Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thinking about kindergarten

Education has been on the back burner of my mind since Jonathan was just about 2 years old. Gabe and I both entered marriage with glorious dreams of homeschooling our children. Both of us were homeschooled and felt well prepared for further academics. With college degrees under our belts and (for me) an interest and calling to teaching (albeit older grades) we had a plan and thought the decision was made.

But the best laid plans don't always mesh with reality, and for the past 2-3 years I've wondered, and oscillated, and stressed, and cried, and worried about how to educate our kids. I'm not sure I'm any further toward a peace filled decision than when I started.

Jonathan is a passionate child, full of will and energy and action. He needs routine and structure to help him channel all that energy, but he also needs wide open space and time to explore and play and run. He loves people and would happily play with friends all day, every day, unless someone hurts his feelings (and that takes a lot of care to help him process). He and I have an often stressful relationship, and I wonder if having me as his teacher (as well as mother) would be too difficult for both of us. But would a teacher, with 20 other charges, be able to see him as anything other than a difficult and hyperactive little boy?

I read articles like this one and I think that I will never put my child in school. My best friend, a vocal proponent of public schools for all the years I was against them, decided this year to homeschool her oldest for many of the reasons outlined in the article: too much pressure and not enough play. I find it amusing that she and I have switched positions, but am happy to see that so far it seems to be working well for them.

And have I really switched positions? Not exactly, since I do still think that homeschooling can be wonderful. I'm just not sure about doing it myself, with my child. Will Jonathan enjoy doing "real school"? Or will it be an ongoing battle? And then there are all my personal fears, like how I can fit it into my already too-crowded days, and still give my small ones enough attention, and keep up with laundry and housework and getting dinner on the table?

There are so many options now, which is wonderful and terrifying at the same time. Would we use a Charlotte Mason approach, or Montessori, or go classical and teach them Latin? Math-U-See or Saxon or something else entirely? Printing or cursive and which of the myriad of styles? I swear that there are at least sixteen different methods to teach a child how to read. And where do art and music and science and languages fit in? Is it best to just pick a curriculum and follow directions, or should I try to put together a hand-selected mix (terror says follow a curriculum, guilt says hand-pick it all).

If I'm honest, I think that I don't want to do it. I'm afraid of the whole process - all the decisions, trying to fit it into our often overwhelming days, the potential for more conflict with Jonathan, the responsibility.

And yet, and yet...

When I think about sending him to school, after the initial relief of "someone else will take over", I run into all the worries about pressure and lack of playtime and not being allowed to be an energetic little boy because TESTING is so all-important.

And when we do spend time learning together I love it. Once past all the fear and the dithering and the stress of dirty floors and underwear, when we sit down and do it, it is wonderful.

So maybe I had it right in my early idealism. I'm quite sure I overlooked the realities of implementing it in the midst of real life with children, but maybe my job now is to figure out a way to pull it off anyway.

I could really use some writing on the wall this coming year.


Heather said...

If it's any encouragement, my mom was fairly certain she wasn't going to be able to homeschool me past the first year for many of the same personality conflict reasons. We managed eventually. :-)

Ma Torg said...

I struggle with the same exact reasons a lot. However, when it came right down to it, our values that are the reason behind homeschooling are what convinced me. I knew I would have more regret if I didn't homeschool than if I struggled doing it.

There are a lot of approaches. It is crazy. I may not be doing teh best approach, but Jesse and I have just decided to pick one and go with it. At least until I am less overwhelmed.

It is going to be hard. I think a big part of the process for me is just accepting that it will be hard work.

Sara in Seattle said...

I'm not yet at this point, and I only have a 16-month-old, so what do I know really? LOL. But I do come from a family that homeschooled, and my brother and his wife homeschool their five kids, and there are some things I think about...

First, it is important to see the temperament of your child, of yourself, and that you may be unto something when you are worried that things may not work. A friend of a friend is a child therapist, and she had always planned on homeschooling, but with her child (a sears textbook case of "high needs") she ended up deciding that for the good of their relationship it just wasn't the best idea. Sometimes it is good for kids to have another authority figure, and also for yourself to be able to play the role of advocate for your child (and I mean advocate in the sense of not just speaking on behalf of them but also in the "coming along side" way... that you would be an adjunct to his regular teacher ) rather than as sole teacher, judge, authority, everything.

Also, it could be that the voice niggling at the back of your head is one of discernment, which I strongly believe the Holy Spirit gives us, especially as mothers. This is not to be confused with the voice of fear, which of course is not from God... and it can be tricky to figure out which voice that is.

Also, know that with homeschooling your kids, something will probably have to give. You are already doing a full-time job just being the caretaker of three little ones, and adding in another full-time job of educating one full-time will throw in a new dimension and new demands. I think it is wise to look at where you're at now and honestly evaluate yourself and your family. Are you currently getting enough quiet time to commune with God? Are you feeling drained or "zapped" a lot of the time? Do you feel like you get enough time just to play with the kids now without it always being education or task-related? If you are feeling good about where you're at now, then maybe homeschooling is a great choice for you, but if you're already looking around and feeling overwhelmed, and you have no idea what commitments you'd have to drop in order to be able to homeschool the way you'd like, then maybe it's not for you.

In my peer circle, I feel like there is this idea that homeschooling is best, if there is any way you can possibly do it. But honestly, as an outsider looking in, I don't feel that's always the case. I see plenty of families where I think the kids could be getting a better education outside of the home, or that the family dynamics might be better if the mom was just allowed to be a mom. I don't think homeschooling automatically equals better. We are all given different God-given strengths as mothers and different personalities in our children, and it only makes sense to me that the right decision may be different depending on your family.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that there is no shame or guilt in either choice. Either way you are prayerfully and carefully considering the best choice for your family and for you as a mom... and that may not look like what your other friends or peers choose. But that's okay. In my family, we had homeschooling, public school, and private school, and I can honestly say that all of them had their unique advantages and disadvantages. I don't think any of them were necessarily "better" overall, just better at the given time we were doing them and for our family situation.

Amber said...

I hope my email didn't add heap more fuel to the fire...

Just remember, any decision you make about this doesn't mean you have to do this for the rest of his school years - and you can change methods, curricula, even decide not to do it at all if it really isn't working.

And also, there is no one perfect curriculum, one perfect style, method, etc. Lots of different programs will work for teaching math, reading, etc. And all the other subjects? It's kindergarten - do what you can and don't stress about it too much. There's only so much a 5 yr old can do anyways. Work on reading and math, read aloud a lot, spend a lot of time outside and you're in good shape. The other stuff can come later, when you have your feet under you a bit and he's old enough to do more.

A package solution can be great, especially for the first year - after all, doing it one year doesn't mean you need to keep doing it year after year. It could be a great learning experience and could really help you gain confidence.

And really - homeschooling is hard - but it is a good sort of hard. God has grown me a huge amount through this process. I'd say it was the hardest thing I've ever undergone... but the house does top it. Perhaps once that whole building experience dims a bit in my mind homeschooling will come out on top again! (after all, the house was *only* two years, whereas homeschooling will be who knows how many years...) The things worth doing often (always??) the hard ones, after all.

Amy said...

Hi Emily! Just thinking of you after this post! So wanted to encourage you with what a great mom you are. You've been doing so many great things with the boys; it's inspiring! And that won't change whichever path you choose.

But I'll pray for you to feel that writing on the wall. For me it has never quite happened. I was sure we were sending our daughter to school this past year, pumped her up for it and convinced myself it was best but as it grew closer I had this nagging feeling that what she was entering into just wasn't for us and so it took courage to change our minds at the last minute but I'm so glad we did. But it never was the certainty that I've seen in so many friends. Even after finishing our first semester of kindergarten and being able to live all of the wonderful things I've always read about, I have doubts about my abilities, her needs, I grow weary, I make mistakes...But overall, we've chosen not so much a curriculum or philosophical approach but a way of life. Whenever I way the pros and cons, I waver--I honestly can see pros and cons for and against homeschooling. But when I think about what sort of life I want for our family, my decision became more clear. Don't know if that's helpful. I think asking yourself this question, what do I want our day to look like? helps though it might lead each family in different directions.

Myrnie said...

Hi there- you left such a lovely comment for me I came over to say hi...and got lost reading your words :) We too are *almost certain* we'll home school. My oldest will go to kindergarten next year, we think, just because it's fun and it's only a few hours a day.

Elena said...

Hey Emily--just remember that the stakes are extremely low.

Some of the most brilliant folks who ever lived had extremely limited formal education, and they somehow managed to change the world anyway. =) If all you can do is leave him just a tiny bit better educated than Washington Lincoln or Franklin, well that's not too shabby.

I hate to say this, but (with lots of glowing exceptions of course) most schools leave children worse educated than they would have been had no educational effort been expended on them. Your main role in helping your sons become well-educated is protective. Guard and keep these precious years--your children must have this time available for the learning they need to do, and if it is stolen from them by banality and busywork, it can never be bought back for any price.

Just be the brilliant, truth-loving person who you are, and give him the chance to catch the vision... anything else you give him is icing on the cake.


Linds said...

Wow, Sara in Seattle is brilliant. :)

You know my thoughts on the matter, Em. Traditional schooling's not the boogeyman it seems to be. It varies from district to district, school to school and classroom to classroom. Public schooling's not your only option. Private school, though pricey, can become especially affordable these days as private schools are desperate to get enrollment up - they're offering a lot more financial aid and payment options than in previous years.

But Sara's right - the point is not your qualifications or ideology. The point is where will Thomas thrive this year? It might be the same as the place he thrived last year, or the place he'll thrive next year, or it might not. Education is something that should be flexible, that each parent should decide for each child.

We have a family at our school with four boys. Each boy went to a completely different school. One was homeschooled for elementary, one sent to public school, and the other two to separate private schools, each specializing in each boy's interest. Sure it wreaked mild havoc on the family's carpool schedule, but they're the best example I've ever seen of dedication to each child's educational needs.

So it can be done. :)

Sylvia said...

We always make our decisions for 1 year at a time. I usually thought that I could probably manage to do it THIS year. Even with that decision, though, Steve often got calls in the middle of the day with me crying "I'm going to put these kids in school tomorrow!!!!" I know I didn't do a perfect job, but I'm pretty happy with the results. :)