At the end of 2005, I took the radical step of quitting my full-time teaching job, withdrawing Curly Girl from the third grade at a private school, and taking my son out of full-time daycare. At first, our family embraced homeschooling merely for academic reasons. That was it . . . My husband and I had completely lost confidence in the education our daughter had received in our local public schools (She was there 2 years) and at a private school that she attended for a year and a half. We had no notions of homeschooling for any reasons other than to give our children the rigorous, quality education that we expected them to have.
Now, I am thrilled with where my children are academically. We follow a classical education model based on The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, and my kids are learning material that I certainly never covered in my public school education. But I have also been overjoyed with benefits that I never anticipated would occur with our new family lifestyle.
1. I don't have to sell or "help" my children sell overpriced wrapping paper, candles, candy bars, etc. in the name of fund raising. I despise selling things, and we all know that the parents do much more selling than the kids ever do. When my kids were in school and daycare, I dreaded all the fund raising paraphernalia they both brought home every year. I always felt so guilty hitting up older family members who I knew were on fixed incomes to buy things. It is such a relief not to have to be a salesperson anymore.
2. Our family can go on vacation whenever we want. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to visit Disney World in January- no crowds, no heat- pure heaven. I know what you're thinking . . . Those darn homeschoolers are cutting corners again. Don't worry; we still get in our 180 school days. We just don't take all those teacher workdays in the middle of the year. It is also great to have the option of letting the kids sleep in a little later sometimes. When my daughter has appeared in theater productions which are frequently accompanied by some late rehearsals and show nights, it has been such a blessing to be able to let her sleep until mid-morning so she wakes up a bit less cranky and more prepared to tackle the world that day.
3. The world is our classroom. I strongly and without any reservations believe that you learn more through experiences than by sitting in a classroom. This week alone my children have taken classes at our local history museum and a nearby environmental center. My guess is that Car Guy and Curly Girl learned more about our world by walking the trails with a naturalist than they would have by reading about wildlife in a science textbook. In September, our family enjoyed a great week-long vacation in Washington, D.C. As we toured endless museums and monuments, our Capitol, and the White House, my kids learned more about their government and country than they could have in a week-long classroom-based government unit. It is such a blessing not to have to quibble with a principal about missing school days for educational experiences. When my parents asked to take Curly Girl with them on a trip to Europe two years ago, my husband and I jumped at the opportunity for her without having to navigate a school absentee policy that would have probably prevented Curly Girl from partaking in such an irreplaceable learning opportunity.
4. I know my children very, very well. Because my children and I are together most of the time, I know them so much better than I ever did before we homeschooled. It is so easy to sense their moods- when one of them is up, down, or feeling a bit off. After just homeschooling for a few weeks, I knew their intellectual tendencies better than I ever understood those of students I had taught for an entire year. Car Guy is so methodical, a detail person like me. On the other hand, Curly Girl is a big picture person. She learns best through songs and motion. Just today, she and I danced the macarena while we chanted a list of the Roman emperors in order. I am also being selfish. Nothing can replace getting a hug and an "I love you" from your 11-year-old in the middle of the day.
5. You know that quality vs. quantity debate. Well, I happen to think both are important. To have a successful relationship you can't just see each other in passing, or be in the same house but in separate rooms. My children and I are together a lot- we eat breakfast and lunch together, we figure out math problems at the kitchen counter, we snuggle on the sofa and read, we clean the house and plant our garden together. Even though we drive each other crazy sometimes, I truly believe that our time homeschooling will reap big rewards later in life with closer family relationships between parents and children, as will each child with his/her sibling.
6. My husband and I are still are children's primary influences. I think that the people you spend the most time with influence you the most. So, it would follow that a child who spends the day surrounded by peers his own age will be mostly-influenced by them, with mom and dad coming in second. Now I am fully aware that many parents and mental health professionals think that children should spend most of their time with peers their own age, but the world does not really work like that. Since when is everyone the same age in an office or job situation? When my children have careers and families of their own, they will have to interact with people of many different ages and backgrounds. What better way to prepare for this than by living every day out and about in the real world, but with a parent as a guide. Last year, I read Hold On to Your Kids which reassured me that it was okay for me to insist that I am my children's primary influence. As a parent it's my responsibility to impart moral and behavioral standards to my children. If I cede that job to other teenagers, I am certainly not doing my part as a parent. It's hard enough being a parent without abdicating a large part of your sphere of influence. I am just not prepared to give that up yet.
Don't freak out and think that I keep my children home all the time. They are both involved in multiple activities with other kids, so it is rare for us to be home for an entire day. More on that, along with Part 2 of Things I Never Expected from Homeschooling in my next post.
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