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3.18.2020

Suddenly homeschooling? One way to think about it

I made a little off hand commentary on Facebook the other day to my unexpected non-consensual homeschoolers out there who are looking at trying to do three months of school at home.  I saw a lot of crime scene like photos, with books and pens scattered across rooms like they were at ground zero of some explosion.

The message I posted was basically: relax, it's messy, but it'll be okay.

I have no basis to say such a thing, but I am quite familiar with not knowing what to do with my kids all day and I know that panic spreads like wildfire from parent to child. Panic is not particularly helpful in a learning environment unless you are learning what ice cream you like best to binge eat while crying on the kitchen floor.

There is a lot of scrambling this week, home education wise, and I am impressed at the glut of home based resources being tossed around the social media sites.  It would of been great to have this kind of access when I first started homeschooling my girl back in 2009.

Nope, actually, that's a lie.  It would of been overwhelming and despair inducing.

The decision for us to homeschool way back when was based on a genuine desire to spend as much as my time as possible with my children, for me to find a way to work at home, and my generalized loathing of externally set structure and loss of control that comes with following institutional schedule and demands.


And, as a strong, invisible force, it was because I have ADHD.

I didn't know that at the time; my diagnosis has been relatively recent.  But an inability and non-desire to follow schedules, easily distractible, low motivation to participate in group activities, and poor adherence to timetables are hallmarks of kindergarten drop outs.  Which, as a parent, I was.

Undiagnosed ADHD has many mental and physical burdens that are beyond the scope of this particular afternoon to talk about but it was instrumental to the way I set up my homeschool.  Or, as I usually refer to it, my life.

Initially, the how to do homeschool/life correctly was anxiety producing.  We tried curriculums.  Workbooks.  I bought flashcards.   I made flashcards.   I read all sorts of educational philosophies and methods, Charlotte Mason, Classical, Waldorf, online, blended and all that. I know many homeschooling families that served as models for all types of structured methods and they all seemed good.  I couldn't really find fault in the various ways, it appeared what mattered more was rightness of fit for the family involved.

If you circle back to undiagnosed ADHD running amok in my brainy parts, though, you'll see how attempting to adopt an external structure and enforce it on myself leads down spirals of non-adherence and guilt, feelings of just not being good enough and what is wrong with me?


Fortunately, though, I was born with ADHD and also managed to make it all the way to adulthood, through school, through a messy young adulthood, through college, meaning that through pressure and fire I have developed all sorts of novel, maybe bizarre, strategies to make things happen that need to happen.  I am also nearly buried under a landslide of creative ideas everyday, ADHD being this situation where all the walls are down in your brain and the thoughts that others may categorize and prioritize are instead smashing into one another like surly teenagers in a bouncy house, and I am utterly unafraid to act on any strange idea.  Actually, this whole blog is a study of what undiagnosed ADHD looks like in an adult woman with small children.  Sometimes it's ugly.  But it does keep us entertained.


So I decide to homeschool and I ask myself, me with two small children I've charged myself with the heavy responsibility of educating while under the judgemental stare of family, society and an unknown invisible neurological disorder, 'What are we going to do here? We can't just keep eating ice cream while crying on the floor.'

And me says back, 'Hey us, we're probably going to mess this up, but fuck it.  Remember back when we were a kid?  How about if we just sort of make a space and schedule that we would of thrived in as a child.'

We're so smart.

I took the pressure off myself to find a system that fit us. I gave myself permission and time to explore and experiment and fail and create our own private world that we could not only live with but actually love.


The actual method we use, turns out to be mostly non-method.  Consistently non-consistent.  Or a ragtag bunch of ideas that come under the heading of Unschooling.

My own need for quiet safe spaces interspersed with excitement, and particular aesthetics, rhythms that flowed with my personal energy over the day,  freedom to indulge my interest of the week and then putting it aside when the sparkle dulled.  I made a home that I would of loved to grow up in.  Lots of books, creative raw materials and kitchen dance parties.  Blanket forts, twinkle lights, and painting the walls.  Joining short run activities on interesting things.  Plenty of unscheduled time to explore whatever, to move or be still, depending on the moment.  Naps.  Contact sports.  Prioritizing interest and engagement over what we are told is important.  Project based learning, with a multi-disciplinary approach.  Or, you know, doing what we want to do.


I have been very lucky that I could do this, and turns out, so has my girl.  When I set up something that would of worked for me as a child to learn and be engaged with and generally satisfied with life, I coincidently created the environmental conditions for my particular child with undiagnosed ADHD to thrive in.  Turns out this shit is super inheritable.

Our home is a good fit for us.  Which means we didn't know some of us aren't not entirely neurotypical until grade nine, where girl child decided to enter public school.  That's we realized that something was different in the way the girl processed the world.  Much more than labelling her a homeschool weirdo could explain. Like how she actually needs to full send run in the hallways all lunch hour.  How she is physically incapable of keeping her feet below her butt when sitting.  How much of a jackass she is.

The girl has the ADHD so bad that we were only a month in before we went from being utterly unaware of this particular neurology to positively identifying the need for medication and targeted strategies.  We had no idea up until she went into an environment that wasn't actually made for her personally.  Samesies here.


I think if the girl had been in classrooms in her youngest years, maybe we would of known earlier.  But maybe not.  She might have just been labelled as a discipline problem, she would of been confused and angry at herself for not fitting in, not being able to just do what seems so easy to other kids.  Everyday I learn more about what this means to the girl and myself.  Increasingly I am aware that my instinctual acceptance, even indulgence, of individual quirks comes from my own genetic set up and having grown up out with parents being unaware of their own neuro difference.  We all make strategies and model ways of being in a world when your brain is not set up to work well in standardized environment.

I taught myself How to Weirdo. And then I taught my children as well.


For the record, the girl tells me that she's glad that she wasn't diagnosed earlier, because being free to just be herself without thinking that there was something different about her allowed her to get to know herself quite well without judgement.  She could focus on what worked, rather than if it was good or bad.  She is tremendously self aware and articulate about what she needs.  It's a rare and precious thing she has, and nobody here is sorry for how we've done things, as non-conventional as it was.  And is.

And despite never having taken formal classes in English or Science, her grades we sitting in the 90% for everything, except math where her dyscalculia and unfamiliarity with the subject kept her at a 70%.  High grades are not something I really care about, but it demonstrates to us that she knows how to take in information and apply it as demanded by a situation.  The unschooler is doing well at public school, socially and academically.  But more than that, she is very familiar with her own way of learning the information and easily cuts past methods she knows won't work for her.  She talks to her teachers and works with them to build strategies.  When there a background of information she doesn't have from her past schooling, she just finds out the information in the way that works best for her and moves on without getting upset that she's 'behind'.

But for us, way back when, I just decided to roll with it.  Whatever it is.  We can read classic literature and we can read graphic novels.  Watch cartoons while we eat lunch.  It is most definitely not for every family, but amongst ourselves, it is perfectly acceptable to drop your math book to grab somebody and pretend to bite them to get them to fight you.  Works for a needed dopamine boost so you can focus again.  Or just up in the middle of something, run outside and trampoline like a squirrel on fire.  Or become hyperfixated on a special interest and monologue for hours.   Or to not listen to somebody's monologue and continue typing your poems of sadness.  Or spend the whole night awake drawing with one eye on Netflix.  We make messes and mistakes and we laugh our asses off all the time.  We seek information and excitement and hate scratchy clothes.  We stim.  We allow each other to get into things, even if we don't like it for ourselves.  It's not perfect, but it's cool man.


Here is the thing.  Because I stopped and asked myself what I wanted, I stumbled on what could work for us.  When it fits, the successes come easier and the motivation develops to push through the discomfort of not knowing what was going to happen next. My confidence grew over time that my way may not be everyone's way, but it works for us, most of the time, and I love our homeschool life.

So as an unprecedented number of parents suddenly find themselves in that What Do We Do Now? phase of homeschool exploration, even if it's just for a few months, as an old hand at the least travelled path, I wish to encourage parents to ask themselves what they would of wanted as a child?  What would your best case learning scenario be?  Maybe that will give some direction to fit you, one that you can't get from online resources or bedtime stories read by celebrities.  Or if you have a changeling, like my son - sometimes I wonder how this stranger found his way into my home - locate another human that does seem a lot like your child in temperament and personality (probably a relative, your brother sister maybe?) and ask them what they would of liked as a child?

This is a plea to you to work with the child you have there, in front of you, and don't worry about what other people tell you is the right way.  Don't get your head turned by flashy online resources.  Don't force it.  Just slow down, be thoughtful, look for what feels right.

Homeschool is just as much about learning how to learn as what subjects you actually engage in.  If they are interested and motivated, it's nearly impossible for them not learn about it.  And if they don't care, well, all the ice cream in the world is not going to get the information into that child's head.  Explore, have fun, discover where passions are.

And then make lunch and get on with it.



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