Long before it was time to enroll our eldest in kindergarten, I questioned the move to put him in a traditional learning environment. Knowing what I knew about his capacity for learning, and his disposition, it never felt right to me to sit him down at a table under fluorescent lighting, to have him told what to learn, and then to expect him to absorb it all at the rate he did naturally… at home and in nature. Wasn’t there a school for all boys where they could go outside and learn in the woods, I wondered?
Instead, we started him late. Initially, I resisted my husband’s request, feeling he needed more stimulation than preK could offer, but the teachers we consulted assured us there is always something for a child to learn and so we gave him *an extra year of childhood*.
Kindergarten came and went, and although the first few weeks transitioning in were tough, I found myself embracing the magic of that first year of elementary school. First grade was more of the same, his teacher was beyond measure, the cuteness factor continued, and I found myself comfortable with our choice in the public school system.
Then came the second grade… and I watched the year unfold from the first few weeks, with great enthusiasm and high expectations, to a slow…train…derailment, which I witnessed in deafening silence, and in a void of school support.
What the hell is going on here? I wondered. Why is my son suddenly this way? What happened to the boy that was always that way? Why does he no longer ask for this? Why is he exhibiting signs of that?
I consulted his teacher but she wasn’t seeing it. She thought he was doing just fine.
As I write this, I cry, because I remember the feeling of despair I felt as a parent worrying if my son - this wonderful boy that I was responsible for bringing into this world - was suffering from adolescent depression. Where was he? What can I do? Can I bring him back? Will this last forever?
I eventually consulted someone very close to me about my options, someone who had experience with this kind of thing. I asked her if she thought I should have him evaluated and I’ll never forget her brave response: Sure. You can get him evaluated but I can tell you what they’ll say about him. They are going to tell you he’s depressed. And then they are going to recommend medicating him. He doesn’t need medication. He’s just bored.
And it turns out, she was right.
I do not in any way blame our school, or any teacher involved in my child’s education, for my son’s temporary fall from grace. My husband and I are 100% responsible for our children. I truly believe that our local public school and teachers are doing the absolute best they can, and we could not do better in that area. But at the end of the day, each classroom is filled with twenty very different kids, and one teacher is responsible for helping them all do their best. This works great for some kids, and quite frankly, I’m sure my son would have done just fine had we kept him in that system. But one in-class volunteer experience after the next had me cringing at all the lost opportunities for learning I witnessed. It’s not that I’m a tiger mom who needs my kid to be the world’s best, it’s just that the greatest teacher can only do so much when in charge of twenty kids. As a volunteer, I was in charge of six students at a time, and even I could only manage one well. My focus was usually spent on the squeakiest wheel - the kid who couldn’t sit still, the polite child asking for help, or the one who was so incredibly frustrated with the learning process he/she was about to explode. I would see my own child out of the corner of my eye getting no help, quietly rocking back and forth in his chair, never the squeaky wheel. I often left my volunteer spots feeling defeated and exhausted. I began to feel that the classroom learning experience was a colossal waste of time. One day, after another tough hour in the classroom, I called my husband to talk me off the ledge. Together we decided in a matter of minutes that we would not be sending our child back to school, and would instead begin homeschooling him the following year.
In the summer months leading up to this fall, I felt I walked a fine line in wanting to share our enthusiasm for our decision (I’ve been guilty of this on Facebook) while never wanting to make anyone feel judged by us for their decisions. Realize, our daughter goes off to the same school her brother did everyday. For the time being, it works great for her and she loves it. I’m not going to argue that…not this year, at least. ;-)
We are now one month into our homeschooling experience and I can not tell you who is enjoying it more – the kid or me. The experience has been nothing short of transformative for my son and for that we are all over the moon. We entered into homeschooling fully believing it would be better for our son, what we didn’t realize is how noticeably happier he would be to us and others. I have always known my son to have a beautiful mind (and believe that ALL kids do) but worried that he lacked the motivation to do great things with it. What I realized through our public school experience is that for his mind – full of thoughts and passion for science and nature and history, the set curriculum would not serve him well for this time in his life. Turns out, my son does not lack motivation, he simply lacked passion for what he was told to learn and because of this his love of learning couldn’t help but wane. In fact, it fell off a steep cliff.
We are going full-throttle these days. While we might have a tough hour here and there (usually involving a math worksheet), our days as a whole, are once again rich with enthusiasm and a passion for learning. Here are some answers to the three most commonly asked questions I receive about our experience to date:
What brought you to your decision?
See above. ☺
Do you follow a curriculum?
Er, uh - we did…for about two hours on our first day. It was a rough way to open up our school year. Let me say that I am a rule follower, so I was most comfortable investing in a set curriculum and working off of that. I never planned on following word-for-word or week-by-week, but I had to have a solid guideline to launch from. He resisted the formula and the fact that we had to sit to learn. Once again, I felt completely defeated. After struggling for the better part of a morning, I told him to take a break. He immediately found a magazine I’d just picked up at Costco and asked to read it. He spend the rest of the day reading it cover-to-cover.
When I texted Daddy at the end of that day I wrote: Today was rough. He called me back, listened to my gripes and actually found excitement in the fact that the nine year old spent the afternoon reading about Hitler. That’s great! he said. Why are you trying to teach him the same way the public schools do when we know that wasn’t working for him anymore? Quit the curriculum and go on a field trip tomorrow. Have him guide you towards what he wants to study. It will all come, just let it happen naturally, he said.
The next day we headed into the city to the new Exploratorium where my boys enjoyed all kinds of hands-on learning. Then we discovered the America’s Cup Park where we knocked-out three and a half hours of *play* learning about the sport, its history, the science of wind and currents, etc., etc. It was nothing short of amazing when I allowed myself to accept that this too was real learning! At the end of the day, the very excited 9yo said before bed, Mom, tomorrow we should probably do some worksheets since we didn’t really learn anything today.
Our days since have been totally lead by his interests, with me facilitating. Our entire first week was nothing but a string of hands-on science experiments on the lawn. His love of American History exploded and our trips to the library have us leaving with piles of books, audio and video on the subject. We started listening to historical fiction collections on audio in the car while running our errands. We finish-off days with shows and documentaries on the birth of our nation. We are constantly looking up the definitions of new words in the process and researching deeper into new subjects. Remember his first homeschool day spent reading about Hitler? Well it ended up sparking a month-plus long exploration of our country's history in wartime – WWI + II, Civil and Revolutionary.
Our mornings begin around 8AM and we are wrapping up our *school time* around noon. Every homeschool parent will tell you that you can get the set curriculum done in a 1-2 hours a day, leaving the rest of the child’s time to pursue their own interests. By the end of September, most of his selected extracurricular classes had started, and so subjects like hiking, science, Greek mythology, programming, engineering, piano, birding and soccer were also a part of his weekly studies. The word "homework" is not a part of his current vocabulary.
I still use the purchased curriculum as a reference point. I check in on where we should be on certain subjects – English and math – and then work those principles into the subjects he’s most interested in that week.
Did you ever consider private school?
Yes! I always leaned toward the idea of private school for a variety of reasons, but Daddy felt strongly that we lived in a great school district and didn't need to. We committed ourselves to homeschooling even before we thought to rethink private schooling. But once it dawned on us that the private route might work for our guy, we decided that no schooling, public or private, could do for a child what one-on-one schooling could do. If our guy wishes to return to school one day we will likely look towards a school that offers a child-led-learning philosophy.
What about socialization?
Not worried about it.
I choose to believe a wise woman who once told me that a child is who they are going to be socially by the time they enter kindergarten. I’m sure that could be argued, but besides needing a little reminding on basic manners every now and then, I feel the kid is doing just fine in that department. To suggest that being homeschooled might somehow cripple him socially is just ridiculous. First off – he spends a lot of his day with me – and am I so bad?!? Aren’t parents the best ones to help children navigate the world anyway? We all know what goes on on the school playground and I’m personally not always a fan. Besides, we all know some socially awkward people that went all through the school system and onto college but who cannot carry on a conversation at a party or get along with their neighbors. How did all that school socialization serve them? And we also know of wonderfully warm and social people that had alternative upbringings or isolated childhoods – like a lot of our ancestors! Laura Ingles Wilder comes to mind – anyone read her books?! There is not rhyme or reason on the matter. I fully understand the important role that touch/communication/socialization play on growing a healthy child. I just don’t think there is any social disservice done by homeschooling. Besides, homeschooled kids still get loads of peer interaction with supplemented classes, sports and playdates.
Is it hard to homeschool?
No. Quite the opposite. In fact, I feel like I have this incredibly, wonderful secret - homeschooling is awesome! What I lose in quite time alone in the house or working, I make up for in one-on-one time with my son and in watching him thrive and grow in a way that gives him real joy.
It’s interesting for me to scroll through the last three years of this blog and to see how much my interests and post have changed based on where we are as a family. I was so incredibly enthusiastic to write about gardening and what I was cooking up in the kitchen back when we had a great southern-facing garden and a large kitchen. Since moving to the new house, my focus has been more on the fun things we do and finding beauty in seeing how the kids are growing into their own persons. I can tell you right now that I’ll be sharing a lot on what we discover with regards to homeschooling. I can’t help but want to share – it’s been such a wonderful, life-altering experience for all of us. Jump on or jump off, but be warned, this ship is changing course once again!