Epic Kindergarten: How We Found Success in Our First Year of Homeschooling
As kids everywhere are beginning their summer vacations and parents are posting pictures of kindergarten graduations and end-of-year awards ceremonies, I find myself reflecting on our first official year as homeschoolers and all of the amazing experiences the boys and I shared.
We met an astronaut. We went camping and flew in a wind tunnel. We toured caves, hiked along the San Andreas Fault, picked fruits from our garden. We visited more zoos and museums in this one year than I visited in my entire elementary school career. I've seen my boys' reading and math skills soar to new levels. I taught them how to play poker. (They asked!) Together we shared the once-in-a-life-time opportunity of viewing a total solar eclipse. I sat with tears in my eyes as they played in their first recitals on violin and guitar.
One of the names I considered for this blog was 'Epic Kindergarten.' I passed on it for a few reasons, but mainly because I didn't think we'd be doing anything that was worthy of the title. When I finally came to the realization that homeschooling was definitely our plan for "kindergarten," I wasn't sure how things would turn out. There was a lot of self-doubt, a lot of worrying and a lot of fear of failure. An epic year was no small goal. Now, with our focus on planning new adventures in the coming months, I can say with certainty that this last year has been successful and I think it has to do with a few things we tried to keep in mind:
Let them play... a lot. Gameschooling is getting a bit of attention recently and we certainly played our fair share of bored games (and-ahem-poker). We tried to remember that children learn through play and that letting them chose how and what they wanted to play is beneficial to their brain development and and their happiness. We enrolled the boys in activities they enjoy including sports and music lessons but also made sure to leave plenty of time for Legos, Minecraft and jumping on the trampoline.
Follow their lead. What do kombucha, parkour and hockey have in common? They represent activities that have become a part of our routine simply because the boys showed an interest in them and more likely than not, they would not have become part of our routine had we not explored those interests. Incorporating the boys' preferences into our daily lives helps to keep them motivated and interested in learning. As parents it's impossible for our interests and preferences to not have some influence on our children, but we have to remember to leave room, lots of room, for our children's as well.
Keep it simple. We decided against boxed curriculums and strict schedules. While that may work for some families, we felt that kindergarten didn't need too mimic a traditional school setting. It needed to be fun, engaging, relevant and as effortless as possible. We hopped in the car and found adventures. While our big trips were fun and exciting, we also found pleasure in the opportunities that day-to-day life presented us and turned those into memorable experiences as well.
Take a breather. While we have chosen to "school" year round (because learning is a never-ending process), we recognized the importance of taking a time out from our regularly scheduled activities. When we got busy with the holidays or our curiosity took us in an unexpected direction, we took a time-out. When we got frustrated or when something became a burden, we put it to the side. Remember, we want learning to be fun, for acquiring knowledge to be a not avoided.
We didn't do anything ground breaking. We didn't do anything fancy. We certainly didn't do anything that homeschoolers (and non-homeschoolers for that matter) around the globe aren't already doing, but we did it together. We did it because we wanted to. We learned without the four walls of a school building or its administration or school board and to me, all of that is pretty epic.
Epic first grade, here we come!