The back-to-school fliers are out full force by the first week of August. I recycle the clothes, shoes, and school supply circulars without even a glance. This stuff is not even on my radar because when September rolls around, my kids won't be going to school. My oldest hasn't attended since kindergarten. The only time my two youngest have stepped foot in a school was to get the flu shot two years ago. Before having children, I never contemplated homeschooling. In fact, if you had suggested such a thing to me when I was a teacher, I would have laughed myself silly.
With my oldest, Peter, we did the whole preschool and kindergarten route. Preschool was two days a week, kindergarten still half-day. I would drop him off at 9:00 and pick him up at 11:30. He seemed to like it well enough, but there's no doubt that the school routine was, well, disruptive to our groove. The previous years we had our own rhythm, and my three kids were thriving. When Peter was finishing kindergarten, our family was just entering the fun years – my youngest was almost three, the middle one almost five. Naps were unnecessary, tantrums were minimal, diapers were done and life was carefree. We hiked in the woods, explored ponds and fields, visited with grandparents, played at friend's houses, and picnicked in the park.
After one particular fun morning with my two little ones, Peter asked "Why can't I go to the pond to catch frogs with you? Do I have to go to school?" Those questions he asked led to my own internal conflict. There really wasn't a reason why our life had to come to a screeching halt and I had to hand my kids over to the school system. I was a stay-at-home mom. We had planned on that ahead of time, saving money during my teaching years. I had obtained my master's degree early on, so I wouldn't have to attempt it with young kids in the mix. At some point I'd go back, but not until the kids were older. Did we dare even consider homeschooling? I mean, wasn't it, well, weird?
But I kept thinking about how much fun it would be to actually spend the day teaching my own children, instead of someone else's. I spent hours on the computer researching this educational option. I emailed complete strangers in homeschool groups and met at playgrounds with other homeschool families. I asked lots of questions, and left more confused than when I started. The reasons people homeschool are as varied as the ways people choose to teach their children. My husband and I talked about it, listing pros and cons but finally realized there was a leap of faith into unchartered territory involved. We decided to jump.
I bought a ridiculous amount of first grade material. I informed the school, my relatives and friends. Shock was the most common reaction, followed by a multitude of questions: How will you teach Peter with your two youngest? (lots of toy rotation and fun things planned for them while I taught) How do you know what to teach? (curriculum from the school department) Do you have to give grades? (optional, I gave a portfolio at the end of the year with work samples) How are they going to have any friends? (homeschool activities, afterschool sports, and keeping in touch with our usual friends) How long are you going to do this? (No idea, we'll take it year by year. And some weeks it seemed more day by day). I looked ahead to that first day of school six years ago with complete apprehension all summer. Was I doing the right thing? Was I going to mess up our child for life? That first day we did some schoolwork and then headed to the library. When we rounded the corner to the children's room we bumped right into a homeschool family. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. Relief flooded my system and suddenly this journey didn't seem so crazy anymore.
The best thing about homeschooling for us is the unhurried mornings. Our days begin calm and slow. The kids migrate to the couch and I read them stories, as we're all snuggled together like sardines. They propose writing ideas based on their interests. It might be a biography, a story, a report. Each child writes in a journal as well. Math involves lots of games for learning and manipulatives. We choose units to study together, heading to the library for books and creating projects to do. Afternoons we meet with friends at houses or parks, or the kids play outside. My husband leaves very early for work, and therefore is home by four, right when I need a break. One or more kids are whisked off by him to the rink, the soccer or baseball field depending on the season.
One huge advantage with homeschooling is the schedule flexibility. I teach on days normally taken off by school districts. We take off two weeks at Christmas. We've gone to Disney World in September and May when off season rates abound; the park is like a ghost town and every ride is walk on. We've taken winter breaks in January and not February with the rest of New England. Three day camping escapes are easy to pull off in May and June. Field trips to aquariums and zoos are gorgeous in October and April.
This is not to say that homeschooling is all sunshine and roses: It's not. There have been days when I have wanted to chase after the bus lumbering down our street shouting "Wait! You forgot three!" Some days the kids bicker and whine and don't want to do work. Sometimes I just don't want to teach. But just like my days as a school teacher, the good far outweighs the bad. Somehow I don't think I'll ever say to myself "I wish I hadn't spent so much time with my kids."
The years since that first tentative one have flowed along so quickly. At first their baby years seemed gone in a blink and now their school years are flying by as well. I consider our homeschooling opportunity a gift for me to spend time with them, to watch them learn and grow. It's time that would otherwise be lost to rushing out the door each morning and missing those splendid moments that are a hallmark to our days. There's one thing to be said about homeschooling; it allowed our family to get its groove back.