I confess to thinking “no thanks” when a trusted neighbor brought a book to my house about homeschooling. I flipped through the pages, nodding in agreement as she insisted that keeping all of my kids at home with me would yield “more freedom”. I kept my judgy ole misconceptions to myself: homeschooling was for persnickety parents, ones who placed too much expectation on what a public school should provide.
I had read and reread "You Are Your Child’s First Teacher" by Rahima Baldwin Dancy. The first five pivotal years of my child’s life had and would continue to unfold in the nurturing/stimulating nest of our home. After that, public school would be their side gig. I hoped my kids would get a good gleaning of knowledge from the professionals before they came back home to me. They would be homogenized humans; normal, but brilliant. I would not shape them into tiny, weird, sheltered, idiots.
My discomfort with confrontation meant that I learned very little from the exchange with my neighbor that day... I could have asked questions or made stupid assumptions that she would have been happy to clear up, but no; my goal in situations such as these was to prematurely wrap up the conversation no sooner than it had started. My own idiot ego wanted to quickly slap a label on something instead of understanding it. I acted like an unknowingly prejudiced fool. (I have progressed since then into a self-aware prejudiced fool…)
Kindergarten started, and I spent the first school year mostly proving myself right: public school was a wonderful experience for my 5-year-old daughter. I witnessed her gregarious nature on Tuesdays when I played teacher’s helper in the class. Haven loved the games played in a giant circle on the rug. She liked talking to people and being challenged and pridefully following all the rules. I didn’t realize at the time, but the number of creative projects, flashcards, and homework that we were completing at home had a great deal to do with Haven’s academic success. I was basically homeschooling without a personalized curriculum.
It wasn’t long into our kindergarten endeavors that I noticed the same experience was not being shared by all the kids in Haven’s class. A group of younger kindergarteners spent the first part of each morning crying for their mothers. In a room of 32 kids, the teacher had little sympathy to extend to this group of mostly boys. The kids, whose parents engaged in their little lives outside of school, all sat at the “red” table. The Roy G. Biv smart scale trickled down to subsequent tables all removed from one another.
I watched in agony as the more privileged kids established who got to be friends with: someone shy, someone wearing knockoff Skechers, someone whose unbrushed hair was not styled by adoring parents. The kids who weren’t mature enough to not make fart noises all the way to the pencil sharpener (more than half the boys) had to learn the hard way by having privileges taken away. After half a school year banished to sit still during the times actually permitted to move, the boys began to begrudgingly shut up and sit semi-still.
But Haven seemed a perfect candidate for all things public school. She thought the way her teacher laughed without smiling, in response to a million kid’s stupid stories, was hilarious, not offensive. She made friends and played with different kids on a weekly basis. I adored completing every monotonous art project they sent home with her: creating something with 100 items, building a leprechaun trap, handcrafting valentines, celebrating the Chinese New Year by constructing a giant, embellished dragon head that could be worn by a small child… (okay, that last one was all me, desperate for praise, which I got and totally earned. That dragon was kick ass).
Haven was all set by the end of summer to continue her public education into the future. She would become a first grader in the fall. I would continue pulling her from slumber each morning, dressing her appropriately, packing lunches, driving to and from class each day, and helping her complete the assigned homework required to keep her ahead. But that summer, my idea of what school was, came to a screeching halt when I visualized Bowie walking through that same kindergarten door.
He would be that younger student with a September birthday. He was emotional and quiet and intimidated by rooms full of noise and people. He would not receive a reprimand to “cry quieter” with any constructivism when he missed me during those first hours of class. What was I to do? Wouldn’t he become a tiny weird idiot if I sheltered him? Was public education a tool to weed out mainstream learners, and file the rest accordingly by table? What table would society want to shove my son into? Who would be there to give him the attention he needed to thrive?
I finally picked up the book. It was "The Well Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise. It sucked me in, terrified me, blew my mind, and intrigued the apprehensive, creative freak right out of me. Holy shit! I was a homeschooler!
I want to tell you that it was all easy peasy from that moment on, but it was terrifyingly difficult at first. Being responsible for the education of a person is intense (all praise to teachers everywhere!). Being suddenly responsible for the education of two persons, while entertaining a toddler and breastfeeding a newborn infant was f’ing craze balls.
But, the one thing that was guaranteed? I had more freedom. My neighbor was absolutely telling the truth. I lived in a pair of pajamas for months, didn’t brush my hair or concern myself too much with what my kids looked like, as long as they were put into the tub on a weekly basis and had an assortment of food thrown their way. It was survival, but I never had to force something. I got to be me, and my kids got to be them.
I remember the day Bowie and I finished "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons." There had been absolutely nothing easy about it, but I was so proud of us. He could read. And he could do it in his underwear nestled beside me, where fart noises were permitted. I realize that homeschooling isn’t a choice for all families or even a desirable thought for others, but being an advocate for my son’s needs was personal, and I feel grateful that life permitted me to provide him with a learning environment that considers who he is and how he best learns.
After six years of homeschooling, I am still certain that it is the best fit for our family. I have learned the value of failing and how teaching to mastery takes more time than most classrooms can allow. We are life schoolers; absolutely not sheltered, unabashedly weird at times, but able to persevere through failure because messing up is learning.
I want to thank Genevieve, who humbly offered me books, solutions, and options that were unconventional. You enlightened me to homeschool and homebirth, and to ultimately enjoy my role as a mother.