Thursday, April 09, 2009

So much for “never”!

We’re about to embark on a path I was certain I would never trod. I will soon become what I’ve often said I would never be. Our family is going to transition into a lifestyle I never thought I would embrace. Would you believe that we’re going to try homeschooling?! If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably groaning, thinking we’ve just strapped our children with a social handicap or sub-par education. I’ve known my share of odd and/or under-educated homeschoolers too. (Though, to be fair, I’ve known at least as many who are articulate, well-behaved, fun, and bright). We definitely understand that there will be some challenges ahead, but believe that the risks are outweighed by the rewards… at least for our family.
This choice was precipitated by a recent change in Danny’s schedule. Up until three months ago, his work followed the school schedule perfectly: he left by 5:45 a.m. and was home by 5:00 p.m. He always had weekends and school holidays off. Even with a full day of school and an early bedtime, Alyssa saw her daddy for at least 2 ½ hours a day. We’re now adjusting to an 11 a.m. start time – putting the end of his shift at around 10 p.m. – and a mere 45 minutes or so in the morning as a family of 5, which is marred by the rushing around of getting out the door to go to school. The four of us then have a great lazy morning together of playing, eating breakfast, riding bikes, reading - all the stuff we used to do together in the evenings. It works, but it’s just not complete without Alyssa. Next year throw Parker into the mix with 2 separate start and end times, and family time will be limited even more. School is just inconvenient. Of course we recognize that convenience alone shouldn’t be the sole basis for a decision like this, but if the kids’ formal education can take place in 3 hours instead of 7 ½ (+ homework), starting at 11 instead of 8, packed mostly into Monday-Thursday (leaving P.E., field trips and other fun stuff for Fridays when Danny’s home all day), and scheduled around the vacations we want to take instead of the vacations the state says we can take, how can that be all bad? We would rather our kids spend time with us than wasting it on things like lining up, passing out papers, collecting papers, recess, lunch, movies, teaching to the ESL’ers, dealing with discipline issues, and the list goes on (not that valuable life lessons can’t be learned through those things, just sayin’ that there has to be a more efficient way). The last two weeks of spring break have been a little bit of heaven around here. The kids have gone on all kinds of bike rides and runs with Danny (Alyssa included!), we’ve been able to sleep in a little, spend the night at grandparents’, let Reagan nap when she wants needs to instead of when it fits with the pick-up schedule, go away for a couple of days, stay up late with our Bible Study students, and just enjoy our little girl. I’m under no illusion that homeschooling would be a total break from routine or responsibilities, but it would be flexible and far less time-consuming.
Which leads me to another compelling “pro” for our family: extracurricular activities. We want our kids to be involved in soccer, dance, T-ball, swim team, church events, music, AWANA. We believe that God can use those kinds of activities to teach them about teamwork, taking on a challenge, and submitting to a leader, or to develop life-long habits of health and discipline. We just don’t think they’re valuable enough to sacrifice the majority of our family time to enjoy them, so up to this point we’ve generally said no. But with homeschooling, we can potentially free up an extra 3 hours each morning and make the afternoon running around to such activities less of a drain. I know plenty of people do it all – I just don’t think I can – nor do we want our kids or our family to be that busy.
Our hope is that involvement in these activities outside of school (in addition to, potentially, a homeschooling group, and the many kids in our neighborhood), will counteract our one big fear in this endeavor: socialization. I used to think that traditional schooling was The Way to turn out Normal kids. I am now willing to admit that kids can learn social skills outside of that environment and that I don’t necessarily want our kids to be normal. We want them to be godly, and they can learn that as well, if not better, outside of the peer pressures a school would provide. It’s okay for them to be odd if normal means being up on the latest trends and acquainted with age-appropriate vices. And have you ever noticed that there are strange kids in schools too? It just seems that if you’re strange and homeschooled you’re that way because of homeschooling. I know our kids will face those stereotypes, as will Danny and I, but hope that we can overcome them and prove the naysayers wrong.
A social benefit we hope our kids will receive is lasting friendship with each other. A consistent theme among homeschoolers we’ve known is a genuine love for and enjoyment of their siblings, no matter the difference in age. Despite the importance I’ve always placed in my mind on friendships from elementary, Jr. High and High School, and my many “friends” on Facebook, I can count on one hand the number of real relationships I’ve maintained from my pre-college days. Danny is the exception with many great friendships dating back as far as elementary school. My sister and I another exception in that we’re incredibly close while she went to private school and I went to public. I’m not saying sibling affection can’t happen outside of a homeschooling environment, or that valuable relationships can’t be formed early in life, but I’d rather give my kids the best possible chance at being friends with each other than at being the most popular kid in school.
Another potential challenge is, of course, the academics. I might be totally naïve here, but at this point I think I can handle the challenge of teaching. Undoubtedly there will be days that prove to be much more trying than I’ve anticipated. I know God will teach me patience and if the kids learn nothing else they will hopefully see the result of His sanctifying work in me. But He has given me some life experience and an education that leads me to believe we’ll be okay. I taught kids piano for several years, and have taught college now for five. Teaching someone to read admittedly seems a little daunting, but there is curriculum for that, right?! (Which I should probably be researching that instead of blogging!) For all my lack of early-childhood-education knowledge, however, is the real benefit of knowing what my kids are supposed to be learning and reinforcing that in everyday life. Once I figured out that Alyssa was learning about money in school we could count coins together waiting for our food at In-N-Out. When we discovered she was a little wiz at decoding but not as strong in comprehension, we could focus on asking her questions about what she’d read instead of just letting her plow through. If I become her primary teacher, I’ll know things like this immediately and first hand. We’ll be able to spend extra time on the areas in which our kids struggle, as well as challenge them in the subjects in which they thrive, instead of just teaching to the middle. I mean this as no indictment of teachers in general or Alyssa’s teachers in particular. We have loved both of Alyssa’s teachers thus far and firmly believe that the majority of teachers do the best possible job within the many constraints of the system. However, we would love to be able to give our kids more personalized instruction, supplemented by experiences outside of the classroom, and rooted in a biblical way of looking at life.
With all of my defenses here, which is by no means a comprehensive or even convincing list, I do want to reiterate that we know this is not a perfect solution. If it were we wouldn’t have struggled over our decision for as long as we have. Public school isn’t perfect, private school isn’t perfect, and even the best homeschooling isn’t perfect. There are pros and cons to each, and our list of pros and cons will certainly be different at this time next year. We’ve prayed about it, talked about it, discussed it with other parents from both sides of the fence, found support from both of our families, and ultimately determined that this is the best choice for our family at this time. We think it will be fun, we know it will be hard, but we’re really looking forward to have our three favorite little faces here all day every day, at home, with us.


Rebecca Pierce said...

Well I assume that you know that I am finishing my first year of homeschooling (of course Math and Reading never end). I am very excited for you and your family and I think that even one of the reasons that you listed is reason enough to keep them home. Here are some rebuttals for people who may have an issue with your choice (I find that most people with children in public school hands down believe that I am giving my kids a better education, you might be surprised).

1. Social misfits are born on this world social misfits. I do not think that by putting an awkward child into public school you are going to make him/her socially "normal." My kids were born socially adept and anyway, by the age of six, they say that much of who they are is already established, and that time was spent at home regardless. If by socially normal, people are referring to children who are consumed by brand names, competition and technology, I have no interest in these social norms. I want my children to be socially bizarre in that I want them to love their siblings first and foremost and I want them to interact with children of many ages without complaint. I want them to confide in me and be proud of their talents and I want them to know that there is more to life than secular learning. I want them to know how what they are learning correlates with He who created everything. It was enlightening for me to realize that my kids were spending easily 12 hours a week mixing with other kids in homeschool. We participate in a three hour academic co-op once a week (for enrichment, not core curriculum) and four hours a week in a P.E. co-op at the YMCA. Then there's Suzuki piano classes and playdates and church, etc.

2. This one is the best. Everyone homeschools their kids. EVERYONE. If you don't, your kid winds up behind and in special classes, because no children are truly going to learn to read from a-z in a classroom. Parent read with their kids daily, they review their math work, they plan their science projects and basically teach them everything after hours as it is. So when people say that they could "never homeschool" I just say, "oh, but you do homeschool! I only spend 1-2 hours a day with my child on formal curriculum, and you do that too! You just also have to part with your child for 7 hours a day!" I always rave about how we get swimming, ballet, P.E. and school done before Chris is home from work, so when he gets home, we have 5 days a week of family time. We play games, catch frogs, study scripture, play Wii, eat dinner together, etc.

Those are two of my most effective rebuttals. It is really easy to just say, "oh you homeschool too!" it kind of sends the "i don't think I'm a superhero because I homeschool" message and lets the parent know that they too retain responsiboility for the education of their child.

When I started, I thought, I'll try this for now. I'll take it year by year and we'll see where it leads. Now that I know how much fun it is and how much easier it is than having to deal with the inconvenience of a public school schedule, I just can't imagine ever doing anything else. I love the opportunities that we have to run with a subject for a week if they are super interested, to count trips to farms, museums and frog ponds as learning and to be TOGETHER!

I literally spent my entire life obsessed with my friends. I just didn't ever want to be home, and I had a lovely home! I don't feel I am that close to my brothers, I certainly don't view them as peers/friends like I do my friends, and not until adulthood did I recognize how awesome my parents are.

I love homeschooling. I'd love to talk to you about curriculum or great websites, etc. You really won't regret doing isn't hard, it is easier than the alternative. Really!

Good luck!

Rebecca Pierce said...

Hey, what most helped me in the beginning was joining some of the local yahoo email groups that applied to me. You can probably find some groups that correspond with your religious beliefs and get to know people who are doing what you do and have kids your kids' ages, etc. We found a fieldtrip group that way, the co-op that way, etc. It is nice to hear from people who have homeschooled eight kiddos and have some in college, etc. It gives newbies more "I can do this" hope.

By the Brook said...

OH YAY! I am so excited. Can't wait to chat about it all. I struggled at first with it and even had Ami enrolled for reception at the school on campus. I love homeschooling her because we're with each other all the time and for us right now in SA, it's perfect. I just brought all her books with me and we're carrying on. Imagine having to leave her up in Malawi while we had to be down here. Thank you, Lord for changing my heart to teach her at home!

Willis said...

I wish you the best with the home schooling. I am a public school teacher, and I've never homeschooled. I can see both sides and could argue either way. Regardless, I hope it all goes well for you!


Plasterer Family said...

Hi Laura! It has been many years since those days at the moshov:) I found your blog through someone else's. Also, my dad, Rod Martin has mentioned getting to know your dad through church I think. Small world. Anyways, I thought I would comment because my husband and I are at about the same place you described in weighing the pros and cons for the different schooling options and will probably be embarking on the homeschooling road this coming fall. We moved to Colorado Springs a year and a half ago and love it. We have a 6 yr. old boy, 4 yr. old boy and 2 yr. old girl. I think there are a lot of benefits to homeschooling and am excited about it as well as a bit overwhelmed. It will be an adventure! I pray all goes well with your family and would love to hear from you if you come across some great curriculum, ideas, etc.
P.S. You are a wonderful writer!

Heather M. said...

Ah...never say never...good luck! Hope you enjoy it!

Heather M.

Kerri said...

Hi Laura! I have no doubt that you will be a wonderful teacher. I too have thought of homeschooling my little gals...God Bless!

Lisa Spence said...

I know the Lord show Himself faithful to you as you seek to follow the conviction of His Spirit!

Mom Linda said...

Oh, Laura! You are getting set for the most wonderful adventure in the world of mommies! After 6 years of homeschooling, I can say without any caveats that I would do it again in a heartbeat!
You have carefully thought it through, and you will easily find curriculum that is just right for each of your kids.
As you have so eloquently said, you are the BEST teacher for each of your kids--nobody else knows their hearts and their abilities as well as their mom and dad.

While you will have one area to keep all your materials together, we found that the bedroom was a favorite place to do assignments. As for the time involved, remember that music lessons and AWANA can easily be incorporated into your total curriculum, and that you only have to explain until your kiddo gets that gleam of "I understand" in their eye--and not wait for an entire class!

Have fun! You and Danny will be fabulous teachers.