Wednesday, October 07, 2009

To homeschool or not to homeschool: our family's choice

NOTE: It is my dearest hope that this post does not offend anyone. I fully realize that the method of schooling a child is up to every individual family, and that it is a personal choice. I also realize that for some families, homeschooling has never been a consideration or an option, and that is perfectly fine.

Greg and I were both homeschooled, so this seemed an obvious place for us to start in our ideas for our own children. Please keep this in mind when you read the following. What you will read below is simply our family's journy through the educational landscape thus far.

Last year, I decided to take a stab at homeschooling. I knew that it would be challenging with the three children while pregnant with Jonah and Greg deployed, but at first, it was kind of exciting. I loved sitting on the couch with them to read -- not only for cuddle time, but with the intention of learning. I loved seeing them "get" something for the first time, and hearing their brilliant questions about things that I didn't always have answers for. I loved having the opportunity to be there, right next to Andrew and Elijah as they each sounded out their first words. It was thrilling to see them start to put the alphabet together, and to learn what it meant to write numbers and letters on a page.

On the flip side of this, however, every homeschooling day was a major challenge in balancing the teaching of the boys, and ensuring that I was really caring for Lavella. She, of course, had no interest in the chapter books or the math homework, or the slow, stop-start reading of the boys struggling through their first books. She wanted to race all around the living room, shouting things, singing songs, and trying to distract the boys in any way she could from what they were trying to do (or what I was trying to teach). This was understandable of course -- she's a toddler, and she needs me too. Every day was a struggle, an uphill climb.

In the morning, we'd eat breakfast, I'd tidy the kitchen, then we'd start school around 10am. We'd finish by 12, and eat lunch. By the time we were done eating and cleaning up after that, it was naptime. After naptime, I had to start preparations for dinner, and after dinner is clean-up (once again!), play, clean-up the toys (GAHH!!), and bedtime. I started to realize that homeschooling, for us, meant that it had to be our life, entirely. I was getting exhausted and burned out, and we hadn't even been at it for a complete semester. I felt like I was just about to be a failure.

Yes, we could have gone out on walks and playground visits and playgroups in the morning, leaving the afternoon for schooling while Lavella napped (so that we wouldn't have to worry about her distractions and needs), and but by that point in the day, everyone is tired and crabby and at least needs to take a "quiet time" -- especially me! After an entire day of people needing me and talking to me and grabbing on to me for something, anything, everything, I really need a break. Generally speaking, it's a bad idea for the mother of a bunch of children to just up and go STARK RAVING MAD.

I also could have gone about things in a more "unschooling" method like my mom did (who managed to homeschool all 9 of us, and several of us all the way through highschool), in which she often provided direction and inspiration, and then let us run with it ourselves, but I'm too much of a control freak for that, and need to know that my children are at least on level, if not exceeding, all of their traditionally schooled peers (i.e., I would not be comfortable with them excelling above their grade at reading, while being behind in math, trusting that we'd catch up later). Also, when Caleb, Hannah and I were very little, my mom did some co-op teaching with a small group of her friends, and so we were still able to get a little bit of a "real school" feeling, while taking some of the pressure off of her. My mom is an incredible person, and the longer that I am a mother myself, the more I respect and appreciate the sacrifice she gave of her time and energy while raising and teaching us. However, I digress.

As the homeschooling weeks ticked by, closer to Jonah's birth, I often wondered how he would change things. Once he was born, and I had a nursing baby to care for, I realized that there was no way that I could manage to homeschool my children while maintaining sanity. I would literally have no day, no life. My every single waking moment would have had to be strictly organized, teaching the boys between the overwhelming needs of a baby and toddler combined. The idea was beyond overwhelming; it felt impossible.

When Greg first came here to Texas to find our new house, he decided to scout school districts as well. One day he called me and told me about this house, adding that it had an excellent Elementary school nearby...and I nearly cried. I cannot describe the relief that rushed over me when I realized that it might be possible to send them to a decent school, and what's more, that it was Greg's idea.

A few days after we moved here, I went over to the school with the boys to meet the school staff, and check out teachers and classrooms. I immediately felt a sense of peace and belonging, and the boys started to get excited. It was obvious from the start that the school was well run with people who really seemed to care about the students. The Pre-K and Kindergarten classes are arranged in a playfully educational way, and the curriculum is full of fun and color. I enrolled them that day (Sept. 22nd), and the next morning...

These two guys set off for their first day of school.

All day back at home, I wondered if it had been the right decision, if they would be OK without me, if I was ready to give them up to the school system for the majority of their weekdays. I wondered if Elijah would have emotional melt-downs, and if he would be treated tenderly and firmly. I wondered if they would be able to draw Andrew out, and make sure he felt included with the rest of the classroom. I wondered if either of my boys would fall through the educational cracks, and regress in their learning.

Elijah's class lets out an hour before Andrew's does, and at last, it was time to pick him up.

(A teacher walks each child across the school driveway to their parents for accountability in traffic)

It was so good to see him again. I had missed him like crazy. I felt slightly sick, and wasn't sure if I would be able to manage it the next day...and the day after that...and the day after that...

It was raining, so we camped out for snacks and visiting while we waited for Andrew's class to let out.

While he didn't have much to say about his day besides the color of his milk ("I had chocolate milk for lunch. And that's all. And I don't remember anything else. I did nothin' today."), he seemed remarkably unscathed by the experience.

Even... normal. Maybe this was going to be OK after all.

At last, it was time to get Andrew.

(Walking towards us in the rain with his teacher, tongue out, of course, as always.)

Suddenly they both had about 8-million things to tell me, all at once.

We continue to view this school with a wait-and-see attitude, ready to pull them out to homeschool again if it becomes necessary. However, by the look on Andrew's face, that may not need to be anytime soon.


a.susie said...

I really appreciated your sharing. I felt like you're in the same position I am in when I talk about women being in the home. Contrary to assumptions I have no issue with a mom working outside the home. I simply want the role of home maker to be given the same respect and value. Monetary contribution is not the end all and be all of life. Homemaking is a career choice just like any other. I stagnate intellectually when I am working outside home because I can't think about anything else. I no longer read as much, think as much, or work as hard. But that's my choice. I am glad gratified to see you and Greg thinking this through for yourselves and doing what is right for your family at this time in your lives. I remember asking Sara once if she missed homeschooling (after she had been back in public school). I will never forget what she said to me; "If all the Christians home school who will be in public school to talk to those kids about God?" I knew then that we had made the right choice for our family, no doubt. Glad the boys are loving it!~

Mom2Zoey said...

When Zoey was a baby I was sure that I would homeschool her. It just seemed like a great thing! I even made a few contacts and talked with some homeschooling moms at church. I was very interested in doing it. Then she grew up and I knew it would never be an option. She is stubborn and way too smart for her own good. There was no way I could do it! She started kindergarten this year and loves it! I go in and volunteer whenever I want and can't believe how well behaved and polite my little pistol is when I'm not around. I think it's great for her to get out and interact with others.
It looks like the boys are enjoying school too!

wendy said...

Hi Faith,
As parents we have to make some difficult decisions. I am sure you sent them to school after much thought and prayer. It sounds to me that you made the right choice for you and your children. Let me encourage you to get involved at their schools. We have many parent volunteers here at the school I work for. If you are unable to do that, maybe you can stop by and have lunch with them.

The Kansas City Hoovers said...

That is definitely a hard decision. I, also with so many little ones felt over whelmed by the idea of homeschooling, feeling like I wouldn't be able to give either part enough. I wouldn't be able to give Judah the attention he needed with school and wouldn't be giving the other little ones the attention they need and they know how to push my buttons when they are trying to get my attention. Also, Judah is strong willed and knows how to argue with me and that if I'm distracted gets away with stuff. I am also a control freak. On the other side there is so much that makes me nervous. What he will learn from other classmates and the worldly philosophy he will pick up. We've just tried to encourage him to ask us any questions about things he hears with the promise to always tell him the truth. Peace to you on your journey, you are an amazing Mom!!

Tonya said...

I feel like you were writing my own thoughts down insteado of yours!!!! I so understand everything you wrote... I've got four now too. You mom is amazing to have been able to homeschool nine... I would have gone mad!!!!