"First Year" depends on how you look on it. It could also be considered my 20th year of homeschooling, as homeschool has been a part of my life--either as student, sister-teacher, curriculum consultant, grading adviser, or something of that sort, my whole life. But this year was the very first one where I was the home educator - planning the days, making choices about what activities we would do and what we wouldn't, and actually doing all the work myself.
We're 'officially' starting our year of kindergarten, with new curriculum, next week (welcome to our homeschool, where school holidays don't exist and summer break doesn't matter).
Here's what I've learned:
1. It's a scary feeling to know that a little one's education rests on you. It's incredible how much the depth and breadth of learning matters for little kids. The environment in which they learn also matters: do they feel that it's safe, can they make mistakes? Will they follow instructions and guidelines but not at the expense of their natural creativity? Are they learning how to live well and get along with others? There's so much to learn when you're 4 years old, and it's a huge responsibility when you realize just how much you have to teach.
2. Patience is a virtue. There were times, early on in our preschool year, when I felt like they were never going to read, never going to be able to put the numbers 1-10 in order independently, never be able to distinguish a 6 from a 9. Guess what? That was just my brain being dramatically impatient. Some kids take no time at all to learn to read, others need their time, but they get there. To be able to stand back and see the progress these little ones have made in a school year is so, so cool to me. They just finished their 4th early reader book, they can put all the numbers from 1-20 in order independently, understand simple addition, find and name all the continents of the world on a map, and recognize their 3D shapes. They find sight words like "to" and "the" and "of" in the storybooks that I read to them...it's just so much fun to see how much they've grown since August.
3. Life skills and relational skills are just as important as the book learning. Every day, these little ones face relational situations involving sharing, forgiving, being kind, being helpful, etc. They argue with each other, but it makes me so happy when I see them encouraging each other for a job well done--when one of them does their handwriting practice very well and the letters fit the proper lines, she'll show it to the other one, and the other one will say, "Very good job!" and will draw a smiley face on the worksheet, indicating their approval. They help each other figure out their puzzles and tasks, and explain instructions to each other.
4. Field trips are powerful. And our apartment building is great for field trips. The park, playroom, library, and swimming pool are all within walking distance and are our most frequent field trips. When Angel's around and we have a car, we'll sometimes take more ambitious field trips, like outings to a further away park or the beach. The girls talk about those outings for weeks afterwards. We're making memories and real-life connections when we go on field trips, and they're definitely worth the time spent away from schoolwork.
5. Homeschool doesn't mean sitting right next to the kids at all times. I use games they can play independently to give me time to prepare food for lunch or tackle other housework. I need time to get other work done, and they need time to play in their own way. I'll give them a puzzle or a bunch of blocks and go hang up a load of laundry. They're old enough to not need supervision every single second, and that's very helpful. But other parts of school go much better with direct supervision. If I sit next to them while they do their handwriting, the handwriting always turns out ever so much neater than when they do it all by themselves--funny how that works...
6. Painting is always exciting. And as long as they're painting their papers on the tile floor...there's no mess worth worrying about, either. Watercolor is the best. I always see tempera paint used with little kids. I like watercolors better for them, though the colors aren't as vibrant, practical matters of drying and less mess matter more to me.
7. The alphabet gets boring after a while. We did the entire preschool year based on unit studies around all 26 letters, and now I'm tired of the alphabet. Kindergarten will incorporate an around-the-world theme with unit studies of different countries and that ought to be far more exciting! Angel's a flag collector and has already taught them to recognize all of the flags that he owns, but they'll be learning a lot more than just the flags of the world in the weeks to come.
8. I'm a bit lazy as a teacher--or as I like to call it--"efficient." I'm not really into high-prep activities that result in low amounts of learning and time spent between kids and activity. If I want them to make a mosaic/paper collage type activity, I'm not going to cut or rip up the paper for them ahead of time, I'll just let them rip it up themselves as the first step in the activity. I always seek out activities where they can do as much of the work as possible. I already know my preschool skills...they are the ones who need the practice!
When I taught English to high schoolers in China, I thought that was the best job that could possibly exist for me. As far as actual jobs go, that one still is. However, this homeschooling gig comes pretty close to that one in the 'how much do I love it?' category.