This is not a homeschool blog. I don't often write here about the work I do with my daughters Monday through Friday. I don't share lesson plans or teaching tips. That's because this blog is not about what I do, but why I do it. This blog is about my heart. If you're a friend or a stranger, you may have wondered at one time or another about why we are homeschooling. I offer this post not as justification, but as explanation of how our journey has led us here.
I have been a homeschooler for 18 months now. A little over two years ago, my daughter A was finishing up 4th grade at our local elementary school. (In Nashville's public school system, elementary schools are K-4, middle schools 5-8 and high schools 9-12.) As many local families do, we put A's name in the lottery for several area magnet schools. I did so with some trepidation. I had heard about heavy work loads for the nearby academic magnet school and wondered how A would balance 9 hours of dance weekly with hours of homework nightly. It turns out I needn't have worried because our lottery results made it abundantly clear that God was closing that door for us. A was 400something on one waiting list, 60something on another. Sounded like we better give that homeschooling option a bit more thought.
Over the months leading up to those lottery results, I had begun to ponder homeschooling. I'd always thought of it as an all or nothing proposition - you either did it for 13 years or not at all. Yet several years prior a friend had planted a seed by saying her plan was to send her children to public elementary school, homeschool for middle school and let her children decide for high school. This sounded far more appealing to me. I didn't have to sign on for the rest of my children's schooling? I could take it year by year? That was a path I might be able to walk.
I was nervous. I have known for years that I am introvert and as J and I talked this through, his biggest question was, "Can you do this and be nice to the rest of us?" It was a question worth asking. As we contemplated A's middle school destination, K was mid-way through kindergarten. It was the first year I'd had all three daughters in full time school. Was I really willing to give up all of that time alone to homeschool?
More to the point, could I make it work? Could I choose the right curriculum for A? Did I know enough to teach? Would her sisters be jealous of her freedom? Would A be jealous of their school celebrations and socializing? After much praying and talking and more praying, it seemed like the only way to know was to try it.
That first semester didn't go as I expected. I tried to be self-aware and prevent myself from becoming a hard-driving type A mom who was overly demanding. I did not want to damage my relationship with A for the sake of her education. So I erred on the side of planning as we went. I didn't write down our lesson plans - I just told her what was next. By Thanksgiving, we needed a break from our regular routine, so we tried a Thanksgiving unit study. A enjoyed it, so I looked for another one for Advent. I couldn't find anything that was at her level - everything was either too easy or too hard - so I combined two studies and created a written plan for her.
We've never gone back to my original way of doing school. A likes having a written plan. She enjoys seeing what's coming and likes marking off what she's done. And I inadvertently stumbled upon one of my greatest strengths as a teacher: I know my students. Instead of insisting we revert to doing school the way I had envisioned, I listened to A and did it her way. That has continued to be a mainstay of my approach. Whether it's adding Latin, choosing a science topic or scheduling frequent field trips, I try to think about what my daughters need (as people AND as students) while planning their schooling.
God has continued to keep the doors to public school options closed for us and my own love of homeschooling has grown:
I love the pace of life it offers us. A can dance, B can do art and basketball and no one is juggling a homework load. They have time to read more books than you can imagine. They get to play together. They are not rushing from one thing to another. They simply learn at their own pace and have grown to see learning as just one part - not the entirety - of their lives.
I love customizing their education. Both A and B are doing 6th grade math this year, even though B is only in 5th grade. It has pushed her, but in a good way. A's math skills were one of my concerns when we started homeschooling and I've seen both her skills and her confidence steadily improve. That feels good - to me and to her.
I love spending time with my daughters. You hear all the time that they grow up so quickly - and they do. When A turned 9, I realized she was halfway through her time in our home. Whether it's visiting an art museum or learning a math lesson, I enjoy my daughters' company.
There are also a few things I don't like so much:
I don't like the confrontation required to get my middle daughter to do her work. The same daughter who loves the freedom of homeschooling doesn't like that I impinge on that freedom. It's tiring.
I don't like that I'm constantly wondering whether I am teaching too much - or too little. Yet I'm convinced this is the way any good parent feels with many aspects of parenting. It's nearly impossible to tell whether we're getting it right or wrong. And it's completely impossible to always get it right. I simply have to keep doing my best.
I don't like feeling the judgment of others about my decision. I don't judge people for sending their children to public, private or parochial schools, so why do they judge me? I believe there is more than one right path for each family's education and that we should each be deciding for our children based on their needs and our family's needs, not based on what others have chosen.
I am not someone who believes that homeschooling is the only answer for education. I don't think it's for everyone. I do think it's been eye-opening for me to see that we don't have to teach our children one way just because that's how it's done. Much of the structure of our existing school system has more to do with cost efficiency than learning efficacy. So I don't think it's wrong to say that homeschooling is a better way for my daughters to learn right now.
Homeschooling was not an impulsive decision for us. Nor has its continuation been. I'm sure there are as many reasons to homeschool as their are families who do it. For now, I'm just going to do my best to keep walking down the path I feel God has set our family on.