Contributed by Annie Hundley
My family was having dinner at a restaurant recently and a woman sat down at the next table and caught by daughter’s eye.
“Are you done with school?” she asked.
“I homeschool,” my five-year-old daughter responded.
“Oh!” the woman replied. “Well, are you done with homeschool? Is it summer?”
My daughter had a bewildered look in her eyes, and looked over to me for help.
“Yes!” I replied cheerfully. “It’s summer!”
The conversation was a little comical for me, but highlighted the fact that my kiddo has no idea when homeschooling starts or stops. We live in an age when five year olds don caps and gowns and “graduate” from kindergarten, but our first year of kindergarten just slowly faded from spring into summer, with less time at home and more time at lakes and rivers and picking berries.
My kiddos have always been home with me, but this year would have been my daughter’s kindergarten year in public school, so things felt a bit more official this year. I spent much of this year casting about, a bit. I wasn’t really sure what we were doing. Are we Waldorf homeschoolers? Unschoolers? Maybe Charlotte Mason? Eclectic? Maybe it doesn’t matter?
One thing I am certain of is that we are postponing formal academics until age 7, which is in alignment with many educational philosophies, including Waldorf, Charlotte Mason and the most lauded education system in the world – Finland.
So if we’re not doing academics, how do I evaluate whether we had a successful homeschooling year? How do I know if we’re “done” with our year? I can’t tick off a list of academic goals or say that we made it all the way through our curriculum. For us, right now, life is the curriculum.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about how I can assess this past year and here’s what I’ve come up with:
Set goals and check in with them
Back in September I set some intentions for the year. These were the top things I really wanted to focus on. I only had two main goals in mind for my daughter and now, looking back, I can see she’s made huge strides in those areas.
I chose to focus on creating a schedule and an environment that would allow her to sink deeply into her play life on a daily basis. That intention helped me set a weekly rhythm that reflected that priority and guided me when saying yes or no to the many outside-the-home homeschooling opportunities that popped up.
The other intention I set for the year was that my daughter would spend ample time in nature. This goal was difficult for me to accomplish on my own, with a toddler in the mix, so I reached out to a Waldorf preschool teacher and she created a one-day-a-week nature day for homeschoolers, which has been such a blessing for our family this year. I was especially grateful for this program during the rainy months when it just wasn’t my idea of a good time to have a toddler out in rain for four or five hours or changing a poopy diaper in the middle of a forest. But oh my goodness I loved seeing my five-year-old’s beaming face when I picked her up and she was absolutely covered in mud at the end of her day in Forest Park.
Visit the same places and observe your child
We recently visited Silver Falls State Park for my son’s second birthday. We hadn’t been there since we visited last year for his first birthday. It was absolutely fascinating for me to watch my daughter in that environment. Because we visit the place infrequently, it was so easy for me to remember her behavior from a year ago and see how far she’s come. While last year she was very reluctant to get into the water at the creek, this year she was so brave and independent about getting into the creek and splashing around on her own. While last year she didn’t notice much about the flora and fauna of the park, this year she identified a variety of plants, berries, flowers and birds. When we came across two deer, she was able to squat quietly for a long time, just watching the deer. Much of the credit for this goes to her Forest Fridays program.
We have several annual outings like this built into our year – visiting the pumpkin patch, cutting down a Christmas tree, an annual trip to the beach, etc. – and I am liking the idea of using those moments to really look at my children, recall where they were at the last time we visited that place, and take some comfort in how far they’ve come.
Tally your books
Even thought we don’t do formal academics, we do read. A LOT! I am drawn to Charlotte Mason’s thinking about exposing children to quality literature. In our house we typically read aloud after breakfast, before our afternoon quiet time and then again before bedtime. That’s a lot of reading! I have been thinking back on all the books this year and realizing we have enjoyed a lot of wonderful books. Some favorites have been The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, Stuart Little, Peter Pan (over and over and over again), everything Beatrix Potter, Greek Myths for Young Children, Stories from Around the World, everything Sibylle Von Olfers, and many beautiful picture books.
I once had a college professor who encouraged me to study abroad, knowing I wanted to be a writer. “If you want to have something to write about, you need to live some interesting experiences!” he said. I think the same thing about children’s play. Good books have fueled my daughter’s play and all year long I’ve watched her sort through the meaning of the books we read through her play.
Look at your photos
I take lots of pictures of my kids. I love taking photos of our day-to-day life and sharing them with family and friends, many of whom live far away. Photos are fun to share in the moment, to make a connection. I’ve discovered Instagram has an amazing community of homeschooling parents and I’ve enjoyed making connections there. (I’m @annieandfam on Instagram.)
But photos also provide an excellent record of what we’ve done through the year. When I sit back and scroll through a year’s worth of photos, I’m blown away by all that we’ve done. Field trips, hikes, plays, ballet, swim lessons, travel, mornings at home making homemade play dough and messy art projects and quality time spent with grandparents. Life with a toddler and a five-year-old often felt like a never-ending rotation of meals, dishes, laundry, changing diapers and more laundry. But when I look at my photos, I see a different story. I see all that I was able to do with my kids and I can’t help but feel like this year was a tremendous success.
How is the teacher doing?
A homeschool year cannot be a success if the teacher is burned out. I wrote about this in this post about self-care for the homeschool mom (or dad!). I’m also looking back at how well I took care of myself this year and whether I feel able to do this all again next year. I have to admit I spent much of January and February fantasizing about sending my kiddo to school. Those dark, rainy months are hard for me. Everybody’s cooped up and on each other’s nerves. But every homeschooling day isn’t going to feel amazing.
Overall, though, I really put a lot of effort and energy into my own self-care and it is paying dividends. It is really crystalizing for me that the time I take away from my children, to fill my own cup and meet my needs as an introvert, is truly an investment in their well-being along with my own. I also attended my first homeschooling conference, the Wild + Free Conference that was held in Portland in May, and finding a tribe of like-minded mamas has been a huge boon to my homeschooling happiness.
So, how did we do this year? We played a lot, we went on adventures, we read good books and we continued to build the foundation of loving family relationships which I know will take my kids far in life. We haven’t started math or science or language arts in any formal way, but by looking back at our year in this way I can see that I’ve created a rich learning environment for my kids and that, I believe, is an excellent start.