Just before the holidays I got an email from the PTA at my Kindergartener’s elementary school. They were looking for parent volunteers to substitute for a whole day in their child’s classroom, giving the teachers a rare chance to plan together all day. Reading that email turned out to be a providential moment for me – I couldn’t explain why, but I felt very strongly that I needed to volunteer. The logistics took some work. The PTA was requesting two parents per class, so I had to convince another mom to help me. I also had to arrange for my mom to drive up from Winston-Salem to watch Baby Zu for the day (although that didn’t take much convincing ;).
Although I’d volunteered in his classroom before, it was only for short periods of time, so I was anxious to get a feel for what Big C’s day looked like as a whole. I showed up optimistic and ready to teach, learn, and experience modern-day Kindergarten. However, at the end of the day I left the school feeling deeply concerned about the future of our public school education system.
My feelings had nothing to do with my son’s teacher or with his classmates. He’s got some great friends, and I’ve told more than one person that if you look up “kindergarten teacher” in the dictionary, you will find a picture of Mrs. W. Rather, it was small, subtle things that added up to make me feel like big changes were necessary. Here’s just a handful of the things that disturbed me about my Kindergartner’s SEVEN HOUR school day:
– Only one recess period, lasting a mere 20 minutes
– Only 20 minutes allotted for lunch
– Very little unstructured play time.
Big C often complains about school being too long, and that he never has any time to play because he has to be quiet all the time. After seeing his day play out, I completely see where he’s coming from. There is no way it can be developmentally appropriate for a wiggly 5 year old body to sit that long.
In addition to the problems I saw in the classroom, we’ve also been keeping tabs on some rather unpleasant behavior changes at home since the start of the school year. On school days Big C is an emotional time bomb, from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed. I just never know what will cause my previously laid-back kid to explode into a tirade of emotions. He spilled his milk. He can’t fit the Lego piece where he wants it to go. It’s time to brush teeth. Seemingly minor instances and requests cause him to erupt without warning and Big C is overcome with frustration and anger, taking it out on whoever is nearby. It is exhausting and emotionally draining for the whole family.
On stay-home days however, Big C is like a different child. He is more patient with his sister. He plays well independently, engrossing himself in his own imaginative worlds. By no means is he perfect, and of course he still needs discipline and redirection on the regular. But on non-school days, Big C seems much more in control of himself, both physically and emotionally.
We didn’t arrive at our decision to homeschool overnight, and while I could go on and on about more reasons why it seems like the best choice for our family, I won’t. I’ll just sum it up by saying that homeschooling feels like a refreshing alternative to the overcrowded, underfunded, standardized test driven system that public schools have become. (When I was in Kindergarten, there were centers for dress-up, blocks, and art…and even naptime and half-day options!!!) At this point it just doesn’t seem like a good fit for my energetic, self-directed boy.
The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of prayer, internet searches, reading, and meeting as many people as I can in our local homeschool community. As someone who was a teacher for 8 years in my pre-parenting life, I am so excited about returning to the world of formal education (I use the term “formal” because I have always believed that the most teachable moments for any child always occur at home.)
I’m also psyched not only for the academic freedom we will now have, but the ability to be more free with our schedule. Getting back late Sunday night from a climbing trip? No problem, Big C can sleep an extra hour (if only Baby Zu would get those same memos…) Got a long drive on Friday afternoon? No problem, we’ll leave during Baby Zu’s nap and school in the car.
I know it won’t be easy, and I know that it will take us a while to find and settle into our new routine. I’m sure we’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way. But with that said, we’re just gonna dive in. This past Monday was our first official day…and so far so good. We’ve predictably had some bumps, but nothing we can’t handle.
Any other homeschooling families out there? I’d love to hear about routines, curriculum, and social activities that have worked for you. Also, this new chapter is going to open up a new educational component on the blog as well – so stay tuned for some great product reviews that can be fun for ANY family, not just homeschoolers. (Sneak peek: Green Kid Crafts review coming your way soon!)