I am going to try to tell this story with the most accuracy and the least details possible since it not only my story to tell. And because I watched a lot of Downton Abbey while I was recovering from surgery, let me say that it shan't be easy.
Ella has never really liked school, has never been content or comfortable there, not even in kindergarten. Despite having some really awesome teachers over the years, having some good moments or even a string of a few good weeks, school has always been rather the thorn of her childhood. It is something she has kind of had to endure. There are many reasons for this but suffice it to say that it is sort of the square peg, round hole kind of situation. There are many aspects of the school environment that don't work for her (being an introvert in an ultra cooperative, communal learning environment, being a sensitive, thoughtful, slower moving kid in a competitive, fast-paced, test-driven district to name the two big ones) and this year the situation became intolerable.
I have found there exists a parenting tipping point. Let's be honest, there are also just regular life tipping points as well. But as a parent I notice it takes a slightly different form. When a situation with your child is difficult and uncomfortable, you try to fix it by doing some of this or some of that, hoping to coax it back into a manageable state. A change in a discipline strategy that you heard worked for someone else, a new routine at home to make things more smooth and have less conflict, a new incentive for siblings to get along. Thankfully, these adjustments often work.
But sometimes they don't and things get worse until suddenly everything becomes very clear and you realize things are completely unmanageable and something needs to change NOW.
That is what happened with the school thing this fall. Suddenly our daughter's unhappiness and anxiety were too extensive to talk her out of, cheer her up from or effectively patch her together each day. Simply put, standard school cost Ella too much of herself. I watched it chip away at the core of her and we couldn't sit by and watch it any longer. We were tired of trying to make her fit into a system that didn't fit her. We were tired of asking her to "make it work" at the expense of herself.
The stakes were too high and the impact it was having on our entire family was staggering. It was truly affecting us all.
I found myself at probably the largest parenting crossroads I've ever been at. I considered our options and thought, this is our chance to try to really make a difference. We need to listen to what she is saying to us and take this seriously.
Because I clearly don't have enough to do, I have decided to become a teacher. In my kitchen. With only one student. I am homeschooling Ella. I am coming out as a home schooler.
Why you can call me Mrs. Carver, yes you can.
I am going to be careful not to get on the band wagon here. While I do think that there is something alarmingly backwards and detrimental to teaching to the test and of making performance the primary marker with which to gauge success, I am also clear that the role of public school is to teach to the majority. My child, it appears, is in the minority and may simply benefit from an alternative, more individualized approach to education.
We all loved Ella's teacher this year. She is a peach and was absolutely looking out for Ella's heart. I am sure she will always be a far better teacher than I will ever be (for, alas, I have never actually been a teacher). But what I have come to understand is that Ella simply needs more time devoted to the care of her person, and less focused on how well she assesses in each subject, to be a happy individual.
My main goal in homeschool is to restore Ella to a place of happiness and peace. I have told her that we will not have timed tests, that we will be going for quality over quantity and that I want her to feel secure in knowing that I will teach her something until she gets it, without a concern for how long that takes. Naturally, I don't want her to fall behind. But more than that I want her to be relaxed and content. I want learning to be, if we are very lucky, fun.
Because no one should be that stressed out in fourth grade. Ever.
So we are figuring this out together. I have decided on a general approach which is the unit studies method of home school. We choose a topic and then study it from every subject angle. I want to give Ella a ton of say about what we do so it can be fulfilling and interesting for her. She chose sea turtle as our first topic. So we are studying the science of sea turtles, math as it relates to sea turtles (lots of numbers about miles traveled, probability of survival, etc.), writing stories about sea turtles, art, reading and, naturally, issues about ecology and conservation.
This is our second week of homeschool and I cannot even describe the difference in our daughter. She is, in a word, happier. As a result, the rest of us are as well.
|Day one: library...|
|...and a new haircut.|
In many ways, I am as proud that we are teaching Ella this lesson as anything I could ever teach her about subjects and predicates.
In a completely uncharacteristic way, I am not overthinking this or over planning it. I am just going with what it seems is needed day by day, moment by moment. (This is a good chance, after all, to put all my hard work of the last two years to practical use.) I am working to incorporate some essentials (mastery of the multiplication table for instance, dissecting sentences, teaching how to use the dictionary) along with more soul-filling work (like watercolor painting and taking Ella to her first yoga class!). The thought of teaching fractions and long division with remainders has me shaking in my shoes but hey, I'm game to try and fail and try again.
Yes, I am nervous and overwhelmed. No, I have no idea how to sort out my life now that it has been turned completely on its head. Yes, Maya struggled some with this idea in the beginning but has come to really like it now that things are so much more peaceful at home and there isn't an every night tear fest over a mountain of homework anymore.
I still have all my regular responsibilities and work and trying to make space for everything is a challenge. I am doing a lot of "real life" teaching. For instance keeping a running ballpark estimate on a pad when we are at the store and trying to get within a certain dollar amount of the total. And anyway, isn't applicable, relatable learning more conducive to actually learning and retention?
Maybe this adventure will work for us. Maybe it won't. But I can sleep at night knowing that I did what I could to help our daughter. Looking back in 10 years time I will know that we listened when she told us what was happening for her. And for now we get to see her smile about 80% more each day than before we started and that is all the salary I need.
If anyone out there has any words of wisdom or advice, I will gladly accept them. I am a very novice teacher whose only real asset is that my heart is in the right place and I feel in every fiber of myself that I am doing the right thing for our girl. And it makes it all worth it when she says things to me like, "Momma, thank you so much for home schooling me. I know it is a lot for you to do it and I really appreciate it." Cue the squeezy hug and it makes it all worth it.