Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! :) (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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A mama’s thoughts on sending her daughter to kindergarten

Last Wednesday, my little girl grew up a little bit more. She went from attending a small home-based Waldorf preschool to attending kindergarten in a classroom of more than 20 children (I think there are 27) in a school of more than 400.

As I said previously, I’ve been filled with a mix of emotions with Ava starting kindergarten in “the big school.” There are some things about it I’m not fond of: like that they use hand sanitizer before lunch and snack instead of washing hands, that Ava – who is normally a social butterfly – said she was an “only lonely” at recess on Friday, the not-so-healthy snacks, that the hot lunch program is pretty much all fried, unhealthy foods, and that after two full days of school her teacher doesn’t appear to know her name yet.

I could be overreacting. I mean, I want my girl to be happy and safe and healthy, but it was only the first week of school. Perhaps once they get into their routine, hand washing will happen more regularly instead of hand sanitizing (the teacher did tell me that washing was her preference – if there’s time). And I’m sure her teacher will learn her name soon. This week they are focusing on “making and keeping friends” and maybe that will help Ava fit in a little better.

Yet, regardless of all of this, there was something about taking Ava to school that first day that just didn’t feel “right” to me. I’ve made a lot of parenting decisions in the past five years and I have to say I’ve felt peaceful about pretty much every one of them. Sure, I made some wrong choices here and there, but as for the big decisions, I’ve felt good about them. However, there was something about dropping Ava off that didn’t feel peaceful to me.

Last week I reread a post I wrote almost a year ago called Is Home Schooling Right For Us? At the time, I was leaning toward home schooling, but wanted to keep my options open. Jody and I ended up visiting a few public schools including a charter school, a regular public school and an International Baccalaureate World school (also public). We made our decision and hoped for the best. Somewhere in there the idea of home schooling got lost in the shuffle. Also, I was dealing with some heavy duty anxiety as I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder this winter and didn’t feel like I could add another thing (home schooling) to my plate.

Now here we are, a week into the school year and I’m reconsidering home schooling. There’s a great, very active home schooling community in my area and I feel like, if I wanted to pursue this, I’m in a good head space to do it now. However, I am not going to make any rash decisions. We are going to see how it goes for now. I’m going to do more research. There were a slew of helpful comments with links in my Is Home Schooling Right For Us? post and I need to read up on them. What I’d like to do is supplement a bit at home while Ava is in kindergarten and see how she responds to that and how I do with it too. If the supplemental home schooling goes well and I feel like she could learn from me and if I don’t fall in love with her school over the next several months, then we might give home schooling a try for first grade. We’ll see.

For now I’m going to try to stay positive (especially around Ava) and go to a volunteer orientation this week so I can start volunteering in the classroom and do some reconnaissance help out and see how it all works. I’ve already been emailing with the principal about the possibility of donating a Clean Well wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser for the classroom (by the way, I’ll be giving away some Clean Well products soon!) and to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (boy, are those a fun read :P) so I could take a look at what kinds of cleaning products are used in the school. I hope I’m not coming off as a pain in the ass, but rather a parent who’s concerned about the health and well-being of her child and all children in the school. The principal did encourage me to stay in touch, thanked me for my interest and said “parents like you are what make “X” the great school it is!” That last part struck me as a bit form letter-esque, but I’d like to think that she means it.

I like that I have choices and the option of changing my mind. I like that I can get involved and maybe make a positive difference. And I will keep asking my questions because knowledge is power.

I’ll be posting the rest of Ava’s first day of kindergarten pics soon. (Yes, I finally picked up my SLR again after a several month hiatus and it felt good.) :)

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