Friday, May 11, 2007

Homeschool, the Novel

I'm frequently asked why we home school.

I've home schooled for 11 full years. I obviously think it's a worthy pursuit. I started back when it wasn't such a popular thing to do. Back when there were *very* few curriculum choices.

My first daughter had gone to a private kindergarten and first grade. The curriculum was good and the teachers were good/fair, but the place had this ... I don't even know how to articulate it well ... snotty? feeling? We certainly weren't well off and a lot of these kids were. The moms of these kids were just unbelievable for the most part. Always comparing their new rings and designer clothing. Sometimes telling why they "traded up" on husbands. This, amazingly, didn't seem to bleed down to the kids at this point. But I had no doubt that it would start.

We decided to move to an area that had (for this area) really good public schools. Our thought process was that we could either put the money in her education (that we really weren't thrilled with) OR into a house (that happened to have schools that everyone loved.) Plus, we wanted more children and thought this might be the right economical choice.

Right after she started in this new school, I had my second daughter. So I'm not sure that I was involved enough to make an accurate assessment of second grade. It seemed fine. And my daughter was happy.

Then the next year. Almost as soon as the school year started, we started getting letters about head lice. Not personal "your daughter has a problem" letters, but the kind that said that several kids in the classroom did and to watch our child. After literally months of this, I asked for a conference with the teacher. There had to be a reason for this and some way to stop it, right?

I was a practicing nurse at the time, and naively thought the teacher would be grateful for my help.

As soon as I walked into the classroom, I noticed 4 computers set up complete with headphones. I pointed out to the teacher that this was likely the culprit. Thinking she would be relieved and thank me, you can image my surprise when she seemed defensive. The kids *had* to use headphones so as not to disrupt the rest of the class. I completely understood that, and gently pointed out that it might be a good idea to let parents know that they could reduce the chances of their child getting head lice by simply buying a cheap pair of headphones for their own child. Which I did that very day for my child.

After all, the price of the headphones was MUCH LESS than the price of one lice treatment for a family. So it was a win/win situation, no?

The long and the short of it is that we never got a letter mentioning the headphones (but we kept getting the head lice letters), my daughter was the *only* one that took her own headphones (and this made her feel funny), and it felt that this somehow made the teacher not like me very much. It was just weird and strained after that.

Skip forward a few months and we had an ice storm. My daughter was sledding and caught a mailbox pole in the fleshy part between your thumb and forefinger and shattered the bones across her (dominant) hand. Surgery and casts and all the fun stuff followed. It happened in February and it took till the middle of summer to heal.

When I picked her up the last day of school she was very upset. She had been kept off of honor roll because she got an "N" (needs improvement) in handwriting. She had *always* (before her accident) gotten an "S". She'd worn a *cast* on her hand the whole last grading period. It was just really ridiculous. And I told her right then that she *never* had to go back to school again. And we home schooled her for the next 4 years. (Just to preface a bit, she had worked *really* hard to get honor roll. Doing extra credit work and really putting forth a lot of initiative. It didn't come super easy to her. The teacher knew her struggles and how badly she wanted honor roll.)

Like I mentioned earlier, it was a different time for home schooling. No co-ops. No playgroups to speak of. It was not at all like it is today. So when she wanted to go back in 8th grade, we let her. She knew the "system" so to speak. She knew the good and bad of it. And at times it was *miserable* on her. But always her choice, and she knew that.

She is now a JUNIOR (I can't believe I'm typing that) in college. She just got her grades and has a 3.8.

The same year that DD1 was going back to school, I was deciding on what to do with DD2.

When DD2 was 24 hours old, she stopped breathing in the hospital (when they had taken her out of my room in the middle of the night to be weighed). The "found" her blue. Wasn't sure how long she had been that way. They rushed her to NICU and had to code her (meaning she had no heartbeat and wasn't breathing) for several minutes.

Thank God above, she survived. But the child they brought back to me wasn't the child they had taken from me that night. She was lethargic and not as responsive as before. One of her eyes rolled weirdly in her head. They told me that she may never walk, talk or even sit up by herself. They just didn't know the extent of the brain damage.

You'd have to know me personally to understand how miraculous what I'm about to say is, but this devastating news rolled off me. I *never* believed that nonsense. I'd wanted this child for *so* long. I just, by the grace of God, knew she was going to be OK. I had such peace.

Well, she walked at 7 months. She was doing cartwheels before she was two. But she didn't speak until she was over 2 years old.

And when the time came when DD1 went back to public school, DD2 was still "behind". There was no way I was going to put this child in school and get her labeled. So home school it was. It was very slow going for the first couple of years. She finally learned to read a little when she was 8.

Fast forward 3 years, DD is 11 and in 6th grade. We test (almost) yearly through our umbrella school. The SAT. She scores 9.7th grade in reading. Amazing what can happen in 3 short years with patience and guidance.

She's now finishing 7th grade and an honors co-op, and making *star* roll. My little red head that they told me would probably never be normal.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I had DD3. She's almost 3 years younger than DD2. I suppose working so slowly with DD2 in reading really rubbed off on DD3.

One day when she was 3yo I was getting her set up to listen to a phonics CD so that I could work with DD2 uninterrupted for a while. She'd heard it many, many times before. This time she told me she didn't need to listen to it, that she knew how to read. I smiled my indulgent mommy smile and pulled out a BOB book and asked her to read it to us then.

Can you picture my jaw hitting the floor when she read the book cover to cover? I had *no* idea she could read. I have no idea how long she had been reading.

From that point on, they were home schooled together. I didn't have DD3 do as much work as DD2, but it was so nice to be able to work with them both at the same time.

Almost immediately a great co-op opened for younger kids and my girls both got to go. They still do this co-op now, 6 years later, though they have probably outgrown it a little. They have felt a part of a group and have made many friends.

Just this past year we've added the honors co-op into their schooling. It's been amazing. Both of them excel and flourish, and I get to stand back and watch.

I thank God for leading me in this direction. For convicting my heart to protect my girls even before I knew that was what He was doing. For making us successful in this endeavor.

So how do I answer when people ask us why we home school? Most don't really want to know why. They ask it the same manner you would ask a child why they colored on the wall. With the idea that no matter what the answer, it's going to be nothing more than an indulgent excuse.

So I suppose this is my long winded, indulgent excuse. ;D

**(I always start thinking about our journey this time of year, but particularly this year. Over 3 years ago we applied to a *fabulous* magnet school here. We got an interview a few weeks back and now we're waiting to hear the results. I don't know if we'll go even if we *do* get accepted. I am deep in prayer about this. But this and a few other thoughts on the coming year are certainly for another post.)


"My Little Wonders" said...

Thank you for sharing your journey. I did the private schools with my older 2 and started with my now 7 year old in the school system. I had the same situations (problems) with the teachers and the parents. We also aren't in the money click, and it did make an issue I wanted nothing to do with. This is my first year and I am soooo nervous, but I am taking it as ...this is how it is for the first few years. I love being home with my younger 2 girls....although the getting organized and on a schduele isn't going so well but I am getting alot of help from other blog posts. Again thanks for sharing your homeschool start.

Michelle said...

Thank you Lori. :) I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

No doubt it is a lot of work and takes much organization skill and the ability to prioritize (when everything seems to be the priority!).

Someone once told me to think of it this way. If a teacher has 30 students in her class, and teaches the class 6 hours a day, that leaves exactly 12 minutes a day of one on one with each student. Are you spending more than 12 minutes one on one?

Not exactly accurate I know, but really some food for thought.

Sharon said...

I enjoyed reading about your homeschooling journey.