Well, September has come.
And, along with it, a brand-spanking new school-year filled with lots of changes, hope, and a fair amount of trepidation on my part. Because homeschooling. And middle schoolers. And just plain doing something hard and counter-cultural, when you don’t know how it will all turn out in the end.
Last year, right around Christmastime, things really started going south between us and the school five of my kids attended. Concerns I’d had for awhile began to manifest themselves in ways I wasn’t loving. Bullying, racism, and kids not getting the academic help they needed (and were legally guaranteed), along with a few other pretty horrible incidents, combined to make us decide that this was no longer an appropriate place for my children to be spending eight hours a day, five days a week. You keep asking yourself “Is it just me? Am I making too big a deal out of this?”, but then enough bad things happen where you decide that no, no you are not.
And you make the really hard decision to bring all five of those kids home the following school-year.
And now September is here, and we’re beginning our third week of school at home.
Turns out that homeschooling a bunch of big kids is fairly exhausting. Who knew?
I took advanced courses and earned good grades in school, but at thirty-six years old my brain is woefully out of practice when it comes to algebraic equations and subject complements. It hurts–OH HOW IT HURTS–to solve for that sneaky, elusive value of x. Thank goodness for solutions manuals, and teacher editions. Caffeinated coffee also earns a well-deserved mention here, because I gave it up back in January to see if it helped my nonexistent energy levels, but then I discovered the real culprit was hypothyroidism. So, I’ve recently run happily back into the arms of my favorite legal addictive stimulant. (Easier said than done, though, because once you’ve been off caffeine for awhile, it makes you reallllll jittery when you add it back in. But I have played through the pain and come out calmly, and heart-palpitation-free, on the other side.) And miracle of all miracles, it makes math and grammar and science and mornings, in general, more bearable. Oh coffee, I love you so.
Anyway yes, we’re doing hard, new things this year. But do you want to know something absolutely crazy? We may be only two weeks in, and it’s far too early to know too much, but I’m loving what I’m seeing.
My kids who struggled with math so much last year? Including the one who failed second semester, and had no clue what was going on? That kid is KILLING IT so far. Working hard, gaining confidence, and discovering they are, actually, very good with numbers, computation, and operations. My other kid who is taking advanced math in the form of (gulp) Algebra 1 right now is also doing so, so well. I worried I might not be able to keep that particular kid academically challenged, in general, but then she told me that this year is way harder than her years in school so, I guess we’re doing okay in that department. They are all also working hard at studying History, which includes (among other things) reading and outlining encyclopedia entries and primary sources, writing summaries, and taking oral and written exams. Oh yes, I do love history. Sorry kids.
The four oldest kids are also taking courses at a classical Catholic program–things like Latin, Writing, and Literature. It feels so good to have a few subjects taken off my plate! We’d initially planned for them to attend something similar through the local school district, but the drive was going to be a bit long, so we opted for something closer (for now. Because it’s wayyyyyyyy more expensive. But, the kids are praying the Angelus at noon, so we’ll call it a win.) Our parish is also offering some classes this semester, like Music Appreciation, and a book club discussing St. Augustine’s Confessions. My eighth grader is pretty excited about being in our priest’s book club!
It was, in many ways, very difficult pulling the kids out of school. Harder than putting them in, and harder than deciding to homeschool in the first place all those years ago. Even when stuff at school was going badly. Why? Because once you are part of the “system”, you start to think that way. You start to believe that something magical is happening within the school walls that is not within your grasp at home. You start to wonder if your kid is just plain destined to be a failure, in spite of having demonstrated that he or she is quite smart. You question your capabilities, your kids’ potential, and whether what you’re doing will serve them well in the end. But I wish to say that the last two weeks have shown me that you absolutely CAN prepare your kids for high school and college at home. It’s not the only option, or automatically the best option, but it is an option. I’m still adjusting to the workload and trying to find a good rhythm to my day–it doesn’t help that I’ve caught two colds in the last two weeks, so I have yet to have more than about one day of good health since we started–but I’m at least confident that this was the right choice for my kids this year. Socially, academically, spiritually, and psychologically.
So take heart, dear readers. If you’re trying new things that are hard, wondering if you have what it takes, or being tempted to despair, please remember that we parents absolutely have the freedom (and responsibility!) to figure out what’s best for our children. Sometimes that takes awhile. Sometimes it looks like placing them in a new school, and sometimes it looks like pulling them out. I’m still just as sure I don’t really know what I’m doing over here, but I’m also pretty sure we’re doing well enough.