Back to (Home)School

Doughnuts to celebrate our not-first-day of school.
It's literally impossible to get all four kids looking at the camera at the same time. 

Four years ago I wrote a post describing all the reasons I was planning on homeschooling my then-kindergartner. Fast forward two years and we made the decision to send him to school (with only four weeks left in the school year, because I clearly wanted his teacher to hate me).  Now, two years later, we're heading back to homeschooling.

All the reasons I listed for homeschooling in my original post still hold true, but having now completed two years (and four weeks!) of public school, I thought it was worth expanding on my reasons for returning to homeschooling. (Now is a good time to warn you that I am incapable of brevity in writing and always have been. I really did try, though!).

I should begin by stating that I am not a hardcore homeschooler. Yes, I love it. Yes, I think it's a great option. No, I don't think it's the BEST option for everyone, everywhere, all the time. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options. But I AM a hardcore proponent of each family being able to make the choice that is best for them. I've been disappointed both by public school parents who think homeschoolers are unsocialized weirdos and by homeschooling parents who think public schoolers are all getting a terrible education. Both are exaggerations. As is true in many circumstances, we could all benefit from a little more willingness to respect differences in opinion, whether we personally agree or not.

I also need to make it very clear that this decision has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers my children had. We are lucky to attend one of the best schools in our county and it shows. I loved every single one of their teachers: they were intelligent, dedicated, and enthusiastic. And they were still like that even after spending an entire school year with my kids! I'm grateful for teachers who love their jobs and who have helped my kids love learning.

So if it's not the teachers, what IS my issue? As best as I can describe it, it's the path that American public schools are increasingly taking. It wasn't until a combination of seemingly small issues snowballed together that I decided to homeschool again.

The Black Hole

The very first thing I noticed about public school was the complete lack of communication. As a homeschooler I was used to knowing everything Seth was learning. Obviously I wasn't expecting that kind of knowledge from his teachers but I was unprepared for complete silence. Sure, he had a bit of homework. Yes, I went to meet with his teacher at the beginning of the year. But I had no idea what he was doing for science. What books he was reading. What kind of grammar he was learning. If he was struggling. If he was bored. I'm sure the school would have contacted me eventually if Seth was really losing it, but I wanted more. I wanted to be able to supplement, to help him understand things on a broader or deeper level. But I never had the chance. School was a giant black hole: Seth went in every morning but no information ever came out. To be fair, Catherine's kindergarten teacher was great about this. We got weekly and monthly updates and I loved it. So I guess we're at a 25% communications rate.

Unsocialized Public Schoolers

Our primary reason for sending Seth to public school was to make friends. We had just moved to a new neighborhood and we figured school would be a great way for him to find kids living nearby. We were wrong. This is primarily because many (most?) of the kids in our neighborhood have two working parents, meaning most kids are in both before and after school care. There may be kids around but we rarely see them.

But at least there would be friends at school, right? One of the criticisms homeschoolers like to toss at the public schools is the absurdity of artificially placing kids in classrooms based on birth year. When does that happen anywhere else in the "real world"? But it is good for one thing: lots of potential buddies.

Unfortunately, it's really hard to make friends when you have exactly ONE recess a day. One recess that lasts for all of 20 minutes. Yes, even for the kindergartners. Assigned seats in the classroom. Assigned seats at lunch. Assigned seats on the bus. Makes it hard to find many friends if you don't happen to be assigned to sit next to them. All that "socialization" everyone worries so much about with homeschoolers didn't seem to be very impressive in the public school setting.

Recess? What Recess?

The lack of recess time kills me. I assumed elementary school kids would have at least two, hopefully three recesses a day. That's what I had growing up and what many schools still do (mostly out west it seems, based on very scientific anecdotal evidence). Despite the mountains of research that recess actually raises test scores, my kids were stuck with 20 minutes. The worst part is (at least in 2nd and 3rd grade), that recess happened at 2:40 pm. The bus arrives at 8:15 am. For over 6 hours, kids are expected to sit, keep their voices down, and focus. Sounds realistic, right? I can't decide who to feel more sorry for: the students or the poor teachers trying to teach kids who just need a break.

What's even worse is how frequently the school decides to cancel recess. Did it rain in the past 12 hours? No recess. Does it look like it might rain? No recess. Too hot? No recess. Too chilly? No recess. Some kid in class doesn't have a jacket and it's a little cool outside? No recess.

No Siblings Allowed

I realize that our four-child family is an anomaly in a world of families with 1.8 children. I still think it's hilarious that we are considered a "large" family when I grew up thinking four kids was right around average (thank you, Mormon families!). But it seems that as people have fewer children, children are welcomed in fewer places. Even in places you would expect to see children. For example: a school. 

I remember my mom bringing my baby sister to my school while she helped in the classroom. It was a brief distraction when they would walk in, but class quickly resumed as usual. My mom was very careful not to let my sister do anything that would interrupt the teaching environment. So were all the other moms who did the same thing in all the other classrooms. The best part was when they were there during lunch and I got to show off my sister to my friends.

My little ones are not allowed at school. They can't see their older siblings' classrooms. They can't attend their assemblies. They can't even attend their field days or outdoor class parties. No fun lunch dates with big brother and sister at school. If Catherine has a part in a class play, Aaron and Elise can't come watch her.  Not even nursing infants. My friend was actually turned away in tears from a nearby school for daring to bring her nursing infant to watch her daughter in a class play. "Find a babysitter" is their response. And a wet nurse? Where do I find one of those?

When I complain about this, I get two responses. The first is always liability issues. I guess I have a hard time understanding how adding my two little ones into a building that is literally full of children could possibly increase liability. But second (and I feel, more honestly), they tell me that they want the focus to be on the child at school. Siblings are a distraction. Guess what? Any time I tell my kids that I'm coming to school, their first question is "Are you bringing Elise?" They're DYING to show off their baby sister to their teachers and friends. It makes them feel like a celebrity. So tell me again why siblings aren't allowed?

As a parent, this hits hard in two areas. The first is my wallet. I had to pay for four babysitting sessions during the last weeks of school so I could attend various assemblies and parties. That gets expensive fast. The second is my sense of community. I WANT to volunteer. I WANT to get to know the faculty. I WANT to feel like we're all one big happy family working together for our children. But because I have two little ones at home and don't have the means to pay for constant babysitting, I don't. I see my kids' teachers a handful of times during a year. My younger children have no good memories of seeing their siblings' fun classrooms or teachers. They have no desire to attend this strange place that only lets them get as far as the front desk. How do I foster an enthusiasm for something they're forbidden from attending until the first day of kindergarten?

Raise Those Test Scores!

I hate standardized tests. Loathe them. And this is why:
"A typical student [in the United States] takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade, a new Council of the Great City Schools study found. By contrast, most countries that outperform the United States on international exams test students three times during their school careers" (emphasis added).
I could support three tests during their thirteen or so school years. I do understand the need for an accurate measurement tool across the line. But starting in third grade here kids take one or two standardized tests EVERY YEAR. They lose two or more weeks of teaching in order to take these tests. And the rest of the school year is spent making sure test scores will be high because so much (funding, teacher evaluations) depends on these scores. Basically, it's all for the test. The test is why my kids' school swapped to a new reading-heavy math curriculum: it was developed by the same people who write the tests, therefore it must lead to better test scores! Who cares that these curricula and tests are probably not written with appropriate grade-level language? I am not opposed to testing. I am, however, opposed to making sure every bit of learning that happens in a classroom revolves around the topics that will appear on the test.

Unnatural Learning

If I had to pick just one reason for my disaffection with public schooling, it would be this: there's no room for the individual. You're a fourth grader who's already mastered decimals? Too bad: you have to sit through class with everyone else (and get in trouble for not paying attention). You're a fourth grader who still hasn't mastered those multiplication tables? Better pick it up quickly: we have to keep to the schedule for the year. We can't afford to slow down the rest of the class for one student. Or say you're a sixth grader who finds herself enthralled during a brief introduction to coding during computer class. Sorry--take up that hobby on your own time! There is so much that has to be covered: how can the classroom accommodate those students who want to delve more deeply into a subject than just the two class periods allotted on the schedule?

Seth is an excellent reader. He always has been. He loves reading and has great comprehension of what he's read. When it came time to separate the kids into reading levels, he was placed in the top group, which was exactly where he needed to be.

Until he got kicked out. Not for a lack of reading skills. Not for poor comprehension. Because of his writing. It should come as no surprise to any elementary school educator that boys struggle with writing. The physical act of writing was so hard for Seth. He was only seven years old! It's not that the words weren't there: he just couldn't get his hand to form the letters quickly enough.

And so, due to his totally normal level of fine motor skill development, he was removed from the highest reading group. Now instead of being challenged by what he read, he was simply floating on by (and quite happy about the easier spelling words, to be honest). I was frustrated: was there no way to teach him at an individual level? To somehow accommodate his still-developing writing while challenging his reading comprehension? Nope. Everyone has to fit into a category, so they shoved him in where he "fit" best.

I saw this again with our frustrating new math curriculum. This program was incredibly reading-heavy. Almost every problem involved lengthy story problems as well as the command to "explain your answer." Suddenly kids who had long been in the highest math groups found themselves kicked out. Had their math skills suddenly faltered? Hardly. But math wasn't all that mattered anymore: now it was also reading. Shouldn't there be some way to do both? To let them keep leaping ahead with their understanding of math while simultaneously working to build their reading comprehension? Yes. Absolutely yes. But it wasn't happening anywhere that I could see. The teachers could barely keep up with the new curriculum as it was, much less work on individual adaptation.

I fully believe that the future of education is individual. I'm hoping for a world without grade levels--just levels of proficiency. My 9 year old could be at a 5th grade math level, an 8th grade reading level, and a 2nd grade writing and drawing level (curse those fine motor skills!). He could blast through decimals in two days but take a month to master simplifying fractions. If he suddenly discovered a burning desire to learn everything he can about WWII, he could take the time to study and read without "falling behind" in something. 

I feel like this is a more natural learning method. Think of how you learn new things as an adult. Some things come quickly and naturally.  Others you struggle with and have to take extra time and effort to master (this would be me with anything involving dance). And sometimes a topic or activity catches your attention and you spend six months reading everything you can find about life under Communist regimes (ask me how I know). I would have been extremely irritated if after a few weeks of reading someone took my books away and said, "Sorry! We have to move on to the next subject!" But that's what happens every day in the classroom to kids. Their learning is dictated by the clock and the calendar, not by interest or understanding. 

Now that I've given all my reasons why we decided not to continue with public school this year, let me give you my reasons why we're excited to homeschool:

More Time for Fun

During the public school year I rarely had time to take my kids to the library. Evenings were full of other activities, as were weekends. We'd sneak in occasionally on an early-out day or a random holiday, but those were infrequent occurrences. Yes, they had library time at school. But my kindergartner was limited to one book a week. When we go to the public library she often checks out 15-20 books. Or every single book on snakes the library owns. One book isn't cutting it for her.

One field trip a year wasn't cutting it either. It kills me to see my kids come home with worksheets about firemen when they could be visiting a fire station. Or filling out another packet of questions instead of visiting a museum. Yes, I know there's a cost involved. But maybe money might be better spent on field trips instead of purchasing brand new math curriculum every three years. Just a thought.

We try to go on field trips every week. We've been to a local estuary center. To a cave. To the library several times (we currently have around 75 books checked out). Our future plans include visiting the zoo, attending a reptile show, visiting a local farm and going to see a presentation on Native American dance. And that's just through November.

More Time for Work

During the school year I felt like most of my interactions with my children were to hurry them along. "Time to get up." "You need to eat quickly." "Run up and brush your hair." After school was no better. "Do you have any homework?" "Have you practiced piano?" "Are your chores done?" It was rush before school and constant pestering after.

Now my kids do their chores in the morning before we start school. Or during a break in our school day. There's more time to teach them how to do complicated chores like helping make breakfast or cleaning the bathroom. I fully believe that these types of skills are just as necessary as the standard academic skills but I rarely had time to teach them properly. Now it's just part of our school day.

More Learning

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is the fact that learning opportunities are literally everywhere. Where did that fruit at the store originally come from? Why is the sidewalk in front of our house cracking? What is Labor Day celebrating? See a billboard for a strange/cool/interesting thing while you're driving? Pull on over! 

Obviously these are not things that only homeschoolers notice. But we have the benefit of time. Time to explore things in depth. Time outside a classroom to notice things and take adventures when they're offered. 

I'm also working hard this year on giving my children opportunities for self-guided (or "delight-directed") learning. This is really hard for me since I love checklists and planning, but my kids need it. Seth has time to focus on his coding lessons or read book after book (after book, after book) on Greek mythology. Catherine can chase the butterflies in the yard and study the slugs under the drainpipe. We still cover our core subjects every day but that time to explore and learn what THEY want to learn makes school more wonderful for all of us.

More Choices

When I sent Seth off to school I had no say in what topics he would learn that year. That was all dictated at a county or state level and could not be individualized during elementary school.

Homeschool, on the other hand, is almost infinitely customizable. Seth wanted to learn about coding so I found him a fantastic online course on Minecraft modding.  He also wants to buy a snake so we did research about costs and care and put together a proposal for his dad (which is currently under review). Catherine is slightly obsessed with bugs and snakes so we've watched many, many documentaries together. She's also very creative and has been given free range with art supplies. Both kids are also learning Spanish, which isn't usually taught until middle or high school here.

We also lucked out and found a great co-op that meets twice a week. My kids will have classes in all the core subjects with the exception of math, which is left to the families. But they'll also have art classes, PE classes, geography classes, Spanish classes, literature classes, Home Ec classes, music classes, and (Seth's favorite) a class on how to build things. It's going to be an awesome year.

More Purpose

When my kids were at school I obviously had a lot more free time. Even with the little two at home I was able to make long lists of projects I wanted done. I painted most of the house. I made scrapbooks. I organized things. I cleaned things. I felt like I was accomplishing a lot.

But then I'd realize that I hadn't read to Aaron all day. Or that he'd been playing on the iPad for hours while I caught up on our family blog. Or that I hadn't taken Elise to play outside in two days. My projects had become my purpose. My kids were just things that I had to distract so I could get projects done. That was not how I wanted to parent.

The idea of homeschooling again had been hanging out in the back of my mind ever since we stopped. But now it was louder. I knew that homeschooling would force my hand. My children wouldn't interfere with my projects: they would BE my projects. I would have to spend my time teaching them, planning for them, paying close attention to their interests and frustrations. That was the kind of parent I wanted to be!

Homeschooling is as much for me as it is for my kids. It allows us to spend more time together. It gives my little two time to play with and learn from my big two and my big two time to guide and teach the little two. It gives me back the time I felt I was quickly losing with my oldest as he got more independent and more involved in activities outside the home. Every morning we read a chapter or two aloud from a book, which has always been something I wanted to do. We have two scheduled recesses where the kids just get to go play outside together. Either Seth or Catherine is assigned to read books to Aaron every day. If we get done early we all go play outside or we play a game together.

Yes, we spend a LOT of time together. Yes, sometimes I have a headache by 6 pm and just want thirty minutes alone. Yes, my kids hate doing their math and whine when recess is over. They're still normal kids. It's a constant cycle of adapting, reevaluating, observing and adapting again until something works. But for now, it's exactly what we need.

I am fully aware that my kids will almost definitely end up back in public school eventually. Catherine especially seems to thrive in that atmosphere. If homeschooling isn't the best fit for her, I'm grateful to have an excellent public school for her to attend. There are many things (obviously) that I don't love about public school, but I'm also aware that almost everyone I know attended public school and most of those people lead happy and successful lives.

I'm also very hopeful that this won't come across as an attack on those who choose to send their kids to school. Sometimes we (as moms, especially) like to equate time spent with quality of parenting. So, since I'm homeschooling and spending WAY more time with my kids than most other moms, I'm obviously a better parent, right? Ha. Hahaha. What really matters is this and this alone: do what is right for your child and for your family. Public school. Private school. Homeschool. Boarding school. Unschooling. Don't ever let anyone make you feel inferior because you make different schooling choices than they do.

I also have friends who love the idea of homeschooling but are unable to because of various circumstances. I really am aware of how lucky I am to be in a situation where I can do this and I am very, very grateful. To those friends I would say: pretend you're homeschooling whenever you can! Weekends, days off school, summer, whenever! Since your kids are getting all their core subjects in school, you can use your time with them for the fun stuff: hiking, visiting aquariums and zoos, trying out a new instrument or computer program. Really it's just a matter of realizing that learning can happen anywhere and seeking out those opportunities. Some of the people who inspire me most aren't homeschoolers at all: they're just parents who intentionally make time for new experiences.

We are looking forward to a wonderful year of homeschooling. (Actually, I made my kids start school in June so there's no "looking forward." And yes, there was much whining).  We're also hoping our friends, family and neighbors have a wonderful year at whatever schools you may be attending. I can gloat to you about not packing lunches or being a slave to the school calendar. You can gloat to me about going to the grocery store or doctor's office without all your kids in tow (worst part of homeschooling, for sure). May we all (parents, teachers, and kids) survive another year and still love each other when it's all done. Happy Back to School Day!


Why I'm Homeschooling My Son

First day of Kindergarten!
No shoes, but at least he's dressed...

I never, ever, EVER thought I'd be homeschooling my kid. I knew a few homeschoolers growing up, and they were a bit...weird. Okay, some were a lot weird. Which led to the unfortunate association that homeschoolers are all weirdos, lacking in all forms of social skills and often lacking in deodorant.

But then I moved here, to Maryland, and met some pretty amazing kids. Intelligent, confident, curious--everything you'd ever hope for in your own children. I still remember the shock I felt when their mother informed me that they homeschooled--these are NOT the kind of kids I had expected. These were the kind of kids you would expect to find in the best public or private schools, performing at the top of their classes. Interacting with their family shattered my image of stereotypical homeschoolers. I was impressed.

Impressed, but not in any way a believer. I still had no intention of doing anything other than the standard procedure: thirteen years in the public school system. After all, both my husband and I (and all twelve of our collective siblings) had done the same, and with pretty good results. Sure, I had my share of crappy teachers (the most memorable being the middle school math teacher who seemed to have little understanding of mathematics or of the obvious fact that you should not wear brightly colored bras underneath tight, white shirts), but I also had some of the very best teachers you could find. I credit my perfect score of 5 on the AP Calculus AB test solely to my extraordinary teacher. I struggled with math before his class, never took math again after his class, but for a brief, shining moment during his class I UNDERSTOOD CALCULUS and it was entirely due to my teacher. I got a full tuition scholarship to a fairly exclusive university and had no struggle adjusting to college-level classes. The public school system served me well and I had no doubts it would do the same for my children.

And then, one night while laying in bed, a thought popped itself into my brain: "You need to think about homeschooling Seth." I didn't tell my husband because it was so completely ridiculous. First of all, my son was all of three years old. And second, there was no way it was going to happen. Dismissed.

But it wouldn't go away. So I let it stew. I asked questions; I read everything I could find. Eventually, I brought it up to Jon. He was more open than I expected, but he had lots of questions of his own. Over the next months and years of research, we both came to the same conclusion: I would homeschool Seth, at least for a few years, starting in kindergarten.

Our decision was mainly due to three factors. First was the school we are zoned for: it's an officially failing school. While we've heard nothing but good things about the teachers, our school has a serious parenting problem. As a teacher myself, I am well aware of how critical parental support is. Even the most wonderful, gifted, intelligent teacher can do little with a classroom full of kids whose parents don't value education and don't support what's being done at school. Sadly, for many of these kids school is little more than taxpayer-funded daycare. We want Seth to enjoy school--to enjoy learning, especially in the early years. But it's hard to do that if your teacher is constantly dealing with discipline problems or trying to play catch-up instead of teaching new material. 

Second was Maryland's full-day kindergarten. I had no idea this was coming--I thought half-day kindergarten was standard practice. Not here. Which means that at five years old, my son would go from being home with me all day to being away from me for eight hours a day, five days a week. That is a HUGE jump for a little kid. Half a day is perfect developmentally--they can have their class time and social time for 3-4 hours a day, then go home and do what kids that age need to do: play in an unstructured environment. Every parent and teacher I've talked to agrees that the second half of the day is a total loss--the kids are tired and burned out, often falling apart or falling asleep as soon as they get off the bus. "But they get used to it eventually!" is what I hear again and again. Very true: humans are remarkably adaptable. But just because they DO adapt, does that mean they SHOULD? Is an eight hour day really best for a five- to six-year-old child? I had serious doubts, especially after doing more research on how childrens' brains develop. 

Last, and most important, was Seth. From the time he was an infant, Seth has needed a lot of quiet time. Loud places and people exhaust him. Two hours at preschool were enough for him--he'd come home and immediately run up to his room to play or read quietly. If he's ever in a situation where, for whatever reason, he can't escape and find a quiet place to decompress, things usually end in tears. I can only imagine what eight hours in a classroom with 15-20 other kids would do to him. He's getting better and better at tolerating those situations, but he's not ready yet. Academically, he's ahead of the curve (already reading simple sentences and doing simple addition and subtraction). Socially, school would be a very unpleasant experience. 

And so, a few weeks ago I submitted my paperwork to the school, officially declaring myself as a homeschooler for the 2013-2014 school year. Which means that now I am one of "them": a weirdo homeschooler. I'm not finding it an entirely pleasant role--not due to my actual homeschooling (which I think is a blast), but due to the reactions I get from others.

Which I why I'm writing this: to explain that I am NOT a weirdo. I'm just a mom who is trying to do what is right for her kid. 

So let me address some of the questions I'm already getting. The first? "What about socialization?" Well, what exactly do you mean by socialization? The ability to interact with a group of people all born within a year of your birth and who live in the same school boundaries? That's a skill that will serve you only long enough to get you out of school, at which point you'll be forced to interact with people of all ages and from many different places. I'm not seeing the benefit here.

Will Seth interact with other kids his age? Of course! He'll be in a little co-op with other kids his age, just like in a classroom (except with fewer kids, and thus, more interaction with his teachers). He'll also be involved in other activities--gymnastics, swimming, sports, etc. with other kids, and with different teachers (not just Mom). He will learn to follow the rules, to sit and listen, to take turns, to deal with other kids he may not like: all the things kids in a standard classroom learn. But the benefit here is that he will be exposed to people of all ages, from infant siblings all the way up to many different adult mentors. He won't be confined to only interacting with other kindergartners and a single adult teacher. Socialization? The bigger problem is going to be picking WHICH social activities to sign up for!

I've also found that my homeschooling friends are able to complete their lessons for the day much earlier than public school classes let out. This is due to the efficiency of numbers--it's a lot faster to get one kid to focus on and complete her work than it is to get twenty kids to focus on and complete their work. Which means that instead of getting off the bus at 4 pm, just in time to run to piano lessons/soccer practice/karate, homeschooled kids are done early in the afternoon, giving them plenty of free time to play with the kids in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the kids in their neighborhood don't get off the bus until 4 pm and then rush to various extracurricular activities, leaving THEM no time for socializing. Socialization now is very different than it was in the days of neighborhood night games and pick-up basketball games in the driveway. But homeschoolers aren't the ones who can't play--it's their peers. 

Next question: "How will you know he's keeping up academically?" This is another strange question, once you really think about it. How many kids are actually "at grade level" in every subject? My guess? None. Some will be reading several grade levels above, while still scrawling their names like a preschooler (that would be my son). Others will be brilliant at math, but incapable of reading short, simple words. "Grade level" doesn't mean too much when viewed in that light. 

Here's what I have done: serious research on what is considered standard kindergarten work. Writing, reading, addition/subtraction, money, telling time...believe me, I've looked it ALL up. It's not hard to find--just search for "typical course of study" and you'll have more than enough to keep you occupied. Or buy one of those grade-level workbooks at Walmart--you'll get a good overview of the topics covered. 

Plus, let's be honest--we're talking about KINDERGARTEN. I'd be happy if he finished the year knowing his colors, numbers, and ABCs (check!). So I'm not too concerned about academics this year. However, standardized testing is available to homeschoolers here, so I can always sign him up for test just to compare.

But here's the thing--I guarantee you that I, as Seth's parent, care much more deeply about his academic progress than any other teacher will.  Not only that, as a homeschooler I am very much aware of which areas he's mastered and which he is still struggling in. For example, I know that Seth can count to 30 with no issues, but he doesn't recognize some of the teen numbers in print (like "14"). With a classroom full of kids, it's almost impossible to keep track of which kid has mastered which skill, much less make sure that they all have a solid understanding before you have to move on. As a homeschooler, I don't HAVE to move on in order to complete a set curriculum by the end of the year. If it takes Seth three months to master number recognition, then we will take three months. We won't move on until I'm sure he gets it. That's the kind of flexibility a classroom teacher can only dream of, and I believe it's a huge advantage.

"But won't he miss out on all those school experiences?" This is one I worried about until I realized how much things have changed. School parties on Valentine's Day? Nope. Maybe you can pass out some candy right before the bell rings (if you're even allowed to bring candy to school). Special birthday treats to share with your class? Well, nothing with sugar. And nothing homemade. Wouldn't want Mom to poison all your classmates with her cupcakes. Sitting with your friends at lunch? Nope--there's assigned seating in order to limit the craziness of the lunchroom. Same with the bus (so much for that whole socialization thing!). Soccer during recess? If you're lucky enough to have a long enough recess, sure. But odds are against it. Basically, a lot of what made me look forward to school has been removed or sanitized.

These are all examples from local friends. I'm sure not all schools are like this, and I know there are some awesome school activities I don't know about, but the trend seems to be toward more serious academic work and testing, even in very young grades. While I'm very supportive of maintaining high standards for education, I think school needs to be fun! Kids don't look forward to school because of math class or handwriting practice--they love the parties, the games, the messy science experiments. I think we've swung too far to the academic side: pushing for earlier and earlier achievement instead of cultivating a love of learning. (Obviously this applies mostly to younger grades--high school really is a time for serious academics). 

But should Seth decide at some point that he's missing out, we're not going to refuse him that experience. And if he loves it, awesome! But if not, I'm glad to have an alternative to offer.

I am in no way trying to discredit traditional schools or teachers. I have many friends and several immediate family members who have been or currently are teachers in public schools across the country. I know how much effort they put into teaching (especially behind the scenes) and how much they hope to inspire their students. And now, as a homeschooler, I understand the pressure--YOU are the one accountable for teaching these kids what they need to know. It's an awesome responsibility.

I'm also not criticizing my friends who happily enroll their kindergartners in full-day kindergarten at age five and let the schools channel them through until graduation. Maryland has some of the best schools in the nation--we are very, very lucky to have access to them. I have no doubts their children will graduate will a great education and good prospects for the future.

But I'm doing what is best for my son, at this moment. Am I going to homeschool him all the way through? I don't know. Probably not. But I like having an option available. Will there be days when I kick myself for not enrolling him in school? Absolutely. But there will also be days when I'm amazed to see what he's learned and to know that I was the one who taught him. Remember how you felt when your baby spoke his first word? Took his first steps? I get that same feeling when Seth reads simple books and (finally) counts to 100. And I get to be there to see him do it--I don't have to wait until his teacher sends home a paper with a star or a smiley face.

This isn't an easy decision. I (and most other homeschooling parents I know) agonize over my decisions frequently. Am I doing what's right for my kids, or am I doing this for me? Am I doing enough? Am I pushing too hard? Will my kid resent missing out on traditional school? How can I keep the balance between sheltering him from things he's not ready to deal with and giving him opportunities to struggle with what is often an ugly reality? I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating, making changes and trying to do what is best.

So please give me the benefit of the doubt. While I love the chance to openly discuss my decision, it's painful to have well-meaning strangers or concerned friends dismiss it almost immediately as inferior. Please be very careful when criticizing our choice to homeschool our son. It's more than just the difference between School A and School B--this is a major part of our parenting and lifestyle. Knee-jerk criticism of homeschooling can easily come across as criticism of my capacity as a parent/teacher. Am I perfect? Of course not. But neither are professional teachers. We are all just doing our best to teach the children in our lives, to give them the best opportunities for success that we can.

Today is my oldest child's first day of kindergarten. I'm not packing him a lunch or loading his backpack with brand new crayons and notebooks. Instead I'm hanging up posters of coins and pulling out some BOB Books for him to practice reading. There won't be any tears as he climbs on the school bus for the first time, looking so tiny compared to the fifth graders in the back of the bus. Instead I get to enjoy hanging out with him just a little bit longer. And for my family, right now, this is the best decision we could make. Wish us luck!


Our New Normal

Catherine is 4 1/2 months old now, and I frequently find myself wondering when will our life go back to normal. When will we actually have time to just relax instead of feeling like there is always some project hanging over our head?  When will we actually have time in the evenings to ourselves, without a little baby hanging out with us?  When will I have time to shower regularly again?

I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that maybe THIS is the new normal.  It's hard for me to accept that--I have so many things I feel like I need to do, but have no time to do them.  I think I'm still trying to fit my two-child reality into my one-child schedule. And it doesn't work very well.

So I guess what I really need to do is cut back on the alleged 'extras'.  But what are they?  Piano lessons?  That's my adult interaction and Seth's friend interaction for the week.  Cake decorating?  My creative outlet.  Scrapbooking (just to be clear--my idea of scrapbooking involves sticking pictures on paper and writing what is happening.  That's it.)?  Well, that's our family history--I'm supposed to do that, right?

And people wonder why I don't leave the house.  I don't need to--I have enough going on here to keep me busy for years!


Shout, 'Hooray!'

Last Sunday in Primary (I'm the chorister) they pulled up 3 or 4 kids to sing a birthday song to.  As I was coordinating the song with the pianist, I heard the presidency member announce that one of the leaders was having a birthday, too.  I smile brightly and look around the room, waiting for one of the teachers to come up to the front.

It wasn't until she said my name that I realized it was me.  

It was a very odd sensation to have completely forgotten my own birthday.  Part of it is just how busy life has been for the past month--I'm living day-to-day instead of anticipating what's coming up.  But part of it is just realizing that I don't care as much anymore.  I enjoy celebrating my family's birthdays more than my own.

But all the same, I'm glad they reminded me so I could be excited for my birthday this week.  And I got a Twix out of it, which possibly made up for my having to stand in front of the entire Primary and be sung to.  Twice.                                  


Thoughts at 3 Months Post-Partum

Infant clothes should come in one color and one color only:
Poo-splosion orange.
Either that or I need to invest in Shout stock...

I'm fairly sure there is currently more of my hair 
on our bathroom floor than there is left on my head.

Amazing how quickly 4-5 consecutive hours of sleep 
becomes a great night's rest.

It doesn't matter what brand of diapers you buy--
your baby can poop out of anything.

There has got to be a safe way to 
permanently attach a pacifier to a kid's mouth.

I have very seriously considered putting a belt around
my baby to keep her dang arms swaddled.

When my first baby slept longer than usual, 
I would wake up terrified that he'd died in his sleep. 
With number two, I just praise the Lord 
for an extra hour or two of sleep.

Why didn't I realize how easy this baby thing was 
when I only had one?  
Cause it's a heck of a lot harder with a toddler to care for, too.

Is my brain ever going to function at full capacity again?

Why am I sitting here typing this when both kids are napping?
I need a nap, too!


At 34 Weeks

-I'm getting heartburn while standing up. It's even more fun when I lay down.

-I can't get my wedding band off.

-I have to wear my Vans with gel soles at all time while cooking or my feet feel like I've been standing for hours.

-I have exactly two outfits that I can still fit in for church, and exactly one pair of shoes that is still comfortable.

-I've come to terms with the fact that for at least 30 minutes after I lay down to sleep, baby will keep me awake with a stunning dance routine.

-Any waddling you see is not from a big belly--it's from Braxton Hicks and/or pelvic pressure. I'm not looking forward to this baby dropping (if there's even anywhere left for her to drop. Sure doesn't feel like it).

-I'm nesting like a mad woman.

-I'm stressing over the logistics of taking care of Seth while we're at the hospital.

-Asian food sounds terrible to me. Even P.F. Chang's. Probably has something to do with all the heartburn...

-I'm cherishing my time with Seth. I hope he forgives us quickly for messing with his life.

-I'm currently sleeping with three pillows: two under my head for heartburn, one between my knees. Jon's never been so grateful for a king-sized bed.

-There are small piles of pink clothes on the nursery floor waiting for me to deal with them. Does it make me sound like a wimp if I say I'm very intimidated by those pink clothes?

-I'm realizing that if this baby comes ten days early (like Seth did), then we'll have a new baby in less than a month. My brain is not ready for that. My aching body would be happy to deliver tomorrow.

-I swear my face gets puffier every morning.

-My ribs hurt ALL THE TIME. This kid is in my ribs ALL THE TIME.

-I'm grateful that I can still shave my legs in our stall shower without having to sit on the ground. With Seth I was already at that point by now.

-This baby is coming next month. I can't get that through my head.


Once Upon a Time...

...I thought I wanted to be a blogger. You know--the kind who post every day and get bucketloads of comments from adoring (or mean-spirited) readers. That sounded like something I could really get into.

But then I came back to reality. Maybe there will be a point in my life where I can do something like that, but it's not now. As is obvious from my lack of posting, when life gets busy, writing is the first thing that goes.

And I don't see life getting any less busy soon. Sure, I'm out of Young Women, but Primary chorister isn't exactly a cushy job. Not to mention that sometime in the next 6 weeks I'll be adding a newborn into the fun.

So, I'm resigned. I'll write when I can, but it's not going to be every day. Probably not even every week. Sigh.

Now excuse me while I go nest some more. All I have left to do before the baby comes is our 2009 scrapbook, putting our videos on my computer, preparing music plans, painting our bedroom, making a valance for Seth's room and curtains for ours, organizing little pink outfits that still terrify me for some reason, making Seth's ABC book, and hanging up all the pictures I've been meaning to hang up for months now. Oh, and pack for the hospital. Is it really getting that close? Where did the time go?