After a year of teaching Faith ourselves (mostly Lisa), she was nice enough to give us a homeschooling review.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Lisa and I were both blessed enough to retire from our jobs. I left my job at the end of 2018 after 20 years in IT. Then in 2019, we sold everything and moved to Panama with just two suitcases each.
We decided not to get residency here yet until we’ve had a chance to make sure this is the place for us. As such, we need to leave the country every 6 months for 30 days or longer before we’re allowed back in.
That doesn’t mix well with schooling, so we decided that we would homeschool Faith while we tried this out. That provided us with more flexibility and benefits, but homeschooling also provides a lot of challenges as well.
Year one of this homeschooling fun is wrapping up today. Now it’s time to share what we’ve learned.
With that, take it away, Lisa, and give us your homeschooling review!
Our first year of homeschooling is coming to an end as you read this and let me tell you… we are all really looking forward to our summer break!
Although a lot of you got forced into a homeschooling scenario because of the COVID-19 situation, I hope this homeschooling review will give you a little more insight into the world of doing this for an entire year.
This school year has been a learning process all around. We have had some great times and some really hard times. And with the COVID-19 virus, it’s also been a really weird time.
Before we started homeschooling, I did a lot of research on how the process works. There is so much information on the Internet that it can be truly overwhelming. I was lost and came to the conclusion that this first year was going to be a trial and error kind of year. We started the year off with a schedule and curriculum we were going to follow and I’d say we did follow it for the most part.
Sure, there were times when we didn’t follow the schedule we had set for our days. We also tried different curriculums and even tried not to use a curriculum. Some things worked well and then the next week they might not work at all. But, that’s the nice thing about homeschooling – you just make adjustments based on what works or doesn’t for your child.
Homeschooling review: The stress
There are no two ways about it, homeschooling is stressful. I’m not saying that sending your child to a regular brick and mortar school isn’t stressful. It’s just a different type of stress.
There’s the stress of finding the right curriculum. If one part isn’t working for your child, more research has to be done to find the thing that does work. One way of doing a subject may be working for a month and then all of a sudden it’s not working and you have to adjust to make sure that your child is getting the most out of school.
Then there’s the stress of getting a child to do their studies each day. Although Faith is a very smart kid (yes, I know, I’m a little biased), she has a lot of days when she doesn’t want to do school work.
Up until this year, she’s gone to public school. In those days, she would complain about going to school and would ask if she could skip a day here. However, I would only hear the complaining in the morning before I dropped her off. Now, with homeschooling, I hear her complaining about doing each subject every day, all day.
She asks if she can not do a subject or if she can cut it short. I have to hear how much she “HATES” history and ELA (English Language Arts). She starts the night before with “Do I have to do this?” or “Do I have to do that?” and it doesn’t stop until her school day is done. Then it starts all over again the next day… it drives me CRAZY!
But, I think the biggest stressor I have about homeschooling is the fear of Faith falling behind.
Homeschooling was never a forever situation for us. We’ve always planned for her to go back to school in a year or two. If we decide to get residency here in Panama, we’ll find an international bilingual school for Faith to attend. If we decide that Panama is not right for us and decide to move on to another country or back to the United States, we plan on putting her back into a public school.
At the moment, homeschooling is right for us and our situation, but as Faith gets older, I’m not sure it’ll be the best option for her education or my sanity.
So when she does go back to school, I have concerns such as…
- Will she be caught up with her peers or need to work extra hard to catch up?
- Is she doing the right curriculum in math and ELA?
- Is she learning enough in history and science?
- Is she spending enough time in each of these subjects and each topic?
- Is she learning the same topics in each of these subjects as other 4th-grade students?
I often feel like she’s not doing enough schoolwork even though she gets up every morning and covers all the subjects we had planned for that day. It seems like she gets finished with her school day so quickly.
Also, she hasn’t done many “tests” in many of the subjects she is taking. She’s taken a few math quizzes and tests on Khan Academy but that’s about it. Is she retaining all that information that we study? I hope so, but I really have no way of gauging what she’s remembered.
This is what I worry about daily and probably will every day while Faith is being homeschooled. But what makes me feel better and not want to follow a specific online school or curriculum is the freedom we have with piecing our own curriculum together.
So yes, I do feel the stress of worrying about Faith falling behind in her subjects and her peers. However, as I look back over this school year, I remember all of the new experiences and learning opportunities she has had on this journey. And I have learned that at any given time, a lesson can be taught.
Almost every day, Faith does math, reading, and Spanish. She also has science, history/geography, spelling and ELA (English Language Arts), personal finance, art, and music on her schedule throughout the week. But many times these subjects and much more have been taught outside of our home.
I try to remember that just because Faith is not doing the exact same thing her peers are doing in school, she is still learning from her experiences. She might be behind in a subject or two but she has had experiences this year that have taught her so much more than she would have learned in a classroom. The learning opportunities Faith has had here in Boquete are some that will stay with her for a very long time, if not forever.
Homeschooling review – New learning opportunities
This year, Faith studied humpback whales and instead of just reading about the whales or watching videos about them, we went on a whale-watching tour and got to see them swimming in the ocean. On that same tour, Faith saw a sea turtle, went snorkeling, and saw many different types of tropical fish. She then identified the fish she saw on a sheet the tour guide had brought. That week, she wrote a report on the whales and her field trip.
We went hiking here in Boquete almost every week (until the lockdown started here). On those hikes, we would stop and study the flowers and plants. We’d also investigate many types of bugs, including Faith’s favorite, the leaf cutter ants. On one of our hikes, we saw monkeys in the trees and watched them for a while. On these hikes, we’ve also seen so many types of birds including the elusive Resplendent Quetzal.
We had the opportunity to go on a geology field trip with Dr. Paul Meyers, a retired geology professor from the University of Wisconsin. We learned about Volcan Baru (a volcano here in Boquete) and how it affected the land in Boquete and surrounding areas.
Faith also volunteers once a month at Amigos de Animales. This is a spay and neuter clinic here in Boquete. Faith and I work in recovery and this is a very hands-on opportunity for her. In recovery, we have to observe the animal after surgery and make sure the vitals are normal. We take each animal’s temperature every 15-20 minutes while it’s still asleep from the anesthetic and then wake it up so the animal can go home with its owner.
Faith does all of this on her own. Well, of course, I am sitting next to her with my own animal and there are other experienced adults there supervising but she has her own cat or dog at any given time that she has to care for.
As an extracurricular activity, Faith takes horseback riding lessons at the Boquete Equestrian Center. At these lessons, she learns so much more than just riding the horse. She learns how to care for them, how to get them ready for the riding, and what needs to be done when she’s finished riding. She’s also learned how to listen to a horse’s stomach when they’re not feeling well and give them an injection of medicine. No doubt that her favorite part is riding but she’s learning so much more.
Experiences like these and many more plus learning to appreciate a new culture here in Panama may not be the “normal” schooling most people are used to but it’s an education that Faith would never have if we didn’t decide to homeschool.
If Faith is falling behind on some subjects (which we don’t know for sure), she’s making up in other ways. She may have to study extra hard next year to catch up to her peers but the experiences she’s had here in Panama are experiences that will mold her into a more well-rounded person. And in my mind, that’s certainly just as important as any other subject she could study in a book or online.
Homeschooling during a Pandemic
We were lucky that we weren’t thrown into homeschooling like so many others were when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I can’t imagine the stress a parent is under when they already possibly worried about losing his/her job or suddenly having to work from home with the entire family there as a distraction. Having to navigate the world of homeschooling at the drop of a hat as well has got to be trying.
We didn’t have to worry about finances or figuring out how to homeschool but we do have the same feelings and worries as so many other people do. We felt fear, anger, sadness and so many other feelings that can’t be described.
To say that COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works of our homeschooling would be an understatement. The pandemic has turned our world upside down.
At the end of March, Panama announced that they were closing the borders and no flights were allowed in or out. We had to decide if we wanted to risk flying back to Ohio and risk catching COVID-19 during our travel and possibly spreading it to family. Or we could stay in Panama on lockdown until it passed but know that if something were to happen to one of our loved ones, we wouldn’t be able to return to the States for an unforeseen amount of time.
We ultimately decided that we were safer staying here but it wasn’t an easy decision. To add to it, we were feeling a little homesick and were looking forward to my parents visiting us in April. Knowing that visit was going to be canceled added to our anxiety and frustration.
With all of this going on, plus anxiety, frustration, and sadness, how can anyone concentrate on doing schoolwork? And so, for that first week after the announcement of the border closing, I was more worried about keeping our spirits high (well as high as we could) and our emotional well being intact than I was about academics.
Our minds were not in the right place to concentrate. We did do some schooling that week but for the most part, Faith was allowed to choose what she wanted to do as long as it was productive. She worked on programming on Khan Academy, did a lot of art projects, watched educational shows on YouTube, and did some reading.
But, most importantly, we spent a lot of time together playing games both inside and outdoors. We did some baking and cooking together and, dare I say it out loud, watched movies together instead of doing school work. We tried to do things that took Faith’s mind (and ours) off COVID-19 and would alleviate some stress instead of adding to it with a lot of school work.
Now, we’re back on track for the most part. Faith is back to her math, reading, Spanish, science, history/geography, and plenty of art projects. But, I’m still lenient on her schooling. We’re still feeling the frustrations of COVID-19 and being on lockdown and not knowing when things will open up. So we’re doing our best to get through what we can as we wrap up the year.
As far as my homeschooling review goes, this school year has been completely different from what we’re used to and what we were expecting. Between everything from changing the schedule and curriculum many times and schooling during a pandemic, it’s been interesting. But, I think Faith has come out of it a smarter and better kid and that’s all we could ask for.
Awesome job on the homeschooling review, Lisa! You’ve done an amazing job at this and have the patience of a saint!
Thanks for reading, everyone – I hope this homeschooling review has been helpful!!