I am an unexpected homeschooler to say the least. Never in a million years would I have imagined we would be where we are now—homeschooling two children—and I will admit that’s because of long-standing misconceptions and unfair judgments that I had internalized. Not only did I, as a child, love school myself—to the point where I used to lie when I wasn’t feeling well so I would never have to miss a day—but I also worked in education. For as long as I can remember, the rhythm of my life had been defined by the school calendar: fall was a time of excitement and eager anticipation, spring brought a sense of accomplishment and growth, and summer was a time to rejuvenate and refuel before moving onto the next great academic adventure. And then I had children of my own.Lara Magdzinski is a hardworking mom of two adventurous boys who started homeschooling on the fly. I love her posts and asked if she’d share her homeschool journey as part of our How We Homeschool series. Her journey from public school to unexpected homeschooler is inspiring and deeply honest. We’ve all had those midnight worries if we’re doing it “right.” I talk to homeschoolers around the globe for the Worldschoolers and Roadschooling series as well. Come back each Friday for a new homeschool family’s triumphs, lessons and favorite resources.
Early Days and SignsFrom almost day one, it was evident that my firstborn would be a mold-breaker. He walked at 9 months, much to my baby-proofing-procrastinator dismay. By 18 months, the only way to keep him happy in his crib was placing a stack of books at one end, which he would contently pursue both morning and night; they were his comfort blanket. Well before 3, he was reading full books, even though I never thought such a thing was possible (and certainly didn’t force it). And for every one of these milestones hit prematurely, for every one of these unbelievable successes, there was an accompanying struggle along the way. Emotions were more intense—both good and bad, I would note—and typical “toddler” behaviors persisted well past the norm. He was a case study in extremes.
School Days Lead to DiscoveryQuickly, school (and even daycare) became a constant struggle caused equally by his strengths as by his weaknesses. On the one hand, he was being handed chapter books and sat in the corner to read while the other students practiced their ABCs. On the other hand, was your stereotypical hyperactive kid: excitable, loud, constantly moving, overly eager to share, etc. By kindergarten, I was beginning to see the writing on the wall. I increasingly saw the signs that my eager learner was starting to hide his gifts to fit in with the crowd. I also saw the impact of internalizing the negative messaging being hammered in day in and day out for a kid who, frankly, is just not meant to sit still and quiet in a classroom all day.
Being an unexpected homeschooler comes with its surprises.It was half-way through kindergarten when I finally had an epiphany. I either needed to make a drastic change, or I would run the risk of losing all that made my boy so exceptional. I also knew that I, as the person who knows him and loves him most, am uniquely equipped to help him grow in the areas he needs growth and to utilize his strengths to build up his weaknesses.
Becoming an Unexpected HomeschoolerAround that time, I discovered Ainsley Arment’s “Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education.” I immediately downloaded the audiobook, and for the next six hours (until my kindergartener’s bus arrived back at the corner) I listened, and I cried. I’m talking ugly crying. While our stories of how we came to consider homeschooling weren’t identical, the overall impetus was: “The light went out in his eyes.” That night, when my husband came home, I told him that I wanted to homeschool. While I’d braced myself for the “you must be crazy” reaction, it never came. On the one hand, he saw the earnestness in my face. On the other hand, I think he knew, somewhere inside him, that this was the answer we’d been looking for all along. It was the gift my son deserved, and we alone could give it to him.
Dealing with Doubts and DecisionsTo say that I never looked back after making that decision would be a lie. I lost sleep many nights. I was ashamed I’d/we’d failed; I was afraid to tell people. And, as it turned out, my nervousness was not without reason. While my parents embraced the decision wholeheartedly and asked how they could help, others were not as supportive. My sister-in-law, in particular, held nothing back in voicing her disapproval. As a public school teacher, I understand, to a degree, where she was coming from. But, I could not buy her argument: that he needs to be in school to learn social skills. Of course, I agree that social skills are just as valuable as academics, if not more so.
I was ashamed I’d/we’d failed; I was afraid to tell people. And, as it turned out, my nervousness was not without reason.However, I struggled to see the value in the socialization that was going on day in and day out for him in traditional school: being made to sit alone so as not to chat with peers, being spat on while riding the bus by upperclassmen, being told—by a teacher’s assistant no less—that “boys don’t cry.” No, I could do better than that. To beget kindness, I would show him unending kindness and love. To teach acceptance, I would accept him without reservation. To reinforce patience and self-control, I would model those skills in our daily lives.
As an unexpected homeschooler, support was important, and hard to find.