Monday, February 25, 2008

How We Arrived Here...

This inaugural post will serve as a summary of how we arrived to where we are in our homeschooling journey. I cannot tell this without giving at least some of the history. I've said before that the choice to homeschool was one that I came to quite reluctantly, and not without a lot of angst. I'm a product of, and a believer in, Christian education in the conventional sense. I guess I always assumed that Derek and I would be rearing our children in FL, and would place them in the school I grew up attending and where Derek later came as a high schooler. The thought of homeschooling never entered into my thoughts of parenting.

Then I became a parent. That changed everything. I looked at the world through entirely different lenses. Immediately recognized myself as not a "reactionary" but as a "preventer". Just because something was satisfactory for others, didn't necessarily mean that it was gonna fly with us in the raising of our children. This evidenced itself early, as I made the decision to exclusively breastfeed in a "land" where babies are given gravy on their first day home from the hospital. :)

As Kindergarten age approached for our oldest child, we began making plans to move back to FL, and already had her enrolled at the Christian Academy. Then my husband's transfer fell through. The move never materialized, and I began to panic about education. There are a couple of local private schools in our area. I scheduled meetings with the Principals of both, just weeks before fall classes were to begin. Immediately checked one off, mostly due to that "gut instinct" or perhaps gift of discernment, that manifested itself. The other one seemed to be acceptable, so we enrolled Lauren in K there. Overall, it was a good year. She enjoyed going to school, and was not a complainer. But this was K, and they were still doing half-days then, which was crucial to my own sanity. I had NEVER been away from my kids all day, and it was hard enough to give her up just till lunch time! The cost of a private school is high financially, however, and therefore I think it is incumbent upon them to provide a high standard of excellence. This was definitely lacking, and it was apparent to me almost non-stop. I began having an unrelenting stomach-ache as the year came to a close and I knew a decision needed to be made about first grade. I was tormented by the decision day and night. While my husband was sympathetic to my concerns, and understood many of them, it did not mess with his emotional well-being like it did mine. I could not get peace about which direction to go. A couple of people suggested homeschooling and I would sense a recoiling at the word. Finally, though, I took the challenge seriously to see what homeschooling would look like for us. My mission was simple: find something or someone to convince me to do this. I was ready and open to the suggestion now, but I wanted a positive look at the topic. I checked out many books, and was sorely disappointed in most of them. I did not like the attitude displayed by some authors. Almost an anti-school, and REALLY anti-teacher mentality. I had always been taught to respect teachers, so this was a hard thing to take. I sensed in others such a haughtiness or high-horse display, and I was afraid of ever becoming like that! Finally, though, I read two books that calmed me down, got me thinking about the POSITIVE aspects of this decision and not the negative ones. First one was "The Homeschool Journey" by Michael Card and his wife, whose name I can't recall right now! The other was "The Well-Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, which I found to be terribly inspiring and overwhelming all at once. I LOVED the system that was laid out there, and the respectful adult tones of the book. But I didn't have near the confidence or trust in myself to move forward with the book. But I never forgot the book, and recommended it to others many times! Then I heard of a program called K12, really almost by accident from a friend who had heard about it from a friend who had a friend who was actually using it. :) I called the K12 number and talked with a rep, found out more about the program, which coincidentally used the authors of the WTM book I just mentioned as advisers in their history program. It was a very structured program, which is offered as a charter school in some states free of charge. Very rich in classic literature, history, narration method, and language arts. We took the plunge and placed our order to use the program independently. For the first time in WEEKS, I had complete peace of mind and heart about the road we had chosen.

From this point on, I'll tell the story a little more quickly. Basically we used the program for two years, for Lauren's 1st and 2nd grade years, and for our son Cameron's K year. It was a little rigorous and many days some things went undone. Especially when I found myself in an unexpected and high-risk pregnancy the last year. Often just didn't have the necessary energy to do the program justice. My children never complained about "doing school" though; K12 made learning fun and interesting. Goals were clear and easy to achieve. I would sometimes hear or read the horror stories about homeschooling moms who just couldn't get their kids motivated to learn and whose kids cried all the time when they had to do the work. That was foreign in our house. I didn't know if my kids were exceptional, or what. Or maybe the program was just that good. Little did I know that I was about to find out.

As is wont to happen at the end of pregnancies.....babies are born! And our little surprise blessing made his appearance last Valentine's Day. I knew the demands of having a nursing newborn, as well as a preschooler and 2 elementary grade students would make schooling very demanding for us all; especially me. So I persuaded my family to attend a Materials Display of the Abeka DVD series. Granted, my kids were a little wary of this new kid on the block way to do school, but they agreed to try it. We placed that order, and I thought my problems were solved. I envisioned my happy children with their little DVD players learning all the concepts necessary to complete grade level, with happy smiles on the faces, inter-acting with the students on the screen, and easy-to-follow grading patterns for me. Speaking of me, I envisioned myself sitting in the rocking chair nursing the baby and reading to my four year old and birds chirping outside while God was in His heaven and all was right with the world. Okay, that's definitely overkill. I'm never that cheery about anything! LOL! But I think you get the picture. I never expected what happened. My kids HATED the DVD's. They hated everything about them. They hated their teachers. (Which of course, I frowned upon and never let them express any disrespect even if the teachers didn't know it. The principle was the same. Cameron felt insulted by his teacher's tone; thought she talked to him like a baby. And he already knew the stuff anyway. Lauren groaned and complained about school nearly every day after the first week. It was not good. Now I knew how all those poor shlumps were feeling!

I finally sent back the DVD's and began teaching the kids the material myself. That helped somewhat. I have to admit that it made me feel really good that first day when I sat down with them, and they beamed at me, "Mommy, I'm so glad that YOU'RE our teacher again!!" Vain, I know. But it was sweet, nonetheless.

This brings us almost current. The last few weeks have been spent doing some serious thinking and praying about the education of our children. I've had a lot of things going on in my mind about the topic.....what do I really desire MOST in the education of my children? what is truly IMPORTANT in the shaping of their lives? how crucial is College and College Preparation? And all sorts of other things. For at least the third time in the last several years, I again went and checked out The Well-Trained Mind from the library. By this point, I might still be inadequate in many ways, but I'm no longer a novice. This time as I read, I'm feeling just as inspired as ever, only this time I'm thinking, "you know what? I think I can DO THIS!" And the best part of it all was that this time, I asked Derek to at least just read the first two chapters. That's all, just two chapters. Read them, tell me what you think, tell me if you don't see our kids absolutely thriving in that kind of educational environment. He read it. He's hooked. Totally on board with this now. So on Saturday, we went to our local Christian bookstore, and Homeschool Headquarters, and we purchased most of the material necessary to embark on the journey of classical education. Since we've already invested in the Abeka materials, we're finishing out the year with some of them. (A note on expenses: people sometimes get caught up on the thought of the cost of homeschooling. And money is ALWAYS an issue in this house. But this is one area where perspective is everything for us. Since we don't even consider public education as a viable option in the least, we are left with two options. Private school or homeschooling. Hands down, you can provide your kids with a quality homeschool education for the fraction of private school cost. So I just always keep that perspective in mind. One perk about the Classical approach, we are finding it to be the least costly of all, since you can often make use of your local library. And the resources we do need are offered to us at a really good discount at our local Christian bookstore, due to Derek's position as Music and Youth Pastor. ) Anyway, I am really excited to feel that we are now doing this thing as a whole family, and sometimes you may even find Derek as the one posting reports and updates here.

I look forward to using this forum as a way to keep record of all the great things we're studying and learning. Yes, we're Classically Challenged, but we intend to spend the days and weeks ahead rising to meet that challenge!