I can still remember the visceral reaction I had on the tour of our neighborhood public elementary school like it was yesterday. My son and I had spent his first 5 years playing freely in our backyard, making art, building inventions and making messes in our shared maker space, going on hikes and long beach walks with our hiking group and developing long lasting friendships through our mom group. We were members of the zoo and the natural history museum, spent countless hours exploring at the beach, and visited the library every single week to borrow piles of books and hang out with other kids at Lego Play. He’d learned and grown so much through how we lived, I struggled with the idea that this transition into a formal academic environment was necessary. I cried when I got home.
Then as the summer stretched on, I settled into the idea of sending him off to Kindergarten. I focused on how great it would be to walk to and from school since it’s so close by, how small and cute the school was, and how it had a native garden right out front. I got excited about pursuing a creative business in my time that would be freed up. He got excited about computer lab and couldn’t wait to learn more about science. I signed him up, took the obligatory first day of school photo on the front porch and sent him off with his PB&J punched in the shape of a heart.
In the early weeks, I watched him gain confidence and independence. He was doing well with his school work, his teacher raved about his kindness and willingness to help others and he had lots of new friends. But he was coming home exhausted, angry and emotional every day and didn’t want to do anything but collapse onto the couch and watch tv. He’d cry to me that he was so excited to learn science, but nothing they did was fun. He didn’t like art because they always told him what to make. He hated worksheets. He hated writing. The pressure to read was frustrating and attempting to get him to do his homework was out of the question. He’d lost his spark and I couldn’t bear it anymore. I considered pulling him out and had extensively researched homeschooling at this point, and then the pandemic hit.
It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from there but kiddo was home. He had space to sleep in, decompress and choose how to spend most of his time. I made an effort to support him through distance learning and set up a colorful little corner for him, but it didn’t take long to see that it wasn’t worth the fight or the tears. I didn’t hold the belief that he would fall behind and felt confident he was right where he should be. We officially became homeschoolers.
During those long days at home, he discovered a love of audio books and would spend hours just laying on the floor with a blanket listening to his favorites over and over. I read The Indian in the Cupboard aloud (a childhood favorite of mine; did anyone else dream about filling the cupboard with My Little Ponies??!!) and we built a miniature model of the tee-pee described in the book. We drew pictures, built puzzles, played board games, re-created Lego Masters at home, explored kitchen science, baked, camped in our living room watching a live eagle cam, and spent many hours playing video games together – designing our Animal Crossing Island and building our Stardew Valley farm. I didn’t require him to read or write in the beginning. We just read aloud, played and spent quality time together.
After a few months, we were ready to incorporate a new resource into our homeschool, so based on his love of audio books I purchased the modern secular literature based curriculum, Build Your Library. I love the simplicity, it’s affordable and can be done with a library card, a printer, a small stack of books that can be purchased online and an internet connection. We started with Level 0 Around the World and had the best time making our passports together.
It was such a natural continuation of what we’d been doing. No drilling phonics or math, no expectations other than spending time together exploring new places and ideas through good books and hands on activities. Life was good, we were loving learning together and we’ve never looked back!!