Life Adjustment

Well, some things have happened.

If we’re Facebook friends, you would have been subjected to a barrage of posts from me in September expressing frustration/distress/general dislike of the process of Isabeau starting kindergarten. It was, and this is a huge understatement, not fun for any of us.

Isabeau, much to my surprise, hated it. She started off strong, with a lot of enthusiasm. This is due to a very positive preschool experience and some great orientations that the school hosted back in May. After a week, she was expressing what felt like a normal amount of insecurity and resistance to going. Fair enough, I thought. There’s an adjustment period. After two weeks, she was getting hysterical at the idea of going to kindergarten. At three and four weeks, her attitude was in the toilet and every day was a battle. Some time in October, her resistance to going decreased, but her communication shut off completely. When I asked her how her day went, she snapped, “I don’t want to talk about it!” This happened every single day. It did not make me feel any better.

There was stuff going on in my head too. I wasn’t in love with the idea of full day kindergarten to start with (although boy howdy was I looking forward to the freedom, both time wise and financially). When her reactions got so strong, I began to feel even more strongly that this wasn’t the right time for her to be away for that long. I second guessed myself. Was I coddling her? Was I projecting my own issues with school (So. Many. Issues.) onto her? I spent most of September and October in an ugly state of depressed and anxious, with a few childhood demons dancing around me and jeering for good measure.

Finally last week, things came to a head. An appointment I had booked with a child psychologist (because overkill is my middle name) finally happened.  She very clearly stated that developmentally, Iz was not ready to be away from home six hours a day. That week, Isabeau’s resistance hit an all time high, and she began to interrupt her happy play time at home to come tell me that she didn’t want to go to school any more. It was clearly on her mind all the time. It seemed pretty shitty to me that a five year old was experiencing this kind of anxiety.

So… based on the recommendation of the child psychologist, I pulled her out of kindergarten. Based on my own feelings about what I think is right for her right now, we are now homeschoolers.

Yes, you read that right. Surprised? Me too.

This decision is, obviously, very controversial. I have spoken to a few carefully selected friends about it already, some chosen because I knew they would enthusiastically support it and some because I knew they wouldn’t (or at least would ask me thoughtful questions and not spare my feelings). No one has asked me any questions that I haven’t felt able to address to my own satisfaction. Nonetheless, I know that people will have opinions and questions, and I thought I would address them here:

All kids hate school. Aren’t you coddling her?

No. This kid has been in daycare and preschool, and both of them went perfectly well. The fact that kindergarten has been so negative for her means that something isn’t right. Maybe it’s full day kindergarten, or maybe it’s that that particular school wasn’t the right fit for her. Either way,  she’s not staying there.

Kids have to learn to deal with difficult situations, you know.

Yes, I know. If you can explain to me how I can protect my kid from difficult situations, I’m eager to hear it. She has had and continues to have all kinds of situations that she will have to deal with in life.  Throwing your kid into a situation that they are not developmentally ready for isn’t teaching coping skills, however– it’s encouraging emotional shutdown.

Aren’t you worried about socialization?

No. Next question?

No, really.

So, here’s the thing. As I’ve gone down the road of researching this, I have rapidly gotten to the point where the whole question of socialization makes me do a gigantic eye roll. “Socialization” means a lot of different things to different people. Do I want well adjusted kids who can get along with people of various ages and backgrounds? Absolutely. Can homeschooling give me that? Studies say yes. I am unconvinced that throwing my kid into a classroom for six hours a day with a bunch of kids who all happen to be born in the same year as she was is the best way to achieve that. (Side note: I don’t think school taught me anything whatsoever about socialization. I think it taught me to keep my head down and my defenses up. See: Lord of the Flies.)

Want more? Read this book. Round it out with this one for some insight into peer relationships.

Don’t you worry about her falling behind academically?

Of course I do. That’s why I’m going to pay careful attention to what we’re doing, assess constantly, and change direction where we need to. That’s the neat thing about homeschooling. Education gets tailored to the child, instead of the child being tailored to the education.

Yeah man, I get you. The system is really broken. And teachers. Those who can’t do, teach, am I right?

You’re not going to hear those words come out of my mouth. Teachers deserve more money, more recognition, daily foot rubs and a bushel of apples every single day. That job is HARD, and you are not going to hear me criticize the people with the cajones to do it. As for the system, it’s not perfect. Broken? I don’t know about that. I’m not sure how else you handle getting a whole lot of kids through their grade. Maybe you’ve got an answer? Let’s talk about it. I find this stuff really, really interesting.

So, I mean, you’re just going to do this? Forever?

I have no idea. We’ll do it for as long as we need to and it works for our lives. When it makes sense to do something else, we’ll do that. Maybe that will be a year. Maybe six months. Maybe twelve years. Adaptability is the new black.

I dunno. Don’t only super religious types and hippies homeschool?

Those people totally homeschool! They also enroll their kids in school sometimes. Home learning numbers, interestingly enough, are going through the roof in recent years. Unless there’s a sharp increase in the number of hippies and religious types running around, I’m thinking some of those people are probably reasonably mainstream. Related: even if they were only hippies and religious types, that’s still not a good reason to avoid homeschooling if it’s the right choice for your family.

What about university?

Neat thing? It seems that a higher percentage of homeschool graduates go to university than traditionally schooled students. Why? Generally speaking, home learners tend to be self motivated, they know how to study, and they know how to set goals and complete them. We’re not doing this so our kid gets into university, but if she wants to go, I don’t think it’ll be an issue.

So, having answered all those questions, here are some things I’m legitimately concerned about:

What if I’m not up to the task?

I’m pretty excited about taking this on, but I’m not unaware of the fact that I can have a short attention span. I get bored quickly and want to move on to the next thing. I think I have some safeguards in place to take care of that, which I will talk about at a later date, but it’s something I want to stay aware of.

Privilege.

I’m well aware of the fact that  I am very, very privileged to be able to even consider this. The support of my family is huge. I am incredibly lucky. In the midst of that gratitude, the fact that this option is simply not open to everyone who wants to do it makes me uncomfortable. First world problems, I guess? I am also not necessarily in love with the idea that everyone in a certain socio-economic class chooses something “better” (whether homeschool or private school or whatever else it may be) for their kids, and the implications that has for our education system and population as a whole. In my ideal world, everyone has equal access to whatever educational system works best for them. Not realistic, maybe, but I do somewhat believe that aiming for the idealistic goal is always best. In some ways, I am not doing that here. (Although in other ways, I am. Damn you, cognitive dissonance!)

Loss of self.

This is a lot to take on. I was pretty excited about full day kindergarten and the fact that Corbin would be fast on her heels next year. The thought of that freedom made me giddy, and what I’m looking at now is… well… an indefinite commitment. An indefinite commitment that is going to take a lot of my emotional resources. I am going to have to stay on top of my emotional needs and make sure those are taken care of, and I worry that I’m going to lose sight of that. On the other hand, it don’t think it can possibly be worse than the emotional drain that school was taking on both of us. So there’s that.

Scrutiny.

I know that by making a choice that is very different from the mainstream, I am setting my kids up for increased scrutiny. If one of them has a meltdown in public, it will be because I homeschool. If one of them is perfectly well behaved,  it will be because she’s brainwashed by homeschooling. There is a lot of judgement around the choice to homeschool, and there is not a lot I can do about that. Further to that, a lot of people will take my choice to do something different as criticism of *their* parenting choices. That is what it is, but I hope if you know me, I’m not judging your parenting. If I hated your parenting, I probably wouldn’t be friends with you.

Well, there you have it. We are that freaky homeschooling family now, and for the foreseeable future. While we’re at it, I should probably confess that my kids drank a kale smoothie yesterday. Judge me if you must.

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