Those would be my early years. A commentor asked on my last post what it was like when I first began homeschooling and I thought it was an interesting question. I don't think about them very often, other than recall they were enjoyable. So over the past 24 hours, I've been asking myself how it was different then than it is now. The biggest difference is these:
I kept records. A lot of them. Even though I live in Illinois where we are not required to keep records and no one is authorized to look at them even if we did. (As far as homeschooling regulations go, Illinois has done something right.) But for my first 7 years of homeschooling, everything we did went into each child's binder.
These binders were divided by subject and each included a sheet where I could write down activities and field trips, plus room in the section to insert completed work. I also kept a list of every book we read. It was a lot of work, especially by the time P. started kindergarten, but I don't regret doing it. I also don't regret giving it up.
I think I began keeping meticulous records in order to have proof that M. actually learned and did things, both to the world and myself. I knew if I had to (even if it was a self-imposed 'had to') it was more likely that I would do it. I also enjoyed the practice of translating things into education-ese and it helped me to view a wider category of things as educational. These binders also helped buoy me up when I was feeling low and wondering what the heck I was thinking when I thought I could do this. I would flip through the binders and look at all we had done and learned and remind myself that I was far more competent than I was currently feeling.
It was a lot easier to keep these binders up when I just had a few children to keep track of. (And my heart-felt condolences to those of you who live in states where this is required.) There was a lot less book work to keep track of and a lot fewer children. We did a lot of hands-on activities that would span a week or more and there wasn't that much to write.
This was not the case by the time M. reached 6th grade and P. was starting kindergarten. There was more to write down because a 6th grader just does more and there were more binders to write in. (And the way I had set it up, I was often writing the same thing four times.) It became a chore I increasingly put off doing. I had also gained enough confidence by this point that I didn't need to see everything written down as I had before.
It's kind of like learning to cook. When you first start out, the recipe is everything. You don't know enough about how things work to make changes and have the confidence that the recipe will turn out OK. But eventually, you make enough recipes that you begin to see how things fit together; how it all works. You can begin to change recipes slightly and know it will still be edible. Then after many more hours in the kitchen, you realize that for some things, you just don't need a recipe. You start to experiment and even dare to serve the creation to your family. After much experience, you have gained a mastery that only hours and hours of practice produce.
After hours and hours of homeschooling and seeing four different personalities learn things, I had developed a certain mastery over how the whole thing worked and didn't really need as much outside validation. This is not to say I know everything, and a child will still throw me for a loop every now and then, but for the most part I have figured out how things work best for us.
This is not something someone can do for someone else. They can offer advice and suggestions; tell you how they do things, but nothing can make up for the hours in the trenches. You may start out with a boxed curriculum, but eventually realize you don't need it any longer. I has helped you gain the confidence you need to go it on your own. Or, you may decide that that boxed curriculum works really well for your family, but you also know why that is and what changes you need to make to accommodate your needs.
If I could go back and tell my younger self a few things, the first would be to assure myself that my children would turn out OK. But the next thing would be to be patient with myself. It takes a while to find your footing... to really figure out what works and doesn't. It's OK to make mistakes and back track and regroup. It doesn't mean that you are going to ruin your children, but not giving yourself the grace to change when necessary may make everyone pretty miserable.