I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now. I’m trying to find the best way to make my point without offending anyone. When I started blogging, I assumed most of my posts would be about our experiences as a family homeschooling. I thought I’d be giving a lot more tips and ideas, discussing and dissecting literature and curriculum, that sort of thing. As it turns out, my blog has become much more of this: two parts soppy diary, one part trying not to preach, one part confessional, sprinkled with the gemini-ish (or whatever sign I am now) split personality thing going on (funny stories! garden! cooking! knitting! Oh, wait, not knitting. workout-aholic! just plain alcohol! farming! a big trip – but just part of it – psych!).
Where was I? Oh yes. Sitting on this post…it’s been brooding. And I think I’m ready to hatch it now. Please accept my apologies ahead of time if I offend you. It’s unintentional.
I must first explain something before I really get going here. I thought homeschooling was crazy (sorry my friends who homeschool that I knew before. I loved you but thought you were a little batty-in-the-belfry-ish). But then I started hanging around with some of you. And I started hanging around with your kids. They were so…not different…but I would say certainly their lives were different and they handled things differently. Not good or bad, just right for that kid. Good for that kid; for that family.
There are tons of you I am friends with whose kids I adore that are schooled in an institution. Many of you have children that I aspire for mine to be like.
I know I had (what I realize now were) strange ideas about how homeschooling worked and what it meant for the children whose families practiced it. I totally bought into the idea that children who homeschooled were ultra-conservative, ultra-religious, socially awkward, and poorly prepared for “the real world.” Oh and also wore denim skirts.
Now, I absolutely loved school and will have no qualms about sending my children back to an institution one day, but let’s be honest. There is almost zip about school that is “like the real world.” Unless you are headed for a career in the military (God Bless you if you are, and thank you for protecting us!) but otherwise, school is pretty much a good way to learn what you need to know academically. Not experience the real world.
The real world (to me) means budgeting well, shopping wisely, being an educated consumer. The real world is not even noticing peer pressure or cliques because they have nothing to do with real *actual* life. The real world is being able to select, launder, fold and choose appropriate clothing, fixing a running toilet, planning meals, solving problems on the fly, planning ahead, being on time. articulate strong feelings or new ideas, working together, being part of a community who helps each other and those around them, making time for your loved ones, your hobbies, your interests. I can give my children the educational tools they need (math, language arts, good penmanship and spelling (though some would argue their importance), science, history, social studies, music, sports, and so on) in five mornings a week (YES, ALL THREE OF THEM). That leaves us plenty of time for all those other “real world” experiences.
I have noticed a marked change in our kids as they socialize better with a greater variety of age groups and generally maintain better control of themselves in public than their previous ’anywhere-that-isn’t-a-classroom-is-a-playground’ mentality. This would not be true for all kids if they were homeschooled. It just depends on what home is like. But everybody is different and for goodness sake that is OK! There are plenty of (what my kids call) regular school kids who fit into this category of well-behaved, well roundedness (OK, spellcheck, you got me there). Lots of regular school kids have plenty of *actual* real world experience.
There are things about schooling at “a school” that I cannot replicate. But at this point in time, we are seeing more benefits for our children and our family in homeschooling that could never be exprienced if we were attending a school.
So it was with understanding that I did NOT respond to a dear friend of mine recently. We were discussing one of the evening activities my kids participate in that I don’t see as much benefit in as I would like. She told me “But you have to do it. They have to have some idea that the world is bigger than just mommy.”
*Please note – these may not have been the exact words. It’s close enough, though the verbage may have variance. I know the most important parts are verbatim (you have to; the world is mommy).
I was kind of hurt, and shocked, but I guess not really. I mean, I may have felt very similar to that in my BH (before homeschool) life. I’m not sure I would have said it OUT LOUD, but I love and respect my friend and understand her views. Also, admittedly, this is a friend who is never around my kids. Like, seriously. Our paths cross at adult-only meetings or outings or venues when I’m not on mommy duty. So in fairness, she hasn’t hung around with them and therefore has absolutely no idea what affects (good or bad) the last two years have had on them. And to be ultra-fair, I have hung around her kids and they are freaking awesomeness.
There have been several people who literally just dropped off the radar when we brought the kids home. They were totally like “OH…my.” And that was the end of that relationship. Which is okay. I totally blew off the coolest people we met at engaged encounter (yes, it was a long time ago, stop pointing out that I’m old) when they told us they were planning on homeschooling.
But I’ve started to look back at the families I knew growing up. I thought my family was normal (like we all do) but actually we were pretty weird. The girl who was one of my best friends in middle school (who, coincidentally, was the only person I knew who was schooled at home) was no weirder than me. Pretty much everyone I knew was completely different than my house, and completely different from all the other homes as well. Yes, there were degrees of oddity. But we’re all oddballs in the end, now that I view it from adult life. The people I know in homeschooling circles now are just that same sampling of ragingly different that you would find in any public school.
When I went to camp the summer before my 7th grade year, one of my two room-mates was homeschooled. And I mean self-laminted-card-carrying, Biblical name, denim skirt, never cut her hair, 1980′s hardcore homeschool. And you know what? She was freaking awesomeness. She was totally the nicest, most fun, most genuine, smartest girl in. the. whole. camp. And guess what else? I, public school, churchless kid, had far more in common with her than the other girls. Because the most important parts of our lives were the same. And she was so friendly and well behaved. I was firmly steeped in friendly and well behaved, so we were peas and carrots.
And you know something else? There are other families we were friends with while we were schooling at a big building with hundreds of other kids who we have stayed close with. They happily keep their kids in the school that is a great fit for them and heartily (as well as sincerely) congratulate and support our lifestyle homeschooling. They probably think we are a little weird, but my guess is they are on the same page as My Farmer and I (hey, everybody is weird. Embrace the weirdness that works for your family). They have been interested and invested, asking and enjoying hearing about the changes and successes we’ve enjoyed.
And they are around my kids. So they know. And they talk to me often, so they understand what our daily life is like. I guess I can get why my other friend thought my kids lives are “all mommy all the time.” I mean, that’s what having a toddler is like. And for most of us, we are still firmly planted in the toddling stage when we first kiss our children goodbye for their time at an institution that teaches. Maybe this is a little bit of what I thought school at home would be like, too.
But none of my children are toddlers anymore. They, nor their activities, are mommy-centric. My oldest will be ten in a mere two months. My youngest, by far the most mature five-year-old I know, is in kindergarten at home this year. They spend academic time with me, and of course go all over the place with both My Farmer and me, but they participate in our activities in an age-appropriate way. When we were at the store last week, Cowgirl walked until she was tired and then sat in the cart and crossed off items on my list. Farmer Boy was in charge of loading the cart. Shooter was sent on search missions for items on the list. Sometimes he wanted directions to where they would be, sometimes he felt he had an idea and wanted to locate the subject on his own.
Most people I know don’t take any of their kids to the store. My kids go to the grocery, post office, cleaners, hardware, and clothing stores with me. Any errand I run, they are there to learn and help. If I have a Church function, event or project to help with, I have three extra sets of hands (unless they can talk their way into helping Dad instead).
The kids spend their weekday evenings involved in their chosen activities. There are different nights for swimming, taekwondo, water polo, and religious classes. They have friends over, or go over to friend’s. Sometimes, at least in the afternoon until 3:30, they play together. Often, that is what they prefer. They know their siblings will treat them and their toys with respect (most of the time) and they love to play lots of the same games.
Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes my children are total Lord-of-the-flies, shit-flinging monkeys. But I don’t think those times have much of anything to do with the way we educate. I’m kind of afraid it’s genetic, but that’s a whole ‘nother thang…
They do get stuck helping me with chores, which is one of the things we love about homeschooling. They can mop a floor, clean toilets, sweep and vacuum, make their beds, wash and fold clothes, garden and help in the yard. When we were in regular school I didn’t have the heart to make them participate in the chores necessary to keep and run a house – we didn’t get home until 4pm, which gave them an hour to play before supper-homework-bed. Now the boys can fry their own eggs, make their own toast, saute, make hot chocolate, empty or load the dishwasher. Today Shooter packed a lunch for himself and the other two kids to eat on the way home after swimming lessons. He thanked me for letting him do it, and was so proud to give them each their sack on the way back. They were proud of him, impressed, and profuse in their thanks.
They also have easily quadrupled the time they are able to spend with their father. As if it were not enough already, Farmer Boy’s equipment knowledge has exploded. His mechanical sense is freakish. He has spent time with his Dad and Grandpa in the shop, fixing and working on various “real life” projects. On one lucky day he spent all afternoon with Grandpa constructing a shed for his tiny farm equipment from scrap wood and two old cabinet doors (he wanted them to be a hinged roof he could open. It works brilliantly).
My children have spent the autumn helping take care of My Farmer’s mother, who also happens to be a neighbor and dear friend of mine. Her cancer returned after four years of remission and announced itself with a broken clavicle. They have brought meals to, hauled trash for, cleaned and swept for, and stayed quiet for their own grandmother as her health has improved. As I took on as much of her work as I could while she healed, they were champions of “plans have changed” and “Dad needs us to…” We spent one day on the road for four hours to retrieve a critical part in a far-off town to keep the wheat drill running over a holiday weekend. If that is not real world experience then I don’t know what is. They have faced the realities of life head-on, and learned to deal with them in the way we want them to: How can I help? What can I do? I can show love by lending a hand.
In some ways, I feel like I’m defending my decision to homeschool. Maybe I am. I guess I’m trying to educate people who think the way my friend does, or maybe I should say the way I did, had I really given any thought at all to homeschooling (which, honestly, I didn’t. It was never an option for me so not something I weighed at all – HA).
Maybe I’m dealing with my own parenting insecurities and second thoughts. Perhaps I’m reminding myself why this works so well for our household.
I do take raising my children very seriously. Married life and mothering is truly my vocation, and I’m thankful for it. Bringing the children home was the scariest leap of faith I’ve ever made. Bigger than when we got married, bigger than having children in the first place, bigger even than when I became Catholic. The first two were things I always knew I wanted. The third happened slowly over a period of years and I had plenty of time to ‘come around’ to where my heart was. Homeschooling felt much riskier.
In some ways it still is. Maybe my friend is right and my children will be at a disadvantage for having homeschooled. But I think it’s a toss up. All children grow up in completely different ways, even if they are all going to the same regular school. Some have parents who do their best but suck. Others are born into circumstances beyond their control that are far more damaging. Children all over the world are affected in wonderful and terrible ways by their parents, their extended family, their history and community, their teachers and friends, their religious leaders and coaches. What is most critical beyond basic physical needs and basic education is love and acceptance, encouragement and desire. These needs can be met in a variety of ways in a wide variance of places. I’ve learned that only hindsight is 20-20, and you have to parent with your own gut and heart in the lead. Homeschooling is certainly not for everyone, and it’s definitely not a perfect way to raise children. For my family right now, however, it is close enough.