I don't know many homeschoolers personally. Well, I only know of one person that homeschooled that I have actually met. It's not popular in my circle of friends. It never really crossed my mind until the beginning of 2013. When most of the schools here in Anderson started becoming magnet schools in 2011-2012, I applied. The school that I wanted was not a magnet school at the time and we weren't in the market to move into the district, but I applied for a second choice school. We didn't make the lottery pull, so to our zoned school we went--for Kindergarten. The following year, my school of choice opened up for magnet and we applied again. This time it was a success. It is what I consider the best, most advanced elementary school in the county. Not only that, the teachers are wonderful because they LOVE their job. About halfway into the school year, money was getting really tight. It was mainly because we were a magnet family. The school we were zoned for and the school we went to are clear across town from each other, both being borderline to a different district. I passed four elementary schools to get to our school. I didn't mind driving 25 minutes one way to get my daughter to school, but the gas was killing me. I spent $340 a month in gas to go to that school. That's why money became tight.
In the latter part of 2012, the idea of homeschooling looked like a possibility. I think I thought of it briefly though, as if it were something I could do, but wouldn't really do. I figured I'd just keep on trucking it to school everyday, forking out tons of money for gas because it was "best for the kids". Even I thought the worst about homeschooling in the back of mind: the socialization part, the weird factor, and the stereotype that comes to mind when you think about what a homeschooled child might look like or act like. I didn't get much past those issues to even think about whether or not I was capable of even teaching them everything they learn in public school.
Then Sandy Hook happened.
It's a good thing I'm typing and not talking because it still devastates me. It was during that time that I thought about homeschooling again--seriously. I read. I researched. I read. I researched. I learned SO much. I learned that there were people, who are just like me, who have always homeschooled and would never think of doing it any other way. I spent every possible spare minute I had reading blogs from other moms who homeschool. How wonderful they made it seem! They get to spend all of that time with their kids. They get to see them read their first words. They get to see them learn new concepts in math. They get to work side by side with them on every project. Their kids are not subjected to the culture of public school, learning bad words and lots of other facts about life that make them grow up WAY too fast.
But what about socialization?
That was my first question. That's all you hear about. Kids in public school are socialized while homeschoolers are hermits who never meet anyone and don't know how to communicate well with others. So I researched some more. I found out that homeschooled children are actually more socialized than public school kids because they are out and about in life, everyday, interacting with the actual public and learning how to communicate and socialize with others by watching mom and dad in the real world. You take them places. You meet new people. You find a nursing home and you take your kids to read or sing or just talk to the residents. You find a soup kitchen and you show your kids how to help others. You encourage your kids to say hello to the clerk at the grocery store, and maybe even ask them how their day is going. You teach them how to have meaningful relationships with people of all ages, not just a bunch of 6-7 year olds who are just imitating each other. What's that! What are kids learning in public school to socialize them? Well, I'll tell you. They are learning what clothes are "in". They are learning that everyone needs a smartphone at least by the 3rd grade. They are learning how to distinguish themselves from other groups of kids by looks, finances, speech, disabilities, and everything else that seems different to them. They are learning that people are different and channeling that difference into something bad thanks to public school socialization. It may turn into, "I don't like her because she's not cool." How ugly. And we're all human. We've all been there. Maybe some weren't mean by voicing it out right, but a lot are.
Already, in the first grade, my little Teagan came home from school and said that she and her friends weren't friends with a certain little girl anymore. When I asked why, she said that the little was mean so they just weren't going to be her friend. It broke my heart. And what the little girl did was nothing, but you have this group of girls who didn't like something about her and BOOM. They are not her friend. I explained to Teagan that it was no reason to decide she wasn't worthy of her friendship and that I didn't want her to be that kind of person--the kind of person who can turn off a friendship with someone she had been friends with since the beginning of school, just because that's what the majority decided. It all worked itself out, but I still hated that it had to start in the 1st grade. Some people may have the argument that it's life skills. The kids learn how to handle problems by participation. But then a new piece of research fell into my lap that helped me move on from this issue. I can't remember where exactly I read it, so I apologize, but it made so much sense.
What I got from it was: You can send your kid to school to run into problems so they can learn how to handle them themselves, or you don't have to. I prefer to teach my children about what actually goes on in the real world before I throw them to the sharks. I teach them about friendship, and bullies, and honesty, and integrity, and I provide them with the skills and character they need so that when they do go out into the world they are better prepared to handle situations that may come about. I want to teach them the proper way to react. I want to teach them good decision making. Drama queens and bullies don't go away when you graduate Kindergarten, fifth grade, or high school. Those problems will always be around as long as humans live on Earth. Why would I not want my children to have all the skills necessary to handle situations! Why would I want them to learn this vital life skill from a 7 year old! If they are allowed to handle their particular situation in public school and it's not the proper way to handle it, they face consequences. And that is how they are supposed to learn--through consequences. Maybe it's silent lunch. Maybe it's missed recess. Whatever it is, it's wrong in my eyes because they haven't had a chance to figure out how to handle it the right way. Call it sheltering or common sense. The choice is yours. The same thinking for me goes along with having hurt feelings. I want to build a mentally strong child. I know everything can't be taught, but I think that by teaching them what I can about life and people first, they will have a better understanding and be ready for anything that is thrown at them.
Another thing about homeschooling and socialization is that there is little time left for extracurricular activities like dance, music lessons, and sports. Homeschoolers have a chance to be involved in a lot of activities outside of public school. Since I have four kids, could you imagine my life if they were all in some sort of out of school activity? Talk about crazy. Send me to the loony house. Though kids will not be "socializing" with their peers all day in public school, homeschooled kids will still have time to get to know kids their age through these extracurriculars. Who said it had to be in a public school setting. There's dance, gymnastics, and county rec sports to name a few.
But do you like your kids that much? To stay at home with them ALL day?
Yes, I do. We get along great. I credit my patient nature. After having four kids, patience was a MUST. I will admit that sometimes I feel like I am losing my mind. Sometimes I blow my top. Sometimes I raise my voice and I may or may not feel horrible about it. And that is all before homeschooling started. So why would I think that I could feel sane homeschooling if I sometimes feel like going crazy while they are in public school? Because the craziness is stemming from things that can be changed.
My normal, crazy-mom behavior stems from the pile of clean clothes that have been mixed in with dirty ones because three little girls played dress up that day. It comes from the dishes that were left on the end table in the living room. It comes from the box of Legos that was dumped out in the living room floor before all the Barbie's were picked up from the bedroom floor. It comes from a half a tube of toothpaste that was purposely squeezed into the bathroom sink and on the counter. It comes from five people that get a new glass every time they're thirsty. Normal stuff that kids do--kids that have never really had to clean it themselves. They've been told to do it, and harped on, and fussed at, but in the end have never really had to clean up after themselves unless mama went bat-shit crazy...which is seldom.
So you may say, "Well, why don't you just teach them to clean up after themselves? A little responsibility never hurt anybody at the ages of 5 and 7."
Because I'd rather save the argument. I get it done faster if I just do it myself. And everything in my house has always been in the "let's do it now" fast mode. And I'll be honest, I had too much going on while the kids were in public school to "teach" them responsibility. I have a friend whose third grader is so responsible. She even picked up toys at my house that she had been playing with before she got out something else, and told my girls that was what she was doing. I was shocked and so envious of what she had learned from her parents! I have four kids to do for, cook for, wash clothes for, brush teeth for, give baths to, wash dishes for (because the dishwasher is broken), and we are always rushing. So I don't feel like I have time to ask someone to pick up their shoes 3 times before they start to act like they moving a little bit. I just do it. It's easier. But don't get me wrong.
I want my kids to be responsible.
I just can't do it like others can. And by bedtime the mess is so big that they don't have time to pick up what they've destroyed because they'll be late for bed and feel lousy in the morning.
When the kids were in public school we were always in a hurry. I felt like I was always telling someone to brush their teeth fast, get their clothes on fast, get in the car fast, eat your breakfast or supper fast, get in the bed fast. My most voiced phrase was "We're going to be late." I am late for everything. I try to tell others that when you have four kids to get ready, it's nearly impossible to be on time unless we start 3-4 hours before, and sometimes more if someone is grumpy. (I have often wondered why am still so overweight with all the stuff I have to do!)
Homeschooling appealed to me for that reason as well. I want to relax. I want to not be late. I want my kids to relax and not stress over my words. I want to take the time to teach them responsibility. I want them to know that we do have time to wash up the dishes after breakfast and make our beds in the morning. I want them to get into that habit because it's just what we do--it's what we have time for because we don't have to get ready for school and leave at 7 am. And now we do have time. They're just kids, they need time to learn the ways of doing things and a mom who doesn't just do it for them because it quicker. I guess you could look at it like "I need to restructure their way of life." It's not something I can do when public school takes up all their time. And that is something else I found interesting about school.
Homeschooling takes 4-5 hours, so why are my kids in gone for 7 or 8?
Well, it's because public school takes the time out to teach them how to line up and walk down the hall in an orderly fashion, and how to do busywork while the teacher takes care of business, and how to go through the lunch line to get a tray and how to dispose of their trash and put their tray up when lunch is over.
I once read that a teacher's actual teaching time in public school is about 1.5 hours. The rest is just "stuff". What a waste. And I am not talking about the teachers (who are hired as teachers but are expected to babysit and teach on a lot more than the lesson for entirely too small of a salary). The waste is where the kids are concerned. Those little minds are at the right age to soak up so much information. They were born learners. If that curiosity isn't fed the right, challenging, interesting information, they begin to be bored and frustrated with school. I want my kids to love learning and be active learners in everything they do--from the time they wake up until the time they close their eyes at night. But they aren't learning what they should know while they are in public school. It's not like it used to be. Now the burden of standardized testing is weighing on the system.
Do homeschooled kids have to take the standardized tests?
No. They don't have to. Thank goodness! Those tests are a big, fat joke. They don't even test the kids for grade that counts for them. The grade is for the schools and teachers. High scores mean more/continuous funding for the school. Low scores mean less/no funding and teacher demotions, pay raise freezes, and ...gasp... pink slips.
No wonder they are teaching to the test. So the government or education leaders or whoever, get together and decide what kids of a certain age need to know. It's a bag full of information that they feel is pertinent to being like the rest of the kids in the entire nation. Come to think of it, I'd like to know who actually decides the "common core" and what research they've done to determine why this information is important. But anyway, the thing is, that we now have textbooks in public school that align with the state standardized tests. The kids are taught the information that will be on the tests, taught how to take the tests by answering similar questions daily or weekly, and then hopefully pass it with flying colors so the school can continue to get their money. If the subject matter is not something that will be on the test, it's not important. So they take out art, music, cursive handwriting, math fact drills, and other little stuff that makes a big difference in the kids' lives--in my opinion. And it's all for the funding. Our kids spend so much time bubbling in answers for the school to get money. A joke. They do not care about our children or the richness of their education, they care about that money and their jobs. Wouldn't you if you were faculty at a public school? It's really sad that a teacher goes through college with a dream of enriching lives, only to babysit unruly kids, teach what's on a state mandated test, and have to buy his/her supplies with their own money out of their crappy salary.
So all that time in the days and weeks after Sandy Hook, I had been researching homeschooling and this is some of what I was learning. It was great. It was right. I wanted to homeschool right then! It just made so much sense. People used to homeschool. That used to be the only way an education was attained. It was expensive to get an education. You had to be able to pay for tutors and private instructors or be wealthy enough to go to a school "back in the day." And the educations that these people received were so rich. They were taught to ask questions and find answers. Maybe it was because they had an excellent student to teacher ratio.
So kids who have a student to teacher ratio of 20:1 are not smart?
No, they are smart. I will not deny that there have been some really smart kids go through public school and do extremely well. But I will put it out there that there have probably been a lot of smart kids who weren't ever given the opportunity to spread their wings and fly. As a homeschooler, I am given the opportunity to do just that. There is no strict daily schedule to keep or certain worksheets to cover on certain topics. Sure, homeschoolers in my state have to teach the common core subjects of math, reading, science, social studies, and writing, but how we do it and the course we take is up to us. If I notice that my child has an intensified interest in sea animals during our study of ocean life, I can take the time to feed that curiosity. Maybe one day she'll be a marine biologist, you know? Maybe that's her calling. In public school, there is no room for the interests of one child to be magnified. There is a schedule. There are other kids who may not have the same interests. There's just no time for that. Sorry.
It's the same thing when you are looking at the education level of the students in one class. Twenty kids are learning the same information at the same pace. You have some kids who soak it up and get bored, and some that just take a little longer to retain it. Both end up frustrated, but there is a schedule to keep. And if your child didn't learn it? "Well, maybe they'll pick it up in the next lesson because we have to move on." Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, if the child didn't learn it, they still get promoted to the next grade. There are many kids who should have learned the information just a little bit better. Maybe they needed an extra day or week to master the material. At any rate, they are promoted, and that just screws it up for everyone else. The material gets "dumbed down" and kids just get a slower, more remedial lesson. Have you ever wondered why the United States is so far behind other countries in math and science? By the time high school graduation comes, you wonder how some kids passed the 5th grade. If you want to grow something wonderful, take the time to nurture and feed it.
Ok, so now I am ready to homeschool, but should I do it? Can I do it if I don't know everything?
Yes, I can!
Because homeschooling has become more popular over the years, there is a magnitude of curriculum choices for parents to use....and there's internet! If you don't know something, Google it, or learn it from your parent/teacher manual of the particular course you are teaching. You don't have to be a genius to teach your child how to be excited about learning. It's all there. All you need is patience and the understanding that homeschooling is much different than public school. You do not need a classroom. You do not need strict institutional structure. You just need drive. And if you can't see now, where my drive came from, then you haven't been reading!
I started my search on homeschooling because I was afraid. I was afraid that one day, some lunatic with an A-K 47 was going to walk through my child's school, a place they had to go because it's mandatory and the government said I had to send them there, and start shooting. I was afraid that I would have to identify one of my babies through bullet holes and destruction. I was afraid that I'd see it on the news before the school had a chance to call. Or maybe I would get the call first...
But then, in my research, something happened.
I forgot about the reason I had initially typed "homeschooling" in the search bar. I was so excited about what those other homeschooling moms were feeling and seeing while teaching their children at home. I wanted to feel it too. I wanted to bond with and have a whole hearted relationship with my children just like them. I wanted my children to bond with each other and learn real-life responsibilities like chores, character virtues, and money management--aside from "common core".
So then I wondered how to tell if it was right for me.
I started searching that specific phrase and got a lot of answers.
I learned that it is right if you love spending time with your children; like non-stop, all the time, time with your children. If you need a break, it's not for you. If it were up to me, the kids would never leave my side. That's in my favor.
I learned that it requires a lot of time, so it is good for parents with one income or those who can afford to go from two incomes to one. Guess what...I don't work. Probably never will thanks to Crohn's Disease. So I stay at home all day anyway. That's in my favor.
I learned that the kids and spouse need to be on board as well. Respect your spouse's input. Respect your child's wishes and thoughts on the matter. If they don't want to homeschool, don't do it. Showing your children respect goes a long way. It ended up that both of my middle girls wanted to try homeschooling. That's in my favor.
I learned that you should not choose to homeschool because of certain reasons. For example, if a teacher made you mad, or because all your friends are doing it, or, of all things, out of fear. Luckily, I was so deep into the good stuff about homeschooling, my homeschool search based on fear had turned out to be just the tiny little stepping stone that provided me with the motivation I was supposed to have. After learning from the other homeschool blogs, it was almost as if
homeschooling my children is what I am supposed to be doing.
That is my calling.
Of course, there is a downside to homeschooling. It may not be for me. I may do it a year and go even crazier than I ever thought I could! But if I don't at least try, I'll never know. I may never get to experience the joy these other mom's talk about and live.
So I learned that it's OK if it doesn't work. It's OK to put your kids back in public school. I have nothing to lose. They are still going to learn what they are supposed to learn. It will just be that they get to do it at home, in a different setting.
I learned that it's not easy. It may take a long time to find your groove in homeschooling, but there are so many different ways of getting it done we could spend 10 years changing up the routine before we figure it out, and then it still be a little off...and it's OK!
Some of the other good information I found was
that if homeschooled students actually did take the standardized test after homeschooling for a few years, 60% actually test 2-4 grade levels higher than their peers.
I learned that by teaching my children how to independently learn, if I facilitate their learning, they do better in college and in life. Colleges love homeschooled kids because of their active participation in life growing up. Colleges love homeschooled kids because they know how to think deeper about any given topic. After all, they were challenged in their schooling, unlike public schools.
I learned that you can go fast or slow, it's up to you. If you child is zooming through the math book at record speed and has finished it before the school year, feel free to start the next grade level. Also, if your child needs a little more practice, feel free to slow it down to what works for them so they will have a chance to master it before moving on. It's your school! Do what works best for your child!
And probably most importantly, I learned that it's all about books. Fun books, stupid books, informational books, fiction, fantasy, and every other kind of book there is. A child who loves to read will learn so much more than a child who doesn't. There is so much to be learned from reading.
What do I think after my first week of homeschooling?
It's a more comfortable setting for all of us so far. There is no rush to get things done. "School" starts at 9 am, breaks between 11 and 12pm, resumes around 1 pm, and breaks between 2 and 3. I work some of the lessons out in the evening when we're settling for bed, like journal writing or reading library books that are specific to a subject. We take our time to teach and learn and live.
My toddler is the real challenge right now, and we are working to resolve the issue--trying to find ways to interest her and allow us to keep moving because we do actually have to follow rules.
What are the rules? Are you legal?
Yes, we are legal. We have three options in the state of South Carolina to legally homeschool our children.
Option 1: We can go through the school district, doing everything they say, teaching from our own curriculum, and taking the same yearly, state standardized test as public school students...even though our children don't necessarily learn the same material. In turn, if our children don't pass the test, we may be required to put them back in public school. Law requires students be taught in the core subjects, have lesson plans, progress reports, a portfolio of our child's work per year, and teach at least 180 days of the year.
Option 2: We can go through the South Carolina Homeschool Association which requires the same identical information and duties as the school district, including taking standardized tests, but without having to report to the district and having many more resources made available to us.
Option 3: We can join a homeschool association that provides accountability services and requires us to do almost everything the first two options do with a few differences and the option to take standardized tests.
Of course, I am a 3rd option homeschooler.
So what do the kids think?
I would say they are most excited about being able to pick out their own clothes, no matter what, and fix their own hair, no matter what. And it's really kind of awesome. They get to be who they want to be. They get to find their own style and go with it. They do not have to conform to society's idea of normal if they don't want to. Yes, I guide them to insure they learn how to match outfits and be modest in their choices, but they are learning independence as well.
For me personally, I worry about the normal (I guess) things a homeschooler would worry about. I worry that I will fail my children. I worry that one day, if we have homeschooled all the way to graduation, they will wish they had been able to experience public school. And, I worry that years down the road something will happen to me and there is no one around that will take the time, or be able, to pick up where I left off, forcing them back into the system before they're ready.
But, I suppose if I spend all my time worrying, homeschooling won't be very fulfilling. =)