I tried for 4 years to shape my daughters into molds they were never meant to fit. After painfully watching their spirits being crushed daily, their bright personalities turn dark, their nervous and emotional exhaustion from coping,
"I rescued them from the battleground – public school."
Withdrawing them was sheer relief for all of us, and one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made. The road map ahead was blurry, but my maternal instincts sprang into overdrive and I started my own education – how to homeschool.
It was a long summer of reading, studying, and more reading and studying. As is my usual style, I over planned. I thought I had to have the entire year figured out for both of my girls. The last thing I wanted to happen was for them to come up short, and all eyes pointing at me as a failure... but by whose standards would I be judged? Dare I measure our success by the very system that I just rejected? If I allowed that judgement, then what was the point of homeschooling? After all, I’m the principal now.
I soon discovered the “homeschool detox” phase; the first few months, the newbie teacher thinks she must replicate the full school day at home. After reviewing the daily public elementary school schedule my girls previously had, I realized that the actual learning time averages 3 hours. The rest of the day is spent lining up, walking the halls, bathroom and lunch breaks, library time, PE, and if the students are lucky – art or music classes. Figuring out three hours worth of academic learning was manageable.
After a rough beginning, and a few restarts, we eventually settled into this new, sometimes alien, realm. We learned many hard but valuable lessons. The most challenging for me was claiming the truth that our school need not look like anyone else’s. It was tempting to compare myself with the veteran homeschoolers I met,
"I knew their kids weren’t like mine. "
Their teaching and organizational skills are different, and on and on. I continually had to reassure and trust myself, that as long as I was compliant with N.C. homeschool laws (which are thankfully minimal) I was free to craft and build an optimal, unique learning environment, because I know my children best. Of course, I would never claim to be able to provide for every single need they have, but I have spent an estimated 3,600 days with my youngest, and 4,500 days with my oldest since the day they were born. So that certainly makes me qualified to find what they need, even if it doesn’t come directly from me. Public school is definitely not what they need.
What makes me qualified to know what they need to learn? I don’t have an education degree. Many people spend years learning how to teach, and I am just going to jump in and take over? I have the highest respect for teachers. My mother was a teacher, but even she saw the most progress with those students she tutored privately. The joy she saw when their skills improved, and they began to believe in themselves was priceless to her.
There is something about that one-on-one attention which can turn a child’s academic performance, and confidence, completely around.
I may not have the degree she did, but I do have two degrees (Bachelor’s and Master’s) in piano pedagogy, which is the study of teaching. I was trained on how to help a student reach their individual musical potential. I applied the natural insights I inherited from my mother-plus the music training- to homeschooling. I'm a researcher and there is an abundance of information to digest on what to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it. The ‘how’ is the deal breaker for my children, which cannot be satisfied in public school. The classroom setting assumes that each child has the same learning style. But if a child doesn’t learn that way, he or she must be corrected as if somehow it’s the child’s fault.
There's never any doubt that it is the parents’ job to teach children to walk, talk, eat, dress, treat others, etc., but it’s somehow controversial to teach them how to read and write and learn about the world? I was the one on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team who could speak the most about what would and wouldn’t work for my child, "H.", who has autism. I made sure we were maximizing all possibilities to help her succeed and coming up with creative solutions just for her. I was fortunate to have positive IEP team meetings and the staff at her school were kind and knowledgeable.
Eventually, even they knew their hands were tied by the law and they couldn’t progress any further. It wasn’t their fault. It is not possible for a school to create an optimal learning environment for each child when the overall design and purpose of public education is to mass-produce generations of identical, conforming students with the same minimal knowledge and the same minimal skills. We are so fortunate to live in a great state to homeschool.
"North Carolina allows tremendous freedom for parents to make their rightful decisions for their children, especially those with disabilities."
We qualified for the NC Education Savings Account which could be used for educational therapies. Since H. wasn’t exhausted from coping with a long school day, she had physical and mental space to benefit from great occupational, social and physical therapies. The availability of the funds was especially beneficial as we were between insurance companies. We would have lost a valuable development window had we not been able to use them.
Today, my daughters are happy, peaceful, and most of all curious about the world. They are excited about discovery, and I am following their lead, now that the roadblock has been removed. My job isn’t to make them conform into an image of my choosing, or anyone else’s, but rather to nourish and till the soil so they can grow to be who THEY are.
They can’t do that inside a mold that doesn’t fit.