One Mom’s Adventure into the Wilds of Homeschooling
Homeschoolers are weird. They are the people who make meals out of dryer lint, wear clothes from hemp seed and study the sonar tracking of bats. Or so I thought. Until I became one of them.
This week, I read that according to the United States Department of Education, an estimated 1.5 million children in grades K-12 were home educated in 2007. This number grows by almost 10 percent every year. The real kick for me was reading this week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine calling homeschooling “suddenly chic.”
As I read that line, I got a huge smile on my face. I even had to say it out loud -- “I am now chic! The New York Times says so!”
This adventure began when it dawned on me that no one “got” my son. All the things I felt were his assets were considered “problems” at school. We had tried it all -- public school, private school, tutoring, testing, extra work and support at home to constantly help our son succeed. But no amount of shaping tooled his square peg self in the round hole of traditional education.
Day by day, I watched him come home from school and the gregarious, creative, joyous boy slowly began to fade away. As the months wore on, I noticed he began to shuffle like an old man, burdened by school. He had trouble sleeping at nights, having unsettling dreams about school. This began to evolve into uncharacteristic behavior like cheating, hiding his work and sabotaging his efforts by throwing work away before it could ever be graded. He was in a downward spiral and nothing helped right his course. This was no life for an 8 year-old boy – to be this burdened by school at such a young age.
I began to look at other options – there had to be somewhere, some place that my son would thrive. I began to imagine my dream school – I wanted my son to first learn about his faith, I wanted him to love learning and see it as a joy and delight. I wanted dynamic learning for him – not to sit at a desk all day, only to speak when he perfectly raised his hand. I wanted him to learn outside, at a museum, at a garden or a café. I wanted to be able touch, explore, see, and experience life as a learning lab – not as simply a worksheet to fill out, another checklist to complete.
I wanted to take him places, teach him life skills like how to cook, how to be a supportive young man for our family and community. I wanted him to have a service project that was more than about selling something or collecting pop tabs. I wanted him to spend time helping in a real way where he could experience the joy of making a difference. I wanted him to speak the language of my Spanish heritage.
Where could I find such an amazing place? Home.
Homeschooling became an easy choice when I began to look at all the research. Simple things like the fact that most kids only get about three minutes of individual attention for instruction per day. Surely I could do better than three minutes. The fact that pure academics only took up about 2 hours of the day – the rest was busy time, waiting in line, going to the bathroom, playground, library, art, computer – things that I could easily do on my own. I was spending more than that on my commute alone. Not to mention all the extra hours of volunteering, hours of homework after school, hunting down a project doo-bob or a colonial costume. Before there simply wasn’t time to do all that I wanted for him as a family. Now I could design his education to make it our own, based on the priorities we had and what he was passionate about learning.
Will we do this forever? I don’t know. Will I be any good at it? Will it rain a year from today? Who knows. What I know is that this is the right choice for our family right now and I will continue to evaluate my son based on his love of learning, the life and faith skills he is building.
I know homeschooling isn’t for the faint at heart. I like to think of it as “going off the grid.” Saying it that way, it has sort of a cool, James Bond mission style sound to it. It certainly sounds better than we have decided to give up all we know about traditional schooling and do it on our own.
Coming home to school is not for everyone, but for our family it was the only choice. Going off the grid gives us the freedom to encourage our child in a loving, enriching way. In our hearts, there could be no higher calling.