It's that time of year again.
|A recent field trip with a friend|
I love and hate this time of year.
|Rascal #2 working hard on his math problems|
What time is it, Heidi? you ask.
|Rascal #1 researching Benjamin Franklin and Rascal #3 practicing subtraction|
Time to evaluate each child and decide if we will continue homeschooling next year or register them in a local school, that is.
This is the time of year where I doubt everything that I've done all year long - all the different programs or choices I made in lesson planning - and worry that the kids haven't "progressed" enough for the state. These are the days where I wonder whether or not they'd be better off in a traditional school, and if I'm somehow failing them by keeping them at home.
Most days I don't struggle with this. I see the excitement on Rascal #2's face as he masters multiplication. I watch the creativity blossom as Rascal #1 works hour after hour writing and illustrating a children's biography of Benjamin Franklin. I see the satisfaction and pride beaming in Rascal #3's smile as he writes his numbers - on his own. I know they're progressing. I know they're learning. I know that their natural curiosity is being fed and nurtured on a daily basis.
But I still worry. I think all of us homeschooling moms do that - it's hard not to, when so much is "riding" on your choices and hard work. I'm sure school teachers feel the same at the end of the school year, looking at their classroom full of pupils.
It helps me to sit down and look at the pros and cons of homeschooling, in general, during this time of year. Deciding to homeschool is very often not decided purely on the academics (although I'm sure some families do homeschool just for that reason - it seems that the majority of us do not). It's usually much more complex than that. So humour me for a bit, y'all, and walk through the pros and cons of homeschooling for our little circus.
- Our faith can become the basis for everything we do in a way that most traditional schools cannot. Science becomes a way to praise God for the beauty and intricacy of His creation. We can study the architecture and building techniques of cathedrals. We can insert saints into our study of world history. We can build our daily schedule around prayer and - on holy days of obligation, like today - we can build our day around Mass (some people go every day as part of their daily schedule - we don't, yet). Celebrating feast days can be an all-day event - including projects and lesson plans celebrating that saint - instead of just a special dessert that night after school.
- It's flexible. Very flexible. If it's an unexpected day of beautiful weather, we can move things around and start the day with a hike or early recess outside. I can take the first appointments of the day at the doctor or dentist office - without worrying that the kids will have too many absences at school (often, we can bring school along with us to do in the waiting room!). If Daddy has a day off in the middle of the week, but is working all weekend, we can take that weekday to spend time with him and make up the lessons on Saturday morning. We can take our family vacations on weeks other than the local spring break, making travel and work plans MUCH easier (not to mention it's MUCH easier to find a house/dog/chicken sitter!)
- The boys learn daily life skills WITHOUT having to sacrifice time with friends or other activities. We can take care of the chickens as part of our school day....or learn the skill of mopping the floor....or learn how to build a clothesline......all without having to say "no" to playdates. There's just more time in the day to do things like this when you're not sitting at a desk from 8 am to 3 pm!
- We have time to focus on what they really love. Take gymnastics, for example. We're at the gym on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. For hours at a time. If we were not homeschooling, a typical gym day would look like this:
school from 7:30-3 (including travel time to get to and from school)
rush to gym practice to get there by 3:30
practice from 3:30-5:30
rush home to eat dinner
in bed by 8 pm
There'd be no time to play. No time to relax. Very little time to spend with the family. Homeschooling opens up that entire 7:30 - 3:30 time period, leaving plenty of time to relax and play.
- It takes much less time than you'd think. We typically start school between 9:30 and 10 am, after sleeping in until 7:30 or 8, having a nice, cooked breakfast, and then our morning chores (bed making, kitchen cleaning, chicken care, etc). Rascals #2 and #3 are usually done by the time we stop for lunch around noon, and Rascal #1 is not far behind after a lunch break. That leaves a few more hours during the day for playtime, time to read or work on art projects, time to explore or go on field trips (or appointments!)......time for life. It's amazing how much less time we can spend on a concept, solely because there is the opportunity for one-on-one teaching.
- There's less of a chance for our children to learn behaviours or beliefs that are not consistent with our family's values. I'll never forget the day I picked up Rascal #1 from a day at kindergarten to hear him start singing Lady Gaga in the car on the way home. My heart stopped beating for a moment to hear my 6 year old singing about things that I'd hoped to keep away from him a little bit longer. Now, I know I can't "shelter" them from everything forever......but for right now, I want him to be a child. Our family wants this time to help our children grow in their identity as Catholic males and, well, the current culture isn't going to help them do that.
- There's no "us vs them" mentality, or at least, very little of it (I had to reword this, mainly because the boys are in a "spy" phase where they work together to spy on Mike and I throughout the day....so I guess, technically, there is a bit of "us vs them", haha). One of the things I remember very clearly from my days as a youth minister was watching the difference between a couple of the teens (who were homeschooled) and those who weren't when it came to their view of authority figures. Our traditional school system is set up to naturally create an "us (students) vs them (teachers or authority figures)" mindset - the oppressed vs the oppressor. In my time as a youth minister, I watched this mindset slowly transfer over to include parents and all adults in the "them" category. It was much less pronounced in teens who were homeschooled. In my opinion, I think it is much easier for a child to grow up seeing their parent as a fellow teammate in a homeschooled environment.
- I get to spend my days with three little men that I truly love to be around. I don't miss out on cuddles or hugs or giggles. I'm there to see the first time they master the monkey bars. I get to see the excitement as they learn to read a story on their own. I'm the one they call out for, excitedly, after creating a piece of artwork. I don't hear about it after the fact, in a progress report, or in an end-of-the-year portfolio. I'm there, walking with them, as they reach each milestone.
- We get to sleep in. I know, I know, this sounds totally crazy, but it's a big deal for me. Making sure that our kids get enough sleep is a huge priority of mine. They're able to learn more, run faster, and enjoy life to the fullest when they've had enough sleep. There's no staying up late to finish homework, or getting up early in order to catch the bus. We can let them sleep in their own natural rhythms and wake to their own natural alarm clocks. I do think this is one of the major factors in our lack of sicknesses in the past two years. Their bodies are able to rest enough and fight off whatever germs we may come into contact with.
- My patience is growing. I've become a better mother to my boys, and I'm completely convinced that homeschooling has had a huge hand in this. Instead of rushing from one activity or school pick up/drop off or hurried dinner to another, I'm able to relax a bit. My to-do list is much more flexible, and the amount of relief that has given me is huge. Without that stress or anxiety hanging over my head, I'm able to laugh more. I can listen more to the kids. My patience with their behaviour or needs has grown immensely - and I think it's mostly due to the lack of stress I feel. Now, whenever I hear another mom say something like "I don't think I'm patient enough to homeschool," there's a part of me that cringes inside. I thought the same thing - in fact, it was the main reason why we didn't homeschool for the first two years of Rascal #1's school "career." I was positive I would lose my temper too often and be yelling all of the time and it would ruin my relationship with the kids, when, in fact........homeschooling has done just the opposite.
- We can focus on the subjects that the kids love, and let them learn about things that they are interested in. Rascal #1 loves architecture......so we can study famous buildings and he can recreate them. Rascal #2 loves math, all kinds of math.....so we can move more quickly in that subject than the others.
- On the flip side, we can spend more time in subjects where they struggle, without them getting "behind." Each subject takes much less time at home than it does at school - which leaves us plenty of time each day to spend extra time on something that they're struggling with. Rascal #1 struggles with math......so I can spend more time every day playing math games with him, or reviewing concepts. Rascal #2 struggled with learning to read........so I could spend more time cuddled with him on the couch, reading our way through more stories and easy readers. All of this can happen without sending them to a special class or tutor (and therefore, there is also no stigma of having to go to the "stupid" kid class), or without getting behind in our daily lesson plans.
I'm sure there are more pros to homeschooling, and I am leaving out something that pertains to your family, but for us, these are the major ones. Feel free to add your own in the comment box below!
- It takes dedication. My laziness is a problem - I'd much rather spend the day playing instead of cracking open the lesson planner and working on tomorrow's plans. I'm pretty good about keeping on top of the lessons for the boys (after all, I don't want to put them behind), but it's VERY hard for me to be dedicated enough to prep lessons or plan out our week or even get the next day's lessons ready the night before. Laziness is a constant struggle for me.
- I'm always with my kids. I know, I know, this is in the list above, too. Most of the time, this is a pro for homeschooling for me....but sometimes it is a con. When I had a filling break and needed to go to the dentist, last-minute........it was a con. When it's time for that yearly appointment at the doctor's office (you ladies know what I'm referring to)....it was a con. It is significantly harder to find child care during the day than it is on a weekend or even in the evening. It's also usually more expensive to hire a sitter during the school day than on the weekend, because the people who ARE available at 10 am on a Wednesday morning are college students or other moms, who either charge more or ask for babysitting services in return. It can be done, but it takes much more work and planning. Traditional school is "easier" in this regard - if the boys were in school, I'd have 8 hours a day to do things like this without worrying about what I'd do with them.
- It can be just as expensive as a private education. We were blessed enough to find a lot of our school books either used or for free (given to us by friends), which opens up a lot of room in our education budget for "fun" things, like memberships to the zoo or tickets to go see the symphony. All of those things add up, though, and the cost of schoolbooks and art supplies can grow pretty darn high. For us, it's still cheaper than three children in Catholic school, but it is definitely more expensive than I had anticipated originally. We're blessed with a great job for Mike, though, and as of yet, it has not been a stumbling block. Homeschooling can be done for very little cost, but it takes work and dedication (see the first con) to do so.
- There is a constant undercurrent of doubt, at least for me. I worry that I'm not providing my kids with enough chances to make friends or that I'm not fulfilling all of their academic needs. I worry that our friends and family members doubt my ability to teach the boys. I worry that we'll be seen as that "weird" family by those in our extended community, and that the boys will have to fight this image for their entire lives. I worry that I'm impeding their ability to grow and learn by keeping them at home. If I sit back and really evaluate the boys objectively, most of these fears disappear........but on a regular, day-to-day basis, they are there, in the background, constantly nagging at me.
This time of year, all of these things start swirling to the surface, and I have to sit back and really evaluate each boy and their needs. Is homeschooling the right fit for them, as an individual? Can I - should I - be giving them something else in their educational journey? Am I being objective enough?
It's a scary evaluation, and one that I dread. It's so difficult to know whether or not you're doing the best job possible raising your child - and that changes from child to child. Maybe Rascal #1 would do better in a traditional school. Maybe Rascal #2 needs to be home right now. But then again, I once was told that homeschooling was for the FAMILY, not just the child. If I look at it through that lens, what is the best decision for our family?
I think, for the time being, we'll continue to homeschool......the pros outnumber the cons for us right now. Maybe someday that will change, who knows? Homeschooling is the right "fit" for our family at this point in time.
I just wish it wasn't so easy to second-guess everything........
How about your family? Did I miss any pros/cons for you? Share your experience in the comments below!