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.
It’s been interesting to reflect a little as I both packed up our last four years of homeschooling portfolios and prepared for our annual homeschool evaluations (which we did last weekend). A lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same.
Even though we’re only a little more than halfway through our current Core, because of our move I’m having to plan out (and purchase) our next year or two of schooling now. I think I’ve got it more or less figured out. Here’s the plan.
Core (history, bible, literature): Sonlight Core E. I expect that with taking time away from schooling both before and after our move, we’ll probably finish Core D somewhere around the end of 2012. I’m going to order Core E (the second half of Intro to American History) before we go so we have it when we need it. My big question, though, is whether to order the current version or the new version which will come out after April 2. There are a lot of nice features in the new version, but I’m not sure whether it will ship in time for us to get it before we move. I’m waiting to hear back from Sonlight about that. Core E should take us through late 2013 at least.
Language Arts: my nemesis. Sonlight’s LA just hasn’t worked for us in the past. For writing, I’ve decided to go with Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Student Intensive, which I can use with all three girls. For spelling I’ll keep going with Sequential Spelling for Ellie and Micah. It’s working pretty well, and since we take it at half-speed it will be quite a while before we’re through it. For Bethany I’ll keep going with her current book as well (Zaner-Bloser), then decide what to do next after she finishes it. She may or may not need a formal spelling program after that, we’ll see. I’m still trying to figure out what I’ll do for grammar. Sonlight says they have really changed up their LA for 2012-2013 with a stronger grammar emphasis. It will also be completely integrated into the new Core programs, so if I order the new Core E, I will automatically have the Sonlight LA that goes with it. In that case, I will probably give it a try for just the grammar portion while using IEW for writing. I’ll just have to wait and see both what it looks like and what Sonlight says about availability and shipping. I might also consider going back to First Language Lessons, at least for Ellie and Micah.
Science: we’re using Sonlight Science D now and will go with Sonlight Science E for next year.
Bible: I’m loving Apologia’s “What We Believe” series. We’re about 2/3 through the first one, “Who is God?” and I will order the next one (or two) before we go.
Math: Tim says that CLP is still working well so he’ll continue with that.
I think that’s everything. Any thoughts or ideas for me?
About this time every year I kind of evaluate how school is going. And it seems like about this time every year, I change something with our Language Arts studies. This year is no exception.
I’ve been using Sonlight’s Language Arts D with all three girls. I chose this with some fear and trepidation, knowing that I was going to have to do a lot of adapting to make it work for everyone. For the first 6-8 weeks it was fine. Then things got more demanding, and I eventually realized that it was just too much for my 3rd graders. I started reflecting on what I did with Bethany when she was in 3rd grade and decided to go back to the writing portion of that. So as of this week, I’m using Writing With Ease 3 with Ellie and Micah and dropping Sonlight. For grammar for them, I found a free online program called English Grammar 101. So far (three days in), it’s perfect. I have them each do one exercise each day. I’ve made a schedule so that they’ll go back and review concepts as they go along. When each girl finishes the day’s work, I print it to a PDF and put it in a folder on my desktop. I think once we get through a solid review of the basics with this, I’ll go on to First Language Lessons Level 4, which I already have.
For right now, Bethany’s still using Sonlight LA D. But I’ve downloaded a 10-week sample of Writing With Skill to check out. I’ll see what she thinks of it and who knows, I may end up returning all of the Sonlight LA materials and going with that.
Our American history studies have been going really well so far. We’ve read some great books and have just started another, Johnny Tremain. Two days in and everyone’s hooked.