Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Long Overdue Series of Posts on Home Educating My Children part 4

The Flip Side:

On the other hand, I loved that we were missing out on so many headaches my school going relatives and friends were dealing with. Too much homework, no time together as a family, conflicts with schools and teachers, lots and lots of handing over parental authority to the schools and noxious peer influences. By and large, I was pleased with what my kids were able to do. One daughter, currently a freshman, had read every book we had. I used to have to discipline her by taking away say, Jane Eyre, so she would clean her room. She taught herself how to bake wonderfully. She experimented in the kitchen quite a bit, and played around with music and math, but had lots of empty pages in her various workbooks. But learning was exciting to her, and she was a very interesting person to be around.

The little kids were behind, but were making steady progress and they were such pleasant, pleasant kids. They were complimented frequently by their choir teachers, their CCD teachers and any other adults they came into contact with. So far, so good. Now to get them up to grade level.

The year my eldest son was away at school, and I was pregnant, was a great year. My husband, while away much of the time, was working and our home life was more steady. We had a "system", the older girls and I kept it going and there were no pesky men around to mess it up. But oh, the cost. We saw my husband every other week. My son, while we spoke weekly, had some experiences at school that broke my heart, yet made him mature and confidant. But he was also homesick and miserable. He was determined to stick it out, however, and by the end of the school year he was doing well, but didn't want to go back.

I couldn't make him go back, as we had said, "Give it a year, and then we'll go from there." And he wanted to be home. We agreed.

(More to come!)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Long Overdue Series of Posts on Home Educating My Children part 3

A Difficult Decision:

It was at that time we began to consider sending our oldest son to a Catholic boys boarding school half the country away. This was a school I had previously admired but thought, "No way am I sending my son away. NO WAY!" But that was when he was 12, and now he was 15 and it was obvious he was changing and not at all the same "little" boy. He was a young man, and was straining under the current system. I looked over all the choices around here and found them all wanting for one reason or another, and now looking back, fear was part of it for me. I was afraid of schools, especially high schools. Wouldn't that group ruin all I had worked for? No. Too risky.

Once I found out I was expecting baby number 8, that was the tipping point, and we took the plunge. We had pretty much been leaning that way anyway, but once I knew I would be spending the first quarter of school teaching from the couch, I knew my son needed someone else to teach him.

The dread I felt as I prepared to send him away was unlike anything else I had ever experienced as a mother, and I wished numerous times I had never home schooled at all. Why hadn't I just dealt with the local schools all along; then I wouldn't feel forced to send him to a school so far away in order to keep his education consistent. Again, I felt trapped by my decision made all those years ago.

(Coming up tomorrow, The Flip Side. See you then!)

The Long Overdue Series of Posts on Home Educating My Children part 2

The Next Phase:

So here we are, kids approaching high school, with four other school age kids, a toddler and a baby. I had reached my breaking point. Something had to be done.

But becuase of my "unorthodox approach", none of my kids were able to be transferred into school. They were too behind, and too ahead, and would be in 3 different schools, and never having ever enrolled anyone in school, how in the heck was I supposed to figure that out? And would it help me? I felt at that time the devil I knew was better than the devil I didn't know, and we persevered.

Meanwhile, I am struggling mightily to establish "systems" to keep the house clean, food bought and prepared and laundry clean. And children to choir and my own exercise and peace of mind.
I felt trapped. I was always worried my kids weren't getting enough school, and yet they seemed to be doing well enough. I was pleased with their innocence and sense of wonder, and their little world of great imagination. None of my children read early, which bothered me, as all these home schoolers on the internet had their little geniuses reading Greek and Latin by age 5, and they were reading Lord of the Rings by age 3. My kids were barely able to read their math workbook (yes I had succumbed to that by now, thank you MCP) at age 6. We had time lines created and empty, copy books with 4 pages finished and the rest blank. Poetry and art notebooks with 3 pages in the them, then empty. Shelves and shelves of science books with experiments and what not, that looked great, but were never used.

So, I bit the bullet, and enrolled my eldest in Seton Home School for his freshman year. I figured at least he would be accountable to someone else for a change, and maybe it would take some of the pressure off of me.

It was a long, long year, but he did finish, had decent grades and scored well on his first standardized test. He was miserable. It was at this time it seemed to me kids this age should not be alone so much, and it wasn't very good for him to spend his entire day in his room. I had other friends doing high school with their children at home, and it seemed to work out much better for them. I tried to get him more involved in things ( he was still in choir, and they had a good youth group at church, he was getting quite involved with pro-life activism, and he had lots of friends, but the days were so long and alone, except for the enormous amount of confusion at home with 6 younger siblings and an overwhelmed mom). But I had so little extra time to get him from point a to b, that I just couldn't do any more. The other kids were plugging along, and we had a little group that shared the teaching of science and history. This worked well, except we had to combine ages, so some of my kids skipped Egypt, had 3 years of Greek and Roman history, or did the Medieval Period for 2 years in a row. But they were getting history! Science was TOPS units (fun!) and Exploring God's Creation with Physical Science (kids were very sensitive to "propaganda". Is it okay to avoid one kind of propaganda and replace it with another?) But, they were doing science! Yay!

But the thought of home schooling my eldest son the following year gave me hives. He was miserable, argumentative, and thoroughly uninspired by his education. And why not? He was home all day with nothing but women and children, and here he was a blue blooded 15 year old boy. Is there anything else more frustrating?

(Next: A Difficult Decision. Tune in tomorrow)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Long Overdue Series of Posts on Home Educating My Children

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!)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pros and cons

Things I love about having my oldest kids in school:

  • The routine, up, dressed, lunches packed, out be 7:30 every day. No jammies until noon like I had to fight last year.
  • Having fewer people in the house during the day
  • Having fewer opinionated people in the house all day
  • Having teachers share in my responsibility to educate my children
  • One child is pursuing journalism, one cross country, one is in a play. They are being challenged in ways I could not, and enjoying it quite a bit.
  • We all get up early since I have to take them to school. On the way out the door, I get up the other children, and by 9:00 am the rest of us are busily tackling math. We were never that consistent previously.
  • They are all doing very, very well academically, and I love the affirmation of the education they received from me.
  • Deadlines are enforced by their teachers, something I failed at miserably.
  • They appreciate the education they received at home, and are able to see the benefit they received by home schooling. They are happy to be in school, as well.
  • They don't see the little kids as much, and they miss each other, and are more kind and affectionate with them.
  • Doing school with the younger kids is much easier with 3 students being educated elsewhere.
  • My angst level has dropped considerably. The house is more peaceful.
  • They pray everyday at school, which again is more consistent that I was at home, sadly.
  • They have met some very nice kids there. They also have ceased to romanticize "school".
  • The uniforms are nice. The kids look nice.
  • They are learning time management skills I could not (would not) replicate here.
Things I hate about having my older kids in school:
  • Dealing with all the insidious paperwork
  • Fund raisers
  • Parent meetings
  • They have only 20 minutes for lunch, and no time to go to the bathroom. Seems barbaric
  • They don't get enough sleep
  • They are gone all day, and do homework all evening. Our family life is really altered.
  • I still have to remember how to do algebra and anatomy and physical science and edit papers. Now I help them with homework, and it takes almost as much of my time as home schooling. Only homework is in the evenings, when I am tired.
  • They want to "go out" on the weekends now, as if staying home is some shameful failure
  • Their text books are silly
  • They are surrounded by peers who don't really care about school
  • They don't get their chores done as regularly, and I am taking on more of the housework (that really is alright, though. I feel like I have my house back in a certain way).
  • All. the. freaking. driving. I am living in the car, and baby is in her car seat more than any of my other children. Ew.
  • The little kids don't see them as much, and miss them.
  • The all school masses are very, very "relevant" to teens, and somewhat scandalous to my kids.
  • It is expensive
I am much more motivated to continue home schooling the younger kids, and given how this goes in the long term, will aim at getting them well prepared for high school. However, if I can, I will consider with each child that home educating during high school does have benefit, and our family will be a different one when the middle kids are in high school.

But overall, this is going well, and I am pleased. It isn't perfect, but it has added structure that I was having difficulty achieving myself.