"This school is garbage!" yelled my four year old, Lucy, as she ripped apart the few connected pieces of a deceptively difficult floor puzzle. Emma, age six and typically the peacemaker, was also at her wits end. "It was great until the puzzle, mom. We're done." Off they went to work on a complex underworld of barbie and dinosaur "sets" in the privacy of Emma's room, far from their spastically cheerful mother, who, after months of inconsistent showering/outfit changes, was suddenly suspiciously clean and wearing earrings.
That was day one of homeschool and I happy to report that now, four weeks later, much has improved, and I am proud to say I have kept up with the earrings.
Why homeschool and not virtual
Like everyone else in the country, starting in March, Emma, then a kindergartner, no longer attended school and began "remote learning," named as such because she mastered our television's remote controls during this period. Her teacher did an amazing job making sure that the students remained on track and continued learning despite hurdle after hurdle. Each day, for about two to three hours, Emma and I sat in the dining room completing mostly online assignments. On one occasion, the mailman saw me, braless, doing this dance along with Emma. When her assignments were complete(ish), she'd reunite with Lucy who spent her mornings eating goldfish and watching Star Wars, living life like a 28 year old who had moved back into her parents basement, a mild case of depression to boot.
Emma loved having the afternoon off with her sister. They orchestrated highly involved weddings, really progressive stuff like a unicorn marrying a giraffe. They turned our upstairs hallway into a stuffy rave complete with glitter eyeshadow and tiny barrettes. They took baths at noon and again at 9pm. One day, they even took a nap! At the same time! Each day their relationship intensified and they learned to navigate each other's sharp edges. I began to understand why families chose to homeschool - the flexibility, the outdoor play, and the closeness. Emma missed her friends at school but she loved the freedom of her afternoons, and she also loved working with me in the morning (mostly). She especially loved those weird dances that stood in for P.E.
As the plans for her first grade experience were being ironed out, it was obvious that remote learning would at least be a portion of their week. For those seeking fully remote, which likely would have been my choice, there was talk of having the children spend nearly full days online. I understood the logic - families with working parents are so royally screwed right now and having kids learning at their laptops all day is better than having them roam around while the grown ups try to squeeze in eight hours of work. I stopped working in March when school went online and I am completely aware of how lucky I am to be able to take this time off. I also am aware that it didn't need to be this hard for working parents. The lack of creativity and planning from our leaders, especially at the highest level, astounds me. Things could have been better.
For us, we decided to eschew the school district all together and enroll Emma in the Oak Meadow Homeschool curriculum for first grade. The curriculum is flexible enough that I can easily include Lucy by adjusting the tasks and it allows me to have more control over how the week unfolds. Lucy is probably the main reason we went with a homeschool option. I needed something I could use to teach Emma and adapt for Lucy, which has been easier than I expected. I also like that none of the curriculum is online, although I do supplement with a few online programs (more on that below). Where we live, the hybrid option for school was available, and I worry every day that I have made the wrong choice. But, then again, what parent isn't burdened with that same thought right now?
Keep scrolling for what I like and would like to improve about Oak Meadow.
What I like about oak meadow
1. None of the curriculum is taught online. We learn through storytelling, drawing, art, studying nature, repetition of poetry and verses, and music.
2. It's helping me be a better parent. Sometimes I just don't know how to speak with my kids in a way that encourages them to ask questions and think deeply. I am a huge daydreamer and when there is an opportunity for me to be in my head I will take it and get very lost in thought. Oak Meadow is teaching me how to engage with my kids in a way that supports what they are learning and I absolutely love it. I have often marveled at other parents who seem to naturally know how to play and be creative or look for shapes out in the world. I am not that person but this curriculum is teaching me how to do this more naturally.
3. Using the curriculum I am able to plan out the week which gives each day purpose. When we were doing remote learning school was a series of tasks to get through so Emma could be available to play with her sister. Now, with the Oak Meadow curriculum, I plan to hopefully have a rewarding and fulfilling day with both kids. Because I am handling the teaching, I can see opportunities to to learn, even if I didn't anticipate them.
4. It's a creative way to teach things - with just one calendar we created for the month of September we were able to count from 1 - 30 (and back again), draw a picture of the weather and things that happen in September, study the moon, and I even used it to count by fives with Emma. It also is helping us understand time and scheduling and the girls get excited about whatever exciting events will take place.
5. Circle time - Oak Meadow has a set of routines for the morning that they include in their "circle time" and I was expecting my kids to find this hokey but they love it. We have a few verses we repeat every day, then we do a different song every week as well as a new poem. It's a nice way to start the morning.
6. The crafts are simple but interesting. I have a complicated relationship with crafts and overall I am able to relax and enjoy these. The girls were skeptical at first ("where's the glitter?") but love the projects and even use some of the creations as toys.
7. I've been really impressed with how well both my girls can follow a long story. Each week includes two stories the curriculum suggest you read at bedtime (I do not - we read library books at bedtime) and follow up on the next day. Instead, I read the stories during school and then ask a series of questions. Some of these stories are very long and complicated and my kids do well. Unfortunately, some of these stories are confusing and antiquated in their overall message (like women waiting in towers for their true love). Which leads me to....
how oak meadow could improve the curriculum
1. The stories, which are a major part of the curriculum, could absolutely be updated or replaced. I am all for revisiting the classics (these are fairytales) but some of these versions are very confusing and either have too much action or not enough. A number of people using Oak Meadow replace their fairytales with other books and I am considering doing the same. Sometimes, a piece of information is offered that is so strange ("actually, she wasn't her daughter but her cousin") that my girls will break out into hysterics.
2. The curriculum is organized across several books so it takes me three hours to prepare a lesson plan for each week. My kids struggle with moving from one topic to the next and if I have to take five minutes to figure out which book has the next lesson the day can easily derail. As such, I create a detailed lesson plan that outlines as much as possible for each week, including the page numbers for each corresponding story. To be totally honest, I was expecting the curriculum to be laid out in a similar manner, but it's not, it's laid out in a way to make it very adaptive. Initially, I found that intimidating, as sometimes I just want to know exactly what to do. Click here to see how I plan the wek.
3. Oak Meadow understands that I, the parent, may not be knowledgeable about certain topics ...like, the moon, for example (don't judge). Their suggestion is simply to "go do some research" and it would be nice if actual recommendations were included. I'll be honest, I've got a lot going on at the moment, and I only want to know the exact things I need to know about the moon in order to get through the week - nothing more, nothing less.
It's not necessary to supplement any curriculum with Oak Meadow but I do for math. Emma's school had her using Zearn when we went remote and she loved it (and so did I).
I also occasionally supplement with videos, like when we are learning about tempo and animal tracks.
And Outschool is an excellent resource for supplemental learning. Emma is learning how to finger knit and play the recorder using Outschool.
Homeschooling has been a wonderful way for me to bond with my girls and for my girls to bond with each other. I can see them learning new things and I am able to support their learning in a meaningful way. That said, some days are truly awful - I feel it's important to be honest. Some days the kids struggle or I struggle and there are tears...sometimes mine. But, I am learning that maybe we just skip homeschool on busy days because it just stresses everyone out. It's been hard to "unlearn" the need for many hours of school every day. Overall, my kids spend more time playing than they do in formal lessons with me. Given the situation with Covid-19, it seems like great compromise. You only get to be seven years old once.
Will I do it next year? I wouldn't dare be foolish enough to give anything in the future too much thought, but I'll keep you posted.