This week marked our first week of homeschool preschool. Does that surprise you? I feel like it surprises a lot of people. I mean, my husband is a public school teacher. We support our schools. We support a strong community-based school system. The school district we live in isn’t great but we could send our kids elsewhere. The district Chuck teaches in has one of the best early education programs in the state, and it’s within walking distance of his building. It’s not a matter, for us, about feeling like public [or private] schools aren’t good enough.
Our homeschooling discussion actually began when we were still relatively newlyweds, not soon planning for a family. Oh a whim we picked up a book from the bargain bin one day called, “Crunchy Cons” by Rod Dreher. The premise of the book was that there are people who can cross the line between conservative and the granola-farmer’s market-tree hugging-Birkenstock wearing crowd. Granted in 2006 when the book was published the crunchy conservative group was probably a little smaller than it is now. But, for us, the book came at a time when we were trying to figure out how to “do” our marriage and who we were in the great, big world. It places a strong value on the importance of strong faith, families, and communities and we loved that.
In the book, Dreher spends more than a few pages talking about his family’s decision to homeschool. He talks about how it strengthens families. How an education can be perfectly tuned to the needs and desires of each child, each family.
“Strong, healthy individuals and strong, healthy societies cannot be made without strong, healthy families. Homeschooling puts the family first, and involves all its members sacrificially in helping its youngest learn and grow… ‘We want our children to be thoughtful and perceptive, to be able to weigh information and make wise, well-grounded decisions. We want faith to be an integral part of their lives, not a separate subject. If someone’s going to put spin on a topic, it’s going to be [us] and it’s going to be in the direction of what we believe to be right and true.’(p. 138)”.
So we kind of tucked that information away. It would be a few years before we started a family and then a few more we would even consider their schooling. And yet somehow, quicker than I would have ever believed, here we are.
And our situation has changed slightly. When Lucy was diagnosed with food allergies to wheat, dairy, eggs, and peanuts the choice to homeschool became easier. Without seeking, I stumbled upon story after story of parents who take on exhaustive, emotional battles with their children’s schools to ensure they have a safe environment in which to learn. I thought of her sitting alone at an “allergen free table” while her friends laughed at a lunch table farther away. I thought about her having to miss classroom activities where food would be involved. I read stories of children dying because they had an allergic reaction at school and no one was close by who could recognize the signs or administer an epi-pen. I think Lucy is understanding her food allergies more and more every day. She has experienced the digestive wrongs of just a small amount of something she can’t have and now asks, “Will this make me sick?” We don’t live in constant fear of her food limitations but we do recognize the need to exercise caution and the extra effort required to keep her safe.
So, now that I’ve sort of explained how we came to the decision, I did want to kind of put up a disclaimer that every person, every parent, every family is totally different and this is what we’ve decided to do right now. We are not “stuck” with this decision. It’s something we’ll seek out until God changes our perspective, if He so chooses. We don’t think it’s ‘right’ or that not homeschooling is ‘wrong’ [obviously, I mean Chuck is still a public school math teacher] but it is right for our family. There’s always a fear that someone will harshly judge you for a decision that you make, but that’s easily righted if you believe you’ve entrusted the decision to God. What I fear more is that someone would believe we think our present convictions are ‘better’ than theirs or that they’d feel any sense of perceived judgement coming from our direction. Just like everybody else, we’re just trying to build up a family that honors the calling Christ puts on our heart. Whew.
Onward. I thought I’d give a quick glimpse into what our days are looking like and how it’s going for us. Since Lucy is a few months from four, we wanted to start something official but we didn’t want to leave Landon (2) out of it. We plan on her being in preschool again next year so this year our objectives were simple:
-Letter & number recognition
-Write her name
-Memorize her address and a telephone number
-Create a positive perception of homeschool time, and begin a routine.
And for Landon they’re pretty basic:
-Imaginative Role Play
-”Homework” from Speech Therapist
We start the day with a Bible story and “devotion around the breakfast table. It usually involves these three books [The Jesus Storybook Bible, Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, and Big Thoughts For Little People] and we’re loosely following some of the ideas from here.
Because of their ages, our “school” time lasts between 20-40 minutes with Lucy fully engaged and Landon semi-participating. We’re trying out a workbox approach a la 1+1+1=1 but we’re only doing three per kid and I don’t have fancy bins. Before I commit any resources to it, I wanted to see how the kids would respond to the system so I used some organizers I had around the house [okay, they used to hold all of my fabric but with a baby coming in a few months and two toddlers to spare I'm not really doing much in the way of recreational crafting right now.].
On top of the shelves we’ve got a few workbooks. I know work pages are sort of questionable for some but Lucy LOVES them so I try to pick them up when I see them for a good price used [because usually a kid only did the first few pages and then it sat for a while and was quickly outgrown]. It’s cheaper to buy a workbook than it is to buy paper and ink for our home printer. I know, I did the math. :)
I also pick out three to five books for the theme of the week. Right now we’re just doing a basic ‘letter of the week’ thing and picking out topics that start with that letter. So for ‘A’ we did alligators and apples but I’ll share more in-depth about our week in another post. We’re also reading a lot of fairy tales, rhyming books, and poems with hand motions as suggested by our speech therapist.
There’s a bench adjacent to the little nook where the shelves are that we’re using as a desk. We’ve pulled up some kid-sized chairs and we keep our art trays on top to designate which space is for which kid. If you have two kids close in age that makes perfect sense to you. :)
On the first shelf we keep the “work” of the day: the printables based on the objective. Lucy has a desire to learn to write her letters so we’ve got some worksheets to help her towards that cause. The favorite sheet for both kids was actually the dot sheet.
Usually after we finish the first shelf we’ll go into the living room and snuggle up and read a few books and maybe sing a few songs.
The second shelf has our fun thing of the day. They’re both big on projects so we save those for second. They also involve markers, paint, glue, etc. so we wait to do those.
The bottom shelf has an independent activity for each of them based either on their interests or the theme, depending on what we already own. This is the most important shelf for Landon because he pretty quickly tires of the others. Which is okay. We’re really not looking for “book knowledge” from him as much as the ability to listen and sit still for a couple minutes.
It’s been fun to have this consistent routine. We’re doing these sit down days three days a week and keeping the other two days open for play dates and park adventures. This week we did the park one day and the zoo one day.
It’s working well for us so far. It’s just the right combination of structured and free play and short enough not to worry about it too much. I think it’ll be just the right amount of conditioning to make next year go smoothly. Hopefully I’ll learn a little something about how kids this age learn at home so that when L and L are older I have some activities to keep their younger siblings busy while they’re doing their reading and ‘rithmatic. :)