Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Me, neither. 
We were enjoying the squish of mud beneath our soccer cleats and the pop of crocus buds appearing in our yard. 
Rain boots were at the ready and the zoo circled by three kids in a red wagon. 
I bought potting soil.  Lettuce seeds.  Violets. 
The neighborhood kids had emerged from hibernation and ventured into our yard toting soccer balls and thoughts of made-up games.   
Rainbow-colored kites raced clouds against a pale blue track. 
Spring had sprung like an old rusted lock - creaky and slow - but finally ready to reveal its treasure. 
But, then:
The kids got invited to a birthday party for one of their favorite turning-four-year-old friends. 
I racked my brain for ways to spend the evenings curled up, stitching on the couch while watching The Voice and Big Bang Theory with the hubs, rather than sneaking off to peruse toy aisles at Target.
A certain little snowman's carrot nose and twiggy limbs curled themselves around my mind.  I pulled out dinner plates, tracing paper, and felt.  I never looked back.  Perhaps, I should have. 
Really, someone should have warned me to just let it go.
Yesterday, I walked through sleet on my way to an ultrasound appointment. 
I blame Olaf. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Homeschooling: Our Beginning

Recently, a sweet friend asked me how I homeschool a first grader and preschoolers.  I gave her a disclaimer summarizing the top reasons why my example might not be the best to follow before giving her Kristin's Flying-by-the-Seat-of-Your-Pants-While-Homeschooling Methods.  She asked if I had a blog.  I said yes, but not a homeschooling blog. 

I started this blog before we made the decision to homeschool.  I began blogging because I don't make baby books.  Remember those postage stamp-sized ziplock bags that the stylist hands you after she's finished your baby's (or for us procrastinators, three-year old's) first haircut?  I took that golden-curl-filled bag and threw it away.  (I know.  I don't know why God keeps blessing me with babies.  He must really like my husband.)  In other words, I fall a little short.  The blog was my way of showing the kids that even though there are no pictures hanging on our walls and all the developed photos have never made it out of picture boxes into albums, they have filled me up. They have mattered enough to take note of, to scribble a few lines on a scrap of paper so I don't forget.  They have made my footsteps more solid while lightening my days. 

But now we homeschool.  It's what we do.  Everyday.  Even on the days we don't mean to.  It seems fitting to include some of these moments on the blog as a reminder of this time, even if it's just a once-in-a-while recap of our favorite projects and biggest blunders. 

But, first: Why?

To be honest, when people find out that I homeschool, they rarely ask me why.  They ask, "Are you crazy?"  Probably. 

Homeschooling was never my intention.  I had the hours of my children's future school days earmarked.  I was going to attempt writing fiction again.  I was going to get back into mini-marathon running shape.  I was going to go really wild and hang some pictures on the walls. 

Then, before Audrey was even preschool-age, I passed by the New Book shelf at the library.  I  stopped when I saw the cover of Homeschooling: A Family's Journey by Gregory and Martine Millman.  I picked it up.  I have no idea why.  I had only known one homeschooler growing up.  One day he was at my high school, and the next day he was not.  He seemed quiet and wasn't in any of my classes.  I think one of my friends wanted to date him.  She may have.  The end.

The book intrigued me.  I was impressed by the creative education this couple was building for their family.  I returned the book.  I enrolled Audrey in preschool.  She loved it.  We loved her teachers and the program.  The school day interfered with Nathan's nap schedule, but he was easy-going and Audrey's class met once a week. 

The next year, we enrolled her on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  My husband's international travel picked up.  I gave birth to Jack.  Suddenly, I had two boys missing naps for the sake of drop-off and pick-up schedules.  Preschool mornings, I found myself yelling things like, "Stop playing with your brother and get ready for school!"  I'd silently shake my head at myself and follow it up with forcing my daughter to gulp down her breakfast while chanting at her to hurry.  I loved my daughter's preschool teachers.  I loved their methods for teaching the students.  I hated the mother I was on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I knew I could be better.  I just didn't know how to be better and send my kid to preschool. 

But, I told myself that school was the norm.  Everyone else could figure out how to get their kid to school two days (some of them even five days) a week.  The other parents even looked sane.  Meanwhile, we trudged through school weeks as best we could.  I pulled the kids from their beds and took them, pajama-clad, to the grocery store one night when Jason was out of the country because I realized at 9:30 that it was our turn to provide the class snack, which needed to be packaged, made in a peanut-free facility, and accompanied by four-ounce cups, napkins, and a drink.  I had none of those things in my pantry.

Each morning, Taiyo's mother and I took turns being the last to drop our child off at the classroom door, smiling at each other as if we shared a kinship.  I still don't know that woman's name, but I thanked God for her.  Everyday.  I tried to build myself up for preschool days.  Friends told me that preschool wore their kids out so much that they began napping in the afternoons again.  Mine did not.  She came home wired, acting like a zoo creature. 

I told myself that if I could just get my boys to nap at the same time, at the right time, I could get two free hours to myself on preschool days.  But most days, they finally fell asleep twenty minutes before we had to leave for pick-up or on the fifteen-minute drive to school, had to be woken up to go inside and retrieve their sister, and refused to nap for the rest of the day.  I shook my head in silence.  Again.

The Moment that Broke Me:

Some areas my husband would travel to were easy for our family to navigate.  The plane ride was a quick six hours.  The time zone differed from ours by only three to six hours.  The kids could talk to him at times that worked with our schedule.  They could talk as long as they wanted, filling their dad in on their day's events or plans. 

Other areas - like China - were more difficult.  With a twelve-hour time difference, our days and nights were flipped.  When we had time to talk, Jason was sleeping or getting ready for his day.  When he had time to talk, we were trying to get to school on time.  He called the Tuesday morning of his first trip to China.  We were in the midst of our scarf-breakfast-pull-on-coats-and-load-everyone-in-the-car routine.  I turned my phone over and saw Jason's number.  I wanted to hand the phone to Audrey.  I wanted her to tell her dad her hopes for her brand new day.  I wanted him to tell her about the sights he had seen, the foods he had eaten, and the people he had met.  But I didn't hand her the phone.  Instead, I turned it off.  I got her to school on time.  She didn't speak to her father that day.  The decision settled in my stomach like a stone.  Indigestible. 

The Excuse:

I would love to tell you that I made the decision to homeschool right there: that I'm one of those decisive, devil-may-care, this-is-my-family-and-I'll-lead-them-as-I-please sort of parents.  But I didn't, and I wasn't.  Not yet.  I had to let the idea ferment, read more books, take some soul-searching walks, and pray for a sign, or (more accurately) an excuse.  After all, it's hard to imagine confiding in your neighbor that you pulled your kid out of a preschool with rave reviews and a wait list because you hate Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Then, one day, Jason asked, "How would you feel about moving to England?" 

I loved the idea of moving to England.  I loved the adventure it would allow our family and the opportunity to spend more time together while Jason completed his work in Europe.  We moved ahead with plans to see if Jason's company would support the temporary move.  They would.  I left a message at Audrey's preschool and told them we wouldn't be using her spot in the fall: we might be moving to Europe.  I read books on teaching methodologies and bought curricula.  When friends asked, I told them that due to a possible temporary move, I'd be teaching Audrey in the fall. 

In the end, we didn't move.  By the time the logistics got figured out and approved, Jason's work visa would arrive just in time for his projects to be finished in Europe and new ones begun in Brazil.  Moving to England so Jason could hop flights to Brazil didn't make much sense.  But, I never thought about enrolling Audrey in preschool again. 

The Aftermath:

Ironically, morning is now my favorite time of day.  Mornings begin with little boys coming to snuggle in my bed and tell me what they want for breakfast.  Breakfasts are eaten slowly, often over discussions of the novel Audrey stayed up reading in bed the night before.  Unless there's a music class or field trip to attend, pajamas often don't get shed until midmorning, or sometimes after lunch, which seems to fit this life of ours.  Dreaming is no longer sequestered for the night.  It seeps into our mornings as the kids tell me their hopes for each day.  Anything can happen, and it began like this: I hated Tuesdays and Thursdays (and we almost moved to England, but we didn't).

Other Reasons We Began/Continue to Homeschool (because, children, I promise, I did have some good ones):

1.  It allows us more family time.

2.  It allows us to choose curricula that best fits our kids' learning styles.

3.  It allows us time to educate the kids about our faith and other atypical school subjects.

4.  They get to go on more field trips, do more hands-on activities, and take fewer tests. 

5.  It forces us to really know what our kids' problem areas are and be responsible for coming up with ways to help them excel. 

6.  We can make time for art, music, and play.

7.  We can take our work outside.

8.  We have more opportunities to learn from everyday experiences: grocery store trips, trips to Daddy's office, historical events happening during school days, etc. 

9.  We have a flexible schedule to see out-of-town relatives more often. 

10.  We have a very small teacher-to-student ratio. 

11.  It's really brought our focus home, and we kind of love it, even more than we thought we would.

The Disclaimer: 

Having said all of this, I'm asked frequently how long I plan to homeschool.  I'm not sure.  I'm not someone who draws lines in the sand and pretends they'll stand firm against the tide.  I believe in reevaluating family dynamics on a yearly basis (and I find that our kids are still at the ages where things tend to change on a six-month basis).  We began homeschooling as a solution to a problem that cropped up three years ago.  It solved that problem.  I can't tell you what problems will come next year, or the year after, and what our solutions will be for those issues.  But, today, we homeschool.  And, just in case the kids ever wonder how it began, now they know.