A few quick words

Today we escaped the heat by meeting two other homeschooling families at a local indoor playground, and we all had a great time. Besides meeting a bunch of new friends, I actually ran into a former classmate from sixth grade – who also happens to be a homeschooler – and the director of the dance school Kiki was at for five years.

It might have been a little awkward, since this is the first year that she isn’t taking any classes at that dance school. So after our small talk, I just talked about how Kiki wanted to try so many different things this year and how we’re making a big shift to homeschooling, too. She offered some supportive words and then said, “If you don’t mind my asking, I’m curious about why you’re homeschooling.”

I’ve heard this a few times, and I’ve had many, many mental conversations about it. Most of my explanations are way too long, and I started off that way: “Oh, it was a lot of little things, you know … there was no big bad experience…” blah, blah. But then the best summary I’ve given so far came out of my mouth:

“I’m tired of trying to make her change to fit in when there’s nothing wrong with her in the first place.”

Something clicked in my head at that point – and I’m pretty sure I saw the dance teacher’s face change, too, like she got it. After all, she has been acquainted with Kiki and her quirks for five years. And it really sums up a lot of what has been brewing in my head for the last three or so years now.

So there you go – my very own “why” in 25 words or less.

The mission statement

Let me just say now that I feel so fortunate that I’m able to do this homeschooling thing. The more I learn about it and all the opportunities within driving distance of here (not to mention on the Internet), the more convinced I am that this is the right thing for Kiki – and not just for this year. But we’ll hold on making a verdict for awhile yet.

Planning and organizing our space has kept me busy, and The Boo has kept me from being online long enough to post. I have been working behind the scenes, though. While making decisions about what to study and which curricula to invest in, I found myself waffling a lot between several options that all sounded too good to pass up.

What has helped me a lot was writing out our family’s specific goals for Kiki for this year, including an all-encompassing mission statement. In thinking about these and getting them down on paper (well, on the computer), I’ve realized that I’m not as worried about following the standards set by public schools or even in books like What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know (which was one of my first purchases, just for the record). I’m more concerned with opening her mind to round-the-clock, out-in-the-world learning and helping her find something she’s passionate about.

(Sounds almost like unschooling, but my philosophy isn’t quite THAT relaxed.)

So instead of following a checklist of topics to be covered and skills to be mastered that has been provided by our school district – or by the Common Core standards – here’s what The Headmaster and I have come up with (sorry in advance for some of the corny sentiments):

As (Kiki’s) parents and primary educators, we pledge to help her love learning and motivate her to explore things she’s interested in on her own. We want her to feel the satisfaction of an answer found and a problem solved. We want her to feel more confident in her role as daughter, sister, friend, etc., and make her realize that being a student is something she will never outgrow – and that the world is her classroom.

Between now and the beginning of next summer, we would like her to:

  • Express herself more confidently in writing and drawing in a variety of media, from pencil and paper to computer to paint and other arts materials.

  • Make reading a daily ritual she looks forward to, whether it be aloud with the family or by herself.

  • Be aware of history and why we study it – as well as gaining exposure to some of the major ancient civilizations and their contributions to our lives today through literature, art and other means.

  • Learn that history is ongoing by keeping up with current events and learning how we fit into the world (geographically, culturally, etc.). Along the same lines, learn about her own family history and how our predecessors got us to where we are today through research that includes firsthand accounts from living family members.

  • Have a deeper understanding and an increased facility with math concepts that she has only so far touched upon at school.

  • Learn about the different branches of science – and how they relate to topics she’s interested in (ie. chemistry in cosmetics).

  • Explore some activities that she has expressed in interest in: trapeze, diving, music, photography, videography, computer game programming, anime/manga, theater, etc.

  • Gain an appreciation for music and learn the basics of singing and piano playing.

  • Learn to play non-electronic games (not just the written rules, but also the unspoken rules of conduct).

  • Enjoy learning to the point where she pursues her own learning goals because of her own personal interests. While her parents/teachers will need to guide her somewhat, we want to foster her ability to take her own initiative.

  • Look back on her past year of homeschooling as a positive experience with pleasant memories.

Yeah, some of this is basic stuff – and more general than most educators’ goals. It’s a start, though, and our personal list adds specific plans and methods for working toward these goals. Also, this isn’t set in stone. In rereading this list for this post, I just realized that we forgot to put in a physical fitness goal, and that’s something we definitely wanted to cover.

More and more, I’m learning that flexibility is going to be a good thing.

The ‘Quiet’ book

 A lot of my early preparation for teaching Kiki has been to determine her learning style, learning disposition and personality. Based on quizzes and years of observations by Jason, me and her third-grade teacher (who was wonderfully forthcoming and communicative about her strengths and weaknesses), I’ve been able to start a nice profile.
Of course, you can’t pigeonhole people into any one category; there will always been gray areas, and for someone so young, there’s plenty of time for their experiences to shape how they grow.

One trait we can nail down for sure, though, is that Kiki is an introvert, just like her parents. We both took a special version of a Myers-Briggs type personality test that was designed for parents to answer questions about their kids, and we both got the same results for Kiki: ITP, which stands for Introvert, Thinking, Perceiving. For teens and adults who take the test, there’s an addition letter for preferences that are still in the formative stage for young kids (intuiting/sensing).

Other signs that she’s an introvert: Even when playing in groups, she tends to go off on her own. She gets flustered when she feels like she’s on the spot (“I’m thinking!”). Her teacher told me that she prefers to work independently rather than with a group.

Being pretty comfortable with that assessment, I used it as an excuse to pick up a book I’d been eyeing for awhile: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. As someone who tends to fade into the background in groups, I was drawn by the title and the blurb on the back. I also saw that there was a chapter of the book dedicated to empowering introverted children.

So much of this book resonated with me, both for myself and on Kiki’s behalf. ALL of her teachers since preschool have told me at least once, “She needs to speak up more,” or “I wish she would raise her hand and talk more often.” Her first preschool teachers actually thought she might have developmental delay issues because she was so quiet and solitary in class. If they heard her chattering away at home, that never would have crossed their minds.

For my part, I remember classes in high school and college where participating in discussions determined part of your grade. This was probably the most stressful part of classes for me, since I could never thinking of anything good to say on the fly. Even today, I am much better with written communication (when I have a backspace key at my disposal) than I am in person. For example, I was on Kiki’s school PTO board for a couple of years and attended lots of meetings, where I tended to hang in the background unless I was directly addressed. Even then, it was a struggle to make sense of my thoughts on the fly. After the meetings, however, I could write lengthy e-mails (my fellow board members can attest to that) that explained things as I saw them and stated my opinions in what I think was a reasonable way.

In some ways, I still see my inability to express myself on the fly as a personal failing. It makes me feel like I’m less intelligent, even less worthy, than people who can be social and express themselves well in any situation. And society’s “put yourself out there” attitude generally supports that view. I’ve spent a lot of time castigating myself and have deliberately tried to put myself in positions that would force me to be more outgoing and more assertive. And I end up being miserable and feeling like I’m not living up to the task.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to see that I still have something to contribute, even if I have to do so after a lot of deliberation and research. This book has solidified that belief and definitely makes me feel better about who I am.

It’s not a perfect book, though. Not long after finishing it, I mentioned it to a friend (a fellow introvert) and talked about how it resonated with me – for me and for Kiki. After reading it, she pointed out how the author seems to spend a lot of time empowering introverts at the expense of extroverts, pointing out the studies that say extroverts are more likely to gamble, cheat on their spouses, etc. My friend also admits that this stood out for her this partly because her daughter is an extrovert, and she’s feeling defensive on her behalf.

Thinking back, I remember wondering if there are studies that do the opposite – put introverts in a bad light. Obviously, they wouldn’t support this book’s purpose so the author would have no reason to use them. But the fact that I had that thought tells me I noticed the bias. I’m sure the author isn’t saying that all extroverts are cheating egomaniacs any more than anyone would say that all introverts are misanthropic, self-centered hermits. But if she’s trying to get extroverts to understand us quiet ones, maybe she should do a little less contrasting.

Introvert and extrovert – they aren’t black and white. The author does point this out, and talks about how some people are shy extroverts while others are assertive introverts. And she shows how groups work best by accommodating the full range – giving introverts the time and space to work on their own before bringing everyone together to hammer out a plan, rather than relying on a spontaneous brainstorm session – both in a corporate and a school setting.

As far as schooling goes, this book goes a long way toward confirming my hunch that Kiki will thrive more outside of the traditional classroom. Outside of those boundaries, she’ll get the time and space to figure out what lights her fire – and then the tools to keep it going. She’ll learn it’s OK to be quiet, to take the time you need to think, to be alone sometimes and to just be yourself.

And she will also learn that the most important personal qualities – compassion, honesty, loyalty, kindness, generosity – are things you can have no matter where you fall on the introvert/extrovert scale.


Positive space

We like to keep Kiki busy during the summer, as it’s a good time for her to try things that we don’t normally have time for during the school year. So between archery camp, pottery camp and a vacation by the ocean with extended family, this is really the only unscheduled week she has this month.

I took advantage of it to arrange get-togethers with some of the homeschoolers we know from other places in life, one was my college roommate and the other was a fellow dance mom who lives in my neighborhood. Part of this was training myself to be more proactive about getting the kids out of the house and being more social, and part of it was giving Kiki a chance to play with kids other than the ones she knows from school. I also just wanted to talk about homeschooling in person with those who have been at it for a few years.

The result is that I’m even more excited about what we’re doing now. I don’t feel like I have to be perfect. I don’t have to have every detail nailed down before September comes. I also feel like I have a decent sense of the direction I want to head in and what I want Kiki to learn.

My main goal for this year isn’t related to curriculum or scoring high on tests. It has nothing to do with mastering long division or reading Shakespeare or being able to name every state and capital.

What I want more than anything this year is for Kiki to love learning again and to realize that it can happen anywhere. I would love for her to find a subject or activity that she’s passionate about, but I would also be happy if she skips around from topic to topic – as long as she’s truly interested in it.

Again, this will involve training myself to be more positive when she expresses an interest in something – even something that I find incredibly not to my taste, such as wanting to compete in beauty pageants. Whenever she brings it up, my left eye twitches.

Yesterday, she read a library book about a girl who enters a beauty pageant (and sort of wins), and she mentioned again that she REALLY wants to try it. So instead of just scoffing at it like I normally do, I asked, “How would you prepare for one of these things?”

Of course, her answer is: “Oh, I’d have to pick out a beautiful dress … and some sparkly makeup.”

“Ah – that part actually comes last. You know that, right? All the girls who do these things have fancy clothes, so they must have to do something else.”

“Oh yeah. There’s the talent part. Singing or dancing or acting. And they have to answer questions like, ‘If your house was on fire, which three things would you rescue?'” I was gratified to learn that our family was the first on the list. Second was the cat and third were her stuffed animals.

That led into a conversation about thinking of things that truly can’t be replaced, and then I can’t remember what else. But you know what? I think we ended on a much better note – and very little steam coming out of my ears.

Negative space

Now that we’re in the middle of summer, I’ve been more open about our decision to pull Kiki out of school next year to teach her at home. Lots of people are curious about why, and I’ve explained my reasons in fits and starts. I’m much better at communicating through writing, so I thought I would try to explain things here.

Aaaand since I’m a defensive type person, I’ll start with what I think would be the assumptions people would make. Because that’s more fun for me.

  • Our neighborhood school isn’t good enough: This is a no-brainer assumption for people to make, especially if they know our town. The school our neighborhood kids are assigned to has low test scores, a high percentage of low-income and ELL kids (kids whose first language is not English) and generally a bad rap. In fact, many parents in the neighborhood opt to send their kids to another city school or a private school. Heck, we even considered some of those options before kindergarten came around. I’m glad we went in the direction we did, though. In her four years there, she has met and made friends with kids from a wide range of backgrounds and situations. She’s had teachers who are so devoted not only to teaching the kids but to offering them a haven where they can simply be safe and learn and be with their peers. And for those who care (unlike me), those test scores have been steadily increasing over the past few years, despite the high number of kids who aren’t quite fluent in the language in which the test is written.If something happens to me and she has to go back to that school, she would be perfectly fine and prepared for middle school.
  • My kid is too smart to be stuck in a classroom: Nope – no more than any child, anyway. She is smart, of course, but I’ve had my share of messages from her teachers. They want her to speak up more. They want her to be more engaged. They think her work could be neater. She needs to read directions better. She sometimes forgets to bring her homework home. She makes impertinent responses to questions that she thinks are “pointless.”
  • Teachers aren’t doing their jobs: On the contrary, my kid had a WONDERFUL teacher this year – someone who noticed the little things and truly got to know each child in her room. She was great about communicating and was happy to share her ideas for helping my kid learn better. This teacher even tried to arrange some enrichment for her with the reading specialist and through other sources. If you have ever worked in an elementary school, you can probably guess how hard it is to get time for a student who doesn’t have an IEP or documented special need. I deeply appreciate the effort and I can see how difficult it must be to manage of classroom of 23 kids with 23 different needs and several learning styles. And then there are all the kids who have personal and home issues …In a way, this teacher actually inspired me to try homeschooling – not because she suggested it, but because through our conversations, I could tell that she wanted to do so much more. And I saw that if I took matters into my own hands with my child, she could get all those extras.
  • The world is a scary place, and I need to protect my child from all the bad influences and peer pressure: Well, I do need to protect her – that’s part of my job. By homeschooling, however, I hope to expose her to *more* of the real world through field trips, volunteering, and getting OUT more than she’s able to while enrolled in regular school. Hopefully, she’ll learn to interact even more – not just with kids who are her age and at the same school. She’ll still go to gymnastics, Scouts, dance and whatever other activities we decide on, and she’ll maintain her friendships from school. She even has the opportunity to still participate in some school field trips and activities.I won’t miss the lice, though.
  • Every parent who loves their kids should homeschool them. Um, no. This is not for every family. I’m not even 100 percent sure it’s for mine yet. I know there will be days when I want to toss her back on the bus to get back my seven hours of peace (well, half-peace when you consider the 3-year-old who was still home). I’m not sure if this will bring us closer or just build up even more walls between us. Being an introvert who is raising an introvert (or two), I DO worry about the social thing.

It comes down to doing the best you possibly can for your family at this moment. I am already not working outside the home, so I may as well take the time I spent doing PTO and other volunteer work at the school and put it toward directly teaching my own child.

In other words, I’m doing this because I can and I want to.

Welcome … and how we got to this place

There was no big tipping point that led us into homeschooling – my daughter – aka Kiki – had a wonderful third-grade teacher who seemed to really get her, and she had two or three close friends (just right for the introvert she is). But there were days I couldn’t get over the feeling that I could be doing more for her – more to help her in her weak spots and more to encourage growth in her strong areas. Also, I never got the sense that she ever felt excited about anything at school – other than recess or her part in the class play.

On a whim, I decided to look for some math enrichment online – something Kiki could do at home to move her a little ahead while reinforcing what she was learning. They looked great – and more fun than regular classroom work – but when would we find the time to do them after homework, after dance and gymnastics and after enough play time with her friends? Plus would she really WANT the extra work on top of everything else?

Many of the programs I came across were advertised for homeschooling families. Reading Facebook posts from my friends who teach their kids at home already made me curious about what was involved, so I was compelled to click on links to homeschooling blogs and informational web sites. There is a TON of reading material out there for anyone who is curious.

Then the idea just took hold – why the heck couldn’t I take full responsibility for my child’s education? My main doubts come from the fact that I have no education degree or background (other than being somewhat educated myself), but even my teacher friends who homeschool assured me that it’s not necessary for the purpose of teaching my own children. When you’re focused on your own family, teaching seems to be a natural extension of parenting. We’re always teaching our kids about manners and chores and other day-to-day things; why not add the stuff they teach at school?

So I gathered my links and set out to convince my husband that this was a good idea. Like me before I started doing the research, he was skeptical about homeschooling for a few reasons: Would Kiki like it? Would being with her all day every day drive a wedge between me and her? Would being in a totally different environment than kids who attend regular schools make her seem like a freak? Would she never learn to respect authority figures who aren’t her parents? And then there’s the S-word that so many people pull out as an argument against homeschooling: socialization.

It only took a little bit of reading (including my pros and cons lists) to get my husband on board, though. In his words: “It’s a no-brainer.”

So here we are – ready to teach and ready to learn!