August 21, 2013 – the girls’ very first day in a traditional school, ever.
The decision to put them in school was a long time in coming, and definitely not an easy one to make. They were in a homeschool charter for a number of years, and then last school year (2011-2012), I decided to pull them out of the charter. I felt that there was too much expectation of me as a teacher given the breadth of the California state standards, and really, too many things I was supposed to teach that I didn’t care that they know. I had read a good deal about radical unschooling and felt that that philosophy, learning by doing, learning through life – was a far better way to learn. And in all honesty, I felt it would require less of me – I wanted to have less responsibility and more freedom to focus on my own interests. During the 2012-2103 unschooling school year, I really did try to facilitate their education – field trips, park days, getting them involved in things they wanted to do, like theater and dance. We did do a small amount of book work during the year as well. Elea ultimately finished her math book, Brianna did not J The girls really had little interest in doing academics and instead spent lots of time playing, dancing, and going to their extra curriculars (dance, theater, girl scouts, etc.). I liked the freedom of unschooling, and liked having the girls with me, but I was feeling increasingly worried that I was not doing enough to facilitate their learning and their social lives. Living in Mountain House, we’re far away from the big cities, so field trips are a looong trek. And they were not able to make any girl friends from any of the park days we went to, as park days were infrequent at best. Their best friends were boys, which was fine – but every girl needs girl friends!
As for me, I became pregnant, had the miscarriage, and then got pregnant again – the whole first 5 months of the year were very challenging health wise. And by late spring, I started to feel that I simply could not and did not want, in all honesty, to homeschool anymore. I realized that teaching was not my bliss; I always had dragged my feet doing what school we did. And I felt that I was doing my girls a disadvantage at this point. They deserve to have girl friends, and they need to learn and be exposed to more topics and ideas than I had been exposing them to at home.
Reese and I wrestled a bit with how school clashes with our belief systems. While we both did well in school and liked it, we really feel that formal education is overrated – too much focus on success, test scores, things like that – lots of wasted time on discipline and classroom management. We believe that the most important lessons a child needs to learn are those taught by people like Tony Robbins, and Abraham/Hicks (Law of Attraction). I was also worried, too, that school would expose them to all of the things I had worked so diligently to protect them from all these years – they have such strong self esteems and vibrant personalities; I would hate for those to be altered by social pressure. In my many talks with my mom about this subject, she reminded me to have positive expectations – that school would be a good thing for them (and me!) if my guidance was telling me that school was the next step for all of us.
So, reservations not withstanding, I enrolled all three girls in school (Juliette had actually been asking to go to preschool!) – Juliette would go twice a week, mornings, and the big girls would be in 2nd grade (Elea) and 4th (Brianna). I decided since Brianna had not been academically focused last school year to put her in 4th even though she was actually of 5th grade age. I had lots of discussions with the girls about school. I could see they were actually somewhat open about it, but definitely had a good many reservations. Which is of course expected, given that school was always a threat in homeschool-world (e.g. “if you don’t do your school work, I’ll enroll you in school!”) and that they had never stepped foot in one and had no idea what to expect. I did a couple of things that really helped assuage their worries – met with the school principal to get a sense of him, the school, get some initial questions answered about school life; I relayed these things to them and told them I was impressed with what I had heard and with the principal himself. And then, a few days before school, I had a lovely friend give all of us a tour so we could see the campus, the girls could meet the principal, and we could get all remaining questions answered. Brianna was lucky enough to meet her teacher that day which I know helped a lot. I knew Elea’s teacher already, as we have sold her girl scout cookies the past 3 years (she’s a neighbor!) For Juliette’s part, we visited her pre school a couple times before she started to see the lay of the land, meet her teachers, and play for a few minutes.
The first day of school, the girls were excited and a bit nervous too. They had their backpacks, and lunches, and were so so cute. I walked the big girls into the school and waited to make sure they both were sitting in their classrooms before I left. I was so very proud of them – they embarked on this new adventure with confidence and bravery, no tears or reluctance at all. Dropping off Juliette that first day was a bit harder.. although she had been saying she wanted to go to pre-school, I think the actual experience of leaving mama was a little harder than she thought. She hid behind my leg and didn’t want me to leave. I left her crying that first day and my heart was broken. I went home and just bawled – I had felt so so much worry that I hadn’t realized – worry that they were scared or worried themselves. After a good cry, I napped and enjoyed that wonderful silence a bit too.
By about her fourth or fifth day of preschool, Juliette began to loosen up and not cry or cling when I dropped her off. The teachers were so kind to send me pictures of her those first few days to ensure me that she cried only for a few minutes, and then after that, was able to have fun. On the second day, I actually stayed in the school’s driveway to see how long she cried – and it was only for a few minutes.. that made me feel better. I hate to have put her through that, even for a few days, but I also felt really strongly that I needed to have those few hours for myself. In all my attachment parenting years, I have never had regular time alone – not during the day, not at night. So balancing my needs – expecting my 4th soon – and hers (I felt that she really would do well in preschool) – I thought that the decision would ultimately be ok.
Fast forward 6 weeks, and I cannot tell you how amazing school has been. Like surprisingly amazing. The girls have made girl friends, been invited to parties. They’re having fun! School isn’t all academics. Brianna’s teacher in particular incorporates fun little games, movies, things like that – into weekly school life. Elea was nominated by her teacher as student of the month for September – her teacher is very appreciative of her positive, helpful manner and outlook. Both girls also fit in well academically – they’re doing fine, scoring at level, etc. We don’t emphasize the scores at home, of course, but it is rewarding and nice that my homeschool efforts did, at least, keep them at grade level and prepared for school J What I’ve been most blown away by though was how school has actually inspired them to want to learn more. I was never able to accomplish that! Brianna has finally become interested in and excited about reading! Elea learned a little bit about the Titanic at school and was inspired to research it online and make her own report about it. How very unschooly that is, don’t you think?
And I am greatly enjoying having 7 whole hours to myself a week. I spend my own time napping, or cleaning, or helping moms with lactation, and just really loving the silence.
This is not to say that school is perfect.. there are annoyances for sure – like how the girls don’t have enough time to eat lunch, how Brianna has to wear her street clothes for gym class, how the vegetarian hot lunch options are wretched and all-cheese-all-the-time. And they do spend too much time on classroom management – particularly the 2nd grade teacher. I feel bad that the teachers have to waste so much time and efforts on children that don’t or can’t behave. How exhausting that must be.
So for now, it’s awesome! For future, we’ll see. We’ll take it one year at a time. If it stops being good for the girls, then we’ll homeschool again. How great it is to have the option of both.
A few lessons learned on my part:
1) school is not evil J
2) I should not have felt guilty that I didn’t teach much science and social studies in homeschool – neither girl does much of either one.. it’s very math and language arts focused.
3) it’s okay to have a little time for me. Moms need time off too.