Thursday, June 19, 2008

Deciding to Homeschool

I missed the financial aid deadline for school, so I won't be attending St. Martin's in the Fall. As much as I would really like to go back to school and study my way to a bachelor's degree- I feel like I am being led to stay home with my kids; to actually learn to love to be around them, instead of tolerate them until bedtime. We had been talking about putting Jordyn in a preschool while I was in school. She will be 4 in August and I thought that it was time to begin some formal schooling. My version of school so far has been plenty of Dora the Explorer! Hardly educational, though she can count to 10 in Spanish! I feel like I am failing them right now, because I know that they watch WAY TOO MUCH TV and have very little tolerance for reading stories, especially Noah. I suppose he is still a little to young and fidgety to read long stories because he still listens, but he has to be "doing" something. The only problem is that he gets distracted once he starts doing something else and therefore is no longer listening. Anyway, all of this, on top of talking about divorce (mostly because I can't manage to keep the dishes and laundry clean!!!) and talking of moving, I think I just want to do what's best for my kids. I refuse to give in to the lure of divorce because I know that working out a marriage is always better than divorce. Eric is not my soul mate and I never should have married. These are big statements and I mean them. What I feel isn't completely regret, like wishing that I could go back and change it, but realizing that I didn't make a good decision in the past and determination to not further the bad decisions even if the first decision (marrying) wasn't a good one, divorcing right now does not put me back where I was 7 years ago. So I have become somewhat kid-focused right now. I am exercising more now for the kids (so I will be around when they have kids), eating healthy and wanting to do whatever it takes for them to be happy healthy kids.

Homeschooling is part of that. Jordyn seems to be a sensitive kid. It's not that she doesn't get along with her peers, because she does, but I think that kids can be incredibly mean and I think that like most kids, she is vulnerable to that. I don't think that she is emotionally ready to handle bullies and I definitely don't want her to seek after the popular crowd like I did in junior high and high school. I want her to learn where her values are and who she is in Christ first and I want her to learn these values from someone who truly has her best interest at heart. As a young girl, there are so many lessons that peers are all too willing to teach you and I don't want Jordyn to learn them. I want her to evaluate her character, not her chest size. I want Noah to learn to achieve in a safe environment. Noah might well pick up speed educationally, but right now, he's behind. That is probably because all he wants in his day is movie after movie. Still he has plenty of things that he loves to do, but when he is at a loss for something interesting to occupy him with, he turns to the TV. Not a habit I want to encourage. I want Noah to grow up to be secure, to learn how to take care of his family. I don't want him teased for things he can't control (or even things he can, for that matter!!!). There are also expectations on the young men in our society and I don't want him to believe many of the things that society tells our boys that it is okay to do. I want both kids to have a substantial grounding in the Scripture and I want their values formed by that more than their peers or society.

All that said, HOW AM I EVER GOING TO HOMESCHOOL??? Not only am I unsure about what curriculum I want to use (more on that later), I am concerned about how on earth I will manage to not kill them during the course of the day!!! As much as I love my children, no one else is as capable as they are in the art of driving me crazy. How do I manage to keep control and how do I fill my days? I suppose a very good way is to figure out how and when I am going to get out of the house-both with kids and alone, what my schedule is going to be, and how I will be supported. The biggest thing that I am thinking about are the actual methods and curriculum to choose. Five years from now I will probably laugh at my current angst because I will have learned that curriculum and methodology can change from one year to the next and I am still in the mindset that this is a one-time decision. That once I choose a handwriting program, I have to stick with it forever. What on earth am I going to use for grammar? Is it more important to be fun or rigorous? Am I going to be a better teacher if I have someone else's lesson plan in front of me or one that I have created myself?

I am seriously considering three different styles of homeschooling right now: Sonlight's prepackaged complete curriculum which makes homeschooling incredibly simple for me, but doesn't necessarily give me complete control over what my children are using in each subject (they only have a choice of 3 handwriting curriculums and my favorite is not among them), but I know it works and even though it might not be my favorite method, I know that it's do-able, Christian based, and thorough. One of my other choices is Tapestry of Grace. TOG is a unit-study curriculum that takes most of it's methods from the classical and Charlotte Mason methods. The parent is required to do a significant amount of the choosing, but they point you in the right direction with your choices. It is set up to be repeatable, so that I will only have to buy the four different sets and then I will repeat it 3 different times as the kids age at more depth each time. Since it follows the classical approach, I know that it is going to be rigorous and that is really something I desire for my kids. However, since it is a unit-study approach, I can always add and subtract, plus I can teach multiple levels at one time. When Noah starts formal schooling, Jordyn will probably be about 2 years ahead of him and he will be able to just jump in with assignments that are tailored to him. Sonlight does this to a certain extent, but it seems like it might be a little more difficult. I have already ordered my Sonlight catalog even though I can read it online because I much prefer to do my reading in print and I wanted to look more into Tapestry of Grace. One other major concern is that TOG doesn't have a pre-school program and Sonlight does. However, the basis of Sonlight's curriculum is literature, so the preschool program is essentially a book list with some developmental books added for good measure. Where they excel is in the teacher's guide which helps clueless parents like me tie it all together. TOG also has good parent/teacher guides, but again, no preschool program-though they do allow for children to start their program at a Kindergarten level, though I assume that you would just extend the first unit for two years and start the second unit during what would be second grade.

The last thing that I am considering is to go it alone: that is to use a classical approach to homeschooling- specifically the book, The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I will probably need a few other books if I decide to take this route; there are a few books on designing your own classical curriculum and one in particular about Christian Classical Homeschooling that I consider an essential. Combining all of those resources, I think that I could do a good job of creating a personal program- TWTM is probably sufficient with all their suggestions and resource selections. They are probably the number one source right now for parents attempting a classical homeschool. I would be surprised if a family were classically homeschooling without owning this book. However, I am a little intimidated by it. I have read it over and over again and I am a little concerned with just the amount of information presented. In many ways, it seems like the authors consider some of the information common sense and perhaps it is, but it isn't common practice and therefore, I am finding it a little difficult to attempt some things. The other thing is that my view of the way this style should be meted out is a little like a cold schoolhouse with the children chained to their chairs. Obviously, that is the LAST thing I want to accomplish with homeschooling- instead I want to create children who love to learn and know how to learn. The last bit there is extremely important to me! I love to learn new things and because I am a good reader can learn most things THAT INTEREST ME, but tell me to learn something from a book that doesn't interest me or is slightly above my natural level and I falter. I don't think that I learned well (enough) HOW to learn. These are skills, not desires or inclinations. Learning is part of life and often times you are required to learn something that you don't necessarily want to learn. I want my children to be able to successfully learn new things, but also be able to carefully interpret them according to their worldview. I don't want them to be swayed by whatever the newest research is, I want them to go searching for the rest of the story and figure out how what they have learned fits in with what they already know and believe. I honestly believe that classical education is the best way to go about doing that, but I think that classical education can be poorly suited to someone who is tactically minded, for example, and craves physical involvement to learn something new. I think that Jordyn might enjoy physical activity in her lessons, though I think that she is well suited to the classical approach. I can't see Noah sitting still long enough to write his name, let alone learn something. Time will tell with Noah though, and changing his habits from TV watching/wandering to books and playing will probably help.

TOG seems to be a pretty good compromise of all my goals, so I am pretty interested in finding out more. I might just order the Pre-K program through Sonlight just for the quality books and schedule for this year. This year is pre-school; next year I will want to develop a better program for Jordyn's kindergarten because that is the year that she needs to learn to read, and read well. So, we start this year. She is already interested in knowing her letters, but she seems to be a little spacey when asked to recall any of the information. I can't tell if she truly doesn't know or if she is just playing. How to include serious behavior as part of the school routine eludes me as of yet. I think that I will start with creating "school-time" for the first 30 minutes of Noah's nap and then require quiet time of her in her room. I will probably get some books on tape for her to listen to during this time instead of the typical movie. That should be a pretty good preschool matter what program I choose in the end!