Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Should I homeschool?

Last week, I was talking with some friends of ours who are at the crossroads every parent faces--what education is right for their child entering kindergarten next year?  I have several friends who are deciding this same complicated question.  Public school?  Private school?  Homeschool?

Admittedly, it can be a very difficult question to answer.  I'm going to attempt to answer it from my perspective--as a former public and private school teacher, and a homeschool teacher of ten years.  I have a master's degree in education and I love to understand how and what children need to learn.

I think this broad question can be broken down to two less broad questions:
                               A) What education option is best for the child?
                               B) What education option is best for the family?
These two questions are both important, but I believe the answer to B trumps A.  If the education option that is best for a child pushes parents in a way that they cannot manage life physically, emotionally, or financially, then that is not the best option for the child.  I believe a stable home will give a child a stronger foundation more than what can be gained by mom being sick over stress.

I feel I need to digress here just for a moment.  One thing I have learned over the past few years is that many people believe that what they have been convicted of applies to all--that it must be a universal conviction because it is what they have been convicted of.  I don't believe all lessons to all people.  We all have different amounts of energy, different expectations and hopes for the tenor of our homes and the busyness of our homes, different academic expectations for our children...  But, in the case of stress and sickness, there have been many studies of what stress does to people--physically.  I used to be one of those people who didn't think I had a limit.  I thought I could push myself to get everything done that I needed and wanted to fit into a day.  But, I thought wrong.  I got sick when we bought the house we now live in five years ago.  I was sick for a week and couldn't make my body move for the first 2 hours of the day.  There was a limit.  The stress my life didn't decrease at that point, but actually drastically increased two years later until a doctor told me that if I didn't decrease the stress in my life, I would get sick.  The autoimmune illness that runs in my family can be turned on by stress (and was in the case of a friend of mine).  As a result, I switched gears and consciously work on saying no to good things that are too much to add on to my days.  I don't think I'm alone in trying to do too much.  Most moms I know have expressed at one time or another that they just can't get everything done that they need to fit into a given day.  This has led me to the conclusion that when we're making education choices for our children we need to be realistic about ourselves and what our families can and want to handle.

Moving on...
As I begin this discussion, I want to define what a child's education encompasses.  It would be easy to simply define a child's education as their intellectual development, but my husband and I view it differently.  When asked why we homeschool? My husband first explained that it is because we believe it is the best education for our children--that education including their social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual development.  I agree with that definition of what a child's education is.

                     A Child's Education is the development of his/her social,
                     emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual well being.

Now I'd like to go back to the two questions I began with:
         A)  What education option is best for the child?
         B)  What education option is best for your family?

In the past week, three of my friends have asked me what questions should they be asking of themselves and of the schools.  At first, I was going to separate these questions, but I found that the questions were intertwined with one another.

Here are some ideas:
General Questions:
1.  Would your child thrive more in the structure of a formal classroom setting or at home?
2.  Does your child have the physical stamina to attend full-day or half day kindergarten?
3.  Does your child need constant monitoring to help him/her stay on task or is he/she independent in play and learning?  In kindergarten, play is often independent and some children are independent in learning, but most need help.
4.  Would he/she benefit from the positive peer pressure to follow a teacher's instructions and do his/her work that you find in public and private school classrooms?

Homeschool Questions:
1.  Is your child able to receive instruction from you and give the correct answers?  Many children like to give their parents the wrong answers in kindergarten and first grade for fun.  It's a game to them.  But, if they won't give you the right answers to questions when you ask, then you won't be able to assess whether they do understand what you have taught them.
2.  Do you want to homeschool?
3.  Are you and your husband both supportive of homeschooling?  The investment required to homeschool is not only financial, but also emotional, and one of time.
4.  Are you able to take all of your children out in public to run an errand or go to a doctor's appointment if necessary?  Every family has different ways of managing the tasks of grocery shopping and doctor's appointments.  Many have extended family members who can help babysit. But, in the event that something comes up and you need to take all of your children with you, can you?
5.  Do you know other people that homeschool that you would turn to for encouragement and support?  This isn't absolutely necessary, but it is helpful to have other families that have time available for playdates when you do and would be interested in going on field trips with you and such.  I found that I was much harder on my children the first four years that we homeschooled because I didn't have anyone to balance me and my intense academic bent.  When my oldest was in first grade, we switched churches and I found some friends I could talk to about homeschooling who were ahead of me along this road.  One friend, in particular, prompted me to ask myself where I was duplicating.
6.  Are you able to be consistent and hold yourself to a routine so that school will get done every day?  I'm referring to a routine is not a time-schedule, but rather an order of events.  This can be really hard some days.  In PreK 3, my time commitment was 30 min/2x week;  PreK 4:  30-45 min./3x week; K: 2-2 1/2 hr/5 days per week.  First grade is where many families diverge in how much time school takes per day.  I've been told that My Father's World curriculum can be completed in 2 1/2 hr for grades 1-5, but it is one of the lighter curriculum's academically.  Typically, first grade takes 3-3 1/2 hours for me per day and by fifth grade, my children work about 7 hours per day (increasing each year as subjects get more difficult).  My children don't have homework until 6th or 7th grade.  Some days we do need to take time off for doctor's appointments, but we make up that time when schools have snow days and we don't!
7.  Do you have a space in your home where you can homeschool?  A room or the kitchen table? Space to store school materials so that you can find them easily and keep your child's work together?

Private School Questions:

1.  Can you afford it?  This is a family question, but I believe it needs to be answered before this option is considered at all.  Yes, there are some scholarships available that can help, but it will likely still be a significant cost to send a child to private school.  I do know families who live frugally because they believe this is very important for their children to have this type of education.  I respect them for their decision and commitment.  But, if that is not possible, private school is not something one would pay for with credit and incur debt.  I believe that we are to be content with what we have and that being content is something we learn to do by practicing it.  (Philippians 4:11-13).
2.  Every private school is different.  If it is an academically challenging preschool or K-12 school, will your child be encouraged or discouraged by that challenge?
3.  If your child has a learning disability, it is important to ask the private school if they will accept a child with a learning disability and if they have support for students who need extra help?  One school in our area will not accept a child if they have a learning disability, because they feel it would be very difficult for the child to keep up with the work and they do not have any staff specifically trained in helping struggling learners.  I understand the decision this school has made.  
4.  What role do you want your faith to have in shaping your child's curriculum? (This same question could be asked about homeschooling).  
5.  Every school chooses a curriculum that goes by a scope and sequence, building on skills each year.  Since private schools don't teach to the common core, there could be a greater difference between what is taught in public and private schools in your area.  If you are considering private school, consider the importance of staying the course so that your child's education will be cohesive.  Jumping between private and public school will be more difficult as your child gets older.  Classical schools teach latin and logic, subjects not taught in public schools.  So, it can be difficult for students to transfer between schools in the midst of middle or high school.  This point is not so much a question as it is simply an important facet of private school learning to consider.

Public School Questions:
1.  Find a friend who has a child in the school and ask him/her about the school.  What is/are the kindergarten teacher(s) like?  Ask him/her about their child's experience.  Positives/negatives?  Have they been able to talk to their child's teacher?
2.  Can you go visit and observe a class prior to enrolling your child?  
3.  Are all classes formed based on homogeneity or in pursuit of a broad mix of students' skills?  Are students leveled for reading and math?  
4.  If a kindergarten or first grade student is working two grades above grade level, what programs are in place to challenge that student?  At a local public school here, one child I knew attended a first grade class for reading and math in the morning and then remained with his kindergarten class in the afternoon.
5.  What resources/programs are available for struggling and gifted students?  At what grade do those programs begin?  
6.  How can you as a parent support the school and be involved?  Can you volunteer at the school?
7.  A friend recently asked me about whole language and phonics reading programs in relation to public schools.  All students need to learn to read using phonics and whole language programs.  It is important that phonics isn't neglected because entirely whole language readers often become poor spellers.  But, phonics programs also need to teach some whole language learning because not all words in the English language fit into phonics.  My children have excellent phonics, but they say the funniest things sometimes--like Zayus for Zeus and Protest-ant (with the accent on the first syllable instead of the second).  I believe that most public schools today use a combination of both approaches to reading.

I am sure that there are many more questions that you can ask, but in the end--my biggest encouragement would be to pray.  Ask the Lord for wisdom.  Consider your child and your family.   Some people might say that you can't take back a child's elementary education--emphasizing that it is important to make the right decision from the get go.  I realized when I heard someone say this that I felt that way when my oldest was going into kindergarten--but I don't anymore.  Now, my eyes are looking at a bigger picture of God's providence and how He works all things for the good of those who love Him. He is in control, not me.  For some families, public school is the wise choice, for some...private school, and for some...homeschooling.  I do believe it is important to consider our decisions and be intentional about our children's education and about parenting, but what is at the core of it all is the importance of seeking to love our children well.

As Dr. Tim Kimmel says on page 9 of Grace-Based Parenting:  "The real test of a parenting model is how well equipped the children are to move into adulthood as vital members of the human race.  Notice I didn't say "as vital members of the Christian community."  We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments, and raise their families in the most hedonistic communities and yet not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings.  Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ's love inside these desperate surroundings."  He then refers to Paul's writing in Philippians 2:14-16

           14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may                 become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped             and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars
          in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be
          able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

One last note... for some families, they choose public school, but for other families Public school is the only viable choice.  Finances may not allow private school to be a choice and in order to make ends meet both parents need to work full-time.  I feel strongly that this isn't something to be afraid of.  Fear doesn't come from the Lord.  Our world would like us to be afraid as Christians, but God tells us in his Word:  
Deuteronomy 31:*
                    8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never
           leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I have several friends who's children attend public schools and their children are thriving.  I love hearing about how their children are growing!

I have heard of some situations in which working parents leave kids home alone to work through their schoolwork or go with an entirely online option.  A young woman at our church told the story of a mom who dropped her three kids off at Panera all day to do their work with a gift card for food--5 days a week.  I don't think this is wise.  Children benefit from having an adult teach them and help them when they don't understand something.  

Education choices are complicated and many, many books have been written on this topic.  I hope this post will be helpful in some way to someone.  I've written it to help me articulate what I think and believe.  I like to be ready with an answer when someone asks me a question like the one I began this post with... Should I homeschool?

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