Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Our educational journey...the LONG beginning, anyway!

In the last few weeks I’ve received several private emails asking me to talk about our educational journey. I've thought a lot about this and have started to write about this many times, but I just didn't want it to turn into a forum for debating school choice. That would never be my purpose here (remember, I am a die-hard non-confrontationalist!).

But after praying about it some more, I thought maybe some people might benefit from hearing our experience and knowing my struggles and observations as we've gone along. I do ask that comments reflect a generous portion of grace, as this is my opinion only. Please feel free to email me privately if you need me to clarify something.

Yesterday, Ashlee sent me this one (she gave me permission to use her name):
At what age did you decide to put your kiddos in school? I have a 3rd grader that we are Praying about sending to school. We have homeschooled her for the last 2 years but we are having some issues that have warranted this decision. I just wonder if you have any advice. We live in a good school district but i am just scared to release them to people i dont know...mommy fear i guess.

Thanks for any advice you can give, I dont know anyone else who has done both.

I gave Ashlee a short reply. For anyone interested in the way-too-long version, here it is (you might want to get a glass of tea before you read on):

To begin with, we always intended to put our kids in school (some of you will stop reading right here!). We live in a conservative area, in a good school district, and there was no reason to think of any other option. We knew other Christian families, most notably my sister and her husband, whose kids had successfully managed to navigate the murky waters of "the system" (I hope she will tell more of her story on her blog some day!), and my husband and I both attended public schools.

So we knew it could be done.

Our oldest daughter went to half-day public school kindergarten and did fine. But when our son, just one year behind her, was scheduled to begin school, our district went to full-day kindergarten. One problem: he couldn't sit still.

We knew it was just immaturity, but we also knew enough about what happens to little boys who can't sit still in school: they get the dreaded "label." So we began researching our options. Financially, private school was out of the question. Then there was home schooling. Yeah, I knew some homeschoolers, but thought they were all jumper wearing, wheat-grinding crazy people!

To make a long story very short, God changed my heart. We withdrew our daughter, and homeschooled both her and our son that first year. I was now one of the crazy people (minus the jumper and the wheat)! By the end of that year, I was pregnant with #4 and on bedrest, but things had gone as well as could be expected. The kids seemed to be learning, and I hadn't gone completely insane. We embarked on the second year, this time with two students, a toddler and a baby.

As time went on, I struggled with a long-term educational plan. Things were going well so far, but the more I got into home schooling, I found that the general consensus was that whatever your choice, you were signed up forever. Make a good decision now, because you’re stuck with it! Most of my home school friends were what I called “lifers.”

This didn't leave much room for changing circumstances, people's differing personalities, differences in children's needs, a dad's ability (or inability) to help, or (possibly most importantly) Mom's ability to manage everything. It was okay to stop public schooling, but if one stopped homeschooling for any reason, the sense was was that one was a failure, "less than," or somehow "less spiritual" than others. Even when I was in the thick of homeschooling, this unspoken attitude bothered me immensely, especially since I knew good Christian kids in public school.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband and I saw value in home schooling. We were experiencing it! Our son was getting just what he needed by having extra time at home, and we were enjoying the family time and the flexibility home schooling offered.

And yet…our daughter had had a good experience with school. And we wanted our kids to rub shoulders with neighborhood kids (we've always had tons of kids in and out of our house). We also saw value, some day, in having a classroom experience (remember, I believe shelter is not a place). We both had enjoyed school, and we were watching my sister's kids flourish in their Christian walk, in spite of being in public schools.

Couldn't there be a middle ground?

We started thinking through our options. Here's what we came up with:
We decided we would home school for the first few years to give our kids a foundation at home without the pressure or the schedule of "institutional" school. The plan was to let the kids be kids, read a lot, memorize scripture and focus on character. This was perfect, especially for our son, who, as expected, grew out of his inability to sit - without feeling pressure from a classroom full of kids watching him!

After homeschooling, the next part of the plan was the classroom setting. This would be the time where they would practice everything they'd learned at home (assuming they were demonstrating good character already). We wanted them to be able to learn from a teacher other than Mom, to deal with real world concerns (such as having to get up EVERY MORNING!) while we were still there to guide them. We wanted them to be able to experience some peer issues and to learn from their mistakes while still under our authority and guidance, before the consequences were too great (Yikes, did I really say that??).

Back then, we decided the year to put them back in would be fifth grade. This way they would have one year to get used to the school environment and make some friends before heading to middle school. We have other friends who have chosen 9th grade. We know some who have chosen to put their kids in Christian schools at this point. Our district starts keeping record of grades and starts high school planning in 6th grade, so we decided it would make for a smoother transition if we started them just before middle school.

So we home schooled with this plan in mind, sort of “counting backwards.” But that’s how we want to raise our kids anyway: looking at what kind of mature adults we want them to be, then taking steps now to help them get there.
Toward the end of the third year I started to have some health issues (my second bedrested pregnancy in two and a half years) and - can I be brutally honest here? - a serious case of home school burnout (but that’s for another post!). Suffice it to say, I wasn’t dealing well with my husband traveling, finishing graduate school, a move, my pregnancy complications with baby #5, and now about to add our third student.

We were faced with a choice: keep homeschooling (which would basically be unschooling, while I was on bed rest) or make some changes.

After a series of heart-to-hearts with Dennis, he told me he didn't want me to homeschool that year, but to take care of myself and the baby. We ended up putting ALL our kids in school, one year before The Plan for just the first child – when they were in 4th, 3rd and K. So much for the plan! But God was faithful, even in spite of us. I could write a book about that process alone!

Our district is quite homeschool-friendly, so we had no issues whatsoever putting them in school. I was glad we’d at least been moving forward with our plan, because the kids were on target academically. It was more of an education for me than for the kids, figuring out "the system!"

I was surprised to find a few Christian moms and quite a few Christian teachers. I joined our school's Moms In Touch group, and we began praying. In the last three years, I've learned a lot about our neighborhood, I know just about every child in my kids' grades, and have a sense of which friendships I want to encourage or discourage.

Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. But was (is) our homeschool perfect? Absolutely not.

Do I have any regrets about our educational decisions? Not one.


As I talk about over and over on this blog, our priority is reaching the hearts of our children, and I believe that happens primarily through a loving relationship with their parents. This priority has not changed, no matter where our kids have attended school.

But this has gotten long enough. I’ll write a bit more about that another time.


ashlee said...

THANK YOU!!!!! you have spoken to my heart this morning!!
I too deal with the issue of lifer or not...i dont think that has to be the way. Life changes and im glad to know the option to homeschool is always a viable one...and a good one. but it dosent have to be the only one.
thank you for sharing your wisdom:)

Wendy said...

Great post Katherine! We are just entering our first year of homeschooling here, with this same kind of plan in mind. Although, as you discovered, plans can change. I know that we can make our plans, but it is the Lord that determines our steps.

I have discovered that what you said is so true that many people think if you don't homeschool for life, you have in some way failed and I don't think that is true. We want to lay the foundation. And, I so agree with the priority being to reach the hearts of our children.

Beck said...

Katherine, thank you SO much for writing this! I've always wanted to homeschool my kids, and have been so dissappointed to have them in school - but as this summer proved to me AGAIN, I have trouble keeping them busy and happy and structured. It's so good to read this!

Unknown said...

Wonderful thoughts. I respect everyone's educational choices--be they homeschool (all the varieties), public school, private or private Christian) especially when they consider what is best for their children, what is best for themselves and the rest of their family (which is something that I think people often think that they can't factor into their choice), at that time in their lives. You hit all of these points so well.

Andrea said...

I echo Jennifer's words:" you hit all of these points so well."
And this is how you approach many topics on this site, which is why I like coming back! :)

Theresa said...

Thanks for telling your story K! I am in the boat "to homeschool" or "not to homeschool". My oldest will begin K next year and I haven't made up my mind yet. I'm like you thought when we get back to TX the ISD they could attend is suppose to be great (Arglye's) if you're familiar with the area. So we'll see...you've given me "real" things to think about and I love that!

Sabrina said...

Great Post! Thanks!

In Canada you (in some areas) have the option to send your kids to catholic schools, free, which some christians may have reservations about. When we considered what was the better choice public vs. catholic (homeschooling wasn't remotely an option) we decided on Catholic for a variety of reasons, first one being how very, very liberal Canada is, and is becoming, and second that the Catholic (b/c of liberal canada) has had to back off somewhat on strict catholic teaching. I have committed to being present at school for volunteering, attending mass with them, etc. and so far have not had any issues, communication is a priority. On the first day of school the principle had a praise and worship playing on the P.A. system!

Again thank you Katherine for this post :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. It really has proven invaluable to me on my own journey!

Jenn @ Knee-Deep in Munchkin Land said...

I think its great that you meet the needs of your children where they're at, instead of trying to pigeon-hole all of them. We have every intention of putting our babies through a public school BUT with every intention of listening to their individual needs. Should one need to be homeschooled for any reason, we are more than open to the idea.

Katherine, the love for your children, husband, and God permeate every corner of this blog. That is why I keep coming back, I see a woman who is living out her calling and doing an incredible job of it.

Code Yellow Mom said...

My oldest is only three, but I've already begun mulling the great homeschool question. This post gave me a whole new perspective - Up until now, I've had it in my head to send them to public school UNTIL middle school because that is when peer pressure and search for self comingle to create some really scarey situations. This post helped me think of it differently - prepare them adequately to face all that...hmmm. Thanks again for sharing your experience!

Christine said...

Thanks for that honest post. There are expectations of us no matter what we choose. Finding your way for your own family is what's important. I have people ask all the time if we're planning to homeschool through highschool and I tell them I don't know. I'm not opposed to it, but there is so much time left till then! Anything can happen!

Katherine@Raising Five said...

CYM - I have a friend that did just this with her 9th grader this year. She was public schooled up until then, but my friend wanted her to finish her high school years up at a Christian school. Not BECAUSE she was making poor choices (she is an awesome girl), but because they wanted her to have a Christian worldview education for her final years at home. She is doing beautifully, and this idea has been on my mind as well, lately. More things to consider when the time comes.

SEEING AS HOW our plans seem to be little more than something to work toward while we explore ways to change them... =)

Tammy said...

Great, honest post Katherine!

This is my second year home schooling, but my oldest did attend public Kindergarten first. And she did just fine! But I had pretty much already decided that after that, we'd try home schooling. I had read up on it, heard other success stories, and had my own convictions. I really believe God leads us all individually...and as I have said before, sometimes we feel led by God to go a certain way for only "a season". But for others, He has planted in their hearts to go for the long haul.

I do believe whole heartily in the advantages of teaching my own children, and have learned first hand that they get so many avenues for social things that we're not lacking at all in that area!
And I'll be honest...I am a little bias in that I tend to believe that if a parent has the temperment for it, then she should go for it! But only if she believes that this is what God is leading her to try.

Like you, I could go on and on...but the bottom line is: to honestly listen to the Lord and do what we feel is best for our children at each given year. And as we do so, not judge others if their choice differs. (That can be hard one, I have to be honest with you...but I do believe it whole-heartedly!)

So glad you are willing to listen to God's voice for each individual child and each season...:)

Wendy said...

Hi Katherine, This post has me thinking more. I linked to you on my post today. Hope that is okay. Thanks.

Shannon said...

Profoundly insightful post, Katherine, as always--

Anonymous said...

Oh Katherine- thank you thank you thank you. When impending back surgery and depression was keeping me from educating my children WELL (that is the key to me), we put our kids in PS. They have thrived. They have made good choices. They have been challenged intellectually. Is is PERFECT? HECK NO. But when I looked at the job I was doing, I know they are in a far better place. And I am here to say, I couldn't have depended on God any harder than I was, so I don't believe that if we choose PS, it means we didn't pray hard enough, depend on God enough, or take his yoke. Thank you for bringing up a subject that needed to be brought into the light. God's light. I think every family has to make a decision every year based on EVERYONE, not just the needs of the kids, and I am proud of you for realizing that "if Mama ain't right, aint' nobody right" pardon the horrid grammar and speech. It is not a sin to consider our own needs when making a choice- I will be reading each day. I know you will minister to many, homeschoolers and non homeschoolers alike.