November-December 2008 Selected Content
Coming Home - Jennifer L.W. Fink
I think we may homeschool. The final straw came at Nathan's parent/teacher conference. When I asked this year's Math goal, the teacher told me "adding and subtracting to 12." Nathan's been adding two-digit numbers and doing basic multiplication for over a year already. The teacher also told me that Nathan seems more mature than many of his classmates. But when I told Nathan - who's struggled socially on the playground -- that the other kids aren't ready to play the way he does, he said, "They just don't like me." Only 6-years-old, he's already completely internalized it: they reject me, so I must be bad.
I do not want to leave him in an environment that is not only is not a good fit, but that also causes him to doubt himself.
I question what homeschooling will mean for Nathan. The decision we make now will affect the rest of his life. How will he feel about it in 20 years? Will he look back and see this as our greatest gift, or the nail that locked him into the box labeled "Misfit"?
I talked with Nathan yesterday about what he'd like to learn - multiplication, division, cursive, more science experiments. And while I'm willing - for a bit longer - to see what the school can do, I realized those are things I can teach him right now. Immediately.
Our meeting with the principal went well, but I felt somewhat sad afterward. I felt sad for the loss of opportunity - there are so many things I want to do and try with my children, so many things we won't have time for if they're in school. Music lessons. Arizona. Extensive dinosaur study. The human skeleton model they got for Christmas. We have materials all over this house and I'm dying to use them.
The decision has been made: I will become a homeschooling parent in the New Year. I am excited, scared and intrigued. Nathan has surprisingly little to say on the subject and seems very content and happy with our decision.
My biggest fear is going off the grid socially. I don't think school has been great for Nathan and can even see how it would be damaging over time - but what if there is some secret to being around a group of your peers that I don't know about? What if it's just me, an intellectual social reject, who is choosing to focus on these things? Is my perspective and bias blinding me to some important reality?
I worry, too, about me falling off the grid. I'm not a particularly social person; I don't have a lot of friends. School at least keeps me out there, meeting and interacting with people. School also gave me great leadership opportunities.
And yet, was that ever what I really wanted to do? Those "opportunities" suck me away from the things I really want to do, like write, relax and spend time with my family.
Tonight, at bedtime, Nathan cried. He's sad about leaving school: friends, gym class, the playground, lunch, recess. And you know what I just realized? He has a lot to grieve. In some ways, this decision is harder because it's not a horrible situation. He's in a good school with good people and good values.
Even so, our reasoning stands: He's not allowed to go at his speed. He doesn't have a true peer group. And I know he can fly on his own.
On the eve of Nathan's last day, it is I who feels the most unsettled. He has been with his class for three years now, and there are some great personalities there. Whether or not they're great friends, this is the group of kids I pictured him going through life with.
For his part, Nathan seems to be handling the transition with no regrets. Despite the cookies and cards at school, he is nothing but happy about homeschool. He actually did a little happy dance in bed before going to sleep. He also asked me if we can read on the weekends and if he can read more than one book a day.
I wonder if it's really hurt him, stifling his urge to learn. I get the impression that he's yearning for freedom and can't wait for the opportunity to just go.
All that said, I'm scared. I'm afraid homeschooling will be more work than I anticipated. I keep reminding myself to breathe and take it one day at a time.
I'm in a state of shock. It's our first day homeschooling, and I have no rhythm, no flow, no sense of managing my time or my children in any way that makes sense.
Nathan doesn't seem to know what to expect either. He said this felt more like Christmas vacation and that we could send him back to school if we ever get too busy. And yet he gets it. "I can learn at my own speed," he said. Despite the fact that he feels like we did "nothing," we will have touched on every subject by the end of the day, and he'll have completed an entire math unit.
Seeing this, I think he needs time to transition to a new style of learning. Learning is not "I do a whole lot of worksheets;" learning is "I follow my own brain and questions. I explore and investigate." The first thing we need to learn is how to homeschool.
I am learning so much about Nathan. For instance: He hates reading out loud. He'd like time to work on reading by himself, to give his "brain time to figure it out." He's very frustrated because he can't read the books he likes. He'd like a machine that would just tell him the words he doesn't know. He'd like an easy reader about things that interest him, like cats and snowmobiles ("Maybe you could write one for me, Mom.")
His school-related issues came screaming out at me also, and I finally realized how frustrated he must have felt at school. At school, he couldn't tell the teacher, "no," or "I already know that," or "I learn better this way." At school, he couldn't talk back for fear of going to the principal's office. He just had to sit there and take it.
One week of homeschooling done, and I've spent half of it being violently ill. I believe I have influenza, but in my fever-induced delirium the other night, it occurred to me that this sickness - so profound that I lay on the bathroom floor with a feeling I'd only ever had before in labor - might not be all together co-incidental.
Today ended with Nathan sobbing and asking - no, insisting - that he go back to school. Part of me wants to scream, "What in the world made me think I could do this?" My big struggle is between feeling like I should be accomplishing things - He should write! He should do phonics! He should do handwriting! He should do math! - and relaxing and letting him be. I don't know how to find a balance.
What I need to do is relax. In my effort to ensure he's "learning," I'm forgetting to love him. I need to spend more time just loving him. I need to trust his intelligence. We can do this, but I need to let go. Homeschooling is like jumping off a cliff. I jumped (the ultimate leap of faith), but then I froze up. I've been frantically grabbing, seeking control. Instead, I need to relax, stretch out my arms, close my eyes, love my child and see where we fly.
© 2008, Jennifer L.W. Fink