Friday, January 16, 2015

Homeschooling: Not for the Faint of Heart

On Monday we shlepped it all the way over to Brooklyn (over an hour by subway to Bed-Stuy) to our homeschool friend's house for a play date.  They own an entire house (albeit under heavy construction).  Four entire floors.  I had space envy.  It was very nice to get to know a fellow NYC homeschool mom better and we chatted over tea and cookies while the kids played 3 whole floors above us. 

It's been a challenging homeschool week for me.  Who am I kidding?  It's been a challenging homeschool year so far.  But not at all in the ways I had anticipated before I started.  And since I see this blog not only as a way to keep our family and friends updated but also as documentation for Grown-Up-Ella and Grown-Up-Holden to read one day, I want to give you a glimpse into how homeschooling is going so far.

Before we started, I worried that the kids wouldn't get enough time with other kids (the socialization myth of homeschooling).  Well, they're with kids every single day of the week.  Some classes are with other homeschoolers, some are after-school classes with kids from public or private schools.  Park meet-ups, play dates, and field trips.  And when the weather's better they're on sports teams on the weekends.  And they get to pick and choose who they want to play with.  None of the schoolyard drama we were dealing with last year.

I worried that I would feel too overwhelmed and trapped, not getting enough time to myself.  Happily, every time they're in one of their classes or with their Spanish tutor, I get at least an hour and a half to myself.  You can usually find me in the nearest coffee shop with my book or like today, checking out the latest museum exhibit with another mom.  Since I do all of my grocery shopping online, and I spend plenty of time at home to be able to get my laundry and housecleaning done, I don't need to spend that hour and a half doing chores or running errands.  I actually get a nice break every single day.  (Ella and Holden, on the other hand, are never away from each other.  Ever.  And I worry about the impact that's having on their relationship.)

I worried that the kids wouldn't get a good enough education.  Kevin and I are completely convinced that they are getting a far better education than they were previously.  Because homeschooling is so efficient, working one-on-one, we're able to get our basic Calvert work done in about 3-4 hours a day - all the work that they would have done in school in about 6-7 hours.  And we are very impressed with Calvert's curriculum.  They do such a great job of weaving together and overlapping subjects like reading/science/technology, so there's a lot of repetition and seeing the same idea over and over in different contexts.  Because the school basics take up less of their day, they have plenty of time to take all of these other fun and interesting classes like computer programming or world mythology or creative writing.  In addition to Spanish, they take 5 extra curricular classes a week.  And they're still done and home no later than 5.  With no homework.  Their late afternoons and evenings are theirs to play creatively alone in their room.  They have time to decompress again. 

Also, I'm able to go at their speed.  I'm able to adapt to meet them where they're at.  Holden is in second grade but we're able to have him do the third grade math curriculum because he was finding second grade math too easy (and thus too boring).  He tested into third grade math and it's been a good challenge for him.  We also skip a lot of the Calvert reading and spelling because again, he found it too easy.  That gives me more time to work with him on areas he finds more difficult, such as composition, and give him more time to go deeper in areas he's most interested in, like science. 

For Ella, the fourth grade curriculum all seems to be right at her level but what she's told me she likes is that she can take her time understanding a math concept, for example, and not feel rushed or intimidated by the rest of the class.  And she likes that after we cuddle up on the couch reading a history chapter we can take our time Googling images of the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome or find a movie about Julius Cesar to watch, instead of having to rush onto the next subject.  Holden's also able to join us on the couch for history time, even though it's not part of his curriculum.

So what's the problem then?  Well, it's still mentally and emotionally exhausting being entirely responsible for your child's education.  I worry constantly (and I'm already a notorious worrier) that I'm not doing a good enough job, that maybe they would be happier in a more "normal" situation. 

And I'm still struggling with the best way to teach Holden.  Ella is made for homeschooling.  She can log on to her Calvert site in the morning, see what lessons she needs to complete for the day, grab her books and get to work.  She'll call me over occasionally to ask a question and knows to hold off things like history or science that we do together, until I'm done working with Holden.  Holden on the other hand needs much more of my attention.  He's a seven-year-old boy, after all.  His attention span is nil.  And he's incredibly bright.  If I don't grab his attention and keep him interested, he's going to write me off really quickly.  I can't give him a few math problems to do and then walk away and expect that when I return he will have completed them.  Or ask him to write a paragraph about the story we just read unless I'm willing to sit at the table with him and remind him over and over to stay focused, keep working.  My patience is tried with him daily.  Hourly.  Every single second.  I'm surprised I never got bad feedback from his previous teachers.  I'm really seeing how boys and girls learn differently.  That may be a stereotype or just anecdotal in my case, but from what I've read, Holden and Ella aren't that different from most boys and girls.  Ella can sit and focus and get the work done quietly.  Holden needs to stand, sit, roll around.  He needs to hum - constantly.  He loves to read and can do that for hours on end, but anything that requires him to produce something - writing, math equations - forget it.  I need to hold his hand the entire time and continually bring him back to the task at hand.  I need to figure out how to best teach him while staying sane.

So I would say that while I think that the kids are getting an amazing education, and that homeschooling is the perfect fit for us right now in our current situation, I am really the one getting educated.  Not only am I relearning everything I learned in school (or did I ever learn at the French school about the California Missions?  Doubt it.), I am learning so much more about my kids.  About how they learn.  About teaching.  About patience. 

And about myself. 

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