Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling’

I started homeschooling when the oldest boy was eight, after three years of trying to fit him into a school system that wasn’t designed for the way he learns. He’s ferociously bright, in a way that was obvious from the time he was born. I’ve been dragged along by this child, forced to research everything ever written about giftedness and gifted education, driven from morning till night by his relentless quest for challenge.

He taught himself to read when he was 18 months old, he was asking about fractions by the time he was two.  I saw him devouring the non-fiction section of the library while he was still in diapers, and I worried about how he would adapt to kindergarten. He was thrilled at the idea of school, where he imagined himself sitting at a desk being taught algebra. When he was four, he found a book called “101 ways to do better on tests” and read it from cover to cover in anticipation. He was four-and-a-half when he started kindergarten, and I did everything I could to prepare the school in advance, but what could they really do with a child who was immersed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the classroom was set up for learning the alphabet? He was okay in kindergarten because it was mostly play and it was only half a day, leaving him plenty of time for working on his own stuff at home, but by grade one there were problems. He balked at the idea of “circle time” and outright refused to participate in most of the activities, preferring to read at his table. He went to the grade 6 classroom for math and novel studies. The class worked on building models of structures, and he brought in his styrofoam model of a water molecule, nearly in tears when none of the other kids were interested in learning atomic theory. By grade two, he had been in the grade 6 classroom for math for two years, and a grade 11 tutor was brought in to teach him algebra, but it wasn’t enough of a spark in a long day of tedious drudgery, and the little boy who used to vibrate with excitement when he discovered a new concept slowly dwindled away. I saw him shrink, curl in on himself, and plod his way through the day. Even at home, he seemed sad, withdrawn, forlorn.

I saw it, but the teachers didn’t. They saw a polite, kind, thoughtful, considerate, well-behaved boy who was able to work at grade level. The adminstrators told me that they were doing all they could, and we would have to be satisfied with the “enrichment” he was receiving.

It seemed like such an enormous decision at the time, taking him out of school. It seemed like such a dramatic step. I worried that I was overreacting, doing the wrong thing, depriving him of an ordinary childhood. I worried that he would be isolated, that he would feel different, maybe even in some deep and dark way, wishing he wasn’t so different. In the end, I made the decision not so much for academic reasons, but for emotional ones. I imagined what it must be like to feel so unseen, so unheard, so misunderstood and so powerless. Sent every day to a place that provided nothing by a parent who insisted it was okay. Forced to endure endless hours of tedium with no escape. When I allowed myself to feel the pain and the sense of betrayal he must have been suffering, I realized how abandoned he must have felt. It pains me to this day to think of it.

That was a long time ago, and in retrospect, homeschooling seems like it was the obvious choice, but it sure was a difficult decision at the time. It’s really hard to go against what “everyone else” is doing, what society has deemed correct, what the “experts” say is right. I listened to the principals and the teachers and I tried hard to convince myself that I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of me. I went to meetings, helped design “individualized educational programs”, volunteered in the classroom, nodded, smiled, ingratiated myself. I was careful not to offend anyone, I was modest about my son’s achievements, I went out of my way to avoid seeming like a pushy mother of a hot-housed child. I thought that I could tiptoe my way through the system, and still get my son’s needs met. It took me a long time to stop and pay attention to what my child was trying to tell me, and to put his actual needs ahead of my own need for him to be “normal”.

This post is not a rant about schools, or educators. It’s a little story about my experience with raising a child with differences, and of the mistakes I made along the way.

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These last few months that the kids have all been in school have been eye-opening for me.

Sometimes when I was homeschooling, I second guessed. I wondered whether the kids were really getting out of it what I thought they were. My gut said yes, but there was no real proof, no way to be sure. I knew that the kids were doing just fine in terms of knowledge base, and I knew that they were well-liked kids, that they got along with other kids, that they had all sorts of interests and were getting a lot of time outside, that they got along well with each other, that they had lots of free time, and that they were happy.

But would things really be all that different if they were in school?

What I’m discovering is that homeschooling provided something that went beyond an individualized curriculum, beyond time for them to pursue their own interests. It provided them with an environment that fed their need for connection.

They say that right now they’re kept busy all day long, and that they’re surrounded by other kids all day long, but that they feel really alone. They enjoy being with other kids, and aren’t having particular problems, but they have a constant nagging sinking feeling. They’re describing a loss of connection with their home base. With me. With their brothers and sisters. L went to school last year, but she was right down the street, so she came home for lunch every day, had extra time in the morning to hang out, and had an hour after school with the rest of us before diving. That was enough to keep her fueled for her time away. Now she doesn’t have that, and she’s feeling the loss. Tee seems to be suffering the most. I had that heart wrenching conversation with him a couple of weeks ago at bedtime, when he told me how he felt like we were all drifting apart, and I thought it had mostly to do with our crazy evening schedule. Now I realize that he was talking about the whole day.

I wonder if this feeling of isolation, this craving for contact with their attachment figure(s) is particularly pronounced for them because they have two homes. Or maybe they are aware of the contrast between what it used to be like and what it is now. They have a basis for comparison, and they know what they’re missing.

Some people reading this might say that maybe my children are abnormally attached. That by homeschooling them I’ve delayed their independence, or stunted their development. But I think that my kids are just verbalizing what many children feel. My forays into the 1/2/3 classroom this year showed me how much the younger children crave physical contact, even with me, an adult they hardly know. I think that our culture asks too much of young children when it expects them to be away from their attachment figure(s) for six hours every day.

love 002

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Teachers have impossible jobs.

My daughter is in a multi-age grades 1-2-3 classroom, with 20 or so other children. One of them has Down’s syndrome, another has a severe learning disability, and the entire clump of kids in grade one are very not-school-ready little boys who clearly would be much happier running around than sitting quietly on the carpet listening to a story.

I spend Friday mornings there, “helping out”, and even that’s an impossible job. The teacher gives me a task, and a small group of kids, and I try to help the kids do what she’s asked. Trouble is, none of the kids are even remotely interested in what they’re supposed to be doing. They don’t know why they’re being asked to color in certain little squares, or why those squares are being glued onto a long strip of paper, and the connection with those papers and their height in centimeters is lost on them. Trying to explain the concept is frustrating, because none of the kids seem to be able to concentrate on what I’m saying, and although my intentions are good and my efforts are valiant, towards recess time I find myself doing the work for them, just to have it done.

The result of our work is me gluing paper into their math binders while they pretend to know why.

After recess, the next task is drawing three pictures of Things You Like and then writing about the pictures. Some of the kids spend most of the time looking for a pencil, others need their pencil sharpened, the noise level goes way up, it’s ten or fifteen minutes until most kids are seated, and then it’s a lot of looking at the paper blankly, or copying from a neighbor, or doing the actual work but not caring about it, and as I sit next to a few of them, helping with spelling and making overenthusiastic “Good Job!” sorts of noises, my heart sinks down into my stomach. It doesn’t feel right. If even one child in that whole classroom learned even one thing that in that entire morning I would be surprised. They were kept occupied, some of them tried to do what they were told, and the time passed. Then it was lunch, and then back to school for more of the same.

When it was story time, maybe two out of the twenty were in the mood for a story. The rest struggled to sit in their assigned “carpet spot” and not pester their “elbow partner”. I have nothing but admiration for the masterful behaviour management skills of the teacher, but given the ages of the children she was dealing with, most of the words that came out of her mouth were admonishments. Sit up and Eyes in front and Not now and You come sit next to me where I can watch you. The two kids who were in the right mood and mental space for a story about a badger who found an egg-shaped rock paid rapt attention, but the rest didn’t get anything out of story time except for practice in trying not to wiggle.

It is impossible for all twenty of those children to be ready for what the teacher has planned for them every day. She has to plan, because otherwise it would be chaos, and she has to try to get all of the kids doing whatever activity she has planned, but most of the kids are only half-heartedly going through the motions at best. Maybe one of the kids is engaged in any of the activities at any one time, and only by sheer luck, because that child is interested in that topic, and it’s geared towards his/her particular skill levels, but the rest just create the constant white noise of the classroom.

Lots of apparent activity, not much being done.

The other painful truth about the reality of a classroom filled with just-turned 6-year olds is that they are still very young children who really aren’t ready to fend entirely for themselves all day. When I go in to that classroom every Friday, my own little one finds any excuse possible to crawl into my lap and lean her head against my shoulder, and the teacher’s aide constantly has little hands clutching hers, and little arms around her waist. They’re like furry little baby mammals seeking closeness anywhere they can.

The teacher is supposed to be able to meet the emotional needs and learning needs of twenty little children, while keeping them from tearing the place apart.

It’s an impossible job.

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Jay and Tee went to school today.

In one fell swoop, they have gone from seeing me every single day to only seeing me in the evenings of every second week. They will spend significantly more of their waking time in a classroom than they will with either parent, and that decision was made without my consent. They didn’t want to go, and I didn’t want them to go, and yet, they went. Something is very, very wrong about that.

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Beloved Tiger

Aug 29 014

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This Sucks

I’ve been neglecting the blog a little lately, and I’ve taken very few photos, which is very unlike me. I just can’t seem to pick up the camera to take snaps of the daily action these days, with what’s been going on.

Tomorrow I have to appear in court to defend my right to homeschool the children. It’s a long story, one that started in June when I began trying to negotiate a divorce settlement with hopefully soon-to-be ex husband.

I’ve got two children depending on me to advocate for them and their right to live the life that they love. I’ve got two other children old enough to be fully aware of their parents battling it out. I hate that they’re all in this position, I hate that they’re stuck between us like this, I hate everything about all of it.

This is not the way I wanted to parent.

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Why do we send our kids to school?

Because we went to school. And we were sent to school because our parents themselves had been to school. It’s what we’re familiar with, it’s what’s expected, it’s what kids do. Children have to go to school because if they don’t, they won’t learn what they need to learn in order to be successful adults.

Except that for the bulk of human history, it didn’t work that way.

Read Why Schools Are What They Are: A Brief History of Education if you’re interested in learning more.

And while I’m on the topic of education, check out Organically Inclined‘s answer to the “Socialization Question”.

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