Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Decision to Homeschool

I wrote this a year or two ago. People often ask how I made the decision to homeschool. But it wasn't a single event. I'm still making the decision. Tomorrow could be different. Although after I followed through with the threat described here I stopped making that particular one.

Homeschooling parents knows this: the decision to homeschool is not made once, but every day. Almost every homeschooling parent I know has threatened their child with sending them to school. "Emma, I just give up. If you can't do a page of math I'm just going to have to send you to school." It is usually an idle threat. The parents don't want to send their kids to school, they are just frustrated.

Well, I did it. My kids had never been in school and I put them in 3rd and 1st grade. In the local public school.

For 14 days.

I blogged about it here.

I began contemplating homeschooling when I was pregnant with my first child. I imagined what fun it would be to learn together. But our house was right near the neighborhood school, and another part of me would imagine strolling Ev to the kindergarten, volunteering in the classroom, admiring the walls covered in darling projects.

Ev read well by the time kindergarten rolled around and I still hadn't made a decision. So we ambled over to the neighborhood school to ask for enrollment materials. The frowny bureaucracy behind the counter soured my enthusiasm for the smell of paste. I asked the principal if we could sit in on a Kindergarten class. She said, "Absolutely not."

So we went to check out the Science Magnet School across town. There went my vision of skipping to school hand in hand. We'd have to drive.

The class began with an Open Court reading lesson. Ninety minutes of scripted phonics instruction. "Tuggy the tug boat says Uh! Uh! The letter u says uh!" By the end Ev was tearing at her hair. She had big hunks of it in her hands and was yanking her own head around shouting "The alphabet! The alphabet! When are we going to be done with the alphabet!"

So I decided she was done with the alphabet. We homeschooled K, 1st grade and 2nd grade.

But somewhere along the way I lost my nerve. Maybe it was baby #3. I started to think that maybe our long days of play were not serving the kids. Sure we got studying done in fits and starts, a day of Mesopotamia here and a game of Yahtzee there. But we hadn't done formal math in months.

I was hoping Ev's resistance to it would wane and we could go at it with joy later. But maybe just doing worksheets at school would be better than nothing. So I followed through on the threat and signed them up.

It was new, and a little scary, but the overwhelming feeling they reported was boredom. There was no real learning in the first week, it was all learning the rules. Clem said her teacher was mean. Ev kept saying they hadn't learned anything. Then she came out one day saying she'd had a fantastic day! I was so thrilled. But we had to wait to get around the corner for her to tell me about it. She unrolled her shirt to reveal a bird skeleton.

"I can't believe I got this all the way from recess to home! I was sure if someone discovered it they would say it was dirty and make me throw it away."

So she was trying to homeschool at school, learning on the sly. And she was internalizing some of the schooly ruly stuff. One day she told me, "I like one of the girls at my table when we are outside, but inside," voice lowered and with disdain, "inside she has poor feet and chair habits."

And they were ahead in everything, even though we hadn't been doing anything but listening to Story of the World on CD in the car, or Multiplication Motivation, going to the library, reading books, going to the store. No workbooks, no curriculum and they were fine.

Clem knew more about teaching phonics than her teacher. One night in the bath she told me, "My teacher thinks the letter `s' says `suh'. She puts an `uh' after all the sounds. I said `ssss' and she said, `No, suh'."

So I pulled them out.

School is not for us.

Not today, anyway.


stefaneener said...

I'm struggling very hard this week with the same issue -- again.

Let's talk soon.

patricia said...

I love the story of the smuggled bird skeleton. That really says it all, doesn't it?