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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Homeschooling: The First Year

Brothers cooperating and building a fort.

“Homeschooling is so hard.”
“How do you have the energy when you’re pregnant?”
“How will you have the time with a breastfeeding baby in the house?”
“When do the boys socialize?”

These are things I frequently hear from people not familiar with homeschooling.
My first son, William, is a September baby. This is a bit eccentric, but at the time of his birth, I was cognizant of the fact that “my genius” missed the cutoff to kindergarten and would not be required to enter school until he was almost six. That was not going to do! There was also outside pressure to put him in a preschool by three months old so he wouldn’t miss out on “the educational advantage of starting early.”

My husband had other concerns; he was over-protective (not a bad thing in this case) and couldn’t dare leave his primogenito under a strangers’ care. It was just as well because preschool hours didn’t seem to match our work schedules. In the meantime, I stocked up on brand-name reading and foreign-language curricula by the time he was 18 months old.
I don’t recall when homeschooling became a conscious thing for me, but it wasn’t long before I relaxed and realized that the world is a classroom and that I didn’t need to be tied down to formal schedules or someone else’s curriculum. By the first year we came under the homeschooling laws, we took advantage of this flexibility. And we also had the support of lots of homeschooling families to help keep perspective during times of outside criticism and questioning.

The first official year of homeschooling included moving out of state and traveling. I did not look for employment, and I savored my time with both boys, knowing that I would be back in the work force soon enough. Anticipation of a new baby has not been a hindrance to learning, and young boys don’t need to be confined to desks. Nor do they need to be diagnosed with behavior disorders and controlled with meds in order to make a teacher happy.

If we had done nothing else that first year except move from Florida to Georgia, we would still have completed educational requirements for William, who was six years old that year. I was not legally required to document Scott’s learning, because he was just four that year, but freedom from documentation didn’t mean he wasn’t learning.

Moving exposed us to a variety of subjects. The boys were introduced to geography through maps and compared their native coast terrain with the mountains of Georgia. We found elementary biology in regional plant and animal life. Our study of meteorology was enhanced by the fact that Georgia experiences all four seasons, which is very different from South Florida. William and Scott practiced rudimentary writing skills in the notes and photos they e-mailed to their friends, describing their new experiences. Every time we went back and forth from Georgia to Florida to visit our loved ones, they practiced their budding math skills: “How many months until we go back to Florida? How many miles is it to Georgia, and how much time will it take to get there?”

Besides the usual school subjects, my boys got to raise their EQ (emotional intelligence) as we processed all the feelings that go along with moving. It is stressful not only for adults but also to young children. And if you’ve ever moved you realize it takes much longer than you expect to process the grief of leaving friends behind. At the same time, learning how to face loss with the support of your family and healthy coping skills is probably the best lesson that anyone can learn in childhood.

We went back to visit Florida three times during our first “school” year. Young children learn through repetition, and all of our “lessons” were reinforced with each trip. We have traveled elsewhere, too, in our homeschooling career, and that has presented a host of learning opportunities. Scott has been to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Alabama, Tennessee and Washington State. William has also been to Canada, Nevada and Arizona.

These trips have included beaches, mountains, state parks, jet skis, the Smithsonian, aquariums, hiking, barbecuing, mining, rock quarries, canyons, waterfalls, caves, ethnic restaurants and historical activities like Civil War re-enactments and Colonial craftsmanship.

Our adventures have also included the socialization that the under-informed worry so much about. (I can’t help but remember every schoolteacher who ever said to me, “Turn around and face the front, young lady. We’re not here to socialize,” or “The quietest student gets a reward at the end of the week.”) William says a trip is not a vacation unless you see your friends. Through homeschooling, he has learned the value of friends and real socialization. Scott says his favorite trip is to Grandma’s to get toys.

To finish up their first “school” year, my sons attended a British soccer camp. Their coaches were from Wales and Scotland, and both boys still talk about those countries. They recognize their flags, and Scott even acquired a British accent.

When worried (or are they jealous?) people fret that kids might fall behind by moving out of a school district, I don’t have to deal with that secret fear that they might be right. I know our boys were exposed to a tremendous variety of learning opportunities in the very first year of homeschooling, more opportunities than many school children will ever have!


Courtney said...

This is a great post. Although we do have a daily "routine" I am also rather flexible in how they learn. I could not agree more about boys needing to not be stuck at a desk all day!

That is funny about the socialization comments . It is true the teachers do say those things all day long! I used to get in trouble for talking!!!!

I just had someone post on my blog asking me about HS. They couldn't believe I only school from 10:30 - 12:30 for little ones and then until 2 for bigger ones. She was shocked at how fast it was. She then commented that homework takes her that long! It is true. When my kids were in school I spent MORE time getting them ready, getting their backpacks in order, doing homework and projects with them and picking them up and dropping them off than I do now! My life is easier now!

catalina said...

I don't remember where ... but I read this before on your site :D I love this post ... the world IS the classroom .. and my homeschooled husband has a higher IQ than the average person :D

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