The first thing I want our readers to know is that we believe each family makes the best choices for their own family and that we are just two of those parents in an “oh-my-gosh-how-do-we-make-the-right-choices-and-not-screw-them-up” sea where we are trying to just keep our heads above water.
Secondly, I have lost LOTS of sleep over this decision and having been drafting this post in my head for over a year now mulling over the pros and cons of different schooling choices. So be nice. My opinion and views are my own, and I’m not trying to push anything on you. I am in NO way saying that homeschooling is for everyone, or that it will even end up being long-term for us.
Thirdly, I want to be clear that I think that most school teachers are superheros. I’m not just saying that because it is my chosen profession. These people care, teach, keep safe, cheer on, counsel, encourage, and love the most precious thing on earth: someone’s child. And not just one. Usually 24-28. Unless you teach beyond elementary, then that number sky-rockets as high as 180, which I can’t even wrap my mind around. Each student has different likes, dislikes, social needs, emotional needs, preferred learning methods, backgrounds, cultures, and sometimes even languages. A teacher has to take in all of those things and educate every brain in their classroom. It is taxing. I feel like teachers aren’t allowed to “just teach” anymore. It is a constant flow of new curriculum and new methods and new tests and new benchmarks they have to get every student to pass. It is not a 9-5 job, its more like a 7am-10pm time commitment when the students leave and the teachers pack a bag of materials to check, lesson plans to write and review, materials to prepare, and progress reports to fill out. Have you ever spent one day just observing what goes on in your child’s classroom? So much patience, passion, and organization are required to educate a large group of children. I was at a conference years ago and the speaker said something that has stuck with me to this day. She said that during the school year most elementary-age students spend almost as many awake hours in a week with their teacher as they do with their parents. The person your child calls their teacher is important in their life. If you know a teacher, or have a child that has a teacher… hug them. Say thank-you… and mean it. Get to know them, their values, their interests and passions because they will influence your child in a pretty big way.
I am in no way a crusader against the public school system either. I am grateful to live in a country where education is a right of EVERY child and in a state that has been one of the consistent leaders of education. I may not agree with some of the curriculum and methods here and there, but we do have an absolutely amazing education system and I am proud to be a product of it, and a teacher in it. Even though we are homeschooling, we will still be intertwined with our district through their weekly enrichment courses and field trips and I will continue to substitute teach when I can. The program we will be a part of is through the school district which is really great for resources, materials, curriculum, and an overall wonderful support network.
With all that being said, here are the factors that helped us decide what type of schooling would be best for our family.
#1- Prayer. Lots of it. Aloud in my car by myself, with Tommy, with our small group, with anyone who wanted to. Prayer that God would give us clarity, prayer for a clear vision and path, prayer to not make a horrible mistake. Prayer for peace in our decision. We have received some pretty firm answers or “signs”, if you will, to those prayers.
#2-Time. Time is something you can never get back. Spending quality time with friends and family and for me, even people I have just met, is my love language. I’m also, I admit, pretty selfish about time with the girls. I like to be with them. Don’t get me wrong. Mama loves and needs a break. Often. But our girls (and all kids) do the cutest and most hilarious things (to balance out the drama and whining) and I don’t want to miss any of it. I have a horrible memory, so I have to live in the here and now.
Since all four of our kids were born within 2 years, all of the fun milestones (and all of the horrible ones) happen all at once and I feel like time just slips through my fingers. I comment about it a lot. Expensive clothes, cars, or “things” in general aren’t really of interest to me… but time is. I would rather receive an experience to enjoy with other people as a gift than receiving an item. By homeschooling, I obviously get to close my fist a little tighter on time and spend more of it with our girls. There is a reason this subject was listed second. I read a blog recently where the mom (who homeschools) said that the most common question she gets asked is: “How much time does homeschooling take?” She always says that in the time it takes to get everyone ready, bags packed, loaded in the car, driven to school, picked up from school, and then homework time…she gets through “homeschool”. (about 2 hours, she has 2 elementary aged kids) She made an excellent and calming point for me. To think that the stressful time of getting everyone and everything ready in the morning will just be transferred to school time. Finally, I just want to add that I get stopped by a lot of older people while I am out and about with the girls, and they all say a version of the same thing; “Enjoy the time you have with them because it will go by in a flash.” Wisdom is a powerful persuasion tool.
#3- Money. Ew. No one likes talking about it or stressing about it. Obviously if I went back to work there would be two incomes in our family instead of one. That weighs heavily on me. I am insanely thankful that Tommy’s income can support our family, and I realize what a blessing that is. Since the time I was 15 I have been employed, had an income. I like to be financially independent. Money provides security, a sense of relief. I’m not a spender. I shop thrift stores for almost everything. Money buys stuff, but not time. At the end of anyone’s life it is rare that they ask for someone to bring them their “stuff”, instead they want to be surrounded by the people they have made relationships with. And while things like braces, proms, college accounts, and weddings (all x4) are ever-present in my “money-mind”, I know that I can never get this time with the girls back and the money-making can wait. I can always take on other homeschool students (which I would love and Iowa just changed the law to allow) or tutor to produce income and I plan on continuing to teach dance and substitute in our district when possible.
#4- Creativity. I was recently taking this course about the 21st Century classroom. The instructor played a few TED TALK videos and they got me all fired up (as they always do). And while I don’t agree with all of the medical things because I have no personal experience with it and I am NOT a doctor…so please don’t be offended, I am not endorsing his views on medical subjects. However, the points he makes about creativity in school are valid and concerning. I promise it is worth your time to watch. I am simply obsessed with Sir Ken Robinson.
Our girls (and most children) are pretty darn creative. They have had a room in our house dedicated to creating most of their life. It helps that I love to do crafts I suppose, but they have always loved to use their imagination to make things, play, and problem solve. I think that creativity is an under-appreciated quality in our society. Sometimes public school curriculum and time constraints make it really hard to be truly creative. There are times when I was teaching and the students were on a creative roll and I really wanted to keep those juices going, but I had to move on to the next subject. Which I understand is important, and so is time management, but for me personally, I value creativity a lot so it was always hard for me to stop the process. Another subject we talked about a lot in this class I took was the fact that current students like instant gratification and want to be told what they need to do to get a good grade. They like to hoop-jump. It is safe that way. I am hoping that by homeschooling our girls in their early years, it will allow for ample time to keep the creativity resources in their brains active so that they can really learn to think outside the box in anything they choose to do.
#5- Character. We all want our children to have good character. That is a no-brainer. No one sets out to raise a brat. We want to teach them to be kind, trustworthy, grateful, respectful, compassionate, honest, humble, ambitious, and just overall awesome. But lets face it. Kids are kids. It takes a LOT of guidance, modeling, and training to help to mold a child’s character while still letting their little personalities shine through. We all know that it is crazy frustrating when your child picks up a negative behavior/saying from another child that you not only have to un-teach, but then teach the alternative. Our children are in no means perfect. And while they are pretty darn dramatic, they are pretty well-behaved. We don’t want them to live in a bubble, but we do want to guard their hearts while they are young and forming the foundations of character. Some people may read that and think we are being over-protective. They are right. This is part of being a parent. Sometimes I notice a trend in parenting that the kids look more “in-charge” than the parents, or that parents are afraid of being too strict or actually following through on consequences. But I personally believe that kids crave boundaries, guidelines, and expected behavior/consequences, good and bad. I want our girls to have real-life experiences that will shape their character as a part of our weekly school curriculum. I think this quote that I snagged from a friends facebook page sums it up for me.
#6- Education. Obviously education is a very important subject to me. As it is to almost all parents. It also happens to be my chosen career. If I could have a classroom where kids can learn at their own pace (within reason and with plenty of structure), where they learn the most important academic skills, but are not just learning to pass a test, where the arts are celebrated as much as math, science, and reading, where students are taught HOW to think and just what to think, where persistence and effort and chance-taking are core educational values…I would be in heaven. While I feel that we are on the verge of change in our country in regards to education, I feel that more and more rigorous curriculum is being handed to teachers and expected of children to absorb in order that they can get through school, go to college, and find a good-paying job which will bring them happiness. We all know that is not the truth anymore. Just because you have a college degree does not mean you will get a job out of college. Does it help? Yes. Do most people find a job that directly applies to their college degree? Some, but not a large amount. This rigorous curriculum has these curse words of “standardized tests” that follow them. To be clear, I am not anti-testing. I think students should know how to study a subject and throughly apply the knowledge they have obtained. However, too-much testing and giving tests that are not age-appropriate does something to a student’s confidence as a learner. I know. I’ve seen it in my own classroom. And from what I read and hear, it has only gotten worse since I have been home with our girls. You’ll see parents on the news boycotting or opting out of testing. While that is brave and I am glad they are taking action in their student’s learning process, the actual testing is just the tip of the iceberg. It is also the instruction that precedes those test in order for students to do well on them. It’s also the analysis of the tests afterwards and the labels each student receives from those tests. What if the student is insanely creative and an astonishing problem-solver, but just sucks at taking tests? That student may see the results of these giant tests and how much importance is given to those results and think he or she is not very smart. I’ve seen this happen many times and even though I would remind students that it is just one silly test and reassure them that they are very intelligent in many ways, there remained a dent in their confidence that was extremely hard to repair.
I want our girls to have a structured school experience. I want them to learn at their own pace and I don’t want grade levels to restrict that. I want them to be challenged in a meaningful way. I want them to have a say in what they learn so they can own their educational process more. I want to teach them Biblical history AND worldly history. I want them to know HOW they are smart and not feel like they have to be a specific kind of smart. I want to celebrate the gifts God gave them, and help them to grow in areas that aren’t as easy for them. I want a front-row seat to all of this.
#7. Stress and Anxiety- It has been proven over and over again that children (and even adults) learn best in an environment where they feel safe, encouraged, and have freedom to make mistakes. Most teachers can provide that environment beautifully. However the amount of pressure that current curriculum and tests place on a child to achieve lead to some pretty serious anxiety problems. Even in a young classroom you can see that the loudest, most assertive, or even troublesome student gets the most attention. You see a little “one-up” society forming at a pretty young age. Kids get stressed that they need to be the best at everything in school, in sports, in any given area, or have the newest phone, or nicest clothes and if those things don’t apply to them they aren’t celebrated as much as their peers. What if we taught students to celebrate each other for what they excel at instead of focusing on what they “need to improve” on. While those improvement areas can be important, just the switch in thinking, speaking and overall encouragement can make a world of difference. Maybe kids just need more time to be kids. Adulthood will provide enough stress, and that can wait.
#8. The comparison game. It is hard not to compare any siblings to each other. We have same-sex triplets and a younger sister who are all extremely different. Even at a young age they were compared to one another instead of just being looked at as separate individuals. We just want them to know that just because they came out of the womb together, they don’t have to be good at or enjoy the same things (even though I they dress alike to avoid arguments and so I can find them quickly in public).
In an ideal world…I want to hold school on the beach, in the playhouse, in the city, in a field, at a concert, at a play, snuggled up on the couch, at a desk, at the library, at the grocery store, at church, and in the community…not just at home. In a very dreamer statement…I want life to be their classroom. I want to make sure they have strong academics and strong creativity. I want them to love the process of learning something new. I want to foster their natural curiosity. I want to give them choices about what they learn and sometimes teach them things they have to know and don’t really want to. And while I see the value in doing some testing to set and asses goals, I want their learning to be authentic and have purpose, not just to pass a test and move on just to lose a great portion of what they just learned. I want to take this journey together and see what happens.
Common Assumptions About Homeschool:
1- The kids won’t learn how to socialize. Hello. Have you met my children? Have you met me? I will strike up a conversation with anyone at any time. I LOVE to socialize. My children are the same way. They tell their life stories to the kid they meet on the playground, the grocery clerk, the bank teller. The kind of homeschooling we are choosing is not actually at home a lot. They will get to be with other kids their age multiple times a week in a classroom, and also around kids of other ages and adults. No worries for us in this department.
2-They will just be subject to endless worksheets. Someone actually mentioned this to me as why they wouldn’t choose to homeschool. I can’t speak for every public school and I know I can’t speak for every parent who homeschools, but from my experience, students in a classroom setting are given many more sheets of paper work than students who homeschool simply because there is flexibility and more options available in they way students are taught due to not only the smaller “class” size, but also no restrictions on how a student is assessed.
3-They won’t learn to follow a schedule or be very structured. I can’t speak for all homeschool families, but the classroom teacher in me knows that structure is good for kids and we will DEFINITELY have a daily time set aside each day just for school. It will have structure and I wan’t them to become independent in that process.
Sigh. That was a lot. I feel lighter now. I know not everyone will agree with our decision, or even like it. I’m not asking anyone to change their opinion. It can be different than mine, and I am honestly okay with that. Will I be a perfect teacher? No way. Will I homeschool them clear through high school? Probably not. I just want to take it a year at a time, sometimes even a month or a day at a time and provide a supportive educational base in the early years to start. It might only last a year…who knows. I even asked our homeschooling director if they can be homeschooled one day and enrolled in public school the next if I am going crazy and decide I want to go back to work in a school and send them to public school. She said yes (thank God for options). They would be just fine. Again, I am not anti-public school. I have taught with some of the most amazing teacher and under some great administrators. I love what I do, I just want to give this a try and see what happens. We have explained to our girls both homeschooling and public-school options and, for now, they tell us they want to do “school at home.” I realize that may change and they may not like me some days, but we will always take into account their opinions in our school choices.
Some of you may wonder what Tommy thinks of this. While he says that he know without a doubt that I have the patience to do it and the educational part of it down pat, he just worries that I won’t have enough adult-outlet. That is why I hope to get a job teaching enrichment courses at our insanely supportive homeschooling center, and/or substitute in our district and keep my license current for anything life throws at us. He will be there to encourage me when I feel like I am failing and want to quit, when I am sobbing in the closet and our kids are running wild throughout the house. He is very good at providing support and affirmation. He wasn’t as sure as I was that we should homeschool. Tommy has not been in an elementary classroom for an entire day (as most adults haven’t), so he has less insight than I do on the subject, naturally. But he trusts me. He has listened to my rants, watched Ted Talks and listened to research (probably when he didn’t want to) and he wants to make the best choices for our girls.
Our youngest daughter will still do preschool a few days a week for two years to learn the workings of a classroom and learn to follow directions from someone other than her parents. We know these are important skills to acquire. She will also be on our homeschool journey part-time until it is her turn :-).
This is my team. We are going to be brave and take a chance.
Here are some homeschool research links for those of you that are interested. But remember, it is the internet. You can find whatever you want to back up your decision on the internet. I am always aware of that. 🙂