When I tell people that I homeschool my kids, the response is often something like, “I’d go crazy if I were home alone with my kids all day.”
Well, friends, so would I. I love them, but wow are they intense! I wouldn’t last two days if homeschooling meant being locked in the house with them.
To the contrary, we’re out a lot. We’re regulars at the library, the parks, the children’s museum. We go to “Funschool,” which is basically a playgroup for homeschooled kids. Petra takes dance class and Silas takes a theater class, and they are both thrilled about that.
JC’s schedule even lets him work from home a good bit, so we end up trading off the parts of homeschooling that do require us to be home.
But one major saving grace of this homeschooling experiment has been finding systems that allow me to swap time with other homeschooling parents. Whether it’s our “moveable preschool” from when Silas was three, or various childcare-for-tutoring-teens arrangements I’ve negotiated over the years, finding ways to share some of the time burden of homeschooling has enabled me to keep doing it without burnout.
Our current version of that is “Terrific Tuesdays,” a swap with two other homeschooling families. One Tuesday out of every three, I have all five kids at my house for about five hours. The other 2 out of 3 Tuesdays, Petra and Silas are at their friends’ houses. It’s a simple enough arrangement; we aren’t especially demanding of each other about what we expect the kids do to do in that time–no one is making assignments. Usually, for our own sanity, each of us plans some kind of activity for that time. We provide lunch. We try to encourage them to play outside as much as possible. We hope they don’t injure each other. And other than that, we just stand back and watch, guiding when necessary, but mostly letting things happen.
We each have our own thing, and the kids look forward to different activities at each house. Marcella used to teach math in the public schools, and she always has interesting math challenges for them. She is also known for her “treasure hunts,” which apparently are mathy as well.
Marcella recently gave the kids some old electronics to disassemble. Petra and Violet took their time, carefully unscrewing the various pieces. Petra said, “it was like an electronic fossil hunt!” Silas, Max, and Jack all went for more of an attack mode…
Lynlee runs a working farm. At her house, my kids love going for rides in the farm truck, checking out the animals, and planting and harvesting in the garden.
At my house, I try different things. I don’t have “a thing” like Marcella and Lynlee do. I often try to have a craft or some kind of collaborative exploration ready for them, although I rarely come up with anything that engages everybody. Around Christmas time, I set up a thing for them to make “gingerbread houses” out of graham crackers. They surprised me by all being very into it. I wish I could figure out what the key thing was that got them to focus and participate so intensely. The art of it? The engineering? The candy?
We also like to walk down to the river, although the kids only like going there when we have water in it (“We can go down and dig and stack rocks or look for cool leaves” is boring and barely tolerated).
Recently, we went to the river and Jack showed the other kids how to build a little dam out of stones. Then they dug their own water system on the sandy bank. They didn’t have any buckets, but Jack offered up his boots for the cause.
We have our challenges, of course. The ages range from Petra (5 1/2) to Jack (9). Their abilities and interests vary wildly. They have personality conflicts and sibling nonsense and off days. Finding something everyone will be up for is mostly about luck.
Petra and Violet are both pretty content to play solo (without each other, even), but I always feel like I should be checking in to make sure that they actually want to be alone and aren’t being left out.
The guys went through a tough phase of arguing about who would get to invent the rules for whatever they were playing–but they seem to have worked that out. Silas is very happy to have other people to play his complicated fantasy games (which he refers to as “live action D&D”). He’s learning some big lessons about collaboration, and I think the other guys are too.
I love when I see them working together to help make up for each other’s deficits. Early in this experiment, before Silas had his big reading revelation (when he went from reading at a Kindergarten level for about four years to reading at roughly a 4th grade level in literally a month), Lynlee sent me a picture of the three boys looking at a Dogman book together. Max was reading it to the other guys, and they were all enthralled and contented.
One thing I notice over and over–and I see this with other groups that we spend time with as well–is that Silas is very fluid in his play partners. Petra will generally play either alone or with Silas or Violet. Jack and Max often play together, but rarely with the girls. Silas floats around and between those groups. He is developing a lovely friendship with Violet, and is as happy to play with her as he is to play with the boys. I love this quality about him. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but maybe he has a little less homophily than the rest of us. I love that about him.
Getting to know other people’s kids is super fun, as well. It can be reassuring–something I thought was just a my kid thing turns out to be a kid thing, and I feel a little less responsible for it. They each have their own way of being in the world, too, and I appreciate these other kids for the many ways in which they are different from Petra and Silas. Jack, for one, is calm and quick in a crisis, caring and protective of the younger kids, and very kind. He loves to help out. Max is loyal and funny. He always has a joke to share and is a generous audience to the other kids’ goofiness. Violet is refreshingly independent, unwilling to let anyone push her around. She loves our cats and the bunny when he shows up. She’s more excited to be outside than the other kids are, often leading the rest of them off into the pasture to play.
Getting perspective from the other parents on my own kids is endlessly refreshing and gives me some hope. When I pick them up, there’s always a comment or story about some silly thing they said or did. Just knowing that my kids can spend a few hours at someone else’s house and not be a total embarrassment is great. My kids adore Marcella and Lynlee. They always get excited to be going to their houses and often have some guesses about what kind of fun they might have there. We all need our community. Homeschooling in isolation would drive all of us bonkers.