Madeline can’t wait to officially start school after Labor Day – if you can call 40 to 45 minutes of reading practice and an introduction to basic math as “official” school. Honestly, I think more than anything she’d like a chance to ride the big, old cheesewagon, but, alas, it’s a short commute from her bedroom to the kitchen table and thus, no bus is required. Madeline is also eager to start math and was all giddy when our Saxon materials arrived. More than anything, I think, she craves some one-on-one attention with Mommy.
I love her anticipation, her hopefulness that she can learn anything. I don’t tell her that “school” isn’t going to be all that different from what we do every day – reading lots of books together, praying a decade of the rosary over our breakfast, taking nature walks, answering her countless “Whys?”, listening to music, and making art (AKA crayon sketches of happy families and horses, Madeline’s favorite subjects).
A lot of Madeline’s friends are in “real” school and have been for some time; she assumes she’s starting real school now, too. I’ve never felt like I’ve been depriving her of anything by not sending her to preschool. Life is her best classroom. Even now as she approaches the age when she’d be thrust into kindergarten, I don’t feel she’ll be missing much other than, of course, that exciting ride on a yellow bus (one day I will have to crush her romantic ideas of what happens on that bus, that in reality it’s one big social caste system and if you’re not cool enough to sit in the back, you probably never will be. You can guess where a coolio brace-face like me sat).
No, I’m not worried about my daughter at all even though it appears I failed to give her an academic edge while she was still in my bag of waters (yes, there’s now a prenatal education system), but I am, selfishly perhaps, worried about my personal aptitude for homeschooling.
(It is reassuring to know I’m not alone in my doubts and that I seesaw between my love for the idea of homeschooling and my fear of turning it into a reality.)
Everyone from grocery clerks to good friends ask me why we’ve decided to pursue homeschooling. I need to work on a better canned response, but I’ll probably never have a succinct, perfect answer roll off of my lips. It’s not an easy question to answer. No matter what educational option parents choose for their child, there are pros and cons. I have a friend who agonized over which kindergarten she was going to send her child to this year, not because she wanted to start priming her kid for Harvard but because she wants the best for her child and for her family.
Don’t we all? The tricky part is deciding just how to do that.
My own decision process involved a lot of reading, prayer, and talking to homeschoolers before me as well as some moms who have chosen to send their children to school.
My research has brought me to the conclusion that for right now homeschooling seems best for my family, largely due to my husband’s chaotic and unpredictable work schedule. When he is home, I want to be able to have the flexibility to spend time together as a family.
Then there are my personal thoughts on what education is and what it isn’t. Education isn’t forcing phonics down a 5-year-old’s throat if she’d rather be hosting imaginary tea parties with her stuffed animals. Education is exposing children to beauty found in good literature, Sacred Scripture, classic art, poetry, nature, traditional hymns, and in the lives of the saints and other heroes. Education is not teaching children how to efficiently master standardized tests. Nor does education have a monopoly on the mind. I believe that in order to raise a thinking, whole child, we must not only train our children’s minds to be analytical, but we must train their souls to be godly as well.
So what will I be teaching to achieve the kind of education I believe in for my children? What curriculum will I be embracing? Again, it’s not an easy answer. It’s one that, I’m sure, will evolve with time.
Here’s what I do know: I loved school and learning (yes, I was a big geek), but I also remember wishing I had more time to read and write and just ponder (I was a daydreaming geek) than just memorize and regurgitate facts. Not surprisingly, the classical approach to education appeals to me. I want to uncover The Lost Tools of Learning for my children and teach them how to think, not simply how to spit out pre-packaged facts like vending machines.
Likewise, I like Dr. Maria Montessori’s teaching philosophy and, in fact, Madeline has thrived in our parish’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program, which teaches children tenets of faith using the Montessori method.
Then there is the lovely Charlotte Mason, with whom I imagine I would have loved to share a cup of tea. From the moment I discovered the Charlotte Mason method, I fell in love with the idea of marbling “living books” into our lives, and my oldest and I had already been doing forms of narration together without knowing there was a name for it.
This year we plan to be very relaxed – continuing to read together, starting some basic kindergarten level math. No rocket science here. Yet, I’m still afraid. (Maybe Eeyore just needs more sleep.) I’m afraid I won’t be the best teacher, that I’ll expect too much from my oldest and that my own tendency toward perfectionism will cripple the both of us. I’m afraid of how I’ll balance it all – a baby, a toddler who isn’t happy unless she’s doing what her big sister is doing, and my first year of homeschooling. I’m afraid my daughter and I will butt heads. I’m afraid I’ll lose touch with my friends who will be meeting for coffee while their kids are in real school. I’m afraid I’ll be too tired after long nights with the baby to be a
good somewhat coherent teacher. I’m afraid I’ll never have a break – time to nourish my own mind and soul. I’m afraid my decision to homeschool isn’t as noble as it may appear at first glance and that my vanity and desire to come off as a super mom comes into play.
There are plenty of fears. There always have been since becoming a mother. The enormity of being gifted with lives to mold, souls to nurture – whether one homeschools or not – can be daunting, terrifying. But it is in these very fears that I’m forced to seek strength outside of myself – the kind of strength that overcomes the temptation to surrender, to hide behind my insecurities, to flee from what I’m being asked to do.
So my feet are firm, bookshelves are stocked, pencils are sharpened, and my hands are folded in prayer. I am ready for now. I can’t say for sure if I’ll be homeschooling two or ten years from now. I’m trying to keep myself from looking beyond my family’s immediate needs and wants of the moment and to just focus on what I can do and what God is calling me to do at this season of our lives (the latter is particularly difficult and requires plenty of time spent in prayer). I’m also making an effort to cleave my own anxieties and insecurities from the important task of raising my children with a hopeful confidence.
Whatever decision my husband and I make down the road about our children’s education, I do know this: I always want to be their primary teacher. I’ve always believed the place my children go to school is in my heart. How I live my life, the words I read, the words I write, how I face my joys as well as fears will help supply my children with the knowledge they need to learn how to grow up.
Every minute my children spend with me is an opportunity to edify them. I have to constantly ask myself: What lessons will my kids glean from watching me? What attitude will they embrace? What words will they learn to speak and what tone will they speak them with? What habits will they adopt from my own habits that have become woven into the fabric of my daily life?
So this is really my prayer – not to make the perennial decision to homeschool every one of my kids until they leave the nest – but to be graced with the wisdom to be a good teacher to my children now and always.