We’re about to officially begin our sixth year of home schooling next week, the day after Labor Day. All four of my kids and I will be part of a new co-op that meets once a week. Our home school style has gone from strictly classical to much more eclectic over the years, and this new co-op encourages self-directed learning and unschooling. Kids and parents are invited to submit proposals for classes, group studies, and independent studies with mentors. I joined the programming committee so I get to help decide which classes/studies are held when, for how long, and with what facilitators or teachers. There have been so many creative and interesting proposals submitted already–everything from building Leprechaun traps to Entomology to Coding to Philosophy to Claymation. I’m completely confident that we will enjoy many rich learning experiences together as we connect with this new community.
That’s a nice segue into my latest meditations on why I am home schooling and what my priorities are: the #1 answer to both is community, which is just another name for extended family. I’m reading a great book called A Thomas Jefferson Education and it brings up some excellent points about socialization that remind me why I started on this whole journey in the first place. Unlike most people, who worry about socialization when they think of home schooling (which is worth noting and pondering – why do they immediately think of socializing and never worry about academics when it comes to schooling?), I was actually very impressed with the social skills and overall character and poise of the home schooled children I had known prior to making the decision to home school. I noticed that these children seemed much more articulate and comfortable communicating and interacting with all ages than their peers in public and private schools. They had a strong sense of self, close relationships with their family members, and were less vulnerable to peer pressure.
When I then had my own children and it was time to send my first born off to Kindergarten, I did so with some serious reservations, even though we were in a “very good” school district. It was a full day program, and I worried it would be too big of an adjustment for him. Still, I was hopeful that all would go well and my child would thrive, and he did, mostly. He had a truly wonderful, loving, and capable teacher who gave him an excellent start, socially and academically. He did have a lot of energy to burn once the school day was over, and the homework assignments seemed pretty robust for such a young child, but we managed, and all was well.
Then came first grade, and things began to decline gradually throughout the year. My happy, extremely confident and creative boy began to doubt himself, just a little. He started to think school was “boring” and he just HAD to have the latest, coolest toys that his classmates loved to play with (even though, he admitted, he didn’t think they were really that cool). He would come home from a full day with sometimes 15 minutes of recess or less, and turn into Taz from Looney Tunes, bouncing off the walls and spitting gibberish. His teacher said he took too long on classroom assignments. That was her only feedback about him when we met for parent-teacher conferences. She didn’t love him — he was just another kid in her class. And that was all it took for me to be convinced: I needed to at least try to home school. I didn’t want my child to learn how to sit in a classroom all day and hurry to finish his assignments “on time” regardless of whether he had learned anything. I didn’t want him to learn how to fit in with “the cool kids”, who were all his age and lived in the same small town. I didn’t see what any of this had to do with a good education — and even though I loved my traditional Catholic school education growing up — I was over it in a heartbeat.
I hope that none of this comes across as judgmental or condemning. I know that there are some really great schools out there, and I would never presume to tell another parent what educational choices they should make for their child/ren. I am simply sharing my experiences and my reasons for home schooling my own kids, for consideration by myself and anyone else interested.
I am doing my best to ensure that my kids know how to interact and engage with people of all ages and backgrounds.
I am trying to teach them the discipline of working out their differences with each other productively (all strong personalities together all day long often equals fireworks) and then how to apply those same principles and techniques to be able to get along with other challenging personalities and situations they come across.
I want them to know themselves — what they genuinely love to do and learn about — and be confident enough to lead by example in the communities and interest areas that are important to them.
I want them to be free to explore and open to learn, but not waste time trying to bend and twist into anything that doesn’t resonate for them.
I want them to be fully connected, which for me right now means that I need to be fully connected to myself and my own progress, as well as to how each of them are growing and developing, so that I can lead the way.
I’m sure there will come a day when I entrust that responsibility to someone else or to my kids themselves, but for now it needs to be me. I admit, I’m a little weary and a little leery at this point. But mostly I’m excited. We are finding our groove. We are doing the heavy lifting, and it’s starting to get lighter. We are forging our path, and some will follow. Others will be inspired to forge their own. Still others will think we’re wacko, and that’s okay. As I frequently tell my kids, “Do what you think is right, and do the best you can, and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.”