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Monday, August 19, 2013

Big Changes in the Penniless Home

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Photo Courtesy of DigitalArt
There are two common mistakes that people make:
Some people decide they like a certain idea and way of life so much that they end up worshiping that very idea, instead of the reason behind liking that idea in the first place. So that when circumstances change and the reasons for choosing a way of life no longer apply, and it is time to reevaluate, they get too caught up in the idea they chose and refuse to consider other options, even when it may be prudent to do so.
Another mistake is when people plan out their life already years in advance, making resolute decisions about how things will be years down the line, and sticking to that, no matter what. The thing is- life changes, circumstances change, and a decision that was good a few years ago may not be the right one now. But again, people get caught up with ideas they chose "way back when" instead of being flexible and constantly evaluating what the best choice is next.

These are mistakes that we try not to make in our family.
We have certain ideals, yes, and those ideals will probably stay more or less the same as the years pass. But as the years pass, Mike and I try to constantly evaluate what the best way is to follow those ideals. We make certain life choices that we feel best suit our ideals, and we stick to them for the most part.
However, we've always said that we take life one year/one day at a time, and won't make final decisions now about what things will be like in x amount of years. At most, we look at what our options are and what our dreams are for x amount of years from now, and we toss ideas back and forth about what we think may be the best idea to do in years to come. But only with the awareness that everything we do is one year/one day at a time, and that we can't lose sight of our goals by getting sidetracked and stuck on the decisions we made to help us reach those goals. As the cliche goes- we can't lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Today was a big day in our home. A day that reflects that which I just spoke about.
Today, Lee and Ike started school.


I wrote this post because I know I will get a million questions and comments about my decision, judgments for good or for bad, about us "giving up our ideals", because we're sending to school instead of continuing homeschooling. For being flaky and indecisive. For "maturing and realizing the error of my ways". And so on, and so forth. I can already hear the comments we'll be getting... So, I just had to get it out there...

Our goals and values haven't changed.
We've never worshiped the idea of homeschooling. We've never hated the concept of school.
We saw pluses and minuses with both.
Our core values, the ideals we do have, and aren't subject to change is that we want our children to grow up to be well adjusted, self confident, and happy, with a love of learning. We want to be the main influences in our children's lives, we want them to grow up to be family oriented instead of peer oriented.
Homeschooling for us has always been the means to an/that end, not an end in and of itself.
We definitely are aware of lots of issues with school, and we are aware of lots of issues with homeschooling.
Up until this year, we felt that there were more issues with school than homeschooling. And to an extent, we still feel that way.

But one of the biggest issues we have with homeschooling is that we were/are concerned they wouldn't pick up the local language. (Since I called it Swahili in a previous post, I'll just continue referring to it as Swahili.) We've been trying to teach them, but it's slow going, much slower than we'd like.
And because of the language issue, the other issue, the social issue, has been compounded...
We live in an area where there, until recently, were three families that spoke English and had kids around my kids' ages. They used to play together all the time. One family moved away, the other family we've drifted apart from for various reasons and their kids now don't play with my boys, and the last family, of their two kids, my kids only really play with one. So between my two boys, they have one local friend. They're getting lonely.
It's not that we don't have hundreds and hundreds of kids their age where we live. Its that all the other kids here speak Swahili, and my kids are intimidated by kids who don't speak English, and aren't willing to even try playing with them. So there is one local friend, and a few English speaking kids that they are friends with, but don't live so close nearby, so I need to travel with them for them to be able to have play dates. That simply isn't sustainable... Kids need friends, and if not speaking Swahili is enough of a barrier to stop them from having the friends they crave, we need to do something about it.

For a while, we were tossing back and forth the idea of sending the kids to school for a year, to learn Swahili. We sent the kids to day camp this summer run by the local public school, hoping they'd learn Swahili, and they learned a very little bit... Not nearly enough. Part of the reason for this is because Lee and Ike both had English speaking kids with them (the one in Lee's class was the local boy he used to play with a lot until our families grew apart), so they never felt the need to learn Swahili.
The kids liked camp, but I was very frustrated by many things I saw there. The administration got me mad, certain views there by the teachers regarding conformity ticked the heck out of me (that's saying it lightly, trying to keep my language clean), and there were food issues (a teacher threw out Ike's gluten free lunch because she thought it looked gross, among other things). Sending to camp made me say "I'd never send to school". But then the friend issue (or lack thereof) really intensified, and I started getting worried. What should I do? Should I send them to school?????

Back and forth and back and forth Mike and I debated. We researched what the ramifications would be if we sent to school and then decided we didn't like it, and wanted to return to homeschooling again. We found out information that made us feel it was doable, without too many hassles. So that was one issue that was a non issue.
Sending to school wouldn't be a life sentence. It would be a trial, and we didn't have to make any long term commitments now. We wouldn't be stuck sending to school if it didn't work for us.
But then there was the issue that I really didn't like the administration at the local school, and the fact that the classes there are huge! There are 37 kids in each class, with one or two teachers. That's insane! By law, the local government (regional council, I think it is called?) has to provide an extra classroom and teacher if the classes have over 35 kids, but bureaucracies here are insane, and they are dragging their feet and said that if kids hadn't registered by a certain date, they aren't going to provide an extra class. So 37+ kids in a class...

Another thing that we were concerned about is that though Lee is turning 6 in a few weeks and is the age for first grade, we have many more reservations about sending the boys to elementary school than we do sending to preschool. Elementary school is stricter, more rigorous learning, and we were concerned that throwing a boy who didn't speak Swahili into a Swahili speaking first grade, where there was more intense learning, would be too much for Lee. We decided to hold Lee back for a year (his birthday means that he won't be so much older than the other kids in his class) and send him to kindergarten instead of first grade. The materials will almost all be materials he's already familiar with, but that's ok with us, because the focus of this year is on learning the language, and it'll probably be easiest for him to pick up the language if they're learning concepts he's already familiar with.

But again, the issue was- which school do we send to, because of the issues with the local school?

Speaking to some of the other parents in the neighborhood, we found out that quite a lot of local people were sending to a preschool in a nearby neighborhood- a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride away. This preschool isn't a public school- it's semi private- partially subsidized by the government, and partially subsidized by the parents. So school isn't free, but it's cheap- its $75 dollars a month per kid.
And since it's a private school, the classes are much smaller than the local public school- Lee has 12 kids in his class, and Ike has 20.
There are many other benefits, such as the fact that the principal and his wife (who will be Ike's preschool teacher for most of the day, and will teach Lee for an hour a day) are old neighbors of mine, people I used to babysit for. And I like them. They're good, stable, trustworthy people. Not only do I have good feelings about them, but I've heard only glowing things about this couple and this school we've decided to send to. And it doesn't hurt that the wife's mother is South African, same nationality as my husband, so the school is run with a similar mentality to that which my husband and I have, which makes me feel more comfortable (I won't be the "crazy American" if I want certain standards I am used to from the US that aren't the norm in this country.)

Yesterday, we took the boys for an interview with the school- because they'd never been in school before, the principae wanted to make sure that Lee and Ike were on the level that they'd be able to manage fine in class.
The weird/interesting thing about this school is that the kindergarten is called "first grade", and the level taught there in some ways is closer to that taught in a regular first grade classroom (in reading... other stuff, less so), despite being for younger kids. So higher level taught, and giving Lee the confidence that he's in "first grade", while not having the pressure of a first grade classroom. I like.
So when the principal tested him, he tested Lee on some letters, vowels, numbers, counting, drawing, cutting, etc... The principal was impressed by Lee's level, and complimented Mike and myself that he saw we "invested a lot" in our kids. That was nice to hear from a school teacher, admitting that my son was on a high level. And that was coming on a day that Lee wasn't performing at his best because he was nervous...

Today Lee and Ike had their first day of school.
It was a little nerve wracking for me! A mommy sending her kids to school for the first time! What if they don't like it? What if they don't like the kids in their classes? What if their teachers aren't nice? You know, the standard first day of school jitters...

Woke the boys up early, fed them breakfast, packed their bags, and we went off the school. Ike got to meet the teacher and the boys who will be in his class, and sat down to play nicely with the other kids. Two kids we know from English speaking homes but don't speak a word of English, sat down next to him to play with him, so there were two familiar faces for Ike, even if he didn't understand them. Ike settled in easily and happily enough.
Lee's teacher was a man I'd never met before, but he seemed very sweet. Refined, relaxed, friendly, warm. His name means "Dear", and I think it suits him. I have a good feeling about him, and I hope Lee likes him. Lee's class is nice and calm and quiet, the boys don't seem wild and crazy like they were in camp (Lee's biggest complaint there were that the kids were wild and screaming all the time). Lee's teacher seemed impressed by him, saw that he was a good, well behaved kid, and commented on that...

I'm hopeful that this will be a good year for the kids.

If, however, we see that it isn't working out, and the kids aren't liking school, we aren't dead set on the idea of them remaining in school. We'll pull them out if need be. (Mike and I aren't in agreement on this. He said we'll pull them out at the first complaint, I said any issues, we'll deal with, and if the issues don't get dealt with, then we'll pull them out. We'll see.)

Either way, we haven't made a commitment to schooling for life. Nor have we said we're done homeschooling. We just said we'll try out sending to school for this year.
Either way, this school is not an option for Lee next year. (Ike could stay another year.) I don't want to send Lee here for elementary school.
As much as I like the teacher and what I've seen so far, I'm only comfortable sending little preschool aged kids there, but not older kids. Its hard to explain in this forum exactly what the reasoning is, but its a clash of values/views as taught in the school- think in terms of creationist vs evolutionist clashes of values... That's not the issue here at all, but its a similar type of clash, to the extent that I don't want my kids in such a school when they're old enough to understand the concepts, but at this age and understanding level I'm ok with it.
But next year, if Lee decides he wants to continue in school, we'll have to look for an acceptable school. We're keeping our eyes and ears open for such a school (as I have been for the last few years anyhow). But our plan, at the moment, is to homeschool again next year. However, as I've said, we don't plan our lives years in advance- we take it one day and one year at a time.

I've officially joined the ranks of a mentor of mine, one who homeschooled for years, then sent to school for 2 years, then this year started homeschooling a large percent of her kids again. All because that was what was best for her family at that point in time. That is what makes a good parent, in my opinion- one who doesn't get stuck on an idea, but constantly evaluates her options, so that she makes the best choices, in her circumstances, to help meet her goals.

ETA: The boys are now home from school. Their first day went very well, and they both had a very good time. Here's to a very successful and happy learning year for them.

25 comments:

  1. Nothing wrong with using public school! If it wasn't for that I'd be even more of an introvert than I am today!

    Plus your tax dollars in whatever country you're is paying for it!

    I wish I had learned more languages as a kid. I can't speak Finnish but at least I can read a bit of it. 10 years plus and I'm illiterate in my husband's language :/

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    1. Thanks! Yea, tax dollars at work. But that doesn't mean that you should benefit from whatever taxes you can, if using that service doesn't actually help you out...

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    2. True! I am amazed how many (people I consider at least) wealthy folks have all these extra services they can afford but get the gov't to pay for. It really messed it up for those in true need :/.

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  2. You do what's best for your family, and the growth of your children, mentally and physically. You're a wonderful family.

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  3. Don't let people get you down. No one knows your situation better than you and no one can fully judge your situation because they only know a small part of the picture from reading your blog. We also decided to enroll our children in school this year and I took some flack for it, but I just let it roll off my back because people who are acquaintances but aren't truly a part of your everyday life really can't judge those types of things. In the end, the best people to make that decision are you and your husband.

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    1. KerryAnn, I definitely had you and your current choices in mind when I was writing this post. Good for you for doing what you felt was best for your family!

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  4. I think you are doing the right thing. I always wondered how you would get them the language acquisition without sending them to school. Please let us know how the first day goes!

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  5. I think it's obvious you are doing what you think is best for your children, and I commend you for considering their needs, not just your personal preference. Of course, this is coming from someone with three children, one who went to public school all but 1 year, one who only has homeschooled 8 out of 10 years, and one who homeschools and then goes back to public school for a year once every 3 or 4 years. So I'm used to ignoring people who say "Oh, but you have to..." Like you, I consider my children and do what's right for them. I'd say you have your priorities straight. :)
    Stephanie

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  6. I was homeschooled, public schooled, private schooled, and even went to boarding school! I liked homeschooling the best, but clearly a mix didn't ruin me for life. ;) Hope things continue working out great!

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  7. Do what works! I've shifted my kids between "regular" public school and public cyber charter schools (free computer loan, teaching assistance, books and materials paid for by the state). Wherever they learn best now, that's where they should be.

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  8. One kid at a time, one year at a time is our way. we have had 1 in school and 2 at home (who could he at school) at times!

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  9. It is wise not to get locked into one educational approach, in my view. Do what is best for your family and each child, year by year. No need to apologize for your loving choices.

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  10. I'm sure your boys will quickly learn the local language. When I moved abroad when I was a child I was speaking in three months! If you can ask the teacher what they are going to study the next day that way you can talk it through with your kids before they go. My mom would translate the math exercises and such so I would not have a hard time in subjects other then language strictly speaking. So helpful! By the end of the year I was told I could join my true level, just like your son they held me back a year because the teachers were concerned I'd have a hard time following a higher level. Good luck for the transition!!!!

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  11. It sounds like you are doing a great job. The most important job a mother has is to always be looking out for the best interest of her family. Right now it seems that going to school is what is best for your boys.

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  12. I haven't read the other comments, just wanted to say don't feel like you have to validate your decision to anyone, it's YOUR families choice :) I hope they enjoy school.

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  13. I read through all the comments and I'm glad to see that they are all supportive. I also currently homeschool my two youngest. My oldest went to Catholic school her whole life. My next two went to Catholic school, were homeschooled for a time and are both back in Catholic high school. My younger two have always been homeschooled, but will most likely go to the same high school as their older brothers when the time comes. I love this post, because it really illustrates the blessing of choice, and the outlook of most of the homeschooling families I know - you make a decision for your family (and sometimes for each child), one year at a time and one circumstance at a time. Being fluid and adaptable to the changing needs of your family is commendable, and teaching your kids a great lesson. I hope it goes well!

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  14. Had the same dilemma with my first two kids. Finally sent them to school 3 days/week at age 4 and 2.5, then the regular schedule for kindergarten and preschool. Another factor in that decision was that I started working. I was homeschooled and am not fully pro or against; it's good to understand that there is a time and place for everything. Next week they are starting 4th and 2nd grade, and the little ones are: in the best preschool in the world (trust me, my kids have been in several) and with a neighbor who cares for 3 babies in her home.
    It's a tough choice and you should be proud that you have the guts to reevaluate the dreams for your growing little ones and adapt to provide them with what's REALLY best for THEM. And yes, that might be something completely different next year, next month even...or not.

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  15. I just wanted to say kudos on being an intelligent, thinking mother. Reevaluating your decisions and listening to input from others demonstrates maturity. I would also dare to say that maybe blogging makes these decisions more difficult - since you have already announced to x thousand people round the world that you will never/ always do xyz, rather than just a few family and friends.

    I think you are giving your children a great gift in learning the language of the country in which they live. And I would suggest you give a full year for the experiment - any child in any school can have issues and many are easily ironed out.

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  16. You might have a few teething problems as they get used to being immersed in the local language, but they will amaze you with their ability to pick it up.

    My mother is an elementary teacher (teaching 5-6 year olds) here in NZ and has had many children from various countries like Japan and Samoa. She reckons by 6 months most of the international kids are almost fluent in English.

    Once they can speak 'Swahili' a whole new world of friends and neighbours will open up for Ike and Lee. Good times!

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  17. I am sure your boys will be fine and will thrive at school. No system is perfect but we try to find one that suits our children best. I have to agree with you, South African teaching system brings a different influence. My child has attended a school with predominantly South African teachers and Principal. She has done well under this influence although I must say I have not always agreed with their approach on some issues that were very important to my child's well being.

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  18. I think you made a great decision, and I appreciate your detailed explanation. I added a link to your article to the list of other families' stories at the end of my article on why we chose public school. The international culture and language issues add some interesting wrinkles to your story. As a developmental psychologist, I'm annoyed that many schools don't teach foreign languages until just AFTER the age when kids become less able to pick up new languages (around 12)! Your kids are at a great age to benefit from this "immersion" experience.

    My son is starting 3rd grade, which is the first year of formal teaching of Spanish at his school. We're looking forward to it not only because we're eager for him to learn another language but also because neither parent knows much Spanish (we picked up a bit from "Sesame Street" and other exposure, but we both took German in high school) so we hope to learn some of it along with him. It's becoming a more useful language in America today.

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  19. Bravo! It's so important to be willing to evaluate your choices based on the reality of your family's needs at the moment, rather than sticking to certain ideals at the expense of the people you love. You're not only giving your kids the gift of becoming skilled in the language of the country they live in, but also of learning this valuable lesson about how we make considerate choices in our lives.

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  20. I just want to know what the lunch was that was so yucky the teacher threw it out!

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  21. I think the most important thing is to be flexible and responsive- as your children get older it gets easier because they know what's best for them! My son's had home-school and private school and state school depending on the circumstances, his needs as we saw them and later his choices. He's in the top 2 % of kids in our state for academic achievement and awarded an automatic placement at the best state university now.

    Love butternut squash!

    ~Tracy

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