The Home-School Experiment that Proved Us Wrong

Is it possible to home-school your kids effectively, while keeping your sanity and keeping them from falling behind or becoming “those weird home-schooled kids”? We decided to test this question and here’s what we found out…

The Home-School Experiment

When we moved to American Samoa, we decided to home-school our kids because we had heard that the schools here were sub-standard and fostered unhealthy learning environments. If you remember my post from the beginning of the school year, Nate and I had never had the desire to home-school our kids. We could only see the negative potential (kids who were socially awkward and falling behind academically), but desperate times called for desperate measures.

Hypothesis

I’m going to be really honest, I worried that I was going to lose my mind and there was a possibility of our kids not living to see their next birthdays. I have always had work or some kind of project away from my kids and home, that’s just for me. With the decision to home-school the kids, I decided to give them my full-attention and be a full-time stay-at-home, home-schooling mom. Nate would be there to support us, but with him at work all day, it was mostly up to me.

At the same time, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to provide our kids with the education they deserved. I don’t consider myself a stupid person, but there’s a reason I didn’t go to school to be a teacher. It didn’t excite me and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working life teaching kids the things I found uninteresting as a kid.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Just in case, we found a few private schools nearby that might work, should our experiment fail. Surely, not the best attitude when starting a new experiment.

Home-School Materials
We’re all ready for a day of learning

Gathering Materials

We obtained grade level workbooks for Hadley and Holden. As a budding minimalist, I cringed as we stocked up on pencils, paper, and art supplies. I filled Pinterest boards with ideas for math, science, reading, writing, and art. We signed-up for library cards, since we only brought a handful of books with us.

And so began our home-school experiment.

What Worked

Home-School Hike
Making discoveries while hiking

Outside Time

Scientists are finding more and more evidence to suggest that children who spend time outdoors are more likely to be successful in the classroom. Not simply time spent outdoors, but time spent moving, playing, exercising, and exploring. The weeks where we made time for being outdoors, either hiking and swimming, or unstructured free time, I noticed a difference in attitudes, positive energy, and work ethic.

Math

I don’t know if it’s because our kids are naturally inclined or because their dad is an economist, but our kids excel in math. Because of this, Hadley and Holden sped through the math sections of their workbooks and I had to find additional materials to keep them progressing. They both moved on to the next grade level this year.

Scientific Explorer Disgusting Science Kit
Ready to start a new science experiment

Christmas Wish-List

When grandparents asked what they could give the kids for Christmas, I suggested science/learning kits. By mid-year, I felt like science was the hardest to fit into our schedule and I thought if we had fun kits that got the kids excited, they would harass me until I found a place in our schedule to fit science in. It worked! We received 10 kits, including a microscope and prepared slides, and we’ve spent countless hours enjoying our science studies since then!

Family Relationships

Not only have I not checked myself into the psychiatric ward, I’ve realized just how great, cool, and funny my kids are (definitely frustrating at times, but overall great). I realized how disconnected I was from their education in years past. As long as they were bringing home good grades, I didn’t worry too much about what and how they were learning. We’ve also grown closer as a family. I find Hadley teaching Holden new things that she’s learned and Holden teaching Kip. We discuss what they’ve been learning and doing over dinner and they’re so excited to share with Nate.

Sibling Love
It’s not uncommon to see the kids choosing to hang out together
Cave Paintings
We’ve had fun incorporating art history
Life-Size Body Tracing
The kids were introduced to Anatomy & Physiology, one of my favorite subjects
Dad teaching his kids
One benefit we found of home-schooling is that teaching naturally happens at anytime

What Didn’t Work

Lost Workbook

The problem with having a lose schedule and an ever-changing classroom location (outside and library time) is that things get misplaced and go missing. In February, Hadley lost her workbook! I was too cheap to order a new one on-line when she was most of the way through it, which meant I spent the rest of the year coming up with her lessons on my own. That takes a lot more time and energy, and I might have held it against her a little.

Library Reading Time
Luckily, Kip found lots of friends at the library who were happy to read to him

Reading

Not that reading didn’t work, but we definitely could have committed more time to it. There is such a push to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the kids seem to gravitate toward these subjects, that it was a constant struggle to find and make time for reading. The other day my dad pointed out that without a firm grasp on reading and language arts, STEM can only take you so far.

Friends

Moving to a new place, with a completely different culture and some language barrier, has proven to be difficult for the kids’ social lives. We had one other home-schooling family with kids of similar ages that we would do weekly Friday Field Trips with, the kids spent time with other kids their ages at church each Sunday, and fairly often, we would meet up with other families for Saturday beach days. Even with all of this, I could see a growing need for regular interaction which could lead to friendships, specifically in Hadley and Kip.

Sentence Mapping
After Hadley lost her workbook, I had to create her lessons. Here she’s learning to map sentences.
Making Clouds
Pinterest was a big help with science experiments, too. The kids made clouds and snow.
Making Paper Mache Solar System
Making paper machè solar systems in such a humid climate took much longer than anticipated because the homemade paste had trouble drying and hardening completely
Children's Physics Experiment
We’ve been so blessed to have a library nearby which provides learning activities for the kids, including introductions to the sciences

The Results

Now we’re at the end of the school year and we’ve been evaluating the past year. Academically, the kids are at or above where they should be, even Kip who I wasn’t formally educating because of his age, has picked up on so much just by being in an environment of learning. Hadley and Holden took placement tests earlier this week. Hadley is right where she should be in reading and a grade ahead in math. Holden is a grade ahead in reading and almost three grades ahead in math!

Our family bonds are stronger than they’ve ever been. We’re all feeling differing degrees of hunger for some real friendships. As a parent, I feel like I better know my kids as whole people, I know their personalities, their struggles, their areas of excellence, and I have a greater sense of who they might turn out to be.

All my misconstrued prejudices about home-schooling have been wiped clean. Are there situations where parents are limiting their children by home-schooling them? Probably. Is it possible and doable to take on the sole responsibility of your children’s education in an effective, sane, and positive way? Absolutely, especially with the help of on-line and community resources. Am I qualified to be the judge of who is qualified to home-school their kids and who isn’t? No, I would consider myself an expert in my kids and their learning styles and abilities, but the decision is so personal and subjective to each family and in each situation. What I can say is that it is possible. It is doable. It can be crazy hard, but it can also be totally worth it.

The Next Experiment

With this glowing recap of our experiment, you’d think we would be committed for life. But our philosophy is that childhood, and life in general, is for experiencing new things. If you’re feeling comfortable, that probably means it’s time to shake it up and try something new. For this reason, we have decided to enroll our kids in a local public school next year. With this, comes new challenges and opportunities to grow. Yes, we still have some concerns about the school system here (especially the public schools) but we’ve decided to give it a try, knowing that at any time we can pull the kids out and go back to our new normal- Home-schooling.

Home-School Experiment Pinnable Image

If you’re at all interested in alternative schooling, you can get some inspiration from my Pinterest boards. And here are some links to the resources we used this past year:

Scholastic Success with 1st Grade and others

T4 Solar Transforming Robot Kit

Discover with Dr. Cool Geode Explorer Science Kit

Scientific Explorer Disgusting Science Kit

p.s. We’re all doing our best as parents, raising our kids with all the love and sanity that we have. Just as each family looks different, each parenting style is different, too. I, for one, am working hard to stop judging different approaches and start learning from them. So whether you’ve chosen traditional school, home-schooling, world-schooling, or unschooling, keep it up! We’ve got this!

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5 thoughts on “The Home-School Experiment that Proved Us Wrong”

  1. As a homeschooling mama of 10+ years, I appreciate your honest evaluation of your year. It’s definitely not easy, and many things don’t go as planned. But if you’re willing to see the magic in the mess, it’s there!

    1. Haha, I like that, “the magic in the mess”. That describes it so nicely! It really has been an incredible experience and one that we will do again!

  2. Love this honest approach! My kids gravitate toward STEM also and getting them to read is hard! BTW I am a MS and HS math teacher (now private tutor) give me a shout if you need ideas for math for your older one! I’ve taught/tutored 4th grade and up!

  3. My 9 y/o finally found a book just last week that she can’t put down. It’s a relief to see that it is possible 😄 That’s so kind of you! They’re going to be going to public school this coming year (we want them to have the experience while we’re here in American Samoa) but I can guarantee we’ll be homeschooling them again in years to come. They’re both ahead of their respective grade level, especially in math, so we’re planning on supplementing some extras so they don’t lose momentum. I’ll be in touch. Thanks so much!

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