Sunday, October 21, 2012

Holding Back a Homeschooler- Part 1

The majority of this post was written about nine months ago in a spiral notebook by hand.  

Three days before Christmas, it dawned on me.  Hold (my son) back a year. Just do it.

Where did this idea even come from? I was cleaning my kitchen when it hit me. I don't think I was even thinking about school, our math stress, or anything related.

I was watching my three children hover around the TV, watching Blues Clues.  (My youngest) had a new interest in it.  But my older two were just as pleased to watch it. My six-year-old.  And my eight-year-old.  I was reminded how sweet- and unique- it is, that an eight-year-old boy would enjoy Blues Clues.  I smiled at them.

And that's when it came to me. Hold him back a year. Just do it.

It's not as if this came out of nowhere.  Several months before, on a day of complete frustration and panic with my homeschooling endeavor and my oldest child, I began searching the Internet for help and encouragement.  Google is my best online friend.  I think my search was for "emotionally immature child homeschooling". I knew I could turn up a plethora of information if I left off the word "homeschooling" but what I was anxious for was relief and encouragement from my home educating cohorts that this was okay, that others had experienced this in their homes as well.

I'll be honest, I got no such relief.  Everything my search turned up was the exact opposite of what I was experiencing- and the typical response you get from homeschoolers if you try to question their success.

Homeschooled children are more mature emotionally, socially, spiritually.

Academically, home educated children surpass their public-school peers.

"My home educated child finished all their course work at 16 and began taking college courses."

Over and over, this is the kind of stuff I found. It made me feel worse- yet I knew there were other homeschooling parents experiencing the opposite of these stereotypes.  But why wasn't anyone rising up and admitting it?

The most helpful articles I found were on the blog of Dr. Susan WiseBauer, author of the highly respected The Well Trained Mind and The Story of the World series (which my own children and I love).  Susan's four part article made a case for the "gap year"- a year between high school graduation and freshman year of college. A year taken purposely to gain experience and maturity before entering college.   As a professor at William and Mary, Bauer says she can always recognize the 18-year-old student from the 19-year-old- and it's a positive difference. Her own son, home educated, decided to take a gap year after looking at his high school transcript and finding it a little light.  Bauer agreed. (And can I just say that was encouragement in and of itself?  That Susan WiseBauer had a son with a "light" high school transcript.)

So while I could find nothing to help me figure out what to do with our struggles- which really do boil down to emotional immaturity- I certainly tossed the idea of holding Caleb back around in my mind- for about two seconds.

Because then all the other typical home school arguments entered my head.

Grade level doesn't matter.

He'll catch up.

What about all the work you've done?

What about your pride? (Okay, that was my own argument.)

I began praying more for my son, asking for wisdom, praying for the right tools to help both of us.  I longed to relax and simply enjoy the sweeter aspects of his immaturity- like Blues Clues, Winnie-the-Pooh, his sensitivity to others' emotions- instead of worrying about him.  I longed to let go of the pressure to get through his third grade math book so he could start his fourth grade book right on schedule next year. I just wanted to relax and enjoy our school year -period.  Snuggle up and read, let them paint, do the gentle things they enjoy.  Instead of drilling in math problems, spelling words, and handwriting practice.  I don't want to be a drill sergeant. I want to be a mom.

I recognize this pressure is mostly created by myself. But can I be honest and say the homeschool community frequently- if not purposely- creates pressure too. They get so defensive about how successful homeschooling is to convince outsiders- while alienating some of their own by creating false images.

There are honest homeschoolers out there and there is help for struggling students and parents. But I failed to turn up the help I need that day on the internet- which should have got me thinking that maybe the Lord was going to use me to be somebody else's help.

So back to three days before Christmas, when I think yes- hold him back. Just do it. Can I express the peace that washed over me? Can I tell you that this is exactly what I had prayed for- wisdom from on high!  Can I also admit that yes, it messes with my pride a little. I'm in my fifth year of home schooling. I have never slacked off, I've always gone above and beyond.  But is this really about me and my pride?

My goal isn't to get my children graduated and out of the house as soon as I can. It's to prepare them for whatever God has for them.  My goal isn't to merely give them a high school diploma at the end of their homeschooling journey- it's to give them the keys to a broad future.

My husband was completely on board with me when I discussed this with him. I can't believe how on board with it I am !  It's yet another way I see God's hand in our homeschool journey and I see how he answers prayer when we faithfully seek him.  He can give me the direction I need even as I watch my three children watching Blues Clues.

(End of handwritten words in a spiral notebook.)

Fast forward nine or ten months later.  We actually did this. We kept our son back a year.  I worried that the local school district would question me about it when I filed our paperwork, but they didn't.  I hoped that the fact that he was still in third grade would kind of fly over his head.  It has.  He asked me just this week what grade he was in and I said "third grade".  He said "When will I be in fourth grade? When I'm ten?"  I answered yes.  And breathed a prayer of thanks.

What I  have already discovered, about a quarter of the way through our school year, is that we made a very very good choice for our son.  He is flying through that same third grade math book that plagued him last year.   Everything is going much better, from English to spelling.  I am blown away by how this decision has made such a positive impact on him as student and me as his teacher and anxious, worried mom.

I plan to write more on this subject, but for now, know that we just did it.  We held him back.  But it's only served to move us forward.


Mellissa said...

I actually googled, "homeschool hold back" and came upon your blog. Thank you. I have been homeschooling for two years, and I have struggled with my eldest son the entire time. I kept thinking, "Maybe I should keep him back a year..." and didn't. As I type this, my husband is sitting at the kitchen table attempting to get him to write. It is frustrating, and has lead to tears. Thank you so much, I appreciate your honesty.

Rebecca said...

I know this is an older post but I wanted to say thank you for sharing. This year has been SO HARD. We are still figuring out what to do but I am more and more leaning toward a repeat of first grade with my daughter. It IS hard to find information on this, like you said, there is much information on excelling in home education. It makes me feel so defeated but the real goal is simply to properly equip my child.