WHY I BEGAN HOMESCHOOLING
We first started homeschooling in 2001 when our daughter, Audriana, began having difficulties keeping up in her second grade class. She had learning disabilities due to a brain injury she sustained in a car accident at the age of four, and I began to notice her struggles more and more as she was expected to work independently in a classroom setting. She was "falling behind" in the classroom (unable to keep up with the class set schedule) and this was having a negative impact on her self-esteem. She had a horrible teacher that year who had no patience for her disabilities and would try to rush her as she talked (at that time Audriana spoke slowly due to the fact that she had to learn to talk all over again after her accident) and would mark her papers with BIG FAT RED X's whenever she got a problem wrong. One time, Audriana did not finish her math paper...and instead of asking Audriana to take it home to finish it, that teacher mark all the missing answers with HUGE red X's and at the top of the paper wrote in huge, red letters: Audriana, THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!!!! Audriana came home in tears (remember, this is the SECOND grade!) and showed me the paper, and she said, "See? I'm stupid!" This was a little girl who walked with a limp, had vision problems and speech problems, and had no function out of her right arm/hand due to her brain injury, and she struggled with just about everything to try to fit in with her peers....and she was given a teacher like this? I spent that entire year in and out of the classroom talking to that teacher but it never did any good. She was just a mean, cruel person. I complained to the principal about the way she was treating my daughter, but...you know, in *public schools, unless it's something REALLY horrible, the principals usually will back up their teachers. All the principal would say was that the classroom was full and the teacher is stressed, and having a child with extra needs can be hard ... blah, blah, blah.
**I'm not knocking all public schools, mind you. In fact, some of my kids go to public schools right now, and we've had wonderful experiences. I think that sometimes...well, you take the chance at getting a BAD teacher. They are certainly out there.**
So anyway, after that horrible year in second grade, I decided to bring her home to homeschool her. Once my then first grade daughter heard about it, she wanted to come home, too. So in the fall of 2001, I homeschooled my third grader and my first grader. (my son, who was in the 5th grade that year, decided to stay in school...but he ended up coming home to homeschool for the 7th and 8th grade, and then again for 11th and 12th)
ON MY OWN
When I started homeschooling, I filed with the state to become my own school. I didn't want to answer to anyone, just wanted to do my own thing. I didn't have a computer back then and wasn't internet educated at all, and I knew no one who homeschooled. I felt very much on my own, and at times I wondered if I was doing enough with them. But I will say that we had a very good year. Both my girls learned what they needed to learn that year, and I really loved having them home with me.
That first year of homeschooling, we had only five children (and I say "only" because when you have nine, well...five doesn't seem like much!) and the youngest two were 18 months apart, ages 2 and 6 months at the time we began. I remember it was a bit challenging keeping the babies entertained while also trying to teach 3rd and 1st grade! I learned a lot that year myself; little tricks like having one student teach, play, or read to the babies while I did a lesson with the other student. I also learned that we can do "school" in less than three hours, and if you get it all done by noon...well, that can make for a pretty fun afternoon! The most important thing I learned that year was that I make a pretty darn good teacher - who knew?!!
The next school year I decided to join a charter school. For those of you who don't know, this is a school that is funded by the state, so it's a public school, but yet you teach your kids at home. I did this for a few reasons:
1) It hooked me up with a group of homeschooling families. They went on field trips and had park days together - all optional.
2) I had the backing of a certified teacher. We were assigned a teacher from the charter school who met with us once a month to collect a sample of work from each subject.
3) I could pick all of our curriculum and the school would buy it for us! I loved that.
4) The funds that we got from the school could also be used for extracurricular activities, such as sports, piano lessons, art lessons, etc. This was a huge help to our family budget!
5) The charter school kept all of our children's records so that when/if they ever were to go to a "regular" school, the transition was simple.
I have been with a charter school ever since that second year. I love belonging to a charter school. It is a really good fit for me. I only have to meet with our teach once a month, and that is only so he can collect a few samples of our work from the month. I am still on my own, but yet I have the backing of a teacher and a school if I need it. And I love that it costs NOTHING! All of our books and supplies are bought with our funds. My kids take piano lessons, Kung Fu lessons, art lessons...for FREE. You just can't beat that. The way I see it, we pay taxes that cover public education, so my kids are getting what my taxes pay for. I really love charter schools, but I know that many families choose other routes for homeschooling, and I think that it's great that we have a few choices.
HOMESCHOOLING VS. "REGULAR" SCHOOL
Although we had that one bad year in public school, I am not against "regular" school at all. In fact, I WANT my kids to go to "regular" school, too. I want them to experience both ways of schooling, for them and for me. I like the experience of homeschooling them, and I also like the experience of packing up lunches everyday and sending them out the door. I like having them join a classroom, and I like going to school performances and getting the handmade Mother's Day cards and Christmas art, etc. As a mother, I only get to watch my children grow up ONCE, and I personally want both experiences of schooling.
Here is how I generally do things:
I send my kids to preschool the year before they start Kindergarten. Just ONE year of preschool, and it's a 3 hour class, 3 days a week. No more than that. I send them so that they will have FUN, so they will have FUN, and so they will have FUN. It's not a babysitting service for me, so if my child is not having FUN, then they do not need to go. Period.
I send my kids to Kindergarten at our local public school. I like Kindergarten. Again, it's only 3 hours a day - a very short time, and at five-and-a-half/six years old I think they can handle that schedule 5 days a week. Why Kindergarten? I like for them to learn their phonics and have a start at reading before they come home to homeschool with me. It just makes it a bit easier on me! I also want them to make friends in that Kindergarten year. It helps if we have a list of friends to call in the next few years while we are homeschooling. That way, they stay connected to the children that they will eventually be in school with later on.
I homeschool my kids for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. Always. In these grades, I just feel that a lot of time is wasted in the classroom. I also feel that when kids are this young, they have a harder time focussing, a harder time staying on task, and a typical classroom is full of 20+ kids and a teacher has a hard time giving individual attention. I feel at this age kids need a lot of individual attention. I also feel that they are a bit young for a full day of school. To be away from home from 7:30 until 2:45 each day is a bit much at that age (my opinion).
Some of my kids will start "regular" school in the 4th grade, while others will start in the 5th grade. It just all depends on the child, on who else is going to school that year, etc. I like 4th and 5th grade (at our particular public school) for a few reasons: 1) it is in these grades that students get to choose an instrument and are taught how to play it! And they play in an orchestra and have performances. It's a wonderful program. 2) it is in these grades that the laptop computer program is started. Students are taught how to do power points and lots of other things on their computers. 3) these grades are when it starts to get "fun" with extra activities such as plays and musical programs. 4) they have the 5th grade science camp each year, a 4-day sleep-away camp in our local mountains that is always such a great memory for them.
My kids always have the option to come home at anytime to resume homeschooling. It's never set in stone. We play it year by year. All my kids have gone to Kindergarten except my 5th child, Avery, who simply did NOT want to go. She wanted to homeschool with her older siblings. And so, she did! Her first year in regular school was last year, 4th grade. And she had a great first year. She loved it! She will be in the 5th grade next year and wants to stay at the public school.
So long as my kids are doing well in school and I don't see a major behavior change or anything, then they can go to "regular" school. I enjoy homeschooling them for the younger elementary years, but once they get to the 4th or 5th grades I let them experience "regular" school. They are then free to stay in regular school or they can come back home. We have an open door policy, you could say.
I realize this approach is a bit unusual, but what else can I say except that this truly does work for us! Our kids are doing great in school and are happy. They get both experiences, and I get both experiences. One thing I never want to do is look back and have regrets. I don't ever want to wonder what it would have been like "IF" -- so, we do it both ways :)