Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Accidental Homeschooler

This thread came up recently on one of my homeschool lists. It really made me stop and think about our family's homeschool we arrived at this point and where we are headed.

I never intended to homeschool my kids. If anything, I envisioned myself as the class mom, the PTA president, the mom volunteering with the Scholastic book fairs; you name it, I would have delved in happily. When my oldest was born, we had new neighbors move in next door to us. The father was a Baptist preacher and they had seven children -- and homeschooled all of them. They were kind, wonderful neighbors but I remember thinking they were crazy. Who would choose to homeschool? What could possibly compel parents to keep their kids out of school? I chalked it up to their religious beliefs and, when Hayley turned three, I sent her off to preschool with her best friend down the street.

Preschool was good...and bad. Hayley loved the activities and her teacher but she hated the transition between home and school. And she was terrified by the rough, rowdy boys in her class. She attended three days a week and it would take her entire day off from preschool to decompress. We soldiered on, taking comfort in the fact that her best friend was in her class with her.

Then we moved and kindergarten loomed on the horizon. I struggled with what to do. Her kindergarten would be half-day but it would be every day; how would she handle five days a week? Her preschool class consisted of ten kids; kindergarten would have closer to twenty-five. I called the school and asked if I could observe a classroom and was given a firm "No." It would be disruptive to the teacher and to the children to have an outsider observe the class. That news, combined with the restructuring that was on the horizon for our school district (Hayley would be shuffled between three different schools during her first three years of elementary school) helped solidify my decision. I would keep her home.

Nick turned five soon after and the decision was already made for him. He would stay home, too. Hayley is now in 4th grade and Nick is in 2nd. What has our homeschool journey been like? Bumpy...there have been a lot of potholes along the way as we've struggled to find the style that works best for us. Nick is an unschooler at heart; he hates to sit down and do school, especially subjects he despises. Conversely, Hayley thrives on structure and would be delirious with happiness if I posted a schedule and rang a bell between classes. Throw a rambunctious three year-old into the mix and a mom who is trying to rediscover her passion for writing and it becomes quite clear how most of our days turn into mass chaos.

I like to think we have found a good balance these days. We participate in a weekly co-op that is structured enough for Hayley but hands-on enough to keep Nick happy. They each have found separate activities that they enjoy: Nick is in Cub Scouts and takes piano lessons once a week and Hayley is in Girl Scouts and gymnastics. They both participate in 4-H and can be as involved as they want to with the various activities and events; Hayley dives in head first into everything available.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Not a week goes by that I don't worry I'm not doing enough for my daughter...or that I'm doing more than what my son wants. Will we homeschool forever? Nothing is forever...but if that's what they want and it continues to work, then that's what we'll do.

Do I sometimes long for eight hours of uninterrupted time for myself, to go the grocery store without kids or shop for shoes or spend the whole day writing? Of course! But someday -- all too soon, it seems, as I watch these kids growing up before my eyes -- I will have more than enough time to do those things. And I will long for the days that I did spend with them, taking field trips, going to the park in the middle of a weekday afternoon, and snuggling up and reading books for hours on end simply because we want to. I might even miss those trips to the grocery store.

So we'll soldier on and I'm sure our journey will continue to morph as the kids grow and their needs and interests change. I'm happily along for the ride!