Thursday, March 26, 2020

Things I said I'd never do

I was homeschooled from kindergarten until 12th grade. So was my sister (the elder by 3 years). In the US in the 80s and 90s, this was only moderately unusual; in the Netherlands, people used to find my story marvelous and strange.

It started out with my parents (both college-educated, but neither in education/teaching) decided they could give me sister a better education at home than the public school could. The plan had always been to educate us at home in primary school, and then as we got older give the choice to us, to be homeschooled or go to public school. I'd always thought, when I was young, that I'd be homeschooled all the way up to high school and then go to actual high school, so that I could experience the social side of things. By the time 9th grade came around, my answer was "oh, hell, no", because (a) I didn't really like people, (b) home-schooling took a lot less time, and (c) being available during school hours meant my sister and I were highly sought after babysitters; in the mid 90s, I was making between $6-$10/hour babysitting.

Whenever I talked about being homeschooled, it was with nothing but positivity. I had the freedom to study what I wanted (in 9th grade, I discovered the Society for Creative Anachronism; my mom then assigned the Middle Ages for my history topic, and I had to develop my persona, research, design, and make clothing and food, and learn the history of my chosen period), I had the free time to do non-school things (cf. babysitting above; that's how I could afford my first year at university), and the self-teaching/self-organising skills it taught me were invaluable particularly during my PhD. But whenever anyone asked if I was planning to homeschool my own children, the answer was always "oh, hell, no". Because long before I ever had a kid, I knew that the optimal age of students for me to teach was 18+. I couldn't fathom trying to teach a child to read; my experience tutoring middle schoolers left me with a huge appreciation for people who could help those children navigate life and teach them something. Also, there was no way that I would give up my working life in order to properly homeschool a young child.

And yet, here we are...

As it happened, G was due to start Easter break the week the UK government shut down schools. So we're still in holiday mode and don't have to really think about schooling. Her teachers have already set up some online sites for remote teaching come April, and sent home a few workbooks. But in the meantime, I'm still trying to work and G does better with having activities, so here is what homeschooling looks like in the Uckelhaus:

  • English: She needs to spend some time reading every day. I'm hoping to direct her towards some slightly more sophisticated books than what she has been reading, but I'm also fine with her just reading something every day. Next month, I'm doing a prompt-a-day poetry course, and I'm going to encourage her to write with me, so that covers writing.
  • Science: A week or so ago, I opened up a notebook from my childhood, and discovered systematic notes I took 30 years -- almost exactly the same age G is now -- on observations made about the attraction of different insects to different types of baits. Monday we set up a bait jar in the backyard, and she built a bug hotel, and she's doing daily observations, in the same notebook.
  • Mathematics: Tracking distances via PokemonGo when we go out for our daily walk, measuring and calculating with measures for cooking, and plenty of discussions on various topics over dinner (the other day, I taught her the sieve of Eratosthenes). She has also been writing up word problems for her stuffed toys, and has access to Times Tables Rockstars.
  • History: If things continue, I'll add in some nonfiction/history books to her reading repertoire, but honestly, I'm fine if this slides a bit.
  • Music: After about a year and a half, we finally purchased a stand and a stool for her keyboard, and set things up. She has (voluntarily!) spent time playing each day, practising pieces she'd been set by her teacher and composing new songs.
  • Languages: She's been doing German on duolingo for quite some time, and a friend has offered to skype with her and talk French, which we'll start doing after the break is over. Also, the FrogPlay account school set up for her has quizzes tests in German, even though that's not a language they teach at school, so she's enjoyed trying a few of those!
  • Art: Every day she's spent some time drawing freehand or following a how-to-draw video, and yesterday we painted together. There's also plenty of sewing to be done.

This is more than sufficient education for an 8yo for the rest of the academic year. So, I guess I'm homeschooling!


  1. For history, perhaps research local history online now and then go to those places when you can go out again?

    1. Oooh. We've been going to the Miner's Hall lately on our walks (there's some nice flat paving stones for practice in her heelies!) There's four big statues -- Forman, McDonald, Patterson, and ... hmmm -- maybe we can do some research on who they are!