Thursday, January 8, 2009

I have been asked why I Homeschool, and even if I have time to watch soap operas. Well, hopefully this will clear things up.

I'm on my third year of homeschooling our two children and probably my 200th response as to why. The question always makes me panic, just a little. The answer is not simple and certainly it's evolved since I decided to make the big leap.

Initially, I simply missed our kids. I couldn't handle the transition of letting them go, sending them off to school and resigning myself to seeing them for a few harried moments in the morning and then maybe a few exhausted homework-ridden hours at night. There is so much pressure to encourage children to be independent when the school bus arrives. Yet, my intuition cried out that even at 6, a child was too young to force separation. Our children, my husband and I felt they would most definitely discover their independence in their own time.

I found shepherding two young children through the morning and evening routines of a typical school day unpleasant, to say the least. I wanted to hear about our children's dreams, but instead had to wake them before they had a chance to remember so I could jam clothes over their heads. I wanted to hear the questions that arose somewhere after cereal and before brushing their teeth, but instead had to tell them to hurry up so we could leave. I wanted to give them my complete attention, but there were dishes to wash, boots to pull on, and details to attend to just to get out the door.

Once we considered homeschooling, the floodgates opened. I couldn't stop thinking up more reasons to do it. Alleviating stress, seeking a healthier environment, and searching for a more profound learning process became the next most pressing reasons for us to homeschool. My husband and I had already adjusted our finances to make living on one income work.

There is a certain fluidity to the children's learning because it doesn't stop at the "homeschool door." We discuss the subjects that we are studying, often passionately, at the dinner table, in the car, or with friends and relatives. Their depth of knowledge builds confidence. Our youngest son said one morning after practicing the drums: "The more I practice, the better I get, the more I want to practice."

Having our sons in school heightened our awareness of health, or lack thereof, in the classroom. A large group of kids together, indoors for most of the day, besieged immune systems. At the beginning of each school year at least one of our children would get sick and spread it to the rest of the family. We kept the kids home from school long enough to let their bodies fight back naturally — which almost always took more than just a day or two. These recuperative days just made me miss the kids all the more when they were back at school. Now that we're not tied to a classroom or strict schedule, we spend most of our time together, much of it outdoors. Although our children are with other kids a lot of the time (in extracurricular classes, homeschool group settings, and at playdates), they are rarely ill.

Freedom, I have found, is a huge and beautiful reason to homeschool. Certainly, I have much less time (if any!) to be alone in the house, talk on the phone, or go shopping unaccompanied. But we have the freedom on a brilliantly sunny day to explore the glittering and fluffy snow outside our farmhouse. The children can learn at their own pace, which allows them to zoom forward in math while also slowing down to experience the world so they can have interesting things to think about, laugh about, write about and enjoy.

I am now absolutely convinced that there is nothing better than lots of exercise and moving around for young kids. We get outdoors often, in winter not often enough. On those days when we can't, we move around in the house getting supplies, switching from room to room, and doing chores. The children empty the dishrack, vacuum their bedroom floor, and help take care of our dogs; they will soon be able to help with bringing in firewood for our wood-burning stove we recently purchased. When they have the freedom to move about, they have the desire to think, to focus, to dig in. Otherwise, their need to move distracts them and little gets accomplished.

As I homeschool, I discover more reasons to continue despite the tremendous amount of work it can be. I have noticed that our children, like most, sponge up knowledge on their own at a rate faster than any adult can keep up with; and that higher-order thinking skills and cross-curriculum studies come naturally to them. The kids will apply factoids in which they're interested to an entirely different subject on which they are working.

Besides the benefits to our kids, I am invigorated by the education I am receiving, not just about how to homeschool but about all the subjects in which our children are interested. Along with the kids I am teaching myself French, studying psychology, rediscovering and loving history (a subject I thought I hated), and going to museums and plays and concerts and on hikes and picnics. It can be a tremendous amount of work and requires loads of patience, which I am terribly short on. Mothers who have their children in school tell me, "I could never do that." I reply, "I didn't think I could either but I am, somehow."

If it were not for the support of my small network of homeschool friends, the small but percolating community of homeschoolers here in Erin, and my husband, it would be very hard to continue. Their insights, suggestions and wry wit about the daily machinations of homeschooling buoy me and keep me going. Although, at times, it feels like just one more thing to do, making the effort to connect is essential to our happiness and success. Ultimately, even though I'd love a few hours to myself, the more I am with our children, the more I love and appreciate them, the more I want to be with them.

Why do I Homeschool my children? I hope I have answered this for you. Do we watch soap operas? We don't have cable or satellite hook up, nor do we want it. So no, our days are not filled with the false lives of the actors in Soap Operas. We would rather live life than watch life.