One of my blog readers, whom I met through the comments section not long ago (and who has two terrific blogs that I've since started following: Best Family Adventures and A Year of Living Charitably) was a little confused by my last blog entry The "Importance" of School. Totally understandable. You think you're reading a blog about a homeschooling family, and then the blogger makes a comment like "Little Brother comes home from school...", and new readers are probably thinking "huh?".
Last fall, after a lot of thought, discussion with the hubby, and talking with my homeschooling friends (who politely acted as a sounding board while rolling their eyes), we made the decision to enroll Little Brother in morning kindergarten.
I should probably back up and explain some of the very first issues that led us to homeschooling almost six years ago. Six years ago, Big Sister was just turning 4, and had just become a preschool dropout. At the time all we knew was that the preschool she'd been going to for 3 mornings/week for the past year (which got me through a high-risk pregnancy and bedrest) was not the right fit for our daughter. We didn't know what our next step was going to be, but we pulled her out and began exploring our options for preschool and beyond. As a single income family, non-religious private schools were not a solution that could be reconciled financially. Our local school district only offered full-day kindergarten, and our neighborhood school was known to be fairly rigorous. I came from a time when kindergarten (if you went at all) was for listening to stories being read by your teacher, playing house, building with blocks, and playing duck-duck-goose on a grassy field next to the playground. Then you drank your dixie cup of juice, and went home to go play some more, and maybe nap. Full-day kindergarten was not in my vision for our kid. (And then there's a rant in here about how putting kids in school all day and starting the more rigorous instruction early on has not translated into increased test scores, or better prepared high school graduates... but I digress.)
I'm not sure I'd even heard of homeschooling before this, and I'm sure I hadn't considered it as an educational choice. It's very possible I stumbled upon it on an attachment parenting message board, but I do know that some of my first answers about homeschooling came from the homeschooling message board on iVillage. Eventually hubby and I decided that we would try it out for a year to see how it would go. Then we tried it another year... and here we are.
Spring forward to the end of Summer 2008. Little Brother is 5 years old. He's quirky, prefers to play alone, doesn't have any real friends. I should qualify that: he has kids who think of him as their friend, but their play usually involves pushing Little Brother's buttons until he gets angry and frustrated enough that he storms away. It's not that they single him out, because these kids do it to each other, too, and seem to like it. It's like some odd, archaic form of "friendship". Little Brother doesn't handle it well, and I was at a loss for how to help him out socially. He also has some issues that I was starting to feel like I wanted an outside person to see besides me, so I might know if we needed to seek outside help: sensory issues, self-injury, and the lack of friendships with other kids. So the local kindergarten started looking more and more like an educational and social experiment that we'd like to pursue.
I am not at all disappointed that we chose to try kindergarten. It is, for the most part, the kindergarten experience a kid should have if they're going to go to school. It's short, leaving plenty of the day for unstructured, child-led pursuits. It's active - the kids don't sit in one place for more than 5-10 minutes before they're up and moving to the next activity. It's fun - they have ample opportunity to choose how they want to play, they sing songs, and hear stories. I could do without the nightly homework, and the fundraisers, but those concerns are minor. I've had my initial feelings validated - Little Brother is a quirky kid, who often prefers the company of adults. He finds most of his same-age peers annoying because they display behaviors that are pointless, irritating, and make little sense. He does now have a core group of three friends who he adores, and they're all nice to each other, and don't try to push his buttons. He's getting to experience what friendship is supposed to be like.
Because the length of the school day increases greatly beginning in first grade (he would leave on the bus before 9am, and not return home until almost 4pm), leaving little time for the pursuits of childhood, we will likely be withdrawing him at the end of this school year. I can't see the purpose in having him at school for that long of a stretch when we could accomplish the same, academically, in a fraction of the time at home. We will continue to nurture the friendships he has developed, and look for other opportunities for him to continue to grow socially.
And that is the story of how Little Brother went to school.