So you want to pull your kids out of school


Our decision to homeschool coincided with the introduction of full-day kindergarten in Ontario’s public schools. I am not familiar with the details of the recent changes occurring in Ontario kindergarten classrooms but parents are telling me that the increase in school population brought-on by full day kindergarten has bumped-up class sizes across the board as other classes are combined to make room for the additional kindergarten classes. A field of portables – complete with graffiti – sprouted beside a shiny new neighbourhood’s public school (begging the question “how did you not see this coming and couldn’t you have built the school the right size in the first place?”) and a large extension to another new school was built in the schoolyard. In the land of “play-based learning” space to run around doing nothing is at a premium.

From full day kindergarten, to poor academic placement, to special needs, parents express a growing concern that while the school system is staffed by dedicated teachers and well-meaning principals, it is not serving the needs of their individual children very well. And so they ask about homeschooling. A lot.

A friend recently inquired about homeschooling and my reply inspired this blog post. Her question was not so much “why homeschool?” or even “how to homeschool?” but “what can I expect after pulling children out of school?” and “How will I stay sane?”

The sanity question is very much undetermined at this point. Homeschooling is hard and we are still negotiating the learning curve. My days are long and the nights are short. I remain sane by remembering why we are doing this. Thankfully, having five children older than the four youngest gives me perspective on how quickly this season will pass. I keep simple goals in mind on an hourly basis (don’t get angry, don’t yell, breathe) and the big picture in sight whenever I feel like quitting.

At this point in our homeschool journey – we started 2 months ago with 3 school-age children and will be adding a fourth in January – we are mostly learning to learn in different ways. The Internet calls it “deschooling” but I prefer using “deprogramming” to describe the process of bringing children home. We often assume (at least I did) that homeschooling is “doing school at home” – and for some that’s exactly what it is – but in reality, homeschooling is a paradigm shift. You will notice this paradigm shift in the comments you receive from people who do not support homeschooling: you can’t teach unless you are a teacher, you need to isolate children from their home environment for learning to occur, you need a lot of material support, you need a curriculum telling you exactly what needs to be learned when, you need a large group of same-age peers for socialization to happen. We are conditioned from a very young age to believe that schooling happens in a box. The physical act of removing the children from the box does not necessary change our thinking. There is a lot to learn in homeschooling and curriculum is only part of it. Here are a few unwritten lessons from my first two months of homeschooling after 14 years of school:

1. You will need to teach your children to trust you as a teacher. I had an interesting exchange with one of my daughters during the summer prior to the start of our homeschooling journey. We were talking about menstrual cycles – well, I was doing the talking — and I said: “When your periods start, they may not be regular for a while. You may skip weeks or even months.” And she looked at me with the kind of look you would give a lost puppy and said “I know mom, I’ve been to health class.” And this sums it up: your children, after years of conventional schooling, may love you and even respect you but their learning has been compartmentalized between the “home stuff” and the “school stuff”. You don’t understand their “new math” and “modern grammar”, you are no longer welcome to help in the classroom and your children don’t expect you to know jack squat. Don’t expect to jump into pre-algebra and traditional logic and think that your children will suddenly trust your superior brain. As far as they’re concerned, this homeschooling thing might just be another one of your “phases”, like that vegetarian kick of 2002. By the way, your mom and their teachers think the same way.

2. You will have to learn to learn at home. After years in school, your children are used to learning at school and flopping at home. The proximity to the kitchen, the toy room and the TV/computer can challenge academic work. I spent the entire month of September guarding the fridge. I’m not sure how they coped with fixed snack-times in school when I see how much fuel they need to keep their concentration.

3. You will learn to smooth the kinks in your relationship and discipline before learning can occur. Regardless of how good your relationship is, you can only teach so much if you don’t get along well with your children. And I mean this in the most loving way possible: we all love our children on the inside but the day-to-day grind often gets in the way of a cordial rapport on the outside. Parents of teenagers and toddlers, you know what I mean. To homeschool, you need to get along with your children on the inside AND the outside. It doesn’t mean that they become compliant little Stepford Kids but you need a basis of genuine compliance to move ahead with homeschooling. Learning to obtain compliance from your children without damaging your relationship – yelling, nagging or generally getting fed-up – may take weeks or even months but it needs to be done first. If you can’t get your children to clean-up their rooms without a fight, you have a taste of what homeschooling will look like day after day, hour after hour, until you quit in despair. Character before curriculum. I repeat this to myself about 2000 times a week.

4. Your children will have to learn to live with each other in close quarters. Your children may get along well at home or they may fight like cats and dogs, either way they will learn to work and live with each other. At school, they have been socialized to play strictly with children their own age. They have also been socialized into “girl play” and “boy play”. Boys and girls who play well together are often told they are in love with each other. Boys who enjoy “girl play” are often told they are gay. We all have stories of children who play well all summer with a younger neighbour only to royally ignore their best friend on school ground. We all have stories of older siblings who will not be seen with their younger siblings at school or on the school bus. Your children need to unlearn all this wonderful socialization to get along well in the context of the homeschool, especially if they are boys and girls. It may sound far-fetched but for our first month of home schooling, my biggest obstacle to teaching was the constant fighting between my 5 year-old and my 8 year-old. And I have 3 year-old twins and an infant, it says a lot.

5. You will learn to walk in confidence to the beat of your own drum. You will face opposition, criticism and soul-crushing doubt. The biggest failure predictor for homeschooling families (other than obvious challenges such as income loss, death and mental illness) is lack of confidence. If you doubt your ability to homeschool, there are good chances that you will prove yourself right. A few days ago, I heard a beloved family member explain to me how she didn’t think I could raise forward-thinking, engaging and open-minded teenagers in the context of the homeschool. A friend later suggested that she doubted my ability to teach advanced academics on the topics I did not master myself. Both are valid concerns coming from people I respect and care about, even though they show a lack of research on the ins and outs of homeschooling. I went to bed reeling, first thinking I would ruin my children forever, and then thinking I would prove everybody wrong. I got up this morning with a bone to pick and lined-up my little circus monkeys for a full day of academics. By lunchtime, I had to bitch-slap myself a few times to regain focus: I am not training circus monkeys, I am raising people. I will prove everybody wrong, all in good time. The proof will be in the fruit but I have to let the fruit ripen. Whenever I feel like I need to prove something to someone, I repeat to myself “Let the fruit ripen.”

Homeschooling is a journey of discovery, about yourself, about your children, and about the world around you. Whenever I feel wobbly and unsure, I remind myself that I am only taking my first steps. We will learn, we will grow and we will become stronger.

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Whine and cheese


 

This post started as a description of a bad day. We all have them, don’t we? No matter how heavy or light our burden, some days (weeks, months) just won’t end. Or so it seems. The whine was spurred by a somewhat critical “You make everything look easy” from a friend. This shook me a little because if anything looks easy I can assure you that it’s all fluff and no substance. Anybody who sees me in real life – as opposed to social media – knows that whatever it is I’m doing, I’m (a) fumbling all the way; and (b) not doing it all that well. Every. Single. Day. I recently posted late birthday wishes to my father on Facebook, hoping that a public self-shaming would make-up for my poor daughterly behaviour, adding:

“Next time any of you wonders how Véro does it, remember that I don’t.”

That’s it in a nutshell. For every finite “thing” I do, there’s an equal amount of something else that doesn’t happen. My days, like yours, have 24h. If you look at what I don’t do, you will notice that the list of what I get done pales in comparison. That’s why I find it very irritating when people bow before me, which happens about 10 times a day when I am out and about with my family. Yes, you read that well, people bow before me. They actually, physically, bow before me. You can’t imagine how uncomfortable being worshiped can make you feel when you are not — you know — God.

Not only am I not God, I’m a wretched sinner. I order my life in concentric circles, building priorities from the centre and adding larger circles as I master the smaller ones. The smaller circles are my husband and children, my home life, around that core is my family, parents, siblings, in-laws; around the family circle are friends and close ones, this circle extends into my community. The largest circle would be those in need of my time and talent but who are not directly linked to me by the bonds of family, friendship or community. My faith radiates through from the core, informing how I (try to) relate to myself and others.

On a good day, I might make it to circle number 2. Everything else – friends, community, service – falls by the wayside. My every hour is consumed by caring for my basic needs and raising my children in a cheerful, peaceful and stable home where they can grow happy and healthy. Putting good food on the table, having clean clothes, a happy face and a listening ear takes-up my entire day. I am horrible at keeping in touch with my parents and siblings. I never remember anyone’s birthday, and when I do I don’t do anything about it. I’m a write-off when it comes to social graces like thank you notes. I have very few real friends left, and those who stick by me have precious little needs. I am not involved in my community; our family gives money to a few good causes because we can’t find the time to help out in a more meaningful way. If you are impressed because I manage to keep 9 children fed, dressed and somewhat educated assuming that I am also doing what normally productive members of the society do on the side, be informed that there is no side here: it’s all inner circle with a smattering of social media. In a nutshell it takes me 24h a day to be a decent wife and mother. That’s nothing to bow to.

Unlike some of my friends with larger-than-average families, I don’t have children with special needs. I don’t even have children with learning difficulties. In fact, all my children are above average students. They are physically, mentally and emotionally sound. My parents, my in-laws and my siblings are all in good health and economically wealthy enough to cover their needs as they age. There is no strife on either side of our extended family. There are no obvious mental health or substance abuse problems in our immediate family. We have been undeservedly spared by grief and loss. I should be able to do more with my 24h but for the limitations of my own person, my intelligence, my heart and my body. I am raising children whom I hope will be positive contributors to society, competent men and women committed to live by principles of integrity. I hope to look happy and peaceful doing it because the least I can do for the world from the confines of my kitchen – where I spend most of my life cooking, cleaning and homeschooling – is to give my children an example of self-giving that makes them want to choose others before themselves as they grow-up. Some days I fail miserably and that’s why I am still stuck in the innermost circles, trying to be a good mother, daughter, wife and sister before I move outward and onward.

Next time you are tempted to feel inadequate or bow before me or anyone else, remember that people like me need people with less stringent family obligations to make the world go round. Because I sure ain’t doin’ it. I need people like you to volunteer on school trips with my children, participate in bake sales, sit on board of directors, work as doctors, nurses and midwives, teachers, managers and creators. If you are dealing with loss, grief, illness, special needs or below average intelligence, you are already doing more than I am with my 9 healthy and bright children. So don’t bow. Don’t feel inadequate. Just go out and do your thing. From talking with you, I know that the more you already do, the more likely you are to feel like you’re not doing enough. Fill your 24h with purpose and hold you head up high.

Now go.

Des nouvelles de la famille


For my English readers: This is an update post about our family and our homeschooling adventures.

 

Depuis la naissance de Damien et particulièrement depuis le début de l’année scolaire, j’ai du mal à publier régulièrement sur mon blogue. Nos journées se passent à 2000 à l’heure de 5h du matin à 9h du soir puis nous avons une heure ou deux pour répondre aux courriels, flâner sur Facebook, remplir divers formulaires et préparer la journée du lendemain. Il y a un mois, j’ai enlevé l’application Facebook de mon portable car j’étais incapable de résister à la curiosité. J’ai immédiatement retrouvé quelques heures qui avaient disparu de ma journée, à coup de 30 secondes par ci et 5 minutes par là mais je me retrouve plutôt isolée. Lorsque je vais aux nouvelles en fin de journée, j’ai l’impression d’être une spectatrice un peu en retrait de la vie sociale qui se passe de l’autre côté de l’écran.

Voici donc un ramassis de nouvelles fraîches et moins fraîches, dans l’ordre désordonné de mes pensées, au gré de mes réflexions en un gris petit dimanche matin de septembre.

Il y a 3 semaines, nous nous sommes embarqué dans une nouvelle aventure d’éducation à domicile. En termes concrets, nous avons gardé 3 – bientôt 4 – enfants d’âge scolaire à la maison plutôt que de les livrer à l’autobus scolaire tous les matins. Lorsque les gens apprennent que nous faisons l’école à la maison, ils ont 3 questions (ou plus) : Pourquoi? Comment? Et qu’en-est-il du Français?

Le mouvement d’éducation à domicile (homeschooling) est particulièrement fort aux États-Unis et les anglophones ne manquent pas de ressources éducatives dédiées aux parents qui enseignent à leurs enfants. En français, nous devons utiliser les mêmes ressources que les salles de classe et ce n’est pas facile. Nous avons dû trouver une solution à mi-chemin entre une éducation à domicile strictement en français et les considérations pratiques qui me sont imposées par la taille de ma famille et les demandes d’une vie équilibrée. J’ai acheté des programmes en anglais pour les mathématiques et l’anglais (duh) et les sciences au secondaire. J’ai aussi un programme d’histoire ancienne qui est écrit en anglais mais pour lequel j’utilise des ressources primaires en français. Par exemple, Marie lit présentement une version simplifiée de l’Odyssée d’Homère en français, suivront d’autres textes sur la mythologie dans les beaux-arts (en français), la mythologie ancienne (L’épopée de Gilgamesh, L’Iliade) etc. qu’elle devra résumer et analyser en français. Pour l’enseignement du français, nous avons beaucoup de rattrapage à faire puisque mes enfants ont des problèmes de grammaire et d’orthographe assez prononcés. Bien qu’ils aient toujours fréquenté l’école française en Ontario, mon fils de troisième année écrit presque exclusivement à l’oreille (c’est-à-dire qu’il écrit les mots comme ils se prononcent) et ma fille de 8ième année écrit en français avec une structure de phrase presque exclusivement empruntée à l’anglais. Tous les deux ont déclaré que les livres en français « ça suce » et refusent de lire en français pour le plaisir. J’ai donc décidé de passer cette année à leur redonner le goût du français. Je leur fait lire des bons livres qu’ils doivent résumer en leurs mots. Nous révisons leurs phrases grâce à un Bescherelle de la grammaire de base. David doit apprendre par cœur une règle de grammaire par semaine (cette semaine par exemple c’était : « La phrase déclarative sert à raconter un évènement ou à donner une opinion. Elle commence par une majuscule et se termine par un point. ») David est en train de lire « Tistou les pouces verts » de Maurice Druon et doit trouver 3 phrases déclaratives par jour (il choisit généralement des phrase de type « Tistou était triste. » petit futé), les transcrire dans son cahier, souligner la lettre majuscule et encercler le point. Puisque son orthographe est trop pauvre pour que la dictée soit efficace, il doit copier les phrases directement du livre. Éventuellement, je lui donnerai des dictées tirées de son livre. Il doit également apprendre une poésie du Premier Larousse de la poésie. Marie doit apprendre une poésie de Victor Hugo tirée d’un recueil de poésie de Victor Hugo pour les jeunes publié par Bayard Presse. Et voilà. Pour l’instant, pas d’analyse grammaticale, pas d’examen, pas de vocabulaire à n’en plus finir. Seulement des bons livres et beaucoup de lecture.

Pourquoi l’éducation à domicile? Pourquoi pas? Ceux qui me connaissent depuis longtemps savent que j’ai essayé de garder ma plus vieille à la maison il y a environ 12 ans. J’ai toujours aimé l’idée de l’éducation à domicile mais j’ai toujours manqué de confiance en moi. J’ai toujours cru que mes enfants apprendraient mieux d’une autre personne. J’ai toujours cru que je n’avais pas l’autorité et la patience nécessaires pour que l’éducation à domicile soit un succès. Lorsque nous avons acheté le terrain en campagne sur lequel nous construisons présentement notre maison, nous avons décidé que nos enfants seraient éduqués à domicile plutôt que de se promener en autobus scolaire à travers la campagne pour plusieurs heures par jour. Je suis arrivée à un lieu d’acceptation et de confort avec moi-même, avec ma personnalité, ma patience et mon autorité. J’ai appris en vieillissant que mon tempérament flegmatique n’était pas un handicap à la discipline mais mon meilleur atout. Nous sommes encore en train de trouver notre air d’aller mais après trois semaines, je peux déjà vous dire avec confiance que l’éducation à domicile de sera pas facile mais qu’elle en vaudra la peine.

La première étape incontournable de l’éducation à domicile c’est le « repassage » des petits plis de discipline et l’établissement d’une routine familiale fonctionnelle. Cet automne, nous passons beaucoup de temps à jeter les assises d’une dynamique familiale positive et constructive. Vous pouvez suivre nos aventures au jour le jour via Instagram où je publie sous le nom Happy_Chaos_ Notre vie familiale est conviviale mais il y a beaucoup de travail à faire pour déprogrammer la mentalité scolaire (les enfants étudient et maman s’occupe de la maison) et la remplacer par une mentalité familiale où tout le monde apprend et tout le monde s’occupe de la famille. Au jour le jour, j’essaie de faire passer le caractère avant le curriculum. C’est difficile, surtout avec les jumeaux dans les pattes et la personnalité plutôt intense de Sarah. Je me sens parfois très isolée, comme en traversée de l’Atlantique en chaloupe solo, et j’espère que nous allons atteindre notre altitude de croisière avant que je change d’idée, ha! ha!
Souhaitez-nous bonne chance!