When people find out we homeschool, they always want to know what brought us to this decision. After all, I have degrees in elementary and early childhood education and I spent nine years teaching in public schools. Everyone from my parents to my 80-something-year-old neighbor has weighed in on the matter. The questions people ask are usually along these lines: Did something happen with public schools? Is it part of your religion? What about socialization? What about sports?
Our reasons for homeschooling are multi-faceted and not always easy to put into words, but I'll try to let you in on our thinking here.
First and foremost, we feel that this is what God has called us to do with our family at this time. That said, please know that Vance and I are not in the "if you love Jesus and you love your kids you must homeschool" camp. Most of our friends and family choose to send their kids to public schools (referred to as "ps" for the rest of this post). In no way do I feel that we are somehow better or above them because of this. In fact, it's none of my business how they school their kids and I really don't think much about it unless someone else brings it up (the inevitable, "I really admire you but I could never homeschool my kids" conversation.). To me, it's a decision to made between parents, kids and God. Others may have valid opinions but the reality is that those opinions are not the ones that matter. Let me be clear; we are NOT anti-public schools but we are very much pro-homeschooling.
Often, people want to know how long we'll homeschool. The honest answer used to be I have no idea. I would tell people that I'd love to teach everyone at home through at least elementary school, or about sixth grade. After that, we may need to reevaluate our choice with each kid. Each of our children is unique, and in that uniqueness comes different needs. It wouldn't surprise me if some of our children spend time in ps. But it wouldn't surprise me if all of them graduate from home school either. We'll just have to see where God leads us.
When our oldest turned five it was time to decide what to do. He's a summer birthday and my experience in teaching told me that younger boys have a harder time in school. Less mature than the girls and several months behind many of the boys, the summer birthday boys often struggle academically and socially if they start school at age five. He was not ready to sit at a desk and be quiet all day long. I was afraid his spirit would be crushed as well as his love for learning.
We opted to put things off a year and sent him to a second year of private preschool. It was a choice we were all happy with. The next August, we started "kindergarten" at home. A very short time into it, I realized that he was already beyond the K curriculum and we switched to first grade work. I had to reevaluate curriculum; buy and borrow materials I didn't think I'd need for another year. But we made it work. In fact, he was able to work all the way through the end of second grade math in that first year. His reading and language arts skills were not nearly as advanced, but we continued to work everyday and finished about half the first grade readers by the end of May.
That's another reason I love homeschooling. We are able to teach our kids at whatever level they are
ready for. No matter how great his kindergarten teacher might have been, there is no way she could have taught my son second grade math while teaching 15-20 other kids number recognition and one-to-one correspondence.
This year, my oldest is working through Saxon math 5/6 and pretty much sticking with fourth grade for the rest of the curriculum. My eight year-old daughter is in "second grade," but she's working on third grade math and reading. They do Bible, history, geography and science together, using mostly 3rd through 5th grade materials. I'm not implying that this puts them ahead of ps kids. There are many, many ps kids who are ahead of their peers. Many of them are ahead of my kids. My point in mentioning this is that as homeschoolers, we're not restricted by grade level labels. I consider this a bonus. In fact, the only reason we even tell our kids what "grade" they are in is because their extra curricular activities are often grouped that way and people always ask.
Another plus of homeschooling is having our family together for more time each day. Instead of spending seven hours a day in separate places, the kids and I spend the majority of our time together. This really helps us bond as a family and brings a closeness among them that not all siblings enjoy. As kids, my sister and I fought like cats and dogs. A large part of that, I think, was due to the labels we put on ourselves and each other: smart, athletic, popular, pretty, etc. At school, we were constantly compared to others and competed with each other at home as well. My hope for my kids is that without those outside labels, they'll better learn to appreciate and get along with each other.
For those of you who might be wondering about socialization, let me just say that this is not a big issue for us. We have four kids. There's always someone around to play with and learn from. My kids have lots of cousins around, too. We attend a large church with lots of kids and kids' programs. Both older kids are in Scouts, soccer, and base/softball. My son wrestles and my daughter loves her dance class. They've taken gymnastics, swimming lessons and other age-appropriate classes. We often attend the preschool story hour at our local library and spend a good deal of time at the park. We know several homeschooling families and get together with them regularly. On top of this, they have individual and group playdates on a pretty regular basis. Our kids are very social and get along well with other kids and adults. They have their less than stellar moments, but overall they are able to interact with and enjoy their peers in most all social settings.
The flexible schedule is definitely a plus for us as well. Mornings aren't my favorite time of day, so we don't start school early. We usually don't get started until around 10:00 AM and work through the afternoon. The kids can take breaks when they need them or when I need to attend to the younger ones. We can modify our schedules for everything from doctor appointments to playdates to shopping trips to time with the grandparents. For us, this means that we may be doing school at 10:00 AM or 8:00 PM, but it works for us.
There are other reasons we chose to educate our kids this way. Having the freedom to chose the curriculum we think is important, protecting our children from outside influence while they're young, and keeping a close eye on who they hang out with all factor into our choice to homeschool. In the end, it still comes back to knowing that this is the right thing for our family for right now.
As my friend Shaunna puts it, we're "home coolers" and we're all good with that.