14 May 2011

Reflections on Taking the Plunge

Recently, I was asked to write an article for a local parents newsletter about my experience homeschooling. Since I seem otherwise incapable of posting to this blog of late, I decided to do the old cut and paste job, and share the same article here. A chunk of it appeared in a slightly different format in an earlier post of mine, so it may sound familiar to a few of you.

Writing this was a nice exercise, a good way to begin thinking about the past year. As with any adventure, much of this school year has not gone as I imagined it would. Much of the year has been characterized by my thinking something like, "Well, I'd like to do that a little differently next time..." And yes, there will be a next time, as we will definitely continue on our current path. It's been quite a year. And now, with summer fast upon us, here are some thoughts as I approach the end of my first year as a homeschooling mama.

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Sometimes, I look around my house, strewn as it is with paper, pens, books, DVD’s, video games no one is supposed to be playing, and a remarkable amount of shoes, and I can’t believe this is my life. This place, my living room, is where I attempt to fill my children’s young minds with knowledge. OK, it’s where I yell at them a lot for making insane messes. But it passes for our classroom as well. No one was a more reluctant homeschooler than I was -- I resisted the idea for years before taking the plunge. Today, I can say that deciding to leave “regular” school and give homeschooling a try is the best decision my husband and I have made for our family.

We made this decision for a variety of reasons: no viable public school option; prohibitive cost of private schooling (where we spent 6 years); dissatisfaction with the limits of a traditional classroom; and two kids who are proverbial square pegs unable to squish into round holes. For all of this and more, we took the plunge.

So how are we doing? Are we teaching them well? Are they learning what they need to? I don’t know. The answer is probably yes and no. We do some things well (we read lotsa books) and other things poorly (do we really need math?). There are so many things I wish we were doing more of, and there is still plenty of complaining around here, plenty of resistance. Many days, I feel like I am falling far short of my goals and I struggle with not knowing how to make it better. But there are a few things that help me remember that this is the best thing I’ve ever done.

First. Opportunities: my kids have ‘em. Because we are enrolled in a Charter School, we have access to funds that have allowed my kids to take all kinds of interesting classes, from Carpentry and Clay to Outdoor Education and individual math tutoring. They’ve also been able to visit places like the California Academy of Sciences and Safari West in Sonoma County, places that are pretty pricey under normal circumstances but which make it possible for homeschoolers to come for free or greatly reduced prices. And then there are the activities, like guitar lessons, youth musicals, and Shakespeare productions that the kids are able to do simply because we have more flexibility in our schedules, no homework to labor over each night, and fewer extraneous demands on our time.

Second. One of my kids, unlike some of his siblings, is not a demonstrative sort. He used to answer our “I love you,” with “OK.” He didn’t tell us much of what was going on between his ears, nor did he ask us many questions. It was clear, however, that he hated school, homework, and learning stuff. Once we changed our schooling and suddenly had less stress and anxiety in our lives, our son became more relaxed and open. He hugs us all the time now, tells us he loves us, and asks tons of questions about life, questions we now have the time and space to answer because we are not racing through dinner and homework and sports practices, or racing out the door to school and other activities. All of my kids have benefitted from our stepping off of the treadmill, but his dramatic transformation in particular makes me certain we did the right thing.

Third. We get to learn “by accident.” On 9/11/10, we were away from home, at my folks’ house. The kids had tons of questions about the anniversary. I told them the story as best I could, fielding questions about what the boys were doing that day, why daddy called from work to tell me to turn on the TV, and why anyone would fly a plane into a building. We talked about the Muslim faith. About Osama Bin Laden. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About the people who suffered and died that day. About why we went to war in the first place. Was George Bush a good president? Why do Saudi Arabians hate us? My daughter asked “What are the names of the people who died?”

Later in the day, I found my dad’s collection of newspapers from important dates, and pulled out the ones from September 12 2001. We looked at the pictures and talked about them. There were the towers, on fire but not yet collapsed. There were the people running through Manhattan, covered in ash. There was the field in Pennsylvania. My oldest found YouTube videos of the day, and watched those as well. On the way home, we listened to NPR anniversary coverage and talked even more about that terrible day and the complicated mess of events that have followed.

It was quite a History Lesson, and we stumbled into it. I had different curriculum plans for the day, but those plans didn’t go well. It was difficult to get the kids to listen to me and to do the few things they were “assigned.” But the day still ended up being one of the best school days we’ve ever had.

The ability to swerve into a topic and talk about it in depth, to read more about it in newspapers, to watch video of events unfolding, to listen to NPR discussions: none of this would have been possible last year, when my time with my kids consisted of rushing them to practice, and then rushing them through homework, dinner, baths, showers, teeth-brushing and bedtime. When my responses to their questions were 90% frazzled and 10% thoughtful. When I never would have had the chance to happen upon those newspapers in my mom and dad’s storage closet. When keeping up with our life was getting in the way of living it.

Because we stepped off the treadmill, that amazing history lesson was possible. That was the model of homeschooling that I had hoped for. I can’t plan for days like that, but I will happily welcome them whenever they arrive. I’m glad we are doing this. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time...and yet I know we are where we are supposed to be.

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2 comments:

Monica said...

What a great piece on homeschooling! Thanks for writing it.

Kerri said...

very beautiful piece, Monica.