Homeschooling (Yes, This Again)

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Well, at least I didn’t say “never.”  Instead, fortunately, I said “won’t.”

I love the saying “Never say never, never say always.”  It’s clever.  And most of the time it’s good advice…but there are exceptions.  For me, for example, those exceptions are:

I will never like marmalade.

I will never not get motion sick in an IMAX movie.  

I will always love my family.

I have written three posts on homeschooling, the most recent about how I won’t homeschool our kids and the reasons why.  Well, if I don’t swallow my words on this one, I (ahem) never will.  Because, the thing is…

My husband and I have decided to homeschool our three kids.

Yeah.  Guess we just needed the right reason.  I could bog this post down with the many details of why, but in short, it was 5th grade math that got the ball rolling towards homeschooling.  Our boys are not great at math.  We knew that.  But when our older son’s second quarter math grade totally tanked, my husband and I were shocked.  Less so at his struggles than at the fact his math teacher failed to inform us  during the quarter that he was having so much trouble.  I mean, we had no idea.   I blame myself for not having been more proactive.  But I felt that no news was good news and trusted all was going fine.  I mean, his first quarter math grade was right on track.

Then it was time to be proactive.  My husband and I requested and then had an interesting meeting with our son’s math teacher.  The teacher couldn’t seem to explain why we weren’t informed sooner of our son’s struggles.  Or why we weren’t told his weekly math homework was delinquent.  However, we were told this:

Your son is immature, inattentive and there will be help for him in sixth grade.

In sixth grade.  Not in fifth, our son’s grade level at that time.  And we thought the surprise was our son’s math scores.  But no, the shock was that there would be no effort by the math teacher (or, apparently, by the assistant math instructor) to provide help and no motivation to at least let us know so we could.

OMG.

I’m angry.  I’m disappointed.  I simply can’t believe it.  If a teacher can’t/won’t help a struggling student, then something needs to be said to his parents.  Like, right away.

So.  Homeschooling it is.

My boys simply aren’t prepared for middle school, and honestly, aren’t wired for a traditional school setting.  They are now terribly behind in math.  They are both “bookends.”  One of my sons needs a quiet environment in order to concentrate and the other likes to write things out on a white board and narrate his thought process aloud.  Neither is a learning method a usual classroom setting can accommodate.

So we are bringing our kids home for their education.  Our twin boys, and our daughter.   Two different school schedules?  No way.  I’ve been told that’s a very hard regiment to keep up with.  So we will be a classroom of five (two parent teachers and three kids) come late August.

Reservations?  Oh, yes.  I have many.  I’ve written, probably too much, about my concerns in previous posts.  As I read over those ruminations, I can (now) rebut a few of them (still with reservations, of course):

I’m not a teacher by trade.  I’ve never had a class in how to educate, well, anyone.  I’ve never even tutored, outside of helping my kids with math.  But here my husband and I are, getting ready to teach.  (You can “never say never!”)  And what helped convince me to homeschool is a friend who homeschools her two children.  She doesn’t have a teaching degree; she is trained as a lawyer.  And she told me something I keep repeating to myself:

Heidi, you are a well-educated woman…YOU CAN DO THIS!

So from one mom with a post-grad degree to another…there’s at least a vote of confidence.

Class size.  I could say a lot about this topic.  Simply stated, our teacher-to-student ratio is 1:3 (and sometimes 1:1.5).  If smaller class sizes set the stage for better learning, then it’s a no brainer for our family.  When we are teaching three kids, we can focus on teaching to mastery instead of to a schedule.  We can handle different levels of ability and learning styles because we have only three kids to teach.

Teaching different kids at different levels of ability, who learn differently.  This is going to be hard.  Fortunately, (but really, unfortunately), my 4th grade daughter and my 6th grade sons are at about the same level of math ability, so that curriculum is the same for all.  We hope to teach science and social studies together as well.  Literature, too.  Grammar and writing, as it stands right now, are the only topics we’re going to teach to their individual grade levels.  Honestly, as our kids are only 19 months apart, we are lucky to be able to tailor a school subject to accommodate everyone.

At home, I can help my “bookends” by sending them to their separate study spaces (their rooms) for the deafening quiet or the silent audience that helps them learn best.  And even together, a classroom of three is no where near as “busy” as a classroom of 25…fewer distractions.

Extracurriculars.  Most of my kids’ activities have, to this point, not been school sponsored.  Boy Scouts.  Music lessons.  Gymnastics.  We aren’t dependent on a school in order to participate in those things.  However, in our state (Colorado), homeschooled kids can take part in organized sports and other activities the school district offers, if they so choose.  So these options are still options for our kids.

Me time.  I won’t lie…I enjoy my time to do with as I wish, but here’s the hard truth:  I waste a ton of time.  Even I am beginning to realize that.  We don’t know if homeschooling will be the best decision for our kids or for our family as a whole, only time will tell.  But it may be a great decision for my getting my act together;  having a daily school curriculum to manage and execute will take several hours most days, and will make me get real about how I use my free time.  If I want to write, it may mean getting up at 5:00 am (it’s 5:40 right now!) to get it in.  If exercise is a priority, I can’t do it at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning because that overlaps with school.  In short, I need to schedule my priorities first and put the putzy stuff off, which in the end, still somehow get done.

Freedom.  Our family likes to travel.  And sometimes we need to travel for personal or family reasons.  We can schedule spring break when we want, not according to a school schedule when everyone else is competing for the time off from work to head out-of-town. We can skip the bank holidays and forge ahead with classroom time.  Sick days aren’t lost days of instruction time…we can make up the day.  And snow days?  Well, we could skip those, too, but how can I deny my kids the chance to sled (or ski…yes, in Colorado nasty winter weather = driving out to hit the slopes.) with their friends when the snow is at its best?  While not the main reason we like the idea of homeschooling, the freedom to schedule our 172 of classroom contact is a fringe benefit.

Socialization.  Less social interaction is the main reservation I have about homeschooling.  The one I’m still having trouble with.  It’s important to be with friends.  It’s important to experience and work through conflict.  I don’t want my kids to be isolated.  Fortunately, my kids have a neighborhood of friends they see most afternoons and weekends.  And I’ve promised them to do my best to schedule playdates with besties as frequently as possible.  I try to tell myself hey, the kids aren’t supposed to socialize in school anyway…they’re in class!  But despite trying to convince myself that my kids’ socialization won’t suffer, I still worry the awkwardness of adolescence with continue into their young adult years because my kids aren’t around enough people.

There is some reassurance, however.  Susan Wise Bauer, a guru in the area of homeschooling has this to say in her book The Well Trained Mind:

“In our society children, taught by their peer groups, learn to survive…(but) it’s within the family that children learn to love by seeing love demonstrated; learn unselfishmes both through teaching and through example.

A classroom setting, Bauer says, does not prepare children for the reality of life, but instead trains children to function in a very limited vacuum:  a community in which they are surrounded by kids their same age.  A contrived social ladder as a playing field isn’t reality.  The family unit, Bauer argues, with its wide range of ages and attitudes and lifestyles, is much more real world.  Through family, kids will learn values and morality.  They get to see “real things happen.”   Love.  Healthy conflict resolution.  Let’s face it:  it’s tough for kids to learn important life skills and how use them when worried about wearing the “right” clothes or whether the “cool” kids accept them.

In short, a heathy family-based classroom teaches real life social skills and skips the drama.  I used to think drama in small doses was a good learning experience for my kids.  But seeing how detrimental those poorly resolved conflicts at school were to learning and just made them feel bad in general, I think bringing my kids home for school is the right move.  And my kids have boy scouts, piano and gymnastics and have kids over to play legos….are activities that provide positive social “practice” with peers in a fun, nurturing environment.

I have so many emotions tied up in our decision to homeschool.  It’s been a roller coaster ride for the last several months as my husband and I researched what home learning would entail, and discussed endlessly how it would impact our family structure.  It’s a huge move, one that scares and intimidates me.  But as a friend who’s both homeschooled and also enrolled her kids in private and public education told me:

You need to do what feels right in the moment.

And as another friend told me:

If all homeschooling does is bring you closer together as a family, you have accomplished a great thing.

I have to say, I’m inspired.  And ready to try home learning on for size.

Wish us luck.

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