Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Our Return to Homeschooling

As many of my friends and familly know we were homeschoolers for several years. Long story short, TJ was *horribly* bullied in the 1st grade and it had a profound, heartbreaking effect on his spirit and academics. I was "that" parent. The one in the office weekly demanding to know why a kid dumped chocolate mik on my son's head, stole his shoes and pulled his chair out from beneath him in the lunchroom. Every week! I was in constant contact with his horrendous teacher, who insisted on several occasions that his social awkwardness and the inability to sit his energetic 6 year old body still in a chair for 8 hours a day must be due to Lyme disease (complete with a 10 page packet on Lyme disease thankyouverymuch). I was at the pediatrician at least once a month asking for testing and ADHD meds, convinced that something must be really wrong if his teacher thought he had a disease. Our pediatrician's adamant opinion (and she knew him since the day he was born) was that there was nothing medically wrong with him. After feeling bullied by TJ's teacher I caved and did insist we try ADHD meds and it was a HUGE mistake- meds don't help if you don't need them... shocker, I know. After a year trying do to all the "right" things while watching my vibrant, quirky, unbelievably smart, cheerful little dude turn in to a broken hull of a child we brought him home and began to build him back up. And, yeah, that actually was the short version, lol. We added in Sylver and Trin as they got older, as well. It was challenging, it was hard, and it. was. worth it. Today our son is confident and smart with a huge, loving heart for God. I know if we had kept him in school he wouldn't be the same amazing kid he is today. I actually fear for the kid he might have become and I am so grateful that God provided us the means, support and the will to bring him home.  Anyone who knows TJ now would never think in a million years he was on the recieving end of being bullied. He sticks up for the bullied and is respected by his peers and his teachers (and the front office ladies, oddly enough... I went in a few times this year to drop off forgotten items and they just GUSHED over how great he is every time! He gets his charm from his dad! LOL).  He is totally comfortable being a complete goof ball in public, he loves to make people laugh and if you know him you love him.

We returned to the public school system after 3 years of homeschooling at the request of my 3 older children. They, understandably, wanted to attend with their friends and see if the grass really was greener on the school side. I was sad, but I realized it was time and I knew if they where struggling that homeschooling would still be available. It was a surprisingly easy transition. My kids hit the ground running and have been excelling, both in academics and character, in the 4 years they have been in the public school system. Every teacher who has had contact with them has commented on their exceptional character and willingness to do the right, selfless thing even when no one is watching. They have recieved numerous character and academic awards. That's a parenting win in my book. The last four years we have been blessed with excellent, involved and caring teachers and we stay in contact with some of them. I have the utmost respect for them and the job they do and I make sure they know it. 

So, that brings me to this year. For a myriad of reasons, we have decided to bring the girls home. We plan for it to just be for this year, but, as always, we are open to the leading of God. TJ starts public high school here in Arizona this year and he is *very* excited about it and I am excited for him! I had an amazing high school experience and I have really encouraged him to enjoy and excel these next four years and I know he will. I feel so good about the foundation we laid for TJ and the impact it has had on him. 

Sylver benefited from that solid foundation, as well. She has easily maintained a 4.0 and has won more awards than I can count, including national awards!  She needs a challenge and approached us about doing virtual school at home this year (it's basically public school at home using the computer- they do science labs at the school and field trips, as well). She plans to do two years worth of curriculum in one year and start high school next year. We feel that not only is she more than capable of that type of hard work and self discipline, but it will look great on her transcripts and help her to attain scholarships and grants for college so we are letting her go for it! 

Trinity actually only ever had preschool homeschooling and entered public school in Kindergarten. I have often felt guilty about her not having the really solid start that TJ and Sylver have so greatly benefitted from. I seriously considered keeping her home last year, but we decided to let her go since it was the one year that all 4 of the kids would be attending the same school. But, I did notice her struggling the last year, not only with academics but quite a bit with peer pressure. That's very concerning to me and Jesse. She is young and tender and we don't want her led astray. She asked to homeschool this year and Jesse and I talked it over, prayed about it and agreed. We really think taking the year with her to help fill in her gaps, work on logical problem solving and most of all to build her confidence with faith based character building will be the best we can do for her. She will not be doing virtual public school, but a set curriculum with me. I am neck deep in researching curriculum now. I am hoping to connect with a local homeschooling support group for field trips, ect, but we probably won't get involved in a co-op because a mid year move is a possibility and I don't want to commit if I can't follow through. 

Ari tanked in kindergarten this year. Completely. We had to remove her after two months with her teacher's and the school principal's blessing and support. She simply wasn't ready. She isn't exhibiting any signs of being ready this year either. And to be completely honest, I'm fine with that. Jesse needed an extra year to mature in kindergarten and he is hands down the smartest person (no bias, of course, lol) I have ever met. Plus, she just reminds me SO much of TJ at this age. She's wiggly, spirited, energetic, sensitive, super smart and a snuggle bug just like he was. He needed extra time to mature and come in to his own and, really, isn't that what childhood is about? She can't really stay still for very long at all when I teach her (we have been doing Hooked on Phonics this year with limited success, because, like I said, she's just not ready), her maturity is a little behind and since we can give her the time she needs, we will. If you haven't read Better Late Than Early, I highly suggest it. It really helped me stop pushing my kids so hard when they where young and let go of the mommy guilt when other kids their age knew more "stuff". It's not a contest. Pushing early academic knowledge isn't neccesarily a guarantee of academic success and can even be harmful! Jesse definitely lived that! His parents and teachers let him take it at his own pace and that worked for him. Very well!  For me, I started early and graduated early and that was fine, too. Kids are all different and in an ideal world we would be able to address that in public school... but we simply can't and that's where homeschooling becomes such a powerful beneficial tool! 

I know I am going to get some flak this decision, so please excuse me while I drag out my soap box and stand on it a minute. I'm not going to debate, but ask for understanding and, most of all, *respect*.

The choices we make, big and small, are done in our home with a lot of discussion, research and, most of all, prayer. We don't blindly jump in.  We don't judge public schoolers and we don't judge homeschoolers (cause really, how hypocritical would that be?). There is considerable value in both choices and we have utilized both in the ways that we feel best benefits our kids. I know a lot of my conservative Christian friends believe that Christian kids shouldn't be in public school at all and I respect and understand why they feel that way. I know a lot of my inner circle believes kids should suck it up, go to public school and learn to function in the "real world" and I respect and understand that viewpoint, as well. After all I lived it! But I also know my kids. I have never once made a choice for them that I didn't believe was in their best interest. My teens are proof that homeschooling works and my teens are also proof that public school works.... you know why? Because we, as their parents, WORK. School doesn't raise kids, WE do. I am truly so grateful we live in a country where parents have the freedom to make choices for our kids based on what we believe is best for them. Anyone who knows Jesse and I personally knows that we set the bar high for our kids. They don't get much slack. Not only do they meet that bar but they regularly knock it out of the way on their way past it. But we balance high expectations with listening to them and discerning when something needs to be adjusted. We are willing to think outside the box, push aside conventions, do the hard, unpopular things and fight for them when the situation merits it. They know that God gave them parents that are their biggest supporters and advocates.

In the end, we make the choices we make for our kids because we realize that we only get a very small slice of time to lay a strong foundation they can build their lives upon. It's so very important to us to remember the big picture! In that picture the truth shines more brightly with every quickly passing year and that truth is beautifully simple. They don't belong to us. They are God's beloved. We are privileged to be able to plant the seeds He will grow in them. We do our best to plant seeds of strong faith, compassion, love, courage, thoughtful intelligence and the willingness to question the status quo. I can't even imagine the amazing ways He will grow those seeds, but I know this....

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. 

And this....

Matthew 17:20 I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."