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8 Things I Wish I’d Known When We Started Homeschooling

homeschooling

When we started homeschooling seven years ago, the only other homeschoolers I knew lived five thousand miles away.

My instinct had told me that public school was the wrong environment for my son (who at four years old was already known as ‘the naughtiest boy in the class’) and my intense daughter (six), who needed much more downtime than a busy school + extracurriculars schedule could provide.

I knew nothing of his twice-exceptionality or her giftedness, so even after  we met other local homeschoolers, I felt out of my depth and many times wondered what I was doing wrong.

To help matters, my kids’ grandparents were vehemently opposed to my decision and even my husband thought I was crazy. I was riddled with anxiety and second-guessed myself at every turn.

Here’s what I wish I’d known back then when we first started homeschooling …

1. Homeschooling works!

Oh how I wish I could time-travel my younger self forward to today and show her how well homeschooling’s working out for us.

I’d show the younger me my daughter (now 13) happily composing songs with friends, figuring out maths problems for fun, looking forward to taking her first GCSE (physics) in a few months, and speaking fluent Spanish.

My younger self would be so happy to see that Cordie has more passions than ever, but also has time to sit and listen to music, to hang out with friends, to draw, and to recharge  by sleeping till her teenage brain feels ready to wake up.

The younger me would also love to see how Jasper (12) is learning to take care of his needs so that he’s not triggered in everyday situations – and that he’s never thought of himself as naughty.

I’d show her how his dysgraphia and dyslexia don’t hold him back at all, as he speedily touch-types the magical stories he dreams up and makes his way through dozens of audiobooks each month.

2. Be confident about your choice

Shortly after I removed my son from school I bumped into a school-mum acquaintance. ‘Where’s Jasper been lately?’ she asked. ‘ I’ve decided to homeschool him ,’ I mumbled.

I had to repeat myself four times before the woman could understand my reply! I was so unsure – ashamed? – of my radical decision, I couldn’t bring myself to say the words  out loud.

A few months later on my daughter’s last day at school, I happened to be standing outside her classroom before lessons began . I saw the teacher write a puzzle on the whiteboard and Cordie – oblivious to the other children still chattering away – eagerly copying it down and getting to work.  Panic seized me. How was I going to provide the intellectual stimulation my bright child was evidently getting here, all day long? (I managed. ;))

As for my kids’ grandparents, who all but staged an intervention when they heard I’d removed my son from school … I did what I could to gently reassure them, and remembered the advice of every homeschooler I knew who assured me that my family would come around. They did.

3. Relax while you de-school

I knew how important it is to allow a period of ‘de-schooling’ after kids leave public school (a month for every term they attended, is one guideline). The idea is for everyone to recover from the stress of school and to let go of the rigid public school mindset.

De-schooling is probably even more important for the homeschooling parent than the child. We need to let go of our ideas of what school should look like (writing in workbooks from 9-3.30) and spend time quietly noticing what our children enjoy doing and how much they learn naturally.

While I did allow us a de-schooling period, if I had my time again I’d relax and enjoy it wa-a-ay more, and not have a panic attack every time a friend mentioned what her kids were learning at school.

You just can’t compare homeschooling with public school on a day to day – or even a year by year – basis. Your kids aren’t going to learn the very same material in exactly the same way they would have at school. That’s the point!

4. They’ll have plenty of friends. Or just one. And that’s okay

I’m lucky enough to have one highly extroverted child and one who is very introverted.

Why lucky? Firstly, I’m not sure where we’d find the time to meet the needs of two children as busy and social as my extrovert. But more importantly, I know that each of my kids has had the same opportunities to make friends and get involved with social activities, so I don’t blame myself for the fact that my son has just one close friend whom he meets every few weeks. I don’t even see it as a bad thing.

I know that Jasper’s happiest at home, mixing with family and his beloved pets. He gets on fine ( mostly ) at his couple of extracurricular classes, and he gets plenty of exercise flipping on our trampoline and walking the dogs.

In our extrovert-centric western society, it’s easy to panic about the S( ocialisation ) word when you start homeschooling. Don’t. Follow your child’s lead, and they – and you – will be happy.

5. You’re the expert on your child

When we’ve been to public school ourselves, it’s scary to question the system.

‘Everyone’ goes to school. Surely it must be the best path for our kids?

Not necessarily. Not when you consider that schools have been around for a tiny fraction of human history, and were designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution (childcare, which in turned produced the next generation of compliant workers).

Teachers – even the good ones – have to work within a system that was designed over a century ago to meet the needs of the average student.

Parents raising kids at the edges of the bell curve need to trust that we know our child’s needs best.

Of course I’m not saying don’t consult professionals. We’ve seen some excellent ones over the years (and some less good ones). But when it comes to how your child learns and thrives, you’re the one who’s had thousands of hours of experience. Not the local school, not your teacher neighbour, and not your mother-in-law.

6. Don’t be afraid to mix and match homeschooling styles

The first home education book I read was written by unschooling pioneer, John Holt. Then, being the intense type I am, I set about reading everything else I could get my hands on.

Soon my head was spinning as I discovered classical homeschooling, Charlotte Mason, project-based homeschooling, and Brave Writer (to name just a few). Each philosophy has online communities buzzing with devoted fans who, despite their extremely good intentions, tap right into our insecurities and make us feel like we’re letting our children down if we don’t follow their methods to the letter.

There’s nothing wrong with learning about the different styles and trying out activities that appeal to you. Our own ‘us-schooling’ style combines aspects of several different homeschooling philosophies. Just remember that the single most important factor in successful homeschooling is the parent-child relationship. Don’t put that in jeopardy by forcing them to follow a homeschooling methodology they hate, no matter how well it works for the family you read about online.

7. Homeschooling is not a panacea

I confess, I used to hear about issues other people were having with their kids and secretly think, ‘That would never happen to us, because we homeschool.’

I should have known better, given all the judgement and misunderstanding my 2e son faces from people who have no idea how he experiences the world.

Without going into details,  I now realise that even homeschoolers experience bumps in the road every now and then, especially as children get older. Navigating these bumps has humbled me and given me a new level of empathy and compassion for other families.

I’ve also been grateful, during the tough moments, for the flexibility and family time homeschooling provides when life does get stressful.

8. ‘This too shall pass’

Minecraft? Nail art? Phineas and Ferb? Creepy crawlies? When intense kids get into something, they really get into it. No half measures.

As a homeschooling parent responsible their development and education, you see your child gripped by their latest fad passion and wonder if they’re ever going to broaden their horizons. Funnily enough we get especially anxious about the less academic obsessions.

I only really got this recently, when my daughter switched her intense focus from gymnastics to music. As we pushed aside the foam mats to make room for amplifiers and guitars, I desperately wanted to go back and reassure my younger self who wished fervently for her tall and strong (but unbendy) daughter to find a passion she was better suited to.

One thing I’ve realised throughout all my kids’ passions, though, is to trust that – even when my daughter spent six months watching Disney Channel sitcoms in every spare moment –  they’re learning what they need to learn .

Sometimes the best character training comes from the unlikeliest activities.

homeschooling

More about homeschooling

Navigating By Joy – My homeschooling blog, filled with fun educational activities and our homeschooling story over the last seven years.

5 Reasons I’m Glad My Sensitive, Intense Kids Aren’t Going Back To School Next Week

The 5 Best Homeschooling Decisions We’ve Made

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Do you homeschool? What do you wish you’d known when your kids first left school?

If you’re considering homeschooling, what are you most anxious about?

I’d love to hear from you!

To subscribe to my regular posts about life in an intense and sensitive family, leave your email in the Follow By Email box below. You can also follow Laugh Love Learn on Facebook.

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To read more posts about transitioning between public school and homeschool, visit these great GHF bloggers.

Gifted Children - Transitioning Between Public School & Homeschool - 8 Things I wish I'd Known When We Started Homeschooling - Laugh Love Learn

3 Reasons Homeschooling Kids With Overexcitabilities Can Stop Being Fun – And How to Fix It

Homeschooling kids with overexcitabilities

When I saw the subject of today’s GHF blog hop, ‘When homeschooling your gifted child becomes a drag – Your top tips’, my first reaction was, ’A drag? Homeschooling’s never a drag – I love homeschooling!’

Does that mean I’m some kind of saint with infinite patience who jumped at the chance to put my career on hold while I teach my kids arithmetic and grammar?

Ha ha. I think not.

No. For me,

Homeschooling’s like flying a plane – a constant exercise in course-correction.

About 2% of the time we’re smoothly headed towards our destination (happy, educated kids). The other 98% of the time I’m looking at where we’re at and thinking how I can change things to get us back on track.

When homeschooling starts becoming a drag, it’s usually for one of three reasons: anxiety,  boredom, or a clash in learning styles.

1. ‘He’s not learning enough!’

Every homeschooling mum worries that she’s failing her kids in some way.

And when you’re a rainforest-minded mum of highly able children, this anxiety sometimes goes into overdrive.

Our kids’ education is our job, and just as with any project we undertake, we want to do it to the best of our ability. How do we know we’re doing a job well? We see results.

But how do you measure results when you’re homeschooling kids with overexcitabilities? This tendency to measure our self-worth in this way can put intense pressure on our kids and on us.

When we hear about someone else’s son reading 500 books in a year and our 9-year-old can barely read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, we feel like a failure.

We see a friend’s daughter crocheting hats for her own Etsy shop, and we wonder why our kids aren’t crafting entrepreneurs.

When someone on a forum mentions that her 8 year old is studying trigonometry, we despair that our 10-year-old will ever master long multiplication.

Tips for getting over homeschooling anxiety

1. Remember: we can’t measure learning by physical output. Our kids aren’t machines. They’re living, breathing young people, busy forming neural pathways they’ll use to contribute to the world in their own unique ways.

2. Trust that your child is learning everything he needs to right now. We can’t force learning to happen. If we try, our efforts are bound to backfire. Our job is to offer our children the opportunity to learn.

3. Don’t compare your child to others. Focus on his strengths. So what if your dysgraphic 11-year-old’s handwriting is worse than his 6-year-old cousin’s? Focus on his fantastic maths. All-rounders are overrated.

4. Don’t let any subject become a battlefield. Put it on hold it for a while or encourage your child to do the minimum he can tolerate. If he feels the need to learn it later, he will.

I know one mum who gave up teaching her 11-year-old daughter maths because the arguments over it were ruining their relationship. Four years later her daughter decided she wanted to pass maths GCSE (the exams English schoolchildren sit at 16). After a few months’ intense study, she passed the exam comfortably.

5. My biggest tip for soothing anxiety about your child’s learning is to have your own interests. Take up an instrument, learn a language or craft, or write a blog – anything you have more direct control over than your child’s learning.

Don’t equate your success as a human being with your child’s academic progress.

2. ‘This is so BORING!’

Gifted and 2e kids often have a high need for stimulation and a low boredom threshold. And if they’re anything like my kids, they won’t hold back from telling you when something isn’t working for them.

Tips for keeping homeschooling interesting

1. Ditch the curriculum. My kids’ need for variety is one reason we’ve never followed a curriculum. Fortunately I love researching fun new ways for my kids to learn. (See resources below for links to my homeschooling posts on how we learn maths and science without curricula.)

2. Take regular time off. Our term time routine is based around my daughter’s activities, but we never do the same thing for more than a few weeks at a time. This is partly because I plan regular breaks during school terms, especially in winter.

Last week, for instance, we spent four days at a forest holiday village. We spent our days sliding down rapids and traversing treetop courses. Our evenings were spent sitting around the log fire playing cards or watching movies together.

homeschooling kids with overexcitabilities - luggage to go on vacation
We may be the only family that takes 2 guitars and an amp to CenterParcs

And in March we’re headed to Spain where my daughter’s doing  an intensive Spanish course and my son and I will absorb the Spanish sunshine and culture.

Before we go away I sometimes feel anxious about my kids missing out on academic work. But when we get back relaxed and energised, I know it was worth it. Plus, of course, they’ve learned heaps while we’re away.

Even if you can’t go on vacation, you can still benefit from this tip by declaring a games, projects, cooking, literature, art & craft, or nature week – whatever appeals to your family.

3. Be sure to include plenty of variety and fun as part of your regular routine.  Our favourite way of doing this is by playing writing games (usually over tea and cake) and doing plenty of hands-on activities.

4. Allow time for tangents. Another reason we don’t follow curricula is my kids’ tendency to go off on tangents. No curriculum means no pressure to get through a bunch of material. This leaves plenty of time for the kind of learning that’s going to stick with my children long after the books are closed – the kind that follows from their own curiosity and imagination.

3. ‘Why can’t he just keep still and focus? It’s driving me mad!’

‘Straight after lunch he sat down at the table and worked quietly until he’d finished’…  said no parent of a kid with psychomotor OE ever.

So why did it take me so long to realise that I was the one who was going to have to change?

Even six years into homeschooling, I still occasionally find myself on autopilot putting maths books on the table. Then I remember that maths happens on the floor, where my son has space to jump, roll and tickle the dogs as he works.

Tip for dealing with different learning styles

I have just one tip here, but it’s an important one:

Be willing to adapt your learning style, rather than expecting your child to do things your way.

Life’s just so much easier when we accept our kids’ quirks and stop trying to make them fit our mould.

I still struggle to concentrate when my son’s fidgeting around me, but things have been much more peaceful since I accepted that it’s even more difficult for him to focus when he’s still, than it is for me to concentrate when he’s fidgeting.

Lately we’ve been negotiating over lighting. On a dark winter’s afternoon, I can’t read without having the lights on, while my son finds overhead lights overstimulating. I may have to invest in a head torch!

My extroverted daughter, meanwhile, needs to verbalise every maths problem she tackles. I can’t hear myself think when someone else is talking, let alone follow their reasoning. This is especially true when they’re following a different mental process from mine.  I’ve learned to nod quietly along until she reaches a conclusion, then together we write out what she did in a way that my visual learning style can follow.

Of course we want our children to be able to sit still and concentrate by the time they reach adulthood.  But right now they’re using so much energy  learning to manage their OEs,  sitting still and keeping quiet is too much to ask.

So let’s grant them the grace that homeschooling affords, and let them get there in their own asynchronous way.

What are your best tips for homeschooling kids with overexcitabilities when it becomes a drag?

I’d love to hear from you!

Resources

Posts from my homeschooling blog

What do you have to show for your child’s learning? (and what to do if you think they’re not ‘producing’ enough)

25 hands-on science experiments we’ve done, with full instructions and photos

How to make sure science gets done when you’re not using a curriculum

How we do maths without a curriculum

When every day is maths playtime

5 Days of Maths Playtime

5 Writing Games Your Kids Will Love

Books

Free to Learn (Peter Gray)

Let’s Play Math (Denise Gaskins)

Living With Intensity (Daniels, Piechowski et al)

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults  (James T Webb et al)

Loads more tips!

To read what other homeschooling mums do when homeschooling becomes a drag, visit these great GHF bloggers.

homeschooling kids with overexcitabilities

Do your children have overexcitabilities? I’d love you to join me on my journey learning how to bring out the best in our awesome sensitive and intense kiddoes. Just write your email address in the box below to receive my weekly posts direct to your inbox. You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

Navigating Family Life When Overexcitabilities Collide


when overexcitabilities collide - tigers fighting

When you’re a child with overexcitabilities, one moment you might be talking at the top of your voice and five minutes later you need absolute silence. Unfortunately – because OEs are hereditary – you probably live with several other intense and sensitive folk whose needs rarely coincide with yours.

If you’re not talking at top volume, you might be leaping around, dancing, whistling, clapping, fidgeting, playing the same piece of music for hours on end, arguing, sucking, chewing, crunching, banging or expressing your intensity in one of a million other ways that make you just a little hard to live with. And that’s even before we take into account the sensitivities of other family members.

So what do we do when our children are screaming at each other (or worse) because their needs are out of sync with their siblings’? And how do we stay sane in the process?

Conventional methods don’t work in non-average families

When one child is bugging everyone else, the conventional approach is to step in and make the ‘offending’ child stop their behaviour. Maybe even punish them for it.

But who is the ‘offending child’? Is it the one who had so much energy that he needed to bang his drum while stamping his feet for ten minutes straight, or is it his sister who eventually bashed him on the head to make him stop?

And in the midst of all that chaos, do we have the wisdom to make that judgment?

An alternative approach

Instead of waiting until OEs collide, let’s teach all our kids to approach life with the resilient attitude psychologists call an internal locus of control – a mindset that will not only create a more peaceful home, but will benefit them throughout their lives.

People who have an internal locus of control (ILOC) believe that what happens to them depends on what they do, rather than on events outside their control.  (In contrast, people with an external locus of control believe that what happens to them is controlled by outside forces.)

People who live mostly in ILOC tend to be happier, more confident and successful, have a strong sense of self-efficacy, and enjoy better physical health.

So how do we help our kids to grow up with this positive attitude?  ILOC begins with that holy grail of parenting children with OEs: self-regulation.

Teaching our children self-regulation

When our kids are triggered, they flip into survival mode: fight or flight are the only options available to them. We want to get them back into their thinking brains, which is where their power lies.

To do this, we need to do something we’ve been doing since they were babies – use our own regulation to help soothe them.

Think about what happens when a baby cries and a calm, loving adult picks her up and cuddles her. The baby hasn’t yet learned to self-regulate, so the adult helps. (Contrast what happens when a dysregulated adult tries to calm a crying baby.)

Our intense and sensitive children are no longer babies but they have bigger ‘engines’ than other kids. It makes sense, then, that it takes them longer  to learn to learn to control those engines.

Of course, staying regulated ourselves  is easier said than done when we’re trying  to cook dinner at the end of a long day and yet another scream emanates from the bedroom.

As parents we can improve our own ability to self-regulate in two ways: by de-activating our past-based triggers, and by taking care of own needs.

Healing ourselves

Most of us were raised in families where intensity had to be suppressed. We learned – or were made – to stuff down our feelings to keep the peace. We grew up to be more or less functional adults, able to manage our emotions when we needed to.

And then we had children, and those intense children pushed buttons we never knew we had, bringing to the surface years of suppressed pain.

I’m not suggesting every parent of kids with OE needs therapy, but if we want to stay calm in the face of their intense behaviours, we need to find some way to deal with our own issues. (Paula Prober’s book, Your Rainforest Mind is an excellent place to start.)

Daily self-care

As well as dealing with the big stuff, we need to take care of our day-to-day needs if we want to stay regulated in the midst of our kids’ OEs. (See my series on how to use our overexcitabilities to nourish our souls for some ideas.)

Helping children increase their window of stress tolerance

We can help children learn self-regulation skills by chatting with them (when they’re calm) about their window of stress tolerance.

Make lists together of things that make their window smaller, and things that make it bigger. (Younger kids might relate more to the idea of a bucket that gets fuller or emptier.)

For ‘Things that make my window smaller’ they might come up with: playing video games for too long, staying up late, eating too much sugar, being hungry or thirsty, for example.

Things that make my window bigger’  might include: going for a walk, playing outside, eating healthily, cuddling the pets, jumping on the trampoline, enjoying a good book, playing with clay.

When we talk with our kids about stress tolerance, we’re teaching them that they have more control over how they react than they may have realised.

But what if a child’s done all she can to take care of herself, and her sibling’s intense behaviour is still driving her nuts?

‘What can I do to make myself feel better?’

Next, our kids need to consider what (peaceful!) steps they can take to stop their sibling’s behaviour affecting them.

For instance, if noise is an issue, can they move to a different room or even outside? Can they use ear defenders or listen to soothing music or white noise?

Teach powerful communication strategies

We can also show our children how to compassionately negotiate with their siblings. I like the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) model, in which we refer to our own needs and use non-blaming language.

NVC can be practised in advance and then be used either in the moment, or later when everyone’s calm.

An example might be: ‘When I hear you making that noise I feel overwhelmed because I need quiet to concentrate on my schoolwork.  Would you be willing to do something quieter for a while?’

But shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to be considerate?

So far I’ve talked about helping our kids self-regulate so that they’re better able to deal with with their siblings’ intense behaviours.

What’s I haven’t talked much about is the intense behaviours that some might say are causing the problems in the first place.  Does this mean I think we shouldn’t encourage our children to be respectful of other people’s needs? Of course not. I’m just trying to rectify the balance. The refrain of ‘Be quiet!’ and ‘Keep still!’ follows too many of these kids wherever they go.

But intensity is a part of who our children are. It’s no easier to turn off than their sensitivity.

Home is a place where we should all be allowed to express ourselves as the vibrant, quirky individuals that we are.

And if we can teach our kids to cope with each other, they’ll be able to cope with anything. 😉

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How do you manage when overexcitabilities collide in your family?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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How to stay sane when your kids fight

You might also like this post, about how we turned an intense, crockery-smashing argument into an opportunity to become closer and wiser.

To receive my regular posts about living positively with intensity and sensitivity, don’t forget to leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page.  You can also like Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook.

To read more families’ experiences of navigating gifted traits, visit these great GHF bloggers.

navigating family life when overexcitabilities collide - goats locking horns

Main photo credit: Castleguard

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