Monday, August 23, 2010

Going Off the Grid

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 cafĂ©. 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.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


When I hear the word “gap” I think of Leon Spinks and fourth grade.

If you don’t remember Leon – he was the heavyweight champion of the world, amazingly defeating Muhammad Ali in 1978, exactly when I was 9. You probably remember him as the unlikely winner with the huge gap in his front teeth – not a slight gap, more akin to a Grand Canyon-size spacer. In the peak of Spinks fame, timed with the cusp of my awkward pre-teen years, I also had a funny-looking gap.

Thank heavens it was nowhere near Spinks size. But all the same, it might as well have been. It was the most embarrassing thing ever to be compared to a heavyweight boxer. I don’t think I smiled once after Spinks won the title. I never forgot the humiliation of the ugly “gap."

Recently I was reminded of gaps again at a writer’s conference. In a field of 600 other women writers, it was easy to start the comparison game. In my head are all the gaps screaming out at me “her shoes are nicer than yours” or “she looks more professional than you, she probably is a better writer” to the ultimate take down “what are you doing here thinking you can write?”

Even though my teeth have since grown together (thank God), I still am constantly reminded of my gaps. The places in the heart that no matter how hard I try, never get filled in. No amount of compensating, positive thinking or smart wardrobing covers their places.

The very first speaker of the writer's conference must have picked up on the “gap vibe” as she immediately talked about how all of us feel inadequate. She reminded us that everyone has gaps and it is only our Creator that can fill them perfectly. She reminded us how wonderfully made our Maker designed us. Yes, despite our gaps, we are perfect in His eyes. My soul breathed a sigh of relief with a “thank you for reminding me.”

As we prepare for the fall season and school year ahead, it’s a great time to remember we all have gaps. Our kids have gaps, our families have gaps, our friends and teachers have gaps. But divine love fills in perfectly. So next time we start focusing on our spaces, we can breathe a deep sigh of relief. With that breath, we can remember gap-filling grace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hockey Love

Loving hockey is like loving that misfit family member that demands all of you and smells bad.

This blazing hot Southern week has been spent in the confines of an ice rink. Despite the bad fluorescent lighting and high stink factor of the locker rooms, I have counted myself blessed to freeze my hockey mom buns off. Rather, more blessed to see my son in love with something like hockey.

Now I have had my share of “discussions” with other friends about the violence of hockey, how it teaches kids to fight, how the injuries are beyond belief. But I can see more violence on their video game shelves and the TV shows they watch. I understand that hockey requires a great deal of aggression to be any good. But so does life.

The thing about hockey is it’s really hard. Not only is it physically demanding, but it requires strategy, discipline and serious teamwork. It has become a metaphor for all the tough things in life. For us, the lesson of hockey is that to get really good at something, you have to work. Not only work hard, you have to work your buns off and be good to your team along the way.

Hockey has become the teachable reference for math, for learning something new, for doing the difficult things. It teaches them at an early age that team is everything --- if you’re a jerk to your team, no one’s going to give you the puck. For a kid to know early on what it’s like to work through something hard as a team means they have a true appreciation for when they succeed, win or fail.

Watching my son circle around and around on the frozen rink is really boring, and stinky. But he loves it and he shows up every day with a good attitude, ready to work hard – because hockey is something he loves. I adore that he is gaining a valuable life lesson that he can carry with him the rest of his life. This lesson will go with him to his future job, perhaps his marriage and putting his talents to work. For that great reward, I can handle a little stink along the way.