Back to school 2020

This is our fifth official year homeschooling (meaning, my oldest is in fifth grade … my kids have always been home …) and this year’s back to school vibe is unlike any other we have experienced.

Normally back to school involves back to our lessons – yes – but also back to ballet and back to soccer and back to Forest Fridays and back to routine.

This year it’s back to almost none of that. In Oregon there has been a very conservative approach to the pandemic, so schools are convening remotely and that means extracurriculars are remote or not happening. We chose to opt out of soccer this year (I’m honestly not even sure if it’s happening) and after a lot of thought my 11-year-old decided to opt out of remote ballet. Ballet on the other side of a screen just wasn’t the same (of course) and she decided that she would rather wait until she can return to the studio.

No extracurricular activities = more time to make plum jam.

This year we are not even in our own home for back to homeschool. I took our annual first day of school photo in front of someone else’s front door. We are remodeling our house and decided to be out of the house for the duration of the project because of Covid. So our first week of school was spent in a vacation rental on the Puget Sound and our second week is being spent at my parents’ house in SW Washington.

Back to homeschool but not at home. Love these humans!!!

Just to layer it on a bit – we had an unprecedented wind even at the end of our first week of school which triggered/worsened wild fires across Washington, Oregon and California and we have been in a haze of toxic smoke and worried about friends who had to evacuate.

So, to put it lightly, it’s a weird year.

But in spite of all the challenges, falling into our school-year routine has been a blessing. The kids had been desperately needing the consistency and needed my help in pulling back that expansive energy of summer into a more reliable rhythm of fall.

Reviewing fractions.

This year we officially welcomed our middle child into the morning routine as a first grader. Layering in a second main lesson was a bit of a learning curve, but at the end of week two it is starting to feel do-able. We definitely wrap up later than I would like, which is partially due to the fact that two lessons takes longer and partially due to the fact that we are still on a bit of a summer sleep schedule, and really need to be getting the kids up earlier in the morning and to bed earlier in the evening. That always shifts naturally as sunset moves earlier.

Staying up too late for an evening paddle (worth it).

For the past two weeks my first grader has been doing a form drawing block and my fifth grader has been doing a botany block. I had a vision of these first few weeks taking place mostly outdoors and I had to pivot and make the blocks include a bit more book-work than I intended.

First grade form drawing.

One of the tricky aspects of the new routine is balancing main lesson content with skills sessions. I’ve realized that I’m the kind of homeschooler that wants to be consistently working on skills. (I find some Waldorf homeschoolers are more relaxed in that area, especially in the early grades.) So I’m doing two main lessons along with an All About Reading lesson for my first grader and an All about Spelling lesson for my fifth grader. This isn’t happening ever single day, but most days, and it adds time. One thing that I find that’s working is doing them back-to-back so all the supplies are out at the same time.

All About Reading for my first grader.

The morning rhythm that is working for us right now looks like this:

  • Circle time
  • Recorder lesson
  • At this point my fifth grader breaks off and does her independent work
  • First grade main lesson
  • All About Reading lesson for my first grader (sometimes we split these lessons between two days)
  • All About Spelling lesson for my fifth grader (we do this in a pretty quick-and-dirty approach and skip steps if she already knows the concept)
  • Fifth grade main lesson
Botany work with a view.

Thankfully my three-year-old has been such a good sport this year. She is almost four and has really grown in her ability to play independently for part of the morning. She is also old enough that she enjoys actually participating in circle time this year, so she gets her cup filled up by joining in on that. It’s usually less than an hour between that and when her big brother is able to come play with her, and then they happily play while I work with their big sister. I find that working from youngest to oldest works really well.

Botany with an assist from baby sister.

With all that’s up in the air right now, which for the past week has included a fundamental sense of safety, it has been a comfort to my kids and myself to know that we can be our own source of safety and security. We have been suffering from such a sense of groundlessness, and yet we find ourselves rooted in our love for each other and the many ways we take care of each other. The years we’ve spent building a family culture and daily rhythms that nourish us feel like a worthy investment indeed in such a time of uncertainty.

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