The Reluctant Homeschooler

When we meet new people, there are a few “getting to know you” questions that often come up. Once they know we’re homeschoolers, there are usually a few more. :)  The two most common are, “How long have you been homeschooling?” and “Why do you homeschool?” Neither of these questions have straight-forward answers for us.

So why do we homeschool? An article titled “Remind Me Again: Why Are We Homeschooling?” is actually what “inspired” me to write this post. In it, the author reminisces about going to their first homeschool convention when their first child was a few months old. That was totally, completely, NOT me. I never thought I would homeschool our kids, never really even wanted to. When they were little, Tim always said he wished he could homeschool them but since he was working full-time that wasn’t practical. He never pushed me about it, though. I just didn’t think I’d have the patience for it. (And honestly? I don’t.) 

Fast forward a couple of years. Bethany was four and in a free preschool near our then-home in Novi, Michigan. We realized after a few months that it was way too easy for her, boring even. She knew the things that this preschool was teaching–letters, colors, shapes, numbers, etc.–and more. At home she was doing simple math and beginning to learn to read. I’m not saying she was a genius, but this program was clearly for disadvantaged kids. She was ready for more of a challenge. So after considering it a little, we decided to pull her out of the preschool and start her with kindergarten work. I wanted something complete and easy for me to teach, so we got BJU’s K5 package and started homeschooling. We worked with that and Starfall for a few months then moved from Michigan to Florida. Our move was in mid-July; school in Florida started on August 1. Florida’s regulations don’t require mandatory enrollment until age six, so we just kept her home. Not only were we nowhere near settled, but it was a full-day kindergarten. She was a “young five” with a late June birthday and at that point was still taking naps most days. But we never really went back to using BJU. I like to say that I “unschooled” her for kindergarten. We kept working on Starfall, read lots of books together, and did other basic things, but mostly we let her be a five-year-old.

The next year we decided to put her in public school. That had been the plan all along, it just hadn’t worked logistically for kindergarten. We had to jump through a few hoops since she hadn’t completed kindergarten (on paper), but within two weeks she was placed in the first grade. She had an amazing teacher. At that time Bethany was a very anxious child and was easily overwhelmed. If her homework (which she had every day) was 10 spelling words to copy, or a page of addition, she would FREAK OUT. Even though the work was really simple for her she would just freeze up. I talked to her teacher, who told me: “I don’t care if Bethany does that homework. I know she knows the material. I just want her to not worry.”  With a teacher like that, Bethany did well in first grade. Ellie and Micah were in a three-half-days-per-week preschool program and also did well that year.

On to the following year: Bethany started second grade, Ellie and Micah started kindergarten. From the first it didn’t bode well. The night before school started Bethany had a full-on panic attack. The first morning she was crying from when she got up until we dropped the three of them off. And it continued like that. Ellie and Micah were nowhere near ready for a full-day kindergarten, especially Micah. She was a really young five, with a mid-August birthday (September 1 is the cutoff in Florida). All three kids came home with homework every day (homework in kindergarten, really?). Bethany would cry that her teacher was “mean,” she was having nightmares from the books that the teacher was reading aloud to the class (did I mention she’s very sensitive?), and talking to the teacher about it did no good. If I asked Ellie and Micah what they did at school that day, I would hear about what a kid named Dominic did: “Dominic threw a chair! Dominic pooped his pants!” And so on, nearly every day. They brought home almost nothing that showed what they had done that day.

Things went from bad to worse. Every school day we had at least one child crying from the time they got up in the morning until dropoff, then from when we picked them up until bedtime. Ellie and Micah were exhausted and missing their naps. They had no time for play or to just be kids. It was so frustrating to know that they were basically being told to sit down and be quiet for six hours, then they’d come home and be told to sit down and do your homework. Bethany was back to freaking out over all her homework. And I found I couldn’t juggle it all. Each child was supposed to be read to for a certain number of minutes each day. I remember one day, trying to get them all to sit down with me in the living room so I could read, and they were all so wrung out and upset that they couldn’t even do that. It was a Wednesday, about 5 or 6 weeks into the school year as I recall. Everyone was crying, Ellie wanted to draw, Micah wanted to play, I don’t remember what Bethany wanted to do. I realized at that moment, this is insane. I cannot do this any more. I cannot do this to them anymore. I told the girls (with no anger), “You know what? Forget it. Go and draw, play, do whatever you want to.” I’ll never forget the looks on their tear-stained faces as they said with quavering voices, “We can play? Really?” Yes. Really. Go play. That was when I knew that we were going back to homeschooling. It was confirmed the next day when I got a call from Bethany’s teacher: Bethany had drawn on a bulletin board in the classroom. If you know Bethany, you know how out-of-character this is for her. She was and is one of the most compliant, obedient kids you could want to know. That was Thursday. The next day I kept the kids home and they’ve never gone back. Enter the reluctant homeschooler.

So to answer to the first question, “How long have you been homeschooling?” We’re in our fifth consecutive year, but if you include Bethany’s kindergarten year and a half (which I kind of do and kind of don’t), it’s been nearly seven.

For the second question, “Why do you homeschool?” I have a short answer that I generally use: public school just didn’t work for us. I still think the school they attended is a very good school and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others. But it didn’t work for us.

There’s a longer answer, though. Looking back, I can really see how homeschooling has enhanced our lives. We’ve been able to travel when we need or want to. I love being able to teach my kids things that I don’t remember ever learning, and in ways that appeal to both them and me. I love that we can devote time to learning interesting things and doing hands-on activities, and not worrying about standardized tests. I love being able to share with them things that I love–poetry, great stories, history. As time has gone on we’ve learned more and more how differently each of our girls learn. We’ve realized that if they’d stayed in public (or gone to private) school, even if we’d been able to pull things together that year, they would never have really thrived–each for different reasons. Most recently, not having to change anything about their schooling has made a huge impact on our transition to life on the other side of the world. Having that one thing remaining the same has been a real stabilizer. I guess the real short answer is, we homeschool because that’s the way God has led our paths.

cidermill

Were they really that little?! A trip to Michigan right after we started homeschooling (which otherwise wouldn’t have happened). If we’d kept them in public school, they probably would never have picked apples or tasted fresh cider and donuts.