My daughter is 13 and my son is 10.
They have been homeschooled – with the exception of a brief period in preschool – for their entire lives.
It’s safe to say that when we started we knew nothing. Oh, we went and visited a homeschooling family and had a visit and a chat, met the kids, saw their fancy homeschool room and their files and desks and computers and…stuff…
But, like the old adage says: the more we learned, the more questions we had.
So we did what a lot of people do. Having been schooled ourselves and therefore seeing ourselves as “experts”, we knew that homeschool meant school-at-home. Right? So we bought a massive, fancy, internationally-recognised box curriculum. It was ginormous! Lots of files, lots of books, a whole couple of those files just dedicated to us parents which promised: “everything you need to know”. It was a standalone system with everything built in. No need to think, so sirree: just follow the instructions. Is today Monday? Then turn to ‘Monday’ and get going.
What could be easier?
By the end of the first year, Grade 1 as it were, we were both burned out and on the way to a serious substance abuse problem. Okay, I joke, but you know what I mean. There was sooooo much work! Our little Grade 1 learner was spending hours every day doing things that she couldn’t comprehend, and frankly neither could we.
If this was homeschooling then – good golly gosh – you could keep it.
The second year was mildly better. It was mildly better because we threw the fancy stuff – with all of its promises – in the bin and started again. This time, we spoke to more people. Not just one. Many. Lots. So very many. We joined Facebook groups and chatted there. We met for homeschool get-togethers and chatted there. If you ask ten people for their recommendations on a good maths program, you’ll get ten people telling you about how their maths program is the best maths program and how well it helped little Sally and little Joe.
So we tried a maths program. We tried an English one. We tried an Afrikaans one and a geography one and a science one and all that jazz and – you know what? We ended up trialing this and trialing that and, eventually, found something that worked. Why it worked, we did not know.
But I think we now know why it worked. We only found out a couple of years ago that the system we have – where we take what works and throw out what doesn’t – has a name. They call it Eclectic Homeschooling. I liked the sound of that. It rolls off the tongue. It has a satisfying click. And it doesn’t cost nearly as much as the ginormous, internationally-recognised homeschool curriculum that promised everything and delivered…well, nothing for us, anyway.
So now we have an identity. When people ask “what system do you follow”, or “how do you do school” or insert-commonly-heard-question-here, we simply say: we’re Eclectic. Those who know, nod wisely. Those who don’t, ask questions.
And the answer is almost always the same. We take what we can use and we throw the rest away. If Sally is a year behind in maths (according to some peer scale which doesn’t matter anyway) and a year ahead in English, cater for that. It’s about saying: instead of following this method or this system, I will use this for geography because it works for us, I will use that for maths because it works for us, I will use this other thing for science because that works for us.
It has to work for you. We’re all different. Our kids have different learning styles. There is no one-size-fits-all.
And if I have learned anything at all about Eclectic Homeschooling, then it is this: there are only two skills you need to get started. Only two.
The first skill is research skills. Now I don’t mean Google skills, searching for “top 10 best maths programmes for Grade 3 females with dark hair and a slight limp.” No, it’s more like being open to constantly asking questions, constantly trying new things. Try something for a month, because why not? Most of the time you aren’t paying for things. Lots of places allow you to trial, and many other things are frankly free. If Joe bites, you have a winner; if he doesn’t, move onto the next thing. Mix your styles, play around. And you know what? What works for you this year may not the next. So learn to roll with the punches and always ask, try, ask, and try again. The happy medium really is out there. It’s not a unicorn.
The second skill you need is courage. Simple. Unadulterated. Bravery. Because let’s face it: this isn’t how many of us were raised nor schooled. It’s hard to give this a go. It is. At oh-dark-thirty when you’re agonising over your choices and wondering if you’re doing Polly a disservice by using maths from this and science from that…just know that you aren’t alone. We’ve all done it. We think that the kids will not get educated and of course you worry. How can they, without a system to follow? How do we even measure this? How are they tested? Should they even be tested? These are big questions, and they have even bigger answers.
So reach out, if you are thinking of going this route or already started. The answers are out there, from veterans in the homeschool community and from us.
All you need to do is provide the stuff. And find the courage.
You’ve got this.