Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why we chose homeschooling

Barabara over at Mommy Life has asked why families choose homeschooling. Since it will be a distraction from waiting for the phone to ring, I thought I'd tell our story. A couple of months ago, when I was cleaning out my desk, I came across an old Baby Blues cartoon. I had completely forgotten about it, but looking at it immediately brought back all the emotions I had upon reading it the first time. The first panel has Wanda and baby Zoe looking out the window at the children leaving for school on the school bus. In the next few panels, Wanda tells Zoe about how she will someday leave for school and Wanda will pack her lunch, etc. Wanda starts out happy and excited about Zoe's future departure for school, but as the cartoon continues she becomes more and more upset until Darryl walks in, sees what's happening and finishes Wanda's litany of "what will happen when..." with, "And then your mother will throw herself in front bus, screaming, 'Not my baby, don't take her away from me yet!'" This cartoon hung on our refrigerator for several years, and looking back, I suppose it's not suprising that we chose to homeschool. I loved my daughter and loved being a mother. It was so much fun watching her learn and figure out things that I didn't want anyone else to experience that instead of me.

So, we didn't send her to preschool....a decision that ended up being far more momentous than it felt at the time. Two other women and I created a preschool co-op for our three girls when M was 3. (And at that age, M was already a year behind in the preschool world.) It met three times a week and rotated houses each week. I think the girls enjoyed it, but you'll notice I never did the same thing for any of the following children or continued it the following year. But doing a small, homemade co-op still was not sufficient answer for the question, "So, where does your daughter go to preschool?" You see, in our area of the country, preschool is king. If your child doesn't go to preschool, it's pretty certain the child has been ruined for life. At least that was how it seemed when I would tell people we weren't sending our daughter to preschool. I'm not sure I would have gotten a stronger reaction if I had said we had already arranged her marriage.

Having weathered public comment on the issue of preschool, skipping school itself actually seemed easy. My flip answer when people ask why we homeschool is to say, "We just never got around to sending our daughter to school." This is not entirely untruthful. By not being in the preschool world, we never heard about kindergarten screening days or kindergarten registration or any other kindergarten readiness activities. Had I really been interested, I could have found this information out. We do have a phone. But I just never got around to making the call. So when the first day of school rolled around, M wasn't registered. I figured I could handle kindergarten level "academics" and so she stayed home and we enjoyed each other...plus the company of B and A who were around by then.

And so it continued; as each year worked, we tried it again the next. I now have a whole host of reasons why we homeschool: flexibility of time, one-on-one tutoring, flexibility of curriculum, positive sibling relationshiops, socialization (the positive kind as opposed the herd-type), but at the top remains the relationships I have with my children, the amount of time I'm able to spend with them, and the joy of watching them learn. I like my children...even the 15 and almost 13 year olds.

So are there downsides to homeschooling? Of course there are...nothing in this world is perfect. Of course there are some days when life falls apart and we don't get any bookwork done. Or there are days when everyone is tetchy and I wish I could go to school somewhere. And we live in our house, all of us, everyday, and it makes messes. My house never looks pristine. But these negatives seem minor to me in comparison to all we gain. And I'm not convinced that a different form of schooling would make any of those negatives go away; they are pretty much part of life.

To be truthful, the most difficult part of homeschooling is being different. Having the general public expect an explanation for why one is different can be tiring. Families hoping to adopt inter-racially are often expected to take classes on being a conspicuous family and how to deal with the public comment that ensues. Being a homescholing family is pretty good training. Just going out in pulic during school hours with a bunch of children invites comment. Most people have a positive response, although every so often I run into someone who either just doesn't get it or feels the need to tell me why it's wrong. Homeschooling has helped me grow a thicker skin and given me confidence to tell those individuals that I don't need to discuss my educational choices with them.

I am so glad that we let the schoolbus drive by 10 years ago. That one decision has changed our lives in profound ways...who our close friends are, what my children have had the opportunity to do, how we view what is important in our lives, and possibly even the size of our family. But most of all it has given us time. I'm sure looking back on how I mothered our children that I will find areas that I regret. As I said, we're not perfect. But one thing I won't regret is not having spent enough time with them. It is a gift for which I am continually grateful.

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