Jumping Into the Deep End

As I sit here typing at my computer, we have completed our first year of homeschooling.  For those who are considering homeschooling, getting ready to homeschool, or are morbidly curious about the ups and downs of our grand experiment, you can follow along as I recount the tale of our year with as much authenticity of the frustrations and satisfactions as I can muster in hindsight.  If you’re just jumping in you can catch up here, here, and here.


When Mom Sets the Schedule


We were now honest to goodness homeschoolers.  All three of our hearts seemed lighter after experiencing the ease of that first day.  Gigi’s comment was “This is much better than I expected it to be.”   I took that as a compliment and thought, “Maybe I can pull this off.” We moved into a routine for our mornings.  Both Gigi and Rue are night owls making morning slow going.  Instead of a struggle to get out them out of bed and get ready by a certain time, I decided that they could wake up and stay in bed and read a book until 9:30am.  At 9:30 the girls would have a half hour to putter, get breakfast, and get dressed before we gathered together to focus on our lessons for the day.  This worked well for me too.  I had until 10am to take care of myself and other household needs, or even last minute curriculum planning.  At Gigi’s request, each morning I wrote the schedule for the day on the whiteboard (no problem, Ms. Producer).  Of course, that meant I had to know what the schedule was going to be.  Sometimes I was so prepared I wrote the schedule on the board the night before and other times I was sussing it out as I wrote it at 10:00am.

As I discussed in my previous post, we dove into Greek mythology.  We made a family tree of the Titans, Gods, & Goddesses, read several of the myths, compared and contrasted different versions of the same myth, created our own Goddesses and their thrones, designed blueprints for temples on graph paper and measured the area and perimeter.  My mom mentioned that she had never studied Greek mythology and would love it if Rue and Gigi taught her what they learned.  Since my mom lives 7 hours away, the girls wrote a play based on the story of Cronus’ rise and fall from power, filmed it, edited it, and burned it onto a DVD for Grandma.

I had a great high school Biology teacher, Mr. Grecian, who drilled us weekly in Greek and Latin root words.  That was a gift and it has stuck with me to this day.  I still give him much of the credit for my SAT vocabulary score.  Rue and Gigi loved the idea of learning Greek root words, so that became a part of our weekly routine as well.  It soon became apparent that Rue has a love for language that I had never noted before.  On her own she started learning the Greek alphabet and words.  One morning she prepared a lesson on it for Gigi and I.  Somehow I was wise enough not to interfere allowing her to find her own discovery process.  No, she doesn’t know Greek now, but she continues to be fascinated by all languages and for fun plays with translations on her iPad.

We compare and contrast versions of Persephone’s story

I had bought some books I couldn’t resist.  One was Karen Benke’s Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing and the other was How To Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.  Rip the Page, with its short, mind-loosening exercises was (and still is) a big hit.  I ended up buying each of us a book so we could write right in it and sometimes RIP IT! We love doing the exercises on our own then reading back to each other what we wrote.  How To Be An Explorer didn’t go over so well.  I may have introduced it too early in our de-structuring as the girls, still in the mindset that school had to look a certain way, thought the explorations were weird.  I haven’t given up on the book yet.  I think it’s cool enough to suggest at a later date and see if it gets a better reception next go around.

Rue despises math.  She carries a tremendous amount of anxiety around the thought of it.  In order to help change the way she looked at math, I knew the approach had to change.  We would do real world math and make it meaningful for her.  I had visions of Rue and Gigi breezing through fractions as we cooked, jumping at the chance to do math at the grocery store, and finally internalizing the multiplications table by practicing it everywhere we went so they would see how convenient having those facts at your fingertips would be.  Initially, I had us all playing and working together on math skills.  This idea backfired big time for both girls.  Gigi’s quick answers compounded and confirmed Rue’s belief that she was “bad” at math.  And, not surprisingly, this method didn’t scratch Gigi’s itch to check a completed task off her list.  She begged me for a worksheet.  Okay, I can adjust. I’m flexible and committed to supporting their process, but it didn’t take long for me to get weary of planning separately for each of them.  Rue’s anxiety did begin to subside, if only by the lack of welling tears in her eyes when I said the word “math”.  But my visions of fun, enjoyable, and easy skill attainment were not happening.

I barely kept the girls’ attention with our study of the American colonies and Revolutionary War.  This may have been due to the fact that I LOVE history and want to dive into all the angles of it, discussing the “what ifs” and reading different perspectives on the same event.  I had rebels in my midst.  Even the awesome HBO mini-series, John Adams, got a sideways thumb for being too slow and boring.  (FYI, I thought it was extremely well written and really brought the dilemmas of the time period to life.)

Finally, I assigned each of the girls a project based on their interests (boy, was I bossy).  For Gigi, who rides horses a few times a week, the project was to write a report about the care and cost of having your own horse.  Rue, who loves fashion and make up, researched and wrote about what she would need to know and purchase to open her own salon.  Both girls dove into their projects, because they were honestly curious about the answers, but getting them to wrap up the reports in some cohesive presentation was like pulling teeth. I see now that my goal was a finished product and their goal was answers.  It was starting to dawn on me, I needed to deschool.

I comforted myself that at least they had had a good run with Greek Mythology, science, writing, and project management.  I had no doubt they were gaining solid learning skills that could be applied throughout their lives.  They were learning how to learn and having fun (mostly).  For that I was grateful.  Unfortunately, as the study of mythology waned, so did all their attention and enthusiasm.  I was spending many hours in preparation and would often be staring into glazed over eyes when I was explaining a lesson.  It was a drag.

At the end of November I was left wondering, again, “Now what?”

How Now, Homeschool Frau?

We decided to homeschool. We had also decided to file a Private School Affidavit (PSA), which lets the state know that we are functioning as our own private school with no attachment to a district.  Giddy and slightly bewildered the question became, “Now what?”.

The advice I read and heard most often was, “Don’t buy any curriculum sets, you’ll just be throwing away your money at this point and you’ll likely never use them.” Easy. They cost a fortune and I was still gathering information on how we might approach the next school year.

The second most common advice was “If your child has been in school, give her time to deschool.” The rule of thumb most often provided was a month of letting your child do her own thing for each year she was in school. If you’re not familiar with the term (and I’m familiar with it and it’s still a bit illusive), deschooling is about taking time to let go of the school-based structure of how learning happens. By letting go of these preconceived notions we begin to see learning from a perspective that doesn’t necessarily include an assortment of textbooks, worksheets, project centers, tests, allotted time slots, and other deeply-rooted beliefs in the tools of education. This just glosses over the shiny freedom of deschooling. Believe me, it’s much more extensive than that. There are entire books written about it, like Tammy Takahashi’s Deschooling Gently, in case you’re interested enough to pick up a book about it. To say the least, I didn’t tell my girls about deschooling. I was totally freaked they’d love the idea and never learn another damn thing in their lives.

“Now what?” still loomed large. In August we went to HSC’s homeschool conference. Wow. If you are considering homeschooling, do this. The event is designed for the entire family: workshops for kids, teens, and adults, plus non-stop group activities. It was all fun and games and interesting until the end of the very last day when I found my golden nugget. The workshop was presented by Marilyn Mosley Gordanier of Laurel Springs School and was my first introduction to learning styles by breaking them up by learning personalities. Marilyn described each one (of which there are five and we are each varying degrees of these five personalities) and when she described my dominant one I had that knot-in-the-throat, you are speaking the truth moment. I actually got teary. The residual negative feelings of all those moments of my education where I felt “less than” or misunderstood drifted away as the reality that I am who I am and my teachers were who they were and it was just a miss of expectations and internal motivators that caused the chasm. I’m well-schooled in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (which, BTW, is incorporated into the assessment), but the information I learned in that itty-bitty 45-minute workshop gave me a whole new perspective on learning dispositions, approaches, and motivators.

The concepts of the learning personalities and the assessment were created by the women of Learning Success Institute, however, Marilyn offered that if the people in her workshop sent her an email, she would provide the tools to give your children the learning assessment for free. That email may have been the first thing I did after I walked out of the workshop. And I went ahead and purchased three more assessments for my husband, my wasband, and myself. Your learning personality makes a huge difference in how you approach teaching, we needed to be clear on where we all stood.

Here is a graph that shows the degree of each of the personalities for my daughters (green and red), my husband (blue) and myself (orange). The sections are in this order: Performer, Producer, Inventor, Relator/Inspirer, Thinker/Creator. You may or may not be able to deduct that my two daughter are almost exactly opposite in dominant personality.

There are 5 sections with 4 colors in each. The sections are the personalities, the colors represent each of my daughters, my husband, and myself and how we “rate” in each personality.


I came home pretty enthusiastic, with access to a tool that could shed a lot of light on how to reach my number one goal for the school year: to create an environment where my children were once again in love with learning.

So Why Homeschooling, You Ask?

A year ago, while wrapping up a challenging 4th grade year, we made the HUGE decision for our daughters to learn at home for 5th grade.  It wasn’t the first time we had considered it, but instead of feeling anxious about the radicalness of it and its consequences, this time it felt like a relief, like the right thing to do.

Both of my daughters had survived well enough in an academic-based school setting.  Each one has the ability to take in information in different ways, can process that information, take a test and regurgitate it, and sometimes, if the information is interesting to her, engage in multi-layered and meaningful discussions about it.  And yet each, in her own way, was not thriving. The love of learning was slowly and distinctly drifting away.

It took a barn door-sized catalyst to prompt us to reconsider homeschooling.  It began with the school district we are in deciding to close the school they had been attending, because of drastic state cuts to their budget, and move the K-5 program onto the middle school campus.

I really can’t speak to the pros and cons of Kindergarten through 8th grade on the same campus, I’ve never experienced that, but I was very clear that, for at least one of my daughters, 5th grade was way too young for 8th grade girl exposure.  Ever since she was a preschooler she has observed bigger girls and tried to emulate them.  All I could think was, “I know what happens on a middle school campus.  I was there once.”  I had to keep the cocoon around her just a bit longer.

The reasoning was completely different for my other daughter whose impatience with the school day had been building in earnest since 1st grade.  Her regular comments about school went like this, “If everyone paid attention, and we skipped recess, we could be out of school by noon and then I could go do something I really want to do.”

So, in November of my daughters’ 4th grade year I began to read every book on homeschooling that I could get from our county library and I also read many, many  homeschooling blogs.  I joined the Homeschool Association of California (HSC), and our local Sonoma County Homeschool Nonprofit (SCHN) and joined their respective Yahoo groups.  I contacted local families who were homeschooling and asked lots of questions.  My daughters and I visited the enrichment classes for our local independent study charter school and applied there for the following school year.  (Though eventually we decided to go it alone…more on that in the future)

I pored over all the information and I started to get excited.  It became startlingly apparent to me that if we were to take this road it could be rich in possibilities I had no way of imagining from where I stood at the time, but it rang of something forgotten and true.  I knew homeschooling was about to blow anything I thought I knew about education and learning out of the water.

And so, with all parties in agreement – my husband, my wasband (my daughters’ father), and both my daughters – we made the decision to give this new venture a try.