Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Home-schooling--Feeling Lost Again

I don't know what God will have us do next year for school for my 9, 6 and 4 year old. I'm making plans for home-schooling. I'm assuming that where we're going. But it's really weird to lack some firm ideas anymore.

I feel like we sort of got 'boxed' into home-schooling by God. Home-schooling was NOT anything that I wanted or felt comfortable doing before I leaped into the deep end.

Jon & I went to public school and assumed our kids would too. Because we lived in a cheap rental with rather distressed families around us in a D.C. suburb, we sort of flipped out when we thought about putting our little five year old on the bus with the kids she wasn't allowed play with unchaperoned on the playground with. Public school was out. And Catholic school was out also because a) it was completely expensive (I laughed out loud when I read the meager multiple sibling deductions from my parish), b) I thought it had got infected with with crummy academic ideas from the nearby "hot" public schools (expensive wipe boards do NOT replace real science labs) and c) I saw a lot of things that made me concerned about the "Catholicness" of the instruction.

So three years ago, I officially started "homeschooling."

It was awesome. It was great. Everything went totally "swimmingly." I nicknamed my home-school "the Sacred Heart Academy", bought everyone Catholic uniforms and had a grand time marching out on field trips all over the D.C. area.

Until this year, when we sort of had the "youngest sister in the NICU hand grenade" thrown into the mix.

The truth is, I pretty much lost most of our Fall Semester.

In January, I throw my unschooling theory out into the wind and adopted a "reading bootcamp" for my struggling to read independently second grader. I found out that my kid is flawed in her approach to homework and I'm flawed in my approach to teaching. I had a knock out inner brawl to get some fortitude in my heart.

The amazing part, is that now my girl is really starting to enjoy books. And I'm more humbled as a teacher. I don't think I'm the "bee's knees" at teaching anymore. But I do think that there is not a single person who is going to take MORE time to iron out each of my quirky children's reading challenges and do it in a more prayerful way, than me, their Mom.

That's the story. After this weird year, I'm humbled and I'm strengthened. I really don't know what will happen next.

Now that there is a good Catholic school in our new parish, and we'll probably have some tuition money to spend, will Hannah transition to St. Joesph's? Am I home-schooling all my kids until they can learn how to read in 3rd grade? Was this just a three year process to help both Mother and Daughter fix their hearts for heaven? Or are we riding this home-schooling wave all the way to High School like we planned?

Never ever a dull moment as a Catholic Mama!

Jesus, I trust in you.


  1. You said it with the last line.
    Parenthood, it's all about trust and flexibility.

    Best to you, no matter what happens.

  2. We are actually making the transition from Catholic school to public school this year - and I'm still not sure it is the right decision. :S As far as tuition, there is always financial aid available both through your diocese and from the school itself (i.e. tuition is actually negotiable, provided your school isn't super-popular with a waiting list).

    We just try to make the best decision for each individual child each year. This year our Catholic school closed and we were forced to investigate other Catholic schools, homeschooling and our small local public school. Who knows what we will choose next year. :)

  3. I can't wait to see what God has in store!

  4. I'm Catholic and was homeschooled through high school. It worked all right for me because I'm a pretty independent/motivated learner -- but I was one of those kids who would have done okay in just about any educational setting. I think homeschooling is perfectly fine for most kids through elementary school, but beyond that, most kids should be with their peers. Of course there are special circumstances etc. but in general it isn't good for kids to be isolated, and social skills are incredibly important. Lots of homeschoolers say "oh, we do stuff with our kids -- they're in the homeschool orchestra" or whatever, but that's not a replacement for being around your peers all the time.

    Also, for many kids it's difficult to make a transition to college after being home with Mom all the time. A gradual transition (home with Mom -> home + high school -> off to college) with gradually increasing levels of responsibility works best, in my experience, for most kids. Again, I was really motivated (read "thrilled to get out of the house") so I attacked all the challenges of the transition and managed reasonably well. A lot of my homeschooled friends had a much harder time.

    Definitely not trying to put you off homeschooling :) I think it can be a great thing when kids are young. Sometimes schools can reduce things down to textbooks and worksheets and it really takes the joy out of learning for a lot of kids. Build that foundation, plant that seed of love for learning and it'll stay with them.

  5. In Texas many homeschoolers take courses at the local community college, as dual-enrolled high school students. Tuition is free because they're still in high school. Then they start college with a substantial number of credits already earned.

    If you're concerned about making a gradual transition from home to college, this is far more logical than sticking a full-day day-care model high school into the mix.

    Community college dual-enrollment is also an option in Virginia; you'd need to look into whether it's the same for West Virginia community colleges.

    Definitely take it year by year. If you make long-term plans, keep a mental asterisk by them - "subject to change as conditions change".

    You have the right attitude about it, Abigail. You know you're responsible for your kids' education, whether they're in school or not ... if you enroll some or all of your kids in your parish school, you'll be using the school as a helper rather than a taskmaster. You're in a good place.

    Many former homeschoolers who enroll their kids in school become "after-schoolers". I can surely see that possibility for you, Abigail. Remember that the school is helping you in your job as parent and primary educator of your children, rather than the other way around, and you'll be great either way.

    God bless you and your wonderful family.

  6. Oh I DO hope your new schools are better. If not for your kids then the ones that go there. Did I mention that that new basement looks like a potential classroom? Yes? Oh. Okay....

  7. Kate,

    I really have to disagree with you about homeschooling kids through high school. Both of mine made the transition to college just fine, even though it meant moving into co-ed dorms with drug using suitemates. We did do some college courses prior to college (my son did two, only one of which he was in the actual classroom, my daughter did three).

    My kids always were involved in 4-H and homeschool group classes. My nieces and nephew also were in multiple homeschool class situations and have done extremely well. My niece is now in China working with mentally disabled people, far from home and fitting in very well.

  8. Abby, as far as reading is concerned, there is an extent to which it's sort of like walking or talking, different kids are ready for it at different times. You're going to do better with her than a classroom teacher because you've got the time to do the one on one thing. In a classroom setting she'd probably get sent out of the room for extra help. My son-in-law had that experience and makes it pretty clear that the stigma of it undid whatever help it might otherwise have been. The nice thing about late reading homeschoolers is that they can be protected from the sense that there's something wrong with them. I've personally known and worked with (I did graduate work in reading education) homeschooled kids who weren't really reading at 13. Remarkably within two years they were reading at an adult level

    It's much easier when your child is a precocious reader. However, in my experience at the end of the day kids who learn to read late can be just as good readers. My son-in-law hated to read until he got out of the army but then he began reading Greek plays and philosophy. He now reads stuff that the average person who read right on time wouldn't touch.

    My very first reading instructor told us that the average child learns to read between the ages of 4 and 11 with some perfectly normal kids falling even outside of those parameters. The reason schools aim reading instruction at 6 year olds is that on a bell shaped curve the largest number of kids will be ready around 6, just like the largest number of kids walk somewhere around 12-13 months. It's hard for homeschooling parents when someone is looking over their shoulder relative to the acquisition of reading skills. However, I think it's even harder for little kids who have to be trotted off to the "dummies class" every day simply because they haven't really hit the appropriate developmental stage yet. Can you imagine putting your 12 month old through walking lessons simply because they weren't ready to walk yet (some kids don't walk until 18 months)?

  9. I've spent the last few years tutoring some high school girls who spent their early years at the lower end of their Catholic school classrooms. Because I taught in that school for awhile I know what the principal thought of their abilities. With me those girls read things like Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Evelyn Waugh. They read things that their counterparts in Catholic high school never got close to reading. They didn't have great writing skills at the beginning, but they certainly did at the end. It wasn't because I'm such a wonderful teacher, it's because I put them in contact with some wonderful minds and we talked about them together. They were far better off not going to Catholic or public high school (the first 6 kids in the family did one or the other and none of them are now practicing Catholics).

    My kids will tell you that the best thing I did for them was to read aloud to them for hours every day. For a child for whom reading is not yet easy (and mine were early readers), this is an one of the very best things you can do. Might I suggest for next year that if you choose to keep the kids at home that one option to try is the Prairie Primer curriculum (I think it's a two year deal only). I've heard good things about it, it's based on read aloud books and projects rather than a lot of worksheets. Google about it, you might find it interesting. We've never done it, but we have friends who have.

    My sister-in-law also used some of the ideas from the program while she was homeschooling her blind adopted daughter who was just learning Braille. That young woman is an excellent example of someone who learned to read late. She came to them as a Chinese speaking blind child of 9 who'd had nearly no exposure to Braille or any sort of schooling at all. She's now a 16 year old English speaker who reads Braille editions of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, etc. She could read the Bible aloud better at 12 than the sighted kids in her church.

    When kids are interested in what they are learning about they truly do learn by leaps and bounds. When they are ready to read being interested in a subject will motivate them to do so.

  10. We love being able to attend daily Mass (and altar serve) as homeschoolers, with weekly confession. Homeschooling allows us to grow first in love for Jesus and for one another, with all other subjects following.

    Although middle school years become more important for social interaction (often child led & desired) it's also a time for parents to be on high alert with regard to forming the character and helping growth in virtue. Turning them out in middle school just to spend more time with friends doesn't address the fact that the better education for the whole child is often right at home, with a tutor or teacher or coach for subjects outside mom/dad's strengths.

    I am admittedly biased, as my 16 year old son drove himself to his first day of school (Running Start at the local community college). He's on the dean's list, has a group of close friends with whom he shares his faith and his passions (role playing, goofing off), and with whom he can be open about his call to the priesthood.

    If a Catholic school could be more Catholic than our homeschool, I would consider it for our children's education... otherwise, I'm convinced that they're getting the best education right here at home.

  11. Well, you know our deal, Abby, with our kiddos. After five years of homeschooling, after our four year old's diagnosis with autism, I sent them to public school for the last part of the year. I think it was good for all of us. However, I will say that overall, I feel they are best at home. I've noticed a lot of little nasty habits they've picked up from their peers. Mainly the younger ones. Not so much my fourth grader (soon to be 5th grader). And as far as their religious education went? Down the tubes. Between being in school all day, then homework, even when we got to it, it was rushed. And superficial. There was no discussion, no questions, just a "let's get this over with" attitude that I had never experienced before, and it didn't settle well with me. There are local hybrid schools I plan on trying to send my Abigail to when she hits middle school, because she did very well academically in public school. I also tried to get tuition assistance to send her to the only Catholic school in the county, and we were told no. And couldn't have afforded the "lower" fee anyway. Especially after paying for David's autism treatments. God will make a way for His will. Sometimes it's just the farthest thing from what we think He would want!