Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Homeschool or not to Homeschool...That was the Question!

Just a word of precaution: This post could get a little lengthy so you might want to go grab that cup of coffee out of the microwave that you've reheated a few times and kick your feet up...If you're not interested in the topic, just skip down to The Story of the Dizzy Husband, "What is a Bee Sting?"

What came first, my thoughts to homeschool or the Columbine school massacre? I don't remember for sure, but I do remember three things from about the same time frame.

1. I worked with a nurse who told me about her neighbor children that homeschooled. She said that they all knew how to bake, cook, sew their own clothes, grind wheat berries for flour, and were all very intelligent, advanced students. She said that they were the most grounded, responible, respectful children you could hope for. Plus, they were nice....and great babysitters!

2. I remember the Columbine shootings taking place and, having very small children that would some day be in the school age group, I really began to imagine one of my own children potentially being in a similar horrific, life-scarring situation like that. I just felt that although life is life and everyone just has to learn to roll with the punches, and we can't protect our children from everything, I at the same time felt that no child should ever have to witness violence of that nature. Even if it doesn't result in death. Bullying, battery, teasing of peers just isn't the most natural occurence in the adult world. It can happen of course, but once you're an adult, you will always have a choice to move on from a bad work situation and will be hopefully mature enough to know when it is a situation that's fixable and when it isn't. As an adult, you can differentiate what is your problem and what is someone else's. A child in school doesn't have much of a choice and to an extent just accepts circumstances in school as normal. Then they internalize it, whether it is bullying and taunting of them or not. It sets a precedence of how they perceive "normal", and really, think of it. How "normal" is a set of norms set by your peers?

3. I remember having an intense yearning to school my children at home some day.

Since then, we moved into a town with a great school system and our oldest daughter had looked forward to school for so long, and we really didn't have any reason to keep her from going, that we just went ahead and sent her to public school.

We enjoyed many years of the kids going to school. The years, though, were speckled with things here and there that made homeschooling come to mind again and again. Not intensely. Just a niggling thought in the back of my head. A couple of these things include:

Our second oldest, from about kindergarden on, begged me off and on to homeschool her. I don't know what provoked this intense desire on her part to homeschool but I believe it started when she overheard me talking to someone and saying that I had always wished to homeschool but just really didn't have any reason to pull the kids out of the public school system.

She usually brought up her wish to homeschool at the beginning of the year, so I felt that, since it was possibly just anxiety with a new school year beginning and maybe a fear that she may not make new friends, I would encourage her to just give the new year a chance. I always say, if you try something new for at least two months and still don't like it, then go ahead and make a change. Most of the time, after about two months, things have settled into normal and you're happy where you are (this even pertains to me when I have begun a new job in the past..I always make myself stick it out for at least two months and have never quit a job after that point until other reasons way down the road have come up).

One thing that really started bothering me about public schooling, especially after we began having more and more children and especially after we started having more and more children in school, is the volume of homework they brought home that began to invade our weekends and holidays, bleeding into our family time. Then there were "family projects" that dictated how we spent our family time. I started resenting that during the only time I ever had my kids, we were consumed by what homework still needed to be done and what family projects needed to be done, what materials needed to be bought for these projects, etc. It was getting so stressful and time- and mind-consuming, I felt that my life was dominated by school. I never thought of it so much in those terms...I just felt that it was just because we have such of a large family of course it is going to impact us more, and that because I am not organized enough, that is just how it goes. I should just be more on the ball, better organized, etc. Side Note: Since beginning to homeschool, I have become much, much more organized just because I don't have the added distraction of "all that" that comes with so many kids in public school. Oh, another Side Note: The two girls that do go out the door to school, go to a charter school that doesn't believe so much in homework other than math, an essential life skill. One of my daughter's teachers even told them the other day that he tries not to give homework, or at least not much, because he feels that they do have a life and they shouldn't have it consumed by just school and homework. Bless his heart!!! :)

With that being said, I still didn't really get much of a push to begin homeschooling until my now seventh grader was in fifth grade. She had stomach aches more frequently, and asthma issues, that required her to stay home more and more. One Sunday night as she was getting ready to go to sleep, she asked me to come over to her bed. She told me she had a really bad stomach ache and didn't think she was going to be able to make it to school the next day. I told her that's fine. We'll plan on her staying home unless she feels better in the morning. She then asked me, "Why do we never start homeschooling? You keep promising and promising that if I just try the school year out and don't like it, I can try homeschooling. We never do though!" I was kind of surprised and asked her, "Do you still think of homeschooling? I guess I never realized you still thought about it because after school starts for the year, you have just dropped the topic and haven't brought it up. I assumed you were then fine with going to public school." So I decided right then and there, we would at least try homeschooling. The next day, her stomach ache was gone and she was so happy, peaceful, relieved.

Shortly after we pulled her to homeschool, the next two wanted to also homeschool. They never had even expressed interest in it before but I think they thought it sounded fun. I thought, why not? If we're going to be homeschooling anyway, why not really homeschool. Our oldest daughter really enjoyed going to school so she wasn't at all interested in our new adventure. She has always done quite well in school so I felt that, for my sake I would love to have her home but for her sake, at that time, keeping her in her school was the best for her.

Shortly after beginning our homeschool adventure, I started noticing some changes in the girls.. changes I really hadn't anticipated or been looking for. I had worried a bit about the "socialization" issue, as did everyone else that I told I was homeschooling. However, the more I spoke with other homeschooling moms and the more I did research, I learned that socialization really doesn't become an issue with homeschooled students. Not any more, or maybe even not as much as, the random public schooled kid that has social issues. There are plenty of those out there that because of public schooling end up with some pretty distorted social skills that take sometimes years after high school to get to a healthy balance. I was pretty surprised though, after the initial bouncing off the walls and fighting with each other, the girls started to settle into a routine. They learned to get along better and they all began just settling into a peaceful coexistance. Then, the unimaginable happened. The two girls who couldn't stand the word "love" began to say, "I love you" to me. They began giving hugs again...something I hadn't seen them do for probably a couple years. The one that couldn't have any physical contact with anyone, began sitting on the arm of my rocking chair at any given opportunity and even sliding herself in beside me, snugged right in at my side. I could not believe it!!! My husband began commenting to me how much these girls have changed. He said that they come talk to him and tell him stories of their day, they smile all the time and actually sit and visit. They used to be so hyper and so stand-offish. I had just assumed it was partly due to a phase they were going through and just partly due to their personalities. They are both very "tomboyish".

Once, when we were talking about behavior in general, my oldest one homeschooling said that the two others were always so poorly behaved on the bus and that the younger one, in first grade, had actually had a boy down on the floor of the bus and was kicking him and he was crying. I was horrified!!! I asked her why on earth she was bullying and assaulting kids. She scowled and didn't say anything at first, then she did something she never usually did. She started sobbing and said, "I was just sick of him doing things to me! Every day he would punch me and pull my hair and kick me. I just got sick of it and finally did it back to him!" Tell me, what part of your life down the road are you privvy to battery and assault....and it's just accepted as "normal"....and you really can't get out of it? These are kids, that should be given a sense of security as they are growing and developing and learning. I think that most of us just feel that since we all went through the whole school thing and school bus thing, it's just a normal part of life. We all got through it okay and it prepared us for "real life" after school. It actually made me very cautious after I got out of school. Although I was always pretty comfortable with myself and very, very fiesty, so most people didn't mess with me, it still took me most of the way through college to realize that this setting was different. I don't have to be so self-protective for fear that someone will make fun of me. We were all there, paying to get an education, and no one person was any better than the next. There, it didn't much matter who wore what, who drove what, or what kind grades people got. We were all just happy to pass one class and move on to the next. So... so far, no comparison to my experience in elementary, junior and senior high school. No comparison at all! And sadly, it took me that long, almost 3 years, to realize it.

Okay, back to "socialization". What exactly does that word mean? According to the dictionary, the word "socialize" means: To make social; to fit or train for a social environment; to adapt to social needs or uses.

Now, when you think of it, when a child is in a classroom of peers, the age range of all the kids around him/her is within 12 months of his/her own age. Who sets the "norms" for social skills in this situation? The room full of peers. The teacher can try influence it, and probably does a really good job of steering it in a healthy direction. However, when that teacher is done, and the class moves on, your child is still with that same group of peers, grade to grade, year to year. They are the ones that will praise what they think is worthy of their praise, and laugh and ridicule what they think is "weird" or "different". Are they yet qualified to do so though? Children learn enough social skills at home in presence of their siblings, parents, extended family, church friends, and social groups you choose for them to be involved with. Our kids have actually become much more confident and well-rounded in their social skills. They can easily interact with peers or younger kids or older kids or kids' parents. I have had countless comments from people, both within our extended family and out and about in the world, about their behavior and friendliness, etc. Part of it, I know, is just a result of being in a larger family..they get used to helping out in public with the little ones or I won't bring them anywhere and such. But I feel that it's been much more frequently noticed and commented upon since we've begun homeschooling.

Oh, and one other thing, what if the teacher you have entrusted to teach your child and be a big influence on his/her life and shaping of values, turns out to have some morals and standards you hugely disagree with? Because think of it, your child is with that teacher more than he or she is with you during the school year. I haven't had any real bad experiences with teachers...only a few that I didn't care for so much and I think weren't exactly the best positive role models for my kids. But, one of my nieces once had a very "diverse" teacher, I believe for Language Arts or Social Studies or something. I think she was in middle school at the time. This teacher, who was a strong, strong advocate for diversity and diverse thinking had the kids write a paper. She posed a question that had something to do with dating and the kids' views on how intimate they would be or how much they should be allowed to do on their first date or something. My niece, who by our faith, doesn't believe in premarital intimacy or too young dating, wrote the paper with her views, feelings, and beliefs portrayed in the paper. She simply stated that since she didn't believe it was right to even get intimate, she didn't feel it to be an issue for her how much she would be able to or should be able to do. The teacher failed her work on the paper...not only failed it but gave her a zero. No matter how my niece tried to defend her points, the teacher told her she was to rewrite the paper following her guidelines and requirements or she would not get a point for the assignment. Conferences came up soon after that and my sister was livid and went in to speak to this teacher. The teacher first argued with my sister but after my sister laid it out to her, questioning her diversity, after all she had tried to instill in her students' heads about diversity, and asking this teacher exactly how diverse was her thinking, the teacher finally agreed to back down and give my niece the credit she had earned for the paper. Oh, just another Side Note: the teacher was openly gay and had made it pretty clear to her students...tying this in to the diverse thinking they should have about all walks of life. That hypocrite!!!

Oh, and one other area of concern that many have is how do you know if they're "keeping up" with kids their age? I really don't know for sure but I do know this. We learn every day, we love learning and have fun doing so, and at the end of last year, they all tested out well above their grade level on most, if not all, subjects. They're learning. That's the most important thing.

One fun perk: I get to spend so much time now with my kids and they seem to love it too. I get to teach them extra things now too, like baking and cooking (what better way to teach fractions in many, many ways than to have them follow a recipe and have them double, triple or half the recipe?) We're going to have an archeological dig in our sandbox soon to illustrate how history is made and how really it is up to interpretation as to what really happened way back then. All the kids will make their own history (with emphasis on "story") of what they think "happened" in that sandbox based on the same objects found in the dig.

And I get to teach them living skills, such as cleaning, how to do laundry (sorting is a math skill taught as early as kindergarden...seriously!), how to crochet and knit, some of the Finnish language as well as Latin that my 5th grader and I will begin to learn this year.

Okay, enough of that! This strong viewpoint has been slowly developed after I began homeschooling, by the way. I simply began homeschooling because it's something I always had wanted to do, was pushed enough by my 2nd oldest daughter, and just thought, "Why not?" I mean, we could always re-enroll them if we wanted to.

Oh, last side note: the daughter, who had always wanted to homeschool and finally pushed me to when she was in fifth grade, just went back to a form of public school (charter) this fall and is doing really, really well. She loves it, is super confident and grounded, is very responsible and self-driven and tells me she feels all this positive is due to homeschooling. This was my real test to the socialization worry. She went back with much more advanced social skills than when she began homeschooling. And it was nothing to do with me. I didn't ever get around to getting them into any community classes or anything like I thought I would. She just had a little reprieve from all the distractions and side shows at school, had time to mellow out and breathe, grow, and learn to get along with those around her: her family, her neighborhood friends, her exteded family and church friends. That's all.


Kristin said...

I used to be so against homeschooling for the whole socialization issue. Now I see that my viewpoint was not accurate and I admire those moms who homeschool. Personally, I don't think I could do it because I'm a procrastinator. Ha! And my personality is just such that I need time to myself or I go crazy. But, I totally agree on the homework issue and how it begins to rule family life. It drives me insane that they're at school for 7 hours a day and they come home with more work and projects to do and then the projects are really just busy work that as long as you follow the rules, you get a 100. It's such a time waster!

Joni said...

I sure enjoyed reading you post! You so nicely put into words so many things - thanks for paving the hs path! It's so nice to be able to bounce things off you!

Yup, yup ... I agree with so many things. What is the most amazing thing to me, tho' we're only just over a month into hs-ing, is the overall happiness, peacefulness, self-contentedness of the kids. They sure still do the typical naughty things kids will do (tease the next one, get into a scrap) but overall, it just is so different. Maybe you have to experience it to really know how it is, or??

I'll be curious what your thoughts are on T4L I asked you to check out!

ginahaapala said...

Very nicely put!

Bonnie said...

Wow--excellent post! Thank you for sharing your story.

Shellie said...

Awesome! I always thought homeschooling would be fun but haven't done it because none of my kids think it would be fun and I work while they're in school. We love our charter- it's not perfect but pretty dang good. I'm so happy for you that this has worked so well for you and I like your thoughts on the matter. :)