Friday, June 26, 2015

How It Began

I never thought I'd homeschool my children.

That's kind of surprising considering I used to be a teacher...a full time teacher.  But teaching in the classroom seemed exciting and fulfilling to me, while homeschooling seemed isolating, and a little scary.  And I had always actually liked school--for the most part (minus the bullies and some teachers I didn't like too much).   Plus, when I was a teacher I taught secondary...and elementary is a whole different ballgame.  And, then, my older two kids thrived in public school, so there wasn't a real need.

But I always thought that if homeschooling WAS what my child really needed...if they weren't thriving in school...that I would suck it up and do it.

And after my youngest's first year of kindergarden, it was blatantly obvious that he wasn't thriving.

Actually, it was obvious much earlier.  I could tell he wasn't really ready for kindergarten, in so many ways.

We hadn't sent him to pre-school (didn't with my other kids, and they did fine), and he had trouble being away from me for even a few hours a day at Vacation Bible School...ended up hanging out at the crafts station I was volunteering at most days.  So I knew emotionally he would have some struggles.

And he wasn't ready academically either.  While my older two were both reading BEFORE they entered kindergarten, he was still struggling to learn his ABC's.  I told myself "The other two were ahead" but I saw trouble on the horizon.

 And trouble came.  He did ok for the first couple days, but then he started crying and saying he didn't want to go to school in the mornings.  I thought it would pass.  I thought maybe it had more to do with other things happening in our lives (my mom passed his first week of Kindergarten). But it continued....all year, every morning, with very few exceptions.  And we're not talking about just a few mild tears, but wailing thrashing "I don't WANT to get a shot" type of tears.

And it wasn't his teacher.  He actually liked his teacher.  It was just school...having to sit in a certain place at a certain time and do things at a certain time in a certain way.  All the expectations.

And he wasn't progressing academically either.  He was consistently WAY behind where the teacher thought he should be.

Looking back I could kick myself for not pulling him sooner...for letting him stay in a place where he was clearly miserable.

But, in all reality, I wasn't ready.  I was still reeling from my mom's death...still grieving.  And I had confidence at first that our schools were good and that things would turn around eventually(I still think that...though I would like to change how they do Kindergarten).     And, even when I could see that it wasn't going to turn around, I wasn't confident I could do better.   I had not done well as a teacher...there's that.   But that really wasn't the main thing.   BI felt like I had failed him as a parent, that I had not done the good job that I had with my other kids preparing them academically.   I hadn't limited his screen as much as I had his older siblings (it was just too hard to keep him from watching over their shoulders).  I had wasted so many chances.  I hadn't even read to him as much (as a toddler he got tired easily and didn't want to be read to, just wanted to get to sleep, and in general he wasn't very interested in being read to.).  But some of it, honestly, came down to parental lazyness and I wasn't sure I had the will power to do better.

Towards  the end of the year our teacher suggested we have our son repeat Kindergarten.  I thought it was a good choice, but my husband was deadset against it.  He didn't want our child held back.

So, I agreed to work with him over the summer--to try to catch him up.  But, I also suggested that if we couldn't catch him up enough that in stead putting him in 1st grade that we try sending him to Kindergarten at a private school.   Somewhere about this time I had read an article about how Kindergarten had become so much more academically centered--how there was so much more pressure on KG teachers and therefor their students as well, and indications at school confirmed that.  At the beginning of the year our teachers had talked about how they wouldn't be covering shapes and colors, but would be focusing on reading, and said "you'll be surprized at the level your child will be reading at the end of the year."  But what I was reading online (that one article lead to others) showed me that every child learned at different rates and that pushing reading earlier on children that weren't ready did long term harm, robbing children of their desire to learn,  while starting later to learn to read actually did no harm in the long run.  I learned that free play was essential to early learning and that too much time sitting in the desks doing academic work could rob children of that essential playtime.   When I asked my teacher if there had been a push to make things more academic, what she said was telling.  She said she would LIKE to incorporate more play in the classroom but were discouraged from doing so, and she and the other Kindergarten teachers were hoping that things might be different under some administrative changes that were happening.  I asked her to keep me updated on whether that changed, but in the meantime started looking into private schools.

What I found there was discouraging...the private schools seemed even more academically rigorous.  He wouldn't get the gentle environment I was looking for there.

And, as I worked with my child to "catch him up" over the summer, it soon became clear that a)  he wasn't going to be caught up in time, and B) private schools, even if we could afford them, would not be better than sending him back to public school.

The other thing that became apparent was that the main problem was not that he was behind.  Over this first year he had built up such a fear about anything to do with school that it was hard to do anything without tears.  It wasn't that he couldn't sound out words in the Bob books, it's that it would take 20 minutes of trying to encourage him and working through his tears before he would try.  Sometimes it took 10 minutes just to coax him to look at the page.  His Kindergarten experience had lead him to fear learning, to feel like a failure, to think it was something he couldn't do, and that it was something that was horrible and not fun.

I knew that no teacher, not in any private or public school, would have the time to sit with him, encourage him, and stay with him until he had the courage to try.  No classroom teacher with 20+ students (or even a private school teacher with a smaller class of 10 - 15) has time to sit with one child in their class for 20 minutes.  And while he was getting one on one pull out lessons that did give him one on one time...I could tell he needed one on one time ALL THE TIME.

And we were making progress at home.  Soon 20 minutes of crying turned to 10, and then 5, and then by mid summer he could sit down most days and read without a tear.

That gave me the confidence I needed to do what he needed...homeschool him.  

And I discovered homeschooling wasn't horrible.  Yeah, there were days that were hard, but it was also incredibly fulfilling.   And it wasn't isolating...I felt connected both to my child, but also with all the other homeschool moms in my community.  In fact, it was much less isolating than teaching in a public school classroom had been.

In fact, it was nothing like teaching in a public school classroom.  The main difference was time.   I had time to learn along with my student.  To learn his learning style, to learn different ways to teach, to research and plan my lessons.  Teaching full time in public school had been all consuming--it didn't leave time for anything but the job.  When I taught in public school I was up til 10 pm every night grading papers and planning, and was so stressed and fatigued that I would jump at an unexpected touch.   But at homeschool I had TIME!  I had time to not just do homeschoool, but actually have time for me.

So, I'm sticking with it.  At least with my youngest.

On this blog I'll share my experience and hopefully some resources too.  Thanks for joining me!