A year ago, I had no idea that we would be doing this. My son was struggling through first grade, and my daughter was sliding through seventh, good grades and lots of friends, but no real passion for learning.
DS (that's "DEAR SON" in interweb-ese) was the crisis for us. Bright, superbly creative and imaginative, full of energy and enthusiasm--sounds awesome, right? Well, not in public school, apparently. Starting in preschool, we began our uphill battle of reconciling his rambunctious (then happy) personality with the "sit still and pay attention" environment of formal learning. He had two separate classes at a well-loved preschool, one MWF and one T-TH, with two different teachers, two different learning styles, and two VERY different outcomes. The MWF was the more traditional class--learning letters and some reading and writing, sit at a desk, raise your hand, about 15-20 kids, etc. The T-TH class was much smaller (only about 6-8 kids), with stations and lots of freedom to explore, with hands-on activities, learning about different countries and cultures in a more unit-based style. The MWF teacher often kept me after class, to let me know about how DS needed to work on controlling himself better, waiting for his turn to share, stay focused on the lesson, keep with the group. As time went on and he continued to be reprimanded, he also became defiant, stubborn to give in, reactionery. Never in an extreme way--nothing too alarming, but enough for a conference. It was his first "school" experience, and it was so emotionally overwhelming to find out that, at such an early stage, DS was already "that kid." I approached his T-TH teacher to see if she had any feedback, and she was actually stunned to hear that DS was having problems, as he had never displayed any of these behaviors in her class. He was excited about each country they studied, retained a ton of what he was taught, happily persued the activities he enjoyed and skipped the ones he didn't, got along well with everyone and was a joy to teach. Was he still a "character" in the T-TH class? Of course. But it was considered part of his charm, not part of the problem.
With kindergarten, we were excited for a fresh start. DS was so happy to ride the school bus, and excited to meet kids and explore the school at orientation. We hoped that a summer of growth and the wisdom and experience of his new Kindergarten teacher would make for a better school year. It didn't. Again, DS was praised for his enthusiasm and his zeal for learning and sharing, but the flipside of these traits was that he couldn't sit still, didn't want to finish busywork, liked to talk too much during class, hated transitions, wasn't compliant. A very social kid, he was punished by having to sit at the front of the bus without a seatmate for "spitting" (which we found out was actually a "raspberry"--those aren't allowed on busses, apparently). He was bullied by big kids for being "weird." He had a special desk alone beside the teacher (which he actually really liked, calling it his "office" and requesting to keep it whenever he was moved back into the rest of the class). He lost his recesses almost every day, had to eat lunch alone, came home with the label "I'm on red" (a reference to the 3-strikes-you're-out discipline program at school) nearly every day. Eventually he shortened this label, so that, when we greeted him at the bus stop after school, we'd ask him how his day was and he's just frown and answer "Red." This continued and intensified in 1st grade. Lots of conferences, never any solutions. Same story every conference: DS is delightful in so many ways, loves the kids in class, loves to contribute, is getting great grades academically, BUT...
We tried suggesting strategies, but, with 30 kids in a class, even his very well-meaning teachers couldn't provide the type of environment he needed to be happy and successful. As parents, we wanted to help him but we lacked the tools, and we were too separate from the system. There were rules there that couldn't be bent, policies that had to be enforced for everyone. DS was an exception in a system of no exceptions. We were torn between trying to figure out what was wrong with him, while believing deep down that there was, actually, nothing wrong with him. He was just a very frustrated square peg trying to find his way through a system of round holes. It was maddening, and I cried the tears that only a mother has--a lot of them.
We had heard of homeschooling. I follow some parenting blogs where a few of the contributers homeschooled their kids. Most of them seemed to be doing it for religious reasons, but it piqued my interest nonetheless. I began to search out other homeschoolers on the internet, and, as I read their varied experiences and reasons for alternative education, I began to wonder if this might be a possibility for DS, too. I love to research, so I downloaded books by John Holt and others about the education system, how it might be failing a good portion of our kids. I found comfort and hope in these seemingly "fringe" situations. I began to dream of a better way. As time went on, I realized that, even though DS was the crisis, DD's education could be so much more, too.
Last spring was spent researching and analyzing, trying to understand, to believe, to figure out how we could ever make this work. I own a business--I am not a stay-at-home mom like many homeschoolers. Were there others like me? Yes, there were! I did not want to homeschool as a way to keep my kids out of secular education--I believe in science and evolution and exposure to a wide variety of ideas and philosophies. Were there non-religious homeschoolers? Yes, there were! Spring turned to summer, and bit by bit we began to see some light. Lots of late night talks (oh, how I talked my husband's ear off!), reading, learning, trying to piece a plan together, to figure out if we could make this work. Could two working parents (one without a college degree, no less) give their kids the seemingly impossible gift of school at home? Yes, YES, we could!
We took the plunge. I labored over curriculums and finally settled on one, found used materials online and ordered them. We filled out the district paperwork, studied up on our record-keeping, and spent the summer gearing up for one of the biggest risks of our life together. Gradually we broke the news to friends and family, weathered their mixed reactions, and, the Monday after Labor Day 2012, officially began a new chapter of learning in our home. For the first time in 8 years, no one got on the bus.
I've wanted to write about our journey since we began it. It has not been an easy road--in fact, I STILL weep, and often! But it has been amazing, and it is OURS. Now that the first half of our first year is behind us, I'm ready to share what we've learned, what we're learning, and what we dream together for the future.
We homeschool, and, at the end of our first semester, I can't imagine doing it any other way.