Our family doesn’t fit into too many pigeonholes. Or rather, we fit into far too many. We’re an adoptive family, but I gave birth to all the kids. (My husband adopted my older two.) We’re a stepfamily, but the kids have almost no memory of their biological dad. We’re a yours/mine/ours family, only without dozens of kids pouring out the doors. We send one kid to Catholic school, homeschool another, and just pray that the toddler naps daily. The Catholic school/homeschool split is one of the things that confuses people the most about us (I think — maybe they’re just too polite to point out some of our other oddities). Why not send both kids to the same school, or homeschool them both? And what’s wrong with public school?
My oldest, Catie, is the one in Catholic school. She used to attend the local public schools, and she had an okay experience until sixth grade. It wasn’t perfect — she’s a sensitive girl, and often cried about little frustrations, but I felt like her teachers were looking out for her. That changed in sixth grade — that’s the year they switch to middle school in our district. She spent a very rough year feeling picked on, ignored, and friendless. The teachers didn’t really have time to deal with all the high drama — they were trying to teach. (No blame, just facts.) I was already homeschooling her brother that year, and I asked her if she would like me to homeschool her too. She said no.
My girl is too social to manage well at home, and she and I are too much alike to manage well as a teacher/student combo. Have you ever put two radios on the same station in the same room? Did you notice that you had to adjust the dials, because the radios were affecting each others’ signal and would make it all static-y? That’s what Catie and I are like together. We don’t work well together because we distract each other, and the things that drive me crazy about her study habits are the same things that were hard for me to master — organization, not procrastinating, etc. She needed someone else to help her learn those things. So I thought that a smaller Catholic school would be a good move for her. I knew the environment would be quieter, more peaceful, and the academic standards would be high.
Jake, my husband, wasn’t convinced that she needed to make a change. After all, everyone goes through middle school — she could just suck it up, right? He didn’t get it. Until he went to pick her up from a school dance, and saw the 11-year-old girls dancing to music we don’t allow in our home on the dance floor. He talked to the principal about the music and dancing the following day (there had been chaperones, but it looked like they weren’t doing anything) and some of the other unpleasant behavior Catie had told us about, and was given the “we’re doing everything we can, thank you for your concern” speech while he was guided out the door.
Catie’s first lunch period in Catholic school, she sat down to the table, and a classmate said “I hope someone warned you — we’re not normal here.” She had found her people.
The biggest social benefit I can see to the school Catie now attends is the fact that it holds all grades, K through 8, in the same building. That means that the middle school–aged kids are not isolated — they’re held to a higher standard of behavior as an example to the younger children. And they live up to that standard. The academic end has been very challenging for her, but she’s doing very well — she got an A+ and moved on to the regional levels for her National History Day project.
My middle guy, Daniel, is in his second year of homeschooling. When he was in public school, they insisted on crafting an IEP (individualized education plan) for him, because he exists firmly in a place we call "Daniel land" — population one, but he encourages tourism. He’s a smart kid and he learns pretty well, but socially he’s a bit different. For example, during story time at school, he would sit on the rug and listen to the story, but face away from the teacher.
The teacher would take that to mean that he wasn’t paying attention to the story, but in fact he was able to nearly recite it. If he found it interesting, that is. The teachers had trouble keeping him “on task.” If they gave general instructions to the whole class, Daniel would need them to be repeated directly to him. The final IEP meeting I had in his school, the teachers were hoping that Daniel would qualify for a TSS (therapeutic staff support ) person, so there would be someone to sit with Daniel and keep him focused.
I decided that the best person to keep Daniel focused and working was me.
Last year we used a combination of odd curricula given by kind homeschooling friends, this year we're using a free online curriculum that meets all our state requirements and has daily work already planned out. He’s been learning, growing, and developing his social skills with other homeschooling friends — he surprises me with the things he learns and remembers from his favorite science books and shows. As for being a homeschooled, socially inept weirdo, Daniel was our little weirdo all along. Some kids aren't weird because they're home-schooled — they’re homeschooled because they're weird! It’s okay. We enjoy our weirdness here. Especially if you like Pokémon.
The amazing thing about putting each child where they're more comfortable — they're both learning much better. And if I put Daniel in Catie’s school, or decided to homeschool Catie, I think we'd have some friction. I mean, when Catie started the school year, I asked her if she would rather I drop her off and pick her up by car, since the bus would add an hour ride each way. She answered “No, I like the bus! I can get my homework done and talk to my friends!” She asks to tack an extra two hours to her day to socialize. Daniel likes the occasional play date, but if we're out for more than a few hours, he asks when we can go home. He also relishes that we can get through his “standard” schoolwork in a few hours, leaving him free to do more fun things.
My friends ask me if I’m going to keep homeschooling Daniel, or if I’m going to eventually put Tristan (our two-year-old) in school, or if we're going to transition Catie back to public school, and the only answer I have is we're going to take it one year at a time. If something stops working, we'll change it. We're flexible.