I have been drafting this post for weeks, months even. This is the
fifth SIXTH consecutive day during which I sat down at least twice to work on this post. It hasn’t come naturally. I didn’t expect to ever write it, and then I didn’t know if I ever wanted to. On Thanksgiving Day, while walking in the cool air and warm sunshine, enjoying the holiday and feeling tremendous gratitude of a year well lived, I thought I might be ready. Maybe.
This academic year marks the start of our life as a homeschooling family. There. I said it.
We are homeschooling our oldest child with the expectation of bringing our little guy home for kindergarten next year. This decision was a surprise! To me and probably to my family and friends. This decision has been a blessing and an adventure and a joy! So, why is that so hard to say publically? Well, I have a few reasons why I didn’t expect to ever write this post, and they feed into the question of why this post is so hard to write.
::ONE:: I had trouble writing this post because I was not ready to face the criticism that might come. Most of the people who read this blog are people I love dearly. I respect their opinions and appeciate their friendship and their investment in my life and the life of my children. I know that most concerns that they may have about our decision to educate our children at home will come from a place of love for us and a desire to see our children thrive. Thank you for loving us! But sometimes criticism comes from fear of the unknown, fear of difference, fear that our choice is a condemnation of their choices, and I hesitate to open that well of deep, shadowy things. I am not ready or willing to be the representative of all homeschooling parents. I am not an advocate or a lobbyist. I’m just one mom doing what every loving parent does–making the choices that are best for this family. When my husband and I were trying to make the decision to bring our children home for their education, one experienced homeschool mom and friend said something that helped me: homeschooling is not the right choice for every family, but it is the right choice for our family right now. Those words really helped me to feel freedom in our decision. By choosing this path, we are not saying that schools are bad or that every family should teach their kids at home. By choosing this path, we also do not have to make a lifelong commitment. We know that life may change, and our needs may change. We also know that of our three children, our oldest is a great candidate for homeschooling, but it may be too soon to make that decision for our younger kids. Time will tell, and we pray daily for the wisdom to always make the best choices for the individual needs of our children in all matters, not just education.
::TWO:: I had trouble writing this post because I never really thought that I would be a homeschool mom, and I find it hard to put words to my feelings in this area. I loved school as a student. I love schools now. I feel giddy when I walk into one. I love teachers. I love desks and metal chairs on shiny, checkerboard floors. I love school plays, school libraries, playgrounds, science fairs, spelling lists, and field trips. I respect the work that teachers do. I admire and revere their devotion to students and dedication to the belief that every child deserves an education. I know that they give up their afternoons, evenings, and weekends to plan, prepare, and do grades. When the worm of homeschool curiosity wiggled its way into my mind and heart in 2008 (after reading “The Never-at-Home Homeschoolers” by Patricia Zaballos), all of the things that I loved about traditional schooling kept coming back to me. Hubby and I discussed homeschooling briefly before we had school-aged children. He was in favor. I was not. I worried about being “different” and potentially making our children “different” in a way that could hurt them in the future. I worried about being criticized.
From the time I became a mom, I operated under the belief that parents are a child’s first teachers. I conducted our home life as a life of learning. We have always been up to one project or another. Always a craft, a lesson, an experience. That’s the kind of parenting that came naturally for me (probably because my parents work that way), so it’s not surprising that my heart kept coming back to the idea of homeschooling. When our first son approached kindergarten, we had trouble finding a kindergarten that suited us. In our community, schools were moving to a full-day kindergarten format. We preferred a half-day class for our little guy because we believe that at such a young age the best learning happens through play. We didn’t want to move him into a classroom setting for the majority of his day. We revisited the issue of homeschooling at that time, and I dismissed it again. However, by this time, the article (linked above) by Zaballos had begun to do its work on me. My “reasons” for not homeschooling were becoming less and less reasonable. They even seems a little selfish. I offered my last primary excuse to my husband: I didn’t know anyone who was homeschooling (although we had friends who were planning to as their children grew), and I told Hubby that I would never do it without an excellent group of families to share in the experience. I spent enough years doing graduate work in education to have formed a few of my own theories about learning, and I firmly believe that learning is best done as a collective experience. Meaning is constructed through interaction. I dug deeply into the work of Lev Vygotsky in graduate school, and I still ascribe to many of his ideas about collective learning. So without a cohort of learners, homeschooling would not be the best choice for my child.
And then we moved. The question of school came up again. We discussed homeschooling. My heart wanted to. I saw in my son an energetic, creative, dynamic, enthusiastic child who would have to lose some of his effervesence in order to fit the mold of school. I knew that with certainty. I had researched homeschooling and even prayed about it. I felt God’s tug, but AGAIN, I talked about the “collective” and “constructed meaning” and “cooperation” and “socialization.” My husband yielded to me, and we selected an elementary school in the charter system–a school that many families scramble to get into. Selection for the school is primarily geographic, but there is a waiting list for children outside of the boundaries. While house hunting we looked at homes inside this particular section of town.
The first grade year was fine. Fine. His teachers were dedicated and pleasant, experienced and kind. The school was safe and orderly. Completely adequate. But by the middle of the year, I had come to know quite a few homeschooling families. I watched their children doing amazing things, embracing exciting ideas, and forming meaningful relationships and healthy social skills. These families weren’t just homeschooling, and they were doing it beautifully. In the mean time, communication was difficult in our current school situation. I felt disconnected from my son’s education even though I was keeping in touch with his teachers and participating in school activities as much as I could. My husband and I had a long conversation while driving 1000 miles from our Christmas festivities back to our home. The question of school was finally “out there” in a big way. I couldn’t get rid of it. I knew we had crossed some kind of divide. I realized that our family is in the perfect situation to educate our children from home and do it well. Both parents are readily available for teaching. (My husband gets home in the early afternoon most days.) Our community has an active, successful homeschool cooperative (co-op). We love to learn together, and we believe that learning can happen anywhere and everywhere. That’s a pretty good formula for success.
We made a tentative decision at the end of February after speaking with the grandparents and my sister (an elementary teacher). We did a bit of a trial run in the summer with some reading, math review, and a few Bible lessons. At the end of July, we submitted our official paper work to the state.
Verdict after three months: challenging, exciting, fun, frustrating, joyful, amazing.
The picture above cracks me up. This is exactly what homeschooling with a toddler looks like. Charlotte emptied most of the baking soda onto the porch, but at least we got enough for our experiment!
Although J is still in preschool, we save most of our “hands on” learning for when he comes home. It gives me a glimpse of what next year will look like, and I can’t wait!
The white board is our friend. Using fun markers makes every task better–though you wouldn’t know it by F’s expression here. Hee hee.
(Yo Ho Ho! Pirate ship art plays an important role in many of our days.)
We feel tremendously blessed to have the freedom to educate our children in this way. We joined an incredible co-op that provides excellent instruction in memorization, art, physical education, and geography. It is a great place to learn the etiquette of school while making room for friendship and fueling the hunger to learn. We have lots of time for play and imagination.
I know a few of you are reading this with questions and real concerns. That’s okay. I’m happy to answer your questions privately, but most of all, I would love to simply have your prayers.
There. I did it.