“When are you ever going to have time for yourself?”
“Good luck! I could never do it.”
“Are you [bleeping] crazy!?”
Surprisingly, these aren’t responses to my announcing that I’ll be joining Unicef and traveling to developing countries to vaccinate impoverished children. These are but a small sampling of the responses I get when I tell fellow parents that I plan on homeschooling.
And according to my calculations, nine out of ten of you reading this just gasped, clutched at your hearts, slammed your computers shut, and began praying the rosary and sprinkling holy water on everything in sight. I get it. Before I had kids, I never considered homeschooling. In fact, I really just assumed it was something very religious people and anarchist gun enthusiasts did, and my husband and I don’t fit into either of those categories. Yet, here I am, five years after the birth of our son, having made the decision to be in charge of his education, and it’s only partly because I am super-controlling. I find myself answering the “why” question a lot: to concerned friends, to appalled strangers, to myself in the mirror when I’ve hidden from my kids in the bathroom…
- My husband was homeschooled, and he turned out super smart and only very slightly socially awkward. Almost unnoticeable!
- Since I work in theater and theater happens at night, I’m almost always home during the day, so I DO have time for this.
- I disagree with mainstream education. Kids should be moving, using their hands, playing outside, not sitting still at a desk. I don’t think there’s any difference between “work” and “play” when kids are young. Their play is their work.
- Homework is the worst idea I’ve ever heard of. Kids have to go to school for eight hours, then come home and do MORE school? When they should be outside playing? Enjoying their own activities? Learning to cook and enjoy dinner? Taking epic naps? And while we’re on the subject, if I’m going to have to argue with my kid all night long to do his homework anyway, why not just argue with him during the day to do his school work? (Hey! Logic!)
- East Nashville (where we live) has got to be the best place for homeschooling families to live. The East Nashville Homeschool Association is a GREAT resource, and it’s full of parents who schedule meetups and classes for their kids, ask and answer relevant questions, and generally support one another. The homeschool community here is huge!
- The biggest reason of all: My husband and I know our kids better than anyone. Taking their education into my own hands means I get to take their schooling out of the box, foster the things they love, create a curriculum that suits their personal learning styles. It means if my son is interested in science, we can focus on science. If my daughter loves art, I can sign her up for art classes.
I use this bullet point list when I start feeling the slow rise of panic beginning in my midsection and my heart beats a steady “WHAT are you doing? WHAT are you thinking?!” rhythm. All these things are exciting, inspiring. Anyway, I have till August of 2015 to figure out all the details, to really get going, I tell myself.
And then my son’s behavior at preschool was so bad that we had to pull him out at the end of last year. He was bored because many of his classmates are going to the new free preschool that opened in our neighborhood this year, and he was in school with all two-year-olds blah blah blah and OH MY GOODNESS WHAT DO I DO WITH HIM NOW, became a new thing I started asking myself in the mirror. Suddenly seeing each loooong day stretched out with my curious little boy put me face-to-face with the challenge that frightened me. We were both bored. So I started homeschooling. A little earlier than I thought, a little more tentatively than I expected, a little less prepared than I would have liked, but I bought some Kumon workbooks, and we were off!
His “semester” started while my two-year-old is at preschool, and it looks like this for him:
- Wake up, complain about getting dressed, get dressed, eat breakfast, take sister to school, come home. Complain about something else in there for good measure.
- Complain about practicing piano.
- Enjoy actually playing piano.
- Complain about practicing handwriting in the workbook.
- Enjoy getting to practice handwriting on the new LeapFrog iPad game.
- Complain about counting.
- Enjoy counting money and fruit.
- Complain about baking.
- Enjoy baking. Have no idea that measuring cups are fractions, and fractions are math.
- Complain that it’s way too cold to play outside.
- Enjoy playing outside.
- Complain about setting the table for lunch.
- Enjoy lunch and the one-on-one parental attention.
- Pick sister up from school. The day’s already over!?
You see what I’m getting at, right? He has to complain about EVERYthing before doing it, and then—in spite of himself—he usually ends up enjoying whatever he’s just spent the last half hour complaining about.
“Help!” I said to a homeschooling friend over coffee. “Will I ever have time for myself again?” “Help!” I emailed a homeschooling friend. “Can I do this?” “Help!” I said to a homeschooling friend on the phone. “Am I [bleeping] crazy!?” They laughed. They nodded. They commiserated. They were all quite honest about the challenging days, the struggles, the arguments. No one pretended it isn’t hard work, but none of them have any regrets, either. In fact, no one I’ve ever talked to who has homeschooled their children has ever wished they could go back and not homeschool. Sometimes, in the morning, I wonder how we’ll get through the day. Some days I feel quite inadequate. Some days I feel really frustrated. And we’re just starting out! I’m learning that there will be fun days AND hard days. I’m learning to be okay with that.
Last weekend, we took Noah to the park with his pedal bike, determined to start helping him learn how to ride it. You’ve never heard a child sound so worried, so pessimistic. You’ve never seen a child need so many “breaks.” You’ve never known a child to be so obstinate, so argumentative—at five years old, no less! But I realized something, as I was holding onto the back of that bike, running awkwardly stooped over, breathing in the cold gray air, back bent and aching. Teaching him to ride his bike is going to be hard. I could just…not do this. If I didn’t teach him how to ride his bike, he’d live! He’d still be healthy, happy, and relatively well-rounded. I don’t have to teach him.
But I want to. It’s going to be challenging, as he has already proven, but there will be a moment—in the not-so-distant future—when I’m running with him, holding the back of his bike steady, and he gets too fast for me, and I let go, and he keeps pedalling, faster and faster away from me. In that moment, oh the joy that will be on his little face. He will be so happy and proud, and that will be it! He will be able to ride a bike, forever, without ever forgetting as the old adage goes! And I know, in that moment, I will forget all about how hard it was, and my heart will surge with pride at what may be my greatest accomplishment to date. I can teach him how to ride a bike.
I can teach my son. Is there anything more rewarding than that?