Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Which We Homeschool: Part I

I am frequently asked about our decision to homeschool.  Answering the question why we decided to homeschool can be a tricky one to answer.  People sometimes assume that when someone expresses an opinion about what's right for them, that automatically means they think everyone else is doing it wrong.  Saying, "we didn't feel like public school was really meeting our kids' needs" can sometimes be interpreted as, "Public school isn't good enough for our kids."  Or if I say, "We wanted to have more involvement in our kids' education" people hear, "We just want our kids to be sheltered, weird, socially illiterate oddballs." Which, of course, is completely and totally true.

As a result of the many questions and comments I receive, like...

"How do you know what to teach?"
"I could NEVER homeschool!"
"My kids would fight all the time if they were home together all day"
"Do you use a certain curriculum?
"How do you teach different ages all at the same time?"
"Aren't you worried about socialization?"

I've decided to write a two-part blog about the journey we took to get to homeschooling, and report on how it's gone this first year.   I asked those exact same questions and made those exact same comments before we started, and now I feel like I can answer each of them! To start though, let me tell you how it is we came to homeschool:

The first time I started considering homeschooling was when Bennett started full-day Kindergarten.  I always thought I'd be thrilled when my kids started school, but the reality was very different.  It surprised me how the feeling of sending him off to school didn't sit well with me.  I chalked it up to just being sad about my baby growing up.  But it was more than that.  It was a feeling I couldn't shake.  I occasionally toyed with the idea of homeschooling, but would quickly talk myself out of it.  During that school year, I observed every single day how Bennett resisted going to school. And how every single day he would come home and within 10 minutes there would be a fight in our house in an attempt to re-establish his dominance as alpha-dog. It was totally frustrating, and I had no idea what to do about it. I figured these were normal growing pains, and hoped it would change as he started 1st grade.

The next school year started out much the same: I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and I hated that every morning he became upset at going to school.  By this point academically it was clear that Bennett was very bright, and ahead in a lot of areas.  He often finished his work before others, which led to a lot of free time for him to get into trouble.  It was out of character for him, and getting worse. It was at this point that I began to seriously consider homeschooling, and not just imagining, "What if..."  I could see that school was made to be one-size-fits-all, and I knew it wasn't fitting. 

The real clincher for us though came when it was time to register the Twinkies for Kindergarten. Having twins provides a unique perspective. You can see clearly how two kids, born at the same time, can be so vastly different. They each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and it became obvious that one style of teaching wasn't going to help them achieve their own potential.  The thought of sending them to school made me really uncomfortable.  I never considered myself over-protective or a "helicopter parent", so I couldn't quite figure out why I was having this reaction.  I finally started praying about it, and that's when things become clear.  I remember the night we decided to make the leap.  Seth and I were talking and he said, "the idea of sending them away all day just makes me sad." We realized we would never know if this would work for us unless we did it.  We were comparing school to a hypothetical situation, so of course we couldn't know exactly how it would turn out. But I knew how I FELT, and once we made the decision, I felt like a weight had been lifted. There were still so many unknowns, but I knew we were doing the right thing for us.  There are statistics and studies about homeschooling, there are tons of resources, groups, blogs and opinions--but nothing was as important to me as the feeling of peace I had as we took that first step.  I sent Bennett to school on the last day of 1st grade with a letter withdrawing him, and haven't looked back.


Next began the research phase.  I thought about how different it is to homeschool now than it was 20 years ago. Back then I imagine the resources were hard to come by.  Now, in our digital age, the challenge isn't in finding resources, it's sorting through the endless amounts of it! I read a stack of books 4 feet high about homeschooling, started researching different curriculum, reading blogs, reaching out to friends who homeschool--anything I could to learn more.  I came to learn that the styles and methods of homeschool were as different and varying as the people homeschooling.  There's everything from "unschooling" to the "Classical method", and everything in between.  Finding what fits your style, and works for your kids is probably the biggest challenge to start with. There isn't a right or wrong way--and what works for someone else, might not work for you.  That's the beauty of homeschooling--you get to make it what you want!

Of everything I read, watched, listened to and learned--the single most valuable resource was the book, "The Well-Trained Mind".  It completely jived with me, and I knew I had found my teaching style.  It addresses how a child's mind operates, and allows you capitalize on the different phases of development, while suggesting lots of options for materials to use in each subject. It is my homeschool bible, and I refer to it often.  Though I don't always do things exactly like the author outlines, it has been a great starting point for me while I gain the confidence to create my own path.

In my next post I will go through a Day-in-the-life-of-the-Malleycats, since that was what I wanted to know about homeschooling families before we started, and I'll answer some of the questions about socialization that frequently come up.

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