Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lately, I Feel a Lot Like This Guy:

This is Jack Sparrow, of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.  He lives life flying by the seat of his pants.  He appears to others to be a disaster; a hapless, clueless mess.  He constantly finds himself in dire, surreal situations.  But, through his wiliness, his opportunistic tendencies, and just plan dumb luck, he always comes out on top.  I can completely relate. This guy is absolutely nuts, but he’s smarter than people give him credit for. And for all his faults, he’s rather likeable.
If only I looked as good in dreds and black eyeliner…

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Preliminary list of Home(school) goals for 2011 or A List of Wishful Thinking…

Christmas is over, January is coming and I’m feeling the pull to make some resolutions.  Of course, my resolve to accomplish things waxes and wanes, but here are some things I’ve been thinking about for the new year, in no particular order.
  • Do the girls’ hair every day. It gets brushed every day, but I’d like to step up the girls’ personal grooming a notch or two.  I’m “hair-stupid” so the only hair styles I know how to do are pony tails and basic three strand braids.  My goal is to learn some cute, fast, hair dos that are nicer than just pony tails.  There really is something to looking put together.  Makes you feel better about yourself, more ready to take on the day…
  • Train the kids to hang up their coats, karate uniforms, and church clothes, and put away their shoes in the designated spot as soon as they are removed. (not that I haven’t been working on this all along, but I’ve kind of let things slide in the last few months…)
  • Make sure the kids are doing their daily chores EVERY DAY.  I’m writing this on a Sunday and had to get after the kids to convince them they STILL have to unload the dishwasher and take out the garbages on weekends.  I don’t know how it became the standard that I have to take over ALL household duties on non-school days, but it has to change.
  • Work on refining the look and feel of the household.  (Of course, this would probably be easier to do if I first resolve to keep the house tidier in the first place.)  I’m tired of everything looking kind of junky and cluttered, it’s making me crazy.  I want some beauty and order, please!
  • Pick up my own studies again.  One of the fastest ways to burn out on homeschooling, I’ve found, is to neglect my own intellectual pursuits.  I have a bunch of books that I’ve been meaning to read and take notes on.
  • Change my tone of voice.  My default vocal setting is “annoyed” even when I’m not. I’m not sure why this is, but I can hear my oldest daughter picking up on it and I cringe every time I hear her sound like me.  I don’t want the kids to remember me as grouchy and irritated.
  • Use the TV less.  I admit it, I’m one of those bad moms who uses PBS and videos to entertain the kids so I can get things done.  Usually, it’s the little kids who watch TV while I’m teaching the older kids or doing chores.  I hate doing it because I hate that it turns the kids into whiny zombies after a few days of “passive entertainment.” (But it’s so darn convenient!)  I need to find other activities for the little people to do while I’m working with the bigger kids—they’ll be better off for it, and my conscience will feel MUCH better!
  • Learn to roll with the punches.  I have a tendency to get irritated and grouchy when I feel I’m not measuring up to my ideals.
There.  There’s the list of what I want. Now—how to go about it?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

For M, who requested photos of us “in action”

Last week for history, we were studying Russia during the middle ages.  I love our history curriculum—you can learn more about it here.  Anyway, turns out the medieval Russians kept bees and used their honey and beeswax for trade in places as far flung as Constantinople.  We like to be messy and creative, so we thought we’d try our hands at making beeswax candles.
The following photos show not only our project, but the—ahem—state of the house and our rather lax dress code for school.  Just keepin’ it real, folks.
Here’s Ellen, taking her work very seriously:
Yes, in the right center (center right?) of the picture below that IS a hair-dryer.  We used it to warm the wax so it wouldn’t crack as we rolled it around the wicks.
Looks like TNT sticks from the old Looney Tunes cartoons!
Next lesson: pyrotechnics!
And my personal favorite:

The ULTIMATE field trip!

We love to travel. One of the reasons we decided to homeschool is so we could travel whenever we wanted, without having to worry about school absences or make-up assignments.  Since traveling (especially if you’re going international) is expensive, my hubby has mastered the art of finding tickets to desired destinations during the “off season.”  This cuts costs, and doesn’t prevent us from having wonderful, amazing experiences.
We have always traveled—and when we started having kids, we were determined not to let that stop us from seeing the world.  Of course, it’s an entirely different experience to bring children along than it is to go alone or as a couple.  We’ve had to learn to adjust our expectations and tailor our “kids, too-trips” to their needs. And we’ve had to get awfully creative on occasion to find the ways and means to make various trips.  But it’s all been worth it.  It’s given our kids a hunger to learn about the world and see it for themselves. They love to explore new places, meet new people, learn about other cultures and languages.  They are unafraid.
The photo above was taken last year, when my hubby took the two oldest kids to his motherland—Guatemala.  They had an amazing time and STILL talk about their experiences.  I admit, I was a little jealous—I stayed home with the two youngest kids, because for as much as we like to go places as a family, we didn’t feel we had the mental and physical fortitude for going international with a clingy preschooler and a reckless, tantrum-y toddler (gotta love those two year olds!) Sometimes, sacrifices must be made.  But, I’m glad the older kids got to go—they met relatives they’ve only heard about or talked with on the phone.  They saw things that just don’t exist up here in the north, and they got some incredible hands-on history and biology lessons!  You just can’t replicate these kinds of things in a classroom.
Now, not every trip we take is to some exotic locale—heck, the kids get excited about going to the local zoo—but we’ve tried to make travelling an integral part of our school experience.  Whether it’s to the Capitol Building downtown or Central America, we want the kids involved.
Soon, very soon—my hubby will be taking three of the four kids to Guatemala again.  Our clingy preschooler is now a not-as-clingy kindergartener, and we think she’s ready to see a bit more of the world.  Once again, I am a little jealous, because once again, I am staying home—with our reckless, tantrum-y preschooler.  He’s still a bit much to handle locally!  Also, I’m expecting kid numero cinco, and getting into that ugly third trimester stuff. But—I am SO excited for my hubby and the big kids (and for me—frankly, it will be a nice little respite from school for a week or so!)  I’m looking forward to the day when we can take the entire family…it’ll happen again, someday!
In a future post, I’ll give you the dirt on how to travel “Pineda-style” for a more streamlined trip to wherever—an essential lesson, for sure!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Okay, so technically, it wasn’t quite two years ago that we started homeschooling, but I’ve got our two year mark on the brain and thought I’d share my thoughts.

Two years ago, on the Monday before school let out for winter break, we informed the elementary school officials and teachers we would not be bringing our third and first graders back in January.  That was a scary, scary day.  I had spent the previous week trying to figure out how to tell everyone—how to prepare them, and I was afraid of how people would react. 

The school secretary was rather chilly about it.  I asked her if I needed to sign any forms or write a letter to the school administration or the principal or whatever, and all she did was give me a dead eyed stare and say, “No, but you need to let the principal know.”

I cornered the principal, who was new that year and didn’t really know my kids.  I explained who my children were and what I planned to do. She was diplomatic, but it was clear she took our decision personally and she wanted to know why we felt it necessary to homeschool.  I was still trying to grasp all the reasons myself, so I just told her we traveled frequently and wanted more flexibility—which was true, but not the biggest or only reason we’d decided to homeschool.

When I talked to the third grade teacher, I wanted her to know that I thought she was a fabulous teacher and that our decision had nothing to do with HER or her class.  I gave the “travel/flexibility” reason to her, too.  She was very supportive and offered herself and her expertise if I found myself experiencing difficulties, or needed ideas for lesson plans, or anything else. I was touched by her kindness.

The first grade teacher was a bit more incredulous and clearly a bit offended.  I tried to explain to her the same kinds of things I’d explained to the third grade teacher, but she just raised her eyebrows at me and wished me luck, in a tone that implied I’d never succeed at teaching my own children. 

On the last day of school, I was a wreck.  Knowing this was the end of my kids’ elementary school careers made me weepy. The kids had done great in public school.  They were happy there, Overall, they had a great experience—what was I doing, pulling them out?  I moped around the house all day long, dreading when the kids got home—it would be official, then.

It didn’t help that I had agreed to babysit another homeschooler’s kids that day.  I wanted to spend the day in mourning, but instead I had to entertain a couple of kids I’d never tended before.  I was sad and stressed out.  When the kids came home, they both came home with a box of all their papers from the year, all their school supplies, AND, their teachers and classmates had made “Good-bye Books” for each kid.  The Good-bye books were filled with “I’ll miss you” and “I’m sorry you’re leaving us” notes and pictures. Some of the kids wrote their names and phone numbers as well.  It was heartbreaking.  Ellen, my third grader, seemed to finally grasp that she wasn’t going to go back.  She was upset and took her papers and Good-bye book upstairs to her room in tears.

Calvin, my first grader, was much more interested in playing with his younger siblings and the extra kids I still had over than crying over no more elementary school.  I turned the kids loose with movies and video games and went upstairs and cried.  I could hear Ellen doing the same.

I didn’t officially start our homeschool lessons until January—on the day that would have been the first day back to elementary school.  The kids plastered themselves against the living room window and watched the school buses go by that morning.  Ellen cried.  Calvin took his cues from Ellen and acted mopey for a while.  I don’t remember much else about the first day—just the sad kids and the feelings of guilt and fear about having not let them go back to school.

Looking back on how we got started, I realize I made some mistakes.  I shouldn’t have taken my kids out mid-year.  I should have talked to my kids much sooner about our decision to homeschool them, and given them time to prepare themselves emotionally, and found ways to get them excited about it.  Ellen struggled throughout our first year with having left public school and there were many times I was almost convinced I’d ruined her life.

But, after two years, I can honestly say, we’ve come a long way from Day 1, and wouldn’t go back to public school.  The kids still occasionally talk about missing friends from school or missing out on things like running for student council positions, but when I point out all the things we’ve been able to do and see that we wouldn’t have been able to if they were still in public school, they agree that homeschool has been better and more fun.

The last two years have been quite an adventure.  It hasn’t all been fun or easy or enjoyable, but the good days outnumbered the bad days and I’m glad we decided to stick with it.  Raise your glasses, everyone. Here’s to a Happy Third Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to start this post.  Before I started homeschooling, I was extremely worried about my kids appearing strange or backward to other people.  I worried that the kids would lose friends and not make new ones.  I worried they wouldn’t be able to relate to other kids.  I worried what other adults would think of my kids.  I was terrified the kids would be labeled “weird.”
These worries and fears actually prevented me from starting homeschooling AFTER my husband and I had come to the conclusion that homeschooling would be the BEST thing for our family.  I’m not sure I could articulate what “being socialized” meant, but by golly, I couldn’t bear to have my kids be labeled “unsocialized.”
I had to examine what I thought “being socialized” meant.  To me, a well socialized person is:
  • able to recognize and react appropriately to social cues like body language and tone of voice
  • comfortable initiating conversations
  • self aware
  • able to put others at ease
  • polite and respectful by default
  • diplomatic
  • able to listen attentively to others
  • friendly
  • genuinely interested in other people
  • able to handle criticism and praise graciously
  • confident
  • emotionally stable
  • kind
  • optimistic
  • familiar with current events, pop culture (to some degree, anyway), and social trends
A well socialized person also:
  • knows how to politely extricate him/herself from unpleasant or inappropriate conversations and situations
  • can work well as part of a team
  • dresses appropriately for any given situation and is clean in body, mind, and speech
All of these things can (should!) be learned at home. Of course, to fine tune these skills, one needs some social interaction beyond the immediate family.  Homeschool families have to work a little harder to find social outlets for the kids (and the parents!—but that’s a whole other post!)
At first, we all felt rather isolated.  The kids still played with their public school friends, but after school hours only. We didn’t know too many homeschoolers when we started, but we joined a local LDS homeschool network, The Deseret Home School Association. Throughout our first year, we went to just about every party and field trip they put on, wherever an event was held —even if it meant driving out to Caldwell (some 45 minutes away!) 
The kids are involved in tae kwon do lessons, violin and piano lessons, choir, Boy Scouts, Activity Days, and church.  These also provide “socialization” opportunities.  Also, the kids go to the home of an elderly neighbor once a week to play board games with her and some other homeschooled kids.  Also, I have an elderly friend that has “adopted” the kids and we get together frequently. The kids do just fine, and I’m not afraid to ask anyone for their take on how my kids are handling things.
But what about when they’re older? What about school dances, clubs, sports?  I used to fret that my girls would miss out on going to things like prom or that my boys wouldn’t get to play football or basketball, or that the kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to be in the junior Kiwanis club or drama club or whatever because they aren’t in public school.  I got over it.  For one thing—I may or may not be homeschooling the kids when they get to high school.  I would LOVE to, but at this point, I think I’ll give them the option of continuing with homeschool or letting them go the traditional public route for high school.  For another, if my kids decide to continue to be homeschooled, there are SO MANY community and homeschool-network sponsored clubs and sports teams to choose from year round. Also, the homeschool community in Boise is thriving and many homeschool organizations in the area sponsor parties and formal dances for high school aged kids.  These events are organized, advertised, and funded by the students who attend, which not only gives the kids a great social outlet, they learn what all goes into planning and executing a large social event!
So, with all that, I think we’re set.  Of course, I do still worry about socialization, especially when I catch the kids picking their noses or chattering on incessantly to someone at the doctor’s office—but kids will be kids.  As a homeschooling mom, I sometimes feel pressure to be hyper-vigilant about how the kids present themselves to others, but I’ve also learned that kids are kids, and they’re LEARNING.  They’ll go through annoying phases and occasionally exhibit undesirable behaviors and attitudes.  There will be embarrassing moments, social gaffes, and misunderstandings.  That’s just part of the process.  I figure as long as I’m making an effort to teach them proper social behavior and giving them opportunities to practice it, they’ll be fine.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Typical Day

I could argue that there’s no such thing—especially when we first started out with the whole homeschooling thing.  Each day was quite literally something to fly through by the seat of our pants. But—after almost two years, I can actually look back and see that we’ve developed a pretty steady routine.  Here’s a general outline of any given school day:
5:45 AM—my hubby gets up and goes to the gym.  I roll over in bed and keep sleeping.
6:30ish—my four year old and eight year old boys wake up and come jump on my head.  I order them downstairs to feed themselves and stare at the TV until their dad gets back from working out. Breakfast options are: cold cereal, instant oatmeal, toast, or yogurt and fruit—all of which the eight year old is capable of fixing for himself and his little bro.  TV choices consist of PBS or mom-approved videos.
8:00—hubby is home and showered. He wakes up anyone still sleeping (generally me and my 6 and 10 year old girls) and we all pile on the bed for “devotional.” Devotional consists of reading one verse of scripture, a brief explanation of what it means or how it applies to us in daily life, and then we have a family prayer—most days I manage to stay awake through all this.
8:15—hugs and kisses as we send Daddy off to work.  Children are reminded that the TV goes off at 8:30. Girls are told to feed themselves, and all children are reminded to get dressed and ready for the day, and to do their chores.  I shower and dress (unless I find we’re out of clean clothes—in which case, I have to do a couple loads of laundry before we can get ready!), eat breakfast, and start gathering materials for the school day.  I also check e-mail and peek in on Facebook, help the little ones with getting dressed, and do the girls’ hair.
9:00—if everyone is on their A-game, we start school.  If not, we start closer to 9:30. Ellen (10) and Calvin (8 ) practice the piano and violin (they both play both instruments, so one starts on the piano, the other one takes the violin, then they switch.)  I read stories to Gloria (6 ) and Blythe (4).  I also give Gloria her reading/grammar and handwriting lessons.  Blythe sometimes plays quietly during the lesson, sometimes he bops around.
Somewhere between 9:45 and 10:00—Calvin and Gloria work on math while  Ellen works on writing and grammar.  Math lessons for the big kids last about 20 minutes, so when Calvin is done, it’s Ellen’s turn for math and Calvin’s turn for writing and grammar.  Gloria’s math lesson takes 5 to 10 minutes. Blythe continues to bop around. 
10:30—history and geography for all—Blythe is still bopping—unless there’s a messy art/craft project included in our lesson—then he gets messy with us.
11:30—we take a break—the kids play outside with the neighbors (also homeschooled), or work on chores that didn’t get done earlier, or I read aloud to the kids—it’s basically free time (unless there are chores) and the kids can do whatever they want.  If the little kids feel inclined to play, rather than sit still for stories, I catch up on e-mail, make phone calls, prepare the next day’s lessons, tidy up from the morning, or whatever.
12:00 lunch time.  Usually, I have one of the kids help me make lunch.
12:30—recess.  It’s kind of dumb to call it that, considering right before lunch we’re already sort of goofing off, but after lunch I insist the kids go run around outside (no matter the weather.)
12:45—”science”—we are not currently following an “official” science curriculum, but the kids love to do “experiments” in the kitchen (under close supervision!) or read about animals and plants.  This is also the time they look after their pets—feed and water them, clean cages, play with the animals, etc. Once a week we go to the library and run errands.
2:00—The big kids get their writing assignments—usually journal writing and/or book reports with specific requirements and due dates.  The little kids get more story/play time.
2:30 to 4:00 PM—NAPTIME (for the two little kids).  Depending what day of the week it is, the big kids have music lessons (both the piano and violin teachers live in the neighborhood, so that makes transportation fast and easy), play board games with an elderly neighbor, or have quiet time at home in their rooms.  Ellen also has another 20 minute math session.  This is my time to write, nap, clean the house, read, study, or work on personal projects.  (Lately, napping has been my activity of choice!)
4:00—back to real life AND snack time!
4:30—usually by this time, we’re on the road--headed for tae kwon do classes, Boy Scouts, Activity Days, or choir practice.
6:30—back home, making dinner, and working on evening chores.
7:00—dinner and Spanish lesson.  My hubby is a native Spanish speaker, so this is his gig.  Oh, and the Spanish lesson is very informal---we talk through dinner, talk about our day, learn or review vocabulary, etc. This is also a good time for my kids to review/clarify their math stuff with their Daddy.
8:00—get ready for bed, family prayer, personal prayers for the kids, cuddle and story time—hubby takes the two younger kids and reads to them or plays with them while the big kids and I sprawl on my bed and read a chapter out of a novel together or just chat.
8:30—little kids put to bed.  Big kids get time with Daddy.
9:00—all kids in bed—they can read or play quietly until LIGHTS OUT at 9:30.  Meanwhile, the hubby and I are catching up with each other.
Somewhere between 10:30 and 11 PM—we grown ups hit the sack.
Of course, this schedule is not set in stone—sometimes lessons go faster or slower than anticipated, sometimes we take field trips, or take days off.  Some days I declare it Pajama Day and we don’t bother getting dressed.  Those days tend to be very relaxed and we focus on art projects and other creative pursuits, rather than academics.  We had a lot of pajama days during our first year, but we finally got to the point where we all craved more structure and more intellectual stimulation.  I knew we were ready to kick it up a few notches when the kids started asking for math worksheets.  (YESSSSSS!)
On the first Monday of each month, I have what I call “Teacher Inservice Day.”  I have a meeting with the kids to review what we’ve done for the past month, introduce what we’ll be working on in the new month, and dole out the rewards for meeting/exceeding expectations.  Inservice Day is also the time I introduce new incentives and programs (if any) and rearrange our schedule.  We take stock of what worked and what didn’t, review our goals, and set new ones.  After meeting with the kids and getting their feedback, I can better plan for the next few weeks.  I make meal plans (that I end up never really following), set up play dates and field trips, and then we deep clean the house (well, I deep clean  the house—after a month of “kid-quality” cleaning, it’s time for the place to have a good scrub-down, ya know?)  We don’t have formal lessons on Inservice Days.  It’s a great way to help keep us from burning out with the same old routine and gets us excited about the coming weeks.
Occasionally, a “regular” day will be disrupted to the point that we don’t bother with or quit the formal lessons.  (Think illness, emergencies, or “Murphy’s Law” days.) In those rare cases, we pick up the slack on the weekends, dividing up the missed day’s work between Saturday and Sunday.  I hate when it happens, but sometimes it does, and I’m glad we have the flexibility to ride out the bad days and pick up later.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Topics to post about in the future: a list

It’s probably not very professional to brainstorm on a public blog, but you know what, I don’t care.  I actually spend a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to write about on this blog—but I get bogged down with real life and my limited writing skills.  So. Just so I can dump the stuff from my brain, here’s a list of things I want to “talk” about here (in no particular order—because I don’t work neatly or tidily.)
  • curriculum choices and how I waded through it all (and how you can too, if you so desire.)
  • staying sane in the midst of the inevitable chaos (It’s possible.  I think.)
  • the legitimate and illegitimate concerns over “socialization”
  • school schedules and what to do when you’ve got multiple children in different grades/levels
  • helpful/not so helpful books and resources
  • support networks
  • FREE STUFF and how to find it
  • My issue with “Christian” homeschooling
  • America-centric homeschooling and how I think this is a bad thing (but that doesn’t make me anti-American!)
  • finding mentors for yourself and your kids
  • preserving “me” in a kid centered universe
  • preserving “us, as a couple” in a kid centered universe
  • on being open minded
  • operating on less than 100 percent
  • how to homeschool if you’re completely disorganized (like me!)
  • homeschooling and housework (hahahahaahahahaha!)
  • field trips
  • homeschooling older kids while dealing with infants and toddlers
  • extra curricular activities
  • definitions of education
  • creating your (my—because I’m not trying to convert you) list/letter about why you want to homeschool and what you want to accomplish
  • dealing with less-than-supportive family/friends/community
  • my favorite homeschooling materials and resources
  • goals and reality
  • burn out!
There.  That’s a good start.  Anything you want me to soliloquize on?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The wheels start to turn...

In my last post, I left you hanging with how I wanted to know more about homeschooling, but wasn’t yet convinced it was the right thing for my family.  I wanted more information, so I started with the legalities.  I learned that Idaho’s laws concerning education are pretty liberal.  According to the state constitution, parents are responsible for providing their children with an adequate education—either through the public school system or an “equivalent.” Parents are not required to register their homeschools with the state, rely on state educational resources, and they are not required to have a college degree in order to teach their own children.  They do not have to provide the state with attendance or curriculum records.  Homeschooled students in Idaho are not required to take standardized tests.  Of course, if a parent signs on with one of the many “distance learning” programs offered through the public school system, they ARE required to register, keep records, and have their kids take standardized tests and be evaluated regularly by state certified teachers.  (As an aside, people who choose to register with the state and use public school-designed “homeschool” programs are not legally considered homeschoolers, but more on that in a future post.)
So I had to think about that. IF I were to homeschool, would I want to be aligned with a public school curriculum, or would I want to “freelance”?  There are advantages and disadvantages to both.  On the pro-side of going with a public school curriculum, I would have a teacher assigned to my family to assist us in choosing text books, organizing our academic schedule, and I would be reimbursed for much of the costs associated with teaching (money for books, field trips, supplies, even some extra-curricular activities.)  On the con-side, I’d have to keep meticulous records regarding attendance, lesson plans, grades, maintain a portfolio for each child enrolled, and follow the scope and sequence for any given grade. The curriculum would be set and I’d have to work within it’s parameters.
On the pro-side of “freelancing”, I could avoid all paperwork and testing, aside from what I choose to do.  I could choose whatever curriculum I wanted and implement it any way I desired.  I would not be beholden to the state for anything.  (God bless Idaho for trusting me to take responsibility for my kids’ education!) On the con-side, I would have to pay for EVERYTHING, I’d have to wade unguided through the sea of homeschool curricula and make my own decisions—hoping they were the right ones and would work for each kid.  I would not have access to a state-certified teacher to keep me pointed in the right direction and keep me on task—and I had no idea where to start! 
Despite this, I decided IF I homeschooled, I wanted to “freelance.”  Call me masochistic, but I was looking for a challenge.  I wanted to know what all went into creating a full curriculum.  And to be honest, I was a little afraid of the “official” programs offered through the public school.  Finally, I thought if I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, I should take full advantage of that!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No, really. Why???

If you read my last post, you might think that I decided to homeschool solely because I was picked on during my own school years and somehow never recovered.  I admit, I think I was pretty traumatized, but as I grew up and got away from the middle school and high school mentality, I began to put my faith back in the system.  And I decided when my own kids got to school, I’d be really involved as a parent volunteer, so I could be on the alert for problems and prevent my kids from going through what I did.
About a year before my oldest kid started school, there was a local frenzy about charter schools.  An “arts and leadership” charter school was starting up in our school district just a few blocks away.  I went to the information meeting and got very excited about the idea of having my children in a school where the “three R’s” would be taught through the arts, rather than through whatever the normal methods were at the regular elementary school.  Then I learned that enrollment for the first year would be available only to those who helped get the school up and running.  After that, enrollment would be determined by lottery.  Since my daughter was still over a year away from starting kindergarten, I knew there was no hope for her to get in “on the ground floor.”  We’d have to put her name in the lottery in the spring and cross our fingers.  So we did.  And she didn’t get in.
I enrolled her in the regular elementary school, and she wound up with an amazing teacher and had a fabulous kindergarten year. But I was still concerned about getting her into the charter school. It was the “right” place to have your kids go to school.  Somehow, you weren’t “cool” and your kids weren’t getting a quality education if they didn’t get into the charter school.  Never mind that getting into the school wasn’t based on merit—never mind it was just the luck of the draw—somehow, the charter school kids were “better” because the school was “better.”
This rankled me, because as a brand new charter school, there was no real benchmark for achievement. I resented the implication that my kid was getting an inferior education—and we couldn’t do anything about it except hope she got into the charter school NEXT year.
We played the enrollment lottery again for first grade and lost. And my daughter again got a great teacher at her school.  This should have made me reconsider my desperate desire to get her into the charter school, but it didn’t.
The same thing happened the next year. At that point, I was tired of feeling jealous about the charter school kids and decided to count my blessings.  My daughter was in a fine school and had consistently gotten dedicated, intelligent, kind teachers.  She was ahead of the game academically, and was doing just fine socially.
My son started kindergarten that year, and I had high hopes for his teacher and his class.  Unfortunately, his teacher had just come from teaching middle school and didn’t seem to know how to handle the needier kindergarteners.  She also split her time between two schools and always seemed frantic and busy.  This bothered me, but my boy did fine in school. When he started, he could already read and form his letters, and knew some basic addition. He was eager to please his teacher—and she loved him for it.  I decided this teacher was just getting her “sea legs” for kindergarten and decided to let go of my worries.  I gave up on trying to get the kids into the charter school. 
About that time some friends of mine announced they had pulled their kids (fifth and first graders) out of their schools and were going to homeschool instead.  Kimberly and Warren were great people with great kids, but I was shocked.  They were a very social family and Kimberly had openly admitted she wasn’t academically inclined.  They loved their kids, but were pretty vocal about how much they enjoyed and how much they needed AWAY time from their kids. I couldn’t imagine how they would manage being home all the time, doing schoolwork with their kids all the time. What I hadn’t seen was the research and thought they had put into making their decision.  They had a plan, there was nothing slap-dash about it.
In the ensuing months, I noticed a couple of things.  One: my life and my family’s life were getting out of control.  We were always in a hurry, always late for things, I was always stressed out and yelling at the kids to move faster, get their chores done, quit bickering, etc.  I wasn’t happy and I was starting to hate motherhood.  Two: Warren and Kimberly’s lives (and those of their children) seemed to slow down, get calmer, move more smoothly.  They seemed happy and centered.  They were constantly talking about how much they were learning (the adults, as well as the kids) and it was clear they loved being around each other. And it all stemmed from their decision to homeschool.
I began asking them questions.  Warren gave me several books to borrow—most of them on educational philosophies. I’ll write about them in a future post. I began to read---as a skeptic—and found myself intrigued.  Homeschooling began to sound and look less weird and more desirable.  Kimberly invited me to a homeschool conference put on by the Deseret Homeschool Association, a local support network for LDS homeschooling families.  I went, mostly out of curiosity to see how many people attending were obvious weirdos or religious/political fundamentalists. (Can you see some of the prejudices I was carrying around?)
To my surprise (and relief), the conference was full of very normal looking people.  I listened to several talks and presentations and then had dinner (it was included in the conference) so I got to meet and talk with other homeschoolers.  I prepared myself for the barrage of “homeschool or die!” sentiments I was convinced I was going to get..but they didn’t come.  When I admitted I wasn’t homeschooling but was just sort of, maybe, kinda looking into it, I expected to be hit with tons of reasons to “convert.”  Instead, I got a lot of sympathy and zero pressure.  Most people wished me luck in my research and many said “It’s a big decision—a very different lifestyle.” that sounded less like a warning and more like they’d been in my shoes and understood where I was coming from.
I left the conference changed.  I had such a good, deep in the bones/down in the gut feeling about homeschooling.  I started to think maybe I wanted to do it.  I was scared out of my mind at the thought—immediately thinking of all the reasons I shouldn’t or couldn’t homeschool.  But I couldn’t shake the good feeling I got from attending the conference.  I went home and told my husband about my experience.  He looked at me sideways, and I assured him I wasn’t going to go pull the kids out of school tomorrow. But I did tell him I wanted to look more deeply into the possibility of homeschooling.  If it turned out to be a lousy idea, then okay.  But I wanted to know more…

Thursday, December 2, 2010


This is the most oft asked question I get when people learn that I homeschool.  Some people who ask this are hoping to hear some dramatic story of a knock-down-drag-out issue my husband and I had with the public school the kids were previously attending. Some others assume our kids have something wrong with them—socially, intellectually, mentally, emotionally, whatever.  Others wonder if we’ve just plain lost our minds or are gluttons for punishment. Sometimes we get the question from people who are considering homeschooling their children and want to know really and truly what led us to our decision.

When I’m asked “Why?”, I find myself assessing the questioner.  What are they really looking for?  Do I just give a glib answer or do I really go into the many reasons? Which ones?  How much time do we have?  How well do I know this person?  Does it matter to me what they think about my response?
I have a lot of answers to “Why?” and, the longer I homeschool those little precious little punks of mine, the more answers I find.  Some are very serious and personal, others are optimistic and hopeful. Some were apparent to me right from the start. Others evolved as we've gone along. Some are selfless. Some are selfish.  All are valid.

To begin to answer the question, I have to start with some personal history.  I was raised going to public school. Elementary school was great, until about the fourth grade, when I started getting teased and the little girl-cliques were forming.  Things got progressively worse through middle school.  Verbal jibes turned to pushing, shoving, and tripping.  Pushing and shoving turned to scratching and stabbing—with fingernails, metal compasses, writing utensils.  I was even bitten, and grabbed in places no one had a right to touch. I was scared, I felt alone, I didn’t feel safe.

When I told the adults in my life what was going on, I was encouraged to ignore what I could, be pleasant no matter what, and ultimately I was brushed off:

“Kids are just mean at this age.”
“Don’t act like a victim and you won’t be treated like one.”
“Things will get better as you get older.”
“Just keep your head down and try not to attract any attention.”

I followed all the advice, putting faith in the adults’ perspective, but it did little good—if anything, my “turning the other cheek” only escalated the abuse.

I started thinking about suicide. I started thinking about hurting the ones who hurt me.  I prayed nearly every night that either I would die, or the ones hurting me would.  Every day, when I got off the bus, I walked past the wheels and thought about crouching down and letting them roll over me.  These thoughts pretty well consumed me until an incident in eighth grade that involved me getting hit over the head repeatedly with a belt buckle by a girl in my speech class.  We were actually IN class when this occurred.  Terrified of being permanently injured, enraged that no one--not even the teacher--seemed to notice or care, I came unglued.

A classmate was up giving a speech.  I leaped out of my seat and stood up in front of the class, interrupting the girl.  My teacher demanded to know what I was doing and threatened to fail me. I showed her the lump on my head and pointed out the girl who had given it to me and how she’d done it.  The teacher questioned the girl, who denied it.  The teacher asked the kids around where I’d been sitting what was going on.  For a long time, no one said anything.  Finally, one girl acknowledged what had happened.  The teacher chewed out my tormentor, and then scolded the class.  Then, she asked if I had anything to say. 

I let the class have it.  All the anger, fear, hurt, sadness, and injustice I felt. I shouted.  I swore.  I told the class exactly what I thought of them and where they could all go.  Bullies and those who stand by and let other people be bullies are the same thing.  And that’s what they all were—except for the girl who finally spoke up for me.  I thanked her for being brave enough to say something and then I burst into tears.  I ran from the class and hid in the bathroom for the rest of the period.

I was sure I would be expelled by the school authorities and lynched by the other students.  I was sure I had sealed my doom—I wouldn’t be allowed to call students and even teachers the horrible things I had called them.  I decided to kill myself that day and I’d do it on the way home, I’d just walk into oncoming traffic—no, I’d RUN.

I came out of the bathroom expecting the worst.  Instead, the girl who had verified the belt buckle accusation came to me; my books and backpack in her hands.  She told me after I left, the teacher had lit into the class again and lectured the kids until the bell rang.  I wanted to feel happy about this, but I only felt worse, and more determined to put myself out of my own misery. I accepted my things from her and proceeded to my next class.

I remember I was given wide berth for the rest of the day.  I don’t remember why I didn’t run into traffic and kill myself.  I suppose I was as shocked by my blow-up in speech class as everyone else.  I wanted to think about it.  I wanted to see if it would mean anything.

After that, things improved—slightly.  It helped that I moved three times in the next four years. It helped that I knew if it came to it, I could fight back—or at least make a lot of noise.  But I wasn’t able to relax.  I still dealt with anxiety and fear and depression. School was not a place of learning for me.  It was a place of fear, wariness, and mistrust.  Academics and social life came way, way behind self preservation.

I’m happy to say that by the time I was a senior in high school, I had overcome most of that.  I had a great senior year, but my grades were shot.  It was a wonder I even got into college. I don’t know that I gained much academically from school, but I suppose I learned some important social lessons:

If you don’t fit in, you should be destroyed.
It’s safer to cower in anonymity than defend the persecuted.  You might become a target yourself.
Creative thinking and original ideas must be shot down or shut up.
Kids are mean and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Don’t ask for help because you won’t get it.
If no one else acknowledges something bad, it didn’t really happen.

That’s what public school taught me.  What a great legacy for our children, eh?  That’s what I want my kids to learn.  That’ll prepare them for the real world. That will make them good, responsible citizens. That will help them realize their potential as intellectual, creative, spiritual beings. Right?

Wrong.  Dead wrong.

Now, I realize that this post is rather heavy. I also realize it makes me sound a little like I might be trying to overprotect my kids—maybe you’re thinking—”Well, you can’t shield them from everything.  Eventually, they’ll have to go out into the big, bad world.  If they’re too sheltered, they’ll never make it in the real world.”
My response to that is—“Duh.”  I’m not trying to protect them from everything.  In fact, if you ask my kids, they have life pretty hard.  They are frequently disappointed, have their feelings hurt, and I know they’ve felt helpless and alone.  They’ve felt pain and injustice—because I make sure they have plenty of opportunities to experience the “real world.” But I also make sure they have plenty of opportunities to learn how to cope:

To turn to God and to people who can help them
To trust their instincts
To treat people with respect and dignity and expect the same from others
To recognize the value of creative, independent thought
To stand up for the right things and to be brave enough to deal with the consequences
To realize they are not alone.

I want my kids to learn these life lessons and I think I’m better equipped to teach my kids these positive, soul-affirming lessons than the public school experience could ever be.  But I didn't come to that conclusion right away.

When I first began looking into homeschooling, it was purely for the academic benefits for my kids. My oldest two were already happily enrolled in the local elementary school and I had already decided that my kids would never have the school experience I had because we live in a small community where I know most of the kids' classmates and their parents, I know the teachers, and frankly, I'm pretty optimistic and willing to hope for the best.  People are nice and the schools are good. I'm pretty sure I was already raising my kids to know how to deal with the unpleasantries of life.  It wasn't until after I'd been homeschooling for awhile, and had been asked to teach the 12 and 13 year old girls at church that I really got thinking about the significance of the events from my middle school years and I became more mindful about "socialization" and how to help my kids get proactively and positively through adolescence.

There are other reasons why I chose to homeschool, and I'm tempted to say this is the first and most significant reason, but that wouldn't be accurate. This is just the reason I was thinking about tonight when I sat down to write.