I’ll be the first to admit that I have really struggled with homeschooling this year. The first week or two was a honeymoon, but since then, it’s been hard. A month into the school year, I was wondering if I’d made a mistake, if I should just bail and send Peter to school. Not being a quitting sort, and remembering that sending him to school isn’t fun either (getting him up early, fed, dressed, and out the door on time to catch the bus, packing lunches, getting him to do homework), I kept on trying. I adjusted the workload so we were only doing 80% of what I had originally scheduled for a week (knowing that that would extend our school year longer, but figuring it was worth it if it reduced our stress). Peter is not great at focusing on getting things done unless they are his own projects and it could easily take him until lunchtime to do his morning chores–all of going to the bathroom, eating breakfast, cleaning up after his breakfast, taking his vitamins, getting dressed, feeding the cat, emptying the dishwasher (if necessary), shoveling the porch (if necessary), and brushing his teeth. Then there was his schedule of academic work to contend with. We mostly kept up with the work we did together, but he wasted time and goofed off and sometimes actively fought me about his independent work. I tried just letting him be and trying to get things done that I needed to do around the house, letting him experience the consequences of goofing off by not being able to play on the Wii or the computer or read his books or magazines for pleasure until his work was done. I tried staying on his case, checking on him every 5-10 minutes to remind him what he was supposed to be doing. Neither was very satisfactory. He regularly ran into the evening hours and the weekends before he finished what was scheduled. It’s not like I was piling on an excessive load; he ought to have been done by early to mid-afternoon every day. He ought to have had plenty of free time to read and build things and go outside and play and do all the things that kids do and learn from. The way it’s been going is just not my vision for homeschooling. By December, I was totally burnt out and ready to take him in to start school in January. A three-week break (including a week-long Caribbean cruise for my husband and me, while the boys stayed with their grandparents), renewed my energy enough to keep trying. I tried re-organizing his morning chore expectations, changing his checklist to put breakfast last, reminding him of kids in history who would wake up at 5 am and do farm chores for two hours before breakfast. It helped, but not enough. Burnout started to creep back.
For a long time, I’ve realized that this is not sustainable. I spend so much time and energy on Peter–writing lesson plans, doing lessons with him, trying to get him to do his work, checking his work after it’s done–that my life is not balanced. I’m not keeping up with the housework as well as I should. I’m not doing enough fun preschool-type things with Simon. I’m not getting other things done that have been sitting on my to-do list for months. Most of all, I’m stressed with fighting him all the time; it’s not the relationship I want to have with him. Yet, I’ve been resistant to sending him to school. As noted above, there are stresses with having kids in school too. Academically, I don’t think school would meet his needs very well. Socially/behaviorally, I think he’s better off at home and out in the community, rather than in school. And in my own personal experience of attending seven different schools for kindergarten through high school, the schools that I started mid-year were the schools where I felt that I didn’t fit in socially, whereas the schools I started at the beginning of a school year were the ones where I had friends, so I kept trying to convince myself to at least hang in there for the rest of the school year and then send him to school next year.
Last week Peter didn’t finish his work until Sunday evening, despite the fact that I only gave him four day’s worth of work for the week since Simon and I both had colds and I wasn’t up to doing lessons. This week (another four-day week since I gave him a day off for his birthday on Tuesday), he didn’t finish his work on Wednesday and then wasted so much time on Thursday that he didn’t finish his Wednesday work until Thursday evening, putting him an entire day behind; on Saturday morning, he had a full day’s work to do. Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, I sat down at my computer. I usually do lesson plans on the weekends, so I thought I should probably get started on that. Then I thought I ought to do some lessons with Peter (who was goofing off instead of getting his independent work done). I was so tired from fighting with him the past couple days that I didn’t want to do any of it. I just wanted my weekend to be a break. So I gave up. I decided to take him to the local elementary school on Monday to register him, let him have one last day at his homeschool Lego robotics class on Tuesday, and have him start school on Wednesday, which is our state’s Count Day (when the number of students enrolled in a school determines their state funding). I figured if I was going to send him to school, he should be there on Count Day; I would feel guilty enrolling him afterwards.
I spent the afternoon with thoughts rolling around in my head. I thought about having to buy Peter a lunchbox and find his backpack. I thought about what school would be like for him. I thought about not having him around during the day, about just Simon and me being home. I didn’t want to send Peter to school, but I couldn’t go on the way it was. Then a letter came in the mail. It was for Peter, from a friend he had made in Scouts before we moved here who was also homeschooled. I remembered her mom’s relaxed attitude toward curriculum. I thought–maybe we could try unschooling, just to get through this school year. Then at least I wouldn’t have to send Peter to school in the middle of the school year, which I really don’t want to do.
I looked up some info on unschooling on the internet and it resonated with me more than I expected. As a self-professed “curriculum junkie”, I always thought unschooling was sort of lazy and haphazard. But remembering back to when I was a kid, reading books surreptitiously in school because they were more interesting than the lessons being presented, wishing I could just be left alone to do my own thing, I realized how much I would have liking unschooling, and that it would have been a good educational method for me. Peter is much like me, happily spending hours in books, imaginative, enjoying projects of his own creation. I think unschooling will work for him. Rather than being just a way to get through the year, I’m excited about this change. It will take some of the pressure off me so I can get my life into better balance. I think Peter will enjoy it. However, after a careful consideration of our current subjects, I’m not comfortable doing 100% unschooling, so we will “almost unschool”. I’m going to retain math and French, because I’m not comfortable waiting for Peter to decide he’s interested in learning math and because I don’t want him to lose his French language skills. Besides that, his learning will be self-directed. He can read books, magazines, textbooks, ask me for lessons in the subjects he likes, watch educational tv, look up stuff on the internet, write letters/stories/comic books, build projects, do experiments, continue his Lego robotics and gymnastics classes, play outside, and I’m going to get us signed up to do some volunteer work. Either it will go well and will save our homeschooling journey, or it won’t and Peter will start 5th grade in the fall at the local school.