First of all, I stayed up way too late reading this book the other night:
The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
I want to say right off that there is some language in this book, and the first few letters exchanged between the pen pals were offensive to me—but I could tell that this was a front. These teenagers were going to change, and I was right! The language stops, the gross jokes end and wonderful relationships develop. Sweet. Funny and very, very real.
Read it before you give it to your teenager—this is definitely one that you need to be sure you're comfortable with—but I loved it. I couldn't put it down.
On another note, I've been getting a few questions about homeschooling, mostly how I decided to homeschool some children and not others, so I thought I would answer that now as briefly as possible.
I'm not happy with the direction our schools are heading in. I don't like curriculums that are driven by standardized, multiple-choice tests. I don't like content that doesn't engage the heart and mind. I don't like curriculums that teach kids how to read rather than use reading as a tool for kids to learn about the world around them. And I am not a big fan of iPad carts and other technologies—for example, the "free time" Shaemus gets during technology to "explore" PBS kids.
So why would I expose two of my kids this year to that kind of learning and take two of them away from it?
I first tried homeschooling when my oldest was in 2nd grade and my youngest was in Kindergarten. I loved it, but it sucked us all dry. Poor Sam finally told me one day that he couldn't bear to listen to me talk about it any more. I was teaching them Latin, philosophy, Spanish, Fine Art, Music Theory, Math, Grammar, Spelling, History, and Science. They learned so much that year.
And I was practically dead. I'd thought there had to be one right way to do things: homeschool or die. It feels that way sometimes because people have such strong feelings about it. So many people are opposed to homeschooling. So very many. It makes a person feel constantly on the defensive for making that choice.
I firmly believe now that there is no right way for everyone. Every family is different. Every child is different. My oldest does not do well in our current school environment. If the content is not engaging (and by that I do not mean bells and whistles and songs and dances—I mean interesting), she gets so focused on the kids around her that she literally learns nothing and begins developing serious anxiety. When she is homeschooled, she is better. She learns. She is motivated. She practices her instrument three hours a day. She studies German and Algebra completely on her own, and she is motivated to understand it. She reads and writes and learns so much more than she would in school.
My next daughter is the perfect fit for school. She loves assignments. She does every extra-credit project. There could be an earthquake and all the children could be running around her naked and screaming and she would stay focused on whatever she was working on until it was finished. She is an eighty-five-year-old woman in a ten-year-old's body. Still, homeschooling her would be so great! She wants to be a writer when she grows up and she rarely has enough time to write, but... Lucy is painfully shy. She hates taking community classes and going to summer camps. She does not like being challenged, because everything is generally so easy for her. She is not a natural leader, but when given the chance, she will step forward and lead. She ran for Student Council Representative this year and won—she would never take those opportunities unless she was in a classroom environment. Mary, on the other hand, begs to take classes, loves summer camps, and doesn't care if she is perfect at things. Lucy would be perfectly happy to stay in her room all day, practice her instrument, write, and read, and she would never leave. Mary would go crazy.
I could go on and explain why Calvin and Shaemus are there own little people as well, and why they needed different things this year, but instead, I will share what we are probably doing next year.
Mary will still be homeschooled (we're not sure what she's going to do in high school yet).
Lucy got into this amazing middle school with every elective and topic to choose from (including four different-themed creative writing classes!). She has been labeled as gifted and will be in classes only with other gifted kids (this wouldn't be good for some kids, but it will be good for Lucy). And she just got into the most advanced orchestra there (there are four levels!!!).
Calvin is probably going back to school. I don't really want him to—I love having him home (he's a dream to homeschool) but if we want him to get into the middle school Lucy is in, he has to be tested for giftedness and it will have to happen this year. Plus, I am worried about him socially. He is perfectly confident going into classes and camps and being himself and being happy, but he doesn't really have any friends right now. There aren't any kids in our neighborhood and few in our church his age. But he may be so miserable in school—Calvin is a sponge and loves to learn, learn learn, something that is often prevented in schools today—and we may have to pull him out.
I might homeschool Shaemus next year for several reasons. He has had a good year this year; his teacher has recognized his abilities and built his self-esteem, but I am afraid he is getting behind. Not behind in a school, test-score way, but in a love-of-learning, love-of-reading way. Second grade would be a great year to bring him home and catch him up, and I'm not overwhelmed with the choice of teachers at his school next year. It would be a wasted year for him, I'm afraid, and I'm not sure I can let that happen. But Shaemus would not be easy to homeschool. He is a contrarian and he pushes back at me sometimes. I don't know if he would listen to me, and I REFUSE to fight with my children during homeschool. If fighting happens, they have to go back to school. Nothing is worth ruining my relationship with them.
Flannery will go to some sort of school next year, whether she enters kindergarten or whether she goes to a transition preschool nearby. She needs to grow up! (She needs to stop sucking her finger...) And she needs to be away from Mom. In many ways, kindergarten and first grade, I think, are the least important grades to homeschool. Not much happens at school and it's a good time for them to learn to listen to a teacher and get along with others. But that's just my opinion!!!
Anyway, this is more information than anyone wanted to know, I'm sure, so if you are still reading at this point, let me say that every year for our family will look different. I know this horrifies people, kids need stability, right? But this is what feels right for us. This year has felt wonderful—I know everyone is where they are supposed to be, and I have confidence that we can figure it out again for next year. And I can honestly say that none of my kids seem the worse for switching in and out of school (and different schools for that matter). In many ways they seem stronger for it.
If you are interested in homeschooling, here is the book I read that gave me the confidence to do it in the first place:
The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
I do not follow this book to the letter. I barely follow this book at all, but it has great ideas and good curriculum resources, and it will make you feel like you can do it. If and only if you want to!