Home Education

In the spring of 2023, my husband and I made the decision to transfer our boys out of public school. Our oldest son had been bullied and the situation escalated to the point where an extreme physical altercation occurred. Homeschooling was a calling for me long before the boys began their formal education and after much research and consideration, and a few, err, nudges from the universe, it was finally time to commit. We were fortunate enough to have a mostly supportive family network and resources that helped us transition fairly smoothly. And extremely fortunate to live in a state with simple guidelines to transition into homeschooling. Truthfully though, as a family of six, it wasn't always easy, and there were definitely moments of doubt and frustration, but we found our rhythm and discovered the joy of tailoring our children's education to their individual needs and interests. We also appreciated the flexibility of our schedule and the ability to incorporate real-life experiences into our lessons.

While our family did have some positive experiences within the public school system, it definitely wasn't the ideal fit for us. There are experiences and relationships that I deeply value that have come from our time spent in public school, but homeschooling was an appealing alternative I discovered in my early days of motherhood as I fantasized about raising my children on a homestead, growing our own food, exploring nature and watching my children learn and grow. I’ve spent many years in childcare settings, from babysitting neighbors as a preteen and working my first job as a summer camp counselor to nannying and presently, raising four of my own children. I knew I wanted to stay home with them while they were young, if I could, and I knew I wanted to be a really hands on parent.

To narrate the story of how I went from being a stay at home mom to two boys, living in a townhome, preparing to homeschool my almost 5 year old to a working, divorced woman living in a new town with those boys surviving, but definitely not thriving, in public school, to remarrying, becoming a mother of four and living my dream of homeschooling, homesteading, home-birthing and once again, primarily being a stay at home mom I would have to rewind time over a decade. However, this snippet sheds light on our past, the challenges we overcame, and how these experiences have influenced our perspectives and values in life.

After withdrawing our sons from school, we initially engaged in unschooling and a period of unlearning. Recognizing the importance of granting them a respite for several weeks or months, particularly with the impending arrival of our fourth child in July 2023, we intended to commence a structured curriculum in the fall but remained flexible to adapt as needed. The spring and summer hiatus for unlearning and recalibration proved to be profoundly enriching. Embracing the notion of life as our classroom enabled us to adopt a new perspective on learning, fostering receptivity to unconventional yet stimulating activities, and embracing play as a valuable educational tool.

While unschooling, it was really important to me to incorporate practical habitual activities into our routines. Slow mornings, nourishing meals, good hygiene habits, lots of imaginative play and reading. More cooking, more baking, more crafting. And doing it all together. Talking about our emotions, talking about our bodies and talking about uncomfortable things. I want to raise emotionally intelligent humans, not just academically intelligent ones. Even as we have shifted to incorporate a curriculum into our home education, we prioritize these activities in our home so we may instill positive habits in our children that will become second nature to them.

During mealtimes, the kids will assist in some way, either by harvesting, collecting ingredients, setting the table, or helping preparing the meal itself. We believe that learning is the root of life and to learn how to weave in the mundane, everyday tasks of life and make them enjoyable is an essential practice. Often we repurpose leftovers or make something fun for lunch that the kids can really get in to. If you asked my kids my favorite saying they might roll their eyes as they recite ‘many hands makes like work’ and it’s true, I remind them of it often. As a large family, living on a homestead, we all have to chip in and each of us has settled into a chore routine that mostly keeps the wheels from falling off.

Over time, the children have gradually adjusted their bedtime routine, tending to retire later, particularly during the summer months. By fall, they typically settle into sleep between 8:30-10pm. This pre-sleep period is often spent engaging in solitary activities or reading, providing a valuable opportunity for everyone in the household to unwind after a busy day. Rising naturally around 9am, they commence their morning rituals. The day unfolds with a wholesome breakfast, followed by a blend of morning basket activities, music, and outdoor pursuits. Prior to lunch, indoor time is allocated for academic tasks, during which the boys utilize their laptops to work through their daily assignments. Occasionally, the eldest crafts a personal schedule to complete his weekly tasks ahead of time, affording him the freedom to pursue other interests. The remainder of the afternoon is spent leisurely playing outdoors, doing handicrafts, and completing assignments together. By midafternoon all the guys (big, medium and small) are absorbed in their own activities and we transition into the evening gradually. Once the girls wake up from their afternoon naps we all mix, shift and match to engage them and get dinner started. By this time ‘school’ is long over but our home life and lessons are so closely woven together that we really don’t differentiate the latter half of the day.

Depending on the day, we participate in different extra curricular activities and arrange for practices and meetings. My second born does competitive gymnastics and is at the gym a few days a week, snowboards (seasonally) and wants to start horseback riding in the spring with his sister . Both boys take piano lessons with a local teacher and take art classes at the town Arts Center. My oldest is part of a Spiral Scouts group and is interested in boxing, like his late father and loves basketball and fishing. We take full advantage of the county library system we are part of and participate regularly in their program offerings as well as planning outings to museums, parks & hiking trails and attractions depending on the season and what we’re interested in. We meet regularly with other homeschooling families and organize activities and outings of all kinds.

Our approach to homeschooling and education doesn’t fit neatly into a box but if I had to choose, I would say we align most with the Waldorf method. We use a blend of our own resources and curriculum from Oak Meadow and have thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating, planning and organizing our lessons. We populate our lessons into a google classroom and it makes assigning and record keeping a breeze. With Oak Meadow, you can choose to complete the curriculum directly under their supervision through their virtual classrooms or work the materials at your own pace. Our family chose the self-directed version and right now this approach seems to be working well. When the time comes for our oldest to begin high school coursework, we are considering enrolling him through the accredited Oak Meadow program but it’s too early to decide that now.

Thus far, homeschooling has been a positive and rewarding experience for our family. Creating a list of local resources in our area and having a network of friends and family who are supportive of this journey has been invaluable. This summer, we will host our first season of Camp Mansfield, an outside, play-based homestead day camp to gather with our homeschool friends more often. Community is so important and is something we value greatly so we decided to create a space to share our home with our local friends.