Thursday, March 22, 2012

Considering the homeschool thing. Are we crazy?

Last summer, we spent the weeks before Maya started first grade debating about whether or not to send her to school. After much indecision, we finally felt led to have her go back for the year and reevaluate in the springtime.

Guess what! It’s springtime. Ack!

I/we are considering homeschooling beginning next year. Even saying that feels huge. I’m hoping to get some input here, because it all feels big and confusing and more than a little scary.

I want to begin with a few disclaimers:

- A decision to homeschool would not in any way be due to an issue with public school teachers. I love teachers. We have many close friends who teach or are otherwise employed in public schools. My parents are both long-time public school teachers. Maya’s first-grade teacher this year is awesome, and has made our decision to send her this year much more peaceful. I’m sure there are not-so-great examples out there (as there are in any profession), but we’ve not experienced that with our children. In my opinion, public school teachers are doing a heroic job with the regulations and restrictions they are given to work within.

- A decision to homeschool would also not simply be based upon a desire to remove our children from all outside influence, or exposure to people, materials, or situations that would not reflect our value system. We want our kids to grow up knowing how to relate to everyone – loving people who are different from them, and able to peacefully and confidently hold their faith and convictions close while in the midst of other mindsets. Not of the world, but most definitely in it.

- A decision to homeschool would not be one we would assume to be permanent or even applicable to both kids, necessarily. We would want to evaluate the situation often, taking into account our children’s needs and best interests at every juncture and – most importantly – praying over the decision regularly, open to God’s will at any given time.

- I totally, completely know that homeschooling isn't for everyone. Goodness, no. (We aren't even sure yet that it's for us!) Mark and I both had a really good experience in public school and know countless families whose kids are thriving within the school system.

- I will never own a denim jumper. I just feel like that needs to be said.

With that out of the way, here are my reasons for considering homeschooling for next year:

- By far, the most pressing matter in my mind is Maya’s education. Again, this has nothing to do with teachers or local schools, but has everything to do with the changes made by the government to the public school system over the past ten years or so. I voted for Governor Daniels and back him on several issues. I applaud his commitment to improving public education. It’s the methods the state is using to make these improvements with which I just wholeheartedly disagree. Nearly every teacher I speak with is more stressed and frustrated now than at any point in their career, and many feel devalued and unheard. Changes in approaches to reading and an increase in standardized testing just further concern me. The whole system frustrates me for everyone involved, and I fear it’s having a big impact on education in general.

When teachers themselves are some of the voices most strongly urging me to look into homeschooling...that seems significant.

- Maya has some very big interests in subjects that just aren’t able to be explored in school, due mostly to the issues I previously mentioned. (Teachers just aren't given the time to teach what they’d like to teach.) This girl loves, loves, LOVES science. She wants to learn about space travel, world history, musicians and composers. She wants to do hands-on experiments and see how money is made and understand the process that makes bread rise. I know I could do all of those things with her – and I do the best I can. But the truth is that by the end of a school day, she’s worn out. And then there are piano lessons and family gatherings and homework and baths and the day is over before we can blink. I worry that these budding passions will slowly be extinguished if they aren’t pursued and explored. And it hurts my heart.

- While I don’t want to her shield her from the world, I would very much value the ability to weave our faith into a learning curriculum. She’s at an age where she’s asking lots of big questions and beginning to really digest spiritual concepts, and I want to encourage that to flourish in every way. I’d love to explore science concepts through the lens of the Creator God who authored it all. To study scripture more deeply and link it to the academic concepts she’s taking in. I don’t see that as limiting her view, but rather expanding it to recognize the big picture.

I know that Christian parents can do an excellent job at instilling faith in their kids alongside a public school education. They do it all the time! This is just something that appeals to me when considering doing school at home.

- I genuinely love it when Maya is home. I look so forward to her days off, dread the end of summer vacation and don’t mind sick days or snow days in the least. I mean, believe me, I get frustrated and short-tempered and sometimes get to the end of the day just squeaking out, “How…soon…is...bedtime???” It’s not all ponies and butterflies around here. But the idea of having her home every day is exciting for me rather than draining.

- I think it could be fun. Exhausting? Yes. Often taxing? I’m quite certain. But I do get a flutter of anticipation at the idea of finding fun activities and unique ways of learning that suit Maya’s interests. Spending the morning looking up a new subject area of books at the library; learning about sea life and then taking the train into Chicago for an aquarium visit; reading a piece of classic literature and doing a unit study on the culture and time period. It's fascinating to me.

- I have the time. I’ll be honest that I’m not fantastic with time-management. I know that I would need to be more deliberate about planning my days if I took on homeschooling. I know there would be many days that would leave me feeling frazzled. But I can’t truthfully say that I don’t have the time. I do.

- I would have support. There are at least four families within our church congregation that will be homeschooling next year. Additionally, I continue to make connections online with moms who I happen to find out along the way are also homeschoolers. It’s a growing community, and resources abound for parents who decide to start down this road.

The drawbacks? Well, I’d list them out, but they’re the obvious ones. Discomfort over leaving what we know, fears over my ability to teach, anxiety that asks, “What if we start it and we hate it…or she hates it?” Will my kids become "weird"? Will they still be able to pursue extra-curricular activities (music, sports, etc.) in a significant way if they want to? How will I ever choose a curriculum, and will it be the right one?

So this is where we sit. Intrigued and excited, but wrestling through the questions and concerns.

I know God will lead us to the right decision. I also know He often speaks through other people. Help me think?

Do you homeschool? Or do you plan to? Why or why not?

What are some of the greatest joys you’ve found in home education? (Or what most draws you to the idea?)

What are the greatest difficulties you’ve encountered? (Or what makes you most anxious about pursuing this?)

Would I really be capable of this? (i.e. How on earth will I handle math? Yikes…)

Is second grade an odd time to start?

Should I give the denim jumper a chance? (Just kidding. That one's not going to happen.)

Thanks so much for any input or advice you’re willing to give!

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Image: digitalart /

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