Friday, March 14, 2014

How We Got Here

   The decision to homeschool was one of those things that we had been building to for years, but happened in an instant. If I'm being honest, the journey here really started the day Jane was born two months early. She was a good size for her prematurity and only stayed in the NICU for 8 days, but she was still premature. That prematurity still rears it's ugly head in small ways. Jane still overstimulates easily, needing ample time to herself to recover from situations with lots of transition or noise. She still has a hard time soothing herself and sleeps more than her younger brother.

    I didn't notice her learning delays the first two and a half years. It's hard to see with your first especially. I didn't really know what normal looked like. But by two years and nine months I could no longer deny. We never had the language explosion at two years. She didn't speak spontaneously very much and didn't understand that the proper response to a question was an answer. Instead, she just parroted everything back to us.

   We got her tested. She was 9 months behind and qualified for speech therapy. Although she couldn't be diagnosed officially until she was much older, the speech pathologist agreed that she had the signs of the learning disability that runs in my family. Sometimes the therapist would throw around scary ideas like autism and make us practice eye contact with Jane. She warned me that Jane's learning disability, though a mild case, would need to be monitored closely, as she was okay enough to be able to pretend and bad enough to just slip through the cracks without the teacher's notice.

    I'd always flirted with the idea of homeschool, but now I thought about it more.

   When we moved to Reno, I took Jane's IEP to the school and she was enrolled in a special pre-K for other kids like her. That school and class were amazing. The teacher was lovely. It felt good to be there and Jane adored every minute. It was just a couple hours, four times a week. Jane improved by leaps and bounds. At her last IEP meeting before we left, the speech therapist informed me that she didn't believe Jane would qualify for speech by September and Ms. Ramos wanted to move Jane up to the older class because she was so far ahead of her peers. The only things they were really working on with her now were classroom issues. Walk in line, share the toys, transition activities right away, minor things really.

   If we'd stayed in Reno, I wouldn't be homeschooling. I know that.

  But we didn't stay in Reno. We moved to California, and when I took Jane's IEP in here, I was informed that I needed to enroll her in transitional kindergarten. It was full-day, five days a week.

   Full-day? Five days a week? It's preschool! She's four!

  I tried to ask if there was any way I could just pick her up before lunch every day. They waffled and said it would affect her attendance record. I'm smart enough to know this is code for "funding." I understand that schools need money, but I also know that what they were asking of my easily over-stimulated daughter was too much.

   I left the meeting that day saying I'd go sign her up. On the drive home I was overcome with one of the darkest feelings of my life. I can't explain it, but I just knew I couldn't do it. As I said at the beginning, I'd been preparing for this decision for a few years. I'd read several books about early childhood development. I knew that before the age of six, Jane's most important activity was having lots of free play, not sitting at a desk, or learning to transition from one activity to the next, or walk in a line down the hall. A couple hours a day was one thing. Six hours a day was another.

  I couldn't do it. I called my mom and told her. She said to trust my instincts. I walked in the door when I got home, sat on the couch next to Rob, and said, "We're homeschooling."

  We'd spoken about it before. We both thought it was a good option for us. Our passion and education in science and math made it so the idea of homeschooling high school didn't scare us. Rather, it excited us. Think of how much deeper we could go into their studies with just one-on-on instruction!

  So that's when our trial period began. The idea was preschool for now. If it works for us, then we'll move on to kindergarten (since I don't like full-day kindergarten, either). After that we'd reevaluate.

  I've learned a lot since that day. Some things from the several books and blogs on the subjects of education, homeschool, early childhood, and alternatives. Other things I learned from experience, like the fact that a child who is genuinely interested and motivated can learn without prodding and remember things like crazy. I also learned about patience and waiting for things to be developmentally appropriate. I learned that you can bang your head against a wall all you want to drill something into a child's head, but until they're developmentally ready to understand won't make a difference. But once they hit that point of readiness, it just clicks and the teaching is easy and the learning is absorbed.

  The more I read and experimented, the more disillusioned I became with the way things are heading in our educational system. I've read dozens of articles all lamenting the same thing. First grade curriculum being pushed into kindergarten where some children aren't ready to learn it. Pushing reading in kindergarten so hard that other things like social studies, science, art and music are getting less and less time.

  I look at my Jane, who some days spends hours on her "art projects." Shouldn't she be allowed as much free time to create as possible without being told it's time to pack up the supplies and move on to the next subject? Public school can't do that with a class of 20 kids. But I have the flexibility for that. We can work with that. I thought of how smart Jane is, but how she's also a bit of a late bloomer. What if she isn't ready to begin reading in kindergarten? What if, like so many other kids, she's not really ready until first grade? She shouldn't have to feel like a failure her whole first year of school. No one should feel like a failure in kindergarten.

   But beyond the problems in the public school system, the testing and the unsupported and unresearched policies began under no child left behind that were doubled down under common core, I came out of the last nine months of experimenting with a sound knowledge that I could do a better job for my kids.

   There were other things that went into this decision too. Less important probably, but still valuable to the decision making process. Rob has a four day work week that rotates, leaving us with two three-day weekends and one four-day weekend every month. Because he's a dentist, taking time off for vacation is kind of a double whammy. He doesn't get paid time off, his business doesn't make money without him, and then we're paying for the vacation. Our "time off" will have to come on those extended weekends. And the last thing we both wanted was to have to worry about attendance records and truancy issues.

   Rob also is home early enough in the afternoons to take on some of the teaching load. The fun stuff. Story time if that's what we need. Learning games, puzzles, chess, science experiments. He's up for that (and really good at it) and it helps to know he's got my back and I don't have to feel like I have to do IT ALL.

I didn't want to inundate anyone reading this with some of my views on the problems in our educational system. Our decision goes beyond those. But if you want to read articles that mirror my views, I'll link some below.

Everything you need to know about common core (Teacher Tom)
What standardized rigor really means for children
Testing Consumes Kindergarten Class Time
Kindergartener's Tough Bubble Answer Test
The transformation of Kindergarten
Quit Scheduling and Let Kids Play
Health Benefits of Free Play
Elkind's "Can We Play"
Children losing Creativity

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