This time a year ago I was diving head first into the world of homeschooling. Now, a year later, I’m kissing homeschooling goodbye and counting down the days till all FIVE of my kids head to school this fall.
Here’s a little recap of our journey, what I learned through it, and why I’m changing course. Summertime is often when parents re-evaluate their education goals for their family, so if any of you out there are considering homeschooling, I hope this helps you in making your decision.
Past School Experience
Both of our girls started Kindergarten in the public school system here in California-not a perfect system by any means, but we were actively engaged in every part of the process. We’ve had a good relationship with the principals and fantastic teachers in every class. It wasn’t a perfect process, but overall it’s been a positive experience and we were happy with where our girls were academically.
Why We Love Our School Community
We live in the Bay area, a very diverse area- racially, religiously, and socio-economically. My white, blonde headed girls are the minority in their classes and have never made a comment about it. My oldest daughter, my very pragmatic child, doesn’t really get that she’s “white”. Maybe I should teach her better, but the innocence of how she sees other people is more refreshing than her knowing the right terminology at age nine. Her closest friends are African, Indian, Hispanic, and Asian. She, having some Brazilian blood in her, looks down and describes her skin color as “dark tan”. Like a color in the crayon box. My other, fairer skinned daughter, basks in the glory of her “peachness” and is very concerned about losing it to the sun’s glow. She has no desire to be “tan”, but she would never say she’s “white”. She likes being “peach”.
It is also very normal for my daughters to hear their friends talk about other religions and/or gods. My girls ask questions I never thought of as a kid. I love this. For them it’s normal, everyday life. For me, it’s exactly opposite of how I grew up (in a Christian private school in the South). It wasn’t comfortable [for me] at first, but it’s become part of our life and I love being a part of our school community. It’s by far my favorite thing about the region we live in and I’ve learned and grown so much because of its diversity. It is why we moved to the Bay area- to share the Gospel and love of Christ with its people. People who influence the rest of our world.
So we did not pull our girls out of school because of a negative public school experience. It was for one a simple reason. Because we were adopting two boys from Brazil and were going to be out of the country for seven weeks. That’s it. I didn’t want to start the school year and a few weeks later take them out till Christmas- it just didn’t seem fair to my girls or their teachers. I also didn’t know how our boys would fit into our family and wanted to be sensitive to this transition without the added pressure of school.
So, we took the plunge. And I jumped in with both feet. I spent a lot of time researching homeschooling and loved what I was discovering. I was never the “teacher type” and teaching kids math and geography, well, that was never really my thing either. But these were my kids, and I have a craving to learn and help my kids learn about the world around them. I could be passionate about this.
I began researching homeschooling philosophies- everything from Charlotte Mason to Classical to Un-Schooling to Traditional. The more I got into it, the more I found myself excited about it. I wanted to be open minded. I wanted to allow ourselves to go down a different path, if necessary, without feeling like I had to fit into our current system.
I read Tsh Oxenreider’s book, “Notes from a Blue Bike”, and fell in love with her style of doing family. Not to mention, her family took off on a round-the-world trip a month before we left for Brazil. How cool was that?!
The more I learned about homeschooling, the more excited I got. The flexibility of homeschooling was appealing and so was the ability to have more influence over what my kids were learning. I was ready to change everything I knew about school and education. I began to see how broken our education system is and wondered if this was my exit ramp off.
How to Homeschool
Then there’s a legal side to homeschool. Going to school is the law here in the U.S., and you can’t just pull your kids out and declare “I’m going to homeschool”, at least not in California. I didn’t realize how many options there are for homeschool- which was a pleasant surprise yet overwhelming at the same time.
There are private charters, public charters, or create your own school. I asked other homeschooling families what they did and weighed all the options. I’m not detail-oriented and didn’t want to mess with my kid’s transcripts. That stuff felt scary, and with all the adoption paperwork I already had to do, I didn’t want to add school records to the pile. Also, I didn’t want to deal with the oversight of the public charter. Yes, getting money was a bonus, but I wanted to the freedom to choose my curriculum. If I’m going to homeschool I’m going to have a say in what my kids are learning and I wanted total freedom with it. Not to mention, meeting with an advisor every four weeks wasn’t going to be easy and there wasn’t much leniency with this one.
So, with all of that factored in, I decided to go with a private charter school. I used one here in California called Cedar Life Academy. It was perfect for our family and situation. I paid $200 for the year (for our entire family) and they requested/handled transcripts and kept me legal. They were available for resources and assistance, but I wasn’t required to turn in any assignments, attendance, or do any testing.
Like I mentioned, I have no real teaching experience. What I do have is a passion for learning and a passion for my kids. Being a Christian, I would like my kids to learn about the world through a Christian perspective whenever possible. So that was a priority when looking for history and science books.
I ended up settling on Sonlight. I chose it because I could use one core curriculum for all of my kids and supplement different reading/writing levels with extras. I ordered everything from one website and the lesson plans were all laid out for me. It was beautiful and fun to get those two massive boxes of books. (Any book lovers dream.)
I had no idea what would await me in Brazil so I wanted to make sure what we had was simple enough to work into our daily life there. Sonlight’s 90 day guarantee was enough to get me to click “place my order”. I must’ve sat on the website for weeks last summer with my cart opened.*
Everything came together and seemed like it would work wonderfully…until it didn’t.
We started homeschooling last August full of hopes and dreams. By then we had our travel dates- mid-October to December. Flexibility was our new motto and we were embracing it. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted it, and we were free. I didn’t have a pile of daily papers nor the endless requests for volunteers hovering my kitchen counters every night. We finished our school work by lunch time and life was going well considering the transition we were planning for.
And then one day I was not at all excited about reading about early American civilization. So I didn’t. I didn’t have to right? We can skip a day. “It’s just a bad day”, I thought, “It’s normal”. And then the next week my eight year old didn’t understand a math concept, and I couldn’t for the life of me think of a different way to explain it. Then, almost daily, my six year old was being lazy/struggling with reading. I knew it was all normal, but I just got more and more frustrated. And keeping my four year old entertained in the process was…fun. [Not at all.] I was losing my joy.
Bible lessons- great, writing- sure, reading- no problem. Everything else- don’t ask. I barely opened the science kit. Thankfully, Dad stepped in and did all science related activities on Fridays. Whew, that was a close one. I can’t have my kids growing up without knowing how magnets work? Or could I? My thoughts drifted to, “Do they really need ____________”, and it quickly spiraled down from there. I was not at all passionate about teaching my kids things I had no interest in. And, unfortunately for my kids, the lists was piling up pretty high.
“If I can just make it to Brazil”, I thought. “That’ll be a natural learning environment.” And fortunately, it was. Our time in Brazil, while challenging for sure, was great for learning. New culture, new language, new smells, new tastes. You can’t get that from a geography book. All three of our biological kids came back speaking Portuguese and visited places in Brazil many only read about. Homeschool was perfect for the reason we were doing it.
We lived like the locals for about four weeks. It was day-to-day, mundane type of living filled with regular school work, cooking, and chores. During these weeks, Filipe and I split the kids- me with the girls, him with the boys for our designated “school” time. For stability sake, we needed structure in our days and school was a huge help- it was a lifeline of sorts.
After seven weeks in Brazil, we arrived home December 4th. And what’s the point of trying to do school when it’s Christmas season already? We were homeschooling, we make our own schedule, we do what we want.
Back to School
As we settled into daily life, I quickly realized a few things. Homeschooling five kids wasn’t going to be easy. Two of the five I was still getting to know, had serious emotional and developmental delays, and the self-control of a two year old (that’s close to zero for those of you who don’t yet have kids).
Our new reality came more into focus. We missed our school community and me being “teacher” wasn’t going well. The things I was good at with homeschool were the same things I was good at before homeschool, but I was really bad at the things our teachers were good at. I was a way better mom when I didn’t have the responsibility of explaining fractions and long division. Homeschooling abroad was great, but homeschooling at home was not so great. Why was I doing this to myself? I had wonderful teachers a mile away- why not let them supplement what I couldn’t?
Throughout Christmas break, I settled in my heart that homeschooling long-term wasn’t going to happen. As much as I wanted to be “that family”, I couldn’t. We couldn’t. Once I came to terms with it and stopped feeling like I was less than because of it, I felt a new sense of freedom. Freedom I hadn’t felt in a long time- especially in this area of motherhood. I had always wondered if homeschooling was a path for us, now it was clear it’s not. Sometimes, it’s just good to know what you shouldn’t do as much as what you should.
When school resumed in January, my girls went back to school, and with them went a huge weight off my shoulders. The boys were still home with me. They needed some time to transition, but now my focus could change. My attention turned to teaching them about family and preparing them for a classroom environment, more than teaching math concepts in Portuguese. (We have great ESL programs in our schools.) While they spend time reading, writing, and doing daily English and math lessons, these were used to establish structure and routine more than fill their minds with information. Their minds can’t focus enough for this information to stick. They’ve made incredible progress this semester, but teaching them self-control and how to respond to things they don’t like or want to do is more important to me than them knowing their multiplication table.
While the brokenness of the school system probably won’t change in the near future, I am more confident in how we can work within it to give our kids the best education possible. We are involved, we pay attention, and we monitor how our kids are doing. The school is far from perfect, but we can supplement where we need to and maintain a good relationship with our school to help when and where we can. I’m also convinced sometimes God puts us in a place to be a light in a rather dark place- even an elementary public school. A friend recommended a book long ago called, Going Public, and its revolutionized the way I see public school. I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with the public school system.
God brought us to this region of the country for a specific reason. He knows where we are, and He’s part of every decision we make. We trust Him to help us navigate every aspect of our family’s life- including our kid’s education. If and when things need to change, I trust that He will make it clear and we will hear Him. Homeschooling was definitely part of His leading last year and we were obedient to it, but now to continue would be disobedient. He’s made it clear He wants us in our community.
I wouldn’t have guessed a substitute teacher would be the one who challenged and encouraged my nine year old daughter most in her faith this past semester. Finding her Bible in her backpack and is heartwarming- especially on days I wonder. I wouldn’t have thought that my seven year old’s questions about her friend’s religion would propel her forward in her own- teaching her how to pray for them and share Jesus when she can.
God knows what our kids need- and He orchestrates circumstances for them to grow closer to Him too. I’ve learned (and continue to learn) not to worry as much as I do, I just need to pay attention and stay involved. Ask questions. Notice attitudes. Check in often. God wants them close to Him more than I do. (What a relief!)
For now, public school is our answer. Will it always be? I don’t know. But for now, this is our path and we’re praying every step of the way.
*Sonlight totally delivered on their 90-day back guarantee. I wasn’t really paying attention to this, but we had stopped our curriculum in Brazil around week 16. Week 17 and beyond is the cutoff to get a refund. I expected to have to try and sell books off one by one, but no- we got all our money back! We paid for the shipping, but it was totally worth trying it out- even if it wasn’t a success. If ever we are in another circumstance and have to homeschool, I’m definitely using Sonlight.