Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From Homeschool to Public School: What I've Learned About My Kids and Myself

Sharing our journey from homeschool to public school is a scary topic for me. First of all, the way each family chooses to educate children is a deeply personal decision. We toss around words like "conviction" and "calling" because our deeply-held desires for our children flow out of our values and beliefs. And that's as it should be. 

The second reason I'm scared is because I am so all over the map on any given day. One of my closest friends {who homeschools} knows I can't really talk about homeschooling right now. I can't dish about curriculum like I used to. I'm still a bit fragile over the whole thing. Homeschooling was more of my identity than I'd realized.

My own convictions are not that cemented anymore, which makes feel wishy-washy. I'm afraid that if I write about how public school has been great for my kids {and for me} and then we bring one or all of them back home in the future, I'll have to eat my words. And my big fat pride just hates that. 

The third reason I tread very lightly on this topic is because when one person's conviction is not another person's, well, things can become dicey. Sometimes educational choices can feel like religion or politics. We can become cliquish, dogmatic, self-righteous, and graceless. It doesn't always start out that way but it's easy to understand why this happens.

When you homeschool, you're in the minority and you desperately need community and encouragement. It's hard, it's still sort of unchartered territory, it's not "normal." You need your people. And in some circles or certain churches, public schooling {or private schooling} can place you in the minority. You need community and encouragement too. Because it's also hard and you need your people.

For nearly five years, I had my people. Oh I still had plenty of friends and acquaintances who were doing public school. But for very practical reasons, our lives did not overlap as much. So now I have my people who are still homeschooling and my people who are public schooling. I know what it's like to do both. And because my family's "way" is very much in flux and that is so uncomfortable, I cannot even begin to tell you how unsettled I feel.

My homeschooling community was amazing. I actually had friends in various homeschooling communities but we all did that weird thing of not sending our kids to school. Being "weird" is what bonded us all. I went to practicums and conferences. I read lots of books. I researched. I felt inspired. But in retrospect I'm realizing that I was also indoctrinated. Yes, that last sentence is passive. The truth is, I indoctrinated myself. 

There is a fine line between inspiration and indoctrination. It's not always one or the other but we need to be wise in recognizing when it shifts from the former to the latter. I try to be wise. I am a natural-born skeptic. I tend to be analytical and discerning. But sometimes our emotions trump our brains. I think that happened to me a little bit with homeschooling. 

I still love the idea of it. Love. I know {and envy} homeschool families who do it beautifully and who have raised the most amazing, equipped kids. And because my husband and I reserve the right to change our minds, I may be a homeschool mom again. 

But I won't be the same homeschool mom.

First of all, I know myself better. Second, I'd take my own advice and get paid. Third, I'm now more able to recognize when inspiration shifts to indoctrination and I will run the other direction. Fast. 

But I don't just know myself better. I know my kids better too. And do you know why?

Because I sent them to school.

That sounds counterintuitive. In fact, plenty of homeschool families told me that homeschooling allows you to know your kids better. And it does. But moms and kids can also fall into ruts when they're together all the time. Familiarity can breed contempt {or at least annoyance} but it can also create blind spots. At least it did for me.

I've learned that my son is infinitely more motivated when he's surrounded by lots of people. A true extrovert, he is inspired by social energy. At home, he was smart but sometimes sluggish, capable but distracted. Going to school brings out the best in him and he has a way of bringing out the best in others. 

He loves his classmates and his teacher and they love him. He is full of compassion, near tears when he tells me about the kid who gets in trouble the most. He has an uncanny ability to see past kids' behavior and analyze the ways in which home or academic struggles influence poor decisions and leave certain kids at risk. It's almost unnerving. He's only 8. 

But in most every other way he's just a normal second-grader. When he comes home from school, he gives me the run-down of what he's doing in class but more importantly, how many interceptions he caught during recess. 

Today he informed me that he's #5 on the Heisman watch. Who knew that 2nd graders have a parallel football universe? We spent last week at the beach and when we returned on Saturday, he told me that he couldn't wait for Monday. What's Monday? I asked. School! I can't wait to see everybody, he replied enthusiastically. I've no doubt he'll be a puddle of tears on the last day of second grade. 

I've learned that my daughter is crazy about science, a subject I did great disservice to when we were doing school at home. She recently declared that she will one day get a PhD in Biology plus a Master's degree in teaching. And she'll be an artist on the side. Though she will likely change her mind 17 times before she has to formally make those decisions, it's exciting to see her so inspired. 

She has become more enthusiastic and driven, thriving on the social and academic culture of school. She loves having different teachers who teach their subjects well and passionately. And here's another quirky thing I've learned about her. She studies for tests by recruiting a willing family member to be her "student" and then she teaches the hapless victim her test material for as long as he or she will sit. It seems to work.  

Though she can be quiet and appears shy, she's demonstrated that she can be assertive when she needs to be, both with kids and with adults. She's confronted meanness, frustrating group assignments, and stolen chocolates from her lunch box. 

And through all of this she's learned that plenty of kids have home situations that don't afford them the luxuries of two parents, intentional discipline, protection from things that 11-year-olds shouldn't have to face, and a truffle or two in one's lunchbox. 

We've been able to process frustrating and unfair situations through the lens of grace. And this has been such a gift for both of us. In the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, 

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. 

Sharing these observations about my kids perhaps sounds braggy and indulgent. That's not my intent. Truly it's not. I'm simply bringing to light the qualities I couldn't see so well when they were at home. 

Juggling meals and math, laundry and language, and doing it all day long...it can blur one's vision just a bit. I know my children have got their issues. I'm their mama and I see their mess in all of its glory. Sometimes their mess overwhelms me and like any other mama, I worry about them. I fight fear, I fret over grades, I desperately want them to do well. But that is no longer the primary goal.

Learning to climb into others' skin. 

This is more important than learning math in just the right way or understanding history from a classical perspective. It's more important than reading the greatest of books or being a National Merit Scholar. 

Don't get me wrong, they are learning math and history and science in ways that are engaging and effective. But they're learning so much more. And so am I. The irony is that this sort of learning, this exposure to certain influences and unsavory topics, this is the stuff I wanted to protect them from. 

I still do. 

But this is the world they will one day navigate without parental supervision and tutelage. So every day they get to practice being brave and true, loving and discerning. They will fail. They have failed. We all do. But every day they come home to us and we revisit the day. We "walk around in skin" and their father and I try to point them to truth and reaffirm our values. 

In many ways, we've become more intentional about these sorts of things since they went to school. 

You see, we are still homeschooling but in a way that feels surprisingly richer and, I daresay, right. For us. At least for now. And I do know that come August, I may turn tail and run headlong back into homeschooling and want to delete this whole post. It's possible. But this is where we are today and I've quit trying to predict the future.

One year at a time, one kid at a time, seeking God's face all the time. That's the motto my husband and I have adopted.

God gave us these kids years ago and we dedicated them back to Him, recognizing that we are mere stewards. He goes with them every single day. 

I had not planned it this way. I thought I knew best. I don't regret a single day of homeschooling and the lovely, messy days of togetherness we experienced. Writing about it in the past tense makes me cry each and every time.  

It's just that sometimes real life re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace. 



  1. Hey thanks for your honesty! Planning on homeschooling one and sending one to public school next year, prayed a lot about it, but still struggling with guilt over both decisions!! Grace and wisdom...this is my prayer!

  2. What a terrific motto. I identify a lot with your post. In our living situation our kids routinely have to deal with issues I wish I could protect them from. These "problems" are the source of some of the best "education" and their loving responses make me the most proud. I've always felt that educating them spiritually was far more important to me than any letter grade they could receive. I'm happy you're all content with the recent changes.

  3. This is one of the most well-written and honest blogs about schooling I've ever read! Thanks for sharing and encouraging us all, with the reminder that we should all be homeschoolers no matter where our kids spend the daylight hours...

  4. I went/am going through the exact same things. I feel like I have had such an enlightenment about homeschooling not being a cure all. Great post.

  5. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate the honesty in how you share with your readers. Our daughter changed from a private school to public in the winter and my sweet first grade girl taught me that she knew so much more about moving on than I did! She just did it and did not look back!

    Thank you for sharing what you did about indoctrination...sometimes that is the hardest thing to deal with when we face where we are in a situation.

  6. I walk both roads right now. I'm actually more in the process of bringing them home. BUt there are advantages to both...anyone is silly if they say otherwise!

  7. I can't tell you how many times bloggy people assume that I homeschool. Cracks me up, because...why? What about me gives that impression? Well, I have my ideas...

    But this: "But this is the world they will one day navigate without parental supervision and tutelage. So every day they get to practice being brave and true, loving and discerning." This is mostly why my kids are public schoolers. You said it so very well and with so much grace.


  8. Don't know if I can comment, since I don't blog---I just read others'! Beautiful----filled with grace. Just love it when moms and Christians can treat each others' decisions with open hearts and minds.

  9. I am not a homeschooler and came upon your blog through blogher. I have had conversations (through my blog and other sites) with homeschoolers that were, frankly, mean-spirited and scary - that because I hadn't homeschooled my children (they are young adults now) I had done them a grave disservice. It's nice to read your post from another point of view.

    How wonderful for your children that you have given them the opportunity to see for themselves how public school works and how it feels for them. Whatever you choose to do in the future, you've given them this time to be out in the world, and in my opinion (for what it's worth) that's a good thing.

    I am not a Christian - in fact, I'm Jewish - but I felt the same passion you do when my kids were growing up to give them as much of me and our family values as I could, while allowing them to discover the world on their own.

    Best to you and your family!

    1. This is sad. No homeschooling parent should criticize another family for homeschooling. It gives all homeschoolers a bad name. I am a former public school teacher and administrator, turned homeschooling mom. We all make the choice we feel is right -- how dare someone butt into your life like that?

  10. Thank you so much for this. We homeschooled for a year, never intending to until our situation suddenly made it the best option. I gained a whole new level of respect for homeschooling, and became an ardent supporter of it, all while still, for complicated reasons, ultimately choosing not to homeschool the following year. Two years later, I'm still sorting through it all. But I too believe that rerouting is often where we, in the end, find grace, in the place where it's least expected.

  11. Since stepping away from the homeschool life I once knew (and really only knew for so many years)and praying over whether or not for my kiddos to go to public school in the fall, I have realized there is so much more than the world I was wrapped up in. If I completely step aside and let God lead me I can find joy in everything. I have decided to stick with homeschooling for now, but having let God lead me I have found a new joy for it. I have engaged my kids like never before. Why do we stand in God's way? Thanks for sharing your journey.

  12. I am glad I read your thoughts today. This post was shared on FB and I am thankful I took the time to read it.

    I have been homeschooling for four years and don't anticipate sending my children back to school. Now, I don't feel I'm "indoctrinated", rather just enjoying this lifestyle and seeing its benefits for MY children.

    Each family makes their own decision and how dare anyone else butt into or make judgments about that decision?

    1. so, kudos to you for writing a balanced post -- the world needs more writers like you.

    2. Thanks Homegrown Learners. : ) There is no perfect way--this I'm accepting. In many ways I have the heart of a homeschool mom, but not the fortitude. Kudos to you and yours for making it work. Thanks for your thoughtful words.

  13. Loved this!! We have just started homeschooling but just one of my 3. This is what is right for him. Not the others. He is home, one is in private, and one in public and this was the first year I was brave enough to realize that this year, this is what will work best for each one. It may be weird, but its what is working for us for now.

  14. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this! I've long felt there must be a movement to bridge the gap between "homeschoolers" and "public schoolers". Our mutual love for our children and our desires to do what's best for each of them is universal. We have much to offer and share together. Again, Thanks so much for your authenticity.

  15. This is an excellent and honest post! I can relate ot so much of it. We're in our fourth year of HS, and although I love it, there are days that that tinge of resentment can come. I commend you for making a choice I feel is even harder than choosing to HS. Making the choice to send them back to PS was probably harder. You learn who your friends are in times like this, and NO one should ever judge another parent for the choices they make. It sounds like your kids are doing great, and that's all that matters!

  16. Thank you! I didn't HS for long, just a month of Kindy. I could tell it wasn't working for us. It made me sad. My son reminds me of your boy. Three days into public school and he is doing so well.

    This is my son to a T "I've learned that my son is infinitely more motivated when he's surrounded by lots of people. A true extrovert, he is inspired by social energy. At home, he was smart but sluggish, capable but distracted. "

    Thank you for this post. My feelings are now validated.

  17. Scooper- (love the name, btw, so cute)

    My littlest munchkin is named Atticus, after the Atticus Finch himself, so obviously I love that you used that quote!

    I am a homeschool mommy, for now.

    There's a lot of wisdom in this post!

    It's so vital that we be willing to hold our plans with open hands, and remember that our identities were never based on who we are or what we do anyway, thankfully so (as we do so often change), but our identity should be found in Christ- the One who never-ever changes. There is so much comfort in that. And when we succeed in reminding ourselves of this, it gives us the freedom to hold our plans with open hands!

    Thanks for your wisdom, sister. I look forward to reading more.

  18. I'm so thankful for this post! We learned (during the oldest's 1st grade year this past year) that homeschooling is not for our family (at least not right now) and I am sending my 2 oldest to school this August... and I'm excited! A little overwhelmed, but I joined all the organizations and anticipate volunteering in classrooms as well and that helps. Making connections with other mamas helps tremendously ease my worries. The principal is even a Christian... some homeschooling blogs make it sound like I'm sending my kids to their doom, but I am slowly easing away from those who hold that perspective. Anyway, I just loved your post!

    I highly recommend the book "Going Public" by The Pritchards. That and encouraging friends makes me feel more equipped to have OUR FAMILY enrolled in school . :)

  19. I am absolutely bawling my eyes out. That was the most beautiful, eloquent display of a woman's true emotions when it comes to this topic. I've recently decided to put mine back in school as well and I've had an internal tug of war over it. This post could not sound more like me. These are all the reasons I've decided to do public school with mine. The hard part for me was coming to realize who I really am as a person and as a Mom. I've had this image of a perfect homeschool mom in my head and I thought I would be just that. I'm realizing that homeschooling takes an incredibly patient person, and creativity. I am neither of those things. It's been more a source of frustration for us than it has been pleasant. I just feel like I failed my kids and disappointed all my friends and family. I didn't realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a homeschool mom. My kids absolutely 100% want to go to school. They are all ecstatic. I just wish I could have hung with it and made it fun. I'm just replaying our homeschool journey in my head and wishing it could have been different, but my husband has been so encouraging and made me realize... I can't force myself to be something I am not. It doesn't mean I don't love them with all of my heart. It just means homeschooling was not the right fit for us and it's OKAY. I have to remind myself of that. Thank you so much for writing this. If anyone questions my decision I'm pointing them to this post bc it sums it up for me, and much more eloquently than I could ever put it lol. Thank you for these words of wisdom and encouragement! I needed to read this today. :)


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