I was completely sure of my school decision – to homeschool. I wasn’t going to “cheat” and buy pre made programs or do online classes. No, I was going to create a curriculum based on several states’ requirements, not just the one I was living in. I was going to do this schooling thing completely from scratch. (Or so my delusions led me to believe.) We were going to travel and experience life while everyone else was tied to one place and to a strict schedule. There would be freedom in homeschooling and that felt amazing. After I realized I could go to the museum on a Tuesday morning when no one else was there with us, I felt I deserved a cape of some sort. I had become super homeschooling mom.
Then, I began to homeschool.
Choosing homeschool wasn’t something I ever dreamed I would do when I decided to become a mom. I didn’t even know WHAT homeschool was before I began my research. I wasn’t on a religious mission and I wasn’t against the machine, the man, or the testing agenda.
Desperation led me to homeschool, as is often the case when education options are limited. My special needs child wasn’t getting what she needed at a traditional school setting. I was told by her first grade teacher that she would never learn to read. After begging for help from the school, searching for IEP plans, and seeing no new results at two different types of schools, homeschooling became the only solution. It was a thing that had to be done. I would teach this kid to read if it killed me.
Grandiose ideas often lead to insane choices. For some reason, I was under the misguided belief that homeschooling all of my kids would be much easier than leaving two in school until I had it figured out. I was going to take on not one learning issue but two; plus, try to cobble together a sound curriculum for these special needs.
To complicate matters further, I quickly learned about the many homeschooling community factions. There are serious homeschooling groups with different beliefs and you have to pick who you are representing within the community. Unfortunately for my kids, I didn’t fall into any of the categories offered. There didn’t seem to be a right answer for us in the town I was living in at the time so socialization opportunities were challenging. This blew me away. All the books I researched on homeschooling and socialization stated over and over that it wasn’t an issue; that the kids found their community in other homeschooling environments. But, we found that was not true for us.
Three kids and three long years later, I was researching unschooling like it was a golden chalice. I attended conferences, found hippy playgroups, and renewed my love of getting dirty outside and started to believe that yes, my kids can learn in this free thinking environment. Eventually, I found new friends and found myself changing my language about their education development. I was also evolving and finally finding my groove in this education journey. I was excited that we had found our own faction of people. Without structured schoolwork, my kids were going to quit whining and fighting the school work we needed to accomplish. With no worksheets or a set agenda, they were going to find their passion. (Imagine me stamping my foot here.)
This lasted two months.
I started worrying about those nagging multiplication facts. I noticed we were doing a lot of Legos and Minecraft. Don’t get me wrong, I love free play and imagination but I would lie in bed and think how WILL they become anything they want to be if they don’t know…grammar, algebra, or chemistry?
I found that I was beating myself up constantly. My kids were no longer fighting me because they were too busy doing a lot of nothing. Sadly, my kids didn’t seem to know how to use this open space I provided. They weren’t motivated to discover new experiences or research new ideas.
My kids and I were failing homeschool!
I couldn’t keep doing this. It seemed irresponsible as a parent and as an educator. I provided interesting tools and new experiences. I freed them, but the free space was too much for me to handle. It was falling apart, and I was falling apart.
I needed support and I needed structure. I didn’t want to feel like everything was weighing on me and the opportunities I was or was not providing. A friend said to me during this homeschooling period, “Don’t you think your kids need to experience the bully?” I was horrified. How could this bright, educated person say anyone should experience the bully. I wrote her off as crazy.
Years later, I realized that I owed her an apology.
While her language wasn’t exactly persuasive, I finally got the message. No, they don’t need the bully but they need as many different types of people in their world as possible. Having diversity, not only in race, background, and religion, but also in personality and socio-economic status, brings a layer of perspective I couldn’t give as a homeschooling mom. The bubble I created was too small.
There is no right or wrong choice in schools (homeschool, private school, public, etc.); but after doing all of them, I realized for me and my kids, life experience was more than great planned vacations that didn’t happen often enough, or being creative with your curriculum. For me, school was about community and the opportunities random people provide. I may have failed at homeschooling, but I realized that every family is different and we all have individual needs.
Now, all three of my kids are in public school. They experience terrible things with the librarian who had a bad day or the mean math teacher, but they also learn how to deal with those experiences in a healthy way. I am here at home to discuss it all with them. They also get the extra support and opportunity to learn from teachers that love them. My special needs child, who did learn to read during our homeschool adventure, is being cared for in a public school that offers dreamy accommodations, a gift to our entire family. I don’t lie in bed at night worried about being the only teacher in their lives. Now, I lie there and think about being their mom. Extra bonus, they all love school.