Making the Home School Decision

June, 2014

Last year I had some friends start homeschooling.  I respected that choice, but it wasn’t anything that I had any desire or intention to implement in my own family. At that point I was just finishing up my Bachelor’s degree and hadn’t yet discovered I was pregnant. Rather than increasing my involvement in my children’s education by home school, I was excited to get to the point where both of my kids were both in school all day and I could easily take an active role in volunteering in their school and classrooms. I always assumed that even if I wanted to home school (which I decidedly had no interest in doing) it would not be an option because it just wouldn’t work with Peter’s personality which thrives on being socially active.

So that was the education plan: get more involved in knowing what the kids are learning by volunteering in their classroom.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
Then we moved to Alaska.
Then I had a brand new baby.
I have never been so happy in my life to see my kids walk out the door every morning and not come back until 3:35 in the afternoon.
Every Friday I praised Alaska for NOT having short days.
I’ve been very content with public school and although having a baby altered my focus a little bit and made volunteering in the boys classroom return to the back burner, I had no complaints about their school.
The teachers gave me the impression that the boys were both quite ahead of their peers.  But they were also making accommodations for that.  Their school uses an online curriculum as supplemental material.  Ammon had finished the 4th grade material so the principal went ahead and loaded 5th and 6th grade work to his profile.  Peter is way ahead in reading but his teacher meets with him privately three times a week to instruct him on his level.  He has seen TREMENDOUS growth in reading this year and I really attribute it to the efforts of his teacher as much as anything. I am really appreciative of all the extra efforts the teachers and administration are making to keep my boys learning.
Every once in a while I would have this random thought about home school that would just pop into my head.  It was easy to ignore – until it wasn’t.
On what seemed to be an unrelated note, I have been trying to figure out how to help my boys learn to play the piano.  I’d also like to see them involved in more extra curricular activities (sports) but honestly scouts and church leaves our evenings feeling full and hectic enough.  Even with the functions that our involvement in those two things entail, I feel like trying to fit in a regular FHE schedule, scripture study etc is really hard on us.  We are great about having family dinner pretty much every night, but Andrew doesn’t get off work until 6:15 so we generally aren’t eating until 6:30 at the earliest.  Sometimes we aren’t eating until 7:00.  On good days we get homework and things done in the afternoon, but sometimes the boys come home and I feel like they just need some downtime.  But then we run out of time after dinner.  And hey, we haven’t even mentioned taking on chores and other responsibilities.  So to add extracurricular activities into our life just sounds overwhelming and impossible. I think a lot of families are able to make a routine that works and accommodates a lot more than what I have been able to feel comfortable with. But every family is different and for a variety of reasons, our family just needs to have a lot of built in down time.
I can’t lay out the exact timeline because everything happened at once.  Over general conference weekend I prayed that I would find some answers about how to accomplish some of our family goals.  I may have even been that Sunday night, or soon after, that I said to Andrew, “Just so you know, I think we *might* end up *looking into* home school *someday*.  I just keep having this thought about it.  But it isn’t anything I want to do right now and I’m not really that interested in it.  I just wanted you to know that it is a consistent impression I’ve been receiving and I think it will come up in our future.” And to myself I added, “Like, the DISTANT future… maybe for our grand kids or something…” because really, this is something I never had any desire or intention to pursue.
A few days later I was watching Peter work on his homework.  He gets a math worksheet to do every day after school and it takes him about 5 1/2 seconds to complete.  As I looked closer I realized that it is pretty much the exact same math he was doing at the beginning of the year.  Like I said before, his teacher has spoken to me about the fact that he gets math taught “to his level” from their computerized curriculum, and she has apologized for the fact that his homework is so remedial to him.  But for some reason, she is still required to have him do it.  Well, he had this super remedial homework and then next to him was Ammon coasting through math that was way more interesting.  It caught Peter’s attention and so the next thing I knew, Ammon was teaching Peter how to do Ammon’s math.  Peter totally got it, and for Ammon, the most interesting part of the entire exercise was explaining it to Peter because the math itself wasn’t at all challenging to him.
Then came the light bulb.  My boys are learning at school.  But they are also wasting a TON of time.  Basically the “on level” education they are getting is just from time when they are separated away from their classmates.  On the other hand, I am feeling like I need MORE time that I can structure and use in ways that will be better for my family.
From what I have been told over and over and over again, people doing home school typically spend 2-3 hours a day doing a set curriculum.  In the past having school be “only” 2-3 hours a day sounded AWFUL.  I could just imagine my children spending 10 hours a day watching TV and playing computer games. But if I can establish some routines with how that time is used, I feel like we can be better educated both academically and .spiritually not to mention be more involved with extra curricular activities and be MORE socially active.  All of this WITHOUT over stressing and over scheduling the family.
Andrew came home that day and said, “So what was that you were saying about home school?”  I told him that I had been feeling prompted about it but that I wasn’t really interested in doing it, but that I had just realized some really great reasons why we really might want to consider it “in a few years”.  But after I told him some of the thoughts that I had been having and the realizations I was making we were both really excited about the whole situation and decided to consider it for next year.
There are some other reasons why we think it will be nice for us:
1 – In the winter I can let the kids play when the sun is up and do school when the sun is down.  Last year they were going to school at sunrise and coming home at sunset.
2 – If/when we move, they won’t have to change “schools”.
3 – We will be more free to travel out of Alaska in the winter and stay in Alaska to enjoy the summers.
4 – I found out later that the state of Alaska will reimburse school expenses to home schooling families.  This includes paying for piano lessons, sporting activities etc.  They have calculated how much money they spend on kids in the public school system and consider that money to be there for the student.  If the child isn’t using it in the public school system, they can use it for home school.
5 – We can adapt curriculum to meet the individual needs of my kids – speeding up when they understand something and slowing down when they want to dig deeper or need more time to understand.
Anyway, that’s kind of how it all played out.  I’m excited but nervous about it. Fortunately I have two boys are ENJOY learning so I don’t feel like I’ll have to torture them or be tortured by trying to teach them.  And hopefully we can just create a better schedule and family discipline in general.
August, 2014
WHAT AM I THINKING??? I am sooooo ready to send my kids back to school. This homeschooling idea is ridiculous. Why am I CHOOSING to torture myself. Is this going to be the worst thing ever? Why do I feel so prompted to do this? It’s a good thing I feel pretty confident in my ability to receive revelation these days because this seems CRAZY. I do not want to do this. I do NOT want to do this. This is like bullet to the head stupid.
September 1, 2014
Today was our first day doing home school. My kids have no idea that “regular” school doesn’t actually start until tomorrow. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that it was Labor Day and Andrew was home to help juggle the three kids while trying to create some level of structure for academic achievement.
We didn’t do any typical back to school shopping. No new clothes, no new backpacks. In fact, my laundry is more out of control than it has been in a long time (and that’s saying something). There is practically nothing clean in the house. Late last night I decided we’d better do something to make it special. We DID do a FHE about learned. During church yesterday I decided that we should have a family theme for the year. I chose 2 Nephi 9:29 “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the teachings of God.” I decided that we should still do our traditional “back to school” pictures even though they seemed a little silly without the backpacks and new outfits. And just to make a new tradition specific to home school, I decided that we would surprise the boys with donuts. Our back to school picture this year is the boys sitting on the couch with a pile of books. Peter is in pajamas and Ammon is wearing dirty pants. But they were excited about school and we had donuts.
I really wasn’t ready for school, and a lot of our day was figuring it out as we went a long. We have a math curriculum (teaching textbooks) that the boys are really enjoying. During our FHE I had them set a goal for what they wanted to accomplish in math this week. They basically assigned themselves three lessons a day. I think that they each exceeded that goal today. I have a spelling curriculum that I am already in love with. I did it with Peter early in the day. He only had three words on his list today and he got them all right so we went ahead to the next list. He only missed one on that list. Ammon kept putting it off, but eventually got it done in the afternoon with Andrew. He had five words on his list and passed them all off. Unlike Peter, he didn’t want to be an overachiever and go on to the next list. He was content to just do what he was supposed to do and call it good. They both did some geography work. Ammon did some formal worksheets and Peter and I memorized the Pacific states and the Mountain states. Peter did art work, Ammon did reading. They both did science but it was just a make-shift assignment because I haven’t actually ordered the science curriculum we plan to use. They both did some sort of PE. Ammon and I walked to the grocery store and took the long way home. Peter did some jump roping and running around in the yard. I did grammar with Ammon but I don’t think Peter did his. I am excited about social studies which is US History, but we never got to that today. I want to get the boys going with piano lessons, but I don’t have a keyboard yet and haven’t flushed out my piano lesson plan but Ammon did do some practice with reading notes on an app I have.
I don’t feel like any of this is worth it if we are doing ONLY academics and not improving our spiritual fitness as a family. In our combined 5th Sunday meeting yesterday we talked specifically about family prayer and even more specifically about MORNING family prayer. We have pretty much never done morning family prayer, so we are turning over a new leaf with that one. And as much as FHE would be better on Monday night, at least we had it this week even if it was yesterday instead. Technically we didn’t do our family scripture study today, but I do have a New Testament curriculum that we will be working on and Andrew and the boys started it this afternoon, so scriptures were a part of our day although not as much as desired.
The day was busy, fun and ultimately EXHAUSTING. But I LOVED having my boys home and having the chance to cheer them on, praise them, be with them, and be involved in their lives the way I was today. I expect that we will have our struggles among our successes, but today I can honestly say that I am happy that we made the choice to home school.
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