Words by Kate Stutz
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 8 of Holl & Lane Magazine. To read the whole issue, pick up our digital pack in our shop.
"Will you be returning next year with us?"
"I'm not sure...I'll have to get back to you."
"Please make it soon! We're eager to give him a spot here!"
The conversation ended, but my head was soon flooded with questions as to what I was actually going to do the following week. It was an important decision— my son's spot at "the best" private school in our area. Would he be attending next year? Ultimately, I decided not, and the finalization of that decision was a catalyst to yet another layer of our self-sustainable lifestyle— homeschooling.
Homeschooling seemed incredibly foreign and unusual to me, until I considered our family's already nontraditional lifestyle. My husband is in the military and tours often. We both work from home, and do small sustainable farming in our small city garden. Considering homeschooling started to seem like the next step in the lifestyle we were leaning towards. As I took the leap and dove into this different form of education, I learned an incredible amount about my sons and their interests, and also my capability.
Of course no life-changing event is without its ups and downs, but I'm happy to say that this change of homeschooling has had benefits that completely outweigh the drawbacks. I traded all my personal time and the ease of someone else teaching reading for benefits I never even anticipated. Many people don't know about these benefits; they are something that you may not know exist until you tap into them yourself.
The bonding with my sons has been immeasurable and incredibly welcomed. We have a stronger bond through the learning trials and errors, and we have gotten into the nuances of each others personalities. I can read them better simply through facial expressions and a change in their tone. I can pick up a mood change more quickly and helping with behavior has been a lifesaver. We always have time to take a break when we need to.
Rushing around is a thing of the past. In the previous years at brick-and-mortar schools, we hit the ground running in the mornings. It was a rush to eat breakfast, get dressed, and get to school on time. Each morning was wrestling with two active little boys that didn't exactly know how to do it all themselves, so it took a lot of work, and there were some tears when they didn't want to put their toys down to head out. I did a lot of driving between drop off and pickup, and the constant rush and go-go-go ended up feeling out of control by the end of the year. The idea of where we had to be "next" became a stressor for everyone.
We spend time learning things they are truly interested in. They have learned to be interested in documentaries, and learn from them in a comfortable environment.
There are no bullying programs necessary. If there's a dispute between two children, one mom will come up to the other and say "Can we talk?" and then after the discussion there are apologies, making up, and everyone continues to monitor the interactions. The problem literally gets solved in twenty minutes - no conferences or counselors needed.
We have so much more time together as a family. There is no more running around for school drop offs, and we don't waste time with homework because we've already finished our work.
The boys no longer have to deal with a teacher that doesn't understand them. Previously, at brick and mortar schools, we've had teachers that we've adored, and teachers that they didn't click with. There are a variety of teachers in all schools. There are some teachers that bring in their old clothes to share with the girls who are in need. There are some teachers who keep pop-tarts in their desks for students who come in hungry. Unfortunately, I also know some teachers who play favorites, and prefer students based on student clubs, sports, and even academic ability. Some people may argue that it's not teaching them how to deal with someone they don't like, but my response is that they need to know that they have the ability to change their environment. Sticking them with a teacher that they don't see eye-to-eye with can disengage their interests, set them back, and they are stuck dealing with this for an entire year. In the adult world, if you don't like your boss, you have the ability to find a new job, or start your own business. Both my husband and I have done this as a result of wanting our freedom and the ability to be our own boss. I want our boys to know that the same option is available for them, and it's not just a dead-end road when they are facing something that isn't working out for them. "That's just how it is" isn't a phrase that's used in our household. You have the ability and power to change if you have the strength and will to do it.
Our family outings are more fun, and we take a variety of field trips together. When I first heard about home school, the word "home" rooted in my mind, and I was turned off because I loved going out. I didn't realize how much we would be learning outside the home. Not only can I hold class myself wherever we are, but there are a variety of classes offered at local education centers that are sometimes free or very low cost. For example, the last time we were at a local greenhouse, they had ice cream for sale. I knew that we had reading lessons to get through, so we sat at one of their cafe tables and had ice cream while we worked on our lesson. A favorite place of ours to go for classes is Jenning's Nature Reserve - one of Pennsylvania's State Parks. Most state parks offer classes regarding Maple Sugaring, Bird Migration, Weather and Climate Studies, and butterflies, just to name a few. Tapping into this resource has been fun and interesting, especially with two little boys that love to be outside.
Being self-employed and both of us working from home, our boys get to witness and experience work life at a very young age. When I was young, we could participate in "Take Your Child to Work Day", but with them, they have it every day. Our hope is to instill this hearty work ethic and passion for what you love into the boys at a young age, so they know they can chase their dreams, and that we can provide a stable foundation for them to build upon.
Not only have my boys become closer with each other and better friends, but their circle of friends is so much wider than just their peer age. They aren't made to sit with a class of kids their age at a lunch table, they play with other families, which includes siblings of all ages. Interaction with adults is also more frequent as with field trips and gatherings, all the children's caretakers and parents are present. Instead of just having interactions with parents and teachers, it's in a more relaxed setting and casually speaking to adults about interests, instead of just answering questions and getting onto the next class. The boys have learned to help out "the littles" as they get bored easily and try to keep up with the bigger kids, and they've also learned to love following the teenagers around, learning new things about their iPads and
talking about movies.
Physical health and nurturing is incredibly important for every child. By eliminating the "sitting in the classroom" factor, their playtime and in turn, activity, has grown exponentially. We're fortunate enough to belong to a group that hosts home school gym once a week for three hours. This is a mountain of difference compared to a short gym class and a twenty minute recess. Also dealing with physical health is the concept of a good night's sleep. I truly believe that sleeping as much as possible is healthy for tiny, growing bodies. Your body grows and heals itself during the deepest stages of sleep. Waking my child up at 6am to rush him out the door isn't something I was thrilled about. Another element of physical health is the food and snacks they are fed. It's much easier to feed them healthy, organic meals and snacks when I can prepare it for them right before they eat it. The apples don't brown and the grilled cheese is still gooey. They also receive more frequent snacks during the day than traditional schools, and this is also crucial to growing children who require more nutrients more often. Taking care of their bodies is just as important as taking care of their minds.
I've learned to adapt to their learning styles and preferences. My oldest child stands to do everything. He plays video games standing up. He watches tv standing up. He also does all of his handwriting and math pages standing up. My youngest does best when he's allowed to take frequent breaks, and has a glass of water at his side. Most of our reading is done under cozy blankets in the middle of winter. Making learning comfortable as well as doable is important.
I know this lifestyle isn't for everyone, but for us, it's been a game changer. Our lives have changed for the better, I'm so glad I took a chance on something that I never guessed I would do. Learning about your own strengths and capabilities can be a beautiful surprise.
Kate Stutz is a wife, a mama, and a professional photographer. For more from Kate, follow along with her on her website: https://katestutzphoto.wordpress.com/.