Saturday, October 14, 2017

Homeschooling Days

Our son's senior year photo
The decision to homeschool our son was monumental and yet the easiest decision to make. I later realized that from the beginning I was teaching our son at home. Reading, craft activities, nature studies, museums, games, educational magazines, and making up stories were part of our daily activities.

One day while driving in the countryside he asked me what the road signs said. I explained the no passing and passing zones. He started reading the signs and telling me, "You can pass now." He's been a back-seat driver ever since!

So, we knew he was reading before he started kindergarten. At Kindergarten Roundup he was put in Pre-K. He came home from Pre-K disappointed, and asked when he was going to learn "real science."

In Kindergarten he was inattentive. The teacher asked me to come to class and observe.

Hillsdale was a rural community with a good deal of poverty. The classroom was geared for children who did not come from enriched lives. The teacher read a book, explained the book, told the students how to draw a picture relating to the book. And after that, she discussed the book again. After the first reading, Chris lost attention. He whipped off his drawing and went back to wandering around. I saw that he was bored.

First Grade was promising at first. The young teacher was resolved to challenge our son and keep him busy. Day after day when we picked him up from school she complained about his lack of attention. The school assigned an aid to offer our son special one-on-one activities, mostly reading on a higher level.

We went to a family counselor who told us that our son needed to be in "his proper peer group." He encouraged us to have the school test him.

The principal agreed to the testing, but warned that jumping grades was rarely successful. In October of his First Grade year Chris underwent testing. The principal was surprised by the results. Our son was reading on a Fifth Grade, second semester level and had the math skills of a Second grader. We agreed to jump him to Second Grade after winter break. At first, he was to spend only half days in the new class. But once he was there, he would not leave. He knew it was where he belonged.

His Second Grade and Third Grade teachers were great, and he worked hard to stay in the top of the class. He encountered teasing and rejection at first, but in Third Grade that was all behind him. The teacher was great; he sent home weekly letters to parents, took the class on a nature walk, and taught special units on interesting subjects like Great Lakes Shipwrecks. Our son made friends and joined Cub Scouts and Little League.

Then we were moved to Lansing. It was a very different environment from that of a small town.

The Fourth Grade teacher was not as interactive with parents as we were used to. In fact, she seemed detached and burnt out. He was in a pull-out program for the gifted, but the program did not give him what he needed, and it made him a target for teasing. There were not enough math books for the students and they could not be taken home to study.

Our son tried to make friends, using techniques that had worked for him when he jumped from First to Second grade. But the cliques were set and closed. Our son also had to deal with a very different social atmosphere than the small town he had known. The school included kids from the upscale neighborhood we lived in, and from the poor neighborhood just south with many children from troubled families or with fathers in jail.

Our son was depressed. We found a family counselor who spoke with our son privately. The counselor suggested homeschooling to our son at that time, as had the counselor in Jackson, MI who had encouraged the academic testing.
Chris and his friend 'pigging out'
Fifth Grade went better, with a more involved, positive teacher. Our son met another new boy in school and they became best friends.
Chris and Marianna, his exchange student sister
When Chris was in Fifth Grade we hosted an exchange student. Mariana was the oldest daughter of my high school exchange student sister, Elina. The first months they got along quite well. But when Chris and Mariana went trick and treating an argument broke out. Suddenly they were acting like a 'real' brother and sister! Before long they were fighting like real siblings, vying for my attention.

Sixth Grade brought a school change to junior high school. At first everything seemed to be going great. Chris was in a group of boys and they had a lot of fun. But when he had classes with older kids they made him uncomfortable. He asked me why they were allowed to wear clothing with bad messages and allowed to use foul language. He encountered problems with teachers who insisted on his writing reports by hand; his fine motor skills were not good and writing was hard. He wanted to use the computer and type his reports.

One day our son corrected the social studies teacher who said WWII started in 1942. That's when America entered the war, but Chris knew the war started in 1939. The teacher did not like his correcting her!

A boy was bullying our son, and one day Chris picked up a stick to keep the the boy away. There was a no-violence policy and the boy turned our son in; he ended up in detention after school, removing graffiti from the walls.

After the Columbine school shooting, mimics were everywhere. One day our son didn't want to go to school because of rumors that a boy had threatened to bring a gun to school. He was literally afraid.

Our son's MEAP score took a dip and his grades were slipping. Chris asked us if we would homeschool him. Two counselors had said he was a good candidate for homeschooling.  A science teacher told us about his daughter who had 'dual exceptionalities', being both gifted and learning disabled. He was wary of our taking on homeschooling.

I found a distance school for gifted children out of Chicago that provided oversight, curriculum ideas, records keeping, and testing for homschooling. We signed up beginning in Seventh Grade. We took our son to a local testing service and discovered his strengths and weaknesses in learning and his I.Q. score. The school counselor advised us on courses and curriculum and handled paperwork and records.

That first year involved adjustment. I was suddenly our son's mother and teacher and friend. He wanted me to keep the roles separate. I saw everything as a teachable moment.

I was in my second year working from a home office for Jostens. So I was working 30 hours a week and homeschooling and a homemaker and a minister's wife! Gary's flexible schedule meant he could teacher several subjects, including logic and mathematics. I oversaw history, science, English, Latin, and gave I Chris piano lessons.

We decided not to continue with the oversight school for Eighth Grade. Jostens wanted the Office Manager to be available more hours and they wanted me to be more active in outside and inside sales. I quit the job to homeschool full time.

We joined a homeschool group. Every fall they had a series of Field Days with games and learning activities at a park.

While some moms organized and ran the activities, along with older homeschool students as helpers, the rest of us moms visited.
The Moms
Our family was concerned that our son would not be in 'the real world,' but even the homeschool group had differences in religious and political thinking that involved getting along and respecting others, as did our church.

The homeschool group sponsored educational trips, such as visiting the local GM plant, the Lansing State Journal, and the Kalamazoo Air Museum. We took advantage of classes that taught art and pottery. I offered classes to the homeschool group teaching some basic needlework skills including coloring on fabric and Redwork quilting.

I loved teaching. I loved relearning. I loved researching curriculum and setting lesson plans. I focused on curriculum to suit his learning style. We did hire a tutor for Algebra II and a mathematics review to prepare for standardized testing. By Senior High, our son could determine his own elective subjects and set his own plans.

Since the whole family was writing, we would read and critique each other. We were sure our son was going to be 'the writer' in the family. Both Gary and I had written as kids, and of course Gary wrote sermons and articles in his work and I wrote poetry and short stories for myself.

Homeschooling was efficient time-wise. Our son was able to complete his school work in four days. Gary had Fridays off, so we would schedule family activities for Friday afternoons, going to movies and dinner, taking day trips to museums, or having a family game and pizza nights. Homeschooling made us a closer family.

A homeschool group member, Jacob, organized a role playing gaming group which met at our house. Friday evenings brought a troop of boys coming in the front door, saying 'hi', and going to the finished basement for a few hours of gaming.

Chris and Gary had been playing the Magic:The Gathering card game and even taught me. So when Chris got to college, the first thing he did was to join the Alternate Reality gaming club. He made friendships there that have lasted to this day.

We made sure our son took the PSAT test available through local homeschool groups, and the ACT and the SAT.
Sunday School class play
Angel Alert Christmas Play
Our son was active at church and in community volunteering. He worked at the Lansing library resale store, and all summer volunteered as a counselor in training at the Woldumar Nature Center. His Senior year, he won a Target scholarship for college, based on his volunteer work.
The Youth Group raked leaves at the homes of the elderly
During our son's junior and senior year in high school I was the Senior High Sunday School Teacher. I had a great deal of fun. I think the kids did, too.
Senior High Sunday School Class kids hanging in the Youth Building
When it came time to apply to college he decided to apply to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, MI and Albion College, a small Methodist liberal arts college with scholarships for clergy children. We visited other colleges as well, including Alma and Western.

With his applications I submitted a summary of the entire homeschool records, including course descriptions with texts and reading materials. Albion College told us he was already working on a college level. He was accepted by both schools.

He was leaning toward Albion, which was close to Lansing and smaller. We suggested he visit each school again, this time to sit in on a class. Albion suggested he would have a lot of experience in journalism and the school paper there. He sat in on a literature class. But when he sat in on a writing critique class at GVSU he came out excited. That was what he wanted! And he accepted GVSU.
My homeschool mom friends 
Chris graduated a few weeks before we were moved again. The Bishop had informed Gary at the last moment that he was needed elsewhere. There was to be no questioning or disputing the move.

Our son at his graduation party with church friend Stacy
I had planned to return to work full time after our son graduated, sure I had contacts for good jobs. While homeschooling I worked several part-time jobs including a temp editing job, filling in when the church secretary was on leave, and scoring standardized tests for the Educational Testing Service from home. I continued to hone my desktop publishing skills through volunteer work as the quilt guild newspaper editor as as a school records keeper.

We thought we knew what our future was going to look like, but in the itinerant ministry, you can never be sure about anything.

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