Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Adventures in Education

Back when I was a girl going to school, most parents didn't really have a need to put a great deal of thought and planning into their children's education. Most kids went to public schools, a handful of kids went to private schools, and even fewer were homeschooled.

In the years since my graduating highschool class of 1983, much has changed and it has changed in monumental ways. From the core curriculum in elementary through high school, to the laws pertaining to education for children under 16, to the freedoms and the choices parents now have in determining by whom and how their children will be educated.

Before we made the final decision to homeschool in 1999 we had thoroughly researched it, prayed about it, talked about it, and weighed the pros and cons of a public school education v. a homeschool education. It took almost three years to come to the decision and in the end homeschooling was the best choice for us and our kids.

Now we fast forward ten years.

First, in looking back over the last ten years as a homeschooling family I can say without question it has been one of the hardest things and one of the most incredibly rewarding things I have ever done, in my life. Even though I spent a lot of time reading much material about it before we began, I never had a clue how much work it really was to teach every single day. It isn't just teaching, it's planning, and scheduling, and supervising and constantly staying up to date with new resources and better opportunities. You're not just the teacher, you're the principle, the text book quality control staff, the ordering department, entertainment coordinator and school district superintendent all rolled into one. And that's just on a slow day. If you have even one child with any kind of learning difficulties, it can become even more complicated - very quickly.

At the same time, being in the role of teacher has been an awesomely incredible experience for me. I cannot count the number of times one of my kids had an "ah-ha!" moment and a previously complicated matter became clear to them, and we both rejoiced at the same time. To be able to be a part of that, is nothing short of amazing. To teach my children letter sounds, then blends, then how they all fit together and then how to read word after word, paragraph after paragraph, feels like I've stood at the door of the most incredible adventure EVER, and handed them the key to enter in. Reading is so critical to education and understanding, and to be able to teach someone how to do that is quite humbling.

Just as we researched and talked and prayed before we made an educational decision ten years ago, we've been doing the same thing with each passing year with the four kids at home now. We always knew that eventually we'd want to put them back into public school when the time was right for each of them, so we've been sort of taking the timing-temperature each year.

This past school year that just ended, was officially the last homeschooling year for three of the four kids at home. I have to be honest and say that it's hard to write that without some stinging in my nose and a lump in my throat. Not because I think we're making a poor choice, but because it's the same feeling nearly all parents have when it's "time" for their babies to venture off a bit and spread their wings and grow. For a lot of parents that is kindergarten when their babies are only five, and for other parents its the feeling that comes when the kids head off to college. For this homeschool mom, the time is when three of them are (or will be, by the next school year) 9, 10 and 11.

Part of the deciding factor to homeschool them from the beginning was to give them a solid, Christian based education, and foundation. None of them have ever been to public school and they all began formal schooling at home by the age of four. All of them have in fact received that solid foundation to build on. We have accomplished what we set out to do, and now we believe it's time to allow them (in a limited, grade school setting of course) to make some new choices of their own, have new experiences, new opportunities, meet new people, and begin a new phase of education.

We know it's not going to be an easy transition, and they really don't realize how different homeschooling is from public schooling. Of course we've talked about it and we continue to talk about it each day with them (its the new daily topic of conversation, they have a million questions), and when school actually begins in the fall it will likely be a one-day-at-a-time situation for each of them. They'll have to get used to a new routine, with new rules (lots of new rules) and new expectations. I will likewise have to get used to a new routine as well, wearing the dual-hats I've worn before (when the older girls were in public school and we homeschooled Jessica), being a homeschool mom and a public school mom at the same time, since Ruth will be staying at home for at least one more year. Something she's not entirely happy about, but Kev and I are both in agreement that she really isn't ready for such a transition just yet. The really nice thing is however, is that the school the older kids will be attending is a K-8 school only five minutes from here. That definitely makes this mother a little more at ease, sending her precious babies off somewhere for 6 hours a day. At least it's close and they'll be together, in a sense. If Ruth is ready the following school year, she'll be attending there with them as well.

Over the summer, all the "official" business of going back to school, begins. The registration paperwork, the tour of the school, school clothes, supplies, and all those things homeschool families do a little differently. In some ways I'm dreading it, and in some ways I'm looking forward to it - mostly for the opportunities they'll have that they currently do not have being educated at home. The part I'm dreading is their transition from home to school, and how that might go. I can only pray it goes well, and pray for wisdom to help each of them if and when and how they need it in adjusting. Kids are pretty flexible, so I can only hope they all adjust well to both the academic expectations and the social structure of a public school life.

The other part I very much look forward to (for them) is the sense of community they'll begin to feel, being a part of a local school. All the school functions and events they'll want to take part in will be a lot of fun for them and something they've unfortunately never been able to have while homeschooling. We've never been able to join any kind of HS support/community group because they're all so far away. In many ways this will be a huge blessing to them, and I'm grateful for that. In other ways it will be a challenge, as we'll need to address some of the non-Christian/liberal types of things they'll hear from both adults and other kids, but this is something they are each ready to be exposed to, and know how to give and answer for. I don't expect any of them to be little Johnny Evangelists at their school (even Christian adults don't always have that evangelistic zeal and confidence in their day to day lives) , but I do expect that they will have the opportunity to really begin to think about their own faith and why they believe what they believe. This is important for them, and part of any Christian's spiritual growth. If they do have the opportunity to share that faith with their newfound friends, then praise God for that!

So, this summer begins our last summer of things being the way they are. In a very real way, it's a bittersweet time for me. I'll probably cry the first morning they get on the bus in September, but I think that's okay. I'm going to enjoy my last summer at home with these kids before everything changes so much in the fall.

Your prayers for our family would be greatly appreciated.