From Homeschool to Public School

The title is a bit deceiving because it makes me sound like I’m a seasoned homeschooler. I’m not. It *technically* lasted a whole five weeks. However, the hours I spent reading and researching would probably add up to a solid half decade… minus almost five years. Well regardless, here’s the story:

This journey began while my oldest son was attending pre-k last year. I was floundering about what would come next. There were so many options to consider! Public school, charter school, private school, magnet school, homeschool, co-op… We visited a number of places, but none of them brought the “aha!” moment. Until I visited our local public elementary school.

I have fears about public schooling. Much of them stem from my own lack of experience with it as a student, but my personal experience with it as a teacher. Yes, I am a former high school teacher. And it rocked my precious, naïve world. Also, the media is great about highlighting the worst possible stories related to public education. But while I was touring the building of this elementary school during an open house last spring, a former college friend greeted me in the hallway. It just so happened that she was a kindergarten teacher there. She also happens to be a genuine, compassionate, energetic, and kind person.

She would care about my son. And he could be in her class! That was all it took.

I gathered all the enrollment forms, went home, sat on the couch, and cried tears of gratitude for the grace that God had shown me through that “chance” encounter.  I turned in the papers the next day and felt total peace.

Fast forward to this past July. I began to waver and doubt.

Above all I have always desired that my children would love to learn, that they would understand that all of life is learning. Classroom walls do not determine the sum total of their education, and experience truly is the best teacher. I wanted them to have EXPERIENCES, not a desk and chair to sit in. I didn’t want them to become cogs in the wheels of an enormous, broken educational system.

The idea of homeschooling began pulling at me. So I started reading- articles, blogs, books… all the things. Through my research I discovered the idea of “unschooling,” which was immensely intriguing and seemed to be the exact answer I was looking for. (For a basic understanding of this educational philosophy go here.) I wanted my kids to be free to learn as naturally as possible, to let their own curiosity and interests guide their education without being hindered by traditional structures, labels, rules, homework, and standardized testing. (I despise standardized testing with all of my heart. Let that be known.)

I thought that more time together instead of wasting it in school was the solution for our family unit to become strong and cohesive; that by being with each other all of the time and learning together our love for each other would sink down deeper and stretch out wider.

Well, in theory this should be true. In practice, though, it didn’t quite feel that way.

I came to a few realizations after living out the summer months and the first few weeks of the official school year as a homeschooling mom:

  • I’m not as into this as I thought I was.
  • I should be planning things and I’m not.
  • My kid is bored and desperate for friends.
  • I am an introvert and cringe at the thought of meeting new people.
  • This is bad for a homeschooling family.
  • I am going to be raising socially stunted, awkward weirdos if we keep this up.
  • Something has to change.

And so I began trying to face my own personal discomfort and fears by taking them to attend social gatherings of other homeschooling families, becoming part of online communities, searching for a tribe to call our own.  It was utterly exhausting. It felt mostly futile since my kids refused to interact with the other kids, which defeated the purpose. I felt imprisoned by my own expectations, knowing that I was not doing this right or well, but believing that this was still the best thing for my kids anyway. I will get better at this eventually, right? That’s what I kept repeating to myself.

Until last Friday when I was attempting to actually do a thing with him by practicing some sight words and he was not having it. He looked at me with those enormous sea-blue eyes and sighed, “Mom, I just want to have friends. Not just you and baby Isaac. I want to go to school and have friends.”

There is something I know about my son. And that is that he cannot just be thrown into random situations and make friends. He needs consistent time and interaction with a variety of kids in a familiar setting in order for something to finally click- in order to find his person or people. Now, I understand this can be found within homeschooling communities and co-ops in much the same way. The problem was that we still hadn’t found one AND they all cost a chunk of money that we don’t have right now. So that possibility wasn’t going to be in the cards for us for a while, but we needed something NOW.

He is also very curious and inquisitive and thrives on mental stimulation. He was getting very little of that at home because I lacked preparation and structure. Deep down I could feel something was not healthy about our situation.

So after my son made that statement I looked him in the eye and asked him if he really wanted to go to the elementary school. I repeated that same question three or four times before we left the house to go re-enroll him. Each time he said yes, this is what he wanted, that he was ready. So I said okay. He asked if he would be able to have the same teacher that he was going to have when I first enrolled him. I told him probably not, but I would ask and see if it was possible. So I sent a quick message to her letting her know what we had decided and asked if it was possible for him to still be in her class. She responded almost immediately that she would make it happen. And she did.

God’s grace continued to flow.

We put down the sight words, got our shoes on, drove down the street to the elementary school, walked into the building, and there at the front desk stood his new teacher, waiting for us. I had no idea she would be there. With a big smile on her face we hugged and I whispered thank you. She assured me this was good- it was so good.

Grace upon grace.

As soon as we were done and walked out the door, however, old best friends Fear and Anxiety came to crash the party. How could this possibly be the right decision? How? WHAT DID I JUST DO? And as we drove home I began to think and analyze and over-think.

I felt grief for the loss of a dream, fear of the unknown, worry that the sibling relationships would break down, anxiety that I would “lose” my son, and frustrated at the loss of control I now faced. I was overwhelmed, but still I was determined to listen to my son’s needs and at least let him try this new thing.

We can always take him back out was the thought that I clung to.

A few hours later we went to pick up Isaiah from preschool and were driving home. The song “No Longer Slaves” was playing and from the backseat I could hear Silas belting out the words at the top of his lungs: “I’m no longer a slave to fear! I am a child of God. I’m no longer a slave to fear! I am a child of God.”  That’s when I started to pray.

“Lord, I pray that he would be a light-bearer…”

Wait. What? That’s not language I would normally think to use. So in that moment I understood immediately that God had given me these words to speak and pray over Silas.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, MSG)

Aha, God. I see what you did there. So now what are You up to…? A few fuzzy details were beginning to take shape. Silas knows love, and he knows God. He is going to be used to share both with the kids at this school who know neither.

Oh God, but what if he gets lost, trapped, bullied, lonely, sad, angry, confused, misunderstood, forgotten…?

And God’s reminder of what’s true shook me: “He is not yours to keep. He is not yours to hold on to. He is my child FIRST and I love him more than you do.”

*Cue the ugly silent cry and dripping tears.*

I have to surrender control of my child and the micromanaging of his discomfort. He needs to experience hard things, painful things, and sad things in order to grow in grace, courage, hope, and compassion. God has purposed him to bear light and love. He cannot fully understand the hope and joy of this Light without confronting darkness. So I must let him go do it. Without me.

But Lord, can’t I just stand in the back of the room? Sit behind the bushes during recess? Hide under a table at lunch time? I was getting desperate.

“Nope. Let him go.”

I am being forced to face my fears and trust that God can and will take care of my son. I have to start releasing him to take walks in the wild without holding my hand.

An aside: I must also now give up the convenience of living outside the system and its rules. This is hard. I like convenience. I do not like rules.

Growing pains hurt really, really bad.

To a lot of people (and even to myself at first), this decision might not make sense, especially since we are blessed to even HAVE the option to homeschool because my husband works extremely hard to provide. So why, then? Because God doesn’t often make sense. He works and moves inside AND outside of our boxes, often thwarting our best-laid plans for His better one. Maybe the type of education I desired for him was, in fact, NOT the kind of education he needed in order to do whatever it is that God has purposed him to do.

We are five days in now and I can say with total certainty that this was the right decision. He is clearly a happier, more engaged child. I am clearly a happier, more engaged mother. Everybody is winning. (Except baby Isaac in the after school pick-up line. Wah.) He comes out of the building smiling every single day, always talking about something new he has done. This child thrives on structure and routine. It was obvious that at home he was wilting. No longer. It brings me great joy to see his love of learning expanding and growing.

God is faithful.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16, NIV)

Satan is aware of all of my fears concerning this new journey. He is aware of how powerful a mother’s desire to protect can be. It can cripple the life and spirit of a child. So as I pray for my son, I pray also that fear would not distract me from the good that is happening; that I would not allow fear to dictate my actions or reactions; that with each new day I would choose surrender instead of control.

And dear God, PLEASE bestow an extra measure of patience upon his teacher to handle all of my initial crazy. She truly is a gift.

If God can strengthen a small young boy to slay a giant and save an entire nation of people (1 Samuel 17), God can strengthen my son to walk the halls of kindergarten and beyond.

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There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a Spirit who brings fire
Ignites a candle and makes His home

Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

(Chris Tomlin, from “Go Light Your World”)

Go light your world, sweet boy. You are infinitely loved.

Peace & Love, Amy

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