School house rocked

Two significant things happened today.

  1. I watched my daughter’s Kindergarten graduation, complete with songs, a P.E. showcase (which was a dance), and a slide show of a cap and gown picture of every last Kindergartner advancing to first grade in the school. Luckily, this is a small town.
  2. I opened up the two boxes that have been sitting in my living room. These are the boxes that contain everything you could ever need to teach first grade. Come fall, I’ll be embarking on an adventure I never thought in 10847 years that I’d be taking on: Homeschooling. IMG_6500

I find that these two things happening on the same day are a little funny for me. A little like an inside joke, maybe. Don’t worry, I’m going to let you in on it. But as I watched the program that I know had been the focus of study for the last two weeks- if not longer- I had to giggle to myself. The last week of school has been completely unnecessary. The testing is done, the assignments are all completed, there isn’t even any homework being sent home. But we’ve still got an entire week and 2 days left of the school year, and heaven forbid we miss a minute of it. And now the big program they’ve been working on is over too… so what will they be doing in school?

Perhaps that’s the wrong question to be asking. A better question might be: why do these kids have to be in school just for the sake of being in school? What are they learning? And the thing that really made me laugh to myself today was that after the program- which was adorable, don’t get me wrong- one of the teacher’s came on the mic and let us know that we could check our student out if we’d like to take them home now. There was about an hour until the final bell, but clearly the teachers had nothing planned and fully expected all of us to collect our children and head home. Here’s the deal though, she reminded us that if we did decide to check our child out early, we would be accepting a tardy. There was nothing they could do about it.

So although I never dreamed that I would be a homeschool mom, I just felt like God was really asking me to step up to the plate. So although I had a little private laugh and an eye role today, I want to take y’all back to where this homeschool journey really began.

First of all, when I say I’m not a homeschool mom, I really mean that it’s not my personality. I adore my kids. They’re awesome. I just don’t always like my kids. And don’t get me wrong, I completely and fully respect and understand the value of public school as a general concept, and have great memories of going to school and participating in the ‘normal’ way. I didn’t think this would be my choice.

When Cadence was in pre-school my husband really didn’t like it. For one, we were paying for a private pre-school for our daughter to go twice a week while the two of us were both working from home. We had the two boys at home with us, so it wasn’t even like it was functional time for us to get work done, and so I had to agree when he suggested we pull her out. He first suggested that HE would be the one to start homeschooling her, and I was all for that. I like the idea of my children being taught by someone who is completely and entirely invested in how they turn out as adults, so I was in full support of him taking that on. And, I mean, it was pre-school, what harm could he do?

And by the way, what is with pre-school? I didn’t go to pre-school. I don’t remember any of my friends going to pre-school. But if you catch a three year old at home during the day these days, man, people be calling CPS. I feel like the idea these days is if you’re not sending your kids to pre-school, your kid won’t ever get into college.

So after our failed attempt at homeschooling Cadence during pre-school- bless his heart, Thomas did about 2 weeks worth of activities with her over the course of the year- I knew that homeschooling just wasn’t going to work for our family. But I did still feel God nudging me to reconsider.

When we moved to Tennessee, Cadence was very eager to go to school to make friends. Although Thomas and I discussed the idea of hiring someone to homeschool our kid- I’m only partly kidding… we were hopeful that we could somehow arrange for my mother in law to help in this daunting task, and by help I mean do it all- but because that wasn’t exactly a workable plan, we decided to enroll her in traditional, public school. I did look into some private schools, but the pickings were slim.

Let me say this, before I go any further… I love Cadence’s teacher. Bless that woman’s heart, she has put up with so many of my stupid questions this year, and she truly does seem to love my daughter and the other kids in her class. What a blessing to have been in her class this year. And as for the office staff and the principle, love them all. I have zero issues with the school or the school district or the people involved. This is the south, it’s hard to find bad people here!

And let me also say, before I go any further, that this blog is in NO WAY intended to make anyone feel guilty for their choices in how they choose to school their child- whether it be homeschool or public school or otherwise. I fully believe that we each have to find what is right for our individual family needs and values. I only aim to tell you my perspective and how I’ve experienced year one of public school, and how that’s lead me to make a different choice. And since I am the blogger and I write about perspective… we’ve found ourselves here.

So welcome to here.

Okay, so my issues started to arise not with the school itself, but with the bureaucracy of the school system.

The first thing was the school lunch. And I know that I don’t have to go any further before mom’s all across the country start saying ‘Amen!’ Because we are in a rural area, we are considered ‘low income’ and for that, we have been blessed with a grant that allows for our elementary school students to all have free lunch. That’s great! Except that now that we have a free lunch grant, the school doesn’t allow kids to bring their lunch (or at least that’s what I was told), because they need all the kids to need the free lunch to keep the grant. And the free lunch is, well, not exactly a salad- hold the dressing. Most of it is fried, covered in artificial something, or worse. It’s not exactly how we eat at home. And the worst part about it is, although they do serve some veggies, my child can choose whether or not someone puts them on her plate. So she’s not even getting the chance to eat something healthy because she’s six and would rather just choose pizza. Oh and they can choose milk, or chocolate milk… not water. I’m willing to bet you know what my daughter has chosen every single day of this past year- despite our insistence that she abstains.

Which brings me to another point. When Cadence started school, I would describe the approach of my parenting as ‘encouraging’ or ‘guiding.’ Very quickly after starting school, I would say that I was morphing into more of a ‘corrector’ or ‘fixer.’ We found that we were having to correct behaviors that we hadn’t seen before. We were asking, “Where did you learn that?” for the first time. And we found that we really were losing a big chunk of influence over her. And as her parent, I struggled with that.

I was showering one morning and I really felt like God was telling me that I needed to consider homeschooling. Readers, this was like month one of school. I was already feeling uneasy about the time I was giving up with her, and the rushed, exhausting environment that the school and sports schedule was imposing on my child. She had to be at school by 7:40 am and was there until almost 3pm and with soccer, we were really tired come the alarm at 6:30am! So when God started to tell me that He wanted me to consider homeschooling, I wanted to laugh.

I am not that mom. I need space from my kids. I am not a teacher. I don’t have patience. I don’t enjoy the idea of teaching my kids. I think it sounds overwhelming and scary and intimidating and pretty terrible. I wouldn’t know the first thing. I want the easy way. I want my kids to be social. God had called the wrong gal for the job.

But then I was reminded of something I tell people all the time…

God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.

And as soon as that truth was in my mind, I felt this shift in my heart. Perhaps I could learn to be that mom! Perhaps, if it was important to God, it should be important to me. Perhaps if I really was struggling with some of these issues, I could choose to take action and do something about it instead of just rest on ‘I’m not that mom’- which was a perfectly comfortable place to rest, mind you.

I committed to God that day in the shower that I would continue to pray about it. That was all I was willing to commit to at that time. If it was His will, I wanted it to be my will, but I really didn’t want homeschooling to be His will.

It wasn’t long after that prayer that I found myself face to face with the truancy officer. In October, we had a trip planned to go to Mexico. The trip is arranged through my company and I don’t have a choice as to when they will be sending me on a free vacation, (so sorry about that).  Needless to say, because we had just moved across the country from our family, I didn’t have a lot of childcare options in Tennessee. And so we headed into the school office to let them know that we would be missing one week- five days- of Kindergarten. We were there to ask what work we would need to take with us on our trip. We were informed at that time that we were not allowed to take our child out for a trip, and we would have to accept five unexcused absences.

Readers, it’s important to note that the people delivering the message were very kind and didn’t say we ‘weren’t allowed’ to take our kids out. I mean, the point they were making was that we actually were not allowed to take our kids out, but the office staff weren’t being mean and controlling, they were actually slightly embarrassed to have to tell us such a thing.

Well, this just wasn’t going to work for us. We travel all the time. It’s kind of my favorite thing about our family! We brought Thomas out of his career because we enjoy it so much- AND ironically, the kids actually learn A TON while we’re visiting new places and going to museums! So to hear that we really weren’t allowed much flexibility as to when we- as her parents- could take her out of school, was incredibly disconcerting.

Again, let me just say that I understand that school is important. I’m not suggesting we would take her out all the time, but it was important to me that we should have the ability to take trips as a family. As a direct result of this rule, I traveled to California twice, and Maui and Vegas once each, by myself! I couldn’t take my family because I wasn’t allowed to.

Because here is the deal about the unexcused absences… you get five. For the year. And we had maxed it out in one fell swoop. And it was only October!

Come November, Cadence is puking as Cadence does, and so she misses school. By 10am that day, we had the principle and the truancy officer on our porch. They were incredibly kind, despite the fact that Thomas and I were barely pleasant by that point, and their advice to us was to lie if we ever took her out of school for anything again. They said we should lie and write a note that she was sick. Now I totally know why I would lie and write notes for myself and sign them with my mom’s signature when I was in high school (sorry mom!). We’re taught thats the way to beat the system! If you can’t beat them, lie to them???

So you can imagine the next time I was in the shower talking to God, I was a little bit more open to His suggestions about alternative schooling.

I was fully persuaded to homeschool by the time we hit Christmas break for two reasons:

  1. God had placed a beautiful friend in my life, named Ashley Hunter, who has a daughter and two sons, just like me, and who home schools her kids for many of the same reasons I found myself considering it. She has been a complete Godsend and has made me feel confident in an area of my life that I didn’t think I ever would be, and has given me direction so that I don’t feel nearly as overwhelmed or drowned. And not to mention, her kids happen to be the older version of whom I hope my kids grow up to be, so I’m excited to have found a great example of the power of what homeschooling can be, and look like, and result in.
  2. We couldn’t go home for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, there were several reason why we didn’t end up in Nevada or California for the holidays, but the one that was just a non-negotiable was that it was hardly worth the thousands of dollars that it would have cost us to try to squeeze in time away during the days that the school ‘allowed’ it (aka winter break).

Since the new year, we’ve been basically counting down the days and going through the motions, excitedly awaiting the opportunity to rock our homeschool classroom! I have to say, I have had a complete transformation! I am so excited about what’s to come. I went to a homeschool conference in Nashville- upon Ashley’s suggestion- and learned so much and found myself completely riveted by the possibilities. When you homeschool, your options for what to teach are limitless! I’m going to start them in basic Spanish right away. Cadence will be taking horse back riding lessons for ‘PE credit.’ By 6th or 7th grade, I can put her in Latin! All the while, there are home groups, co ops, sports leagues, and entire music schools dedicated to homeschool families.

I have to say, the number one concern I had when considering homeschool was the socialization aspect, and I will argue that it’s the most common concern I hear from others when I bring up my decision to go down this road. And let me tell you what, homeschool today is not like the homeschool I grew up with. The resources are endless now. The socialization is endless. I feel like the opportunity to socialize with larger groups, or more intimate groups, as well as different age groups and more diverse groups, are probably more readily availability to a homeschooler than a public school kid these days. I can see how it would be easy to over commit and find yourself participating in TOO many social activities and groups.

As I put together the instructor’s guide today, and went through the dozens of books that came with my Sonlight curriculum, all I felt was joy and peace in our decision. I’m so excited to be the primary influencer in my children’s life. I’m so blessed to get that time back with my kids, because I am sure that I will never regret the time I spend with them while they are little. I’m excited to experience discovery with them. I’m excited to learn with them, because let’s be honest, half of this first grade stuff I can’t even remember learning! And I’m grateful that God has positioned me and encouraged me to take on this role.

I know it won’t be easy, and I’m ready for the battle and the hard times, but I can’t believe how dramatic of a shift in perspective I’ve had over this topic in particular. I want to encourage you, Readers, to challenge yourself as soon as you hear yourself say something like “oh that’s just not me,” or “I could never do that.”

Because you’re wrong. You are and you can. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (Phil 4:13 author paraphrase). And so can I. So say a prayer for me, and find the thing that you just can’t do… and then challenge it.

Because there is always a different perspective…

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