Monday, August 12, 2019

The Challenge of Homeschooling in the Early Years

I want to homeschool my kids. I am excited to guide them as we learn and explore this tremendously fascinating world. I am curious to see where there interests will take us, and what interests they will pursue. I am thrilled for my husband and I to grow and discover with them in this journey. 

My oldest child is now three-years-old. Many people proclaim that, Kids just need to play at that age! You don't need to "do school!" Yet, there's many children this age who are heading off to preschool (since some schools offer programs for three-year-olds). Then, there's other kids who aren't going off to preschool, but are planning on attending a brick-and-mortar school when they are old enough for kindergarten. They don't see themselves as being part of a "homeschooling family," and mentions of homeschooling will cause their parents to say, that's really great for some people, but it's not for us. 

I firmly believe that play is vital, particularly in the early years. Yet, my firstborn is fascinated with "schoolkids." He's talked about going to "school" someday. He loves being with other children. I think that right now, he would enjoy doing something "schoolish" with others. However, I've run into a small difficulty.

There are wonderful Catholic homeschool organizations in my city's metropolitan area. We have friends who participate in some of them, and last spring, I was hit with a case of FOMO (fear of missing out) as I heard about different activities. I looked into these, and discovered that my kids are "too young." While these groups may have accommodations for kids as young as mine (since many of the Big Kids have little siblings) they are not intended for families that only have young kids. There are also great Mother's Day out programs that involve some "school," and there are Waldorf-inspired, Reggio-Emilia-inspired, and Montessori schools offered a few days a week; but as great as these different programs may be, they don't work for our family right now. Furthermore, a lot of the fabulous homeschooling groups and co-ops are not close to where we live.

While at a party several months ago, I met a woman who lives in another state. Our kids are about the same age. At one point in our conversation, she mentioned that I've been promised a good community once my kids are in school. This simple statement hit me very close to home.

I want to homeschool my kids and be involved in a strong community...but am I supposed to "just wait" until my kids are older? I know that these next few years will fly by, so in hindsight, I'm sure that this short span of having kids who are "too young" will seem like a tiny sliver of life. Yet, I don't think we should just put "good homeschooling community" on a pedestal of glory that we longingly await. Instead, we should be living abundantly now

I think this desire for community is a driving force behind all of the playdates. For many of us who have young kids, playdates are the method by which we interact with other intelligent adults, and they are the way that our kids learn social skills. However, I want to move beyond the playdates. I don't think I'm the only one, either. People I've spoken to over the past year-from grandparents to stay-at-home moms-have mentioned wanting to "do school" in some way with their young kids; even if only to prepare them for attending school in the future. A few different people have asked me about homeschooling as they try to learn about local opportunities and discern if it's a feasible option for their young kids. I haven't had many good resources to offer them. 

To be honest, I feel a little frustrated that I haven't been able to offer a good answer to these people who have come to me for help. There are many good homeschooling opportunities here in Oklahoma, but it seems that a lot of them are either specifically geared towards "school-aged" kids or are branded "for moms," which doesn't help when a stay-at-home dad is asking me about homeschooling resources for his toddler. 

I want to "do school," in an age-appropriate way, with my kids. I want to "do school" in community with others. I want to have something that I can offer people when they come to me for advice. Not only that, but I want to invite those families who have no desire to homeschool (but are keeping their kids at home until they are four or five) to share in our experience. 

So, what am I going to do? 

I honestly don't have a clear-cut answer. I have ideas, and I think it will be messy as I figure things out-but that's okay. I think that sometimes, we are so afraid of messiness and imperfection that we never act. We hide behind video tutorials and articles as we try to devise the "perfect" answer on our own before ever trying anything. We take our kids to events but sit behind our phone screens, not daring to step into the awkward openness of meeting other people. Friends, we need to move out from behind our screens and embrace the messiness of this together. 

In the coming months, I want to connect with others and try out some of my half-baked ideas. We may check out the local Wild + Free chapter to see if it's a good fit for us. We'll hopefully get involved with a Catholic homeschool association that offers occasional social gatherings. More regularly, I'd love to offer "nature school" for my kids (and any who wish to join us) to experience poetry while surrounded by the glory of God's creation. We'll keep visiting the library often, and I want to continue to immerse my kids in literature as we grow to know the different people whom we encounter there. Furthermore, I want to "give the gift of community" to our friends and neighbors as we embark on our homeschooling adventure.  I have a feeling that the coming year will be a lot of experimentation as I see what my kids need, and what others would like to do with us. 

When I first encountered this unexpected challenge of having kids who are "too young," I felt pretty defeated. In the past several weeks, I've talked with a few different people and prayed about it, and I've become peaceful about the whole issue. I now feel  much more empowered to look for ways I can help my kids and reach out to other people who are stuck in a similar situation. 

To my fellow moms, dads, grandparents, and caregivers who have very young children-I want you to know that you are not alone. I am right here in the messiness with you. So, let's step out in our awkwardness and work together, so that we may nurture a thriving homeschool community which meets the specific needs of our children. 


  1. I am right there with you. Last year I found a great group of 5 moms who meet weekly. It is 40 minutes away but so worth it. And it was 4 friends to start

    1. Ellen, thank you so much for offering some solidarity, it is good to hear from you :) That's awesome and such a blessing that you found a great group to grow with!

  2. I think it is rather hard to really think about organized school-ish get togethers with infants and toddlers. Cyrus had his first playdate outing a few weeks the house of some friends of ours, a family that has a six year old, two year old, and a small infant. He wanted to kiss the infant and play with the other kids' toys, but the bigger kids didn't really want him to play with their toys. ahahaha! What to do?
    I don't feel any lack of "child" community with our sort of homeschool lifestyle as we have ended up regularly caring for the toddlers/preschool age children of my friends here (pretty much universally here, both parents work, and young children are cared for by elderly relatives or friends...sometimes daycares but placing with family or friends is much more common). Cyrus has a buddy three weeks younger than him who will likely be at our house five days a week until he's school aged, and we have several other kids years older than Cyrus who have been in our lives since they were babies themselves. So I'm not at all worried about his social exposure. In fact, sometimes I feel a bit sad that I'm distracted with meeting the needs of the other older kids that age-appropriate activities for Cyrus get left out.

    But don't feel that you can only "do school" when you have buddies around. Some of my favorite activity times with Cyrus are when it's just him and me. I have a pk curriculum for him which is just composed of storybooks and some coordinated activities, and some coloring and sticker books or pasting books (he loves using gluesticks!), and playdoh. These are much easier for us to sit and do together when I'm not also trying to manage and educate the older ones learning to sound out words and add and subtract, etc. So I strategize and we do our more structured activities in early mornings or evenings or weekends.

  3. We are in a somewhat similar situation, AnneMarie. Amaris turns 5 in October. If she were attending public school, she would have to wait until next fall. Emotionally and socially she wouldn't be ready for kindergarten right now, but academically she is. She's incredibly bright. We've actually been using a kindergarten curriculum with her since last January. She loves it and has no problem completing the work (I'm the one lagging behind because I have so little time to plan and it's hard to sit down to do the work with Nitara and Gilana also needing attention). Anyway, she's too young for local home school groups, too. I'm not sure what I'll do about this.

    1. Shannon, how awful that you're stuck in a similar bind! Amaris is so blessed to have you as her mom-it sounds like you've been giving her a great education at home. I've heard (and observed) from many families that it is tough to navigate homeschooling when you have both little and big kids. Hang in there! I hope that you are able to find some good in-person support and community. I'd love to hear your ideas as you navigate this!

  4. Thank you for sharing about this, AnneMarie! This is a side of homeschooling I don't think I've ever thought about before. It would be so wonderful for already established groups to welcome families with younger kids. That just makes sense so you get to know people before you're all-in with school aged kids! I'm sorry nothing around you seems to be a good fit so far. But good for you wanting to experiment and see what works. I look forward to hearing about your endeavors!