Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | June 5, 2015

Two Years of Homeschooling in Review

one cool homeschooler

One Cool Homeschooler!

This month, we’ll complete our second full year of homeschooling.  And I am delighted to report that homeschooling just keeps getting better and better!  This second year has been a richer, more fulfilling experience because that first year, we were only half-homeschooling.  By attending a two-day homeschool program, we were wading – maybe up to our knees – into the sea of homeschooling.  This year, we went school-free and completely submerged ourselves in homeschooling.  And it was AWESOME!  For this act of bravery, we were rewarded with a richer, more authentic life than we’d ever experienced before.  By investing our time and energy into whole-family friendships, we’re building a strong community.

Now don’t get me wrong, our first year of homeschooling was extremely positive.  The slower pace healed our family.  Our home was transformed from a place of rushing and yelling, to a place of peace and calm.  By eliminating the stress of traditional school, we were able to turn inward and settle into ourselves (individually and as a family).  But still, even though our then first grader was registered with our town as a homeschooler, we really weren’t true homeschoolers.  Both of my children (then ages seven and three) were enrolled in a homeschool program.  And it was a beautiful homeschool program.  And the teacher is truly one of the most remarkable women and talented teachers that I have ever met.  Her presence in our lives has been a tremendous gift.  Attending that program served my children and my family well.  The program/school supported our transition into the wonderful world of homeschooling.

Two years ago, I’d done enough research on homeschooling (and unschooling, in particular) that I had an inkling about the exciting possibilities of homeschooling.  But I was running away from school at least as much as I was moving towards homeschooling.  Because I was focused on getting away from school (instead of putting my energy towards the homeschool lifestyle), I was still stuck in the school mentality.  Children go to a place called school and that is where they learn, which is why I sent my kids to that homeschool program that first year.  But let’s call it what it was:  a school.  An alternative school.  A part-time school.  But still a school.

By going to school, we didn’t make any deep homeschool friendships.  We met a few really cool homeschoolers (the school was a mix of homeschoolers and future private school students).  But it was a drop-off program and you only get so close to other families at pick-up and drop-off two mornings a week.  My daughters were exhausted by the two days of school and so to keep slower pace as our main thing, we did very little else during the week.  School was on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so we couldn’t attend Monday homeschool park day.  Three consecutive highly social days?  No way!  It would have been a recipe for disaster.

And so, at the end of last year, I made the (at the time) very difficult and (in hindsight) life changing decision to go school-free!  We officially became unschoolers.  With two years of homeschooling under my belt (though I’m still a rookie for sure), I know that life without school is so much better!  Fully embracing an unschooling lifestyle has made our family happier.  Our children (as all children without school naturally) are highly motivated, self-directed learners.  I needed to send my children to a part-time school as an intermediary step in my homeschool process.  And that is okay.  In fact, I think it’s quite common.  When families make the decision to withdraw their child from their school, it feels too overwhelming to quit the whole school model.  When parents finally write that letter of intent to homeschool their child, they know that school is not serving her and they are searching for a different educational model – but still, a model based on school.  Until we embrace the homeschool lifestyle, we are going to continue to embrace that old school model.

Sophia Sayigh, in her article Give and Let Give: Homeschooling from the Ground Up, eloquently writes:

“In his critique of compulsory state schooling, Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto draws a distinction between communities and networks. Needless to say, he considers schools to be networks. But not just schools. He says, ‘Networks do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs. The reality is they cannot. Even associations as inherently harmless as bridge clubs, chess clubs, amateur acting groups, or groups of social activists will, if they maintain a pretense of whole friendship, ultimately produce that odd sensation familiar to all city dwellers of being lonely in the middle of a crowd.’

Communities, on the other hand, ‘are collections of families and friends who find major meaning in extending the family association to a band of honorary brothers and sisters. They are complex relationships of commonality and obligation which extend beyond the perimeter of the homestead.’”

In her article, Sophia focusses on learning centers, but really, any drop-off homeschool programming can have a similar effect.  A learning center or homeschool program “can provide a crutch or stepping stone for families entering a new world that they know nothing about. But keep it in perspective: A learning center, no matter how wonderful, is only one experience out of many at the disposal of homeschoolers. Employ it as a tool if you find it useful, but don’t mistake it for more than it is — a network for sure, and in many cases, a school in different garb.”

By completely eliminating school this past year, we have been able to fully embrace an unschooling lifestyle this year.  And what a year it has been!  We are so incredibly lucky to have found our tribe!  We have befriended so many awesome homeschool families!  And this could only happen because we fully embraced the homeschool lifestyle.  No more school.  No more anchoring our weeks in a program for which we paid tuition.  This year, we anchored our weeks in homeschool park day.  And now this spring, we even have two park days!  Our week revolves around spending two unstructured days outdoors with friends.  And as a result, I (the mama) have built strong friendships with amazing women.  And really, there is no better place to homeschool than the Boston area!  These mamas are amazing.  They are so interesting!  So thoughtful and intentional in the way they live…in the way they parent.  I’m inspired by my new friends everyday.  And we all know the saying “when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” and the reverse is equally true:  “happy mama, happy children”.  Mama finds her tribe, her kids find their tribe.

All four members of the OFF KLTR family LOVE our new lifestyle.  The little sister is age eligible to attend kindergarten in the fall.  When I ask her if she’d like to go to Bishop (our neighborhood grammar school), she replies emphatically, “No!  I’m a homeschooler!”.  If I ask her too many times (because I find her response so stinkin’ funny!) she gets highly irritated…why would I ask her such a silly question?  Clearly, this five year old is a homeschooler.

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Responses

  1. We do have an awesome tribe, don’t we?! Great post!


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