Friday, May 12, 2017

Making the Decision to Homeschool

It's been a long time coming, friends, this decision to homeschool. A long time.

Even though I started thinking about (read: researching endlessly online and talking to anyone who would listen) homeschooling when B was a toddler, I still wasn't sure it was the right path for us. For so many reasons! My daughter is an extrovert. I'm definitely an introvert. I doubted my ability to be both mom AND the person in charge of making the learning happen

Homeschooling itself is swimming upstream from the culture of school -- throw in having an only child, and you're now not only swimming upstream, you're in an entirely different body of water altogether. With only a handful of other people having the same experience. Did I mention my daughter is a social butterfly, and loves being around friends?

But there were things that I knew:

  • I knew that I wanted more time with my child.
  • I knew I wanted to keep her love of learning alive.
  • I knew she learned best by moving, while using her hands.
  • (Also by asking endless questions.)
  • I knew she was most definitely NOT a morning person.
  • I knew school was NOT what it was when I was a kid.

Still, I also knew that I struggled to keep up with my endlessly social girl, and that the "being with friends all day" aspect of school could be a very good thing. One of the challenging (and guilt-inducing) things about motherhood for me was the realization that I desperately needed quiet, alone time. Motherhood didn't look and feel like I had expected it to. I don't know what my expectations were, precisely, but I was one TIRED mama.

So when the time came, we enrolled her in preschool. A fun, faith-filled preschool.

And preschool was pretty darn awesome. Two hours, three times a week. Lots of play and friendships for my super social little extrovert, and quiet cups of tea for mama.

If only.

If only school could be like preschool. Learning through play, an environment where the parents agreed that the teachers could gently correct behavior and instill kindness. Where birthdays are celebrated joyfully.

Where there are songs and stories and light tables and magnets and legos.

Kindergarten time came, and I got a reprieve: with a late summer birthday, B was not *quite* ready for the intense curriculum (writing) of school at just-turned-5. So, we decided on another fun year of preschool, hooray!

Finally, a year later, it was time for full-day kindergarten. There was no half-day option in our school system any longer (which I would have opted for, giving us another year before needing to wake up super early). There were many mornings of the teacher holding my crying girl, who would have chased me out the door, while this crying mama walked, head down, through the hall and out the front door.

Making rain!

"It will be OK," everyone said.

"She is fine and happy now!" her sweet teacher would email me 15 minutes later. And she was. She had a great teacher who loved hands-on learning and art, she did amazing things within the structure of the learning expectations for kindergarten.

And yet:
  • I learned that my kid still wasn't a morning person.
  • I learned that even in kindergarten, there were mean kids.
  • I learned that I got the leftovers: the tired, cranky, end-of-the-day version of my daughter.
  • I learned that my new role was Homework Enforcer.
  • I learned that kindergarten was what first grade used to be (SO much work for these little ones).

And so summer break came, and I breathed a sigh of relief and turned off the alarm clock. And I thought, again, about homeschooling -- and how it would be fabulous to never have to turn that alarm on again. I brought it up to my husband, who was reluctant for a number of reasons. Highest on the list was keeping me from putting too much on my shoulders.

And so, first grade.

The problems started right away. My daughter missed the first couple of days due to a nasty stomach bug, and struggled with the new routine, even knowing many kids in her class.

The workload each day was intense and very fast-paced, something I would see for myself in coming volunteer days. We had bedtime tears and pleas not to go back. Remembering kindergarten, I assured B that she would find her groove, that change was hard, but we believed in her and that we loved her.

It did not get easier. Or better. In fact, it got worse.

While my sweet girl managed to get through her school days (her teacher assured me she was fine in class) she was struggling.

One day, I learned from mom friends that she was telling her friends at recess to "Leave me ALONE!!" -- and not kindly. I couldn't believe it!

Kindness is an endlessly-taught value in our home, and I was shocked to find my outgoing kiddo not only treating her friends this way, but also choosing to spend her recess time alone in a corner of the field.

After a few weeks, all of the pent-up emotions started to come out at home, and it was hard. Hard isn't really descriptive enough, but I'm not yet ready to tell that part of our story. It was one of the hardest seasons of parenting we've yet been through. We did everything we could think of to help. I met with the principal at school. We reached out for help in every way that was suggested to us. We prayed. And prayed, and prayed.

I spent many, many nights crying myself to sleep. (Which, in motherhood, is not uncommon.)

My daughter started to say things like, "I'm a terrible writer mom. YES. I AM." And, "I can NEVER finish in the time I have. I'm no good at school. I can't learn anything." And, finally, "I don't like me, mom." The heartbreak I felt at that moment is hard to describe. How could my sweet, funny, smart, creative 7-year-old think those things?

One afternoon not long after, as I was driving us home from school, the thought popped into my head: "It's time. It's not working. It's time to homeschool."

Still, it took another couple of months to finally reach the point at which I was ready to write the letter formally withdrawing my daughter from school. We had a rest on Christmas break and thought perhaps it would be a bit of a reset. We started to see B's joy come back. There was plenty of sleep. But as soon as school started again, she lost what she had gained.

Deciding to homeschool is a bit like walking up the edge of a cliff, and looking out into the clear air. If we jump, will we fly?

We jumped. We flew. The decision was terrifying until it was done, and then I felt a deep sense of relief and joy. I have no idea what the path ahead will hold or what we will find that works. But we WILL find what works.
Getting artsy with the water cycle.

Here's what I know:
  • We will get enough sleep.
  • We can move while we learn. Every day.
  • We can spend as much time as we need with our science experiments. With our writing.
  • We can look up how to spell words. All the words.
  • We can travel with Dad on some of his business trips!
  • We can explore co-ops, homeschool programs, and lots of activities.
  • We can rest when we are sick.

TL;DR - Why We Decided to Homeschool

The current curriculum prescribes throwing a TON of information at kids every day. This is a big, big change from how we educated 5-8 year olds when I was in elementary school. (Yes, I realize I'm aging myself.) For instance, in kindergarten (half day) we learned our letters, counting, and had a nap and a snack every day. My kindergarten experience was pretty much my daughter's preschool experience. We were not expected to read: that was first, and second, grade.

So not only are the academics intense, but there is also less time to play and be physical.

To be clear: I am still a supporter of public schools. Teachers and school administrators are superheroes who deserve all of our support. Period. While many in the homeschool community bash public schools, I will not. Teachers and administrators are doing amazing things every day with very little to work with and unbelievable demands for student progress. They care about kids. The principal at my daughter's school knew every kid by name and would call them out to encourage them as she walked by! If, at some point, my daughter decides she would like to go back to school, I will absolutely support her.

Writing her first line of code. 

At the same time, I do passionately support educational choice for kids and families, because there are kids for whom the structure and pace of school simply don't work. Not everyone can, or would want to, homeschool. But the option should be there.

Bullying is real, and kids are smart. Kids can find a way to be mean that looks like playground games. And they can be relentless.

They grow up too fast. I blinked and my baby is 7. I really and truly LOVE spending time with my kiddo. She is funny and creative, compassionate and goofy. I do not want to give up these years together.

My husband's career is not a 9-to-5 schedule where we all sit around the dinner table each night. His job involves long hours, travel, and nighttime meetings. Homeschooling will help our lives fit together in a way that allows B more time with her Dad, and us more time as a family.

The homeschool community is broad and deep, even in my small town. There are legions of curriculum choices. There are co-ops and all kinds of opportunities for swimming, martial arts, dance, gymnastics. The glories of the internet contain resources, courses, and knowledge that span every interest. There is no fear that we cannot learn what needs to be learned, or that we cannot experience learning with friends and peers.

So that's the beginning of our story. What is yours?

Are you thinking about homeschooling? Veteran homeschooler? Happy public school parent?

Comment below and let's support each other!


  1. Kim, this is such a great piece of writing. I agree with everything that you wrote and your daughter is SO SO LUCKY to have such a wonderful advocate like you in her corner.

    1. Thank you, Stephanie!! You brought tears to my eyes. Choosing to homeschool is hard and I still have days where I miss the "fun stuff" of school. But we are finding our path and my daughter is thriving. It has totally changed the atmosphere of our home, too -- an unexpected benefit!

  2. After reading this I think your daughter will do well with home schooling. I have family friends who home school their children and they have done an amazing job. I hope it works out great for your daughter!

  3. This is fascinating. Homeschooling isn't really the done thing over here in the UK and it generally seems frowned upon but as someone who hated every waking minute of school and was bullied terribly, I now understand why you would do it. Lots of luck to all of you <3

    1. Thanks so much, Claire. Homeschooling is a growing movement all over the world! I'm so sorry that school was such a terrible experience for you. Part of my own challenge in becoming a homeschool mom was that school was mostly a positive experience for me, and I looked forward to sharing some of those experiences. But none of those experiences are worth the pain and struggle that my daughter went through, most of which is not written here. Thanks for your kind words!

  4. I am one for whom public school was immensely successful. I was a straight A student for most of my years, always in honors courses, and received many academic awards. I received a half-time scholarship to an incredible private university. I am smart. I enjoyed school. And still--today I homeschool.

    See, I believe there's more to education than memorizing facts and "achieving" at the expected level. Though I enjoyed succeeding and excelling in school, it wasn't until I was achieving 21 year old first time mother that I realized I truly loved to LEARN. Memorizing facts? No, I don't enjoy that. I simply enjoyed the praise I received for doing it well. But LEARNING? I love to learn. 13 years of public school never taught me to love learning. 1 year of motherhood taught me that. In that first year as a mother, I learned more about nutrition and healthful living than anyone I know. Because I loved it. Then I began to research personality types. Eventually, I began to research curriculum, for by then I had realized that I wanted MY children to know this joy as well.

    By the way, that fabulous scholarship to a great school? I lasted one quarter. That's when I realized that I didn't WANT a college degree and all the debt that accompanies it (even with a scholarship, I still owed 5 grand for thar first quarter). Instead, I wanted to be a wife and mother. I have NEVER, even for a second, regretted that decision. My husband has a certificate instead of a BA. He works in a field he's b passionate about and makes a very good living for our family. Traditional "education" isn't the end all that we've been raised to believe. Knowledge will take you far in life, but without wisdom there will be little joy.

    I want my children to know joy.

    1. YES!!! Public school was successful for me, too, Jessi. I love to learn as well. Reading is a passion, and nothing is more fun than digging in to research a new idea or something I heard about that intrigues me. I want to pass on THAT kind of passion -- because that love of learning means you can learn anything you need to. I've read accounts of homeschool kids who decide to go to college, and didn't yet have higher-level math. They simply started digging in and covered years' worth of material in months.

      The joy factor is HUGE for me too.