Thursday, June 24, 2010

Homeschooling in the Midst of Chaos

"You should just send them to school."

"You're making more work for yourself."

"What makes you think you are qualified to teach them?"

"They need to be able to socialize."

"How do you know that they're learning?"
These are all things that I have heard from both family and friends, as well as perfect strangers. If there is one thing I have learned, it's that many people do not understand homeschooling.

I have always planned to homeschool, even before I ever had children. I read about it and saw my aunt do it, and I just knew that God was calling me to do it. It took some convincing for Jason to agree that homeschooling was best for our family, but the more he learned the more he knew that we were making the right choice.

I was so excited when my sister-in-law made the decision to homeschool my nephew. She pulled him out of public school 3 years ago and I know that she has never regretted her decision. It's been such a blessing to have other experienced homeschoolers in my own family. My aunt has homeschooled her two boys from preschool through high school.

Still, I have heard negative comments from my family when we discuss homeschooling. Even my own mother (whose sister homeschools) has criticized my choice.

So, for those who wonder how we do it, here are some answers...
"You should just send them to school." or "You're making more work for yourself."

I get this a lot. To many people, it seems that it would be easier for me to send my kids to public school. I beg to differ.

If my kids were in public school, I'd have to get up even earlier (and we are up early already) just to get the kids all dressed, fed, and out the door so that I could get them to school on time. By the time they got home and finished homework it would be bedtime again. When would I be able to spend time with them that wasn't rushed?

Because we homeschool, I'm able to spend the morning doing schoolwork as the younger kids play. We have time together that is not spent hurrying from one thing to the next. If we want to spend 2 hours learning about earthquakes, we do. We have lunch together and while the younger children nap or have quiet time, I'm able to devote my full attention to Matthew and Joshua. This wouldn't happen if they were away at school all day.

Our evenings are hectic as I prepare dinner and get 6 kids ready for bed by myself. I can't even imagine if we had to add homework into the mix. I don't think I could do it!

"What makes you think you are qualified to teach them?"

Well, I am their mother. Is that not enough?

I know them better than anyone. I know their learning styles. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know how to get their attention and I know what makes them tick. I know how to challenge them and keep them interested and engaged. I can devote as much time to them as necessary and I can stop to explain anything without the worry of what the rest of the classroom is doing. I can meet each child where they are and tailor my instruction to best meet their needs. Those aren't luxuries that are afforded in public schools.

We use some really great curriculum and I'm confident that I'm smart enough to follow the teaching guides. I don't need a teaching degree to give my children a great education. I just need patience and time. Fortunately, I have a little of both.

"They need to be able to socialize."

Anyone who has met my kids knows that this is not a concern.

The perceived "lack" of socialization is generally a myth perpetuated by those who think that public school is somehow the best place to learn to interact with one's peers. This is just not true.

Where else in society are we, as adults, segregated according to our age? What better way for children to learn socially acceptable behavior than to interact with other children of all ages?

My kids go to Sunday School, play sports, and interact with other homeschooling families. We spend time with friends who have kids of various ages. We have gone on homeschool field trips and we spend our fair share of time in other situations that teach social skills. Our frequent trips to the grocery store, farmer's market, or to the store are all opportunities for my kids to meet new people, demonstrate their good manners, and interact in society in a way that they soon will as young adults.

We are hardly the recluses that some people might think.

"How do you know that they're learning?"

This has been one of the hardest questions for me to answer. My mother has asked this so many times.

How can I prove to you that my child is learning what is appropriate for his age? How can I assure you that he knows as much as his peers?

I know that my children are learning. I see it everyday. I have watched them learn to read, write, and multiply. I have listened as they recite facts and figures. I have beamed with pride when my 7-year old explains (to a teenager) what red and white blood cells do inside our bodies.

From the outside, you might wonder if my kids are learning. And without sitting you down and showing you their portfolio of schoolwork, you might not know. But, I can assure you, they are learning.

Matthew took his first standardized test this year (a requirement in Virginia) and I finally had the proof to lay my mother's concerns to rest. Matthew's total test score was in the 98th percentile. His math score was perfect and was equivalent to a 6th grade level. He is meeting (and often exceeding) the standards set forth for him. Obviously, something is working for us.

While our daily life is quite crazy, homeschooling is one constant in the ever-changing chaos. No matter where we are, we have school together each day. Whether we are in Georgia, Virginia, Arizona, or on the road somewhere, we are learning. With Daddy gone, it's definitely made things more challenging for us, but we are so blessed to be able to have this time together.

In a few short weeks we will again be uprooting ourselves. We will begin our journey west, ultimately ending up in Washington. It will be a long trip, with stops in Virginia and Colorado and everywhere in between, but it will be a great learning adventure. Like last summer, I will continue homeschooling throughout the summer because it affords us the flexibility to skip a week or two of school when Daddy comes home.

If you homeschool, what ways have you found to make it work when it becomes challenging? How do you respond to the concerns of well-meaning friends or relatives who question your ability to educate your children at home?
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