Monday, January 28, 2008

Home School Experiment- Day One

Hannah is due to start Kindergarten this September. (My lovely state has lowered the compulsory school attendance act to age five.) Since I can’t find a kindergarten program that I like, I’ve decided to start my own. I’m pretty nervous about the whole managing the three kids ages 4, 3, and 7 months. Between the round the clock teething nursing sessions, the 2 AM nightmares, the wet sheets, and the ever present “MOM I NEED YOU NOW” moments, there have been plenty of mornings that Mia Bean & I don’t get out of our pajamas until lunch.

I’ve spent the last two weeks freaked out that kindergarten was a no-win situation. It was impossible to imagine sending my athletic eldest daughter to a full day kindergarten (either Catholic or public) where she would be forced to sit at a desk for seven hours a day filling out worksheets. Whatever happened to “playing in the water table”, “doing show-and-tell” or even “taking naps”? What happened to “kindergarten”? You know, kids in an imaginary garden messing around with seeds grown in eggshells and reading books on carpet squares? (At least in my D.C. suburbia, those activities have been swept away by hourly phonics drills required for high stakes testing.)

As for the “answer”- home-schooling seemed even more terrifying than parent-teacher conferences where my kid may well receive multiple demerits for tapping her toes too loudly during math drills. I’ve got a knack for teaching. Trying to keep the house from being over-run with laundry, maintaining consistent discipline without loosing my temper, surviving sleepless nights with baby number three- those mothering matters are another story all together. I worried that adding “primary school teacher” to the mix would topple over the fragile peace on the home-front that I’ve constructed over the past two years.

After lots of fruitless worry, my husband came out with the obvious answer. “If you are so worried about making it work in September, when everyone, including the state of Maryland is looking over your shoulder, why not start practicing now?”

This Monday was day one of the experiment. I started the school day at 10:00 AM. Hannah enjoyed working on her new Kumon tracing workbook. I realize that I need to create a seperate lesson plan for Alex (age 3). After just twenty minutes, we took a break. We had lunch with Daddy. My major failure of the day was completely losing my temper while attempting to get three little ones into appropriate snow gear “for recess.” At one point, after apologizing four times to everyone, promising that I wouldn’t raise my voice anymore, and then promptly screaming when yet another kid did the opposite of my instructions- I just knelt on the floor in my bedroom and cried for Jesus to help me.

Somehow we all got outside in one piece. The day got radically better when Hannah found a pine tree with miniature pinecones. I conducted an impromptu science lesson. We got enough samples to make an identification using the Audubon Society Tree Guide. That prompted a detailed conversation of “conifers” versus “deciduous” trees. I had special reading time with each child. Alex and I mastered a silly song about dreaming of eating a marshmallow and waking to find that you’ve eaten your pillow before he went down for a nap. Hannah and I had another private handwriting session. She’s a lefty. I was so inspired to learn more about her special writing challenges that I called my sister to get more handwriting advice for left-handed people. By three, Alex was up from his nap. I let them watch Spiderman while I got dinner on the table.

Summary: For the most part, teaching is the “fun” part of parenting. I really enjoy getting one-on-one time with each kid. At one point, Alex and Hannah were happily playing in their room. I just sat down and played a silly game with Maria. (Usually, I’m trying to get housework done.) I like tailoring our program so minutely. We’re extremely “slow” in phonics and handwriting; extremely advance in science and social studies. Bad parts: the recess meltdown was pretty ugly. It’s hard to be needed in three places at once. I have no idea how to eventually fold in some housework into our routine.

I did have one really cool event. At the end of reading “Henny Penny”, I had to explain that the meaning behind "no one ever say Henny Penny again" meant that the fox ate Henny. This understandably upset Hannah and Alex. “Why did the fox eat her?” they asked with trembling lips. I thought for a moment. I started talking about the food chain. Then I got inspired to teach “the truth.” I talked about how when Jesus comes back creation will be healed and “the lion will lay down with the lamb.” That answer was infinitely more satisfying to all of us. I think that I’ll have a few more of these moments over time where I can pull our Catholic faith into traditionally secular academic subjects. That’s something that still feels wonderful and exciting as a recent convert to the true faith.


  1. What happened to “kindergarten”? You know, kids in an imaginary garden messing around with seeds grown in eggshells and reading books on carpet squares? (At least in my D.C. suburbia, those activities have been swept away by hourly phonics drills required for high stakes testing.)

    This is something that just drives me crazy! I feel like its rooted in this insanely intense competition for kids to be smart. Nobody wants their kid to miss a single phonics lesson, all toys (even baby toys) must be "educational," etc. UGH. I wrote about it a while back here. This whole hypercompetitiveness thing is one of the factors in our decision to homeschool.

  2. Have you read A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot? While it may not be exactly what you are looking for, it is full of good ideas about homeschooling and mothering and everything else. I don't homeschool (so far), but I still find the book inspiring. I think starting now, before the actual school year starts, is a great idea. Good luck!

  3. I've been meaning to comment for a while--I'm so happy for you that you've made the decision to homeschool. As a recent college grad (now married and a member of the rat race), I look back on my parent's decision to homeschool me (from 7th grade through high school) with awe. As I anticipate kids of my own, homeschooling seems a lot more intimidating. We always wondered why my mom stressed out about it!

    Seriously, though, as you delve into the vast literature on homeschooling, I'm sure you will become very familiar with the concept of "burnout." It's talked about a lot for a reason--it really does happen. Try not to worry too too much about planning, structure, scheduling, etc--it will all work out for the best, even if "school" is just here and there throughout the day.