Homeschool Barbie Didn’t Prepare Me For This

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Dear everyone who is freaking out,

This is a letter from your friend, Dana. If you hear the words home or virtual school and need to self-medicate with a trip to Bubba’s Sweet Spot and/or Seville’s Wine Shop, keep reading.

You see, this is not my first dance with the potential of homeschool.

I was thrust into this reality several years ago when darling precious decided she was in charge of the universe, at around the age of…inside the womb. When a wise mentor suggested either an unschooling style of homeschooling (read: feral) or a strict Catholic school, I knew I didn’t have it in me for daily religious debates with my six-year-old mini C.S. Lewis, who was very inclined toward religious debates. So, homeschool it was.

In full disclosure, I once lived in an area steeped in homeschool tradition, so it wasn’t a foreign concept. But, in my narrow interpretation at the time, homeschooling was about intentional social segregation based on beliefs, baby “papoosing”, and an all-organic-crunchy existence. I like healthy food and all, but I’m more of a “did you see those shoes?” kind of gal. Pre-conceived ideas aside, I held tightly to my friend list of fellow homeschoolers, conducted my degree-worthy Google research, and leaped into uncharted territory.

My great-grandmother was a beloved teacher in our community and I adored her. There is even a scholarship in education in her name at a nearby university. And I will admit, my school-supply-loving self was in heaven (Kate Spade polka-dot stapler? Yes, please! A pink, glow-in-the-dark, talking globe? *Adds to cart*).

With Grandma Carter’s memory on my mind, my love of school supplies and books, and the idea of unlimited creativity, I arrogantly thought, “what could go wrong?” Answer key: A child is involved. That’s what could go wrong. Further explanation of the answer key: a child with her mother’s strong will is involved. So, even more will go wrong. (Pause for a private family conversation: Dear family, Keep your opinions to yourself. Love, Dana.) Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Ahh, yes…

Let me give you a little background on your author…

I grew up hanging on every word of my Uncle’s international relations life in faraway places like Azerbaijan and salivated on the thought of traveling there someday. When I played Barbies, my Barbie went to work in the law office she owned at the intersection of 63rd and Anywhere But Here. And if I think real hard about my imaginary role in pretend school, I was probably more akin to a school board President elected by a constituency of stuffed bears and nominated by one, only-child superdelegate: me. But there we were, my progeny and I, boldly going where sensible people dare not go, homeschool.

With all the COVID-Virtual-Reality going on, one of my favorite brands recently put out a t-shirt emblazoned with “Home Schol”. It wasn’t a misprint, it was an inside joke. Either that or an admonition towards humility. But, I got it and laughed at the idea of both. You see, when facing my own homeschool reality, my ability for Type-A planning went to work.

I was going to be the best homeschooling teacher there ever was.

My child would go to medical school at the age of 9, master the cello, recite Wordsworth and Dickinson by heart, and be fluent in Mandarin. Okay, the last part was a stretch, mainly I just wanted to avoid an audit by the Department of Education. They do that, you know.

I found an outstanding curriculum that outlined an entire year, down to verbatim instruction on what to say and when to say it. (That lasted two days, by the way.) It boasted a literary list my language arts heart swooned over and I was set. I joined a local co-operative of fellow homeschoolers, giving me the anchor I needed and the social time she craved. Over the weeks and months that followed, my rigidity softened and my perspective changed.

I discovered that there is sometimes a difference between going to school and getting an education and knowledge acquisition versus learning.

For two years, I sent my oldest to school and homeschooled my middle. In those two years, I learned to let go of a traditional school mindset, but she never fell behind. We did read-aloud sessions on a swing behind the house. We learned science on walks around the neighborhood. Flashcards came while waiting for her brother’s soccer practice. And slowly, but surely, we marked off a checklist of skills she never knew I was keeping. The time came when I returned her to the care and instruction of someone else, but years later now, I have zero regrets of the time we had together and the growth we both experienced.

And now, I pass on to you the gifts of wisdom I received from that experience. I hope it helps in your uncertain season of “Homeschol.”

1. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.

2. You may not be equipped for it when you begin, but mastery of something never comes at the beginning.

3. You don’t have to have all the answers, but do surround yourself with people who you trust their best guess.

4. Focus on what your children ARE getting, instead of what they are not.

5. You can always change your mind or switch gears.

6. If there is not a co-op for your situation, create one. Gather a group of situationally-similar people and pool your resources.

7. Reach out to other mothers who have homeschooling experience and ask questions and listen. Most homeschool parents are very eager and willing to share their experiences and wisdom. Even though their version of homeschool and your remote learning situation may be different, they have many tips and tricks that are helpful for studying and learning, regardless of the situation.

8. Post affirmations all over your house. No, really. It works. Get Post-It notes and write all sorts of good thoughts, verses, and truths about you and your children.

9. Don’t be afraid to raise a white flag. If your child is struggling or having an unusually bad day, take a break. If you or they are able, just stand up and walk away from the computer or the house. Go on a walk. Take a drive out to the beach. Even if they say they don’t want to, a change of scenery and a mental break is good for everyone.

10. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you envisioned. I mean, I’ve yet to go to Azerbaijan and I’m not a lawyer on 63rd and Anywhere But Here, but together my children and I are developing flexibility and grit. I don’t care how smart you are, if you haven’t learned those two things, you haven’t gotten your education.

Mom friends forever,

Dana

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Dana is a mother to Rowan (high school), Arden (middle school), and Pierson (preschool). Although she is an Arkansas native, she has been a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast, since age nine, when her mother moved to Destin; she’s been a Pensacola resident for the last 11 years. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. A degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!) developed it further. In addition to writing, she loves photography, doodling, and painting. She is always up for a new adventure, especially in the great outdoors. She can’t live without Jesus, Diet Coke, funny memes, flair pens, or mascara, and loves personality tests (she’s a 1w9 and an I/ENFJ, ambivert). Her life is dictated by what she whispers to herself every morning, “You’ve only got this one precious life.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Dana,
    You are one heck of a writer and momma!
    This was fun to read and enjoy a little snippet of your homeschooling adventure.
    Keep inspiring us,
    Reese

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