In paring down life to its most crucial and important parts, something unusual and unexpected happened: I became a homeschooler. What? Where did this come from? I can hear the cries echoing from my friends and family across the country. I understand, it was a bit of a shock to me, too. But it’s fitting in rather smoothly to the life we’re making for ourselves this year.
As a formerly very anti-homeschooling mom, I feel I must explain. Over the past year I began to wonder why, when our children are finally taking on a little responsibility and understanding reason and are just getting to be such fun, must I send them off to school? During the first several years of parenting, this “two boys in school” year was the light at the end of a very messy and loud and tiring and demanding preschool parenting tunnel. I’ll finally have some time when they’re both in school, I promised my frazzled self. Things will get easier. But then something unexpected happened: things got easier a bit early. Sometime in the last year I realized that I wasn’t so frazzled. The boys were actually quite a pleasure to be with, at least most of the time. Do I really have to send them off right now, just when they’re getting to be so much fun?
At the same time, I was reading voraciously about how children learn. David Elkind’s The Hurried Child started it all for me several years ago. But lately, Raising Lifelong Learners, the thoughts and books of John Holt, the Last Child in the Woods book I mentioned here before, and so many other books gave words and worth to what I’ve always thought about early childhood: a young child in a nurturing household can explore, create, ask questions, and yes, really learn by just playing and living life. It was empowering to find out that I was not alone in these thoughts. Like many other teachers, I tried to employ play and exploration into my curriculum when I was in the classroom, but think of how much more I could do if I had more time, more resources, fewer students… I began to dream about homeschooling, if only for a few years in the lower elementary grades when the long periods of classroom peer interaction were not quite as important and could be replicated to a small extent outside of school, and when the curriculum could really be learned from the world around us.
Then there was the fact that we’ve been meeting homeschooling families in the past few years who didn’t fit our homeschooling stereotypes. As it turns out, homeschooling has come a long way. Kids aren’t necessarily in a bubble when they homeschool (some are, some aren’t.) Kids aren’t necessarily socially awkward when they homeschool (some are, some aren’t.) Families don’t always lock themselves away in their houses when they homeschool (some do, some don’t.) It turns out there are a lot of different families and personalities in the homeschooling world, just as there are in more formal schools. Then my attitude was really challenged about six months ago when I read a book called The Well-Adjusted Child, about the social benefits of homeschooling. I only read The Well Adjusted Child because it was in the parenting section at the library where I was browsing and I like to be well versed in topics I’m passionate about, trying to learn as much as I can about the ideas on both sides of an issue. But after reading that book and realizing how it reflects the homeschooling families I’ve seen today, I had to change my tune. I had also read Going Public, a great book about how to raise strong christian kids in the public school system, and I realized that parenting means taking on responsibility and hard work no matter how you school. Homeschool parents have to make an extra effort to make sure their kids fit into society socially, and public school parents have to make an extra effort to keep their kids from taking on the world’s values instead of their family’s values. Hard work either way, I realized. Hmm.
So while all of this was swimming around in my mind, kindergarten started becoming a very negative force in our household. It took me by complete surprise. I was fully expecting kindergarten in general and our little country school in particular to be a perfect fit for Jake. He thrives on both routine and on learning, exploring, and experimenting. I assumed that the rhythm of the school day, the clear expectations and rules, and the nature-saturated learning environment would really suit Jake. It just goes to show two things: 1) you just never know for sure how your child will respond to something until they try it. 2) Never say never (as in, “I’d never do ______ or I’d never let my kids do _____.”) Five years ago I would have never foreseen the life we have these days.
After much (MUCH!) thought and prayer, rather than having Jake begin his formal schooling with a negative attitude towards learning, books, and school in general, we decided to bring him home for a little while. Hybrid homeschoolers have their kids in classes for part of the week and at home for part of the week. I sifted through the many options in our community for homeschoolers and found a public school program that offers classes, curriculum, connections and support to homeschoolers for free. We’re just getting into the routine, but with “KinderKamp” every Tuesday (twice a month it’s like a standard kindergarten class, once a month an art class, and once a month a related field trip) and Earthroots (a local field trip based ecology oriented “classroom” that even Tyler and I can tag along to), as well as additional field trips, computer class, church groups and playdates, he’s getting as much or more social interaction than he was at school. My biggest concern is whether we’ll find meaningful connections with families of different religious backgrounds, which remains to be seen. As we get involved with homeschool playgroups and co-ops we’ll see what kinds of friends we make and will reevaluate at the end of the year. But in all, we’re pleased that Jake is feeling challenged, having fun, and most of all, that he has a positive view towards learning.
It’s interesting how much God can teach you when you’re open to him. I’m trying to put myself, my expectations, and my preconceived notions aside and follow him and his plans. I’m learning that each family, even each child is different. At this point, we don’t plan on homeschooling Tyler, as he thrives on different things from those on which Jake thrives, and will need to learn different life lessons from those Jake will learn. But in everything, we’re trying to think things through and seek answers with an open mind. Amazingly, this all fits right in with what I had decided to focus on this past month: brush aside all outside expectations placed upon you and do only what best fits your priorities and your family. Even if it means doing something you once said you’d never do!
“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job… And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another – that is surely the basic instinct… Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.” -Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson.
It’s inspiring to think that we can reinvent our lives at any time whether because of unexpected circumstances or because we realize the direction our ship was headed is not, in fact, taking us toward the right shore. In all things, I’m trying to keep my eyes on the light, leading me onward.