Monday, September 10, 2012

Preschooling at Home and Our Evolving Philosophy

The last few weeks have been the beginning of our experiment on more structured home-based learning for 4-year-old Einstein.

My oldest kiddo turned 4 in August.  Most of his little same-age friends and relatives are off to preschool.  But we live in the middle of nowhere.  And we are... um,  not exactly swimming in cash (there is no public preschool here).  I know, lots of parents probably sacrifice, scrape, and save to put their kiddos in preschool, but driving 40 miles round trip 3 times a week to take said 4-year-old to a private preschool is just not going to happen this year.  With average preschool costs around $11.00/class, plus gas, we'd be looking at almost $60.00 a week, or $240.00 a month.  Whew.  It adds up fast.  Next year, when Einstein is 5, we may "red shirt" him and kill our budget to put him in preschool, but I'm quite sure he'll be ready to just start kindergarten... if that's what we decide to do.

This year is a blessing in disguise for us, as we aren't really obligated to do anything special regarding Einstein's education, but he is so teachable and eager to learn that we can accomplish a ton while experimenting with what works for us.  Heck, we could just plop him in front of the TV, do nothing, and then put him in preschool next year so somebody else can prepare him for kindergarten.  Obviously, that is not what we are going to do, but it is kind of comforting to me that even if I am the worst teacher in the world, and he doesn't learn a thing this whole year (or even forgets a lot of what he knows!), he will probably still be on par with many kids his age.

Instead, we are embracing this year as a glorious chance to learn, experiment, maybe flop, and try again as we figure out what works to "homeschool" Einstein (and Miss Euler, who is only 2, but who thinks she needs to do everything alongside her brother).  We can see how this year goes, then decide if we want to put him in the local public kindergarten, start kindergarten at home, or do another year of some type of preschooling.

It's such a huge, multi-faceted decision, and I'm so thankful that we can take it all one year at a time.

Spoiler alert: the rest of this post contains rambling and word vomit.  Read at your own risk.

There are many things I love about the idea of homeschooling, like learning academic skills alongside practical skills and through everyday life, and avoiding the homogenizing "everyone learns the same stuff so they can get into a good college so they can join the rat race and buy a house in the suburbs" mentality.  Even some of the popular "cons" of homeschooling don't bother me too much - true, my kids might not have instant friend material thrust upon them, like in a normal school, but there is something to be said for learning to cultivate friendships even when it's not convenient, instead of just automatically being friends with whichever kid sits next to you on the school bus.  Also, I know some homeschooling mothers worry that they will have a hard time teaching math and science, which many women are not as comfortable with.  I can hardly wait to help my kids with their math and science homework, though, and I dream of the day my kids understand equations, variables, and x-and y- axes, so that worry is not applicable here!

But that doesn't mean we are giving up on public school.  It has a few advantages that quickly come to mind.  For one, it is, well, free.  And homeschooling is not.  Pricey curriculum, music lessons, field trips, equipment...the homeschooling costs may add up quickly, especially when the kids are older.  Also, there are just a few things that are really hard to do successfully with a small family.  Like play football.  Or sing in a choir.  This nerdy mom personally loved school (well, the being in class, learning part, not the chaotic, profanity-filled hallways at passing period part), and I thrived on the competition in my classes.  Sure, it was fun to learn, but it was even more fun to have a standing rivalry in each class, competing for high scores on tests or for 1st chair in band.  My husband pretty much hated the classroom part of grade school, but enjoyed sports and the social aspects.

There's also the homeschooling elephant in the room: religion.  I try to keep this blog mostly quiet on this touchy topic (isn't food touchy enough?), but my family is very God-focused, very passionate about loving people the way Jesus did, and quite socially conservative (like teetotalers, no cussing or spaghetti-strap shirts conservative).  Part of me would really love to keep my precious children in my safe, cozy, home bubble forever, where they would think that "crap" is a pretty bad word, that shoving the dog out of our way is the epitome of domestic violence, that chocolate is the world's only addictive substance, and that all kids get their Christmas gifts in homemade mangers instead of stockings (Santa who?).  But if my main goal in parenting is to equip my children to embrace God's love, and then to love like Jesus, the safe bubble of ignorance has to burst at some point.  Does it have to burst at the tender age of 5?  I don't know.  But I do know that I don't want to render my children incapable of loving the world by failing to allow them to experience it in a small way while they are still under my care and protection.  So if we do decide to homeschool, there will have to be some intentional bubble-bursting as the kids grow and mature.  I will not let my kids be the 16-year-olds who don't know what hip hop is (although by then, it'll be some weird new music and hip hop will be on the oldies station) and who think Darwin is probably Satan's brother (let's not open that can of worms!  And yes, the pun in this post's title was completely intentional).  To borrow, expand, and ruin a divine metaphor, I don't want my kids catching smallpox, but I want to equip them to doctor the sick, not the healthy.

Whew, that got a little heavy.  The point is, we don't know what we want to do for the rest of our childrens' lives.  But I've been having a fantastic time teaching the kids some pre-k skills at home.  Tune in tomorrow (or whenever I get around to it) for waaaay less rambling, some pictures of my new-found laminating addiction, and some pretty fun ideas of things we've been doing at home that the kids LOVE that are helping us make time for intentional learning!

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