how it all started…the homeschooling, that is

When you hear the word homeschooling, what sort of family do you see in your mind?  I can tell you what I saw – a dad, a mom (in a jean jumper) with 15 kids (boys with shirts tucked in and a severe hair part and girls in long braids and more jean jumpers – all matching, of course).  This picture is NOT what I wanted for my family.

I was educated (mostly) in local small Christian schools.  During my sophomore year I attended public school.  I went from a school of about 400 kids total in K-12 to one class of over 700.  Talk about culture shock!  I have my own opinions about Christian schools, but that’s another post.

When our daughter was born, my intention was to put her in the public school.  We live in a great school system in many respects.  It is not without its problems, but what organization is not without problems, especially a government entity?  My best friend at the time was bent on homeschooling.  She read every book available and had it all set in her head.  I thought she was crazy.  I’m not sure I actually spoke those words to her, but I may have.  Our daughters are six weeks apart in age.  We went through childbirth classes together.  Our girls grew up as sisters before they started schooling (Upon further discussions, my friend and I have different remembrances of how it all came to be, but I’m sticking to my story).

I remember the day we registered for Kindergarten vividly.  We really do have a beautiful school campus within walking distance of our home.  My daughter went through all the testing and I signed all the forms.  We were set!

About a month later, my mother-in-law called me out of the blue and told me about an episode of Focus on the Family that she heard that day.  Dr. William Bennett had been on discussing a new concept – public, virtual charter schools.  We happened to live in a state that had recently enacted a virtual charter school policy and Dr. Bennett’s school/curriculum was going to begin the school that upcoming year in our own state.  She gave me the website and I remember thinking that she probably got it wrong, but out of respect I wrote it down.  About a week after this phone call, I decided to check out the website.  Well, wonders of wonders, my MIL had given me the right web address.  We still had dial-up at the time so it took most of my evening to read everything on the website for K12™.  By Sunday, all the enrollment papers had been filled out, signed and were mailed on Monday morning.  I also informed my friend of this option (Ultimately I believe this was a mistake, but that’s yet another post).  By the end of the following week, my friend had enrolled her daughter as well.  We were on our way down a completely different path!

I figured I couldn’t screw her up that much in Kindergarten.  My husband and I always took the view that we would re-evaluate our decision at the end of each year, and we’ve stuck to that decision, even now.  Eventually, it became apparent that homeschooling was the option for our family sans the matching jean jumpers.  It gave us freedom.  We weren’t tied to some “experts” idea about how best to educate our daughter and we weren’t tied to the traditional school schedule.  We took our vacations in the off-seasons and enjoyed being on the cutting edge of education.

I know there are strong opinions out there in the homeschooling community about public charter schools.  I know there are strong opinions about them in traditional public schools, they are a particular target of the NEA.  My opinions are mixed.  I believe that K12 gave my daughter a great elementary education.  It gave me confidence to believe that I could do this.  It is a good option for moms like me in the beginning.  Obviously, there were things that happened to make us realize that the virtual charter school was not the best option for us anymore.  It wasn’t anything huge – no blinking neon sign saying, “IT’S TIME TO HOMESCHOOL TRADITIONALLY NOW!”  There were just little things.  We parted ways and found even more freedom in homeschooling on our own.

The most important lessons I learned are these:

 1.       Yes, I can home-school.

2.        Charter schools can be a good option.

3.       Don’t waste time categorizing – someone who keeps their  kids at home to educate them is homeschooling them.

4.       Don’t judge other parents in their schooling choices – public, private, home or charter. (This was a really hard one for me, but I think I’ve finally come around J)

So, what’s the moral of this post?  Nothing really, just a glimpse into how we got onto this journey we are on.  I don’t have 15 kids.  In fact, my daughter was an only child until she was 11 (God has a sense of humor, but I wasn’t laughing much that year).  Now we have two.  Our daughter is a beautiful, compassionate, talented and motivated young woman of 17 who has never worn a jean jumper.  Our son is a rambunctious, “why” asking, Lego Builder with a delightful smile and infectious laugh and has also never worn a jean jumper.

“Virtual” Friendships – for Real?

I make assumptions, do you? 

For some time I’ve had this assumption about virtual communities.  My thoughts went along this line:

“Come on, you can’t possibly have a real relationship with someone you’ve never met.  You don’t really know each other.  How can there be any depth of connection?”

I will admit this assumption was made based on my interaction with Facebook “friends” and I still don’t think Facebook “friends” are really friends, but I was wrong about the virtual community at large, specifically the blogging community. 

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a blogging conference.  The 2:1 Conference was the first of its kind.  A conference designed for Christian homeschooling bloggers.  I went as a representative of one of the sponsors, Classical Conversations.  I left with many ideas planted in my head but mostly I left with the impression that these women are actually friends.  Do they spend their mornings getting their nails done together, going shopping and having coffee?  Of course not!  Some of us are lucky to get a single math problem done, but they are connected throughout the day with each other and they share each others’ sorrows and joys as instructed in scripture.  I found myself wondering how the connections got to be so deep since they were mostly “virtual”. 

Then…a EUREKA moment!  They already had gone through all the surface junk with each other, they didn’t have to pretend with each other and put their best face forward in order to impress one another.  They knew about the bad days and the good days.  They had already spent the time getting to know one another.  You might say that we can present ourselves however we want online and that we can easily be misled by someone and I suppose that is true.  But, the opposite is also true.  These women were real and genuine.  Sort of like not seeing your college roommate for several years and you can just pick up right where you left off. 

Most of these women blog about their daily lives.  The one girl I met recently had suffered a traumatic brain injury by being in a bounce house with her kids.  The internet and this community of homeschool mom bloggers were her lifeline during that time she spent recovering.  They prayed for her, checked in on her (via Twitter) and they loved on her.  When she finally met some of them face to face, you could see her gratefulness.  There is much to be fearful of online and we must be careful, but I realized that these women had genuine relationships with each other.  They were an encouragement to each other like I’ve never seen – even in a local church setting.

Obviously, I’ve changed my mind about blogging for real because I’m following the tips I learned at the conference.  But, I experienced so much more.  I would love to go this year, but I don’t think I can. Maybe next year I can go as a “newbie” blogger in my own right!