Sunday, December 13, 2009

Part-Time Homeschooling

I completely believe in homeschooling. My children never learned so thoroughly nor developed socially as well as they did when we were a work at home/learn at home family. Going back to college only reinforces my belief, because the top students in every single one of my classes are fifteen-year-old homeschoolers who shame the rest of us with their ability to learn.

Not only are they better students, the homeschoolers at my college are a refreshing change from the kids near their age. They dress more modestly, are better spoken, and fool around less in class. Many of my non-homeschooled classmates have difficulty relating to people in the class who are older than them or from different ethnic backgrounds. They stay in their own enclaves and giggle while the homeschoolers seem to socialize with a variety of people, and at more appropriate times.

I'm sure this is a generalization. I'm sure there are many mature and well-taught public school graduates and many immature and academically unprepared homeschoolers as well. However, this generalization has been true 100% of the time in the last year and a half of college. Which worries me, because my kids are now attending conventional school.

As I said above, I believe in homeschooling. On the other hand, something that I didn't consider when I married an older man is that at some point, I would need to pick up the financial workload. My husband is about 15 years away from retirement while I am in the middle of my childbearing years. When he reaches senior citizen status, we will still have children in the home and need to provide more than a retiree's lifestyle. We can save for that time, but these savings will barely put a dent in the financial needs of our future. Going back to school seems like the only realistic option, but it definitely infringes on the lifestyle I feel called to.

I decided to make a list of the things I feel my kids are missing out on by attending 'real' school and attempt to address them one by one.

1. Lack of appropriate socialization. What I hear over and over is that homeschoolers don't get socialized; however, my experience is just the opposite. They do not spend all day in a small room with people their own age, but is that really preparation for the future? On the other hand, they usually accompany their parents on daily errands, sometimes even go to work with them, as well as volunteering, going to lessons, and attending mixed age co-ops. My kids saw more of the community when we homeschooled and seemed more socially aware.

My solution has been to involve my children more in the community now that we are in school. I have taken them to school with me on occasion so they see what other kinds of formal education look like, and we are always looking for volunteer opportunities. We continue to take various lessons and try to maintain our friendships with adults and children of different ages and backgrounds.

2. The moral and ethical void of public schools. Wow, if my kid comes home with the words to another Black Eyed Peas song memorized, I am going to scream. When you send adults into the world, they have the foundation to deal with it; when you send children, their foundation is unset and prone to taking imprints you may find unpleasant.

This is honestly the hardest issue to overcome. We have a character building program that I bought while homeschooling, and we continue to use it. I am much more restrictive on television viewing than I was when we homeschooled. We take time for morning and evening prayers, and I emphasize moral and religious values at every opportunity. Is it as good as homeschooling? Nope. Is it sufficient? For now, yes, and when it stops being sufficient we will stop being public schoolers.

3. Materialism and emphasis on appearance. I used to love it when my friends came over with daughters in princess costumes. The clothing children wear to co-ops ranges from mismatched rags to thoughtfully created designer ensembles, and every variation in between. It doesn't seem to affect the social sitch at all in that crowd.

This is a hard one to combat at schools because no one wants to have their kid be the one ostracized because the parents take a stand on principle. My fourteen-year-old is willing to take that stand on his own: he'll dress however he wants, and everyone can take it or leave it. But he is a product of homeschooling, while the younger ones are more impressionable. I will buy new garments when needed provided they meet standards of decency and are within a certain price range. We do a lot of this at thrift stores, and I alway point out the waste involved with so many people buying and then getting rid of perfectly nice, stylish, name brand clothing. The result is that the younger kids seem to feel that the name-brand game is a little silly, but necessary if you want to get along, and something to be begrudgingly worked around. Which is exactly how I feel.

As for the constant need for stuff, I know that many public school parents will buy their kids the foods and toys seen on television. I believe that a constant pursuit of stuff is wrong, and I show it through my actions. We also purchased the Veggie Tales film, Madame Blueberry, which addresses this behavior in a more interesting and less preachy way than I can.

4. Bullying and victimizing behavior. It's the nature of many children and adults to try to gain power however they can. Honestly, the way we dealt with bullying in the homeschool community was for any adult present to step in and stop it, then report the incident to the offending child's parents. Believe me, no one seemed to have trouble doing this. If anything, many parents seemed over-sensitive to it. Public schoolers, on the other hand, are supervised at recess on about a 1 adult to every 100 children ratio. They can't see and intervene constantly. They have these bullying assemblies, but my second grader could not even define bullying after the last one. It wasn't a semantic issue; she honestly had no idea what it was except that it was very mean and bad.

Luckily, we have a large family, enough that everyone here has been on both sides of mild variations of bullying behavior. So they can see that it is mean and how bad it makes others feel. My kids are pretty empathetic, so this small amount of experience goes a long way. We talk a lot about how important it is to be friends with the kids standing alone at the perimeter of the playground and to include anyone who wants to play.

5. The lack of an education. Isn't it ironic that so many parents send their kids to school to get an education? Yet that seems to be conspicuously absent. They barely get in their three R's and the occasional science or social studies unit between announcements and crowd-management. We did that the first hour of the morning when we homeschooled, then had hours for social studies, history, science, art, archaeology, religion, and dance lessons. All before noon, usually. By the way, my kids go to one of the highest rated school districts in our state. They are getting the best education available in American public schools.

I quickly identified the shortcomings of the school and have taken measures to overcome them. The elementary school we go to is good at teaching math, and pretty good at handwriting and reading. They make it as boring as humanly possible, but my kids love to learn so it doesn't really phase them. They read and write voraciously, so I haven't ever had to teach or police that, even when we homeschooled. That leaves the other things on the list, and I continue to do our Sonlight curricula minus the math and phonics to make up for this. We still take the occasional day off for museums. I have even taken members of the brood to school when we were learning something relevant to our other lessons. One of my teachers worked in Antarctica and gave a slide show on it; I brought Grace because of her obsession with penguins, and she talks about it still almost a year later.

So, I think we have the bases covered, for now at least. The secret to part-time homeschooling is to view the school as a flawed adolescent babysitter. Watch, listen, overcome the shortcomings that you can, and remember that you can always scrap Plan A and go back to homeschooling if need be. I miss my homeschooling mommy friends and the joy of watching my children's faces light up when they finally got it, but those are selfish desires that I can deal with alone.


Laryssa Herbert said...

Every season of life has it's rewards and challenges.

My husband and I were homeschooled from third grade through graduation. We are now homescooling our children. I'm thankful to be able to do that.

You are doing a great job keeping tabs on what your children are doing and learning. Keep up the good work, they are worth it! (as you know) ;-)

Jennifer said...

We have a lot in common. My husband is fourteen years older and also looking toward retirement. We will have at least seven children at that point.

I also considered going back to school but, for me, homeschooling while they are young is just more important. I can't predict the future, I can just do what is best for today.

I hear your struggle and can relate and understand. Hang in there.