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We are officially done with our first “school year” of homeschool. I put “school year” in quotes because our homeschool year is year-round. He’s just begun his first class with CTY (the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth), we’re still doing classes online with Outschool and GHF, and he’s doing a few more half-day coding camps with the summer camp crowd.

He’s always been a serious reader who loves to write and draw… Husband and I had somehow gotten this idea that we’d angle him towards his traditionally creative endeavors and keep him away from what we do (web development and working in video games). Wow, did that not work. I’ve written about it before, but he took to coding and game design type stuff like the proverbial duck to water. The instructors in the coding classes have remarked on how quickly he plows through all the lessons and picks things up. He spends as much time as he’s allowed “remixing” games on the Scratch website, coding new games, coming up with story lines and ideas for games, and has even written a server manual for his Big Project (his own Minecraft Server). I, for one, have had my mind completely changed about the value of video games in a kids life. That’s to say, I used to think it was all bad. But I’ve been truly amazed and delighted at how he maneuvers the social aspects of gaming through all the chats and collaboration. I’ve seen firsthand the immense social value of these online games.

But that’s a topic for another day. This isn’t a post about gaming and coding, it’s a post about how I feel about this first year of homeschool!

The ;tldr is that choosing to homeschool is the best damn decision we’ve ever made as a family, and I wish we’d started it sooner!

The long version is this:

One of the two most common comments or questions I hear when I say that we homeschool is something about how the person  and their child/ren could never spend that much time together. The Kid (my kid) has always been really independent and able to amuse himself for hours on end (usually reading), so there’s that. But something I hear a lot from other homeschool families, and have had a small taste of, is that spending so much time together actually makes it easier. When he was still in school during the day, there was a lot of racing around and trying to fit things in after school. I felt pressured to hang out with him and make “quality time” when he got home, since I didn’t see him as often. We pulled out of school before the deluge of homework began, but had we not, our evenings would have been consumed by school responsibilities. (And I hated all the school functions with a passion. School concerts, “culture days,” parent lunches, and all that jazz are my personal version of hell.) Being trapped by the school district’s schedule is pretty stifling and stressful. I work from home, and Husband works regular work hours, but between work and his 26-mile (round trip) bike commute, he’s gone for nearly twelve hours each day. It was hard for him to race home and immediately put The Kid to bed with no real time to spend with him, except for weekends.

All that’s to say that spending time together (The Kid and I, The Kid and Husband, and all three of us together) has become so much easier and more relaxed now that we homeschool. Since I’m with him all day, I feel more comfortable “ignoring” him for a few hours while I get work done. We also take time for long walks each day, anywhere from three to six miles, where I give him 100% of my attention, and he uses that time to tell me every single detail about his latest game. The lack of pressure does wonders for relationships. I still keep him to a fairly regular sleep schedule, because I think that’s important—but if Husband gets home a little later or they want to go for quick bike ride when Husband gets home (as they often do), it’s totally fine for the Kid to go to bed a little later. Husband is able to be more relaxed about getting home, Kid is happy they get to do something together, and I’m relaxed because I’m not worried about him getting enough sleep. We are all so, so, so much happier like this.

There’s also the fact that the Kid has never slept much, what with his exceptionally active “rainforest mind,” and he’s inherited my inability to sleep; he wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, so he’ll read for an hour or two at 3a.m.! (I recently discovered that he’ll sometimes wake up at 3a.m. or earlier, start reading, and then… he just stays up for the rest of the day. We’re working on getting him to read in bed and go back to sleep, even if it’s four or five in the morning.) In the last few months, he’s taken to napping a few times a week, in the middle of the afternoon. The ability to nap when he needs or wants has done wonders for his moods and state of mind. When he was still in school, he’d been starting to show signs of intense exhaustion. Have you ever seen a 9-year-old with dark circles and bags under his eyes? It’s scary.

He and I love going to movies and museums during the week, when no one else is there. (Summer kind of ruins that fun for us, but it’ll be quiet again come September!) He gets to fly out to see Grandmom regularly, whenever the hell we feel like it. I’m getting his passport and plotting a month in Spain with him next year, so that he can be immersed in and practice his Spanish, while also learning about other cultures. And though my work is flexible and can be done just about anywhere, Husband’s career takes up a lot of space in our lives. To be able to arrange our schedules around his need to work is an extraordinary privilege that I never stop taking for granted. This whole homeschool thing has allowed us to prioritize our values and put family time front and center.

Aside from all that, there was some initial resistance from The Kid when it came to doing lessons and schoolwork at home. In the last few months, I’ve noticed that we’ve finally found our groove. There’s always room to adapt and tweak as needed, but this magical thing has happened where The Kid has been taking ownership of his learning. He wakes up, brushes his teeth, eats breakfast, and without being told or asked or prodded, he goes right to his lessons for the week. When there’s something else he wants to do, he puts thought into managing his time so that he can play/code/go to the movies/read a book/work on a personal project while also getting work done for the day. He’s learned how to manage his time, he’s taking initiative in finding resources or other classes, and he’s doing a phenomenal job of working independently while being able to collaborate with others in his online classes.

It’s nothing short of amazing.

In his last year at brick-and-mortar school, I was watching him slowly be consumed by depression. When I said we were considering homeschool and people would tell me, “Homeschooling is hard,” I would always respond with, “Seeing depression in an 8-year-old is harder.” We didn’t yet know about the ADHD or dyscalculia, though his teacher wouldn’t listen to me about his needs as a “gifted” kid and visual spatial learner. She refused to give him more challenging work or let him work to his level in writing and reading. She had started getting into a power struggle with him and was shaming him repeatedly over things that were out of his control.

In this last year, the cloud quickly lifted, and he is 150% back to his “old self.” The ADHD is a non-issue. The depression is gone. He’s working at a 7th grade level in languages, reading, and writing; he’s working a couple years ahead in science; and we’re able to present him with math work in a way that’s manageable for him. Theres been this long-standing idea in education that all kids need to individually be equally good across all subjects. So in that regard, if a child is skilled in reading and writing, for example, but struggling in math, our educational system will expend a lot of energy into bringing the math skills up while leaving the reading and writing skills to wither on the vine. There’s a new idea that education should support and work with children’s strengths, but it’s a very slow change in the public/private education system. Supporting strengths is something that many homeschoolers already do—this means that since The Kid is exceptionally skilled in reading and writing, languages, and coding, we put 80% of our energy and time into these things. (I should add: this isn’t some “my kid is superior” line. ALL kids are better at some things than others. Some kids are ahead and more capable in some subjects than others, regardless of their neurological make-up.)

As to that infamous other question that non-homeschoolers always ask… BUT WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION? *eye roll* We don’t socialize; we just lock him up in the basement all day, every day.

(That’s sarcasm, people. I just refuse to answer that question because it’s stupid, and he’s not a puppy.)

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