One of the most frequently asked questions posed to homeschooling parents is, “why did you decide to homeschool?” Friends ask it. Extended family asks it. Public school teachers ask it. Potential homeschoolers and long term homeschoolers ask it. Strangers at the grocery store ask it. Most of the time, a brief reply is sufficient. But sometimes, a long, in-depth background story can be helpful to others considering a similar path.
My brief answer is simple and brooks no argument: “It’s what we feel is best for our family.” Who can argue with that? It’s short, sweet, and to the point.
But what brought us to this point, what started us on this amazing journey, is much more involved. And long. Very very long. I had never planned to homeschool my children. Even when I was in college, working toward my English degree, my plan was to write books while my kids were in school.
When our oldest was preschool age, we did a sort of co-op preschool with other families in our neighborhood. We took turns teaching in our homes. Every 6 weeks, it was my turn to teach these cute children for about 2.5 hours on Wednesday morning. It was so much fun! I enjoyed it far more than I anticipated.
But when it came time for kindergarten, I was a nervous wreck. All the “what ifs” ran through my mind. I considered sending her to a local charter school, but in the end decided the regular public school would be a better fit. I didn’t even consider homeschooling. I was pretty dead set against it. It was ok for other families, but not for mine. I didn’t think I could do it. I thought I needed a break. Although…I quickly found it’s not really a break when there are younger kids in the home.
Kindergarten was ok. It wasn’t bad. At the time, my husband was in grad school. His last year of school was our daughter’s first year of school! His classes at the time were in the afternoon, in the evening, or online. This allowed me to volunteer in her classroom without taking her little brothers along. While the school year itself wasn’t terrible, there were a lot of things that rubbed me the wrong way. I saw too much attitude from so many of these little kindergartners. They could be really snotty, and the teacher didn’t always see it. How could she when there were 25 of them and 1 of her? One of the snottiest kids was extra nice to the teacher, so she was one of her favorites. But she was consistently downright rude to me. Some of the kids even told me about playing M rated video games at home! In kindergarten. Granted, that’s more of a parenting thing than a public school thing, but it bothered me. These were my daughter’s peers, the kids she theoretically “should” become friends with. They were the “cool” kids, the popular ones. And I didn’t like that one bit.
I also hated the homework. I don’t think kindergartners should have homework. Most of the time, it was easy and manageable, but sometimes she had a big fat math packet of common core nonsense that they didn’t get to in class, so they had to do it at home. Um, no. That’s not ok. The early mornings were frustrating as well, but since I was able to walk her to the bus stop and leave my other children home with Dad, it was doable. And the bus dropped her off right in front of our house each day.
We moved between K and 1st. My husband got his post-grad school job that took us to another city 4 hours away. Her first grade year was terrible. My daughter was missing for about half an hour on the third day of school! And they didn’t even know it. Oh, I was livid when I found out. The excuse? “Oh, we knew someone was missing, but we didn’t know who.” Excuse me?! That’s when you take roll to find out who isn’t there and then send someone to FIND the missing child! The teacher also placed the entire blame on my child. Um, she was 6. She didn’t come in when the bell rang. She didn’t realize it was her bell. Yes, she should have gone in. But, it was a completely different set up than her previous school. At her old school, she went to recess whenever her teacher felt like having one. Her class was usually the only one out when they did, and the teacher called them back with a whistle and made sure each child was there. Listening for a bell with tons of other kids on the playground was still new to her. It was only the third day of school!! She’s a very responsible, rule-abiding child. She wouldn’t intentionally not come in. But this teacher placed the entire blame squarely on a child who was still learning to adjust to a new environment. I tried to get her put in a different class as a result. That was the first time I considered homeschooling. I even prayed about it. But the answer was no. It wasn’t the right time. Much to my surprise, I was disappointed with that answer. I was also pregnant with my now 3 year old, so I had very little energy for such a big lifestyle change. We already were going through the post-school work transition and a pregnancy.
But oh, that was a hard school year. An overly strict teacher who really wasn’t the kind of nurturing teacher first graders need. A snotty queen bee bully. Homework after a full day of school and very little time to just be a kid. The terrible morning routine of getting all the kids in the car to drop one off – while hugely pregnant and then with a tiny baby. School drop off and pick up lines. Carpool options suddenly vanishing with little to no notice. Having our entire lives rotate around this horrible schedule that we all hated. We lived for school breaks and hated when they ended. I also missed her like crazy. She was gone for so much of the day! And what little time we did have together was usually spent nagging and rushing out the door and fighting over homework. We. Were. Miserable.
That spring, it was time to register my son for kindergarten. I picked up the packet from the office…and it sat on my desk. Every time I picked it up with the intention to work on it, I froze. Every. Single. Time. For a month. It did not feel right. Not at all. I literally had a stupor of thought every time I tried to fill it out. I tried picturing my son in kindergarten…and I couldn’t do it. I know my son. It would be a miserable experience for him. How easily I could see him being bullied for being different. How I could see him retreat into himself and hide from the class, from the teacher. How he would fight everyone tooth and nail. How easily he could be the child in those stories of teacher abuse. How they wouldn’t really see him for the amazing kid he is. And that’s all I could see. This was before he was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and anxiety. I knew something was going on, but we didn’t have definitive answers yet. But I knew that a classroom was the last place I could send him. Public school would destroy him.
And so I considered homeschooling him. At first, I thought of only homeschooling my son. But all this was going on while my daughter was having a terrible year in first grade. As I thought and prayed and thought and prayed some more, the answer was clear: homeschool both of them. My emotions were all over the place. Overwhelmed. Excited. Inadequate. At peace. But most importantly, I knew this was the direction we needed to go. This was our new path. It was undeniably right.
My husband was more hesitant. Not that he didn’t trust me or think I lacked the capacity to educate our children – far from it. But we were deviating from the norm. We were breaking the mold. We were moving into uncharted territory. We were doing something different. And that’s scary. It’s a big pill to swallow. It’s a major paradigm shift. It takes time to adjust and re-calibrate. I don’t remember which of us said it (I think it was him?), but somehow we came to the realization that it didn’t have to be a permanent decision. We could take it one year at a time. Knowing we could reevaluate each year helped soften the enormity of the commitment. Now, 3.5 years later, I don’t see us ever going back. And neither does he. Aside from the decision to have each child, homeschooling is the best parenting decision we’ve ever made. Ever.
But oh, how to start?! How does one begin such a massive undertaking? I reached out to 2 of my dear friends who happen to homeschool their children. What an amazing support and resource they are! They helped guide me to some fabulous curriculum and resources. They encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed with inadequacy. I attended a homeschool conference. I learned from veteran homeschooling families. I budgeted out our curriculum and school supplies. I planned and organized, evaluated my efforts, and did it again. So much prayer and pondering went into the planning.
And then I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Some things worked better than others. Each year, we’ve made adjustments based on what works, what doesn’t, and the growing and changing needs of our family. And that’s as it should be. Homeschool looks a little bit different each year. Some years, the changes are minimal. Others, they’re quite drastic, like a change in curriculum or available resources. And then there’s the impact of life changes, like moving, pregnancy, and a new baby. We’ve experienced all of those during our 3 years of homeschooling.
This year, our 4th year, the changes are noticeable. New history curriculum (which we absolutely love). MTH and the amazing resources now available to us as a result. Adding in tech. Weekly learning logs. Schedule shifts to make it flow better. Fun, less work-intensive Fridays.But in many ways, we’re doing what we’ve done from the beginning of this journey. We do math and language arts. Science. History. Art. Music.
As I look back on everything that brought us to where we are today, I can see how we’ve been shaped and molded toward this amazing journey we are now on. If we hadn’t disliked our public school experiences so much, we might not have been led to this path. If we didn’t have a child with significant social challenges, we may not have considered moving away from the norm. If I didn’t have such amazing support and experience from my friends, I easily could have faltered under the pressures of my parents. My mom worked as an aid in a public school for many years and she did not initially approve of our decision to homeschool. Now, she sees it for the blessing it is. I can see how the education and experience I’ve had in my life have prepared me to teach my children. This is my calling.
How grateful I am for this amazing, incredible, joyful journey! I love homeschooling my babies. I love having them home with me. We love waking up naturally, doing our schoolwork and chores, and then having the rest of the day to relax and play. I love that my kids are each others’ best friends. That is one of the many blessings we’ve seen from homeschooling. It certainly isn’t easy – there are moments where it is overwhelmingly hard and I hide in the bathroom or raid my chocolate stash more than I’d like to admit – but it is so so soooo worth it! But is anything really worth it easy? Probably not.
We absolutely love the changes homeschooling has wrought in our lives. I am excited for all the amazing adventures and experiences we’ll have in the future! It truly is a wonderful, beautiful, joyful journey. It may not be what I initially pictured this stage of my life to look like, but oh, it is soooo much better!!