The other day Layla told me all kids should go to public school. I gently reminded her that if homeschool isn't for everyone then public school isn't for everyone either. I know she agrees but she was being defiant and stubborn and argued with me. I didn't take the bait and dropped the conversation.
Today homeschooling and public school came up again and I mentioned one of the reasons I asked her if she wanted to try public school was because she was so angry when she'd ask me to teach her something and five minutes into me helping her she would suddenly get angry for no reason and storm off. It was confusing and frustrating for me. This went on for not just months but years!
She told me defiantly, "Well yeah ‘cause learning with math blocks is BORING!" I retorted, "Yeah and you've never used math blocks in public school have you?"
There was SILENCE and Charlotte half smiled at me knowingly and quietly. We didn't say anymore, nothing needed to be said. Layla's RARELY silent and I rarely can get the last word in with that child! But she realized for a moment that some things, many things perhaps, aren't that different when you learn them at school or home; you still have to sit and learn some things and be patient. She obviously just prefers her school, and that's okay because we like this particular school and she is thriving.
The other day something else caught her attention. I was cooking dinner and talking to the children about having good character. We started discussing what it means to be a good role model, to do the right thing and to have good character. We talked about how the way we act shapes the entire world around us, what others think of us and how we feel about others and ourselves. Having good character is important. Layla excitedly piped up, "Oh at school we have a sign in the lunch room that says character is everything!!"
I knew this -and that's why I enjoy her school. They spend time focusing on developing respectful students, and we get reinforcement of values and manners that we have already been working on at home for years! Because of this Layla is even more perceptive to our rules and our family’s character. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I really love her school. It’s won awards, the principal is amazing, the staff down to the bus drivers and cafeteria workers are all part of the schools mission statement /goal to teach safety respect and responsibility.
We have an understanding though, 5th grade is the cut off. Our kids aren't going to public middle school/Jr. High and it's something we made clear before she was enrolled. The very idea of segregating children in a Lord of The Flies, popularity driven environment with dwindling adult supervision and dwindling parental involvement in a media obsessed and boyfriend/girlfriend/sex crazed society...as parents we simply draw the line. Her elementary school is fabulous, but it all ends here. No exceptions. We don't agree with the moral decline of our society -and we have a commitment to raise our own children in a respectful, supervised and wholesome environment. I know what *I* learned in middle school and what a lack of supervision and direction there is. I lived in an upper class suburban neighborhood and went to a brand new pristine school that was still tainted with a society that teaches ‘teens will be teens’ and use a condom for sex, instead of don’t have sex. Like the majority of teens I knew I looked at my peers and the media for what was acceptable social behavior. Friends suddenly become your family, at least you feel that way for a while. Sadly, no one is immune to it, so I can't predict if our kids will get horribly sucked into that culture or not. Ultimately the bad influences won out for me and it set the stage for high school years that were terribly reckless, valueless and not at all school focused. It's the reason I'm an obsessively attentive mom. I'll never let that happen to my kids. I don’t believe in the society I stand in, I don’t trust others and I take responsibility for how my kids turn out (to a certain degree anyway…at some point nature and nurture do collide and they fully become their own human being). That saying "I've seen the village and I don't want it raising my child" applies here.
Layla and I have always had a weird relationship. She's very standoffish but warms up and I have to be careful in order for our relationship to grow. The only reason she's not a raging brat with a ton of problems is her stable life and family. Ricky and I are 100% sure of it. We also have no doubt that she is not only improving and growing but she is learning trust, patience and acceptance...slowly over time...since birth. It's almost like through her I have a glimpse of my own complicated and angry self at a young age. As a child I was fraught with emotional problems and anger that was difficult to pinpoint and it haunted me from 8 until 18. I told Ricky I would not let that happen to her, and so we carefully supervise and nurture her. We give her space when needed and surround her with siblings/family and proper morals. We limit her exposure to all media (just like the rest of our kids). She seems to thrive and grow instead of get worse. Thank you, God.
Since I'm writing and reflecting about school life and kids I must write about how proud I am of our teenagers Charlotte, Sage and Ethan. I want to reflect on how far we’ve come with homeschooling/ child-led learning! I'm really proud of how proactive they are of their education. They spend so much independent time on school work and I don't do very much in the way of planning their day out for them anymore. They have texts, workbooks, and projects, suggestions from us, computer programs and internet sites. They have the 'tools' they just have to apply the time and desire to learn. And they do. We have long told them we are not responsible for their education beyond providing them the tools and support they need. From a young age we gave them simple ideas and suggestions about what success might mean to them. We painted a picture of what lazy and unmotivated is and we strongly discouraged that kind of behavior. We provided rules but also gave suggestions for keeping busy at home and limiting things like TV, video games and procrastination. We often say 'find something constructive or meaningful to do.' It can be anything but it needs to have a purpose. Another thing I say is “live with intent.” Move your body or your minds... take care of something. It can be housework, school work, reading, playing, exercising, art, crafts, playing games with siblings, building something, journaling, knitting, gardening, nature walk, write a letter, play with siblings…whatever! But we must keep our minds busy. We must keep our bodies moving. I use their dad as an example: he has to be at work all day long; we must use our time wisely as he does and show something for our day.
We always embraced child-led learning by leaving educational magazines and books strewn about the house. We always had nature guides and maps around the house as well as snake, bird, plant and spider identifying books. One year, many years ago, we did almost nothing but go on field trips and watch brainpop.com. I'm STILL amazed at all the stuff they learned from that site (and still learn), it is pure gold! I wanted our kids to value books and the library. I wanted them to know they could learn anything; and that we didn't have to teach them, they could teach themselves. I wanted them to love to learn and to never be bored by history. I wanted them to learn arithmetic, but to choose how much math they needed in their life. I used to be worried about what they knew or didn't know but after years of studying them and their habits I realized there is no one size fits all way to ensure kids learn 100% of everything. Some kids are voraciously academic (my husband) some kids struggle (me). Sage was a “very late” reader and still isn't a real strong reader, but neither are lots of other public school kids. Ethan and Charlotte need more spelling skills, but so do a lot of public schooled adults I know. We find our strengths and weaknesses and we hone both as needed. As parents we of course guide them towards the area that show weakness so they can improve and the things they are best at they naturally build upon. Charlotte is old enough now that she can see her own weaknesses and think through what she really wants to accomplish academically. She has taken it upon herself to learn many things this year without guidance. One focus she has is to improve her math skills and prepare for college in case she wants to go. She spends hours and hours on the Kahn Academy website. It all seriously impresses me. We teach personal responsibility and self-sufficiency but I barely realized that when we told our kids their education was up to them it was actually the ultimate test and act of personal responsibility a person could have. They log their own subject and homeschool hours and they do very well at writing everything they do down. I’m really proud of them.
There are still times I’m concerned, there are still doubts, and I still get completely overwhelmed about what we are able to provide them or not provide them. That’s life though. I wish we could afford more things like piano lessons; and if we had less kids we could. That doesn’t mean our kids can’t work on playing piano on their own (Charlotte does!) and it certainly doesn’t ever mean we wish we had less kids. Same goes for private school. We were well aware that by having a big family private/alternative school would not ever be an option. I mention Sage not being a strong reader. I’m sure he’d be labeled in public school as dyslexic but since labels tend to give people an excuse instead of encouragement I never wanted him to learn that excuse. I felt like it was enough to just know –on his part and ours- that he needs extra practice and time. And he does know he has an extra hard time and we try to present it as a challenge instead of a handicap. We are all good and bad at different things. I told him SO WHAT if he is homeschooling until he’s 20. So what? So what if he can’t “graduate” and he takes time to live at home while probably working a side job while working on more language arts or math or whatever….Public school wouldn’t have given him that option. Public school would have failed him until he quit or passed him with a diploma he didn’t deserve. (I knew illiterate people in high school, it was painful to watch them struggle and it was stunning to see them graduate barely able to read.) I don’t think he’ll be “schooling” that long. I think he makes huge strides and improvements and he’s gaining confidence, but the great thing about homeschool is learning at your own pace and directing your education and yourself.
I had to let go of a tremendous amount of fear to homeschool the kids. “What if we make them dumb!?” I’d ask my husband.
But when does self-doubt about life ever stop? It never will truly. It will control you if you let it. This is yet another thing I’ve recently talked over with the kids; we should not fear where we are in life. Life is a ‘choose your own adventure’ book and behind every adventure there are unknown challenges, lessons and rewards. Have faith my children, for it has served our family well.