So, this year I'm homeschooling Sydney.
It was not an easy decision, but one we made mostly for financial reasons. For the last few years, Sydney had attended a wonderful little Christian school in town. Last school year, Jules started attending as well. We were able to swing it because of money my grandma had left us specifically for education, but it only held out through June. We can afford to keep one student there, but not two. The choice to homeschool Sydney was born from these circumstances because our local public school didn't seem like a good fit for her.
I was naive.
Reading others' stories about the beauty of homeschooling gave me a feeling that it was going to be so much fun, even if it may not be easy.
I was also nervous.
I knew that it was going to be hard because I'm not really into teaching little kids. Even if said little child is my very own smart, sweet, and creative daughter whom I love so very much, she is still 9. Not 19. My comfort zone is 18-23 year olds because they generally do not require much more than a spoonful of my patience. Young children? Great big 5-gallon bucketfuls. Many many bucketfuls.
I was fortified with confidence by Sarah, my sis-in-law next door. She's homeschooling her kiddos, and she would give me pep talks almost every day during the summer. "You can do it!" she'd cheer. And I started to think that maybe I could.
Unfortunately, my beginning attempt at homeschooling was a complete failure. A spectacular failure. This was not Edison's lightbulb just not working; it was the lightbulb exploding into a million fiery pieces.
It took about 3 weeks of homeschooling before I had a small nervous breakdown and gave it up completely, aside from making Sydney read books and do math. I am hardcore about doing math because I have some strong ideas about girls being good at math. But otherwise, we did no schooling.
My failure was because of my inability to handle the reality of homeschooling compared to what I thought it was going to be. It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. And I hated every single moment of it. My expectations for Sydney were not even a tiny bit realistic, and she quickly tired of my role as teacher. I begged Jason to let me put Sydney back in her old school, tried to think of ways I could raise tuition. But aside from credit card debt, it was not an option. We also didn't think it was fair to Sydney to put her in a new school in the middle of the school, although I haven't given up that possibility if a spot opens up at a local alternative school.
About a month ago, I had a come-to-Jesus moment, completely switched gears with homeschooling, bought a brand new curriculum (from Sonlight), and pretended like the school year started in mid-November. I even sharpened pencils.
It's going better now. Not great, maybe not even exactly good, but better. And Sydney and I are slowly recovering from the brutally miserable September, October and November that stripped me to emotional bare bones.
No doubt there were a few things that didn't make my foray into homeschooling easier. First of all, I entered September without any of the enthusiasm that a summer's rest usually gives me. My summer was not restful; it was stressful.
Secondly, I did not account for how much time I really do spend on my part-time job. I'm just an adjunct professor, not full-time. But being an adjunct means I do not have office hours to prep for class or grade papers. All that is done at home...when I was supposed to be teaching Sydney. I realized that I was going to have to quit teaching to do homeschooling. Tomorrow is my last day.
Both of those things contributed to a really rough start, but I've figured out a few other things I wish I had known before starting homeschooling. And I'm writing them down here so I remember them.
Just because a child is an excellent student in school does not mean they are self-motivated. Sydney has always done really well in school. Really well. She is an ideal student for traditional classrooms. She does her work, isn't overly chatty, pays attention, adores her teachers. Somehow I thought this would mean I wouldn't have to struggle to get her to do school work, but as Jason has reminded me, "She's still just 9, and this is still school." If it was up to Sydney she would read books, play the piano, and draw all the livelong day.
Just because a child is polite, respectful, and kind in school does not mean they won't complain at home. Obviously. And yet, I still have a hard time when Sydney complains about school work. Schoolwork is just like any other chore she has to do during the day, and as such, will not receive the shouts of hooray that I was expecting. I know I'm completely unreasonable about this because it doesn't bother me when my students complain about assignments, and it doesn't surprise me (though it may annoy me) when the girls complain about doing chores. I don't know what my deal is about this. I absolutely need to lighten up.
Just because Classical education is all the hype in the academic circles does not mean it will work for you. I started off this school year following Ambleside Online's program, which adheres to Charlotte Mason's philosophy. This was undoubtedly my biggest mistake. I know that AO works for some people, but it DID NOT work for me. Mostly because I didn't like the curriculum, and it required way too much prep on my part. Not liking the curriculum or having the time to put into lesson planning, it was, as they say, a hard sell to Sydney. I think I subconsciously bought into the storyline of classical education as the best way to teach children, and that's simply not true. If I could change one thing about how I started homeschooling, this would be the one. Worksheets and books written after 1980 are not going to ruin your child.
Just because you have an advanced degree in education does not mean you can homeschool. I had a friend recently say to me, "Your teaching background probably made homeschooling harder for you," and she was totally right. Back in August I read articles about the scope and sequence for 4th grade so that I would know what I needed to cover with Sydney this year. Alas, homeschooling requires a certain flexibility that I don't naturally possess. Not adhering to a daily syllabus stresses me out in unimaginable ways. With homeschooling you cannot despair if you miss a day on "the syllabus." I will be honest and say I am still often full of despair in this area.
Just because you have one kid who homeschools doesn't mean you can forget about the other kid who goes to school. Our family is a bit unusual in that we have one kid who stays home and one who doesn't. I had planned on doing a lot of field trips.Trips to the art museum, to OMSI, the zoo, the library, and parks were all part of the plan. It wasn't money that kept us from doing them, nor was it scheduling. It was realizing how those trips would appear to Jules. Here she was at school while her other sisters got to go off and do fun non-school things. Totally unfair. It is hard enough on Jules that she has to go to school while her cousins and sisters get to stay home; it is doubly hard that she feels most loved through time spent with her. I have scratched almost all the extra-curricular trips I had planned because I knew how deeply it would hurt Jules to miss out.
Just because you can homeschool does not mean you should. We chose homeschooling because we weren't comfortable sending Sydney into the local schools, and there was some pressure to keep her home if we couldn't afford Christian education. Sydney is young for her grade, and I have some fear about her being bullied at school. She also spends 5-hours a week at ballet, and I had thought she would feel overwhelmed trying to balance extra-curriculars with academics.
However, unless I get a full-time job that allows for us to pay tuition, next year Sydney will be in a local public school--maybe at Jason's school, maybe at an academic alternative school. Maybe in June I'll be singing a different tune, but I'm okay with admitting our educational experiment was something of a failure. Of course, the upside of failure is learning what doesn't work. And I've learned that homeschooling does not bring out the best in me or my little student.
Until next school year arrives, though, we will keep at it. I was going to say "keep doing what we've been doing," but no, we will do better than that. We'll keep learning, and really, that's kinda the point, isn't it?