Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Educational Journey

I've been meaning to jot down a basic history of our unique educational path thus far...

So, I've filled my last few writing time slots with this task and have tried to be brief (I even cut out a bunch of commentary/explanational blah-blah that I'll save for another time). However, I do have an almost 12-year-old *can'tbelieveit* and that's a lot of years to cover. If you only have 30 seconds, skip down to the summary at the bottom (and add 6 seconds for the time it takes you to scroll down there). Otherwise, here goes:

In the 1900s: Brent and I both attended public school during our entire growing up years. We both had great success and loved being there academically and socially. We both graduated with bachelors degrees  from Brigham Young University (me: Communications, Dec. 2000 and Brent: Business Management, International Finance, April 2001).

March 2001: Our first child was born, thus propelling us down the path of nurturing and teaching another human being. Or in other words, it marked the beginning of our Higher Education.

2004-2005: While living in Minnesota, as a mother of three young children who were way more needy than I was prepared for, I started counting down the days to when my children would attend pre-school...then kindergarten...then first grade...ahh the freedom that would give me seemed so necessary and so close...and yet so far away.

2005-2006: We moved to Arizona and enrolled Kenny first (and later Diggy, too) in a preschool that met in someone's home. The mother was very nice and very organized. We really liked her. We were anxious for our little reserved Kenny to be out among peers...and hoped he'd have a good experience (obviously). He didn't. He was afraid of the dog at her house. He witnessed other children acting "wild" (ie normal). He heard "bathroom talk"...in the living room. Having Diggy join him helped a little. But we were told Kenny didn't participate much even when Diggy did.

*Although Kenny was very bright academically, his behavior at home declined during his preschool experience...he became more aggressive with siblings, had more tantrum-type outbursts even though he was getting older, and even seemed a bit on the depressed side.  Diggy seemed indifferent about preschool. Happy to go, happy to not go.

2006-2007: Kenny turned 5 and we needed to begin planning for his kindergarten year. The local public school had an all-day kindergarten with extra long hours (8-4) to assist families who needed child-care. I couldn't picture Kenny there at all.

*We had noticed while living in Minnesota and then in Arizona that some of the coolest, smartest families we'd met were home-school families. So, we started researching...and the more we found out, the more we fell in love with the idea of managing our children's education ourselves. We felt very inspired to give it a try. This was a big turn around from a few years ago when I looked so forward to shipping my children off every day. But I found that when I put my heart and soul into educating my children, I stopped waiting for them to swoosh out from under my wings and I started basking in every moment I had with them every day. As a result, I felt a boost of energy that radiated through my whole being. I became a new, happier mother (thank goodness!).

*Many people expressed concern that if Kenny struggled to feel comfortable in social situations, bringing him home for school would make him worse. And thus my passion for brain development became ignited like never before. My instincts were telling me that spending more time getting filled up with love at home (including the freedom to explore and choose a personal educational path) would actually increase his brain development and improve his chances for long-term emotional health, but I wanted to undercover scientific evidence as well. I've had a blast researching...I feel satisfied.

*During Kenny's kindergarten year, not only was Kenny thrilled and relieved about being home-schooled, but I felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders...the burden of wishing for lots of time to myself--away from my children--disappeared. Instead, I began my journey of learning what to do with my children around me all the time without any expectation of them going anywhere any time soon. I loved it more than I had ever dreamed I would. All the home-school resources out there give so many great ideas. We soaked it in...and cherished our minutes and hours and weeks together.

2007-2008: We moved to Illinois and settled into a neighborhood with an excellent (not an understatement) elementary school. After a year of loving being at home, Kenny asked to go to first grade. I saw this as a sign of emotional growth (because he never had asked to go to preschool). He wanted to see what other kids his age do all day. I still remember how excited he was to pack up his backpack full of supplies and "be gone all day like Dad." Diggy was in kindergarten, which met half-day. We enrolled them both. I still had two little ones at home...and got pregnant with #5 in the middle of that school year.

*The boys had wonderful teachers. They especially loved the music and PE teachers. They got a good taste of what school is like for most kids. However...I had expected and hoped that we would go back to home-schooling before Kenny and Diggy even started their public school experience, because we had just loved it so much back in AZ (the extra family time, the one-on-one academic focus, the freedom to explore). So even though we felt comfortable sending them to public school full-time for a year, we knew pretty quickly that we'd return to home-schooling the following year (though we didn't mention this to the kids).

*As the year progressed, we could see that home-school was indeed the better option for our boys, but for different reasons:
           Diggy was happy to go to kindergarten every day. And very happy to come home and play a lot as well. Because he was gone only half day, he still had lots of time to play...which I now value soooo much because playing builds tons of brain power during the elementary years, especially for a learner like Diggy. Diggy was willing to work on reading and math "assignments" that were sent home because he's a very obedient child, but he didn't naturally enjoy school-type work and wasn't naturally successful with it. He's had to truly work at it. He's right-brained and he struggled to focus on and remember orderly/linear ideas (like sounding out words). When listening to a teacher lecture to a group, Diggy's mind wonders 'out of the box' and often misses important details. After learning something, Diggy's natural way of processing it is to get up out of his seat right away and recreate it...by moving and acting it out. That's usually not possible in the school setting. Reading and writing, on the other hand, were chores at that young age and often very frustrating for him. Diggy is one of the most creative thinkers I know. He has a different kind of giftedness that's not easily detected in the school setting, and in fact, is often detected as "slower" or "dyslexic" in the school setting. We felt anxious to bring him back to home-schooling so we could give him one-on-one academic attention, cater to his kinesthetic learning style, and still give him plenty of time to be as creative as he wants to be.
           For Kenny, an incredibly naturally intelligent child (and very left-brained), the school work was easy and slightly on the boring side. But the biggest challenge for him was being gone all day in a place where he naturally soaked in all sorts of confusing emotional cues from peers and then struggled to process them (when a lot comes into the brain very quickly, it's not easy to figure out what to do with it). He also didn't have much time to freely play at home at the end of the day. It was a rough year. He hated recess the most. He internalized too much chaos and didn't know what to do with it next. There was no one whispering in his ear to explain that when a child obnoxiously sticks his tongue out at you, he's not a life-long enemy...he's just being a kid who doesn't have a mature brain yet. Though immature, it's normal behavior for a kid. A lot of kids process this easily and move on; some don't. For Kenny, his natural social sensitivity weighed him down again that year. He lost interest in many of his hobbies (drawing, music, reading, playing) because his mind was busy stewing over a social conflict he'd seen or heard at school on a particular day. Similar to his preschool experience, Kenny's behavior (while very good/reserved at school) declined dramatically at home. He again became more aggressive with his siblings (usually right after school as he was unwinding) and he often threw big tantrums that included throwing things around his room. Essentially, he was trying to cope with a lot of emotional baggage and didn't know how to. I don't blame him, he didn't have the brain/prefrontal cortex to maturely process "issues" yet. And we didn't have The Pyramid back then, so we didn't handle his rough behavior very well...which made things worse. We made it through the year...barely. We felt excited to regain his emotional security at home the following year and allow him to use his intense personality to dive deeper into subjects that fascinate him. (He now knows waaayyy more about outer space than I do.)

*But because we live in such a great educational community, we wanted to take advantage of both worlds. This is largely unheard of in both the public school and home-schooling arenas. Mixing educational styles usually doesn't go well (we've heard). But when we could see such advantages in both places, it seemed worth a try. We feel incredibly lucky to have had an outstanding principal who understood and caught the vision of our diverse thinking. She helped us devise a plan that would help our children "belong" to the school community even though they only spent a couple of hours a week there.

2008-Present: When Kenny was in 2nd grade and Diggy in 1st, we started our mix of home-school/public school. Each year the kids get assigned to a class. Whenever that class has music/PE/Chinese (or art in some cases) or a field trip or an assembly or a party, my kids journey on over to join them. The front office assistants greet them warmly and so do their teachers. So, of course, the children in their classes do the same. We attend PTA events and support the school as best we can. Our kids receive a yearbook at the end of year and have all their friends sign it. They feel very included and have very fond elementary school memories...even though they spend 90% of their time learning at home in a one-on-one situation that's catered to each of their specific learning styles, interests, and needs. It's heavenly.

*At home, we follow many ideas from The Well-Trained Mind, and we LOVE the overall Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy (it fits quite well with our pyramid). I'll elaborate on what each child's home routine is like and how we structure things based on Pyramid Stages in a few upcoming posts. 

*Our children's education is also supported by many extra activities (string lessons, orchestra, choir, dance, soccer, gymnastics, scouts, etc.) via the park district, church, etc. 

*Again, the biggest concern I heard about choosing to home-school was that my children wouldn't learn how to interact with their peers. Spending so much time at home would keep them from getting used to the real world. I could go on and on about this...but basically the opposite has been true. Spending extra years immersed in the educational/social/emotional/spiritual oasis that we try to provide in our home (though it is far from perfect) has been awesome for our children's self-worth and brain development, which naturally has had only positive impact on them as they go out and explore all aspects of the outside world...chaos and all.

2009-2010: When it was time for Kirsten to start school, we opted to have her attend the regular half-day kindergarten routine at the public school (mostly to meet peers who would be in future music/PE classes) before bringing her back home for 1st grade. She seemed pretty excited about it and she's naturally social, so we expected a great year. But her enthusiasm wore off after a few months. She began to strongly and consistently resist getting ready to go each day. Or in other words, she started putting up protective "walls" to defend herself from whatever it was that she didn't feel naturally able to handle as a young child (see Natural Defense Immaturity and scroll down a little). We made her stick out the whole school year as planned...but if I could go back in time, I think I would pull her out half-way through the year based on the cues she was sending us. Since kindergarten, home-school has been the perfect option for her personality as well. Kirsten is another incredible kid with very distinct talents and needs. We've had fun exploring her world together. I promise I'll share more of her story some day.

2012-2013: This last Fall, it was Allison's turn to join the ranks of her older siblings and start her journey down a "formal" educational path. I felt apprehensive about enlisting her in the regular kindergarten program (because we'd been down that uncertain path a few times), but because of her relentless enthusiasm, we decided to enroll her for the entire half-day (as opposed to just PE/music) and then simply watch for any signs that change might be necessary. And...she's pretty much loved every minute of it...the kids, the teachers, the projects, recess, the whole nine yards. Oh, and she seems energized when it's time to complete school assignments. While reading directions and spitting out information drives some of my kids bonkers, it makes Allison giddy. She says she can't wait for 1st grade because it's like two kindergartens every day...yet another unique personality for us to educate. We're strongly considering sending her to full-day First Grade next year because that kind of routine may be the best fit for her (so far it boosts her self-worth and we see no signs of unhealthy emotional walls going up)...we'll see how she evolves.

*Also important to note: This year, Kenny is in 6th grade and wanted to take Chinese, PE, creative arts, math, science, and band at the local middle school (where there's another awesome principal who let us pick which classes to take). Classes meet every day, so Kenny is gone from 7 am - 1 pm, M-F. He eats lunch at school as well. He's having a fantastic year...academically and socially. I'll elaborate later because this mundane historical record is never-ending...

Summary (and welcome if you're joining us from the top of the post)

When it comes to education: Options Exist.

There are as many educational options out there as there are children to educate.

A few years ago, Brent and I had planned to start sending our children off to school at age 3 because, well, that's what everyone does, right? Private school is not for penny pinchers like us. And, home school? Not an option. With three young children fighting for my constant attention and lap space, I could never imagine wanting them home all day with me for even more years. I would go crazy. We could never do that. (Plus home-schooling is kind of...strange.)

Now...I wouldn't change all these years of learning and growing and laughing together with my children for anything else in this world. I have discovered such joy in observing the growth of young minds from day to day and from year to year. I feel empowered...like an educational entrepreneur. I'm a better person now. Being truly in tune to children (as their mother and teacher all wrapped up into one big job) stretches me and makes me glow.

And if you ask my kids...they'll say in their own unique way that we have the perfect mix (even though it's a bit different for each of them).

We are forever glad that we had the guts to explore and experiment a bunch to discover an ideal path for each of our unique kids. And we love that we live in a world, a country, and a community where options are celebrated. Educational options are truly in the best interest of children...and, therefore, the future.

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