February 2011

Slow Growth

February 3, 2011

Photo by Jacob Fontenot
The word Growth has been everywhere for me lately. My oldest son finally has a loose tooth, and his feelings of growing up have jumped exponentially. Watching these two wee ones who have been by my side for the past 7 and 5 years, growing into their own selves, transforming every day, it has been both magical and heart breaking.

I have slowly watched the child inside of me grow and grow. Now to the point of trying ever so hard to enter the world, kicking and flailing, dilating and moving. Oh there has been just so much growth for this little being so far, and so much more to do. I am beginning to let the thoughts creep in; What will this new person be like? What will change in our lives upon their arrival? How will we grow and expand as we welcome this new life?

Then there is the growth that is much more under the surface. The growth that these three little ones have brought to their mama. Growing from a self-minded young woman to an almost 35 year old mama and wife. Growing from a girl who was afraid to stand on her own, to one who is confident in the life choices that she has been making. Growing from someone who believed that life was so limited, to one who sees no end to the possibilities that life holds.

That growth is just beginning to surface, and I have enjoyed the small glimpses that I have gotten recently. It is amazing, as mothers, how much focus we have on the every day growth and milestones of our little ones, and how little we see it in ourselves. I do believe that I have grown more in the past eight years than I had in the ten previous. My children’s growth has fueled and changed my own, and in these quiet final days of pregnancy, I am so grateful for the opportunity to just sit and reflect on who I have become, and how much fun it has been to grow up along side of the children I love so much.


A Homeschooling Conversation

February 1, 2011

Lately, I have had a lot of discussions with friends and other homeschooling families on the dilemma of homeschooling versus traditional education, and many of you have asked what our days looks like, or how we made the decision to home school our kids. I also will often get the question about what is both good and bad about the homeschooling experience for our family.

When I first started being asked, I think that I was perhaps rather flippant in my answer “I just believe that the school systems are failing our children”, “Public school has declined since I was a child, and this is the only option for us”. As I think back, those are truly terrible answers. Public school remains a wonderful place for many children, and the fight to continue to keep our education system strong is something I fully participate in, even as a mother of two home schooled kiddos.

The fact is, I made the decision to home school for a multitude of reasons, and it was not because of the idea of public school being evil, while homeschooling was the Yellow Brick Road of education. To be perfectly honest, I fear screwing my kids up every day. Every Day. I wonder if what I provide for them is enough. I worry about social settings, friendships, etc. I have shared that before, and nothing has changed since.

I have always kept the idea of putting them into school a very real possibility, again not because I believe that there is only one way to educate, or that you have to go down a certain path to achieve a certain outcome, but because the only thing I focus on is what they need in this moment.

As I said, so many of you have asked how we became home schoolers, and what drives us, and I want to try and find a way to answer that question honestly. First, I think that the most important thing I can say is that home schooling has the same amount of pros and cons as traditional schooling does. I truly believe that. They are very different, but they are equal in amount.

Home schooling is tough. I am the mother, the teacher, the disciplinarian, the cook, the house keeper, the social planner, the driver and the carer of all boos all the time. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no break, no down time. I am like almost every other home schooling mother, I have no child-care, no house care help, just me. My husband travels most week days, and if it were not for my mom and dad who live down the street and share two days a week of fun with us, I would truly be by myself. This is, however, also my choice.

I set the rhythm for the day, and I also spend a huge amount of my time trying to weave a life that provides a solid education, while not seeming to be too rigid. I am not an unschooler, I am not a true Waldorf or Montessori schooler, I am not a Core Knowledge schooler. I am all and none of these things at the same time.

So what does it truly look like? I use a multitude of curriculums, grade maps from local schools, online outlines from amazing sources, and traditional reading and writing guides with my kiddos. While I do allow my children’s curiosity to  guide what we study on any given day, I also try and expose them to as much as is possible in the hopes that it opens up a world of questions that spark the desire to learn and create. I spend at least 5-6 hours every week planning their days, while still trying so hard to make their home schooling time seem like a natural rhythmic flow. Sometimes we use the lessons I have created, sometimes we chuck the whole the whole thing and go with where a certain experience takes us.

We visit a few museums a week, and while I ask them as many questions to open their thoughts as possible, I do not force them to experience or stay in any given place. I will encourage them to take along sketch books, writing books, and artistic supplies in the hopes that if the urge occurs, they are ready to find a quiet spot and explore their feelings on what they are seeing, hearing or experiencing.

We take filed trips and visit many local spots. We rely on our local university for low-cost immersion in the arts, attending countless concerts, art shows, theatre productions, and readings. While we know that at times the kids might be bored or even sometimes lost, it is our hope that exposure is enough to spark interest.

I use my local library as much as is possible. We are there at least 3 days a week, the boys play a fun game on the computer while I pick out their audio and learning books for the week ahead. They then work their way through the shelves with a bag in hand, picking out what looks good to them.

If I had to give one aspect of home schooling that I believe is essential, it would be a love for the written word. My house is truly lined with books. they are everywhere for the kids to explore, look through and even smell. If they are not reading, they are being read to or are listening to an audio book of some sort. It is just an all the time experience. I asked my father when I was about 7 how he was so smart, and his only answer was “I read a lot”. Nothing has changed. The man still devours every book he can get his hands on, and he is just a sponge of information. I believe that home schooling, and interest of learning of any kind, just works better if a child has a love of reading or being read to.

My kids attend a variety of classes outside of the home. They play guitar, Jacob plays chess in a club five days a week, they both play competitive soccer,  and they take an independent art class. They ski almost every weekend in the winter, and they are on the trail and in the mountains for most of their summer and fall. Their class room is outdoors more than inside the home, they live through experience, and we are a part of a lot of groups that provide them with social balance, and fundamental social behavior. I luck out in this department, because my kids seem to be social by nature. I have heard from many homeschooling families that this balance of outside classes, outside social exposure is key for them to maintaining a healthy balance, and I have to agree. We have an active family, and our kids want to be involved in the outside world as much as they can, so this was one aspect of their education that we had to face early on. If it was going to work, we had to realize that home schooling meant a certain amount of time where we educated them ourselves, and a certain amount of time where they could participate in fun activities with others, while still learning valuable lessons.

You already know, from my crazy amount of posts, that we also value handwork and domestic understanding for our little ones. I share my passions with my kids in the home at all times, and I am pretty sure that the domestic side of myself is what they will remember most about me. They each have a basket of projects that they are working on, and they are free to create at will. Their homeschooling room is more of an art studio, and that is where I find them during most of their down times.

I do use traditional forms of education as well, from creating their own workbooks, to math workbooks, to phonetic guides. I try not shy away from anything that might bring about more interest in a subject matter, and I do like to know that they are proficient in certain things that the educational system might demand from them one day.

The boys both write book reports, create their own math problems, have a reading incentive program, and are encouraged to seek out “extra” studies that they do beyond their school table. We try and bring some aspect of the school world into their lives, like science fairs or spelling bees, just so that they have a basic understanding if they should ever head off to the classroom one day.

There is an expense to homeschooling, and we budget our year very carefully to include art supplies, school supplies, field trips, museum memberships and classes. While the expense is there, we have found a lot of ways to cut out what we don’t need to find the money, and facing facts, it is so much cheaper than private school ever would be.

Many of you know that Jacob suffers from celiac disease, and this is a battle I have been trying to fight  with the schools for over three years, and have yet to win. I suppose that this is where the personal reasons for home schooling truly come into play.  Every time we have attempted to put Jacob in to school, he has become sick, and the battle to keep his school environment “clean” is overwhelming, and shines too much of a spotlight on the things that are “wrong” with him, rather than his ability to live a very normal life. As he gets older, this will obviously change, and may make his ability to join a school environment a very real possibility, if he chooses.

This is really only the beginning of the discussion, and there is so much to say on this subject. Home schooling is not always an easy choice to make, especially with older kiddos, but it does work for many families, and it can be a very healthy experience and alternative when traditional education does not work. I think that one thing that I can say concretely is that we are lucky to have the home schooling option, to be able to take this road if it suits our children, and our family in general. Keeping ourselves open to all possibilities helps to lessen the fears about the pros and cons of our children’s home schooling experience, and helps to move us forward into new ways of thinking of what we need to do, as home schooling parents, to keep the experience a good one.

To add one more piece to this discussion, there are a lot of families who can combine a very enriching home schooling environment, and send their kids off to school. This is something that I think a lot about when looking at our different options. They have enriching environments for their kids in a school setting, and then provide them with as many opportunities for creative learning when they are at home. There is art, music, sports, exposure to so many outside activities. This is the life that I feel I had a child, and it was the way my parents viewed my education; as an all around, every day experience. If and when my children enter the world of school, it is the type of life that I hope to create.

This was a long post, and I hope that I was able to give some insight as to what our days look like, and what dilemmas we face in this journey. There are so many others out there who provide a great look at the home schooling experience, and many who share their home schooling lives openly. I hope that this discussion continues, and that the world of home schooling continues to open and grow.