Choosing to homeschool, again.

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I wrote back in July about the decision to send my previously homeschooled children to school. They started school at the beginning of September, and I’m writing now with our one-month update. Two out of three children will continue in school. The third is going to be homeschooling again.

Going from homeschooling, to sending them to school, to homeschooling one of them took me on a very weird rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions. I had mixed feelings about them going to school. I have mixed feelings about the one coming home. To some extent I expected that. However there were things I didn’t expect. I want to write about those things I didn’t expect.

I didn’t expect to find it so hard to be a backseat driver on my children’s education.

Homeschooling,  we develop our own ideas about how our kids learn best. I didn’t realize how hard it would be suddenly to sit back and let the teachers do their thing. When my daughter brought home “sight word books” I cringed. I dutifully sat and helped her read them, working in my own phonics lessons with her in our spare time. I know that putting them in school I would have to be a backseat driver. I know the teachers have enought to deal with without parents sharing their every opinion or thought, and that they have methods and purposes I might not know. Still, it was hard. It is hard.

I didn’t expect the school to assign grade level based purely on their age, without regard for the work my children had previously been doing.

There’s jokes about homeschoolers not knowing what grade they are, but I had been pretty clear with my kids that we’re still doing some grade-appropriate work. My sons worked through curriculum that identified what grade it was meant for. Yet when we registered them for school, all the school was concerned about was their birthdays. Two of my kids have birthdays that meant they would be the oldest in their classrooms AND have to redo the grade they just did at home. The school assured me that there is nothing that they can do about it, and that being with their age-peers was of paramount importance. Then they placed one of my kids in a split-class with only five kids his own age, and the majority fo the kids a grade below. So not only is my son expected to redo a grade, he’s expected to listen in while the teacher is teaching the grade below. The excuse he has to be with kids his own age also falls apart when they are willing to put him with kids so much younger.

In an era in when children are not held back even when they cannot do the work required, holding children who can do the work back seems so wrong, and the excuse that they have to be with kids their own age, when they are but one month from the dividing line, seems petty and arbitrary.

When I tried to discuss the issue with the principal, superintendent, etc, I was treated to phrases such as “just because your mother’s instinct tells you he’s passed that grade doesn’t mean he has”. The total disrespect for the work put into homeschooling was quite concerning to me. I would understand if they insisted I show them evidence of my child’s work, or that my child be tested in order to proceed at what for him would be grade-level, but to simply reject it all out of hand infuriates me.

That son is still in school, for the moment, because he’s enjoying it and can spend his extra time after he’s done the super easy assignments reading, but I’m ready to pull him out whenever necessary.

I didn't expect the absolute joy I felt when I started resorting the bookshelves for homeschooling again!
I didn’t expect the absolute joy I felt when I started resorting the bookshelves for homeschooling again!

I didn’t expect to start worrying that I was a helicopter mom, and then to realize that my very worry about being that was holding me back from what I thought I should do.

The fear of being a helicopter mom made me feel very uncomfortable. We hear so much about pushy parents, and then I find myself thinking “am I too pushy?”

When my one son was finding it hard in school, I kept hearing all those voices in my mind about how I shouldn’t try to intervene. I should let him endure and learn from it. I found myself remembering when I had a newborn baby who had trouble going to sleep. I remembered then too feeling like I had to try to be strong and distant so as to force him to learn to sleep and be a “good baby” in the way people picture “good babies” being. I remember the relief it was one night when I suddenly realized I don’t want to do any of that. I want to just hold my child, and be there for him no matter what. I want to love him exactly as he is, and stop fighting my instincts. I had that same sense of relief when I decided yes, we would pull him out and homeschool again. No, I don’t need to hold off supporting him in order to force him to adjust to school.

I didn’t expect people to judge me from a distance for deciding to pull the one child out.

I know that one month is not a huge amount of time. I know that people might think a child should try longer than that, to really get the feeling of what school is like. But one month was enough and the decision was mine (and my husband’s, and our son’s). We’re keeping pretty quiet about what was actually behind the decisions, for the sake of our children’s privacy.

I guess I thought after six years of homeschooling my kids that our relatives had come to accept it. I didn’t realize there were people who thought us putting the kids in school was a really good thing and who are disappointed by our choice to pull the one out. Oh well. We can’t please everyone. If you’re one of those people who thinks the kids need more experience in school ask yourself how well you really know my children or the life we lead homeschooling.

I didn’t expect to have to confront all the myths and challenges about homeschooling again, when I decided to pull one child out.

I’ve homeschooled my children for years. I was, for the most part, comfortable homeschooling them. Now though, as I pull one out of school, I’m confronted again with comments about how homeschooling doesn’t allow children to have enough experience outside the family setting, and how failure to adjust and be happy in a school setting means a child should spend more time there, because otherwise, somehow, supposedly, the child will fail at everything for the rest of his life.

Even I, for a few minutes, find myself wondering if those are true. Should I leave a child in an unhappy situation so as to encourage the child to learn to stick things out? Would staying in school force the child to learn to adapt and comprimise? I find myself wondering those at times.

Suffering can build moral character, yes, but it is a particular type of suffering. Needlessly suffering simply to “fit in” makes little to no sense.

I think about when I was a child. If one counts success at school as being getting good grades and having the approval of one’s teacher, I succeeded fine. But that didn’t mean I was happy, or learning, or learning good things. Being able to fit oneself into the round-hole of school isn’t necessarily the best thing and there’s nothing wrong with being a square peg that doesn’t fit properly.

I’m sure my parents had all the same doubts about homeschooling and long-term costs and benefits when they pulled me out of school at age 12. My parents let me homeschool, using correspondence courses. I did ok. I loved university when I got there, and I’ve managed to do okay since. I know other successful homeschoolers. I know it can work out.

The fact of the matter is, that some children are going to have extra challenges whether they are in school or out of school. My son is happier out of school and I can help him with the challenges.

I’m pleased that my son was able to explain to me what was happening at school, and to make a good case for coming home again. I watched as he struggled with whether or not he wanted to come home. I was proud of him for weighing the pros and cons, and for being able to hold mixed feelings about it and acknowledge the mixed feelings. I was proud of him for trying his best to succeed and fit in at school. I was proud of him when he admitted to me that he had started questioning whether trying his best was the right idea or not. He had started worrying that perhaps his trying was making his being at school look more successful than it was, and we would decide he should stay there, but instead of just misbehaving like he was thinking about, he came to me and explained about the toll it was taking on him. I was proud of him when during the last meeting at the school, he made the awkward joke implying he was a lawyer wishing to speak privately with his client, so that he could take me outside the room and explain very calmly that the changes we were talking about making in school would not be enough, and he really just wants to stay at home.

I learned a lot about this son’s way of thinking. I learned more about how he sees the world, and how he was interpretting different things in school. He sees things differently than I do. He sees things differently than most people do, and that is a blessing as well as a curse.

I think in many ways the big choice – to homeschool or not to homeschool – is not nearly as important as the millions of little choices I’ll be making during the year. If I want him to learn flexibility and teamwork, do I model that myself? Which other settings can we find for him to practice those skills in? What type of coaching can I give him? How do I respond to his successes and failures? I have every day a million little choices to make. People might think I’m a helicopter parent, and maybe for now I have to be that.

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  • Christy M

    Good for you! Good for trying, good for realizing that children are different from each other, good go caring more about him than everyone else.

    I have to say I find public schooling our children significantly harder than home school, but so far it seems to be what’s best for them.

  • Lisa Ehrman

    We always took homeschooling one-year-at-a-time. We put our kids in school once, too. We took them out, too. You just have to do what is best for them. Parents always know, at the time, what seems best. It’s hard, because other’s do judge us. I’m glad you put your child’s needs first.

  • Karen

    Just so you know, even if they had tested your children, they still would have placed them by age. My eldest was tested while in public school and they basically only use it to make sure a child is not behind. If the child is ahead, they just figure they don’t have to worry about that kid, as opposed to actually trying to meet their level.

  • Laura

    I am sorry the whole process was so challenging. I remember how frustrating it was for us when our daughter decided she wanted to try public school. We even had test scores to help our case for her advancement, but they just wouldn’t do it. She was also allowed to read while the other kids were being educated.
    We are back to homeschooling and we are just calling those two years her “lost years”. She had fun and made friends, but did not learn a thing.
    There is not one educational style to fit everyone. Public school is great for some, homeschooling for others and we even have friends that do a hybrid of both (very forward thinking school district). It would be nice if schools were more helpful in finding the best fit for kids. Maybe as homeschooling becomes a larger player in the educational system, local school districts will be more willing to work with homeschooling families.
    Bravo for you son for considering his options and making his best choice..and fighting for it! That is a great lesson in itself!
    Good luck with all your little ones.

  • Lucinda

    Love all of this so much, especially the questions in your last paragraph. My kids are 11 and 12 and have been out of school for 6 years. My 2e son is resolute he never wants to go back; my daughter talks about it now and then (so she could see more of her friends). So interesting reading about your experiences – thank you for sharing them so eloquently and insightfully.

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