Before our daughter, Zoe, was even born, we had decided to homeschool our child. My husband, Taras, had been the first to mention homeschooling to me. He loved the idea, and the more I researched it, the more I did, too.
We started by meeting other new homeschoolers when Zoe was four years old (she is eight now). Some of the people we met then are still her friends today. Our days looked much like kindergarten: lots of playtime, reading, and teaching numbers, letters and early reading skills.
For the first few years, every spring and fall, a friend of ours ran a “forest kindergarten” for the kids. We called it the Forest Garden. We would go to an outdoor spot, with a cabin that we could use occasionally. We were there in all kinds of weather — rain, snow and sun. We would bring lunch, sometimes with items to cook over a campfire, go for hikes, do crafts, teach the kids about trees, seasons, animals – plus there was a tire swing and “climbing tree” in the forest. It was idyllic. The kids got plenty of fresh air and free play, and witnessed firsthand the changes in the forest over the weeks. The adults got to know each other, and over time, friendships developed. People came and went from the Forest Garden, but a core group of about 10 kids remain, and they are now some of my (and Zoe’s) closest friends. I literally couldn’t homeschool without their friendship and support.
And speaking of friendship, the most common question homeschoolers get asked is: What about socialization? My friends and I always smile at this one. Socialization is one of the last things we worry about. My daughter takes martial arts twice a week and musical theatre three times per week. She meets with her homeschooled friends at least once a week, usually more often.
She has cousins she sees regularly, comes to work with me sometimes, and is pretty much comfortable with anyone and in any situation. It’s more of a challenge for us to have an entire day at home for schoolwork than it is for her to have enough social activities.
Some homeschoolers spend hundreds of dollars on an all-in-one curriculum to teach their children. Others use no curriculum (known as unschooling) and simply follow the kids’ interests, trusting that by the time they are older, they will have covered all the basics. (That may sound crazy, but Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project was unschooled until Grade 6). My approach is somewhere in the middle. I insist that Zoe learn “the three Rs” but I love how I can teach whatever she is interested in and tailor the approach to her learning style.
These days, a typical school day for us doesn’t involve hours of sitting at a desk doing work, but it is more structured than when she was younger. We get up whenever we wake up in the morning, usually
before 8. My husband and I both work from home most of the time, so the flexibility of homeschooling suits us as well. We have breakfast, she might play on her iPod while I check email, then we get started. Math, reading and writing (including cursive) happen every day, and we alternate other subjects on other days of the week. Music and science are her favourites, and we also cover history, geography, art and French.
By the afternoon, we are usually done with schoolwork, so she is free to play, come on errands with me or go somewhere else so I can get my work done! I’m fortunate that my husband, my parents and my mother-in-law can all hang out with Zoe and help her with her schoolwork while I work. It’s a constant juggle, but it’s worth it.
One day a week we do a group lesson with the other homeschoolers. It could be anything from learning about birds or artists to a lesson on mindfulness and meditation. In nice weather, we always choose outdoor activities, usually a forest walk with nature journals.
For our family, homeschooling is a luxury. The luxury of time that we have with Zoe. The luxury of flexibility to teach according to her abilities and interests. The luxury to go to museums, or even fun things like Great Wolf Lodge, when everyone else is at work or school — we save money and avoid lineups!
In a world in which most kids are simply gone from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. every day, I feel lucky to have Zoe with me for that whole time. The years have gone quickly since she was born, and she seems more grown up every day. There may come a time when she will want to go to school, perhaps in high school when peer relationships become even more important. But for now, I know I’m blessed to share this experience with her.