I never planned to homeschool. Heck, my eldest daughter was in public school.
Sure, I'd heard of homeschooling, even had extended family on my husband's side that were homeschooling their child, but it wasn't for me.
I viewed homeschooling parents as, well, better than me. I didn't have the patience, the knowledge, or the organizational skills to ever attempt it. I couldn't even keep up with the danged laundry most days, so there's no way I could possibly take on educating my kid! That's for the professionals. Not for me.
Besides, I had plans. Once all our kids were in school, I was going back to work. I missed working. We'd agreed that it was best for one parent to be at home with the kids, until they were old enough to be in school full-time.
I wish I could say it was some lofty principles that were the sole basis of that decision, but considering we had two young ones at the time, plus our eldest daughter, there was no way daycare was even remotely financially reasonable for us. I was a bit relieved with that realization, because both of us really did want a parent at home, and it gave us an outside justification to do so.
"Diva," our eldest daughter was in grade three when she began to experience serious bullying issues. Unfortunately, it wasn't just the students, although that would have been bad enough. Her teacher was also tormenting her.
At a parent-student-teacher meeting, she told my husband (I was at home with a six-week-old baby) that, “Diva doesn't pay attention in class. She's just like my 16-year-old niece. My niece is now a high school drop out, and addicted to meth. Diva is going to be exactly like her.” Seriously. My then 8-year-old daughter was already labelled an addict and drop-out, before Christmas, by her teacher.
Each day my daughter came home in tears. Other students were teasing her, stealing her snacks, harassing her for her milk money, and when she went to the teacher, she was told, “___ is a good boy/girl. He/She wouldn't do that.” I was watching my daughter break a little more each day, and felt helpless to stop it.
I talked to a family member who had homeschooled, and discovered they'd also pulled their daughter from elementary school for bullying issues. Could homeschooling really be an option? For me?!
So, I did one of the things I do best. I researched the hell out of things. I found local homeschooling groups, learned what the laws were, and learned that, despite what I'd been told by the school, I could indeed pull my daughter out mid-year.
And that's what we did. We sent a note in, informing the school that it would be her last day, and arranged for her to be registered as a homeschool student the next day.
Some may think that our choice to yank our daughter from school and homeschool her was abrupt, even overreacting. All I knew was that for my child, it had to stop. She had to be protected. I didn't feel like we had the luxury of time anymore to wait and see if things improved.
I ended up getting a call from the vice-principal, who proceeded to lie to me about why he was calling, told me that I couldn't register my daughter mid-year, and threatened to report me for truancy. Luckily, being the research hound I was, I knew the school was lying and trying to prey upon fears of legal action, and shut them down right away.
The early days weren't easy ones. I struggled because the school books she brought home were mostly blank, with only a page here and there filled in. I had no idea what she'd been doing in school all day. I had no idea how a child could be in school for months, and have so little to show for it.
I had materials sent from the school board I was with, and attempted what many homeschoolers refer to as, “school at home." We went through the same materials, and the same path of study. I really didn't have a clue as to where to start, because I didn't know what she'd actually learned. Her teacher claimed she had no reading comprehension, and we knew that was impossible, given the way she chattered on about the books she was reading at home.
We set her books on the kitchen table, and dove in. I was wrangling a new baby, and a toddler, and privately wondered how bad I was screwing things up. At the end of the school year, we did standardized testing, to see where she was at, and to get an idea if this homeschooling thing was actually working or not.
Her lowest scores had her two years ahead. Her highest, four years ahead. Ironically, in reading comprehension, which her teacher claimed she didn't have at all.
Best of all, I was watching her become happy again.
Our second year, after more research and planning, I ditched the school board provided curricula, and we went out on our own...to a point. I found other curricula that worked better for her, and played to her interests. Higher level reading, more challenging math. And she thrived.
I was stunned to discover that "school," as far as book work went, was done by noon most days. I called a homeschool mom I'd gotten to know, worried I was missing something, and was reassured to find out that it was a common situation for elementary students. Because they aren't waiting for a classroom of students, with varying learning styles and abilities, homeschooling is a much more streamlined process.
We're in year eight now.
I've discovered a lot along the way, first and foremost being that yes, I can homeschool. Homeschool parents are no more perfect than any others. I'm still not a Stepford Wife, and still run behind on laundry. I'm still so far from perfect that I can't find it on a map.
BUT...I've discovered that homeschooling, this thing I never thought I would, could, or want to do, actually works for my family, better than public school had. The younger kids have never gone to public school.
They may go in the future. I honestly don't know. It's not in our plans, but then, neither was homeschooling. I'm taking it a year at a time, willing to change our plans if it becomes a better decision for us as a family, or even for an individual child.
I've been asked if I worry about the kids missing out, by homeschooling. Sure I do. I don't think there's a parent on the planet that wonders about downsides to their parenting choices. The most common question homeschoolers tend to get is about socialization. The great thing is there are so many opportunities -- many homeschool organizations have activities for kids to participate in.
The kids have gone downhill skiing, rock wall climbing, nature hikes, sledding and skating parties. "Diva" joined Cadets (not homeschool based), and won bronze in her first-ever public speaking competition.
As a family, we homeschool year-round, and flex our time differently than the school schedule, which allows us to travel in the off season. We hit the museums, science centers and zoo on days when there aren't school groups, and can be crowd-free.
These days, one of my biggest challenges is the kids having their own idea of what a school day looks like. The younger Minions like to start immediately after breakfast, by about 7 a.m. They have no respect for my mostly decaffeinated state before shoving a math book under my nose, and demanding to do fractions and long division.
Not all homeschool days are easy. Not by a long shot. Some days the lessons drag out, and the kids aren't interested, and I feel like I'm dragging them through their lessons. I have one kid that's convinced that printing and handwriting is cruel and unusual punishment. They squabble with each other, they argue about why their papers don't need to be rewritten, and attempt to convince me that since the Nomads didn't have writing, they don't need to either. (Thanks, ancient history).
But...when that light goes on, in a new room in their minds...when suddenly all the phonics make sense, and reading becomes an enjoyment rather than a chore...when they excitedly greet Dad by recounting tales of Attila the Hun...When they're making Nomad shelters in the backyard, laughing at science experiments at the kitchen table, “Look at this Mom! How cool is that?!”...I'm so glad that I get to be the one to witness that.
I love being able to chase rabbit trails with them. When one asks about how Queen Bees are chosen in the hive, we can spend an unplanned hour or two researching it, looking at videos online. Or discovering fossils in the riverbed on a hike.
As for Diva? She's thrived wonderfully through homeschooling. We're discussing her going to public school for her last two years of high school, rather than continuing her online method.
Funny thing: I want her to try high school for at least a year, and she would rather stay home. At this point, we've negotiated one year at a time. Try it next year, and go from there, which has been my perspective on homeschooling as well. A year at a time, and be willing to change things if they're no longer working, or working as well as they should.
And I've discovered, that sometimes the best things in life are the ones you never plan.