Thursday, September 4, 2014

Home Schooling: The Saga Begins

My son turns 5 this November, so he misses the cutoff for starting kindergarten this year. But he’s already reading on about a second grade level, he can do basic math, he understands a lot of fairly advanced scientific principles, and he can write fairly well (with a little – okay, a LOT – of prompting). Add that to the fact that he’s as tall as your average second (or third!) grader, and it’s clear that it’s time to start home schooling.

My husband and I had actually talked about home schooling as an option long before now. But given my son’s situation, it seems like an obvious solution: home school informally this year, see how it works out for both of us, continue officially for a year or two if it does, and then plug him into public or private school wherever he fits socially and intellectually at the time instead of basing his placement on his birth date alone.

So with area schools starting next week – and his weekly gymnastics and twice-a-week preschool class as well – it makes sense for us to start home schooling next week, too.

Frankly, I’m terrified.

At a certain level, I know I can do this. My mom was an elementary school teacher and a children’s librarian, so I grew up surrounded by worksheets, educational books, and crafts and projects appropriate for kindergarten and first grade. I spent one summer myself teaching grades kindergarten through sixth in a one-room schoolhouse using government curriculum, and I taught preschool Sunday School for years. So I’m not exactly unprepared for this adventure. And yet, when it’s your own child’s educational base and future you’re putting into place, it’s a lot of pressure.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you what I do when I’m under pressure: I research. I look things up, I read books, I search for online articles, I ask other people for their opinions and advice. And I’ve been doing my research for this project for months, even years. My starting place was an excellent book that my husband found for me, called The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings. Ms. Cummings is a former child actor, author, and “free spirit” who opted to home school her daughter in middle school. Much like me, she began her home schooling journey by thorough research. Her book hilariously details how she researched various styles of homeschooling, including dressing as a cult member to crash a home schooling convention and offering to chaperone a stranger’s home school prom. Despite its often tongue-in-cheek humor, her book offers an excellent outline of both the history of home schooling and the many theories and schools of thought regarding the practical application of home schooling.

One of the aspects of her book that I most enjoyed was her description of how home schooling has changed over the years. Home schoolers are no longer predominantly strictly conservative Christian families who home school in order to protect their children from the world (not that there’s anything wrong with that). These days, many families are opting to home school because of learning disorders, bullying, behavioral issues, transportation issues, allergies, and hundreds of other reasons. The variety of home schoolers is as widely-varied as the types of home schooling.

And speaking of types of home schooling, no longer is home schooling inevitably a mom and a single purchased curriculum. Now, home schooling can be done by a parent, a tutor, or an online classroom teacher. And curricula can include bits and pieces from numerous sources, single units purchased piecemeal, online texts, or even no curriculum at all (often called “unschooling”).

With all the choices out there, it’s a little overwhelming. And yet, it’s also reassuring. If one option doesn’t seem to be working out for us, there are dozens of other approaches to try. And with so many families home schooling in so many different ways, there’s plenty of support out there to tap into.

And so, I brace myself to begin. In the words of John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Let’s go embrace life!

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