It was never my intention to homeschool my children. At my core and as a professional teacher, I am a firm believer in public education, but my family’s life circumstances led me to be a homeschooler for almost a year. This post is about my experience homeschooling and my takeaways from the experience.
Over a decade ago, my family embarked on an adventure and relocated from the US Mainland to the remote Manu'an Islands, part of the US Territory of American Samoa in the South Pacific. We were not strangers to the islands. These islands hold the ancestral roots of my husband and children, and in past years we had all resided on the more populated island of Tutuila. I guess I’m saying that we weren’t totally naïve!
Second to food and health, my primary concern was the education of our children. Though I knew that the local schools struggled with staffing and resources, I wanted my children to assimilate to the island life and the people, so I enrolled them in the local public school. My thinking was that if the local school was not meeting their needs, I could make up for this with supplemental instruction at home. This, however, proved to be more challenging than I imagined. After an exhausting day at school, my children were less than enthusiastic about having additional schooling at home.
My thinking was that if the local school was not meeting their needs, I could make up for this with supplemental instruction at home. This, however, proved to be more challenging than I imagined.
I made the decision to bring my youngest child, who was in 3rd grade at the time, home for schooling first. I had been volunteering my mornings to assist her teacher and knew that many of her classmates lacked even rudimentary command of English. All of the curriculum in the classroom was grade-leveled and in English. With the exception of the math curriculum, these materials stayed on the shelf as they were simply not suitable for the class. The task the teacher faced to really reach these students would have even been challenging for me, a veteran teacher, and my child’s teacher was not trained or experienced. I thought it was necessary that my youngest child be brought home to be schooled since those early years of learning are the most critical. That, and she had no objections to the plan. Although she was socially making her way, she was and quite keen to stay home and spend more time with Mommy.
It was lovely to have that one-on-one with my youngest child. The school lent us a math text book and I set a routine of journaling, reading and math. We migrated with heaps of children’s books. My youngest and I read biographies and historical fiction to help cover social science, and living in a tropical environment and only twenty paces from the ocean, we focused on the natural world around us for science learning.
It was lovely to have that one-on-one with my youngest child.
Still, I wanted to make sure that my child was getting the best education possible with a more sequenced social science and science curriculum, so I ordered some of the best and consequently highest-priced curriculum on the market. Boxes of curriculum eventually arrived. It was excellent material and overwhelming! I initially felt that I needed to get through all of it, and the relaxed time with my daughter came to an end. That, and my middle child decided that he, too, wanted to be schooled at home. So, I got him started, and I ordered more curriculum!
Several months after, my eldest child arrived home mid-day and announced she would not be returning to school. Buried in boxes of curriculum, I did not order more.
We all got into a routine. I prepped in the evenings to make sure the expectations for the following day were set, picking and choosing from the materials I had. I was busy. Homeschooling my three children required planning, time and effort. Between that and my focus on food, I was working long hours. Fresh fish was plentiful on the island and basics like flour, sugar, salt and some canned foods were available in the local bush store, but not much else. Tired of eating fish, I was baking bread and trading loaves for cleaned yard birds and cooking quite a lot from scratch for my family’s consumption.
Homeschooling my three children required planning, time and effort. Between that and my focus on food, I was working long hours.
Amidst the busyness, I also realized that homeschooling can be lonely. I had put my eldest child online for an English class. She worked through the loaned math book independently and wrote papers on topics I assigned her independently. I had my other two on their own leveled curriculum. There were sweet times of quiet and concentrated work in the house, almost no sound to be heard, while I could go about baking bread, my currency for diet variety! I had organized three separate children on three separate courses. As I stepped back, I saw the isolation of my children. I realized that I needed to re-balance my approach and get my children working more together.
Amidst the busyness, I also realized that homeschooling can be lonely.
I decided that for social science and science that we would all study the same topic, but that I would hold different expectations for their different levels. This was fun. My younger children served as the audience for the eldest’s PowerPoint presentations, seeing what they were learning at a higher level. It was more organic, like children listening to their parents talking at the dinner table, perhaps not picking up everything but learning and stretching their thinking to something more advanced. Together, they scripted a Greek mythology play, made costumes, filmed and edited. It was messy and loud and productive, and my children enjoyed their collaborations.
I continued with the writing curriculum that I had purchased for the younger two, and enrolled my eldest in an online writing course. Perhaps it was not ideal, but having three separate science curriculums going all at once became unmanageable, so I used the middle-level science curriculum for all three of them. We also learned about natural disasters. We experienced the 2009 earthquake and tsunami with its evacuation and aftermath of no running water or electricity, and later dug in to learn about the geography of the ocean floor, water purification, better evacuation plans, and the various uses of the flotsam and jetsam we gathered from the shoreline.
In no way do I think that my children were harmed academically from being home schooled. In fact, we were able to accomplish in just 2-4 hours what is typically covered in a full day or even two at regular school. The reality is that classroom management in a regular school takes time – the lining up, the passing out of papers, the getting everyone settled and on the same page. With a 3/1 ratio, I could easily address the individual needs of my children. Furthermore, our time on the edge of the planet along with its homeschooling experience really helped bond my children. As young adults, they are very close and truly care for one another. To me, this is the greatest gift from the experience.
As young adults, they are very close and truly care for one another. To me, this is the greatest gift from my homeschooling experience.
Before the last quarter of the school year, I was contacted and offered a teaching position on the more populated island of Tutuila at an excellent small private school that I had worked at in previous years, Pacific Horizons School. The school would make room for my three children if I agreed. I agreed. Despite the benefits of homeschooling, I didn’t find our situation sustainable. I wondered If I could continue to homeschool my teenager since I lacked specialized knowledge, especially in science. I knew that I would be happier and my children, too, if they were more socially engaged. I love my children, but spending 24/7 with them felt smothering. I felt like they needed to deal with other adults and other children.
Life does not let us rewind and do things differently. That is simply the nature of life and what makes it life. Still, if I had it to do all over again, here are my recommendations for anyone new at homeschooling.
Start with the basics. Then purchase courses or curriculum to fill in your gaps. You don’t have to have everything set and ready to go when you start. Start with the 3 R’s. My recommendations for resources to help follow.
Don't be afraid to reassess and to change. Remember, it’s HOMEschool. You have the flexibility to do things differently. Take advantage of this flexibility. Trust your gut, and don’t forget what you know. You know a lot. You have attended school for many years and get the gist of what school entails. You know what good and bad teaching and curriculum looks like because you have been exposed to both. You have this, and you also bring your own life learning to the table. Trust yourself.
Although homeschooling was ultimately not ideal for my family, I know from experience that it has great potential for great learning and that it can be a wonderful way to build close family connections.
What tips and takeaways might you offer from your own homeschooling experience? What have you learned?