There are only six weeks left of summer before the new school year starts. I love the month of September. There’s such an excitement for the upcoming year and a feeling of fresh starts. This September will be another fresh start for us, with Jake starting first grade in our larger neighborhood school. We’re all excited to see what the fall brings us, and at the same time sad to say goodbye to homeschooling.
I had so much fun homeschooling Jake last year for kindergarten. He had so much fun being homeschooled, too. We embraced the idea of unschooling and made it our goal to thoroughly experience life. We read and we read and we read and we read, and suddenly, Jake could read, too! I love how homeschooling gave Jake the organic reading learning experience that I believe in so strongly. It turned out that way for math, too. I started with a workbook and we haphazardly skipped through the pages, finding the ones that looked challenging and fun. Then, when we felt like it, we took a break for a few months and when we resumed, what had seemed hard a few months ago was suddenly easy. Without weeks and weeks of drill and workbooking, he understood concepts he’ll be learning in the upcoming grades.
We did science experiments inside on our windowsills and made observations outside on our hikes. We joined up with a nature minded group that spent hours upon hours holding chickens, sliding down rocks, climbing trees, and chasing waves. It was the most valuable thing we spent our money on this year. To enjoy and explore nature with an experienced naturalist leading the way and ten children following eagerly…what could be better? Life was the teacher this year. That is what I love about unschooling.
And the waking up late. I liked that, too. What a gift it was to have just one more year of leisurely letting the boys play in their pajamas before having to leave the house (if we left the house at all). I loved Jake’s kindergarten class that met three times a month with two wonderful teachers and the most amazing fieldtrips to the planetarium and the apple orchards and the indian grounds.
I loved Jake having his Grandaunt Krissy all to himself on Fridays so she could homeschool him with whatever struck her interest and I could get a little break. I also loved December. It was a month of celebrating the coming of the Saviour and getting into the festive mood…time to be home together doing crafty and bake-y things without having to rush out of the house every day. I think Decembers off would be my favorite thing about homeschooling if we were to continue. But we’re not. At least not as far as we know. (Do you see how I’m learning from my past?! Never say never about pretty much anything!)
Homeschooling for kindergarten was perfect. But first grade is a little more academic and a little less play-oriented. It’s easy for me to envision years and years of open-ended unschooling like we did this year, but that’s just not reality for us or for Jake’s personality. We never planned on homeschooling him all the way through high school, which is what you’d have to do if you wanted to fully embrace unschooling. And if you go with standard by-the-books homeschooling, your day looks much like those in the classroom, just a little bit shorter and without some of the fun group activities of a classroom. I’m not that interested in sitting down and forcing Jake to write what I want him to write and learn what the book says he needs to learn…in fact, that was my least favorite part of the homeschooling experience. I figure that if that’s what needs to be done, he may as well be in school doing that. At least that way he’d also be doing it with friends and not missing out on the fun activities that take place in the elementary classroom.
I guess that’s my problem. I really do like the public school classroom. Having spent six years of teaching there, I know what Jake’s missing out on. I’m totally aware of the limitations and drawbacks to school, but there’s also a lot of cool stuff going on there. We’re blessed that in our area, the teachers and schools are loaded with dedicated teachers who try to make school a fun place to learn. If only I were like the homeschoolers who think that public schools are all about brainwashing and handing out condoms, maybe I’d have an easier decision. But no, I’m aware of the pros and cons of both schooling choices for our family. I love the atmosphere and bustle of the elementary school campus. And just as Jake is getting older and craving more time with friends, most of the friends we’ve hung out with this year as we homeschooled are heading off to school for part or all day programs. Even if we stayed home next year, our weeks would look quite different from how they did last year.
And you know, homeschooling does have its drawbacks. The miniature battles between Jake and I when he had to get a certain assignment done to turn in to our homeschool overseers, the complaining to the ‘teacher’ (he doesn’t have that problem when the teacher isn’t mommy!), taking the kids on all of our errands, and the whining and wishing that there was someone else around on the street to play with…those were some of the drawbacks this year. More importantly, as he gets older, I’d like him to confront situations that are stretching for him…opportunities to grow and to fail and to learn as he deals with kids who aren’t necessarily model citizens…he needs to learn to meet these challenges without mom or dad close by to coach him through (solve?) every problem. Of course, I plan to be very involved at school so I’ll know the major players and the classroom dynamics, but the everyday decisions about how to act and what to do will rest on Jake’s shoulders and he’ll begin to learn to listen to the voice of God in his own heart. Boy, is it hard to let go and watch your child take on a little responsibility for himself and his decisions. Thank you God, for watching over my little boy as he begins to interact with the world on a daily basis.
And the biggest reason we’re returning to public school is our faith. Unlike many christian homeschoolers, we weren’t homeschooling because of our faith, but in spite of it. A main goal this year was to find out if we could be interacting with the world in a way that satisfies our own family’s call to be the light of the world. Each family is different in how they interpret our call to love the world and in how they believe children should be trained up towards godliness. Because we believe it’s best for our boys to learn from their mistakes in the world when they’re young and under our guidance, a key component to continued homeschooling would be connecting with non-christian families and spending a substantial amount of time with them. I learned this year that connecting with other families without being in the public school system is a slow road. I think we could make non-Christian homeschool connections with a few more years and a lot of proactivity and perserverance, but at that point, we’d be ready to transition Jake into school anyway. So on that front, we’d be better off getting into school now and beginning to build relationships with the families we meet there.
I think my decision became clear when I sat down to draft a calendar of what our weeks would look like with each of the different schooling options (part time public and private hybrid homeschools, homeschooling through two different groups, public schooling…so many choices!) And with all the driving around to provide Jake with the social opportunities and natural learning opportunities he would need as a homeschooler, we were looking at quite a busy year! It was when I looked down at my hand-drawn visual representation of the time we’d be spending here and there for each schooling choice that the decision I’d been praying about became clear. And by God’s perfect timing, He’s leading us into a ministry that will be pretty intense this fall, so it makes sense that He’d also be leading us away from homeschooling at the same time.
So for Jake, first grade seems to be the right time to head off to school. I’m already missing homeschooling, and the school year hasn’t even started. It’s so hard to do what you think is best for your kids when it’s not really the thing you might want. But we move forward in faith. Although I love our little country school and hope Tyler can go there in kindergarten, Jake’s going to try the larger school that most of our neighbors go to. All of his little league and boy scout friends go there and he’s excited to play at recess with them. Before we had even decided he’d go there, his homeschool kindergarten teacher asked him if he’d be back next year for her first grade class and he told her he wouldn’t. I guess he had his mind made up before we did.
Six more weeks until the adventure begins all over again. I wonder what God has in store for us this year?