Saturday, September 27, 2014

Homeschool 2014-2015: How we got here

Sunshine and I are now about a month into our new school year, so I thought this would be a good time to remind myself and share with everyone else how we got to this decision and place in our family life. Later I'll write more about our actual curriculum this year.


Neither Papa Bear nor I were homeschooled, and I don't think I ever knew anyone who was. Papa Bear attended local public schools from K-12, I attended public schools from K-8 before asking my parents if I could attend parochial high school. (This is ironic because he and I actually lived in the same school district growing up, but on either ends of town. Had I gone to public high school we would have graduated togther, but instead I never met him until we were grow up.) We live now under the same school system we grew up in, though since we live one town over a whole different set of local schools. Our school system as a whole is one of the best in the state, and a big factor for many people who didn't grow up here but moved out this way to raise their own kids. So for Sunshine, going to public school certainly would not have been the end of the world, but we both had this nagging feeling that it just wasn't the right fit for her at this time.

You see, I was identified as gifted in second grade, and had services from the end of that school year through 8th grade. There are a lot of gifted tendencies in my side of the family, and though we never have had her evaluated we presume that Sunshine is gifted. This is based not only on our own observations, but those of her teachers and directors in our church preschool, as well as some of Fidget's therapists, plus discussions with our pediatrician. Because of her giftedness, a number of things made me feel uneasy about putting her in a public school class.

For starters, the state requires children be 5 by September 30 to start kindergarten in a public school (and most private schools use the same criteria). In our church preschool we weren't too bothered by waiting to start because we were mostly sending her for social reasons, and her school days were pretty short. But as we started looking toward kindergarten, our school system said they flat out do not consider early entry at all, and they would offer "enrichment" at that age level but not acceleration. I know teachers are used to offering differentiated instruction, but I don't see what enrichment they could offer without acceleration that would actually be useful in preventing her from getting bored.

We also worried about boredom turning into a behavioral issue, esp. as we have only full day kindergarten here. One aspect of her giftedness is clear asynchrony in her emotional development, so I worry that frustration and boredom would have led to inappropriate outbursts. Also, so much is written these days about how pliable and wired to learn the young mind is; therefore we felt like making her sit in a class that was below her skill level would be in many ways a waste of her time. And from personal experience, I worried about years of teaching below her abilities would lead to poor study habits which would come back to haunt her later in life.

Next we looked at parochial K-8 schools. Our parish doesn't have its own school, but the school we would have considered seemed amazing and not terribly far. And I do think they would have done a better job of challenging her. But there was the transportation issue, plus the biggest concern was how we would ever afford nine years of it for her, plus nine more for Fidget. So after eliminating our two traditional, mainstream options we began to discuss homeschooling. At that point she was so far ahead that even if homeschooling was a total bust and we put her in public school starting in first grade, there was little concern about her falling behind her peers. I presented my findings from internet searches about the strengths of homeschooling in general, and he agreed to give me one year to try it out.

This was in about February 2013; Sunshine still had preschool until mid-May. But once we told her we had decided to homeschool, she declared she was ready to start then, even though she was still in pre-k! So I ordered the kindergarten curriculum from Catholic Heritage Curriculum (CHC), and about a week before Easter we started kindergarten. She truly flew through her lessons and by the end of August had completed all of her kindergarten books. We started first grade the day after Labor Day 2013, and finished up first grade around the end of July this past summer. (We had numerous breaks through out the year because of life getting in the way - my nasal surgery, my dad's hospitalization and eventual passing, Fidget's developmental evaluations, his ear tube surgery - so our school year got drug out quite a bit.)

This first year and a half certainly had its share of difficulties, but what doesn't? In particular because formal homeschooling is new for both of us, there has definitely been a bit of a learning curve to figure out what works for us. But I feel like we're finally finding our groove; and while there are some moments when I would gladly get up and shove her onto that yellow bus, there have been so many more that I am quite grateful for the opportunities that homeschooling allows us and look forward to many years to come.

Will Fidget enter our homeschool one day? I hope so, but only time will tell. We're not ones to put down an entire school system, or condemn all teachers. I know there are lots of good, traditional brick and mortar schools and teachers that do great things for a lot of kids. This decision was all about what was right for one child at this one time in her life. If at some point an option presents itself which we feel is better, then yes we might consider sending either of them. But there's no reason to rush; right now I'm just taking second grade one day at a time.

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