It is January second of a brand new year. The Christmas tree is packed away and the new toys organized and the last of the endless sweets are finally disappearing.
With the holidays over, I find myself happy to settle into the rhythms of ordinary life, and to look ahead to all that this new year will hold.
The biggest change, now that our new routine is falling into place, is that Judah is home with us in the mornings. We had every intention of finding a new preschool in our new neighborhood. We just wanted to give him a break for November and December, time to adjust to yet another move and another new home.
I emailed a friend with a son Judah’s age and said, “Please give me ideas of activities to do with these kids all day so I don’t lose my mind.” She sent me a website with free online alphabet and phonics program (Starfall.com) and some other preschool ideas.
So, in the mornings, Judah and Amelie and I began to have “school time” for an hour. We did our letters on the laptop. We did “artwork” at the table (coloring or play-doh or a Christmas craft from the internet). And mostly, we read lots and lots of books together. Then we tried to get outside and play until lunch time.
And here’s what I found these past two months: I have loved having Judah back at home with me. I love “school time” with him. I love watching the way his eyebrows crinkle as his little mind strains and starts to work out the sounds that letters make and to recognize numbers. I love when he jumps out of bed in the morning and says, “Can we do our letters?”, and when he tries to “read” signs and books and brochures, and when I find him in his bedroom studying his ABC wall poster that Pat sent him.
I love the morning we sat on the sofa together in sweatpants and he looked and me and said, “Mommy, thank you so much for letting me do school at home with you.”
David and I have had endless conversations about school. Honestly, it’s been a weight on my shoulders for months now. There is a huge amount of pressure here to have both our children in school already (Yes, you read right; South Asians start their kids in school at age 2). But the more I’ve researched and asked questions, the more troubled I’ve felt about putting our kids in any of the schools available to us.
I have talked to lots of people, read articles, and asked questions, and, while I do not want to be negative, I am just not comfortable with our country’s traditional philosophy of education. The atmosphere is extremely competitive and high-pressure. Kids are urged to succeed (in order to have successful, lucrative careers) and be better than their peers from the time they can talk. The method of education is rote memorization and children are pressured to conform and accept what they are told, rather than to think critically and creatively and ask questions. We saw this emerge in lots of ways even in Judah’s brief preschool experience.
I have heard these things again and again from ex-pats and also South Asian friends. My neighbors have told me that when it comes time to put Judah in school, we will not be allowed to tour the school or meet potential teachers. Parents are supposed to remain hands-off and to feel privileged if a school decides to accept their child.
It seems that many South Asians are beginning to look for alternatives to traditional school here because they too struggle with the philosophy and values. There are Montessori schools and international schools, and I have heard that a growing number of South Asian schools are trying to adopt more “progressive” ideas of education, taking away corporal punishment, encouraging kids to participate in sports and art and music, and have a more well-rounded education.
I am encouraged to hear about the changes starting to take place, but when it comes to my own four-year-old, things feel so much more personal. The two Montessori schools that were recommended to us won’t consider my child because I didn’t begin him there at age two. That does not sit well with me. I do not want to have to put my children in school when they are two years old, and I don’t like a school that tells me I do. There are some good international schools in our city, but the ones I have looked into cost an exorbitant amount of money (10,000 USD for kindergarten).
Add to this the fact we are completing our first two-year term here this fall, and spending three-four months back in the States to reconnect with supporters, which does not bode well for consistent school attendance. Judah’s nursery school got frustrated with the amount of traveling we do; I have no idea what a “real school” would think of us.
So . . . you can see why I felt close to depression. And I was frustrated because if I were at home in the States I wouldn’t even be thinking about school for Judah yet. He won’t be in 4K until next year. We would keep him home for these preschool years, then just start him in public school for kindergarten.
So. Deep breath.
These past two months have been great because I’ve felt some of that stress begin to lift. All I know is thinking about school stresses me out, but “doing school” at home with my kids makes me happy.
Enter more research. Yes, I am one of those super nerdy people who likes to research just for the fun of it. Research papers were one of my favorite parts of high school and college. Ahhh college. I miss it so much. I miss reading assignments and writing literary analysis papers and talking about ideas in seminar class. I remember thinking if only somehow my lit professor could keep giving me writing assignments after I graduated, then I would be perfectly happy.
Sometime in these past couple of months the thought did occur to me that since I love the above activities so much, maybe I’d like to teach my kids at home.
As in, home school.
Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how dead set against homeschooling I am? Just ask Maggie. Oh, she’ll tell you. (Side note: You’d think I would learn to stop making dogmatic statements that begin with the words “I will never …”).
But all I know is that the more I’ve researched home schooling and had this world opened up to me, the happier I’ve become.
You would not imagine how many resources there are out there. It’s a bit overwhelming. And so, so much fun. I love emailing and facebooking my homeschooling friends and asking their opinions and advice. I love the books and articles I’m reading, the websites I’m browsing.
So these days—ask David—ninety percent of my conversations have something to do with what I just read online about homeschooling or such and such a book that I’m reading. He is a wonderful husband who has encouraged and dialogued with me in this, but also given me freedom to decide whether I want to try it.
I have absolutely no idea how long we’ll home school. Between David and me, we’ve covered all kinds of schooling: public, private Christian, international overseas, college prep, and home school (Yep! I myself was homeschooled for four years through junior high.). And both of us enjoyed certain aspects of all the forms.
But I feel like we’ve finally settled on the form of schooling that, right now, best suits our family’s lifestyle. One of the amazing gifts of living here is our ability to travel for David’s job. In our country and outside of it. And, like I said, we’ll travel back to the States in September. I am so excited that homeschooling is perfectly conducive to this. We can learn wherever we are. And it gives our kids consistency in their “in-between life” of South Asia and the U.S., rather than having to switch back and forth between schools.
And honestly, part of my motivation is selfish, because I think I’m maybe more excited about learning along with my kids than they will be. I’ve always thought I’d like to teach one day. So this is a chance to get my feet wet. I am so grateful that we live in a big city with tons of resources: bookstores, Flipkart.com (I’ve found every education book I’ve wanted so far and had it delivered right to my doorstep), art supply stores, museums, parks.
We are starting very simply around here. I ordered a reading primer for Judah, some beginner-reader books, and a developmental activity book. These things, as well as lots of reading aloud, and lots of time outside, will probably be the extent of 4K for us. And Amie, by the way, insists on doing whatever Judah and I are doing and asks to work on her letters even before breakfast.
The biggest drawback to homeschooling in my mind, is the possibility of our kids being isolated from the culture and from South Asian peers. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal right now when they’re little. They have friends they get to see regularly, and of course we’ll do sports and music and dance as they get older. This is something we will have to think on though.
Thanks for bearing with me through this post and letting me be long-winded. I think “schooling” can be a controversial topic sometimes, and that’s the last thing I want on this blog. I mostly just want to share my journey with you and of course we always love feedback.
Hey, I live in the capital of free feedback. The other day, a friend looked straight at me and said “I think homeschooling is a terrible idea.” Surprisingly, after I get over the initial stammering awkwardness, I find this honesty refreshing. I like not wondering what people think or say behind my back, because they have definitely said it to my face first. It’s just that the Southerner in me is still a little taken aback.
But it is something you can pray about for us. I want so badly to fit in here and to connect with people. It is so hard to be different and stand out like we do, and I feel like our new schooling choice will just add to that. But I one hundred percent think it’s best for our family right now, and know that God will keep leading us in the future.
(many thanks to the Morgan family for sending the Tootsie roll pops for Christmas)