(This is the first in a series about how we decided to homeschool, and what homeschooling looked like in the beginning in our family. It’s slightly out of my comfort zone to share so much , but I pray this will help you if you are struggling with the decision to homeschool, or whether to keep homeschooling. I believe with everything in me that homeschooling is WORTH IT!)
We haven’t always homeschooled.
I should share a little of the back story with you - because my investment in the public schools ran DEEP. In fact, I was a dedicated public school teacher (who had just completed a master’s degree in school administration from a large urban university), when I became pregnant with my first child. It was my goal to pursue a career in public school administration while mothering at the same time.
My job as a music specialist in largely underprivileged schools was gratifying and FUN. I enjoyed pouring all of my energy into engaging programs and lessons. I viewed the public schools as a system everyone needed to invest in if they were to succeed.
(Then I had my own child.)
Six weeks later, on September 11, 2001, I rocked my newborn while watching the Twin Towers fall - the world as we knew it changed that day. Something shifted.
I returned to work two months later - just a few days before my 30th birthday, ready to take on the role of Superwoman. I cried when I left Anna at daycare. I cried in between classes. I couldn’t focus on teaching because I just wanted to be with my sweet baby. I felt a strong instinct to be the one tending to her every need (I would later feel this same instinct when she went to public school.)
I lasted three days at work. I approached my principal on that third day and resigned. I called my husband on the way home and told him what I’d done.
I didn’t want to be a school administrator. I didn't want to be a teacher. I just wanted to be Anna’s mom.
My husband is so faithful. He was an employee of a non-profit at the time; we were making similar salaries, and they weren’t big! With the uncertainty that came with 9/11, my parents thought I was foolish to give up such a good job with good insurance.
My husband wasn’t worried. We made a plan for me to teach some piano lessons in the afternoons and evenings and were thankful for our savings account. We learned how to live on less. I was just so happy to be able to spend my days with my daughter.
Looking back, this was the first of many experiences where God showed me HIS faithfulness. I would draw on those experiences 8 years later when we decided to homeschool.
A lot happened, however, in those 8 years.
My husband was steadily promoted. I gained more piano students. I truly ENJOYED being at home with Anna. (We had a book basket in every room of the house and that little girl was addicted to BOOKS!)
My husband’s mother passed away unexpectedly in 2004. The day after her funeral I found out I was pregnant. We’d been hoping for this news for over a year, so in the midst of sorrow we were experiencing joy.
Grant was born in December 2004, six weeks early. I had been on bed rest for the last three months of the pregnancy and Grant’s birth was difficult. My doctor (a very kind former army physician who homeschooled his seven children - so WEIRD!) told me I was fortunate to have come through his birth as well as I did and advised us not to have more children. He was one of many homeschooling parents God put in my path who made an impact on me. I can see that so clearly now.
Six weeks after Grant’s birth I descended into a very dark place. I had no idea at the time what postpartum depression was or that I was suffering from it… thank goodness for a husband who knew to get me help and a mother who came to help me with the kids while I got better! (If you’re my age you’ll remember that Tom Cruise basically said a woman could cure her postpartum depression with vitamins. He made this brilliant observation while I was in the middle of mine. Yeah, I’m not a fan.)
It took nearly two months for me to get back to some type of “normal”.
During this time a friend of mine (who was serving as a missionary in a children’s home in Romania) told me God would meet me when I was on my knees. I spent A LOT of time on my knees.
In the first four years of parenthood I had been through quite a bit, but as I look back now I am thankful for all of it, because it strengthened me for what was to come. I learned that children are more resilient than we think and the strength of family. Those trials served as the training ground for the next several years - for times when I would need to advocate for my children and their education.
Anna had been attending a wonderful preschool where we lived, but as we looked ahead to Kindergarten our local elementary school was HUGE. There were SEVENTEEN Kindergarten classes.I couldn’t fathom that. It was truly like sending my child into a factory for school. Surely we could escape the rat race of suburban Atlanta and do better for our kids.
We decided in the summer of 2005 to make a move to a much less crowded area of Atlanta, where we had extended family and where the schools were significantly smaller. Our new home sat on two wooded acres and I could hear the frogs at night and the birds in the morning. We saw deer in our backyard and the kids could play in the woods. It was perfect.
(a seed was planted for homeschooling - home was such a beautiful place to be)
We found a sweet little preschool and a new church family. I started thinking about Kindergarten for Anna at our local elementary school. There were just four Kindergarten classes and the school had the best reputation of any in our county - just what we desired.
(As I look back I can almost hear God laughing!)
We Are The “Sheeple”
When the time for Kindergarten came I didn’t feel right about sending Anna to school. She had been attending a precious preschool. I knew, however, that the perfect situation couldn’t last because she had to go to Kindergarten. Something just didn’t set right with me, though. I knew we couldn’t afford private school, and the only other option was homeschool, and that was for Christian fundamentalists (I told you I’ve come a long way!).
I was listening to the radio after taking Anna to her first day of Kindergarten, and our local commentator, Neal Boortz, was admonishing parents who were sending their children to “Government Indoctrination Centers” that day. I promptly turned off the radio and made a point NEVER to listen to his show again. I didn’t like the message.
(another seed planted)
Anna got home from the first day of Kindergarten (I had her ride the bus), full of smiles. (I would later learn that was one of the only times of the day she smiled because her favorite thing about school was the bus driver, Miss Carmen!) She came into the house, had a snack, sat down next to me for a story, and fell sound asleep. She would do that for the next month because she was so exhausted from a full day of school - getting on the bus at 7:15 a.m. and getting off the bus at 3:15 p.m. really took a toll on a young five year old.
Still we persisted, because this is just what we were supposed to do. I would later come to learn the term “Sheeple” (people being compared to sheep because they are docile and easy to lead), and it perfectly applied to us. We let the public school control nearly every aspect of our five year old’s life.
(Want a good read? Try Excellent Sheep.)
I started to question THE SYSTEM - even thought about homeschooling - but still wasn’t motivated to make a change.
All For One, One For All
I was very involved at Anna’s school. One day I went with the class to music. A few of the boys misbehaved from the second they walked in the door and the teacher made the entire class sit quietly for 45 minutes. She told them, “All for One, and One for All! If one person misbehaves, the whole class has to suffer”.
(sounds like Socialism to me - I kind of joke here, but not really)
After sitting and starting at the walls for 45 minutes I wasn’t happy. I made an appointment with the principal and talked with her about this and she told me she always supported her teachers. (I knew she would say this because remember I had training as an administrator).
The principal avoided me after that day.
(another seed planted for homeschooling)
Thankfully, Anna’s teacher was FABULOUS! I told her what I had witnessed and she said this happened often in their music class. I volunteered to come into the classroom and teach music once a week. Her classroom was tucked in the very back of the school, so we could make as much noise as we wanted - and Anna’s teacher loved it.
(That teacher left after just another two years because she wasn’t falling in line with the rest of the staff. She was innovative and didn’t follow the rules. In my opinion she was one of the best teachers in the building!)
I started to feel the grave disconnect between what the “job” of a public school is and the reality of what a child needs. The two didn’t match. I knew we needed to make a change.
At the same time a friend of mine at church began talking to me about homeschooling. She didn’t push. She just encouraged me and answered any questions I had. She invited me to her house and loaned me For the Children’s Sake and A Pocketful of Pinecones. I devoured them on a road trip we took to visit my parents.
I was nearly sold.
We told my parents that trip that we were considering homeschooling the kids. The first thing my mom said was, “Oh, Mary. You’re kidding me. You know you’re so bad at math!” My dad asked me how I would do science labs with them.
(We had a lot of family criticism at the start, but I kept my head down and stuck to my guns and every single one of them changed their tune after about two years of seeing how well the kids did with homeschooling!)
Not Gifted, But Willing To Please
The following year we decided to put Anna back into school because I was struggling with some health issues. I still wasn’t happy, though - Anna was losing her spark for learning and I knew there was NO WAY my son (then 4) could go to public school the following year. He was bright, funny, and couldn’t sit still. He would be doomed to spend his life in the time out chair!
That fall they tested Anna for the gifted program. When we had the conference to go over the test results her teacher told me:
“Anna certainly is not gifted, but she is very willing to please adults and that will take her far.”
Alarm bells went off in my head.
Did I want to raise a people-pleaser whose teacher blatantly told me she wasn’t gifted? Didn’t Anna deserve better?
At the same time, the librarian restricted Anna (and all children in her class) to choosing books from certain shelves in the library because they were at her “reading level” - she couldn’t go any higher because she might not do well on the Accelerated Reader tests if she read harder books. We would stay up at night reading beautiful books — Ballet Shoes was her favorite - and I wondered in what world a child would have their reading “restricted”.
My Call to a Radio Host
My husband and I finally agreed that we needed to homeschool Anna.
The first thing I did was call our radio host, Neal Boortz, during his morning show. They put me through to him and I was able to tell him how right he was about the Government Indoctrination Centers and apologize to him for being so angry with him for the past three years.
We had a great conversation on air and he applauded homeschooling parents. It’s funny to see that he remembers our conversation!
It was the week before Thanksgiving and I completed the paperwork to take Anna out of school that last day before the break. I sent Anna to school that Friday morning and told her I would pick her up from school and would help her pack her things from her desk.
Homeschool Paralysis (For Real)
Grant had been struggling with an upper respiratory infection but was feeling better. I was expecting him to go to preschool that day and then we would go to pick up Anna from school.
After the bus left with Anna, Grant woke up and crying. He told me his legs hurt and he couldn’t get out of bed.
When I pulled the covers back his legs were covered with red spots and really could NOT move his legs. Needless to say, I was slightly worried. Our pediatrician sent us to the ER for xrays and some tests. I wasn’t able to pick Anna up from school. I had to call the school and tell them to put her on the bus and a neighbor kept her until I could get home.
Her last day of public school and she came home with the contents of her desk shoved in her little backpack - what a start to homeschooling!
It took us two days to get an official diagnosis of Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) for Grant. He would be fine, but in all the craziness of those few days I didn’t even have a chance to think about homeschooling.
In fact, I told myself we wouldn’t even start anything official until January.
Looking back, this was the FIRST of many freedoms I would discover through homeschooling - the freedom to just STOP and breathe and enjoy life with my two young children. We’d been through a hard time and just needed to regroup.
After Thanksgiving break, Anna settled in with all of the books she never would have been able to check out of the library at school, and we read and played for the next month. She read the Harry Potter series and baked a lot with me. We would pick Grant up from preschool at noon, come home and have lunch and then play outside until it was quiet time.
I did a little more homeschool research and ordered a box of curriculum from Sonlight (a Godsend to me for our first year of homeschooling, by the way!). I really didn’t know what homeschooling would look like, but we had done the most important thing - START.