I’m embarrassed to admit it. When my oldest two were no more than toddlers, I was looking forward to the day they would finally be old enough to go off to school, and I could have a few hours of peace and quiet to collect my thoughts. Despite being homeschooled for six years myself (and enjoying it), I had no plans to homeschool my boys. Sure, the idea crossed my mind every once in a while, but the situation I was involved with at that point would no more have allowed me to homeschool than to take a three-month vacation to a remote tropical island. My husband at the time resented me staying home with the boys instead of getting a “real job” to help pay the bills. It was a low point in my life. Shortly after the birth of our third son, he moved out. The divorce was devastating not only to me but also to my eldest two — particularly the oldest, who had just turned four. I moved back to my hometown and in with my mother to start attending college and regroup my life (this is another story that proves God is still able to bless in the midst of the storm, but I’ll save it for another time).
When my oldest was 5½, I enrolled him in our local church school’s preschool program. The teacher was awesome, and my son really seemed to mature as the year progressed. Sure there were a few bad habits that he had picked up, but I figured we’d just continue working on those as they presented themselves, and that eventually they would lessen and go away. The only problem was that the sour attitude and bossiness were not getting better. They were getting worse. I remember going to a birthday party with some friends from his class toward the end of the school year. Everyone seemed to get along famously, but near the end of the party a couple of children didn’t share the swings as my son wished. Instead of asking nicely for a chance to swing, he turned his back, crossed his arms, glared at them, and hollered angrily, “You’re not my friend!” I was shocked. He didn’t do that at home! I immediately told him that was not appropriate behavior, and we left shortly afterwards. This was one of many bad behaviors that I caught (and I’m certain there were many more that I did not catch).
At this point some of you may be thinking, “That’s typical 5½-year-old behavior. Why get bent out of shape over it?” Children need guidance — the best guides most often being parents, who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses intimately. I knew that it was not “more socialization” that he needed in order to break those habits — it was less. He was reacting that way because he was overwhelmed by all the stimulation of the day. (In a future post I hope to discuss sensitivity in children to a greater degree.) A classroom teacher, even the best, most wonderful, loving teacher — which he had, and we still adore her — is not always going to know the root cause of why certain undesirable behaviors are being displayed. The solution to correcting those actions may even seem counter-intuitive.
Over the summer things seemed to go pretty well. We moved out of my mom’s house and into our own place, and some of the behaviors that were so troubling seemed to go away. I decided to go ahead and put my son back into kindergarten that fall, hoping that things would be better the next year. Two days after school started it was very evident that the bad attitude had returned. He felt he didn’t have to listen to me at home, and was very mean and rude to a little girl that he had played with nicely several times before. I was not pleased with the person my child was turning into. He was thoughtful and helpful at home, but was becoming a tyrant to the other children at school. After praying about the situation extensively with my mother that evening, I went in the next day to withdraw him from classes. I told the teacher that it just wasn’t going to work out, and that my decision had nothing to do with finances or her (she is a wonderfully sweet woman who cares deeply about her students). While sad to see him go, the teacher understood I had to do what I felt was best for my son. And mothers, isn’t this is what we are here for — to do the best for our children, regardless of how difficult the road ahead may be?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was busy working on my college degree, so did not have as much time to devote to homeschooling as I would have liked. For the first year and a half, the bulk of homeschooling was done by my mother. It was slow, difficult progress. My son (six years old by that time) seemed disinterested in actually learning anything that required effort. He resisted, balked, and refused to apply himself. We strained for every ounce of progress that was made. But slowly, with lots of prayer and effort, there began to be improvement both in my son’s attitude and his desire to learn. Eventually I realized that we needed to “de-school” more than anything, so we took a break the next year. There was still plenty of learning that happened; it just didn’t look anything like what I thought homeschooling should. At this point, the style that works best for us is an eclectic mix of unschooling and textbooks. This may change at any time, and it may change for you. Ahhh, the ways in which we grow!
After going through this experience, I am more determined than ever to homeschool as long as God provides a way. So far we’ve been going strong for almost six years. The thing I admire most about homeschoolers is that many of them have a certain demeanor that their traditionally schooled peers lack — one of respect, attentiveness, and engagement. It is exciting to see my sons taking on those traits. When I, or any adult, talk to them, they are there soaking every word up like little sponges. The former indifference and heedlessness is gone. They are finally eager to learn. Sure, there will always be critics and naysayers, but as a parent I know my children better than anyone else in the world. I know what makes them tick. I know what they need to thrive. And, I know that I would not miss this blessed time of learning and teaching for all the quiet afternoons this century has to offer. My quiet afternoons will come one day in the not too distant future…and I’m certain some of them will be spent wishing my three little princes were snuggled around me working math problems, or asking myriads of “what, how, why, and if” questions.