Homeschool Dilemma

Warning: homeschool talk, and nothing else, ahead. If that topic bores you, feel free to skip this post. I won’t be offended. This is mostly to help me sort out my own confused thoughts.

When we are on for homeschooling, I love it. The kids love it. They are learning well, not getting overwhelmed, I am organized and know what we’re doing, we have enough flexibility to roll with a particular topic of interest or go over something that isn’t making sense until it does … it’s the best. It’s fantastic.

Those times don’t happen as frequently as I’d like, though. Most of the time I’m floundering. And I feel like the kids, not to mention their education, suffer from that. I have issues with adrenal fatigue (yes, I know that’s not a “proven medical condition,” but nothing else at all describes my condition even a little, so that’s what I’m going with), and as soon as something happens to throw me off the rails even a little, school and organization and everything else go out the window (I know I’m mixing metaphors, sorry), because it takes all I’ve got just to put one foot in front of the other and meet my family’s most basic needs.

So I’ve been wondering lately if I ought to put the kids in school next year. I don’t want to—I firmly believe that the best home education tops the best public school education by a mile. But am I giving them the best home education? It hasn’t been too bad this year, with Joy in first grade and Grace in preschool/kindergarten … but what about next year? Or the year after? What happens if I slip down into a firmly mediocre home education, what then? Can I still justify keeping them home, especially when the main reason we began homeschooling them in the first place was so they could receive a better education than they’d get in an American public school?

Joy’s HSP-ness (yes, another not-proven designation. Hey, modern western medicine isn’t the be-all and end-all, all right?) was another factor. I was concerned that she would be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD if she went to school, or that she’d be so overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that is elementary school that she would just shut down, both very real problems and not (as some of my fears tend to be) simply caused by me over-thinking things.

But she has made huge, huge strides in learning to deal properly with her world this year. I mean, huge. Playing easily with other kids, interacting with other people without prompting, being aware of and responding to the world around her in a healthy way, handling change without melting down … it’s been incredible. And it’s confirmed that my decision to keep her home this year and last year was the right one. But with the strides she’s made, maybe public school wouldn’t be so bad for her next year? Or maybe it would set her back, I don’t know. But she kind of thinks she’d like to try it, which is worth something in my book.

(So does Grace, but I was never worried about Grace’s ability to handle the interpersonal aspects of public school. Gracie is sensitive, but not highly sensitive, and she is much better equipped by nature to deal with controlled chaos: she mostly ignores it.)

All of this seems to be leaning in favor of public school next year. And yet, and yet …

Gosh, we had an awesome day today. Reading, grammar, math, social, science, art, piano … all before noon. (Considerably less than that for Grace, obviously.) Then we went outside and played on the playground after lunch, and Joy conquered all five monkey bars at last, and then came back inside with still loads of time for playing, reading, drawing, doing whatever they want. Chores, even! If every day went like this, there’d be no question in my mind. And what if, instead of things getting worse as time goes by, things get better? Will I be robbing my kids of their best possible education by giving up on homeschooling just because we’ve had a rough couple of years at the start?

Gah. So many questions.

I’m not exactly sure I’ve managed to sort out any thoughts (“Then why have you inflicted this post on us, Louise?” I hear you howl). Except to clarify that I really shouldn’t make any decisions right now.

For any of you who do homeschool or did – do you/did you have these sorts of crises ever? And if so, how do you/did you resolve them? This is one of the worst parts of not having a homeschooling network here. There are plenty of opportunities for the kids to interact with other kids outside of school/homeschool activities. Not so much encouragement for Mom when she starts feeling overwhelmed. So here I am, reaching out to my online network, in hopes of some perspective.

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10 thoughts on “Homeschool Dilemma

  1. You know I don’t homeschool -not formally yet. We’re not anywhere there yet, but it has always been a consideration in my mind. That said, if Joy is showing some interest in possibly going to school next year, bring her into the discussion. She’s possibly showing interest for a reason. It’s always something that can be changed. You can go back to homeschooling if it isn’t working out. It could help her more with socialization and interaction.

    If she is really interested in it, visit the school she’ll be attending. Talk with the administration and teachers about all of your concerns. See if she can see what it’s like to be in a formal classroom setting. You may get your answers there.

    • I had a really good conversation with her this evening, and I think it’s mostly curiosity about what school is like. She did say that she thinks she would have an easier time paying attention to and learning from a “real” teacher instead of Mom, which is such a reasoned and logical conclusion from a six-year-old it blew my mind.

      I don’t think we’re quite ready to throw in the towel on homeschooling yet, but it’s great that we’re able to talk to her reasonably about it, and the fact that we can even consider public school for her is amazing and wonderful, considering how hard of a time she had functioning in society even a year ago.

  2. Oh wow. I can’t believe how much alike we are. Did I ever have these crises? Oh, only about once or twice a year in the course of our thirteen-plus years of homeschooling… :P
    How did I resolve them? Usually by a) praying lots, b) talking to others (especially husband, who tends to have a very calm, rational, engineery approach to things), c) looking after *myself* (sometimes that would take care of the worry right there, once I started feeling better), or d) making some smaller changes, i.e. in the curriculum or such, rather than the big, dramatic change of sending them to school.

    And then eventually we did make the choice for school with the younger ones, but they were quite a lot bigger by then, grades 4 and 7 (one of the older ones had decided on her own to go to public school when she was grade 10). At that point, it was a matter of homeschooling just not working any more. I was burnt to the socket on it, and couldn’t handle dealing with the special needs any longer (SE homeschooling is a whole other topic). But I do not regret for one minute homeschooling for as long as we did. I wish I could have kept going, and I miss all the fun times of learning and the freedom homeschooling gave us, but school really was the best choice at that time. And I wasn’t thinking that I *wanted* to keep hs’ing any more, I wanted to be done. I just wish I hadn’t been, you know?

    As far as your situation goes, on my point d), have you looked into *different ways* of homeschooling? There’s more than one way of doing this. It sounds to me like you expect of yourself to “follow a curriculum”, i.e. give the kids “lessons” in math, reading, etc. You don’t always have to do that. For example, you could bake a batch of cookies together according to a Swiss recipe you found online, and in one fell swoop you’ll have covered: info tech, reading, math, geography, social studies, science, and home ec and maybe even art. By which I mean to say, perhaps you can make homeschooling easier on you without having to give it up altogether, just by changing your expectations on *you*. Check out “unschooling”, if you haven’t yet – while there’s a bunch of cookiness in that area, there’s some really excellent advice to be had from them.

    Oh, and on the question of whether you’re giving them the “best” education: sometimes the best is the enemy of the good. Just a thought.

    • I love the thought of unschooling with a passion. I think it is the most ideal way of doing school there is. There’s just two problems with it that I can see, and right now they’re big ones for us. 1. The kid has to be self-motivated. This is something a lot of unschoolers take for granted, but it’s not. My parents’ method of homeschooling was mostly unschooling, and it worked wonderfully for my sister and mostly wonderfully for me, but I really struggle with following through on things even to this day, and with forcing myself to do something that doesn’t interest me, and with sticking to a schedule … etc, etc. My sister doesn’t. The problem wasn’t with the way we were schooled, it was that my personality sought out any ways to be lazy it could, and without a structure forcing me to be diligent, I didn’t develop that on my own.

      The second problem is connected, for me, to the first. Unschooling requires the parent to be incredibly diligent. Every moment is a teaching moment, every activity is a learning one. I am not that type of parent! (See above.) I want to be, and I hope to work my way up to becoming that type of parent eventually, but right now, it’s actually easier to do more traditional lessons than to jump into unschooling. Our eventual goal, if we do continue homeschooling right on through, is to get to the point where the kids are self-directed, and there is very little “formal” education happening. But that day, obviously, is not going to come while they’re still in elementary school.

      • Yes. Yes, yes. And yes! I might have known you already knew all about unschooling. And I see we’re on the exact same page in this, as well. I agree with you on both counts. There are some kids ideally suited to unschooling, and there are some parents who are, and if you’ve got the right kid-parent match, it’s an unschooling dream come true. But it *wasn’t* the case for me and my kids, either, as I learned the hard way.

        However: having said that, in homeschooling, as in all other parenting, there’s no one “pure” way of doing things. Oh, I know there’s lots of books and teachers who would have you believe there is and that you’re a loser if you don’t do it that way, but that’s baloney (took me years of guilt trips to come to that conclusion). You can pick & choose. You can unschool some, and formal-school at other times or for other topics. And while kids are little (which yours are – preschool and grade 1 is very young still), just letting them play is such a great way to learn almost every “subject”.

        Anyway, a couple of things though: I went through the German public school system, which is about as organized and formal as you can get (as opposite to unschooling as possible), and I still struggle with follow-through, with doing things I don’t want to, and with sticking to a schedule. It might be more of a case of personality than of schooling method.
        The other thing is that I do see results from our homeschooling, now that my kids are in their teens and twenties, and they’re not academic, but personal. My kids have learned to choose for themselves, they know they’re not stuck in a system and have to wait for someone to tell them what to do. And the other thing, which I hugely appreciate, is that we like and trust each other as a family.
        The kids haven’t had to fit into a mold and be like everyone else just to survive the classroom culture when they were young, and I think that’s done them tremendous good. So even though my homeschooling isn’t exactly poster-quality, and as I said, was a struggle, it was totally worth it.

        Just trying to encourage you – I think you and the girls are probably doing really well, even if your homeschooling doesn’t measure up to some ideal image. I know I didn’t accept those statements when people said them to me, because I’d think “But you don’t know what my days really look like!” But, really, I mean it. I think you’re doing well. Your girls are home, and loved, and learning to love learning. That’s huge.

        And now I’ll stop writing novels on your blog… :)

  3. I am graduating my last homeschooled child from high school this year. I have four kids that I homeschooled K through 12. All of them have gone on to college. The youngest will be starting college in the fall, another is a sophomore in engineering. The oldest two are in graduate school (one is working on a PhD in chemistry and the other in math). I tell you all this so when I share my thoughts, you know that I was “successful”–whatever that means.

    My years of homeschooling were very hard. My husband is a pastor so he was very busy and we had very little money. And we had a severely disabled child. I did not do all the “fun” things like art, etc. I focused on math and reading for the first 7 years of schooling (oh, and we did piano). For everything else I gave them books to read or games to play (Dr. Sulfur’s Night Lab taught them chemistry, Geosafari taught them the planets, geography) or CDs to listen to in the van. My kids learned early biology from lyrical life science–an amazing CD of songs that taught everything from the scientific method to genetics. History and social studies were books. We didn’t start focused studies on any extras until junior high.

    Anyway, whether you continue to homeschool or send your kids to school is a decision that you and you husband need to make based on what is best for your kids and your family. But don’t make it by buying into the sometimes prevalent idea that unless you aren’t a good teacher/homeschooler unless you do a perfect/amazing job of homeschooling covering everything from physics to cake decorating to plumbing to conjugating Greek verbs.

    If you want to contact me, feel free. c (dot) marie (dot) keller (at) gmail (dot) com

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. After reading your comment, I felt like I could take my first unobstructed deep breath in months.

      “But don’t make it by buying into the sometimes prevalent idea that unless you aren’t a good teacher/homeschooler unless you do a perfect/amazing job of homeschooling covering everything from physics to cake decorating to plumbing to conjugating Greek verbs.” How did you know that I’ve fallen into that trap way too often? That unless we’re doing All the Things, All the Time, I’m failing as a mom/teacher? And that if my six-year-old is not passionately in love with reading and Latin and poetry, that I’m crippling her for life?

      This is why a homeschool network is so crucial, for me at least. Because without other “normal” parents and “ordinary” kids, I start to believe that we are Losers, and it’s All My Fault. So thank you again.

  4. I feel like selfishly saying, “Hey, yeah, throw in the towel! Welcome to the world of those of us who can’t do it all and can barely do some!” Make me feel better about myself for never trying! But you therefore have to take me with a grain of salt or so, because obviously I am biased and unhelpful.

    You might want to talk to some other parents in the area about what your local public school is like. It could be quite a good school, and if you need to take some time OFF homeschooling– with the idea that you can come back to it the next year if you want to– one year in a public classroom won’t ruin your kids. If it’s a crummy school, maybe not so much, but…. And sometimes it’s all in the luck of the draw (ie the teacher you get)– last year I wondered if I should pull Sam and put him into parochial school (instead of homeschooling, because I am barely functional as is), but this year I’ve been thrilled with his teacher and the things he’s been doing and learning in class. So right, it’s a tough call. But I think if you remind yourself that whatever decision you make, you CAN change your mind the next year, you might find it less stressful.

    • Part of the problem is that I keep hearing mixed reports of this schools here. Some say they’re really great, and some hate them. One of the moms at Joy’s ballet class says her daughter is so miserable she’s been asking to be homeschooled next year, just like Joy! But other parents, even here at the seminary, can’t speak highly enough of them.

      The year-by-year thing is a huge comfort. That one year is probably not going to ruin everyone for life, one way or another.

      (As for the do-it-all thing – trust me, days when we homeschool well, NOTHING else gets done. Days when I do housework? School is sketchy. And days when I write – wait, what are those again?)

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