|A homeschooling lesson- real life learning. |
Baking, following instructions, reading, math, etc..
People were surprised at my choice- many at my choice to send them to school in the first place (how can an unschooler not only stop unschooling, but actually send to a regular school?), but probably even more people were surprised that we went back to homeschooling after this year- despite the fact that we said from the start that our goal was to send them to school just for a year anyhow. Many said that the second we put them in school, we'd see how much better school was than homeschooling, and I wouldn't want to go back to homeschooling (because I'd miss the free time I had), and it wouldn't be fair to my kids to make them go back to homeschooling, since they wouldn't want it after being in school.
So, hence, this post. Why we're back to homeschooling this year.
But in order to address that question, I'd first have to review the reasons we sent them to school last year in the first place.
The one thing my husband and I have always said about our schooling choices is that they're not set in stone- we'd reevaluate them all the time. What we want is happy children, with good manners and a love of learning. Being stuck in the mode of "only homeschooling" or "only schooling" would really be missing the forest for the trees. And hence, last year, after some soul searching and a lot of discussing, my husband and I decided to send the boys to school for a year.
The main goal for sending our children to school last year was to learn the local language. My husband and I are both native English speakers (he from South Africa, and I from the good old US of A), living in a foreign country with a language other than English as the main language here (for the sake of all posts regarding this and our privacy, I refer to the language spoken here as Swahili), and we made the decision to keep our house an English speaking one. The reasons for this are many, but among them are the the following:
1) I want to be able to speak to my children easily in my mother tongue, without needing to feel like a blubbering idiot if I can't think of the words I need off the tip of my tongue. While I do speak Swahili relatively well, I am not as eloquent in it as I am in English, my vocabulary and grammar in it aren't amazing, and I just don't feel comfortable. I don't want language to get in the way of my relationship with my children or husband.
2) My parents and in laws and cousins all speak English, as well as many other relatives- I wanted my children to be able to converse with them easily.
3) We decided that it would only be a boon for my children to speak English as well as the local language- both for educational reasons (all schools here teach English as a second language, high school matriculation exams and university entrance exams all require a high level of English) and for future job reasons (most businesses here require decent English, not to mention all the international job markets), and felt that speaking English at home would be the best way to get them fluent in it.
However, we didn't anticipate how hard it would be as homeschoolers for them to learn Swahili. While my husband grew up in this country, and hence is more comfortable in Swahili than English (significantly so when it comes to reading and writing... and when it comes to speaking, his Swahili is somewhat better than his English, though his English isn't bad at all)... and even though I end up speaking Swahili while out and about with the kids, to local vendors, neighbors, and Swahili speaking relatives, that wasn't enough for them to pick up more than maybe 10-15 phrases in Swahili, plus a few other random words.
The local kids mostly speak Swahili, but our social circles tended to be other native English speakers, and hence, that's who my kids ended up playing with, and they got intimidated by those who spoke Swahili, and refused to play with them, even in the park.
Because if this, in addition to the not learning Swahili from friends, socially it was getting harder for them, since their already small pool of available friends was dwindling for various reasons.
We researched the schools here, picked the one we felt best aligned with our values, and that we'd heard the most positive things about, and said we'd send the kids to school for a year to learn Swahili, and I'm glad we did so.
For multiple reasons.
Number one, because it was effective in teaching my oldest, 7 year old, Lee, Swahili. He still has a long way to go, but he can have conversations in Swahili, will make friends and play with Swahili speaking kids, and has a good basis in the language on which we can build now.
Number two, because it wasn't effective in teaching my five year old, Ike, Swahili. I am not sure he spoke any more (other than maybe 10 more vocabulary words, but still didn't understand a basic command in Swahili, like come sit here) after a whole year in school. He apparently has a language processing issue with a second language... and had I not sent him to school for that year, I would have always been second guessing myself, that "had I only sent him to school for full immersion in Swahili for a year, he'd be learning faster than he is now". Now I know that that is not what he needs. He needs something else other than full immersion, and we're working on that with him.
Number three, because I got to see that my unschooling was showing tangible results. When they went to get accepted to the school, they were "tested" by the principal, who wasn't sure my kids would be "on level" because of their never having been in school before (and I didn't even mention that I unschooled them- which would have scared the principal even more probably). His assessment was that my kids were not only not behind their age mates, they were more advanced. So that reaffirmed for me that kids can and do learn a lot, even without formal schooling, which makes me more comfortable this year taking a "relaxed homeschooling approach" since I got outside confirmation that it's working great.
Number four, because it helped my kids get into a routine, having a set bed time and waking up by a certain time, something that doesn't come naturally to me. By getting into this routine because of school, we now have it established, and even now that we're back at homeschooling, we've managed to keep it, which is helpful in life.
Number five, because my kids got to connect with their teachers, who really are amazing, quality, caring, loving individuals, who had a positive influence on my kids' lives. I was glad to give my kids this opportunity.
Number six, because my kids got to try it out, and see "what they were missing". Before going to school, they thought school was "so cool" and were occasionally asking why they didn't go, though they understood, sort of, why we weren't sending them. But this past year, they got to go to school for a year, and saw what it was all about. We were very positive and encouraging about the school, the teachers, their classmates- we made sure not to set them up for failure by having a negative attitude, speaking badly of the school, etc... We were confident that we made the right choice about which school to send them to, that it was the best option (and haven't regretted our choice in school)- and let the kids know how much we believed in the school.
However, even with all that, my kids asked to be homeschooled again. At the very beginning they asked to be homeschooled again, but we encouraged them to stick it out, to give it a chance to get past the initial adjustment period, and they did. But towards the end of the year, the kids said they didn't want to go back to school next year; they missed being homeschooled and wanted to homeschool again.
But are we just back at homeschooling because that's what my kids asked for?
Not only, though that certainly is a factor.
From the start, we had decided to send our kids to school for just a year. Because we believe in homeschooling. We believe that parents know what is best for their child, because they can get to know the child and their individual needs more so than a teacher with 10-30 other kids in the classroom can. And the parents, once they know what is best for their child, can give the kid what they need, and tailor their education to the method in which their child learns best.
I honestly feel that in this past year in school, my kids (and especially Ike) barely learned anything. And its not just because of the language barrier.
After speaking to a lot of people, including specialists, it appears either one or both of my sons fit into the category of 2E, standing for "twice exceptional"- meaning that they are very smart, but also have some learning disabilities (like sensory issues), which can get in the way of their learning.
Because of this, I felt my kids' strengths (and especially Ike's) were getting overlooked (Ike is a whiz at math- even if he generally needs to do it orally instead of written- is amazing with science- biology in particular- and is a super creative as well- both when it comes to problem solving and when it comes to story telling) because of the learning issues that came up in school.
I don't blame the school at all for this- the teachers were loving, caring individuals that my children absolutely adored. Unfortunately with so many kids in a class, it simply isn't possible to tailor the type of teaching done to each kids' individual needs.
I feel that at home, I'm able to focus on the kid's strengths, in a way that work around the weaknesses, finding ways that the kids are able to learn best, while at the same time working on the weaker points without the pressure or fear of failure that can happen in a group setting.
Another thing that I didn't like about school were the disciplinary problems. My children are not angels by any means.... but compared to their classmates, they were. They kept on coming home with stories about this kid and that kid who did such and such bad things in class and on the playground. When a teacher needs to spend so much of his or her time disciplining and unruly bunch, not much learning can actually take place!
We also had to deal with bullies in the kids' school. Ike kept on telling me how the kids in his class would steal his lunch of he had a yummy lunch, so they could eat it themselves, so he asked me to please not send certain meals for lunch because it meant he didn't get to eat it. And he said that a lot of the boys in his class would hurt him and in general be mean to him.
When a kid doesn't feel comfortable, when a kid feels like they have to constantly be on guard to protect themselves from bullies and other mean kids, their mind can't be relaxed enough to actually absorb knowledge and learn. That's not a conducive learning environment.
There were also kids in an older grade that tried to beat up Lee a few times- Ike protected his big brother, and ended up beating up boys a few years older than he, instead. Again, that is not what I want my boys to have to deal with on a regular basis.
(Its not like being out of school means they never have to deal with tough social situations. They do. Regularly. Just not during our "learning hours".)
There are a few other odds and ends as reasons why we're back at homeschooling, but one other main, all inclusive reason that covers many of the aforementioned, plus other reasons as well.
My husband works closely with a lot of schools. He doesn't work for the schools, but his job regularly brings him to places where he can observe what is going in in schools. Over the years, he's worked closely with at least 40 different schools from all sorts of different backgrounds and age ranges, including schools that friends and family members send their kids and rave about how amazing the schools are. The stories my husband comes home with, about the horrible and shocking things that go on at these schools, even in schools that others think are "super amazing" is astounding. When you hear what is going on that the parents are oblivious to, and still think the school is very amazing, it really makes you doubt yourself, and whether your trust in a school and its administrators are misplaced.
People ask me how I can have faith in myself, that I'll be all that my kids need as an educator. Personally, I feel it takes a greater leap of faith to send to school and entrust someone else to educate your child...
So now we're back to homeschooling.
So let me tell you what I love about homeschooling.
I just love learning with them in general. I love watching their eyes light up when they discover something new and exciting. I really missed this last year. Even though I could have potentially learned with them after school, by the time they got home, they were tired, and didn't feel like spending more time learning- they just wanted free time to go out and play with their friends. We're really having a great time learning together now.
I love the challenge of thinking up ways to spark the kids interest, and make more complex topics relevant and relatable to my children, so they want to just keep on learning more and more.
I love the creativity needed to find ways to work around any learning disability and find ways that my not stereotypical learners learn best.
I love being able to fully delve into topics that thrill my kids, to be able to spend as much time as they desire on these topics, even if they're not typical topics covered by schools in these grades (if at all)
I love having the flexibility to structure our day as works best for us, that we don't need to rush out the door by a certain time, and if I go out in the morning, I don't need to drop everything and rush back in the middle of the day to get back by pick up time. I like that we're able to relax and not stress out too much about structuring our lives to suit someone else's timetable.
I love being able make yummy, healthy, frugal foods for my kids daily, and not need to worry every single day about having something that they like and is easily transportable for them to eat in school.
I love the real life learning that goes on here, from skills to knowledge to manners, that my children are picking up from being around adults and older children regularly.
I love spending many hours of each day with my children, so that I don't have to work too hard to have a good relationship with them and be the primary influence on my kids' lives, especially when it comes to the values that I would like them to get.
I love that my children spend a lot of time with each other, and are consequently each other's best friends, and are very close to each other.
There are many other reasons why I love homeschooling- this is just the tip of the iceberg.
And as for Swahili, I now speak in Swahili to my children between 5%-20% of the time. We practice a lot of the words, with fun, games, stories, and activities.
In the 3 months since the "school year" started, Ike has picked up a lot more Swahili than he did in a year at school, and Lee's Swahili is constantly improving.
Should things change in the future, we're open to sending them to school again...
But at this point...
We homeschool because that's what works best for our family, and we love it!
P.S.- Everyone needs to make the decision that works best for their family at that point in time. In no way do I think that every family can and should homeschool. I'm very glad that it works for us, and I hope everyone is able to find the educational method that works best for their children.