By Candace Hatch, as told to Jennifer Clopton
If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d ever be homeschooling my children, I would have outright laughed at you and told you that you had lost your mind. But never say never, because now I find myself homeschooling three of my five children.
Here’s how it happened: My children have always gone to public school while I run my own business from home. But in February, we made the decision to pull my daughter, who is 8, out of public school because she was struggling with severe anxiety. The pandemic hit about a month later, and schools in our area went virtual for the spring. Suddenly, in addition to having Loralei and our 10-month-old foster love home, all of her brothers joined us too: Brody, 5, Tate, 4 and Tripp, who is 3.
With all that activity in the house, we just did the best that we could. That meant I tried to fit in the ABCs and 123s anywhere I could. Sometimes it was through their online schoolwork, but also while on a hike, baking, playing with toys, etc. There wasn’t a lot of structure to education in the spring for us. I feel like we were just helping them all relax during a really stressful time and learn through life.
But as this school year approached, I knew we needed to do things differently. Public pre-K education was only offered to children with special needs. That includes our 4-year-old, who has a rare genetic condition called Ohdo syndrome. He’s globally delayed, so he now gets much-needed services through the school system. But I didn’t think my other two boys could do virtual all day, and while a hybrid was offered in our county, I thought they would struggle to wear a mask all day too. So we decided as a family that I was going to give homeschooling a try for our 8-, 5- and 3-year-olds while also caring for our 10-month-old and running my business. My husband is working from home now, so he jumps in to help from time to time. But I’m trying to figure this out on my own because I know he’s going back to work at some point, and I don’t want to overly rely on him now only to have it fall apart later.
Phew -- it is a lot. But it is also wonderful.
And let me tell you, it’s not just my kids who are learning. I’ve had several important realizations along the way too.
1. It’s OK if our home school schedule looks different than a traditional school day.
I realized pretty quickly that I needed to figure out how to adapt school for our life. So I teach the kids at home Tuesday-Friday in the afternoons while Tripp goes to school to get his services. That’s when we really focus on workbooks, reading, and writing. My little kiddos only need about an hour at their age, and Lorelai, who is in third grade, gets about 4 hours a day. About an hour and a half of her day is bookwork, and then I incorporate lessons for her in many other ways -- through cooking, going on field trips, out on hikes, and more.
The other day, for example, they were all a little restless, so we went up the road to the pond to fish. I'm not a pro by any means, but we sat there watching tadpoles and talking about the lifecycle of frogs. Another day, Brody was digging in the yard and found a piece of rose quartz in the dirt, so I turned that into a lesson about gems and minerals because they were really intrigued in them. For Lorelai, I had her then search and write down all the minerals you find naturally in Ohio for science that day.
2. There is a learning curve for me too.
When I first started, I had this beautiful picture in my mind of all my precious angel children sitting at the table, diligently doing their work and telling me how much they loved it, and let’s just say -- that didn’t happen. On the first day I just tried to keep myself from crying. It was so hard.
Now that we’ve been at it a while, we’re starting to find our groove. Once I give Lorelai direction, she can do a good bit of the work on her own. Then I’ll go sit with the little guys and I try to incorporate 90% of our work with outdoor play.
3. It’s not going to be perfect.
What I now realize is that homeschooling may not look like what you’ve read in books or what your neighbors are doing. We’re all raising different kids, so I think it can and should look different for all of us. The whole point is to tailor education in a way that works for our children. So I think the best we can do is just continue on and figure it out as we go. I’m trying my best and asking my kids to do the same.
Do I think my kids are each getting all that they need educationally? The honest truth is my opinion on that changes day-to-day. I don’t have specialized training in teaching, and I realize how much work and science goes into that. Truthfully, I just don’t think most mothers are equipped to match what teachers give our children in school.
But in other ways, I feel like they’re getting more because we have the time to really explore areas that they’re interested in, and we’re doing it in a loving and supportive way. I can tell you this: My kids are learning things, and they are doing well. Loralei still has anxiety, but at home we’re able to build in supports to help her, like she can wrap herself in a compression blanket and do her work, and that clears her mind to learn more than she would if she was worried at school.
How long will we do this? I have no idea. I’ve given up on planning at this point, between the way our life has unfolded over the last year combined with a pandemic. I do really like the idea of sending them back at some point because being with peers is so important, but right now I can’t tell you when I see that happening. I do know that when and if we decide to send them back, it doesn’t mean I failed at homeschooling. It means we tried it when it made sense and we stopped when it didn’t.
4. Show yourself and your kids some grace.
I try really hard to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can, and I often stop to appreciate how proud I am of my kids. What’s happening in our world right now is just crazy. I can’t imagine living through this time period as a child, and I could never have done the things my kids are doing. I do think I will look back on this time with such pride for my whole family and how we are all adapting.
Months into this, I now view homeschooling like motherhood itself. You have such an idealized version of it before it happens, and then when you get into it, you quickly realize that reality looks very different than you imagined. Even so, it’s still beautiful and that’s all that matters.
Candace Hatch is the proud mom of a military family. Her husband is in the Air Force, and together they have 5 children, including a foster baby. She founded and runs a boutique online clothing company for girls called LiliLane. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram .