Can I make a confession? Some days–most days, if I’m being honest–I don’t really feel like I’m cut out to be a homeschooling mom.
My son is not interested in the story we’re reading. He’s bored with learning about the American Revolution. He doesn’t want to experiment with magnets. He can’t focus on phonics. He’d rather be playing outside, or playing board games, or video games, or doing anything but this. He’s hungry. Maybe I’m hungry, too. My patience is shot.
We’re three quarters of the way through the year, so we still have a few months to go. And this is only kindergarten. How on Earth are we going to keep doing this for the next 12 years?
When I was a brand new mom, in the thick of discovering a new identity within the alternative parenting community, I absolutely loved the idea of homeschooling. I could let my kids learn at their own pace, guided by their own interests. If that meant they were burning through math lessons on Khan Academy, flying through workbooks, always a grade or two ahead, then great. If that meant they didn’t grasp reading until they were 7 or 8 years old, then so be it.
I knew all the arguments against homeschooling, and I had my responses memorized. I knew how I’d “socialize” my son. I was ready to shell out the money for textbooks to make sure he learned things the “right” way (but only when he was ready, of course). I’d get him into classes through parks & recreation and local sporting groups. I’d look into tutoring as necessary.
I’d find a local homeschooling group, or perhaps start my own. Get him involved with a parent-led co-op. Maybe send him part-time to an alternative school. We’d have church and scouting and plenty of other activities to round out our days.
When my son was 4, I ordered a “complete” preschool curriculum that was driven by literature. They sent us a giant box of books, accompanied by a lesson plan that guided us through those books every day. We read stories and fables, introduced concepts of science and history, and worked on counting and the alphabet.
My son was so excited that we started a full month before the “regular” school year started.
A few months in, however, we were starting to lag behind, just a little bit. We’d sometimes go for a day or two without opening that now dog-eared lesson plan, and then do several days’ worth of “classes” over the course of a single day. But I wasn’t concerned about our uneven progress. My son was clearly learning, and together we enjoyed being challenged with so many new thoughts and ideas. We were doing things at his pace.
However, halfway through the school year, in the spring, my new baby was born. And my older son and I completely fell off the homeschooling bandwagon.
My newborn was rather high needs, but I still spent plenty of time with my firstborn. We read constantly, his favorite books being chapter books meant for second graders. We colored and painted. We played board games, explored nearby parks and museums, went for long walks in the East coast sunshine.
I lived life with a baby in my arms and my bigger boy by my side. We might not have been doing “school” anymore, but he was still learning new things every day.
But as the spring and summer wore on, I started to worry again. My son was now 5, due to start kindergarten in the fall. I faced a serious dilemma. Should I stick it out with homeschooling, perhaps look into a different curriculum that might help us stay on task better? Or should I do the “normal” thing, send him to public school, and actually have time to breathe while struggling with my colicky new baby?
Ultimately, we enrolled my son in an online public school. I got to keep my boy with me at home, but we had all the structure of a brick-and-mortar school, with textbooks and learning tools supplied for free by the public school district. He’s on track to be learning everything that any other kindergartener learns, but we’d get to dictate the precise pace and schedule. And everything meets state standards.
Sounds gravy, right?
Except… well, I feel far too often like it’s just too much for me. It’s too hard. Too stressful. Sure, we have structure and a solid lesson plan, but some days it’s a struggle to stick to it. I feel like I lose my patience with my son far too often. It’s not that he is struggling with the curriculum. He’s just a 6-year-old, and he’s so darn distractible.
He walks in circles around the room as he talks. He doesn’t want to finish his craft projects. He would rather listen to the story read by a stranger over YouTube than cuddle up on the couch with me. He’d rather read a different story altogether.
Some days, I don’t think I can do this anymore. I dream of walking him to a class, receiving a distracted hug and maybe a kiss before he dashes through the door. I wonder if we’d both be happier if I weren’t his teacher, if I could go back to just being mom. He’s bored. I’m frustrated. He’s impatient. I’ve had enough.
Stick a fork in me already.
I’m sure I’m not alone in my homeschooling angst. I like to think every homeschooling parent I know–and thanks to my nomadic military spouse lifestyle and the magic of the Internet, I know quite a few–struggles with feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, frustration, even downright anger.
I wonder if we’d both be happier if I weren’t his teacher, if I could go back to just being mom.
But it sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes. I feel completely alone in my troubles. When my Facebook feed is full of kids happily conducting science experiments or painting in that carefree way that only a small child can, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not trying hard enough. I am not enough, period.
And yet, every time I feel like the negatives are on the verge of truly outweighing the positives, like all this negativity is about to collapse on top of me like a badly constructed elementary school bridge diorama, I am reminded of the positives.
My son loves math so much that he’s already finished the kindergarten curriculum, and they’re moving us up to the first grade level. He enjoys the online sessions, and just last week he spent 10 minutes discussing pets with a fellow kindergartener who lives more than an hour away from us. He has an extensive vocabulary, using words like “merchant” and “spire” in everyday conversation–correctly. He is a builder, an artist, a storyteller. He can indulge those dreams in his own way, on his own schedule.
My son can even read, a little bit anyway. A year ago he could not, and now he voluntarily reads street signs and simple library books. And I taught him that.
With only a few months left of the school year, I’m trying to stay on the bright side. My son is learning a lot. He’s thriving. Maybe this really is the right path for us.
Maybe I’m not so bad at this homeschooling stuff after all.