You know you've said it. One day, you're moving through life as your normally do, when all of a sudden something come flying out of nowhere -- could be an unforeseen occurrence, unexpected idea, or an actual object -- and your immediate reaction is,
"What in the world???"
This frequently happens to me. And I know that I have been known to cause others to exclaim this question...and recently.
Our seemingly "out of the blue" transition to home school has left many of our family and friends scratching their heads and saying, "what just happened?"
We've maybe not done the best job of laying the groundwork to guide everyone through our thought process over the last few months (and some of you are maybe raising an eyebrow and saying, "months?? How come we haven't heard a thing about this then if it's been months??") and making the journey of how we got here more public or understood.
The answer is, that it happened a lot quicker than we anticipated (I'm still a little stunned muttering, "what in the world?" under my breath!). And for those of you who are interested, here is the how and why...
We ended the summer on a high note and for the first time...in maybe forever...I didn't exhale a sigh of relief as the first day of school arrived. Truthfully, I was a bit nervous for our 1st grader. She didn't do so well last year in kindergarten. Many days she was "on red" for behavioral issues or not finishing her seat work. I cringed at the thought of going through that again.
But, she happily went to her new class, the 4th grader went to hers and I took the 4-year-old to year two of preschool enrichment on Tuesdays/Thursday.
By November, everything had changed. We withdrew our son from preschool for financial reasons -- which broke my heart (I cried). But that wasn't that toughest issue at that time for us.
Both of our girls were struggling. The first-grader did well initially. Her teacher is a gem and a veteran teacher. But by October, in our parent-teacher conference, she shared that although Hadley was squirmy and didn't want to do the seat work, she was able to give her some extra attention/incentive to get things done. However, she did broach the topic of having her tested for possible ADHD or the like because of "inability to focus."
My heart sank at that news. It didn't help that we were continuing to experience "Homework Hell" with the fourth-grader. Frequently, we she brought home 1-2 hours worth of homework -- mostly the latter. It drove us both crazy...poor Hayden having to sit and do seat work for so long after such a long school day already...and me -- trying to help her and make dinner, take care of the youngers, pick up the house, etc.
It was miserable all around.
About this time, the kids and I went down and visited a good friend of mine named Sarah, who lives in another city about 45 minutes south of us. A home school mom of 5 years+, Sarah is a wonderful person, artist, mom, wife, musician...I love her to pieces. I've watched her home school her boys and seen them grow up to be amazingly intelligent, gifted and out-of-the-box young men (aged 7 & 10). Because she home schools, I guess I have felt bold enough to ask if they would mind having us for company on the odd school holiday -- with the assumption that they might be having a holiday as well -- or could maybe move things around to accommodate our visit (not sure if that last part was overly-assumptive on my part....sorry, Sarah!).
Over the years, Sarah has shared some about home schooling, but she's never been zealous about it where she's tried to "convert me." She's been kind to share what she's doing with complete respect and acceptance for what other moms choose to do. I love that about her.
However, that day was different for me. Instead of politely inquiring about how the "home schooling thing" was going (because really...I do care because she's a dear friend), I actually asked more probing, deeper, far-reaching questions about how it worked, what their day looked like, how closely the boys were on track to their public school peers.
What about homework?
How long is a home school day on average?
I was interested.
I think I shocked us both. But, maybe down deep I knew that we were reaching a boiling point in our current situation and I was looking for a way to escape the madness.
Sarah answered all my questions and even showed me some of their curriculum and set up. She explained to me how the boys were actually enrolled in a public charter school set up for home school families. Tax money is paid out "per child" at the school to hire "educational coordinators" that oversee the children enrolled and help the parents pick curriculum (given/checked out for free), provide services for special needs/issue, and offer extra-curricular classes during the week like art, music, science, P.E. and more.
All things that have either left public schools here in California, or have been pared down to a ridiculous minimum.
I left that meeting feeling like maybe home schooling could be an option. I had never, ever considered it before -- truthfully. And actually, I had strong feelings against it. I came home and talked to my husband and I think we were both surprised to realize we both didn't hate the idea.
As I processed through and chatted with some of my friends, I was surprised to hear that a few of them were also considering home school. So, within a few weeks, Sarah graciously drove up with a box of info and curriculum and joined another home schooling mom and four of us "interested parties" to have an informational meeting/Q&A.
As both Sarah and the other mom, Teresa, shared about home schooling and their experience with it, as well as resources, and helpful info, I became more and more intrigued. All of a sudden sitting there with my 3 friends (all of whom had their teaching credentials, but were severely disenchanted with the school system as it is and worried for the welfare of their children both educationally and emotionally), it seemed possible.
A few weeks later, we attended a info meeting for that public charter school that Sarah's boys attend (oh, and that she is also the art teacher at). They are working on securing a site to start a satellite campus up in my area. It seemed even more feasible -- inevitable almost.
However, I was fearful. I had (and have) some confidence issues in my abilities to be the sole teacher for my children. Being a product of public schools and then having children for multiple years in public school, it felt like I was suddenly trying to turn and swim upstream...or maybe out of the stream altogether.
By then, it was Christmas break, and I was gripped by indecision. We had pretty much decided to pursue enrolling both girls in the Fall at the new satellite campus (and by then, our eldest son, Declan, would be in kindergarten too), but I was nervous about how to prepare and get there in the months ahead.
But slowly, as the girls went back to school in January, that decision became more immediate.
We started getting more and more communication from the first-grader's teacher about her inability to sit still and do her seat work and the teacher's concern that she wouldn't be ready for the STAR test and the rigors of 2nd grade.
It felt terrible to continually chastise her to "pay attention" and "focus" when at this point, I had became completely disenchanted with the entire school system and their driving force to cram the answers to the STAR test in the children's head so that they pass it and well so that the school district's will continue to be funded and not get on "watch lists."
We felt like that was a game we didn't want to play.
Plus, although I believe in teaching my children to respect authority and submit to requests to sit down and focus and be still (all important), I wasn't so sure that requiring children to do that while learning for great expanses of time was in Hadley's best interest.
We also discovered about this time that although Hadley loathes math worksheets, we could goad her into doing them easier and quicker if we played music for her. I knew that a teacher of 24 could not be expected to bump the song, "Pumped Up Kicks" every time my child had to do a worksheet.
Something had to change.
Meanwhile, the 4th grader was starting to share about some emotional bullying that she was experiencing at school by classmates and feelings of isolation and being "hated." The homework issue had gone a little bit better, but I wondered if perhaps her teacher had backed off on giving so much work after numerous parental complaints of excessive work (not just us).
Plus, I started to hear about all the subjects and units of study that had been and were going to be dropped out of the curriculum "because it wasn't on the STAR test."
I really started to dislike that test and the power it has over our schools, teachers and administrators. It's not their fault that things are set up this way. It's a broken system when funding relies on test scores. Everyone loses. But, the biggest losers are the students.
It's terrible when a veteran teacher who has taught for 25+ years tells you that they have to sneak their class out to their garden to do some weeding and gardening because they will get busted by the principal for doing things that are not about the STAR test. (I'm using "they" to protect the innocent) Also, that they are getting flack for trying to fit in extra science units and more P.E. because those two things are rapidly going bye-bye and they can't bear to see it happen. And yes, that teacher got flack for doing that too.
Every morning when the alarm went off before 7 a.m. and I struggled through the difficult routine of motivating both girls to get dressed, brush their teeth, eat breakfast and get out the door by 7:35 to get the first bell at 7:40 a.m. (yes, you read that right....add that in as another reason that school can be ridiculous. I can't even think straight at 7:45...so how can a child be expected to think when she still has sleep crusties in her eyes?).
It all seemed to be so futile. So, I contacted the charter school. They told me that if I wanted to enroll in the Fall, I needed to get my application in to reserve my spot. They told me that they currently had space for the girls for the Spring semester as well, if I were interested in that.
So, I sent in an application. They accepted it. They had room for both girls.
It was time to make a decision.
For the 4th-grader, it was easy. She had been bugging me to home school her since early December when we started talking about it. She was tired of feeling picked on and harrased. She ended up in the nurse's office enough time post-Christmas break with headaches and stomach aches to warrant a referral home from the nurse requesting us to have her taken in to see her doctor to see if something was wrong with her.
I knew what was wrong with her.
Her spirit was crushed. The stress of school was making her sick.
I hated to see it.
The last straw was her coming home and telling me about another classmate (a "frenemy" of sorts) had pulled down her shirt in line for lunch to see if Hayden was wearing a training bra (as she suspected) -- leaving Hayden mortified as she announced to the class and everyone else that yes she was. My poor daughter cried so hard that her teacher sent her and the other girl to the principal's office where they both wrote out "incident reports" and supposedly made up.
Hayden was devastated. And, I never heard one word about it from either her teacher or the school. No one called to tell me about it. My poor girl was harassed and I never knew or could do anything to protect her.
We were done.
The first-grader was a tougher choice. We had decided to leave her in school through the Spring and then pull her in the Fall. But, things continued to deteriorate. She didn't do her seat work. She didn't want to do her worksheets at home. Being a strong-willed, "precocious child," it felt like she was always "getting it" for either not doing well at school or not doing well at home.
And by then, she had caught on and was asking to be home schooled. When we went to see the campus on Monday, she insisted she get to go there too.
So we withdrew both of the girls. Hayden's last day was a week ago Friday, and Hadley's was Tuesday -- the day after we visited the charter school and enrolled them both.
Tuesday was rough. I truly love her teacher and absolutely believe she did her best by Hadley and did so much to help her improve, focus and achieve. However, I couldn't get beyond the impetus and push to get the students ready for that darn, STAR test.
In the end, that's not what I value when it comes to my children's education. I want them to be creative, critical-thinkers who are curious enough to seek out the answers why, who read for pleasure and knowledge -- not just because it's required.
So, we were all greatly anticipating Thursday -- our first day of "classes" at the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center.
They have them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, it's an hour drive one-way, so my friend, Ninon, who is also on this journey with 3 of her 4 kids, and I decided to carpool and split gas money to make the trip down once a week to give our kids some value-added classes and a chance to hang out with other kids.
It was a pretty amazing day.
|The back side of the school (the old school house is in the middle).|
We arrived at 9 a.m. and the kids split up into different classes. Art for two, science for another two and then P.E/Gardening for another. Then at 10 a.m., they went to a different class. Then lunch and then two more sets of classes. The kids ran, played, ate, worked with their brains and their hands, met a variety of children from a variety of different family backgrounds.
One of the kids was even asked by a fellow home schooler (after she looked him up and down), "you were public schooled before, right?" When he said he had been, she pronounced, "yeah...I could tell."
Ninon and I had a good laugh over that one and joked that reverse discrimination exists in the homeschooling community too.
|Younger siblings are encouraged to participate and play.|
|Declan loooves playing on the playground and with his friend, Jack!|
The pack o' kids (6 in all) were filthy, a little loamy, amped up and ravenous when we headed home at 2 p.m. -- toting all of the snacks and the kids' handicraft and art projects (Hadley made origami!). All of them were excited to return the following Thursday (and were sad we couldn't come back on Tuesdays!)
To be honest, it hasn't all been as effortless as it was on Thursday. We're still figuring this all out. There is a box of curriculum that I am going through to figure out what I'm going to do and when and how. It's a bit overwhelming.
But I have a lot of support from the girls' Educational Coordinator, Jeri, and a varied group of home schooling friends. They are have encouraged me to take it slow and take it easy. That the girls won't "lose information" if I don't have it all together in my first week -- that studies actually show that a period of "transition" from public school to home schooling is healthy for both parent and child. -- that they will continue to learn and absorb, but intuitively.
I was fascinated to read in one of the Home schooling "How to" books that some studies show that "chronic exposure to stress inhibits full brain development. This can result in learning problems, such as ADD, ADHD or behavioral problems."
While I am not attributing all behavioral issues to stress, I can see the link. I know that I have seen the beginning of change in both of my girls now that the "pressure" is off. They are more serene, content. They are still full of activity, but it's just...different.
So, now we are on this journey.
Ultimately, we've walked into this home schooling thing more as a "lifestyle choice," rather than a mere educational choice. The hope is that we would be able to make every day life things "teachable moments," and experience these moments together as a family.
I am humbled to see this happening already -- the children are currently WILLINGLY watching a documentary on the Loggerhead sea turtle for the second time today with their dad. The first we did as a lesson combining science, nature and geography (we even got some math and English in). They loved it so much that after they talked their father's ear off about it and showed him their reports and maps, they put it again and begged him to watch it with them.
Before, we would have been "too wiped out" from the day (both the kids from being at school all day and me, from my stuff) to want to "learn" something together. But the truth is, they don't even see it as learning. And that's amazing to me!
I have no idea how this is going to work, or where we're going to end up, but right now, I guess I don't need to know that. We're on the path that makes the most sense for our family and for our children. As a parent, my children's emotional well-being and education is my responsibility. I need to do whatever it takes to protect that...to provide it in the best way I can.
So that's where we are. In a vastly different place than we were one week ago. So much has changed. But so much has not.
This is our family's journey. I would never assume that our choice to home school (wow...it's still so surreal to even say that) would be for everyone. I know that every child is different -- learns differently. Every family is different, does things differently.
I would never want anyone to feel "less than," or feel that I've implied that only parents who "truly love their children home school" them. That is the last thing I'd ever want to convey. Every family makes a decision on what works best for their child/ren. Period.
But this is our story...our path...at least for the foreseeable future. We'll keep you posted on how it unfolds.