Friday, May 6, 2011

Tales Out of School

I've only been meaning to write this post for.... oh, fifteen months or so. Sound familiar?

I have issues.

But moving ahead anyway!

This post may or may not be of interest to readers, but I have been meaning to write it up anyhow to explain the long, meandering path that our family's decisions (yes, multiple "decisions") on educational choices have taken.

Please note that this post is "descriptive, not prescriptive" - in other words, I am telling what our family has decided to do, not what anyone else's family should do. So please don't take this as a "this is what we're doing, and you should too!" because it is decidedly not meant that way. Every family is unique and must find a unique path.

And so:

I have mentioned in the past that my husband and I first ran across homeschooled kids when we first came to our now former church. There were a lot of them there, and they completely blew us away - they were amazing! (And continue to be so! I wish you all could know them!) We decided then and there that we were definitely going to homeschool.

Several years passed, and our decision remained unchallenged. However, as our first little guy approached the age of three (the age at which I had assumed I would start formally homeschooling), I had to deal with the uncomfortable fact that not only did I have no desire to homeschool, I had an active antipathy against it. I really, really, really did not want to homeschool.

Why? Well, several reasons.

Firstly, I had had a really hard introduction to motherhood. I went from being a semi-loner only-child who was used to privacy, extremely clean living spaces, and uber-structured/planned time - to the world of motherhood-to-a-boy, where everything was less than perfect, variable to the extreme, often dirty and cluttered, and unpredictable. It was hard! And frankly, I was looking forward to sending our little guy off to school so that I could finally have some free time, a clean house, and a more orderly life. Continuing in the aforementioned fashion seemed unthinkable.

Secondly, I had realized by that time that teaching our little guy was a true challenge. I had unconsciously expected him to be like me - well-behaved and quiet by nature, well-organized without being taught, with a natural liking for straight lines, work sheets, and book work. May I say that our son is NOTHING like me? LOL!!! He is all boy, emphasis on the "all" and on the "boy" - loud and noisy with endless energy, a dislike to sitting, absolutely no interest in bookwork, and a need to move. My attempts to do crafts with him were dismal failures, and I became used to the occasional teacher telling me that he had a hard time sitting in class. (The first time it happened, my world nearly came to an end. I got used to it. Thankfully he's much better now.)

I put off starting "school," then put it off some more, and put it off some more. Finally, I had to admit that I simply did not want to homeschool, and announced that fact to DH. He was truly disappointed, never having wavered in his desire to homeschool. But I became more and more adamant with time, and he caved. (At the time, I had him over a barrel because we had another life decision going on in which he was adamant and I caved, so it was an even give and take.)

With that behind us, I now had to start looking at schools. Yes, school was still 2-3 years away, but I am uncomfortable with unmade decisions, so I wanted to forge ahead immediately. In one week, I toured three schools (this was January of 2010). Here's the rundown:

School #1: Super High-Academic Charter School

I suspect that this is where conservatives send their kids! They pride themselves on their strict rules and their high academics, and they do have a good track record. I think it would be a good choice for high-achieving natural learners.

For myself, I sincerely disliked this school, and I was pretty sure that sending our son there would have had him hating school within the first week. Probably the first twenty minutes. There was no joy in learning, no hands-on activities, no movement, nothing like that. From day 1 of kindergarten, they had them sitting in rows chanting phonograms, or whatever they were. The kids were insanely impressive in their knowledge, but there was no joy there. When I asked the principal what their silent reading program was (this is a huge issue for me), he gave me a blank deer-in-the-headlights stare and said, "Um, we don't read here.... I guess they could read if they were done with their work."

Cross off that one!

School #2: Montessori Charter

I suspect that this is where liberals send their children! (The "Obama for President!" bumper stickers in the parking lot, the "Kids for Peace" fundraiser, the Zen Garden, etc.) Oddly enough, I am a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, but I absolutely loved this school. I had never before been exposed to the Montessori method, and I just loved it! It was amazing! I watched the kindergarten class for an hour, and it was wonderful. Each of the children was doing something different, but it was in a quiet, purposeful, high-learning sort of way that was structured and yet free. The teachers were there to help when needed, but each child worked individually. It was simply wonderful, and I loved it. Very highly recommended.

School #3: Private Christian Hybrid

This is a rare type of school - it is a school/homeschool hybrid. The kids attend school for three days a week, and then they do school-assigned work at home on the other two days.

This school was beyond awesome. I was so impressed! The classes were super small (all under 20 kids), the teachers were wonderful, the principal was amazing, the work they were doing was superb. If anyone here in the valley wants to try this school, I highly recommend it.

And the verdict?

I decided on school #3, the private Christian hybrid school. I had no doubt that it was the best option, though I also loved the Montessori. And so our decision was made.

And yet.... doubts lingered. Doubt, doubt, doubt. Why? I couldn't put my finger on it. During this time (about 6-9 months of time), I had the following conversation with DH - repeatedly ad infinitum:

Me: So, what do you think we should do about the school decision?

DH: Mmm.....

Me: Well, I definitely don't want to homeschool. I don't want to homeschool at all. In fact, I can't homeschool. So that's definitely out. We're going to put our kids in school.

DH: Mmm hmm.

Me: So..... what do you think we should do about the school decision?
We had that conversation multiple times every day. It was beyond frustrating. I didn't want to homeschool, and yet I couldn't feel at peace about putting our kids in school. I was at an impasse.

After several months of running myself ragged on this one (when I have life decisions like this left unmade, I can pretty much drive myself up a wall worrying about them), I decided to do my best (as I wrote previously on this blog) to put down the issue completely (i.e. stop worrying about it, ha!) and pray intensely for God to reveal His will to us about what He wanted us to do.

And, over the next period of time (a couple of months), I became aware of a growing peaceful feeling that homeschooling truly was God's will for our family..... and even, strangely enough, a mild but growing enthusiasm for it.

This is something that I never expected. After the dread and the loathing that I had felt, to feel enthusiastic peace about it? Wow! But that's what happened. And that's where we are right now.

Of course, there are absolutely no guarantees. If you read this blog next month, you will probably see something along the lines of "Well, we decided against homeschooling! Cheers!" The moral of the story being that you should never believe a word that I say. But until then, that is where we are in the journey.

I can point to two concrete events that helped me in this direction.

The first was the birth of our second child. While having children has been a constant exercise in "loosening up" my insanely uptight and overly-planned lifestyle, having a second child took it to a whole new level, to the point where having kids around constantly no longer bothers me like it used to, nor does the clutter and lack of a super-clean house. I'm learning to deal!

Secondly, was AWANA. If you don't know AWANA, I highly recommend it! AWANA is a weekly Christian kids' club for age 3 through high school, and it is an awesome program that has been such a blessing to our family. We started our son in the beginning class this past fall, and it has been great for us... and it also forced me to start "homeschooling" because there are weekly lessons and projects to do at home, and verses to learn. This forced me to get past the initial incompatibility between my son and myself, and to exercise the discipline necessary to get him to do his work (we're still working on quality). Working past that hurdle made me realize that I really could teach my son after all - it wasn't an impossibility.

So that's that! Right now I am in the beginning stages of trying to choose curricula, and other such decisions. The latest monkey wrench is determining timing. We had originally determined to hold our son back a year, which has a great track record of helping boys. However, our son's AWANA teachers have recommended that he move up to the next class (to avoid being left behind as his entire class graduates upward, and being stuck with much younger kids); the only caveat is that entrance into the next class is determined not by age, but by starting kindergarten. So we have to decide whether to stick with the original plan, do full-on kindergarten, or just start some sort of nominal reading program that will qualify him as a kindergartener for the purpose of AWANA.

And that's that! I'd love to answer any questions, and please, again, do not take this as a preachy sermon type of entry. I am not trying to tell anyone's family what to do! This is simply where we feel that we are being led (until further notice!!).

And there you have it.

Have a wonderful weekend, all!

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