The story goes -- the one I've told and heard so many times -- that my mom began homeschooling me in first grade when the military moved us in the middle of the school year, and discovered I didn't know my letter sounds, much less how to read. Within a few months, I was reading on a third grade level; that's when she decided to keep me home, and went on to eventually homeschool her three younger children. My step-mom also homeschooled her two children, so it has simply been a way of life to me.
The idea of sending my kids to public school was challenging and frankly, a little scary. Before we were married, John encouraged me to consider the fact that all children are different, and that we might have a child who would flourish in a public school setting. I was stubborn. I wouldn't consider it. Homeschooling my children one day was important to me; however, that was a pivotal conversation that planted a seed of curiosity and submission to God. I realized if I idolized homeschooling and would not consider even praying about other options, I might be resisting God's plan for our family. So I began to pray.
Through searching and praying, I considered the many wonderful people I knew who grew up in public school; surely if their parents could raise such great human beings, I could too if this was what God called us to! I thought also of the amazing teachers who were friends of mine, who obviously loved what they did and made an impact on the lives of the children they taught.
When I was pregnant with our third child, I couldn't see myself trying to homeschool with a brand new baby to care for -- the decision was made. River barely made the age cut to start kindergarten by a few days. He could stay home and start the next year when he turned six, but I figured sending him to kindergarten for the majority of the day would make the transition to three children a little easier. We went in with these thoughts: if public school worked out, then he would continue on to first grade. If it didn't work out, it wasn't a big deal; we would pull him out and I would homeschool him, which had always been the plan anyway. I knew my friendly, outgoing boy would love being around other children every day.
We really lucked out with River's teacher, a kind woman who got to know each child individually. Our philosophy of education was similar, and she shared in our concerns about the changes in public education, and how much testing and seat work was required of even the youngest students. When I hesitantly brought up the possibility of River having ADHD, and that I was thinking of homeschooling for first grade, she was surprisingly supportive.
"I think that's a great idea!" she said. "River is bright. He's a problem solver and he thinks outside the box. He's full of energy and he learns by doing things hands-on; his ideas are abstract and he asks questions other kids don't think to ask. I'd be afraid that a traditional school setting would hold him back and discourage him as he gets older, but he could thrive with the freedom he'd have at home." She also shared her concern that being in a classroom setting, other teachers might push medication for his hyperactivity as he got older, but that it could probably be easily handled at home without going that route if we preferred not to. I appreciated her honesty and insight, and was overjoyed to hear these encouraging words about my sweet, curious boy!
Our experience with public school was overall a positive one. There were some things that came with the territory that were outside of our control. School lunches were awful -- there's no gentle way of putting it. I missed River more than I realized I would. Drop off and pick up time became more stressful with a newborn; I can't tell you how many times I had to wake Chase from her nap and bundle her up to get River at the bus stop! It was a disruption to our natural rhythm. The evenings were a whole other story: we would get home at 3:45, then it was a flurry of homework, make dinner, eat, bath, and bedtime... at the end of that ordeal, we were tapped out. River's teacher told us several times that he was so exhausted during the day and he needed more sleep, but he was already going to bed at seven, the earliest possible time.
John and I grappled with the lingering question: should we homeschool? What was the right choice here? I felt like there was no obvious answer. It would be so easy if River hated public school, or if I did. And there are no perfect situations -- I knew that if we homeschooled, there would be hurdles in that, as well. Perhaps the evenings would be slower and River would have more time to just be a kid, but anyone knows homeschooling isn't a walk in the park. It would take a lot more energy and preparation on my part, and was I ready to commit to that? I felt entirely ill-equipped. Considering all this, the few negatives I'd counted against public school were not enough to convince me that we should pull him out. Still, my spirit felt so restless. I wanted him home, but I couldn't make this decision based on my emotions.
I trusted that God knew. He knows River better than I do. He knows his future and the kind of man he needs him to be someday. He knows what he needs in life, education, relationships. I couldn't make this decision on my own. So I prayed a very specific prayer: please let something happen to make it loud and clear that we should pull him out and start homeschooling. Protect him, but make it obvious.
Oh, yes. I prayed that. I trusted that God knew what I meant... he doesn't play games. He lifts us up when we have faith in him. I believed that he would take my prayer seriously and show me what needed to happen. I would take silence as the answer that public school was the right decision. I prayed that prayer so many times for about a week, and then I got my answer, loud and clear.
Part two coming next week! I really didn't want to leave you with a cliffhanger, but I also didn't want to give you a 3,000 word blog post... so I guess it worked out?