You knew it was going there, right? All those questions on my Facebook page about people’s experiences homeschooling… All the school switching… Why homeschool? Let’s start from the beginning!
Homeschooling is like selling all your possessions and traveling around the world: most people think it sounds amazing ( could potentially be amazing), but they are not in a position to do or don’t think they can. That’s kind of where I was.
I love it but I can’t do it!
I loved the idea of homeschooling Lexi for the first few grades of her school. I loved the thought of spending extra quality time with her, especially considering that I only see her 50% of the time in a co-parenting situation. I loved the concept of not being tied to the schedule, not having to get up early (we are both night owls- I say this as I am typing this article at 2 am), and being able to travel whenever we want ( and we want it a lot) and learning together (we both have a strong love for learning). Sounds awesome, right?
But then I knew I couldn’t do it. I have a full time business– several of them, actually- all of which are being expanded this year. I like my “me time.” I play volleyball regularly, I go to the gym when I don’t play volleyball, and I have more work than I could ever imagine being able to handle. How could I give up day time hours of Lexi being in school? And then there was the whining “Mommy, can you play with me?” (Not that I don’t want to, love, but Mommy has to work!). That’s all on the selfish and necessity-based end.
Then there was “Is it good for Lexi?” end: she won’t get enough social interaction ( she’s extremely extroverted and needs peer interaction), she won’t develop discipline, she will miss out on school events and spirit, and more and more… All. the. doubts.
Let’s now rewind to her first day of kindergarten…
CHARTER SCHOOL #1
I was very excited because she was accepted into an incredibly good (academically speaking) charter school. Their academics reminded me of how we studied in Russia, so I was psyched because I thank my schooling for everything that it gave me. I was warned by some parents that the school might be a little rigid and we figured that since we got into it, we would test it out and see if we can handle it as a family (we are pretty free spirited over here).
The school year started and Lexi excitedly went to this new school wearing her cute new uniform. One thing I have to note about her personality is she LOVES change. Anything new excites her, including new situations and environments.
She loved the school and was coming home with great knowledge. That is until we started noticing that she started coming home with “demerits” that we ignored at first. A demerit for gasping, a demerit for rocking in her chair, a demerit for talking. Let me remind you, this is kindergarten and she is 5. We figured it was just an adjustment period and with her being so extroverted, active, and talkative, she would need some time to learn how to curb those behaviors.
A few weeks later, she was coming home with words like “I am a bad girl, I am a bad student.” Let me mention that her test and grades were always at 98% and above, so there was absolutely no “academic” reason for her to think she was bad. Which of course we explained to her, but she was referring to demerits, not grades, because that’s where her focus was.
Quickly, I was seeing what the other parents were talking about. A lot of shame, a lot of “age-inappropriate discipline and expectations” based on what she would tell us she would get demerits for. It just seemed like they were “raising” sheep, not free thinkers. I started asking more about how things were, because we, as parents, weren’t really allowed or welcome in classrooms. I was told that they were to sit still with their hands on their desk in a certain shape at all times. They were not allowed to speak, including to each other during class (understandable), during breaks, during lunch, or during parent pick up (again, remember, 5 year olds). They didn’t have a playground, so recess would happen in the parking lot behind the school and somehow even there Lexi was able to get in trouble for being “too energetic.”
Things were starting to escalate, as we were noticing how low her self-esteem was getting. We were starting to think about switching schools. But then one day I pick her up and she tells me the following:
She was being “bad” and talking to a boy next to her. She got 3 demerits and then the teacher put an X on her hand to label her for bad behavior. She said she was embarrassed and wanted to wash it off so that older girls wouldn’t make fun of her.
DONE. I was raging. A freaking scarlet letter for being a normal 5 year old? She was SO DONE there. We never went to the school again and I finally understood what some moms were warning us about through all the hearsay. Their discipline tactics and expectations of 5 years olds were out of line. It was a total of maybe a month and a half after the school year started. The next day we were touring another charter and enrolled immediately.
CHARTER SCHOOL #2
The new charter was messier, dirtier (the previous school looked like a hospital ward, no pictures, no mess, clean as a whistle)- it looked like children spent their time there. It was colorful and loud and, honestly, looked like a school where Lexi would fit right in personality wise.
And she did. She loved it from day one. She had a period of adjustment where she was on yellow at times (they had color system for behavior), but it did not cause her to be self-deprecating and hate herself. She happily went to school, happily came home regardless of the color she was on and after about 2 months, she was always solid green. The school was very welcoming to parents, too. I would come in and volunteer all the time, despite my lack of time for anything in my life. The kids in her class all knew me by name and would surround me hugging and fighting to get closer every time I stopped by. Her teacher was wonderful, as well. We loved everything about the school. She was engaged and interested and they had a great after school program.
We made good friends with her classmates and their parents at Lexi’s birthday and other event. It all felt like a community.
Then one day towards the end of the school year, Andrew (Lexi’s dad) had mentioned that he smelled some jet fumes at the playground of the school. I kind of blew it off, but the school WAS located across from a regional airport so I guess it made sense. Then I started noticing it. Whenever I was at the school, and there would be a landing or take off at the airport, which was constant, I would smell gasoline/jet fuel very strongly. It took maybe a few weeks for my brain to process it, but then I was like “OMG this school is getting showered the jet fuel every time a plane passes by” (the school was in the landing/take off path). So I started researching. “I mean, it doesn’t matter, right?” I was trying to convince myself. “It’s not like the jet fumes actually get down to the kids, right? Right? It’s not that bad of exposure.”
I was wrong. It was. I kept reading study after study, citing cancer, brain tumors, lowered immune system, auto-immine conditions, more colds and flu in people who lived in a one mile radius of an airport. I remember my stomach dropping and me thinking immediately, “We have to switch schools”.
Damn it! Again? Just as she found her place and friends. But reality was undeniable. We did not spend the whole pre-conception period, our whole pregnancy, and the first (at least) 5 years of her life making sure that she is exposed to as little toxic substances as we could possibly ensure, we weren’t going to throw it all out the window now.
Side note: it was kind of scary to read how toxic jet fuel is and how it absolutely gets down and settles on our communities and get breathed in and absorbed. It is pretty common knowledge among pilots and flight attendants that that same jet fuel (as well as recycled air) is the cause of all the respiratory cancers that they get as they get older. So pretty sucky, if you ask me… 🙁
FIRST GRADE: CHARTER SCHOOL #3
We made the switch but luckily, it was towards the end of the school year. So we let Lexi finish it off, graduate kindergarten, and then announced to her that she will be going to a new school for 1st grade. We tried to make it sound like it was something normal and was supposed to happen. It also coincided with our move further north so it would have been a 35 min drive each way to old school. She did not blink an eye at that announcement but said she would, of course, miss her friends. After our busy summer of traveling she was ready and excited to start first grade at a new cool school. Another charter school, much closer to our new house (10 min instead of 35 minutes), clean, nice, with a great curriculum and advanced programs starting in 2nd grade.
Fast forward to December of the new school year, everything was going smoothly with a few hiccups in the form of “disruptions in class” here and there. What can I say, Lexi REALLY loves to talk. It got to the point where Lexi requested that she is to be seated at a separate table, so that she wasn’t tempted by other kids to get distracted. Hahaha. She said it was peaceful there and she could write her short stories without being disturbed.
I was noticing that they were studying very simple things. Things that she knew at 3-4 years old. She was often telling me that school was boring, or that she was often bored in class and reviewing her homework and her class work (in math, reading, and science), I wasn’t surprised. Her first assessment she got by teachers was mastery or above mastery for all disciplines (except for PE). I didn’t really give it too much thought, but it was cool to see.
In the meantime, we were enjoying the school atmosphere, the events, and the new friends. We weren’t too worried about the “boredom” she was experiencing in the classroom. Soon she started bringing home stacks of papers with short stories. When asked if it was something she did during their writing centers, she said “No, I just write stories when I am done with my work early and I am bored.” Hmmm… Then we got her first NWEA test that measures her progress and level. She tested at the level of an average 3rd – 4th grader in both math and reading. It all was making sense. So I talked teacher and asked her if we could do something to challenge her. She suggested that we talk to gifted counselor and get her tested so they could create a custom education plan for her. We started the screening process and the screen came back at 99% and stanine score (?) being the highest possible (9). The counselor sent the paperwork to the county to continue the process.
But then we started thinking hard. It was clear that something had to be done. She was bored at school and she was repeating the knowledge she had since she was 3-4 years old. She was essentially wasting her time in the class doing busy work. All so that we could have “childcare.” Andrew and I are both self-employed and work from home, so was it really THAT necessary to have “childcare”? We had options and we soon faced the different choices we could make. Choices that would ensure that Alexis doesn’t develop disinterest in learning, that she is challenged, but also that she supported emotionally because she is still only a 6 year old.
I was feeling like the whole school thing had become a rat race of “wake up early, make breakfast, run out, drop off at school so that she could glue things on paper, then pick her up, take her to numerous after-school activities that she wants to attend, come home, barely have time to do anything else and get her to sleep way too late.” The thought that had crawled into my mind of leisurely mornings, learning together, workbooks, and science experiments could not leave my head . I wanted to do what was best for Alexis, but I just wasn’t sure that I could commit (and more importantly, get her dad to commit) to properly homeschooling her. Plus I was very concerned about the social interaction. We can’t give her all the social interaction she needs, because we need to work, so we can’t spend the whole day doing playdates and outings. Then it dawned on me after I saw some replies on my Facebook page. She doesn’t get much social interaction now, anyways. They aren’t allowed to interact except for during recess and a little bit during lunch. Suddenly homeschooling became even more attractive as an option.
I was doing research on available options in our area and at some point during all those days of thinking and wishing we could homeschool, we were told about this part time hybrid homeschool programs. It’s a school for homeschoolers. Private, 3 days a week and you homeschool 2 remaining days. It starts at 10am (OMG YES!). No separate grades. Family like atmosphere. But it’s expensive.
It turned out one of Lexi’s friends from preschool was going there, so we decided to talk to the director and tour the school. Literally, everything that came out of the director’s mouth made us think YES YES YES YES! This could not be more perfect. Except for the price….
- It starts at 10 am ( again we are not morning people)
- It runs Mon, Wed, Thur 10-3 as a full school
- I can take her out for travel no problem
- We would be classified as homeschoolers
- We would homeschool her Tue, Fri and do work they give us, plus whatever additional we wanted to do
- It’s located 2 min from Andrew and about 15-20 with traffic from me.
- Class size is 10 per teacher
- And there are no grades. All elementary kids are together in one room and everyone is working on their own grade level. A boy we met there who is 8 is studying 6th grade curriculum.
- The outdoor area feels like a backyard with a garden and a butterfly garden, swings, zip line, pond. That’s where they have brain breaks
- Recess happens at the school’s playground
- Brain breaks outside every hour
- Cursive being taught in 2nd or 3rd grade
I am sure I am forgetting a lot more, but it was time for a tour. We loved the school, the feel and oh my god , the teachers. There was so much warmth coming from them. It truly felt like a family atmosphere. The kids are allowed and encouraged to interact and work in groups, pairs or alone. One of the teachers was actually from Lexi’s preschool that we loved dearly. It was very obvious that not only these teachers were educated in child development and emotional validation, but they did not have the same constraints big school systems have, when it comes to teacher and student interaction (down to the small class size). They are so empathetic and sensitive to the students’ emotional needs, it’s obvious in all their interactions. Which is a huge necessity for Lexi, because she is incredibly sensitive and can be very emotional.
Everything was perfect. We had to make it work! We decided to switch schools during winter break. Luckily, Lexi was totally on board with it and very excited (it’s that adaptability, thankfully). She said she would miss her old school friends, but homeschooling was for the better. We visited her old school and said bye to all the students and the teacher (which was probably more heartbreaking for me than her). They made her a card, her best friend in class cried (aaawwwww). She was fine though, invited them to her birthday party and told me that it was sad but it’s ok. It has been less than a month of us “homeschooling”. I have trouble calling it that way because technically she goes to school 3 times a week, but we have been officially filed as homeschoolers, we have extra 2 days to lounge at home in pajamas, and extra 2 hours in the morning to get ready. She has not had any major issues at the school so far, except her usual perfectionism. She was at first put into 4th grade math with 9-10 year olds, and they were going through equations with fractions pretty quickly. She was getting frustrated that she couldn’t keep up because she was just taught the concept that day and couldn’t do it as quickly. So the teacher decided to just take a step back a bit and watch to see where she needs to place her. Just because she tests on 4th grade level doesn’t mean that she has all the knowledge of 4th grade level. She’s quickly developing her skills and has not been taught all the 4th grade math concepts. She did ask to be put back into upper math , because it was “fun”, but we told her she was not ready yet. But it’s been fun.
HOW WE HOMESCHOOL AT HOME
On our home days, we usually make a schedule of “classes” that we want to do that day. Andrew usually does math with her and I do writing/reading and then whatever other subjects she wants to study. Other days usually consist of science, geography, art, cursive, languages (Russian and Spanish), and history on my end. Andrew, on the other hand, spends his homeschool day outside on playgrounds (after she’s done with math). I am a lot more organized and focused, plus we have a ton of materials at home, so we stay home on my home school days except for the late afternoon classes she has.
She still attends all of her after school activities and we have not signed her up for anything additional (because it’s already a lot), since we are enjoying the extra time home from school. Her after school activities are karate, aerial yoga, gymnastics, art, theater, and club volleyball. We did add a 2 hour homeschool STEM workshop, as well, but it’s on a week by week basis.
For example, last homeschooling day, Friday, we spent the day cleaning and cooking together (I taught her how to make mushroom soup) and reading 4 different sources about Machu Picchu because we have a trip planned there in May. We read about the history of Machu Picchu in the Now and Then book, about geography of Peru in Travel Book, about city of Cusco in Cities Book, and watched a documentary on the mystery of the site. We tested all her written sight words (the teacher wanted her to know how to write them), wrote in our mother-daughter journal and her 3 year journal, filled out a few pages of 2nd grade workbook ( though she’s asking me to switch her to 3rd grade because “it’s too easy”) and started planning her birthday. Then we watched a Harry Potter movie with popcorn and went to sleep way too late, but who cares 😉
HOW WE BOTH FEEL ABOUT THE CHANGE TO HOMESCHOOLING
Honestly, I cannot believe we waited this long to do it. We both feel so much more relaxed (and so does her dad). We have always done “our own thing,” so starting the whole “public school” thing was just inconvenient. I know that sounds silly, but we have the ability to choose something different and I am glad we finally pulled the trigger. There is less stress for us (all the pick ups, drop offs, no time for anything does add stress), and more pleasant time for Lexi. I absolutely LOVE the extra time I get to spend with her. Would I want it to be every day? As someone who needs to run a business and make money to support herself, it probably wouldn’t be realistic. But having this hybrid homeschool program is perfect. The extra day at home is so nice (Andrew has the other one), and the more laid back school atmosphere has influenced both our mental states. Every day when I come to pick her up, she happily runs out to the school playground and swings away with her friends while parents chat about how much we love this program.
More importantly, I am absolutely psyched about being able to travel without guilt again. I felt so bad taking her out of school, that I avoided too many trips during school year. So we are happy!
I want to say MANY thanks to those who have answered my annoying repetitive questions about homeschooling. It’s so hard to know you’re making the right decision, so you agonize over it and go over the same thing over and over again. In the end you do not know until you do it. For anyone curious about homeschooling and wanting to try, try it for half the year and see if it works for you.
WILL WE ALWAYS HOMESCHOOL?
Obviously, we do not know. However, my plan is to keep an open mind. I am not opposed to Lexi going to a more traditional school when she is older. Just like I am not opposed to continuing homeschooling for as long as all three of us enjoy it. As she gets older, she will also have her own stronger opinion that will be taken into account. Since she is doing club volleyball program, I don’t feel like she is missing out on the sports aspect of schools. Because her hybrid homeschool has wonderful kids of all ages, and all of them are very sweet and nurturing, I don’t feel like she’s missing out on interactions (but certainly will miss out on any potential bullying that happens at larger schools). And because they are taught individually, she is definitely not missing out on academics. So there’s really no downside right now
So I guess that concludes my soul searching slash mind vomit on this subject! This is one those “honest from the heart” posts that I used to write here. I know they don’t get trafficked by search engines or get popular on Pinterest. But what they do accomplish is record our events like a journal (Lexi is starting to read the blog from the beginning and loves it) and hopefully helps someone down the line going through the same process.
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