". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Sometimes as a homeschooling mom I worry about the things my children might miss out on by not attending a traditional school. Other times I am reminded of the things I am glad they are missing out on.

Case in point. My 6-year-old, Evan, attended two years of half-day preschool at our church. He enjoyed it and so did I. (I am not good at playing with preschoolers. So sue me.) Evan is highly extroverted and also thrived on the daily interaction with other children. But the experience was not without its drawbacks. Evan was not a model preschool student. Evan is also a highly opinionated and expressive child (okay, okay--bossy), traits which on more than one occasion led to frustration (okay, okay, major meltdowns) on his part because people weren't doing things The Right Way.

We got through it. We were blessed with small classes and patient and loving teachers. In truth, it wasn't that bad. Before Evan, I was spoiled. My first two children were a classroom teacher's dream: introverted, quiet and obedient to the extreme, and content to be left alone in their own world. They have been almost abnormally "good" and easy children to parent. With Evan I have for the first time experienced what it is like to see the teacher coming your way and not know whether the news is good or bad.

Evan may not be in school anymore, but his classroom days are not over. He attends Sunday School every week, and that, too, has been a struggle at times. My husband and I try to drop in on his class frequently to give the teacher moral support and see how Evan is doing. Last week there was only one teacher (there are usually three) so I decided to stay for the entire session. The experience left me once again feeling vindicated in our decision to homeschool. There is no way I would want to subject either Evan or us to the struggle that would ensue if he were in school.

First off, please understand I am not criticizing the teacher. I don't teach Sunday School. She does. That makes her a hero in my eyes. My point is not to criticize the teacher but to illustrate the limitations of the classroom setting, limitations that would turn into daily frustrations for my child and me.

One of the primary characteristics of traditional school is the schedule. Since we're all doing the same thing, we all have to stay on the same schedule (especially when there's only one teacher). When it's time to move on from one activity, everyone has to move on together. Several times last week I witnessed Evan's vexation at being told it was time to stop what he was doing and start doing something else. He wasn't finished yet! Because I was there I was able to help him through the transition, but had I not been there it would have likely been much sturm and drang.

Another thing I observed was Evan's finishing a project and strongly desiring for his teacher to look at it. She was too busy (understandably so!), and he had to settle for receiving affirmation from me instead. I did my best.

As class was wrapping up, the teacher asked Evan to help out by picking up some pencils. I was walking around picking up things, too, and overheard a couple of Evan's classmates planning an ambush: when Evan came by their desk, they would throw handfuls of cotton balls at him. No big deal, right? They're just cotton balls. Another kid would probably laugh and throw the cotton balls right back. Not my kid. If I had not been there to intervene we would have no doubt had a major incident. I know from experience and talking to Evan's teachers that Evan is often selected for teasing because he never fails to put on a good show. You want to create a major eruption? Evan is your best bet.

None of this is meant to fault the teacher or the other children. They are all functioning the best they can within the parameters of the classroom setting. But for me and my kid those parameters are not acceptable on a day in, day out basis. By the end of the week we would be even more exhausted than we are now.

There are advantages and disadvantages to any method of schooling. Each family must decide for itself how those ultimately add up. I know there are things that my home educated children will miss out on. But we have decided, at least for now, that the positive things they will be deprived of are outnumbered by the negative things they will be spared, and that the benefits of being at home far outweigh the drawbacks.


Gauntlets said...

My son is very much like yours. Sunday School is a big problem for him. I can't imagine ever sending him to an accredited school; it would demolish him.

As far as I can tell, the only thing we're missing out on as a homeschooling family is pressure to drug our son.

Katie said...

Every time I read a post of yours about homeschooling, I try to soak it in and really think about how it might apply to me. My son is not quite one and a half, but we've already started discussing why we may want to homeschool. Most of my college courses were in elementary education, which I think would be a benefit to me, but also means I've been in many classrooms and witnessed many of the things you mention (specifically with young boys!). Some days I am sure I want to homeschool, others, not so much. Truthfully, for selfish reasons. Did you ever consider working once your kids got to be school age?

Cheryl said...

Gauntlets: yes, there is that, isn't there?

As I think of what Evan is missing out on it is mostly under the heading of social interaction. Now don't get me wrong--I don't buy into the argument that school is necessary for socialization (whatever that is). Frankly, most of the socialization that occurs in school is harmful. In my opinion, home educated children have a much more well-rounded experience of learning to interact with others because they are exposed to many more different kinds of people in different settings than if they were locked up in school all day.

Having said that, though, I will say that Evan misses playing with children his age on a daily basis. He is 8 years younger than his sister and 11 years younger than his brother. There are not children in the neighborhood that he can play with. Preschool provided that daily play time. Kindergarten is more regimented as it works to prepare the children for what will be expected of them in school, and that is a big part of why we kept him home after preschool.

I also think of things like having butterflies and baby chicks in the classroom and when children get older, singing in school choirs or being in school plays or participating in team sports or showing off projects at curriculum fairs. I know all of those things are possible for homeschoolers if you have the time and money to spend. But it's not always easy to find them. We are lucky in that our church school allows our children to participate in electives such as art and music. Not all schools are as welcoming of homeschoolers as ours.

Katie, I worked full-time until I had children, and since then I have almost always worked part-time. I think there may have been about 6 months in there that I didn't work outside the home at all. We haven't always homeschooled. My oldest spent a few years in school. But it didn't take long for me to realize that it was not the best for either him or our family. Since pulling him out, we have never, ever looked back. The thought of one of my children spending all day every day in school is beyond my comprehension. One should never say never. That could change, I suppose. But I don't think it will.

My advice to you is to not try to compare apples and oranges. Homeschooling and traditional schooling are two different things. If you decide to homeschool, don't approach it with the goal of bringing the traditional school experience home. If you do, you will intensify the feeling of inadequacy that none of us as mothers is able to avoid because you will see all the things they do at school that you are not doing. But if you realize that you are homeschooling because you want something DIFFERENT for your child than what traditional school provides, you won't have the pressure of keeping up and then you will be able to focus on all the things you are providing at home that the traditional school can never dream of providing.

I'll look forward to hearing more about your homeschooling explorations, Katie! Drop by anytime and if you have a question I'll do my best to share our personal experience.

Gauntlets said...

I worry about extra-curriculars. We don't have a co-op anywhere near us, and I'm not sure how to ask a school of any persuasion to let us in on the sweets without also joining them for the main courses. Homeschooling is more or less accepted around here, but it's not ... assimilated? Is that the word I want?

In summary: We're weird in general, and we're weird homeschoolers; we don't fit in with anybody. I'm not sure what we're going to do once the boy wants to play football. :P

mz said...

I have one too, only mine is a girl. Her independent and inquiring spirit would be quashed in a traditional classroom. The Sunday School issue won't be here for a couple years yet, and our parish has a dearth of children so it may never become an issue anyway. The one thing that makes me sad is that if we do go the homeschooling route she won't have the opportunity to be involved with sacred choral programs. We could try to get involved with a secular children's choir if she shows interest, but there was always such joy for me singing the music of the church while in school. I wish there were a way to participate in that without having to buy the "main course".

Ewe said...

I was a classroom teacher for over 6 years before I was a mom. I attended a seminar by Carole Joy Seid on Saturday. The seminar pulled together many of my thoughts from teaching in the classroom and also homeschooling for 1 year (including what you wrote here) that confirmed that we really do want to homeschool all the way through high school. I can see small examples in our every day life like your experience at Sunday School that just confirm that homeschooling is right for our family.

Cheryl said...

"I'm not sure how to ask a school of any persuasion to let us in on the sweets without also joining them for the main courses""--just ask! You might be surprised. Some schools are very welcoming.

"The one thing that makes me sad is that if we do go the homeschooling route she won't have the opportunity to be involved with sacred choral programs."

mz, this is one reason my husband has always offered and after school church choir even though our church has a day school--so that public school and homeschool kids can sing in church. In fact, the day school groups sing for church only periodically, the after school choir regularly.

Also, if you ever do join up with a quality secular community children's choir. you will probably find that they do at least some sacred music just because the repertoire is so rich with it and it would be musically stupid to leave it out.

Elephantschild said...

MZ wrote, "[I]f we do go the homeschooling route she won't have the opportunity to be involved with sacred choral programs."

Why do you assume that? What Cheryl said is true; many secular choirs who perform classic repertoire by default sing much sacred music.

And while it's likely to get me kicked out of the Lutheran blogosphere for saying it, many large Episcopal parishes have excellent children's choirs. Because the Piskies are so high church, much, if not all, of the choral repertoire is *old-school* Anglican and perfectly fine for a Lutheran child to be singing. What isn't old-school 39 Articles Anglican, is Psalm settings, and what isn't Psalm settings is Bach and other classic sacred music.

Elephantschild said...

Gauntlets: As far as the sports are concerned - well, call me a meanie, but not every kid gets to do every activity they want to. There are plenty of activities that kids get involved in that you & your husband might nix for any number of reasons. The Child will survive not playing competitive football. Besides, there are youth leagues and such for sports, too.

We're weird, too. Homeschooling is known of around here, but it's still generally seen as something only the extremely insular Christian families do, the kind of families who freak out at the witches in Shakespeare.

I'm gradually realizing that we'd be weirdo freaks EVEN IF my daughter was in school. To wit, she has the vocabulary of a 9th grader, but she doesn't read yet; need I mention the portals, the imaginary friends, and the Rainbow Mega Cats?

mz said...

Cheryl - In a few years it might be worth the drive from down here to up there to participate. Thanks for letting me know about it!

Elephantschild - Thanks for suggesting the Episcopalian route. That had never occurred to me! As far as secular children's choirs go, it isn't that sacred music would be excluded that troubles me so much as missing the experience of singing said music during and for church.

Cheryl said...

mz, I didn't realize you were that close to me! (Where are you, anyway?) Let me know if you want more info! Schola Cantorum is on Wednesdays at 3:30 during the school year. You might also be interested to know that we do a music camp for one week every summer!

mz said...

I'm in the far southeast suburbs, about 45 minutes from you barring any traffic snafus. We're actually going to be in Bolingbrook on Sunday to attend the baptism of our dear friends' daughter. It's a Presbyterian church we're headed to though, so unfortunately we won't get to hear the wonderful music at Bethany! :)

I will definitely keep those offerings in mind for when the time comes. Since E is just shy of 2 years old we have a while yet before any decisions are made, but seeing how these 2 years have flown that time will be here before we know it.

Cheryl said...

Yes, mz, I guess E is a little young for the Schola Cantorum. :-) If you ever do make it to Bethany for a service, please track me down so we can meet (which I don't think we ever have, right?). Or if you're in the neighborhood some other time let me know and maybe we can get together!

BTW, Bethany is having an Ascension celebration this coming Thursday--if you search for Ascension on my blog you can get an idea of what we do. It's quite a big deal with a parade and congregational dinner. Just thought I would mention it in case your church doesn't have an Ascension service. Alas, if you were to come I would still not get to meet you as I have to play a concert Thursday night (the public school I work for doesn't give much thought to Ascension).