Hazy Days

Judging our decision

I had an interesting chat with my sister-in-law the other day… she was saying that for the longest time she was under the impression that homeschooling parents were judgemental.  The only reason she felt this was by virtue of the fact that they were going against the norm by taking their kids out of school.  Logical conclusion dictates that if they are removing their kids from school, they’re obviously not happy with the standard for their kids and therefore don’t think much of the same standard for your kids.  That is an understandable conclusion to reach when a parent who sends/is sending their kids to regular schools is faced with this issue for the first time. 

But, says Kerry, she had only just recently realised that homeschooling parents also feel a sense of judgement bestowed upon them from regular school parents (and everyone else!)  She had never before realised the extent to which homeschooling families suffer abuse in the form of judgemental and hurtful comments, alienation, and mistrust.  Swimming against the stream requires a LOT of forethought, energy and commitment if you’re going to get anywhere and so it is for the homeschooling family.  It’s not the norm.  It’s not understood.  And oftentimes people feel a sense of defensiveness when faced with the “Oh, we homeschool” answer to the “where do your kids go to school?” question; as if that answer contains the unsaid, “and so I don’t think much of your decision to send your kids to school … and so I don’t think much of you.”

There is so much emotion and controversy steeped in this homeschool vs. regular school debate.  And because I’ve spent a few years now really researching the issue and grappling with the arguments and emotions involved, I can well understand why parents who “regular” school their kids would feel judged by homeschool parents… but … I wonder how many people in general realise how it feels to be in the homeschool parents’ shoes?

If you’re reading this and you’re not a homeschooling parent, when you do meet a homeschooling mom, what is your normal reaction?  Do you think she’s strange, naive, overprotective, judgemental and/or religious?  Do you laugh and say, “oh, you’re so brave; I could never do that!” or do you ask, “Why do you homeschool?  What about socialisation?  Who’s going to teach the kids maths in high school?  Aren’t you worried about getting them into college?” 

My general experience with this, from the homeschooling perspective, has been one of three types of reactions.  When I mention that we’re homeschooling, I have 1) a barrage of hostile questions; anti-homeschooling arguments and statements like, “oh, you really mustn’t homeschool – I can’t see how that can be good for your kids!”  or 2) a laugh-it-off, “you’re so brave” approach which seems to convey a “you’re crazy” underlying meaning.  The most common response amongst my mommy peers is 3) a sense of hostility and defence.  I guess the thought is if I’m homeschooling, then I obviously think that their decision to send their kids to school is wrong. 

[Of course, this is my general experience and I am thankful to say that there have been some really positive experiences where people have been genuinely interested and even supportive, despite having either gone to school themselves, or currently sending their kids to school now.  Most of my church family friends fit into that category and I'm really grateful for your support in this, girls!]

The point of this post is to highlight for non-homeschoolers what it is like to be on the receiving end of reactions I outlined above.  I get the impression that people think that we’ve hurtled into this thing called homeschooling without thinking it through properly and with some idealistic, but completely unrealistic, view in mind.  I am so used to the raised eyebrows; the condescending tones; the “but what about…” arguments that I’ve reached a point where I don’t advertise to strangers in public that we homeschool.   If it comes out, it comes out and I’ll deal with it then, but neither Craig nor I invite abuse in this regard anymore. 

The irony is that for most people there is very little research and deliberation that goes into sending their kids to school – it’s a “going with the stream” acceptable thing to do.  No one questions your choice beyond the best you can afford.  And that’s fine.  But go against the stream and one faces a lot of flack.  It is quite hurtful to be viewed as naive or idealistic when in actual fact this is a decision we’ve come to after much deliberation, research, prayer and our kids’ best interests in mind. 

So it is that this blog is a good forum in which to “put it out there” what we believe and why we’ve chosen to homeschool, instead of engaging people in public.  Few people who disagree with us on this subject have ever bothered to actually engage us on the topic to find out why we chose this route.  And, I mean, genuinely wanting to know our reasons, rather than using it as an opportunity to push their agenda of “homeschooling is not a good idea”.  So, this blog allows us to speak our reasons, without interruption, in a “take it or leave it” kinda fashion.  Don’t get me wrong – we don’t mind healthy debate based on good thinking (I’ve had some good debates on the subject with Kerry) and gracious debating skills.  But we do mind blanket prejudice dictating what our actions should be.   

If, after reading all these posts on why we homeschool you still think we’re off our rocker – that’s fine.  You’re entitled to your opinion :)  But, at least you know some comprehensive reasons why we’ve chosen this route and you know it’s based on a LOT of thought and research.  We welcome your thoughts, especially encouragement, but we do ask that you go easy on the criticism – we’ve heard it all before and are quite weary of it now.  Thanks to those who do support and encourage us – especially those who haven’t made the same decision and yet still support us in our decision – you are much appreciated and your support goes a long way! 

Chalkboard

Sometimes the kids can create such beautiful chalkboard drawings, but, because of the nature of chalkboards and dusters, they can never be preserved.  Today, after doing a massive playroom overhaul (okay strictly speaking, just the kids’ section; mine is still a disaster), I cleaned the blackboard and the girls had a blast creating beautiful drawings on the invitingly clean board space.  And, today, I decided to capture them on  camera – preserving them in another medium at least.

Here they are, hard at work in their organised playroom (except my space behind them – danger zone!)  We sold our big couch because it was taking up too much space – got a great price for it and was able to buy a much smaller 2-seater sleeper couch that will sit back-to-back with my desk, hiding all that ugly cabling and computer stuff.  And so we’ll have another cuddle couch – I reckon one in the playroom is always a good idea.  Our plan is to put up more shelves across the wall under the top cupboards – when we have money again – what with the rising petrol prices, food prices, interest hikes, that may be a while!

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Katie, the artist at work…

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Katie is coming along so nicely in her drawings!

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Kiera proudly displaying her masterpiece

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WWH – Freedom

WWH = Why We Homeschool.  This post is part of an on-going series looking into the myriad reasons we’ve decided to homeschool our children.  Please read this disclaimer before continuing to read this post.

So far, most of my posts regarding why we’ve chosen to homeschool have been focused on our concerns about public schooling.  If our homeschooling was purely reactionary, we may not enjoy it as much as we do.  Fortunately, we approached the investigation into homeschooling more from the unique benefits it has to offer.  And there are plenty.

This post is going to focus on the unique benefit of the freedoms that homeschooling allows us, in no particular order.

We have the freedom to…

  1. bring up our kids in the light of the gospel in all aspects of their lives.  Ephesians 6: 4 instructs fathers to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Homeschooling is a helpful way to do this, especially as the “chain of command” is short (from dad to mom to kids) and therefore easier to ensure continuity and truth.
  2. teach our kids at their own pace and according to their own interests.  Right now Kiera is in grade R but is already reading at a 1st grade level.  If she were to go to 1st grade next year, she would be bored out of her mind learning basic phonics when she could be reading chapter books.
  3. deviate from the curriculum.  Following on from point 2, we don’t have to follow a strict curriculum.  If we find an interesting insect in our garden, we can spend a couple days studying it further – finding out about its habitat, eating, mating and living habits etc.  We don’t have to worry about falling behind, because we dictate our own schedule.  Talk about interest-motivated learning!
  4. dump a curriculum mid-term.  Sometimes a particular curriculum just isn’t working.  In a school set-up the text for the year is bought, paid for and there is no deviation.   If a particular maths teaching style is not working for my child, we can investigate others and change mid-term, if needs be.  We’d rather have a couple false starts and then settle on something that truly works, than force our kids to wade through a learning style that they just cannot cope with.
  5. focus on one particular learning area or problem for as long as it takes to sink in.  Mostly, this freedom is so precious because it allows our kids to learn without feeling that they’re dumb or just “don’t get it”.  It also teaches them perseverance and confidence in their ability.  And it gives us opportunity to  deal with the character issues that often arise in these difficult learning situations.  Merry’s son struggled with maths, yet in their continued focus on learning the basics, he learnt to have a good attitude and self-control when doing maths … and he learnt some maths too!   I’d rather take half a year to learn one step along the way, establishing a solid foundation for further learning, than speed along leaving my child’s learning full of gaps. 
  6. play a game in the middle of school, because it helps reinforce a maths rule or better understand a philosophical point … or just “because”.
  7. have much-needed breaks when they’re needed and not necessarily when they are scheduled.  We tend to “schedule” breaks, but sometimes Kiera needs a snack before she can continue – it’s amazing how blood sugar levels can drop quickly when she’s working her brain hard on reading.  If she had to wait until break time, all that time would be wasted as she would not be able to learn a thing.  I can usually judge whether we wait for the scheduled break or whether she really does need a snack break right away.
  8. eat while we’re doing school; take toilet breaks more frequently than is tolerated in a classroom; stop to run around or get rid of some extra energy before continuing with seatwork.
  9. do school wherever we are.  Life happens, and unfortunately we cannot prevent the illnesses, family crises and accidents that happen along the way in all families.  But, we can work around that with greater flexibility than if we were at school.  No worries about being “left behind” the class.  We just pick up where we left off – or take our work with us!  We’ve yet to experience this, but I’ve heard of maths drills taking place in the doctor’s office or reading at sister’s ballet practice! 
  10. take vacations during term-time.  Most parents will feel the frustration of not being able to take advantage of snow days in Ceres or a mid-term holiday special because our kids cannot miss school.  Homeschooling allows us to take a holiday in the middle of school terms if needs be.  I’m looking forward to heading up to Ceres for a couple of days this winter to enjoy the snow with the kids – and avoiding the heavy traffic over the weekend!
  11. merge school with vacation time.  My sister homeschools their kids too.  When they visit us in Cape Town they have the freedom to stay for a couple of months, because school comes along with them too.  Plus, being in a different country allows them to take advantage of learning about Cape Town and South Africa in the flesh, so to speak.  Also, my folks spend a fair bit of their days in Hermanus, about 1 hour outside of Cape Town.  When we visit, it’s for a few days at a time.  No worries about missing school though – we take school with us, AND that accommodates point 12 even more….
  12. allow grandparents to enjoy the schooling process too.  This is a biggie which we hope to see more of as we take this journey.  Although we don’t push her, we do encourage Kiera to share what she is doing and learning with her grandparents.  Depending on their interest, she gets to share her joys and her progress with them AND if they’re interested they get to sit right alongside her and be a physical part of her schooling.  Homeschooling allows grandparents to be more involved in their grandkids’ schooling than traditional schools allow.  Some families have weekly or bi-weekly “grand folks” dates with the kids where the kids get to go to granny for baking and sewing lessons – or crafts, or even the more conventional seatwork for the day.  The beauty of it is that each family can tailor grandparents’ involvement as much or as little as suits everyone.
  13. bring all sorts of life skills into the learning process.  Because the kids are with me all day, they get to participate in “real life” more.  Heavy school involvement oftentimes leaves little room for learning basic life skills in a natural environment.  My kids get lots of baking and cooking experience by always being around me when I bake or cook.  The older they’re getting, the more involved they are.  Our hope is, as they grow older, they’ll learn skills beyond the conventional chores, like changing plugs, house painting, doing laundry, weeding the garden etc.
  14. develop deeper family relationships.  Because the kids are with each other all day, they get to know each other on a deeper level than if they were in separate classes, in separate schools with separate activities.  By and large, one of the biggest changes families notice when they remove their kids from public school in favour of homeschooling is that the kids begin to get along better.  I think that’s because they start getting to know each other and having to be in each other’s space forces them to learn to get along better.  Sibling relationships are so unique that it is desperately sad when adult siblings have acquaintance-like relationships.  Strong sibling bonds into adulthood are so precious – able to withstand severe trauma and give support in a world without.  We want our kids to be best friends and we believe that homeschooling helps to foster this.
  15. spend more time with dad.  Craig’s work schedule is such that he can go to work a little later than most dads, but on some nights, only gets home at 8pm.  If the kids were at school, Craig would potentially miss out on the relaxed mornings that we have together – as outlined in the next point.
  16. talk with our kids.  This may not seem much of an issue now, but teens are notorious for clamming up around mom and dad.  We hope that our relationship with our kids will be deep enough and open enough that even in morose teen moments they’ll feel safe enough to talk with us a lot.  But, even if this is not so, and if we are still homeschooling in the teen years, homeschooling gives parents and teens a safe forum in which to talk and this will naturally lead to other discussions as we read and discover together.
  17. sleep late in the wintertime!  Or always :)  There are some things (more than pride will allow me to reveal!) that I envy about moms with public/private-schooled kids.  But the morning rush is not one of them.  We normally start breakfast around 8 am – if I’m on the ball this means that I’ve been to gym, had a QT, showered etc; if I’m lazy or have 1st trimester blues as an excuse, like now, then I sleep ’til about 7:30am.  The girls wake up super early, but usually have their beds made and rooms picked up and are ready and dressed for breakfast.  We have a leisurely breakfast and bible reading time before I sort Sam out, tidy up and the girls unpack the dishwasher, brush teeth and get ready for school time.  No packing lunches, rushing the kids, finding lost shoes, PT kit or reply slips.   And no fighting rush-hour traffic and dealing with grumpy drivers (myself included!).
  18. read a lot of good books.  The nature of school means that there is little time to dedicate to reading good stories.   The best learning happens through the hearing/reading of a good story.  Because we’ve eliminated the wasted time of roll call, class swaps, homework checks, assemblies etc, we have tons of time to cuddle on the couch and read, read, read – exploring worlds of history and philosophy; different cultures and worldviews; scientific discoveries and inventions … all through the powerful medium of the storytelling written word, rather than the dull, dry medium of the textbook.        
  19. go on lots of outings, rather than just the budget-specific, government-sponsored, curriculum-dictated few.  If there is an African art exhibition on – we can go check it out, even if we’re studying European art at the time – and we can study it further as a bunny trail, coming back to European art when we’re satisfied.  We can visit the circus in the middle of the week; visit special exhibits at the museum; take in a special guest speaker; hear books read by the author himself (Niki Daly is one of our favourite children’s authors and he read aloud one of his books at the last Cape Town Book Convention… during school hours).  We can study marine-related subjects at the beach; discover plants species at Kirstenbosch while we write/draw in our nature journals under the trees; pop into the local police station or fire station for an impromptu visit and learn about how they do their job … on the job!  
  20. be creative.   As Merry pointed out in her post, the extreme structured nature of school often squashes creativity – before the kids get a chance to really explore a subject, the bell has gone and it’s time to move on.  Schooling at home means the kids aren’t under any pressure to conform – their artwork can be as creative as their imagination allows; their stories can be unsullied by peer acceptance.  And, because they have more time to play – they have more time to play creatively.

There are so many more freedoms that I could add to this list and perhaps I will have a WWW – Freedoms II post at some stage.  But, for the sake of my sleep (it’s time to go bed now) I will stop here!    In the meantime, if you’re a homeschooler and/or can see other freedom benefits, why don’t you drop a suggestion in the comments section of this post?  I’d really appreciate it!

Just click here: http://www.hayesfamily.co.za/blog/?p=1131#comments 

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Hazy Days