The Downside of Homeschooling

One day, you boys are going to hear me fondly recounting our many homeschooling adventures.  I’m pretty good at trying to focus on the good memories and the positive outcomes  – like trying to always keep the good stuff close and push the bad stuff out of my memory as much as possible.  That may create an unrealistic expectation when it comes to raising your own kids. It paints a pretty and peaceful picture, but it raises the expectations to ludicrous levels.  In reality, it’s noisy, sticky, and loud.

I can’t see the future. My job is just to prepare you for as many challenges as I can.  But I can’t see who you will marry, what your future wives might think of homeschooling, and whether they were homeschooled themselves or were like your dad and I, and went to public or private schools.

So this is not a letter to you boys.  This is, most likely, a letter to your future wives. Not to pull the gender card here, but women usually have the job (again if this is what you choose) to stay at home and homeschool the kids.  I’m not judging here whatever you choose.  Please don’t read that.  Life has a lot of choices, and sometimes when you think you’ve made one choice and put the decision to bed, you find that you just hadn’t gotten far enough into your own life story because the choice comes back to you.  So homeschool or not…not judging here.

But if you do homeschool….

I want, instead, to give a message to your future wives who may choose to homeschool your kids.

Let me say that I love homeschooling you kids.  I do.  Honestly.  I love that we homeschool. I love that you boys are learning together and growing together.  I think it helps that you see each other struggle through material.  You see that neither of you is perfect, and you have very different strengths and weaknesses.  Right now, you are 5, 4 and 2 1/2.  Max hasn’t joined us yet.

But days like today…   It’s only lesson 2 of your new curriculum  studies.  And this morning there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I feel like the tyrant school teacher I had when I was in the second grade.  Boy, I couldn’t do anything right for that woman.  Mrs. Tussinger….I still hate her.  Somehow I drove her so crazy that she put me outside of the classroom.  Literally. She sat my desk in the hall and I wasn’t allowed back in for a very long time.

A mom who chooses to homeschool never sets out to be a tyrant teacher.  But…trying to get two kids to stay on task and learn to follow instructions is a pill.  And boy do I mean it.  Here was my morning covering  exactly 1 subject lesson (Math).  I’m not even getting to Phonics or Science or Social Studies, or Bible.  This was our entire homeschool experience in one subject.

First, we were practicing counting out objects.  I gave them each a pile of shiny plastic gems and we used random flash cards 1-10 to count out the right number.

Here’s a recap:

Realize that Justin is just counting to infinity and not getting that once he gets to the right number, he needs to stop. Nor is he counting the objects at all. He is just reciting numbers.  Graham gets it.  Or…at least he does until we get to numbers 6-10.  Then he does the same thing.  Then starts making pictures with them.  So does Justin.  Start over. Count them out with them. Individually.  Success with both boys…after 10 minutes.  Now they understand the exercise.  Moving onto the workpage. After going over the topics of “first, middle, and last”, and then using our worksheet to circle the correct one, Justin decides to circle everything on the page when my back is turned to help Graham.  When I erase everything on the page for Justin and we do it together again, Graham starts making animal noises and falling out of his chair. Which he does every few minutes.   Justin joins in.  Yelling gets you both back in your chairs.  (We are only 15 minutes into the lesson).  I realize that Graham doesn’t understand the instructions, but is guessing very well.  Do the lesson again, using a different tactile objects.  Graham gets it.  Put the worksheet back in front of him.  He doesn’t get it again.  Graham’s language development creates some interesting challenges because audible language is a struggle, but he can read better than a 2nd grader – seriously (Thank you Einstein syndrome).   Justin, meanwhile, has started re-circling everything on the page.  When I get on to him, he starts to cry.  But now, Graham understands the lesson and can replicate it – Yay!   Now to calm Justin down.  Give a hug.  And a kiss.  Now we have to practice writing the number “1”.  Show them how to get ready to write by sitting up in the chair, turning the paper to the side, place their fingers on their pencil finger guides correctly, and we practice.  Actually, this part goes well.  But then, Graham starts halfway standing in his chair, he won’t put his arm and wrist down on the desk (he’s left handed too…just to make everything more fun), so it’s like he’s painting with a pencil, rather than putting stronger marks down so his circles and lines are so light as to nearly be invisible.  Justin is actually doing okay here.  Realize that the guides are causing Graham more trouble and maybe we don’t need them anymore.  Take them off (and they are tricky to get on and off) .  Seems like he’s doing okay without them.  Moving on to the next activity in the lesson.  It’s been 40 minutes.  The lesson is only supposed to last 20.  While erasing the board, realize that Graham, seeing that I removed his pencil guides, decides to do the same for Justin.  Ack!  Now I have to get them back on.  While getting them back on, Justin asks if he can be done.  Graham wants to eat breakfast.  I tell them both no, that  we  are almost done, and to get back in their chairs.  They sort of do it.  I yell again to get into their chairs correctly.  They start crying.  We eventually finish the lesson in an hour – it should have been 20 min.  They are now crying and need a hug. And a kiss.  And right then, so do I.  Justin is super happy school is over.  So is Graham.  Then…the guilt.  Justin points out “Mama you’re happy now”.  Congratulations..  You have finished Lesson #2 of #160. Just call me Miss Tussinger now.

When you homeschool, you ask yourself a lot of questions.  Am I being to hard on them? Too firm and demanding? Or am I recognizing that the discipline does have to start early if we are going to do well later.  Keep in mind, after this lesson and breakfast, they had 2 hours of playtime…mostly because I needed a long time out.  Still…the yelling at them.  Even the occasional spanking when they seriously get out of line. Regular school wouldn’t do that, right?  Well…I got spankings at my private school a lot.  My first grade teacher, Miss Lee….she used to blister my hands EVERY SINGLE DAY with a ruler.  I never understood how I could get in so much trouble when most of the kids didn’t.  But there was always the “usual suspects” which consisted of 5 boys and 1 girl…me.  I guess I had a lot of trouble doing what I was supposed to do.  Maybe I fidgeted and fell out of my chair a lot.  Maybe I hated following the instructions and always tried to go my own way. What scares me is that I hated those teachers and still do to this day.  However, in third grade, I had a nice teacher – Mrs. Petty.  She was quieter, and pleasant, and never raised her voice to me.  I thrived in her class.  But by then, the rules had been so drilled into me, that I didn’t even think about breaking them.  I didn’t fidget in my chair, I walked in a straight line without holding it up (which I was prone to do) to run my fingers along the walls or ropes or water fountains. I completed my work, and I didn’t talk when I shouldn’t.  I obeyed the rules.  I chose to start the school year that way because she was so nice I wanted her to like me.  Did the teacher change me, or did the first two teachers cause me to choose to be better and quit being a brat and obey the rules? Or did I just mature a little more? I honestly don’t know.  But right now, I feel too much like Miss Lee and Miss Tussinger, and hardly at all like Mrs Petty.  And I HATE it.

The argument about Homeschool is that kids don’t understand social norms – and specifically, that they aren’t developing social skills.  But I think most social norms are usually about following the unspoken rules – and there’s a lot of them.  If you are expected to sit quietly (and as an adult, that is a constant expectation), you have to learn it.  If you are expected to read and follow instructions, you have to do it or the consequences could be serious.  You have to learn to listen to the person in charge, whether it’s an instructor, a boss, or a preacher. You have to be part of a team and work cooperatively.  You can’t be obnoxious.  You can’t detract from the work that people are trying to get done.  You have to learn cooperation. You have to learn that, yes, there is a time for downtime – but more importantly, there is an awful lot of  “uptime” expected in life.

So whether or not we learned the lesson, they did understand that they had to sit in their chair.  They understood that if they didn’t sit correctly so that they were ready to do the work, I was going to get cross.  They had to learn that I made them re-do something over and over and over until they put the energy into getting it right.  They had to learn they had to listen to the instructions and follow them, rather than going on a tangent.  They had to learn that when I am working with one, they need to be quiet and be patient and wait their turn – not scribble or draw on the pages.  So maybe we covered more than the math lesson after all.  Maybe tomorrow, we won’t have some of these battles.  And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to move forward without tears tomorrow because they will know more of the social rules that I’m making them follow.

But it is freaking tough.  It’s the downside of putting the role of Mom aside and turning it into a teacher.  It sucks.  It’s miserable.  And you probably need to have a big group hug afterwards.

So…if there is a future daughter in law of mine who might one day sit where I’m sitting, just know you are loved, and that I’m here for you to vent – in every way possible, just vent to me.  I’m creating this as evidence that I’m not, never have been, never will be, perfect and I don’t expect you to be either.  But if this is one choice you’ve made, it’s not going to be an easy one. And most days early on…you may just hate it.  It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong either.  It just means that it is real work – you know it is…because outside your house, people get PAID to do it!