Why We Homeschool

Firefly boarding the bus for public school kindergarten.

I’m often asked a question, usually timidly, by local friends and neighbors. It goes something like this:  “Why, did you decide to, um, homeschool? I mean, do you not like the schools here or….um….?”

Because I live in a place that has “good schools”. I live in a place where people move to so that their kids can go to “good schools”. But after one year in one of these “good schools”, I had had enough. Enough of the focus on test scores, enough of kindergarten homework, enough of skipped recesses because they were behind on something or other, enough of no art or music or science, enough of the junk food that passed for a “healthy” snack. And most importantly, enough of my child’s specific needs being ignored.

What I was grateful for, was that it was only half-day kindergarten, because full-day is, in my opinion, a very long day for a five year old boy who much prefers being outside climbing trees to sitting on a carpet square staring at an overhead projector and counting to 100.

It was Rivka’s post over at Tinderbox that really got me thinking about this.  Or writing about it, really, because I’ve thought it for a long time. I was never a fan of No Child Left Behind.  I didn’t like what public schools had become, so focused on test scores. But hey, these were good schools so we decided to give it a shot with our oldest child. And here’s what happened.

Firefly struggled with handwriting and reading.   He struggled to control his anger, was sometimes impulsive and off-task, issues which flared up when he felt a sensory overload.  None of these were news to us, his parents.  We’d known him all his life and had taken various tactics to help him with these struggles. It’s our job, we take it seriously.  So when he arrived at public school, we began to advocate for him there.  I spoke frequently with his teacher, found out who the guidance counselor was and what services might be available.

But there was a problem.  He wasn’t enough of a problem.  He didn’t qualify for a diagnosis.   The red flag of a needed IEP was never raised.  And it took me months to convince his teacher that he should be allowed to miss a half an hour per week of classroom instruction so that he could go to a group in the guidance office on managing his intense emotions. She expressed fears that he would suffer academically the following year if he was pulled out of class this year.  I countered that if he didn’t learn how to control his anger and his behavior, he would suffer academically next year because the stakes would be higher, the tolerance lower, for the behaviors he was exhibiting.   She finally agreed. Or maybe she figured I wasn’t going away.

She wasn’t a bad teacher. I actually thought she was pretty good. She listened to me on lots of stuff and changed her approach with my son, but when it came to taking him out of the classroom, she worried that he would not learn what he needed to learn.  I knew that meant “the tests”. She emphasized that because our county is still half-day kindergarten, teachers must pack in the same amount of learning into a day as the counties that had a full day program.

Then there was the nightmare that was homework. I am still trying to figure out what a kindergartener needs homework for.  I was learning that I had a child who hated to write. Thus the homework battles began.  I cringed, wondering what the next 12 years of school would be like if we were starting out like this.  Not only did my child hate to write, and hate to do homework, but he was starting to make statements like, “I don’t like learning.” and ” I hate school.”

So, I started to modify his homework.  He was given lists of sight words to write over and over again. I made them into signs and put them up all over the walls.  At night, we turned out the lights and played the flashlight game:  shine the light on a word and read it.  No problem. He learned how to read the words, he just did not want to write them. I took pictures of our flashlight game and sent them in, instead of the homework. The kids weren’t being graded on the homework so our modification didn’t seem to cause an issue.

Then I tackled the handwriting piece.   I requested a conference with the teacher, to see how we could work on this at home, but I never got one.  She seemed tired. She’d been a teacher a long time and this was her last year before retirement. So I stopped asking her to meet with me and ordered  Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT) curriculum on line.  I also decided that it was not the end of the world if a 5 year old didn’t want to do handwriting. We practiced fine motor skills (it had always been an issue for him) and did a little HWOT and that was enough.  The other element that I now know was needed: Time.  He’s seven now. His writing is not beautiful, he still doesn’t like it, but it’s better. It’s definitely better.

And while all of this was going on, of course, there were the things that were missing.  I had known they would not be there, but to see it, to see kids get nothing for science, the arts, and barely even any recess on the little cement paved, walled-in kindergarten playground, well, it just seemed all wrong.

I had spent the first 5 1/2 years of my child’s life exposing him to wonderful things like music classes and nature hikes and now he was in an environment where those things were no longer a priority. And I wondered how that would affect him.  How different of a person would he be. Of course, since it was half-day kindergarten, he had plenty of exposure to those things outside of school, but what would happen in first grade?  And beyond, as homework increased?

All of this led me to revisit that little option that had always been in the back of my mind:  Homeschool.  And the more The Husband and I talked about it, the more it seemed to make sense to at least give it a try.  I was already teaching him at home to some extent. What was a few subjects and a few hours more?

I have not told this story before because I truly don’t want to offend my friends or family with publicly schooled children or those who work in the public school system.  I certainly don’t think myself superior, nor do I think my friends and family members made poor choices by putting their children in public schools or choosing to work there. Every family does what fits for them. At some point, who knows, one or all of my children might be in public school, but for now this works for us.

I write a lot on this blog about the challenges and the struggles we’ve had this year, but when I step back to look at the big picture, here is what I see:  It has been wonderful to focus on all the intricacies of language, study history to it’s richest depths, do science experiments until our kitchen looks like an explosion, read, read, read, and read more, master each math concept in detail before we move on, listen to music with all of our senses and oh, yeah, that other thing that kids learn from, which public schools seem to have forgotten: play, play, play.

In graduate school, I interned at a mental health center and learned how to do Play Therapy with very young children.  Do you know why this is the most widely used form of a therapeutic intervention with young children? Because children cannot yet articulate their thoughts and feelings as well as adults do, thus negating the effectiveness of talk therapy.  Also, as we all know, it’s because children learn by playing. If they are trying to figure something out, they will “play about it”.  Usually it is not subtle. It is a repetitive theme, over and over and over again until they wrap their minds around what they are trying to figure out. Play therapy is very effective with kids who have suffered trauma or loss.

And play is effective in helping any child to figure out the world. Why would we want them to have less of that? It is akin to taking away from you or I,  libraries full of books, universities,  documentary television shows, experts in any given subject, our cumulative life experiences and the internet.  Without access to all those things, how do adults learn?  It’s the same thing when you take play away from children. Of course, there is some play in public schools, and certainly after school and on weekends.  I just simply think that there isn’t enough of it. Not for young kids.

So, that is how we got to be “that weird homeschool family” in our neighborhood, who walked away from the good schools, who lets their kids play outside at 10:30 in the morning.  And if they looked more closely, what they would see are kids who are learning, all the time, in a way that meets their individual needs. On a different schedule at times, perhaps, than their publicly schooled peers, but learning nonetheless.  My kids will be prepared for the world, we’re just taking a different path.

This entry was posted in Early Elementary Years, homeschooling, kindergarten, why we homeschool. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Why We Homeschool

  1. Rivka says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! What an awesome protector you were for Firefly. Beautifully written, passionate, very convincing post.

  2. Natalie says:

    Great story, I am glad you shared it. Our family certainly has a similar story, so nice to see it validated in others. 🙂 One thing that really struck me is the “learning how to play again”. I haven’t put my daughter (your daughter’s age) into a public school environment yet, but we did a little preschool and I was shocked at how limited their play time was. It was a primary reason I pulled her out . . . I only had her in it to play, if they weren’t playing, it didn’t meet my needs . . . but the story I wanted to share was my daughter played with the public schooled girls in the neighborhood several times since school has been out here. ( Usually she plays most often with the homeschooled boys in our neighborhood.) After a few times, I asked her how it was going with the girls, and she said she much preferred playing with “her boys” because the (institutionally schooled) girls “didn’t really know how to play. They just sort of stand around together.” I had noticed this as well, but I was so pleased to hear her notice it!

  3. Theresa says:

    Yay! Great post! I so wish that I had pulled my kids when I first got that inkling, that niggling at the back of my mind. But I waited – wasted- two years! I completely agree with you and with Rivka that test scores are choking the life out of the joy of learning. My girls both ended up with anxiety issues in school because of the focus on the test. There were countdowns on the board, chants in the classrooms, pep talks…one of the teachers even read the scores from the previous year! This is not learning.

    I am so glad that we are able to homeschool and have a wonderful online support network!

  4. Shaina says:

    This is beautiful! Great post! I’m a former home schooled kid (now 23, I graduated college with a double major (Bible and Humanities) and a double minor (Music and English). I was home schooled from birth until my Junior year of high school. I entered public school then because my grandmother was dying, and ALL of my mothers energy was focused on her care. While I wish I hadn’t attended public school (I. was. so. bored.), it did allow me to have FREE college classes, and it was much less stressful for my mom.

    I have a beautiful 19 month old daughter, and I will be home schooling her, and any subsequent children I have. My husband and I both suffer from dyslexia, but I don’t have the issues with it that he does. He was public schooled, and labeled from a very young age with both dyslexia and ADHD. He was medicated and “pushed through” the system. No one ever took the time (okay, 1 teacher did) to work with him to help him learn how to overcome the disabilities. They just gave him shortcuts. He failed out of college because suddenly those short cuts no longer existed and he had no idea how to work around them.

    I have dyslexia worse than him, but my Mom taught me how to overcome it. In college, you could always tell when I was super tired or stressed by looking at my notes, I would write ENTIRE sentences backwards! But, we discovered if I had a computer and was taking notes there… then I was fine!

    All of this is to say: I think that sometimes a parents BEST decision is to continue to PARENT their child through the school years. You mentioned that your child has some anger issues, and fine motor skills need work. This is the first blog post I’ve read by you, but it seems like you are on top of it! You decided to home school because you recognized that NO ONE is ever going to know your child as well as you do. And you are SO right!

    Beautiful post. Beautifully written. Keep up the good work!

  5. Anna-Marie says:

    I loved reading this because it is almost my story too. But I didn’t trust myself to home school, doubted myself and made my oldest child suffer thru until 1st grade before I finally pulled her out of school. Been home schooling for 2 years and LOVE it. My husband and family are so behind what we are doing that I can’t ever imagine sending either child back to school. Keep up the good work!!!

  6. Anna says:

    I’ve always left that option open to homeschool kids but (knock on wood) thankfully so far they’ve both had wonderful experiences at our school. That sounds like some intense kindergarten homework. I can imagine how stressful that would be for a 5-6 year old who just wants to explore and play and learn at his own pace.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’ll be coming back to yours too. 🙂

  7. sherral says:

    Great post! We’re starting off our oldest child (age 5) in homeschool this year and it can be kind of tricky to explain to people why we’ve chosen this route. It’s always nice to find others who feel the same.

  8. Deb says:

    This is a great post, Julie. Way to go, mama!

  9. Sharla says:

    You have done a fantastic job here of articulating how many of us feel, but cannot find the right words to express. I am so thankful for the opportunity to watch my kids be kids, for them to learn to climb trees, go bug hunting, dance in their pyjamas, and play. They don’t even have to know that in all of this, they are learning! I also love that I get to be there to witness when the light bulb goes off for them in counting money or telling time. It is a privilege. Some days I need a reminder of that though and your beautiful words did just that for me.

  10. I was just thinking and writing about this! My husband and I watched that documentary “Waiting for Superman” last night. It was eye opening…sad as usual about the state of affairs. But here’s the rub. As a solution to what would work with these drop-out factory schools was MORE hours, MORE work, MORE expectations, BETTER test scores. I’m not negating the power of the documentary. What was said was right on about the problems w/education system AND some of their solutions probably are helping – not the educating part as much as breaking the cycle of poverty in these poorer neighborhoods which they desperately need. But besides these charter schools that do more, more, more no other options were listed. It never occurred to education reformers that homeschooling could be an answer….not THE ONLY answer, but at least an answer. At first I walked away feeling guilty like I wasn’t doing enough for my children. Then I started thinking about our week and what would’ve happened to my children had they been thrust upon that world. I am SO thankful that I am in a position to have an option.

  11. Giggly Girls says:

    Wonderful post!!!! It is a very personal choice to make. I think you handled the topic graciously and honestly.

    Just popping in from the wrap-up.

  12. Loved this entry! Thank you for sharing your life with us. I have an almost 4 year old and 2 year old, we bought our first home a year ago and bought it in one of the best school districts. However, I am still finding myself concerned for lots of reasons at the possibility of sending them to public school. I have a college education but I am terrified to attempt to teach my children. I am afraid they will end up stupid and it will be my fault. I have a college education but I will totally admit that I learned things long enough to pass a test and that was about it. Obviously I know somethings, I just feel overwhelmed that my kids might not succeed because of me. Its really sad because like I said they are pretty young still. My son (almost 4) is so smart figuring things out, however its like pulling teeth to get him to sit down and want to work on his numbers or letter. I am seeing kids younger than him that are doing more and it makes me feel like he is behind.

    Sorry to go on and on, thank you so much for sharing!

    • Amanda, you can do it! Your kids will be fine. So many resources out there for you. Take it one year at a time. Your kids are little. If you graduated from college, I know you can master preschool and kindergarten material, right? 🙂 Don’t worry about middle and high school yet. When you get there, there are scripted curriculum that walks you, the teacher, through each step, on line courses for the students, homeschool co-op classes, friends and relatives who may be able to help, and so many, many more resources. Also, you will learn right along with your kids. Just because you learned something one way in your schooling, doesn’t mean you are stuck with that forever. I am amazed at what I’m learning by teaching my kids, and they are quite young, too.
      As for your 4 year old not wanting to sit and work on numbers and letters, you have plenty of time, he’s only 4. Find fun ways throughout your day to make sure he recognizes those things: point them out on street signs, packages of snacks he’s eating, books you are reading. Tell him the sounds the letters make. Don’t worry so much about the writing but if you do, write with sidewalk chalk outside and let him leap-frog from letter to letter or let him use finger paint to write with, take a stick and draw numbers and letters in the sand or dirt, fill a tray with salt and let him use his finger to write with. Let him watch the Letter Factory videos. Use Starfall on the computer. Use all of his senses and incorporate physical activity and he will learn those letters and numbers. And, as hard as it is, try not to compare him to other kids. He’s not behind. There is a wide range of normal. Right now, making learning fun is the goal. Best of luck to you! Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.

  13. Siggi says:

    Sigh… just lost my lengthy comment telling you how much you rock. Ergo, hopefully this truncated version will suffice.


  14. Kat says:

    What a fantastic post. It illustrated so much of what I worried about when I was in the “throes” of making the decision to homeschool. When my DD was 18 months old I was working in our local district as a SLP and, specifically, worked with a mainstreamed child on the Autism Spectrum in a regular ed Kindergarten. His sessions were in his classroom per his IEP. I couldn’t believe how structured and boring the classroom was. I would be working with my student and trying to ignore the panic attacks I was having just thinking of my DD in a similar classroom.

    That was just the catalyst and as I learned more and more about homeschooling I fell in love. It also helps that I live in such a great area for it (large city, large hs population).

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. J.J. says:

    Knowing you and Firefly so well, this was beautifully and accurately portrayed. I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished this year and love it when you let the faux-homeschooling JavaFamily tag along on field trips! You are an inspiration to all of us!

  16. Carol says:

    I think most of us forget that there are many different ways to reach the same destination. Society is so used to thinking in the box and forget to think what is best for our children.


  17. Jessica says:

    Have you checked out Three Thinking Mothers? My two friends and I started this blog last month as a place to share our views on homeschooling issues. The three of us all had children in public school. We withdrew them and all just finished up our first full year of homeschooling. We just did a piece on how we came to homeschooling. I would love it if you would consider linking this post into our comment section. This is a wonderful story. Your family is blessed to have you.


  18. Eddie says:

    Very nicely put! I always find it difficult to articulate why we homeschool with it turning into a rant about our school experiences (the kids that makes innocent questioners edge away), but you managed it beautifully.

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