Warning: Exceptionally long post ahead!
Okay, I feel a need to write this post because I know how frustrating school decisions can be. I also know that I was helped immensely by being able to hear (and read) the experiences of others who have dealt with this before me. I am NOT going to go on and on about how fabulous homeschooling is and how I think it's the ultimate answer to everything. I'll get back to this, but my ideal solution doesn't exist, and that frustrates me like you would not believe.
Anyway, back to homeschooling. I always swore I wouldn't homeschool my kids. I was actually homeschooled. I went to public school through the second grade, then all six of my siblings and I were pulled out of the system.
In some ways, this was a terrible thing. While I think my mother made a decent try at it for awhile, by the time I was in high school, she would register us, pick up some books from the school, and say have at it. And that was pretty much it. Near the end, she didn't even do that. I actually found out when I was a junior in college that when I had turned 16, she'd gone to the school and registered me as a drop out because it was finally legal to do so.
Thankfully, I didn't know this when I was applying for college. Because, you may be surprised to know, I went to college right when I should have graduated from high school. And I graduated cum laude with a B.A. five years later (yep, some trouble picking a major there). I was okay because I'm intensely curious and I love to learn. I also love to read, so I took myself to our library every week and brought home an armful of books. I set myself a rule - I could bring home three books for "fun", but I also had to pick up one nonfiction and one book from the "classic" shelf. I'm very much a visual learner, so this worked for me. I did struggle a bit with math because I was also left on my own for that, and so I ended up having to take a remedial course before I could sign up for Math 101. That was my only real bump in the road academically, however, and I got As in both math classes.
Despite my success in college, however, homeschooling the way my mother had done it left me with a massive feeling of inferiority and as if I had to work double time to catch up. All those horror stories about homeschooled kids never leaving the house were mostly true in my case. My parents had no money for lessons, and the only homeschooled group we were part of, we stopped going to when I was young. I did have a church youth group and Girl Scouts (which I hated), but that was about it. I felt frustrated at having missed so much, and avoided talking about my homeschooled past whenever I was with friends.
So, I figured there was no way I would ever consider not putting my kids in school. I didn't want them to feel left out or feel later that they could have done bigger things with their lives (or at least had more choices) if only they'd gone to school. I really couldn't imagine that homeschooling could ever really be much of an answer for anything.
And then I had kids. Two little boys that I'd give my life for, two boys that I'm very close to and have weathered many storms in our Navy life together. I had a plan for how I'd put Wyatt in school. I wanted to do only one year of preschool two or three days a week. Then I'd avoid the fad of full-day kindergarten and make sure he was in a half-day program. I felt that would give him a good transition to full-day school in first grade.
Then we moved to a place where there was no preschool program period. There was a small day care, but it was just a day care - a place to leave your kids where they can play supervised. That, in my opinion, was not at all worth the money. So, I taught him to read and kept him home all year.
Then I went to register him for kindergarten and found out they only have a full-day program. Despite going in and talking to the school, they were absolutely adamant that they wouldn't work with me and he had to go full time or not at all. I swallowed my anger and enrolled him because they had me there.
And, like I thought he would, he struggled to adjust. When I brought up my concerns again, I was once again thrown up against this attitude of, "We know kids, and we can handle this, so stop worrying". Thankfully, his teacher was awesome, and we worked out something that made it bearable. He adjusted by Christmas and hasn't had trouble since.
That whole experience, though, left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. I think I had thought of sending him to school as a place where THEY worked for ME, but that really isn't the case. Instead, THEY are the professionals who think they know more than you do about what your kid needs. Their rules go, and even if they don't jive with what works with your family or don't even make rational sense (like the rule that you can't bring a younger child on a field trip, even if the only kids you'd be asked to help watch are your own and maybe one other classmate of your child's), you have to suck it up and deal with it.
I do get that they have to deal with a bunch of kids, and it's tough to accommodate an individual situation. The central question I have there, though, is whether or not I just want to swallow that answer and accept it, or if I want to look for a different solution. Especially since the kinds of issues we've had here are tiny compared to what we'll run into in a large school where we'll be far more a number than a name.
Because we're going to move away from here, and we can't afford a tiny private school. Not for two kids. We're also going to move again a few years from then. Their education is going to be interrupted over and over again. I've had far too many conversations with other military parents about the headache of trying to keep their kids' educations together. The schools don't have a great ability to keep up with requirements and such from state to state (not to mention internationally), nor do they have any real ability to cater to our kids' varying situations. It's just not going to happen. I don't want that for my boys.
I also don't want to have to consider school when we pick orders. Orders picking is stressful enough without having to worry about what the school system is in the various options. Plus, when trying to find a house, often very last minute or from far away, struggling to find one in a "good" school system makes that process infinitely more difficult. So school just doesn't fit our lifestyle in a lot of ways.
So, we're going to homeschool. Ironically, the free-range schooling I had as a kid is going to serve me well. I've seen firsthand that it truly is possible for someone to thrive academically without going to school. I also know to think outside the box when it comes to educating them because I'm not approaching it with the mindset that we need to do everything like it would be in a school. I also know where the weaknesses are in my own experience, and I mean to correct them. The internet is an amazing thing. It's enabled homeschoolers to network in ways that my mother just could not do. There are co-ops with classes and clubs to join, and a wealth of curriculum, books, and other materials (not to mention all the online education delivery options out there now) to access. There's no way their math will be neglected like mine was.
While we may not be able to afford private school, we can afford classes. Wyatt's quite interested in playing soccer when we move back to the States, so I mean to find a league and sign him up for it. I am determined to give them opportunities for these kinds of things as much as I can.
It's taken me a long time to really feel comfortable with this decision. It was overwhelming and scary thinking about striking out on my own. The more I've read, however, and the more I talk to other people who have done this, the more it feels possible and exciting. I did hate handing my son over to someone else for seven hours a day. It felt wrong somehow.
And here is where I have to swing back to my statement above. Despite the length of this post, I know I haven't touched on all the issues or reasons we are going to homeschool. A huge reason we are going to homeschool that I haven't yet addressed is because public school seems to operate on this "one-size-fits-all" method that just doesn't work. It also seems to believe that kids fail because they aren't being drilled enough on the basics, and that we need more hours spent on academics or we will just keep falling behind as a nation.
I don't believe this at all. I think our kids need more time to play, more time outside, and far less time at school. My son's school gives them all of 15 minutes for recess every day. Fifteen minutes. He complains about this, and I am right there with him. They do have a great P.E. teacher who gives them a better time to run, so at least they are getting some physical exercise, but there is something important about unstructured play. Because these kids don't need to spend seven hours a day on academics. In fact, that's not even what happens, anyway.
While I am glad we have homeschooling as an option, I wish it weren't the only one. Far too many people have no choice when it comes to school, and I think that's terrible. I'd like to see more respect given to parents, more cooperativeness between schools and parents, and massive support of the charter school program. Why the charter school program? Because the charters are actually putting new options into the hands of parents who cannot afford anything else.
My ideal school is one that allows me to enroll my kids for straight academic classes, yet does not take up their entire day. It's one where we can then choose extracurricular activities for the afternoon - or choose to not do any of them if the kid needs a break for a semester. This flies in the face of what people think our kids need, so I know we will never see it happen. My kids are only young once, so I have to fight for them in the only way open to us.
So, we are going to homeschool.