While I loved the beautiful books and curriculum and carefully planned days of traditional homeschooling, my sensitive, strong-willed, unique needs son did not and when his dysregulation, aggression and anxiety were at it’s highest, I dropped everything, including home learning, so that I could focus on restoring connection, emotional regulation, and executive functioning.
What I did during that time was to keep our home filled with books that I carefully selected to supplement his education indirectly. I now practice unschooling with him, and “eclectic homeschooling,” (unschooling with some traditional homeschooling), with my younger two children.
Lessons I Learned About Homeschool
Did your heart THUD when you heard about more remote learning for another year for your child? Does your heart sink or tense up now just thinking about it? Or are your kids going back to school and you’re feeling a restricted wave of relief? Restricted because you are keenly aware that you might be distance learning at any point during the school year.
I feel you, moms and dads.
And I want you to know you are doing good work. Seriously, you’re making magic each and every day you’re navigating schooling at home, work, meals, clean up, and whatnot. No joke. Actual. Magic.
I started homeschooling my children before COVID times.
My mission with my children’s learning experience is to foster internal curiosity and wonder and instil in them that learning and growth are part of a joyful lifelong experience. I focus on ensuring they learn the basics and trust that any gaps in their learning will get filled in as they come up.
Here's How Our Schedule Looks (Sometimes!)
No one day ever really looks the same, no day feels “typical,” but there are some definite rises and peaks in energy and go-to tools that I use.
Our mornings start off relaxed. After everyone has gotten ready and had breakfast, I notice that they—and I—all benefit from downtime.
They play. I work, focus on my self-development, clean or join them in play. If I am cleaning or cooking, I create gentle playful invitations for them to join. This looks like a game of “Whose shirt is this?” as we hang laundry, or talking to the dishes as we wash. I find that my younger children find it supportive if we try and tap into their senses doing this (for example, as they put each dish on the drying rack, we say “clink” together).
When I want a moment to myself, I can directly share this with my kids and take a moment for me to reset.
After lunch, our family naturally rests. This is a time where I may do some direct learning for my younger children. This can be guiding my 6-year-old with reading, writing or math. My 3-year-old NEEDS to be doing school, too, so I keep simple things for her nearby. This looks like drawing a squiggly line on a piece of paper and she puts dot stickers on it, pouring and dumping or some other simple, Montessori-style activity.
Afternoons are where we go outside, get social and get sweaty. We may go swimming, play tag, ride bikes or an excursion out to the park, store or elsewhere.
My eldest thrives in the evenings after the younger two have gone to bed. His interest peaks in the evenings when it’s quiet and still and he has my full attention. When we do direct learning (through his request), it is supportive to keep the experience short. So we do four math problems versus an entire page.
And we have flexibility. Not EVERY day looks like this. Not EVERY day has direct learning. What’s supportive is to stretch my kids. We do our best when we stay out of overwhelm by noticing when it’s time to pull back, and doing so.
And on the days where we are not directly learning, my kids are still absorbing. We may be baking together and they indirectly become aware of measurements, fractions and time. What I’ve experienced with my kids is that ONE emotionally-engaged experience grounds concepts in much deeper than ten direct but emotionally bland experiences.
Following My Child's Cues For Learning
What do I mean?
My kids are all curious about business and money as they watch me grow in my business. They actually see me love what I do. My eldest sees me writing on the computer when I work. He’s always loved drawing and handwriting stories. A few years ago, he was inspired to write a story and asked if he could use the computer. I said, “Yes…and…did you know there is a special way to position your fingers so that you can type quickly?”
I waited for his “yes” and curious eyes.
“Will you show me, mama?” he asked.
In ten minutes, I showed him the basics of typing and he took off from there and wrote an entire story.
How to Beat the Resistance
What my experience these past years has taught me is that what kid’s resist with schooling is when we become completion-focused. I mean when completing the “work” becomes more important to us than our connection. In those times, what they resist is the “have to” or “just get it done” energy. You know…when there is a worksheet you want them to do and you know that if they actually sat down and focused on it, it’d take five minutes but instead you spend two hours on it.
How have I overcome this?
I focus back on that energy.
I mix connection in.
So, right now, my eldest wants to learn multiplication tables and asked me to make worksheets for him. On the worksheet, I put a spot for his name at the top and underneath I put a second question. I put fun questions like, What’s your favorite movie? Would you rather swim in a pool of ice or tomato sauce? What do you think tastes worse – broccoli ice cream or fish popsicles?
When I ask for these small things below his name, I shift my energy from “just do the worksheet” to “I want to get to know something about you I didn’t know before.”
It's building connection and trust right into the learning experience.
When my middle son was first learning to read and not very interested, he’d sound out words like this: “hhhhhhh….aaaaaaa….tttttt….hhaaaaatt…CAR!”
I Playlistened with him by taking a turn for me to read and I’d say “cccc….aaaaa….ttttt…..ccaaaaatt……BANANA PANCAKES!”
He’d laugh and laugh and say “No, mama…it says CAT”.
He also LOVES food and became internally motivated to read when I put up a meal plan on the refrigerator because he wanted to know what we were going to eat that day.
We’ve now reached a point where continuing to learn to read is a value I want to uphold for my 6-year-old, so I hold a loving limit that we practice for at least five minutes a day. He gets to choose what activity we do and where we sit in the home, and I bring my enthusiasm and delight for this time. Often, I'll build connection by telling him, “BUT, you can’t read until you find the book I hid,” or getting some whole-body action in by taping cards up high that he gets to jump to pull down and read.
Listen to Yourself
What I’d love to leave you with is to listen to yourself. Homeschooling someone else’s way is not easy. Find what resonates with you and your family, the rhythms that support you and leave what doesn’t.
Oh, and cut yourself a lot of slack on the days when you just don’t have it in you. Snuggling up and reading a book together counts as school. So does supporting your kids in navigating sibling squabbles—think debate class, negotiation skills, and empathy skills.
Now, that’s a full curriculum.
Fire Up Your Child's Passon For Learning
Sonali is a Hand in Hand Certification candidate and the founder of Raising Your Strong-Willed Child online summit. She supports parents of highly sensitive, strong-willed kids in her Facebook community and on www.raisingyourstrongwilledchild.com
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