by Mary Prather, mom and former public school music teacher.
What makes for a good education? That is a question I asked myself for several years BEFORE I had children.
You see, I was first an elementary school music teacher and then I earned my Masters Degree in Educational Administration. The classroom was a place of endless creative possibilities for me. I loved children and I wanted to spend my career working to make education better wherever I was. I thought I was pretty much the expert on what made a good education. Well, that was UNTIL I had my own school age children.
That was ten years ago. Fast forward five years – I became a stay at home mom and was preparing to put my youngest child into Kindergarten. We had purchased a home in a good area, specifically for the elementary school. I was hesitant about putting my daughter into public school. She had such a sense of adventure and wonder, which had been nurtured by the Christian preschool she attended. I remember on that first day of preschool, the director told the parents to not linger when we dropped the children off at school. She called it “kiss and fly”. Give your child a kiss and let them fly away. I did that on the first day of Pre-K and my daughter was great. Now, on this first day of kindergarten I was a mess, and my daughter looked at me from her kindergarten doorway and said “Kiss and fly, mommy!”. I cried the whole way home. Something just didn’t feel right.
The school was so big. The room was so small. It seemed like such a harsh transition for a child so young. She loved to learn, but would this environment stifle her? I spent that year volunteering A LOT in her classroom. She had what I deemed a “good” teacher, but that good teacher couldn’t change the behavior problems of a little girl who was once suspended for throwing a rock at the teacher. She couldn’t change the fact that she had 22 children in her class. She couldn’t change the fact that for several days in the spring the children sat huddled in the hall bored to tears during tornado drills. When I read Melissa’s article about not wanting to send them back to school, I could relate. This was my exact feeling just a few years ago!
I kept having these feelings for the next three years, and two of those years she had what I would deem an exceptional teacher. My daughter grew up way too fast. She didn’t love learning anymore. She was only reading books on a certain assigned level from the library because she had to take tests on them. She pitched fits over homework each night. She had a teacher who told me she was “certainly not gifted” but was “just so sweet and loved to please”. Wow. Talk about high expectations. One day in her classroom I volunteered and the teacher gave me the job of monitoring the “problem corner” – a group of four boys who were quite disruptive. That’s right. She had put them all in one corner and used a parent volunteer to basically sit on them. I was about to snap. The only thing my daughter really loved anymore was when I would lay in bed and read wonderful books to her in the evening… but we couldn’t stay up too late because she had to get up for school the next day.
As my youngest son was getting ready to enter Kindergarten, I just couldn’t wrap my head around sending him down the same path. He was so very bright, but not as compliant as his sister. If someone didn’t really “get” him, he could be misunderstood, bored, and probably in trouble. I didn’t want that for him. I don’t quite remember how or why, but I said the fated word – homeschool – to my husband one evening. To my surprise, he told me he wanted to find out more and that he thought I would be a great teacher (that’s easy to say when you’re not going to be the one giving up your whole life to be with them, right?). My mom told me I would surely miss all of the “me time” and told me it would be a bad decision. My dad wondered how I could ever teach them math. You have to remember, however, that the traditional system of education is all the past few generations have known. Old habits die VERY hard.
We finally got up the nerve and pulled our daughter out of school in November 2009. My son would finish preschool and come home thefollowing fall. I spent the months before that thoroughly researching homeschooling philosophies and reading book after book.* A good friend of mine from church who homeschooled all of her children guided me, and I am so grateful for her support. Reading the works of Charlotte Mason and Jessie Wise Bauer (the Well Trained Mind) really inspired me, gave me invaluable curriculum information, and got me excited about the possibilities for my children.
I can’t tell you it has all been roses. It is HARD work. My full time job now is educating my children. I do give piano lessons for several hours during the week, but for the most part I am always with my kids. In the beginning this felt like a bit of a death sentence (sad, huh?), but once they were both at home full-time, we began to discover the immense joys of learning together as a family. We read aloud A LOT. We participate in a homeschool co-op one day a week where they each take two wonderful classes. (There are abundant resources available for homeschoolers if you just look.) We go on a ton of great field trips. My definition of education is changing daily. We no longer try to have “school at home”. We just try to seize every educational opportunity no matter what time of day or night it is. I’m finding that my children are loving learning and want to learn about things that interest them. Learning is no longer a CHORE. My job now, instead of worrying about their education when they are away from me, is directing their individualized education and watching them grow into independent learners. What a privilege this is. My mom and dad are now my biggest supporters. I sleep much better at night.
So, when we talk about what makes for a good education, I say consider a HOME education. If you think you could never do that or your children would never learn enough from you, don’t sell yourself short. YOU are the expert on your child and can give them exactly what they need. That’s why they were entrusted to your care, and you are equipped to be their best teacher. Read some books, scour the internet. Find out all you can about homeschooling. I think you’ll be surprised at the number of options and resources available to you. Not be cliché, but where there is a will, there is a way.
I am so thankful we made this decision. These years are just too precious to let my children sit in a substandard environment for six hours each day, while bureaucrats and theorists try to figure out what’s best for their education. I already know, so why not do it myself?
*If you are considering homeschooling, here are some books that would greatly help you:
The Well Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise Bauer
A Charlotte Mason Education by Charlotte Levison
Homeschooling the Early Years by Linda Dobson
What the Rest of Us Can Learn from Homeschooling by Linda Dobson
*Follow our family’s journey through homeschooling at http://homeschoolsuccess.blogspot.com
Melissa’s Note: Mary is a reader of Imagination Soup who, after reading my posts last week, offered to share her story. I’m glad she did. Thank you! The wonderful thing about Mary is that she hopes her story can help others – whether me or you. That’s the best kind of sharing – from the heart, with sincerity.