Monday, October 05, 2009

why not homeschool?

Thanks for the nice comments on my last post (re: creative and messy). My dear friend Karen left a comment asking me why not homeschool Daughter, since we are doing well now?

Indeed, why not?

There are so many issues tied up in that little question, I hardly know where to start. First I should say that I don't plan to homeschool her. I am doing so now because I didn't find an affordable program that I liked enough to fork over the money. The ONLY thing I wanted for Daughter that she is not getting enough of at home is social interaction with other kids her age. I still wish we could get together with more kids, but it is so hard. I took her to her swimming lesson this weekend and in the car she told me she hoped her friend would be there - Isabella, the girl she met for the first time last weekend. The poor child is so hungry for friends, and so outgoing. It breaks my heart not to be able to provide that to her. So that is the first reason she is going to school next year.

The second reason is the fact that we moved here, to Expensive-ville, just so she could attend the public schools. They are known to be excellent, and Hubs and I went through this district, so we know what we're getting. It is mostly what we want. But I am so, so torn about surrendering her to those schools 11 months from now. She is so creative and sweet and generous and trusting and kills me to think she will lose a lot of that the minute she steps on the bus for the first time.

Now, if I had my druthers, I'd send my sweet, creative child to our "local" Waldorf school. I think. Well, I'm not sure, exactly, but I probably would! How's that for being clear as mud?

I just finished reading You Are Your Child's First Teacher, and I must recommend that you all run to the library and read it immediately. If you already have children, if you are planning to have more, or if you haven't had any yet, go get this book! I will admit, and I will warn, that it is a bit on the "hippy-dippy" side, but the insights the author provides into raising small children and encouraging their natural learning are so, so inspiring. She also manages to distill Rudolf Steiner's work down into understandable concepts and explain the basics of Waldorf education without overwhelming the reader.

We have only one Waldorf school in Western New York, and it is a solid 45 minutes away from our home in good weather, plus it costs mucho dinero to go there, so it's not going to happen. But I'm rapidly falling in love with the concepts embraced by the Waldorf system, such as soft colors, curved surfaces, picture-based learning, music and movement, and a real emphasis on teaching the whole child. The kindergartens are true to the name - a child's garden of play, and academic concepts are not emphasized until "the changing of teeth" which is a weird-sounding way of saying 7 or 8 years old. What we consider 1st or 2nd grade in our public-school universe is where academics begin in the Waldorf program. The major emphasis before that age is allowing the child's energy to be devoted to physical growth, development, and maturity.

Now, I am no expert on Steiner or Waldorf; I only know what I have read and it isn't much. But it makes so much sense! I'm cringing at the thought of my exceptionally bright daughter, who was reading the newspaper to me this morning, sitting in a hard chair at a desk or table with other 5 year-olds, being given a stupid worksheet with the letter G on it, having to circle the things that start with G and color them in. BORING! She will be told to be quiet, to get in line, to follow directions, to listen for a bell that signals when she can and cannot get up and move.

And I am so torn.

Part of me supports the logical argument that this is America in 2009 and kids need to learn and study and get ahead. The world is not a hippy-dippy place and Daughter will have to be the best to get into the school of her choice and build a career. But a part of me says "eff that!" and wants her to have her childhood, for as long as possible!

I have my arguments with the book and with some of the ideas. I don't know if I would get rid of the television entirely, or take away all computer privileges, or dump every single toy that isn't wooden/natural and handmade, or burn all the clothes that aren't made of 100% natural fibers. That would never fly in my household, anyway, since my husband spends most of his time with one eyeball on the tv and one on his computer. Plus I don't want to raise my kid to be the weird outcast whose mom won't let her have any "junk food" in her lunch and who never heard of Disney. A large part of that is also our community, I guess. We now live in an area that I think of as being very "hard," meaning, I guess, very professional and fast-paced and cold. The school systems are designed to groom little investment bankers, not particularly well-rounded, happy, well-adjusted kids. Like I said, the Waldorf school is out in the boondocks 45 minutes from here. There's no Hanna Andersson store here (much to my dismay), for natural soft clothing. People work, moms don't generally stay home, and if they do it is so they can go to the gym, and go get their nails and hair done, not so they can do homeschool-y stuff with their kids. I'm not saying those families don't exist, but they are not the norm, whereas in some parts of the country you can actually find multiple alternative education schools and entire communities that embrace those values.

So I have all this stuff churning around in my head. I will probably have more to say about it in future posts as I continue my mothering journey and strive to guide my babies in what I hope and pray is the right direction. Have any of you read the book I am talking about? Do you send your children to the local public school? How do you feel about it? Are your children in an alternative-education environment? Are you happy?

Are your children happy?


HangerMom said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll have to pick that up, though I fear that it will make me feel like a terrible person - like I've already ruined my children.

I never gave a thought to anything but sending my kids off to school for kindergarten and even preschool. I figured public school, but then we moved here were Catholic school is dirt cheap and good (my husband being a product of the school my kids go to, I know what to expect, too :). So we went that way. But my oldest is super bright and vibrant and artistic, and I know she would thrive in another environment, where she wasn't presented the stupid worksheets. I cringe when I see them come out of her backpack because I know she's bored with them. The intricate drawings all over them show me that clearly.

At the same time, she's doing great there. She's not "learning" much because she's well beyond the level of the other kindergartners, and hopefully your public school will have the resources our Catholic school does not, to give Daughter some extra help and challenges if she's surpassing her classmates. But our school makes an effort, and we continue to help her learn at home, though not in any organized sense. (I should check out the Kumon stuff - I've picked up a couple books just for color-by-number fun, but never considered them for actual teaching, since my mind is far from the home-schooling mindset). And Marianne LOVES it. She loves being with the other kids and playing and building those relationships. She begs me to set up playdates on non-school days and she tells me awesome stories about their recess antics. I'm glad she's there. I hope it's for the best.

I have several friends who do or intend to home-school, and that's a new world to me. I'd never realized it was so prevalent in some places. But I couldn't do it. I'm not a teacher and my kids would definitely suffer. So I think I'm doing the best with what I have available to me. That's all you can do!

(Sorry for the novel-lenght comment. Can you tell you hit a nerve? :)

Karen said...

Yeah, I could write a novel, too.

I had the same worries and concerns when I sent my oldest to public school kindergarten. He was sensitive, outgoing, eager, and had finished two years at a strong academic preschool. He was sounding out words, ready to learn to read. When he brought home worksheets like "circle the blue triangles" I wanted to cry.

What I've learned over the past 5 years in our public school is that it gets better after the first month or two of kindergarten and as he has gotten older he's been much more challenged and I'm pretty satisfied with the education he's receiving. Frequent, good communication with his teachers has been key as well.

Fast forward to my daughter who is in kindergarten at the same school and I am in the same boat. I am frustrated to tears and am already drafting a list in my head of things I want to talk about with her teacher at conferences.

Regarding home school, before you nix it entirely do some online research. I googled "homeschool groups in Buffalo, NY" and this was the first site that came up (see below). If nothing else, you'll have it tucked in your back pocket if public school kindergarten is not a good fit for Daughter next year.

Jessica said...

I'm nursing a babe and browsing blogs so my reply is going to be... well, disjointed at best, abrupt and confusing at worst.

We had the pleasure of attending a Waldorf start-up school after kinder and first in a public school with our eldest and kinder for our second. For the most part we loved the experience, loved it. There were some challenges specific to our school and to our situation and eventually those challenges claimed the course of our education and led us to homeschooling. We are somewhat Waldorf inspired, I tried pretty hard to be strictly Waldorf inspired when we started out but it was just too difficult. Now I've relaxed some and we've kind of found our own way combining what resources we have with the opportunities presented us and just what "fits." Some days I wish we could just send them off to our local public school but I know how miserable we'd all end up after just brief interactions with the children on our street that do go there. My girls are very social and outgoing, they make friends easily and quickly forming deep bonds that they are growing in learning how to foster and develop into lasting friendships. Recently we met a new pediatrician and when I volunteered that we home school her reply was "I can tell, home schooled children are so comfortable and confident around adults and usually very well spoken as your children are." I was shocked. We do intentionally seek out social opportunities as well as getting together with friends that share similar ideals regarding pedagogical approach. In our area there is a group for Waldorf inspired families and we celebrate festivals together and combine for group projects relating to various grade level stages (i.e. third grade building project).

There are pros and cons to anything, for now homeschooling works for our family and is the right choice for us even though it isn't something I ever planned on doing and can't say I'll even be doing it next year. We remain flexible and open. Right now, yes, we are happy, we have found the happy medium for this season of our family's life.