We were not unintentional homeschoolers. My daughters, now 18 and 14.5 have never attended school in the traditional sense. In this post, I’ll share a little bit about how we came to homeschooling along with some resources that I hope may help some of you during this challenging time.
While 3 of my 4 brothers and I went to public school K-12, my mom, a voracious reader who has always marched to the beat of her own drum, subscribed to the publication Growing Without Schooling from the premiere issue in 1977. She homeschooled my youngest brother for a couple of years, off and on, after my older brothers and I were in college in Iowa and my parents and younger brothers moved abroad.
I attended Cornell College, which follows the block plan — students take one class at a time for three and a half weeks, then have a 4-day “block break”. I loved being able to delve deeply into subjects, and appreciated that even a most dreaded class would be over in less than a month! Looking back, learning in this untraditional manner probably had a lot to do with how my educational philosophy developed.
Before becoming a mom, I spent a lot of time with kids, working as a high school and children’s/YA (young adult) librarian for many years, and as a camp counselor for 5 summers at Camp Green Cove in NC where kids get to choose what skills and activities they want to focus on during their camp session. These jobs helped form my ideas about motivation and how kids learn. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, my mom gave me her Growing Without Schooling collection and I spent countless hours reading them and thinking about learning.
Following the birth of our second daughter, our family participated in a “Cooperative Play Group” with 5 other families who had children in the 3-4 year old age range. We rented a space and met for three days a week for several hours, with two parents on duty each day. While we had “circle time” and did some planned activities, we also had plenty of time for kids to be creative and just play. (I’ve attached our handbook and mission here. I’m happy to send them to you in word format if you want to edit them for your own use, just shoot me an email.)
The spring our older daughter turned 5, we learned that the half-day kindergarten program at our local public school was going to be discontinued and that full-day kindergarten was going to be our only (public school) option. While I worked part-time from the time she was about 6 months old, we were fortunate to not need a second full-time income and childcare.
While researching homeschooling/unschooling and looking for a place to relocate, we learned about and attend the very first Life is Good unschooling conference in 2007 and have been every year since (sadly, like everything right now, it is canceled for 2020). We met families who had older kids who had been unschooled and we were impressed to see for ourselves just how much kids could learn without formal education.
We took the plunge and “began” homeschooling our older daughter for what would have been her kindergarten year. I put the word began in quotes because really, we just kept living our lives — we read, cooked, ran errands, made art, watched shows, traveled, and played. This was before I was on Facebook, and I wrote a blog to share what we were doing with friends and family who were not nearby. While we had a great first year homeschooling, Jackson is a very small town, and I knew that I needed to be around more like-minded people if we were going to keep it up.
After researching and visiting many places, in 2008 we made the move to Portland, and 12 years later we still love it here! Both girls have been able to take advantage of many activities and programs — you can read about some of our favorites in the resource articles on this site. We have a wonderful community of homeschool friends that we dearly miss spending time with in person right now!
My older daughter has been enrolled in the Portland Community College Gateway to College program for over a year and is doing very well (as of this writing she has had straight As, something I could never claim in my entire academic career!). The original “Shelter in Place” order in Oregon loosely correlated with her spring break (I can’t remember exact dates anymore) and she recently began her spring term with online classes. While they are not the same as having class in-person, she is adapting.
My younger daughter is planning on starting public high school next fall, and up until this term took classes at Village Home. She is also a member of a performance troupe at Echo Theater which moved to a Zoom format over the past few weeks. I’m grateful for the technology that is allowing us to continue some of our regular activities.
While it has been challenging at times (and everyone’s time spent online has undoubtedly increased) I have been amazed at the creativity the girls have shown — intermittently entertaining themselves with various craft projects, sewing, drawing, and cooking. So far, neither has taken me up on my offer to help me tackle cleaning out the basement, but a mom can dream!
As I’m sure you’ve heard other homeschoolers say, we spent a LOT of time outside of our home with other homeschoolers up until the shelter in place order. Almost all of the resources I have listed on my homepage are for in-person activities/classes so I created a page with some of the best online resources I’ve seen to help parents who have found themselves suddenly thrust into having their children at home full time.
Just to be clear, I don’t think homeschooling (or unschooling) is the right fit for everyone! If your family thrives with school, that’s great, and I wish you all the best. But if this experience has made you homeschool-curious, I’m here to assure you that you can do it! If you have specific questions about homeschooling or unschooling, I’m happy to talk (or email/message) with you! Please don’t hesitate to reach out — you can find me on Facebook (I’m one of the moderators of the Portland Unschoolers group), email, or call/text me at 503-381-9785.
I hope you are all staying safe and sane!