we get back and we’re exhausted and it’s hard to reinstitute it. However, about five months ago, while we were on tour, everything changed. At that time we didn’t have a nanny, so we’d manage our shows by setting him up in the dressing room and I’d give him easy work to do while we performed. Something like practising handwriting or practising maths, which didn’t need input from me, but has to be done over and over to do well. I had a good system of worksheets, and I required him to work through a list of activities before he could do something he really wanted (such as open a new toy, or watch a DVD). I was aware he was only doing it for the bribe, but at least he was doing it. When we got home from tour I continued this (though with less emphasis on rote activities and more input from me), but the bribe switched to something like a trip to the pool. This went on for a couple of months, both on and off tour.

Then I got serious. I declared that now he’s seven, he has to do homeschool whether he likes it or not, rather than in exchange for a bribe. Well this was a tough transition period – before this, Jesse thought these activities were optional. And because they were, we put a lot of effort into making them really fun and enticing so he’d want to do it. And I think this is why we weren’t doing as much as we would, because it was so damned challenging for us! We had a lot of tears and tantrums around this time, but I stuck at it. Now after breakfast each day he does his homeschool, five days a week. If he skips a day because something’s on, we make up for it on the weekend.

I find it easiest to focus on a few areas at a time, rather than take on an entire balanced curriculum. I have been working on handwriting, drawing, guitar, and gardening. Paula’s been doing cooking, maths and history with him. He socialises plenty in the course of life. We go to the pool at times, we ride our bikes everywhere. We have numerous conversations about every aspect of life. Every now and then I need to do something like a family budget or a planting schedule for my garden, and I do it with Jesse. Just the other day he went through the oxfam catalogue and chose what “gifts” to buy for a set amount of money. He had to use the calculator and keep track of his “purchases”.

We do about three activities in a day, and depending on how much he farts around, it’s usually all over by eleven o’clock, sometimes as early as nine in the morning. I do my admin beside him while he practising handwriting, I wash the dishes while he’s practising guitar and so on, so it doesn’t take me THAT much time. We had another show down, at one point, because I wasn’t attentively focussed on him while he worked, but he eventually understood that it’s HIS homeschool, not mine, and he can only have my attention some of the time.

When Jesse isn’t being homeschooled, he’s generally reading, playing with LEGO, out in the world with us, or playing with another kid. He’s happy with that and so am I. He does a fair bit of life management though. He does daily routines that require him to make his own bed, water his gaarden and harvest from it, and tidy the house. Frankly I consider this to be homeschool too.

So – that’s our homeschool routine. If you asked me, theoretically, whether I believed in “Natural Learning” (where you don’t sit down and do “homeschool” but rather just let real life be the curriculum), well, I do. We’ve done a LOT of natural learning over the last several years, mostly because I’ve been too distracted to do anything else. Doing structured homeschool helps me to focus and follow through, and frankly I think the challenge and discipline suits Jesse and leaves him in a better state for the day. With another child it might be different.

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