Friday, August 5, 2011

Our Homeschooling Decision

For a first post it seems appropriate to introduce myself & explain our reasons to try homeschooling.

First, an Introduction:
I've been married for 12 years. Together we have 3 kids, ages 3, 5 & 8. I'm a stay at home mom, who never thought I'd be a stay at home mom. But as we all know, life throws us curve balls occasionally. I've been a stay at home mom ever since my first son was born. I'm glad life threw that ball at me. I can't imagine it any other way. We live on 12 acres up in the sticks. It's beautiful here. Our move here was also a curve ball. Who knew that curve balls could be such blessings? This is a fantastic place to raise my kids.

My husband attended public school, then private school, then in high school he returned to public school. I went to public school K-12. We both earned associate's degrees at the local community college. After college I worked for a couple years in the graphic design field. Then I became a mom & now do graphic design work only as needed for myself or friends. The hubby fared a little better than I with his degree and works hard in his career. Thank goodness. I am quite thankful we are able to be a one income family.

Our Homeschooling Decision:
Again, another curve ball. I never, ever pictured myself as being the homeschool type. Honestly, I didn't know much about it, but it was just something I didn't think about as a schooling option. As time was getting closer to enroll my son in kindergarten I briefly checked into private schools. In the end, it didn't seem like a good fit for our family. So our oldest (who I will now refer to as Capt. N) went to the public school. He did well - he was in the top reading group. I liked the school & most of the people. First grade was also a good year. Although his reading did slip. He was still in the "normal" range. But, at the lower end of normal. I knew this, but his teacher didn't seem concerned, so I didn't even know I might want to be concerned. At the start of 2nd grade his reading was so far below normal that he was put into a special reading program. He loved this reading program - so much so he's asked if we could do it in homeschool. Capt. N can read, he's just slow.

Our decision has much more to it than just the fact that he's a slow reader. Since he was in the reading program it caused other difficulties throughout the school year. He still had to complete the worksheets his class was working on during the time he was in the reading program. This gave him extra homework every night & he also missed out on the fun things during the day because he needed to finish his worksheets. The event that stands out vividly in my mind is the day the class made paper snowflakes. They were shown how to make them the day before. Capt. N came home so excited that he asked if he could try making them that night. So we did & he couldn't wait to make more the next day at school. That next afternoon, if your worksheets were done you got to make snowflakes. His worksheets weren't done (because the time the class works on those is when he's in his reading program), so he did his worksheets. By the time his worksheets were done there was no paper left for him to make even one snowflake. Most kids in the class got to make many, many snowflakes and he made none. He came home so sad it broke my heart. We made more at home that night. I was already getting a little fed up with the school year, but that pushed me over the edge. Winter break was the next week & the fact that I don't like to be confrontational - I didn't say anything to his teacher. I really don't feel like she was even aware these things were going on. When she told the class they needed to do their worksheets before doing the fun activity, he does his worksheets. He doesn't question it - even though it's not fair. She had 32 kids in her class, I'm not sure she was even thinking about letting him know he didn't need to do his worksheets. This happened many times throughout the year, but the snowflake day still gets me choked up because it actually upset him. Most of the time, when I would ask about his day, he would tell me bits & pieces, and even if he missed out on something he didn't seem bothered by it. He would tell me those stories just like he would tell me about any other event from the day. By far, these days upset me more than him.

The days he did struggle with were the long homework days. His class was given a packet every week to complete and turn in on Friday. The packet was great, mostly spelling & math. He averaged about a page per night, plus reviewing the spelling words & reading for at least 20 minutes. As a parent, it seemed like an appropriate amount of homework for a 2nd grader. But, most nights he also had to complete the worksheets that his class had an entire half an hour to work on in class. That extra half an hour was just too much. He is not only slow at reading, but he's also slow at doing his homework. In part, he gets distracted easily. On the other hand, the worksheets are reading based. So being a slow reader, made for long stretches of doing homework. Looking back, I should have helped him by reading the stories & letting him answer the questions. But honestly, it took me a few months to realize there was a real problem. I figured the teacher wasn't reading to the kids in class, so why did I need to give Capt. N special treatment. I should have helped him more. There is also a homework night that really stands out & that was the night he did homework for 2 hours straight - and I did help him that night. He struggled a lot. He got frustrated. I got frustrated, too - but not at him. I was so irritated that his teacher would even send him home with that much. He not only had a page left in his packet, but she decided his handwriting wasn't good enough so he had a whole sheet on tracing letters, plus reading, plus finishing his report on a pet. As I write this, I guess it doesn't sound like a lot. But, it was a lot for him. No second grader should ever come home with 2 hours worth of homework. I contemplated telling him just to stop. But, I didn't want him thinking not doing your homework was even an option. That did force me to talk with his teacher, though. I don't want to be the one to tell him not to do his homework. I needed her to not give him as much. We had a couple pleasant conversations. And like I thought, she wasn't even aware of the issue. Overall, things improved. But, by now it was already springtime & I had watched too many crappy months go by. I felt like nothing was good enough for his teacher. There were a handful of little things, plus his reading, plus his handwriting and for awhile his spelling. Then one day she asks if he could be tested for speech. Well, of course he can. If he's got a speech issue, let's look into it. But, in all his schooling & socializing nobody has ever mentioned a speech problem. All I kept thinking is there is no way, I'm going to let him be pulled out of class even more so he can go to speech. We are going to have to think about other options. He got tested. It came back normal. The woman who tested him was super nice and understanding. She said there were 2 sounds he could work on, but that they were within the normal range. We talked about it. She gave me some papers so I could work with him at home over the summer. I truly am thankful for this woman. She was very helpful.

I don't know exactly when or how homeschooling popped into my brain. But by springtime last year I started doing a ton of research. I couldn't let another year go by like this passed year. His teacher obviously didn't think much of what he did in school was quite good enough & he had a friend often telling him he wasn't good enough at things outside of school. Thank goodness he's still fairly naive. But, I had decided this needed to change before he actually believed he wasn't good enough. He is good enough. He's a great kid. He's a "normal," happy, healthy 8 year old & I'm proud of him.

As proud as I am of him in his many accomplishments, the truth is he's not great at reading, writing or spelling. There are many possibilities for additional help. I'm just not excited about taking him to a tutor. That doesn't mean I won't ever do it, but for now I'd rather not. If he went to public school, we have to leave the house at 6:30 if he's going to take the bus. He gets home about 3:00. Then he'd have to spend another 80 minutes in drive time, plus the time he's actually being tutored, plus his regular homework time. Oh, and don't forget dinner. When does he actually get to have time to be a kid? No thanks. I think playing is important. He can spend all his time working when he's an adult.

In 3rd grade, most of the subjects are reading based. Read about it, answer questions about it. Science has more reading, social studies has more reading & more story problems in math. I'm afraid he will struggle in the classes he actually enjoys now that they involve more reading. Which, to me, sounds like another crappy year. He would also be in that reading program again. The program is great & I think next year's teacher would go about it differently, but I'm just not excited about it.

This has all led me to scour the internet, check out books from the library & talk to other homeschooling families all in an attempt to figure out if homeschooling is the best choice. I'm confident that it is, but it was a struggle for me to make the decision. I weighed all the options. And just when I'd feel homeschooling was the way to go, I'd help at his school and see him having fun at lunch with his friends. Then I would have to hold back tears thinking about how I'm taking that away from him. He liked me eating lunch with him, but does he really want to eat lunch with me everyday - and not his friends? Socializing, is really the only problem I see with this homeschooling plan. Every homeschooling family I talk to or read about says how it is a non-issue. I really hope that's true. Either way, for this year at least, I've decided his education is more important than seeing friends everyday.

I don't know if I can do a better job than the public school is doing for Capt. N. But, I have to try something different. Each year he has gotten further behind in his reading, so this method doesn't seem to be working for him. I hope to teach him a ton, but in the very least I don't feel like I can do any worse. That was an eye opener for me. Once I realized that is when I really got serious about the idea that maybe I could actually do it.

Outside of the education basics, I am also hoping to accomplish 2 other things on this new adventure. I'm afraid another year of not being good enough at school would start to wear him down. I want to keep his self confidence up. Well, maybe not up, but hold steady. I don't want him turning into some inconsiderate jerk. I also hope he will actually enjoy learning. Not just do the work because it's what is expected. But, get a thrill out of learning something new & want to learn more.

I am not sure about our long term schooling. My youngest will be going to preschool twice a week and my middle guy will be going to kindergarten at the public school. I don't have a problem with public school, it just doesn't seem to be working for Capt. N at the moment. Capt. N may go back to public school in 4th grade. We just don't know yet. We'll see what happens this upcoming year. I hope I have an easier time choosing the schooling option for the following year, than I did this year. It was a long internal battle.  I hope the year is so great that I want to homeschool forever. Or the year was fine but now that I've done it realize it's not really for us. Unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic that it will be quite that clear cut. But, I really hope so.

I'm slightly nervous about this new adventure. Whenever I get too worried I just remind myself that I'm not going to screw him up with only taking on one year. I do have two concerns. One is that I really hope the 3 year old isn't too much of a distraction while I'm trying to teach. That will drive me bonkers. And, I had a friend tell me that she cried every week during her first year of homeschooling. Well, crap. That's encouraging. I am glad she told me. When I have a rough day, I will know it's normal. Unfortunately, it must mean there will be rough days. Darn it.

I've been busy going through the curriculum, trying to schedule everything just right. I'm excited. Capt. N must be excited, too. One day he asked me if we could have a pretend school day during the summer. Occasionally, we will talk about the things we will be doing in homeschool & he wants to start them early. I'm not going to do that. But, I'm glad he's looking forward to it.

Our adventure begins in about 5 weeks. I'm expecting it to be a bumpy, exciting, fun, scary & crazy ride.

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