We home schooled.
For ten total years times two children two years apart less five years spent in a failed public school experiment with a side order of kindergarten.
And if you think that was hard to follow, you should have seen me teach my kids algebra. Scary.
I felt like the most unqualified home educator on the planet. When I first heard about the radical idea of home schooling, I said in a panic, “I can’t do that! I’m not trained. The government has convinced me that they alone know what's best for my kids!”
Silly rabbit. Tricks aren’t for kids.
So, filled with trepidation, I entered the home school arena with my eldest, the five-year-old. Those poor firstborns—we’re always testing our ideas on them. Let’s just say, it was a less than wonderful year. I got the wrong curriculum for the right kid who had an atypical learning style and wasn’t ready to ‘crack the reading code’ even though he was the age the government says every kid should be when they learn to read and he hated paperwork even though the curriculum said if I gave him enough of it every day eventually I would win him over to the joys of sitting at a desk with a pencil and he’d forget about the great outdoors and how much fun it is to run and jump and climb.
That’s a run-on sentence and completely unacceptable unless you write a blog—in which case you get to make the rules. This is my blog. These are my rules. I like run-on sentences when they make a point and here’s my point: incessant paperwork isn’t for five-year-olds and reading on their own might not be either.
So we ditched the home school foray, convinced that we were not among the amazing few who could successfully pull it off. And . . . the grandparents rejoiced, breathing a sigh of relief that we had, at last, come to our senses before ruining their grandchildren.
We maintained our senses for the next five years, fully supporting public education in our local neighborhood, serving as classroom helpers, field trip supervisors, class party chairpersons, and even PTO president. We were so well known on the campus even the janitors thought we lived there.
Ironically, though we put our son into school in the first grade without a mastery of phonics, we still were the ones who taught him to read. After enrolling him, I breathed a sigh of relief that somebody else would take over his education. Boy, was I surprised when his reading assignments came home with him every night and we still had to sit next to him on the sofa and force him to see Jack run. In retrospect, what was needed was for us to ‘let Lee run’. I’m amazed to this day, twenty-five years later, that he turned out to be a lover of books and knowledge after a tumultuous ride on that reading railroad.
Let me be clear—our kids had some wonderful teachers in their public school years. They also had a couple of bad ones. And sometimes the bad ones make a bigger impact than the good ones. That’s the risk. And the heartbreak. In second grade, I confronted my son’s teacher about her terrifying fits of anger unleashed in class, thinking that was better than going over her head to the principal. I should have just gone over her head. The next year we pulled him out of a gifted program after only nine weeks due to similar issues. Third graders shouldn’t have stomach aches every day just because they answer roll call.
Our daughter started public school in kindergarten, untainted by the failures of a fledgling home school mother, the year after we enrolled our son. Unlike her brother, she learned to write her full name in class. (I’d only taught our son to write his first name when he was her age—hey, I knew who he was.) She loved school. She made friends, Christmas ornaments, and good grades. For the first two years, school was too much fun to miss. But the first day of second grade, she came home with a dour face and prophesied to her dad and me, “This isn’t going to be a fun year.” She still has good intuition. And she was right—it wasn’t fun that year. (Reference the “bad teacher” comment above.)
So for a full year we researched better ways to take back the responsibility for our kids’ education than the one we’d chosen the first time. We picked what was left of the brains of parents still in the trenches, watched them in action, attended seminars and conventions, and prayed. A lot. Then we voted as a family, made a unanimous decision, and went all in, never looking back.
It took three years before we caught our stride, found our comfort zone, built some confidence and began to understand the good, the bad and the ugly of curriculum. Three years before we found our way into already established home school co-ops with other families in our area. Three years before we stopped thinking we were out of our minds.
But it only took one day for the collective blood pressure of our family to return to normal after five years in a system that lost track of the souls of our kids and sold them out to mass production.
Which is not to say that we didn’t have blood pressure spikes in the home school environment. I once heard a speaker, i.e. home educator encourager, tell me and a bunch of other novices that teaching your kids at home is a whole new kind of pressure which squeezes out character imperfections so they can be dealt with – and your kids won’t be perfect either.
Writing on the wall, baby.