I have never, never, ever felt qualified to discuss home education from any sort of expert status. I never felt a mastery over educating my own children, let alone advising others.
However, I have home educated my children for 12 years. Now that my oldest three are in a "brick and mortar" school ( I hesitate to use the term "real school" because unorthodox or not, my home school is real), I have some conclusions that have bubbled to the surface and I feel I should share them.
In the Beginning: (Part I)
Home schooling wasn't even on my radar until I met my husband. I had never heard of anyone who home schooled. I knew quite a few parents who got together and started small independent schools (not something I was interested in, let me say). But home schooling, no.
Shortly after getting married, we were expecting baby #1, and that is when homeschooling came up in our conversation for the first time. He encouraged me to consider it. So I did some research, I kept my ears to the ground, and asked a few questions. It seemed easy enough, especially at first, so I left my options open, and thought, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there". It seemed forever away.
BUT, in the next 5 years, I had 3 more children, a bad flood, a move, husband working and getting a MBA (read: gone all the time), and all of a sudden, my first born was 5.
And so tiny. So little. So innocent. So, so young. The idea of putting him in school all day (no half day kindergartens here) seemed ludicrous. But he was anxious to learn, and I wanted to feed that desire. I had read "Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum" by Laura Berquist, and decided to give it a go. I tweaked it a bit, to fit my style better, and it worked. He learned. He liked it. And he didn't have to get up and get ready for school at the crack of dawn, be gone from the family all day, and he could play. I am a big believer that playing is an important part of childhood that is removed when kids spend all day in school.
I spent all day taking care of four kids aged 5 and under, and everything I did was undone by the end of the day. Everything, that is, except the things my eldest learned. That stuck, and grew, and gave me much pleasure. Looking back, as I have mentioned before, I regret the fact that my eldest didn't get my attention alone for long, he was a baby for a blink, then the big boy. But home schooling him did give us lots of time together, and for a time, it was quite enjoyable.
That is, until I began to read home schooling e-mail lists. Oh my. I wasn't doing half of what these other people were doing. Oh. I was about to add my second born to the school roster a year later, but was expecting #5, feeling horrendous, and just. couldn't. do it. Also, number 2 and 3 in my family are both girls, only 17 months apart, and at ages almost 5 and 3, they were playing together beautifully and with such joy and imagination, I couldn't bear to break up that couple. Plus, I had all kinds of inadequacies to feed.
To speed up the retelling of this tale, let me say that I allowed myself to get yanked around like crazy from one curriculum fad to another. The Well Trained Mind was brand new then, and I was loving the idea of it. Charlotte Mason was rising in popularity, Writing Road to Reading, W.I.S.E. Guide to Spelling. Miquon Math, Spelling Power. These were all good resources, but I never took, or rather had, the time to be expert at them. I had been using "Little Angel Readers", which seemed to work for me ( but was labeled inadequate by some on the various home school boards I read), and Miquon Math was fine until I didn't have enough time to do it with everyone. Writing Road to Reading was like a foreign language to me, but all the "real" home schoolers were doing it! I also was hearing of the home school exploits of my husband's classmates, who were working on Latin and Greek and who knows what else. They all had gone to a small Catholic liberal arts college, and seems so much more prepared to this style of learning than I was. But, I was liberally educated too, well educated, I could to this, yes?
Suddenly most of the joy was gone for me about home schooling. It was just another stick to beat myself up with, and a way I was making my life more difficult on principle. I will do this, the hard way, darn it!! Then baby 5 was born, she was a CRIER, and I was embroiled in the pit of PPD for a year. A dark, dreary year, with my husband away most the time for work and school, and me barely holding on. I joined a homeschooling co-op, formed by a few Catholic families that couldn't get their footing in the large, mostly Protestant groups in our area.
It was a GOD SEND. In that group, there was no "right way" to home school. Some were un-schoolers, some very, very rigorous, some had children with learning disabilities and were getting an entirely different view of home education. Some were Traditional Catholics, some were "regular Catholics", some were Byzantine Catholics, some were "progressive Catholics". But we supported each other, had monthly meetings, parties, picnics and talent shows. We shared curriculum, ideas, problem solved in common, and brought each other food when there was a crises or a new baby. It was marvelous, and I finally got my footing in home schooling.
It basically boiled down for me: language arts, math, and play. The kids were (and still are) part of a community choir (high quality, secular), and were getting piano lessons after age 7. They were in the home school group, and religious ed at church. I always tried history, Latin, poetry, science, but by October we would always be down to Language arts (phonics, reading, editing, spelling, vocabulary) and math. Play included history, art and science, and music really, but at the time I didn't see it.
What about religion, you ask? I did catechism with the kids, usually for half the year (then, like everything else, it would drop by the way side). We did Bible stories for years, over and over and over. I finally had to start with the New Testament, because we would never get that far, and did the Old Testament repeatedly. Some of our text books and many of our stories had the tenants of the faith in them, and we prayed as a family, and about that time I began writing icons and spending much more time as a family at church. I counted that as "religion" most the time, and again, it always boiled down to language arts and math.
Life went on. We had more babies, a job loss, 9/11 (that decimated my husband's field of work), and a few other crises. I fell into a rhythm of schooling that actually made life much easier for me. As the older kids got older we experimented with a co-op with teaching as a part of it. It was a help for a year, but not a permanent solution. I hired a tutor for a while after baby 7 was born, and that gave me temporary relief.
By this time I had abandoned the online home schooling community, as my own immaturity and lack of confidence made it seem as if I was floundering at all times. I stuck with my real life support group, and that was enough. It was a small group, more like extended family, and was so very important to me at that time.
But suddenly all the families were hitting a change simultaneously: older kids needing more time and attention, family growing, free time coming up short. And the group fell apart, as no one could spare the time for planning and organization.
(Next installment, The Next Phase. Check in tomorrow!)