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 journey 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 Billy 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 Sparky and Max 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 Daisy. 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 Daisy 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 my brother Caleb and my sister 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 Billy'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. ThePre -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 Max would have emotional melt-downs, and if he would be treated tenderly and firmly. I wondered if they would be able to draw Sparky 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.

Max's class lets out an hour before Sparky'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 Sparky'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 Sparky.

(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 Sparky's face, that may not need to be anytime soon.

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