Monday, September 17, 2012

School Time- Recapping the first few weeks

We've been in school here for 4 weeks.  It's been amazing!  Beth is in the 3rd grade, and Jacob started kindergarten.  I realize I should have probably been emotional about that, but the difference is that I didn't send my baby off to school.  This year, we decided to give homeschool a shot.  There have been no complaints from the students, teacher or principal!

Why in the world are we homeschooling?
I have always felt a tug and desire to homeschool.  After many discussions and LOTS of research and plenty of prayer, we decided to give it a try.  When we told the kids, they were excited.  That made it so much easier.  It is a blessing and a joy that I was already a stay at home mom.  Since Beth was already home for summer, it was an easy transition.  Our decision in no way criticizes your decision for your children.  Each family has to make the decision that is best for them.  But what about the deeper reasons?  We can vacation whenever we want, without worrying about missing learning in order to beat the crowds.  That's a deep reason, right?  Ok, really, we want to guard our children from things that make children grow up too fast.  We want to insulate, not isolate, our children.  We want our children to have a Christian view of the world- from great moments in history to creation to morals.  We want our kids educated in the way that is best for them.  Small class size, individualized instruction, being able to go with the moment (either to explore something cool or to take a break when frustrated), .... No school uniforms or special school clothes to buy, just regular play clothes.  And even jommies some days.  We want our kids to be lifelong learners, to know how to learn something when it isn't being "fed" to them.

What makes me qualified?
Well, as a matter of fact, I have a college degree and certification from the state of Texas to teach elementary grades.  However, research has shown no difference in the success of homeschooled children of college educated parents or those with high school diplomas.  I love my kids more than a teacher would and will push through whatever struggles we have to keep a love of learning.  I've been in the classroom and seen how a smart, well-behaved kid gets lost in the shuffle when the teacher has to focus on the struggling or misbeahving students.  I've seen that one teacher can't meet the individual learning differences and needs of 25 kids in the same short amount of time.  I know how much of a school day is spent on administrative stuff or the latest and greatest method (that doesn't get tried long enough to see if it really works) that every teacher is expected to do, not to mention the time wasted on assemblies and things the kids don't really pay attention to.

What's so great about homeschooling?
I LOVE spending time with my kids, sharing a love of learning with them.  I know my kids' skills and can adjust the lessons to suit their needs.  I have learned that Beth needs to do math in the morning instead of saving for the end of the day.  I have learned that Jacob works quickly, taking about half the time I've alloted for his subjects.  I love seeing the pride when they learn a new skill or discover something really cool.  I love being able to shift our lessons around, doing only the minimum in a day so we can take a field trip.  I love being able to drop assignments or half the practice problems, the busy work, when I know a skill is already mastered.  Being able to go to the gym for mommy to exercise while the kids play, coming home to work on school, breaking for lunch, then finishing school- all before the neighborhood kids are out of school.  With Kevin working at home when he isn't traveling, he can be part of our learning, playing and field trips.  We can go on field trips when places aren't busy.  The zoo was amazing last week!  We can go out to eat in the middle of the day- lunch specials, being seated right away.  We are spending more time as a family, both learning and playing, than ever before.

What about "socialization"?
"Socialization" is defined as a "process by which an individual develops a personal identity and learns norms, values, behavior and social skills."  Do I really want a bunch of kids shaping the "identity" of my children, teaching them conversation skills and values?  Nope, we think that we parents and the other people we choose to surround ourselves with are the best way to shape them, not a random selection of kids.  Now, if you really want to know if my kids have social interaction, I assure you we are busier now than before.  Beth has gymnastics, Jacob has soccer and piano lessons.  We attend classes once a week with other homeschool families, plus additional field trips and social events.  Church 3 times a week, where the kids are involved in the AWANA program as well as their age appropriate Sunday class.  We get together with friends for playdates and hang out time, both with homeschool families and those who choose other routes.  Plus, the regular interaction with kids and adults as we go about our daily lives- library, stores, haircut place, .... We are able to teach them the social graces, manners, conversation skills, compassion, etc, that they will need to use as adults.  I am looking so forward to expanding these opportunities as we get our bearings and find ways to volunteer in the community.

What's been the most fun so far?
We are doing science class together.  I started this thinking that Jacob would just be exposed and we'd cycle back through it with him later, as Beth needed to move on to other things.  Boy, was I wrong!  These kids are picking up amazing knowledge.  We're learning together, and it's super cool.  We chose Apologia's Zoology: Flying Creatures, which means we're learning about birds and insects that fly.  We do some reading, some notebook activities, some field hunting and some experiments.  If I had learned science this way as a kid, I probably would have liked it much more.  We've built and flown gliders, learning about flight.  We've caught and examined insects, naming body parts and identifying special features (did you know you can tell the difference in girl and boy bugs?), refrigerating a live wasp to see what being cold-blooded really means.  We have been entomologists- even Jacob can tell you that.  Beth even touched and held the dead insect!  All this, and we're just 2 chapters into the book!
The other amazing thing has been to see Jacob's reading skills explode.  He's trying to read everything he can.  He's got a few simple books he reads by himself.  The pride he has that he did it is incredible.  I can't wait to see how much more his reading takes off as he gains the skills to read bigger words.  We may need a bigger bookshelf!

So, while we're only homeschool newbies, it has brought so much joy.  Look and ask around, you'd be surprised how many people do this too.  While for many there is still that "those weird people" stigma, the faces of homeschoolers are more normal than you realize.  In 2009, there were an estimated 300,000 students being homeschooled in Texas alone.  Incredible!