We now have three energetic and happy boys: Jack (9), Will (7) and Sean (3). All three went to preschool a few mornings a week at a local Presbyterian church weekday school that I love. The older boys both started kindergarten at our local public elementary. Despite it being a "good" school I had fairly low expectations that it would align with my ideals for a good education. I sent Jack on the bus to kindergarten with the idea that if things were bad I would pull him out to homeschool him. Well, things seemed pretty good to start off. We were blessed with some amazing teachers, the boys seemed happy, I joined the PTA, volunteered at school often and had another baby to keep me busy!
This past school year (2015-2016) as things settled down with the "baby" going to preschool I started to get the nagging feeling that I should try homeschooling. If this is what I really want to do, then why wait for a bad teacher, a bad situation, etc. Things about the school started to really bother me. The parent teacher conferences that focused on all the benchmark testing and goals. Pages of charts and graphs, ranking my kids against their peers. Both kids were at or well above the "goals" I should add, but I still found this drudgery. All of it. Them taking the tests, the teachers dealing with all these reports and me trying to figure out how to tell what my kids needed by the various pictograms. Other things bothered me more. "We aren't allowed to play basketball at recess anymore." "We had silent lunch today." And the Panda Ticket. Oh, the Panda Ticket. Panda Ticket is a third grade discipline system at our school that the children carry around in their folders from class to class in the form of a calendar with an elaborate code. As in "H" for hallway and "2" for Talking. If they had less than five infractions then they got to watch a movie that month. The kids that had more than five abuses would have to sit in a classroom to read while their peers got the screen time. Jack never had more violations than allowed, but the ones he got bothered me. Sure. there were a few talking ones but one day he came home with a "C4" which stood for Disrespecting Property in the Classroom. Surprised, I asked him what he did. "We had indoor recess since it rained so we were playing paper football on our desks and I got in trouble." For flicking a folded up piece of paper during indoor recess. Indoor recess bothers me enough (put them in raincoats and go outside!) but the fact that they're just supposed to sit quietly and play electronics makes me bonkers. I get that the teachers are stretched thin and need some kind of system, but it just seems like more drudgery for the kids.
This wasn't all that drove me to homeschool. Looking back at Jack's kindergarten experience makes me cringe. He knew his letters and the sounds they make going into school, but was not reading yet. We were told they did not need to know how to read. He was five. Within a few weeks the teacher had a board with a list of "superstars" that knew all of their kindergarten sight words. We also got updates of who joined the elite club sent out in an email each week. Looking back, Jack really just wasn't ready to read yet. But we forced it to get those stupid sight words memorized. He did it with tears and flashcards and painful sessions of reading out loud. Fast forward to the start of third grade and he is reading at a "U" level when the goal is only an "R" by the end of the year or something. Point being, he found a love of reading on his own time (thank you, J.K. Rowling) and I think if he just started around age 6 instead of 5 it would have been much more natural. On the flip side, the kid has never seen a math problem in four years of school that he didn't already know how to compute and give the correct answer.
Then we have Will. Will pretty much learned the foundation for reading in his 4's class at preschool. His teacher was amazing. Never used a worksheet or added any drudgery to learning. Just made little games that encouraged some writing if the child was so inclined. Playing doctor and writing prescriptions on a little pad. Playing mailman and writing postcards. Playing shopkeeper and writing out lists and receipts. She never pushed, but he was so eager to enter the mysterious world of letters his older brother was already a part of that he had just what he needed to explore it naturally. Obviously, kindergarten was a breeze for him. When I would volunteer in the classroom for writing workshops he would have complete sentences with perfect spelling and handwriting. He seemed to be flourishing but I noticed changes at home. School "breaking the spirit" seems a little trite, but I saw the boy that would sit down for hours drawing and writing his own ideas stop doing this. The happy go lucky little guy seemed more tense, irritable, and quicker to anger. He is VERY active and he never once got in trouble from kindergarten through first grade, but I think sitting still for this long really took a lot out of him. In addition, at our school special needs children are mainstreamed. I think this is generally a great idea, but with proper resources. We did not have any aides or a smaller class size to compensate, so his teacher spent an immense amount of time with the special needs student in his class at the expense of the other 21 students.
Here I sit, in late July of 2016, preparing all of my lesson plans and blocks for the upcoming year and feeling just a bit scared but also very excited. I thought I should record my hopes for this year, or at least what I am trying to get out of this experience. I want a greater connection with the outdoors for myself and the boys. I want to incorporate mind/body work in the form of yoga, breathing, meditation and prayer into their school day. I want them to have the space to explore their own interests. I want community service and volunteerism to play bigger roles. I want them to have a few moments to do nothing and enjoy it rather than feel bored. I want art and music and handwork and physical activity and technology to not be relegated to once a week "specials." I want them to learn another language and experience other cultures and religions. I want my kids to want to find out more about the world around them. I really want, and this is a big one, us all to get along better as a family with less arguing and more thoughtfulness.
Wish me luck, I'm going to need it!