I have always been a loyal supporter of public schools. Even before I had school-aged children, I financially supported fundraisers, clipped Box Tops, consistently voted “yes” to educationally-motivated tax hikes, and volunteered at an after-school club.
My public school roots run deep. My mother spent 30 years teaching in public elementary schools. Other family members who taught or still teach at public schools include an uncle, 2 aunts, a cousin, one of my sisters and my sister-in-law. I personally attended public school all the way through high school (with the exception of a miserable 8th grade year spent at a private prep school).
When it came time to send my oldest son to kindergarten, we quite naturally placed him in public school. I immediately became a fixture there. I faithfully attended PTO meetings, volunteered weekly in the classroom, shelved books in the media center, spearheaded fundraisers, and chaperoned field trips…
When his school’s rating dropped and the demographic shifted, we stayed even as many, many others (including most of my neighbors) left. I took this as a sign to redouble my efforts on behalf of the school. I wasn’t just working for the benefit of my 2 sons, but for the sake of ALL the children. As a teacher’s child I knew how much parental support and involvement could encourage teachers and improve the climate of a school.
So what changed, you ask? Why did I decide to leave public school and become a homeschooling mom?
In contrast to many homeschoolers, my decision had very little to do with the quality, safety, ideologies or methodologies of our local public schools. Ultimately, the driving force behind my decision was TIME. Time for me to spend with my children and for them to spend with each other. Time for my sons to pursue their interests and still have a space in each day to run around and play and dream, unfettered.
We were entering a new season as a family. It was time for our oldest to begin middle school, yet we also had an upcoming 4th grader and a 3 year old. I began to envision what the next school year was going to look like:
With 2 rounds of school drop-offs and pick-ups each day, I knew my 3 year old was going to be living a big chunk of her life strapped in the car.
My middle child, stuck between a high-achieving older brother and an adorable baby sister, had had a rough year emotionally. I didn’t know how to help him and worried that the even more hectic schedule on the horizon would only aggravate his distress.
My oldest son, Gabriel, already a talented pianist who practiced an hour a day, had been begging for a year to be allowed to learn the cello (yes, he adores the Piano Guys). I knew the middle school orchestra would allow him to pursue this new dream, but adding another instrument into the mix was going to be a real problem. On his new school schedule, he wouldn’t be getting home until sometime after 4pm. According to my calculations, if he practiced the piano for an hour, spent another 15 or 20 minutes on the cello, and completed his middle school homework (which I suspected was going to take longer than the hour and a half he was already doing each night for 5th grade), he would have just enough time to eat dinner and shower to make it to bed by 9. He would have no time to spend with his siblings, no time to rest, no time to do anything other than music and school work.
I wasn’t ready for my 11 year old to disappear from family life.
As I fretted over the impending school year, a vision began to form. What if we skipped middle school? What if we took this brief hiatus from the school frenzy and spent some focused time as a family? What if we traded the awkward middle school years for a few years of amazing family memories? Why keep adding to the long list of “one day we wills” when we could begin saying “let’s do this now”? Now. Now before my children are swallowed up by the busyness of high school. Now, before they are grown and gone.
One year into homeschooling, I am delighted to report that it has been an even grander adventure than I imagined.
My boys have been able to participate in activities that we never would have had time for otherwise, such as performing with the Sarasota Youth Orchestra, making and maintaining friendships at a local nursing home and providing afterschool homework help one afternoon a week to the children on our El Crucero block.
I have enjoyed discovering the wide range of innovative curriculum available to homeschoolers and connecting with a surprisingly large homeschool community. For instance, last year we joined the local homeschool choir and found a fun group for bi-monthly field trips. This year, Gabriel is excited to be playing on the homeschool basketball team.
As a family, we have been able to learn together in creative and exciting ways. For example, in conjunction with our study of WWII last year, we managed to visit the National WWII museum in New Orleans, tour a WWII era battleship and submarine in Mobile, AL, see WWII era planes at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, pay our respects at the WWII Memorial in DC, and (thanks to a Groupon) somberly explore a concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. Just as memorably, we have cried together over Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, laughed together through Roald Dahl’s Going Solo, and engaged in deep discussion as we read through large excerpts of Anne Franks’ Diary of a Young Girl.
Perhaps most significantly, our time together has strengthened our family unit. Contrary to expectations, my children almost never fight anymore. They have become best friends. Unhealthy comparisons have largely disappeared and they’ve learned to play together and work together as a team.
In the process of homeschooling, I have learned worlds about my boys’ strengths and weaknesses; my boys have learned the joy and reward of self-motivated learning; and my youngest, Celia, has learned patience and how to play by herself when mommy is otherwise occupied.
Nevertheless, as wonderful as homeschooling has proven to be, I still plan to reemerge my boys into public high school. I don’t want to deprive them of such a universal American experience. I value the life lessons to be learned through interaction with teachers and students who are different than they are. I want them to learn how to be true to their own values and beliefs in the midst of a crowd. I want them to be immersed in a microcosm of American society, to recognize both the beautiful and the ugly, to experience both the fun and the pain.
But for now, we get to be together, growing as a family, developing our collective commitment to God, and making beautiful memories.
And, yes, I’m still clipping Box Tops.