Here in Tennessee, when people hear the phrase, “homeschooling mother of five,” they make an immediate assumption. People conjure up an image of religious zealots, insulating their children from the influences of the secular world. I’ve also made this assumption.
However, for me, homeschooling had nothing to do with religious freedom. There was the side benefit that my children would never again come home from school talking about how so and so called so and so “gay,” and “Mommy, why did he say it like it an insult?” But that benefit was just a perk, like hotel shampoo. That’s not why I took the trip.
Let me tell you a story.
My eldest daughter LOVES to learn. She’d been waiting eagerly for kindergarten since she was three. When that magical day finally arrived, she skipped down the sidewalk chanting, “Boy oh boy! The first day of school!” She was already a strong reader, but she threw herself into dinky color matching worksheets with reckless abandon.
By the end of kindergarten, she hadn’t learned a thing, but she’d had a GREAT time doing it. I was a little dismayed, I mean after all, where were the ACADEMICS? Shouldn’t we be challenging her? But I knew I was lucky. There were children who were struggling just to get through the day. My child was going to be fine. So she was ahead, big deal. I tried to be grateful.
Besides, we’d all made friends. The school was less than a block away. I’d push Grey up the road in his stroller for pick up at 3pm and all the kids would play on the playground, while the parents, the Playground Posse, sat on benches and chatted about our jobs, our marriages, our dinner plans, our concerns about our children. We came up with ideas for the PTO (there wasn’t one yet, though the school was built in 1937) and school gardens, vocabulary programs for advanced students, and literacy labs for students who struggled. We became a community there on the playground of this newly gentrifying school.
Then tragedy struck. One of the mamas, one of the linchpins of the Posse, developed an ear infection and died twenty-four hours later of meningitis. She left behind two daughters, just 3 and 5 years old. I won’t go into it here, because this is a blog post about homeschooling and not a treatise on grief, but suffice it to say, it was, up to that point, one of the most devastating things that any of us had ever experienced. If we were a community before, now we were a family. A cherry tree was planted next to the playground in Melissa’s honor. A mosaic bench was created and installed in the lobby. A sense of ownership blossomed among all of us, and a new determination was forged. This school would succeed. Come Hell or High Water.
I’ve told you this so that you can understand the gravity of what came next.
First grade: Next verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. But… friends are awesome.
Second grade: Zoe reads the second Harry Potter book after she finishes copying her spelling words: Tree, Home, Hat…
Friends, though too difficult to put on this list, are still awesome.
Meanwhile, Grey is getting ready to enter Kindergarten in the fall. He’s young. He doesn’t even turn five until two weeks before school begins. Everyone says to hold him back, after all, most boys here don’t start school until they are six or nearly seven. This insures that they will be bigger when it comes time to play high school football. Grey hates football. In fact, what Grey likes to do most is ask questions like these:
If numbers are infinite, and colors are numbers on the light spectrum, does that mean colors are infinite too? If colors are infinite, why can’t we see them all? Is it something in our eyeballs? What is it? Is it our pupils?
Seriously. All.Day.Long. His curiosity is so distracting that it takes him twenty minutes to put on the shoes he is holding in his hands. I try to imagine him circling pictures of all the red items on a page. I try to imagine him sitting silently for twenty minutes while the teacher reads Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I imagine his behavior bar sliding from green to yellow to red as he interrupts to ask “What species of bear?” and to point out that bears do not eat porridge (which is just another word for oatmeal, you know) let alone cook it. I consider whether he will enjoy circling green leaves more when he is six. I wonder whether he’ll have fewer disrupting questions to ask when he’s a little older. I panic. I realize that school will eat him for breakfast.
What to do? WHAT TO DO? Private school is out. My husband teaches at a private school. This means we are flat broke. I supplement our income by teaching piano lessons. I primarily teach during the day, while Zoe is
slipping notes to her friends, “learning” that 2+2=4 and Grey is helping make bread at our awesome church sponsored Mother’s Day Out. By default, most of my students are homeschooled.
When I began teaching homeschoolers, I expected to meet a bunch of denim-jumpered, pasty, socially awkward, Bible-quoting, reclusive children. In short order I realized what a prejudiced asshole I was.
My homeschool lesson days were spent with bright, bubbly, curious kids. Second graders who put their dog eared copies of Newbury Winners on the top of the piano to play their pieces for me, third graders who had to reschedule lessons to accommodate their basketball championships or science fairs, “we-don’t-really-use-graders” who brought fresh coffee and homemade muffins to the music room and asked after my kids. Homeschooled students became my favorite students. I began visualizing my own children spending time with these kids. I began to wonder if I’d found a solution.
I started asking their parents lots of questions:
- How did they know what to teach? There are countless resources, including at the basic level, lists of standards by grade, which you can follow, or completely ignore.
- Where did they get the materials? The internet is inundated with curriculum choices. The hardest part is choosing one. But no worries, you can always change your mind!
- How did their kids make friends? Homeschool playgroups, science groups, sports teams, art programs, P.E. programs, and of course, the playground.
- Did they ever get a break? YES! There are tutorials and enrichment programs where homeschooled students can go one, two, three times a week and learn all kinds of things, while their parents are home. Alone.
- Did they think I could pull it off, even though I’m an anxious, solitude-loving mama with an infant at home? They did. They were sure. They would help me.
I listened. I took notes. I went home and checked Zoe’s social studies homework. (Name three community helpers. Who should you call in an emergency, the police or the mailman?) I answered Grey’s 32 questions about what determines a major planet vs. a minor planet and why Pluto got demoted.
After everyone was tucked in, I sat on my bed nursing my baby and cried about the inevitable, impending break-up with our neighborhood school. I mourned Melissa’s tree, the garden, the growing PTO and the Playground Posse. I wept all over Juliette’s head.
Then I opened my computer and started shopping for curriculum.