Kate Farrell Photography

Williston, VT

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Let’s Not Go Back to School — 2021!

Five Things I’m Embracing as a Home School Parent

This is my first NOT Back to School day as a home school Mom and I’m really excited! Today, I am grateful for the unexpected opportunity to home school my children. Honestly, I haven’t been this happy on the first day of school in the 12 years I’ve been a parent.

Two girls and two boys walking on a trail in the Vermont woods.
Nature has become our favorite learning space!

I never thought I’d be a home school mom yet it is a great fit for my family in this wild season. We transitioned from remote to home school around Thanksgiving last year. Prior to that I was a public school teacher for almost two decades.

Sleep — My kids get enough of it now!

I don’t wake my kids up and they don’t have a “bedtime” anymore. They go to bed when they are tired and wake when they are rested. Nope, they don’t stay up all night! Confession: I do have a tendency to get lost in a book long after everyone else is asleep.

Once we let our kids attend to their tiredness or wakefulness, our bedtime routine became more predictable and so much easier than ever before. Looking back, I see that so many of our “bedtime issues” of yesteryear were related to putting kids to bed before they were tired so that they could get up early (and before they were ready to wake) to go to school.

A brown and white dog sleeps in the shade of a garden in dirt with some leaves on the side of the frame.
And, our Newfoundland seems to grow every time he take a nap!! Thankfully he knows when he needs rest.

Embracing the idea that our kids will sleep as long as they need to has been part of our plan to help them learn to both listen to and respect their bodies. After all, rest is as fundamental a need as food and love. It feels great to give my kids the gift of adequate time to rest every night.

Sequels and Binge Reading – My Favorite Part of our Home School Plan

Daily read aloud is my favorite time with my kids. My three older kids (12, 10 and 9) gather on my bed and I show up with a big cup of tea. We read for at least an hour most days.

A 12 year old girl wades in a Vermont River. Huntington, Vermont.
Like river walks, there is wholesome timelessness to a good book.

I read to my 5 year old at bedtime. She and I have been “traveling” back in time and all over the world with the Magic Tree house series. In recent weeks, we read about Jack and Annie’s trip back to in time to an Egyptian tomb and how they survived a twister in Kansas while traveling in a covered wagon. Both books stirred up some fun conversation and big questions.

When I was employed as a teacher, I had to say things like, “That is a great question, but it’s beyond the scope of this course” or “We’ll get to that in a few months.” I had to keep several sections of the same physics course together, coordinate sharing lab equipment with other teachers and “cover” certain topics by the mid term and final exams. I tried to stick to the plan with minor adjustments and varying degrees of success.

As a Vermont home school parent, my plans have been approved by the state. I have an outline for each content area for each of my children. But, I’ve been careful to give myself wiggle room by saying things like, “We’ll read books such as…” I keep goals in mind, guide at times and welcome teachable moments and curious questions that arise.

And so, If we find a book that we love, we are going to read the sequel! And, if it’s a series we fall in love with — you guessed it! Last winter we read the second half of the Harry Potter Series. This summer we read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. Now as we read the sequel, Let the Circle be Unbroken, we are captivated by the Logan family and their struggles as black farmers in a sharecropping community during the 1930’s in Mississippi.

Our readaloud time lately is punctuated by conversation and questions about race, poverty and discrimination then calls of, “Let’s just read!” It is a cozy time together with really big ideas and tough topics.

Of course, I also love to see my kids lost in books by themselves!

Safety

I run a bit on the anxious side. Add that to the fact that the Delta variant is objectively scary and I’m being really careful, especially with my kids who are too young to be vaccinated.

I recognize that it is a privilege to have the option to home school my kids. When concerns about gun violence in schools ended my teaching career, home schooling my own children was not on my mind. I was committed to helping my own kids find their way through the public school system. I still count many teachers as good friends and hold the work of teachers in high regard.

A five year girl's hands play with a Game of Life car on the board.
The path through life is never as simple as the Game of Life!

But, the road of life winds in unexpected ways. The pandemic gave us cover to try home school and our kids thrived. Now, from a place of loss, I am able to provide my children with a flexible and safe learning experience based at home.

The places we’ll go this fall will be outdoors and generally away from other people. I am grateful to be able to provide rich experiences through books, on-line resources and nature.

Special Projects

Deep learning often happens when we don’t even realize it. We get curious and motivated to figure something out. We explore and tinker and practice and watch videos and read and one day realize we have become quite skilled. Watching my kids get sucked into a curiosity vortex is a joy of home school.

10 year old Vermont boy holds a clay pot he made.
This pot was made from clay my son found in our pond.

One of my daughters is really excited about orphan kitten care. She is currently fostering three kittens — providing 24/7 care from age 10 days through 3 months. Along the way those little cuties are teaching her about growth, data collection, measurement responsibility, digestion, diet, teeth, and so much more.

A girl holds a grey 10 day old kitten wrapped in a blanket.
10 days young! One of the kittens we are fostering.

My boys are currently very excited about MineCraft. I was a hold out: no video games here! But, they persisted — looking for resources educating themselves and then educating me and my husband. Eventually I realized that their process was pretty similar to the way I was approaching building a new business. I learn new software all the time (like WordPress which I’m using to publish this blog!). They want to build new worlds in MineCraft; I built a website. They use all sorts of new lingo; so do I! And, guess what? MineCraft has facilitated collaboration in ways that had been elusive around here for over 10 years!

As we move into this new school year, I’m excited to see what new projects we will tackle. I’ve learned to be open minded: sometimes growth and learning happen where and when we least expect it!

Two children play with a Unicorn Rocket Ship they made out of a Graham Cracker box.
The night the Unicorn Rocket Ship landed on our picnic table. Yes, my daughter’s dress is on inside out. 😉

Seeing Beauty as a Form of Gratitude

As a photographer, seeing beauty is my job. I photograph real families. Every time I pick up my camera, I look for the beauty — the love, the smile that radiates hope, the holding of hands that shows caring support, the hug that says, “I’ve got you.” I photograph the reasons people celebrate Thanksgiving — the good stuff in life that money just can’t buy.

Sometimes, I feel guilty that my job is to see beauty when there is so much suffering and worry in these times. My friends are so stressed about covid protocols in the schools. Systemic racism. Climate change. A hurricane just came up the east coast! My husband is going to work, not to work remotely, again. Homeschooling is fun and it isn’t easy, especially as a small business owner!

But, we all have a job to do. And, so, I will share the beauty that I see, not so that we can pretend that scary stuff and suffering don’t exist. No. I will share the beauty to remind us that even in the dark times, we can welcome moments of gratitude. Nature still grounds and inspires us, our children’s smiles still take our breath away.

We pause to be grateful.

I will look beyond the weeds that are making progress in their effort to overtake my perennial garden and appreciate the beauty that also grows there. I hope sharing it brings you inspiration and hope.

I love that I can take a picture of the yarrow bursting out from the darkness even when there are weeds growing just a few feet away.

About Kate Farrell

Kate is a home school mom to kids aged 12, 10, 9 and 5. She loves tea and dark chocolate. Not much makes her happier than photographing kids in nature.

Professionally, Kate photographs families at all ages and stages in and around Chittenden County Vermont. She welcomes all families including those that don’t fit the white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, two child model so often portrayed as “the norm.”

  1. This is a lovely portrayal of what homeschooling can be when a family is able to lighten up and trust natural processes. I hope this helps some people to see what’s possible

    • Catherine Farrell says:

      Thank you, Charlie! It’s not always easy to lighten up and trust, but it’s been well worth it for us. (And, that’s not the same as easy!) I hope your home school year gets off to a smooth and light start!

  2. Linda Terrasi says:

    Kate, I enjoyed reading this so much! Your children will bring all that you have taught them into their adult lives and have wonderful stories to pass on. Keep guiding them the way you are as it is a wonderful way to guide them through life.
    Love it!
    Linda

  3. […] We tried home education and I saw them come to life in ways I only dreamed about before covid. So, we stuck with homeschool even when my educator-husband returned to teaching in […]

  4. […] curiosity knowing we’d strayed from “The Plan.” But, with time, I’ve embraced it more and more. It’s made teaching and parenting fun […]

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Kate Farrell is a professional lifestyle family photographer based in Williston, Vermont, serving the greater Chittenden County area.