Thursday, March 09, 2006

Homeschooling

First running, then homeschooling. I ran for an hour on Tuesday and felt pretty good, and then yesterday put in 50 minutes and felt great. In fact, for some reason, I thought I was at an hour, so I stopped, but when I looked at my watch I was only at 50 minutes. By that time, I was stretching in front of the house, so I decided that was enough for the day. Now this morning...I heard Eric getting ready for his run (about 45 minutes before I usually get up) and asked him about the weather - it was 33 degrees and a light trace of snow, light winds. I decided I'd sleep in and run in the daylight so I could see the slick patches. I forgot I had an 8:00 Y meeting, so I had to shower and get over there. Now I'm back home trying to talk myself into running at noon. This is exactly why I run in the early morning - I can think of all kinds of reasons to take a break today. And what's worse - today is normally my two-a-day, but we are missing the track workout tonight to go to a performance our son is involved in. I'd better do that noon run!

Now, for the homeschooling part of this post. This is a subject that I feel passionately about. That said, this will probably be a long one. Angie asked why we decided to homeschool. There were a lot of reasons, and all of them together sent us on our way. I'll try to explain some of them here.When Web entered kindergarten, we weren't even aware that there was such a thing as homeschooling. The homeschool movement in Washington State started to take off in the late 80's. When we started in 1994, it was still pretty unique. It has become more and more mainstream since we started.

Anyway, the first thing that happened was that we noticed our bubbly, cheerful five year old was changing. He was a little more subdued; he became very conscious of things that weren't "cool". He didn't want to play with his younger brother anymore, just because he was younger. He wouldn't wear his shoes with a purple stripe because purple was a "girl color". This wasn't the kid we knew! We started wondering about what kinds of social influences school actually provides. Our first item on the list became 1) Our child is shutting down his personality.

Web started reading on his own in about December of the kindergarten year and moved ahead quickly in his reading choices. He started saying that school was boring, except for recess. He was getting in trouble for being a distraction - kind of the class clown. It turned out he was finishing his work in a short period of time, and then was sitting at his desk with nothing to do, so he'd start entertaining himself and others. When I asked the teacher to provide him with more challenging work, or give him a project to work on, she was unwilling. She said if she gave him harder work or let him read higher-level books, he'd be bored next year. She didn't have the time to set up extra projects for him. She did let me come in and work with some of the kids on extra stuff, but that was only once a week. Our conferences were always about behavior - little things that drove her nuts. He was tapping his pencil on the desk, he was coloring on the back of his papers, he was talking too much. Oh, and they weren't allowed to talk at lunch - the lights were dimmed and they were supposed to eat quietly at their desks. When I would ask about academics, she'd say he was way ahead, but we had to work on his behavior. Now, I want and expect my children to behave, but we were talking about a six year old being asked to sit quietly at his desk and do nothing for twenty minutes to a half hour, many times each day. I realized that this was one teacher out of many, and we gave that serious thought in our decision to homeschool.

We also got Web enrolled in the school district's "highly capable child" program. It was a one-day a week pullout program. He thrived there, but it was only one day a week. I was frustrated by the idea that the program taught via projects and hands on - something I thought all kids would benefit from every day, not just the "highly capable" one day a week. I also have very strong views on Early Childhood Education (birth - age eight). I believe kids learn best through play, experiences, and projects. Young children are not developmentally ready to sit at desks and listen to lectures. Okay, so now we've got 2) unhappy with our classroom experience.

Then we add in stress. The school had some system of behavior modification that involved yellow cards and green cards. When you were really good, you got a green card to put on your desk. When you needed to work on your behavior, you got a yellow card. Web would come home in tears, telling me he had tried his hardest to be good, but still had a yellow card. On the other hand, our neighbor boy, also in first grade, was throwing up every day before school. Why? He had a green card and was so worried he'd lose it that he was throwing up. Hmmmm. So add 3) school stress.

And finally, we started thinking about what education meant to us, how much of our day was spent apart, what kind of men we wanted the boys to grow into and what kind of a family we wanted to be. I think 4) has to be morals, values and philosophy.

I went into my self-education mode. Our choices were this: public school, private school, homeschool. We weren't thrilled with public school, we couldn't afford private school. I read everything I could find on homeschooling, I attended some homeschool organization meetings; I called up parents that I had heard were homeschooling and asked questions. We finally decided to try it for one year. It's a very scary thing to step off the traditional path and venture into the unknown. Not only did we have our own fears, but my parents and siblings thought we were nuts. They told us we were going to ruin our children, that they would be weird and unsocialized. Friends were also against it. We decided we would try it anyway. Our first year was so fun and so successful, that we made the decision to keep going.

I could post forever about our experiences, our difficulties and the amazing things that choosing to homeschool brought to us. For now though, just a few more thoughts. I firmly believe that our society has forgotten that children are children. We spend their childhoods preparing them for adulthood. When they are three, four, five, we focus on getting them ready for school. Every year we are so busy worrying about the next grade level that we forget to let them be the age they are! When they are three, they should be allowed to fully experience being three. There are so many developmental tasks to accomplish; we don't need to rush them to the next level. Homeschooling allows children to have a childhood. We could get all our work done in two or three hours and have all the other hours of the day left to play and explore and read and develop. The bond that we were able to build with our children is incredible. During the early years, Eric worked out of our house; we were able to spend all day, every day together - a family working together and learning together. The time we spent with our children can never be replaced. Not only did the parent-child bond become incredibly strong, but so did the brother-to-brother bond. I know that whatever happens in this life, our children have had a wonderful childhood. I have been blessed beyond words by being able to spend their childhood with them, to guide them every step of the way.

So how has it all turned out? In our area, we have a program called Running Start. It allows high school students to attend local community colleges and earn dual credits. About two out of 50 kids are able to actually complete their Associates degree through this program. Web was one of them. He graduated last spring, at 18, with his Associates. He did not get a high school diploma, because we didn't want him to. Both our boys entered the local high school as sophomores, part time. They both entered Running Start as juniors. (Riley is in his first year of Running Start right now). They both found high school too easy, too slow-paced and too much busy work. They both love the college courses, because of the quick-turnaround, because of the control they have in selecting courses and instructors. Web has moved on to another community college where he is working on becoming a certificated American Sign Language translator. Both of our boys were and are heavily involved in 4H, in community service and at the Y. They are fine young men, they are gentlemen, and I am very proud of them.

I fully realize that homeschooling is not for everyone. Homeschooling is a choice. The sacrifices made to homeschool are a choice. We chose to have a smaller house, older cars, me working part-time. Giving up time to myself was a choice. Every single one of those choices has been worth it. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! As I read over this, I don't feel like I've really been able to express what homeschooling is and what it has meant to us. It is a lifestyle, it is a passion, and it is love.

5 comments:

nancytoby said...

Beautiful post! I may be coming back to you with lots of questions in a couple of years! My twin girls are just about to turn 3, but I'm seriously thinking about homeschooling them, for many of the reasons that you cited. I'll give the local schools a chance, but if things don't go well.... we'll be going that way too, probably!

robtherunner said...

I too believe that homeschooling is a wonderful thing and you know that I have thought about it recently, but I also believe that the public school system is there for everyone, or at least in principle. There are obviously a lot of situations in public school that are unfortunate and need to be changed, but if everyone turns away from the public school system then those who need it most may lose the option of having it at all.

Worse case scenario I know, but I do not think the idea of privatization is too far fetched. There are a lot of corporations that would stand to make a lot of money off of education if it was taken out of public control. Some good media coverage and a continuous barrage of parents hearing how the public school system is failing and it just may happen. Food for thought I guess.

You have done a wonderful job with your boys and my oldest sister did an excellent job with her two boys as well.

olga said...

That sounds like a dream...I just believe you have to be fit to be a homeschooler. I wish I were. Now a question: do you have any idea if there homeschooling parents willing to accept other kids and if yes, how to find them? I thought about it for a year now, and although neither I nor my husband are capable to have patience and enough knowledge to homeschool, we would love to see if it can be done in another great family, just like yours:)

angie's pink fuzzy said...

Thank you for sharing! I was homeschooled for 2nd and 3rd grade, 1/2 of 4th grade, all of 6th grade and for 3/4 of 7th grade - total of 4.25 grades (this was in the mid- to late eighties). 2nd and 3rd grades were the best - I finished school by 11 a.m. each day, and I was able to move through my studies quickly. However, I had a very hard time socially fitting in with my peers. I do believe that was largely in part due to my family's fundamentalist approach to religion - which was their reason for homeschooling me (and the reason I missed out on all 80s pop culture).

Because of the difficulty I had fitting in socially, I've been resistant to Johnny's requests to consider homeschooling Ash. Reading your post helps me to see someone who has had a great experience with it, and is reassuring.

Donald said...

I admire you for the decisions and priorities you've made. I know I'd never be cut out for homeschooling, but kudos to you for making it work.