Deciding On Homeschool vs. Public School In 2022: Pros & Cons From A Mother Of Four

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Kid studying

This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the essential lessons learned schooling a kid at home vs in a public setting still remain true. Now more than ever, parents are trying to manage the risk of safety and virus exposure vs the risk of under-socialization and other factors for their children.

When my husband David and I met, I learned early on that he was homeschooled. He was smart, outgoing, socially aware. Everything I had heard homeschoolers were NOT! I knew one homeschooler that I met in high school and, while she was nice, she was certainly the picture of socially awkward. Also, shortly after we married, I went with David’s family to a homeschool convention in Richmond, Virginia. While it wasn’t as out there as I thought it would be, the kids all seemed so different to what I was used to. I was 19 years old at the time. At 19, different is, well, weird. Surely, my husband was an exception, right? He was the only “normal” (that’s using that term loosely with him!) homeschooler I knew (I didn’t know his sisters too well at that point and his brothers were too young to tell just yet). As a result, I was very hesitant to embrace the idea. So I started digging into homeschool vs. public school to find out how this might work in my world.

Putting A Face (Or Faces) To Homeschooling

By the time Jonathan (our first child) was born in 2003 (I had just turned 25), my views had changed somewhat. I knew David’s siblings and his mother a lot better. I had also done a lot more research on homeschooling and how to do it “right”. There are lots of theories about what is “right” in homeschooling. Curriculums galore, how many and what type of field trips you should take, what co-op you should belong to, what co-op you should stay away from, how to incorporate sports and “positive” social interaction. It’s a lot to take in and no one should go into it unprepared.

There is a lot of information out there, so it’s crucial to do your research before deciding which route (or more likely, routes) to go. It’s not as simple as pulling your kids out of school and printing worksheets off the internet (although, admittedly, we did SOME of that). It’s a much bigger commitment for the parents than the children because now your child’s education/future is dependent on you. Sure, it’s a learning game those first few months – for everyone involved, but it’s crucial to figure out pretty quickly what works.

Our Journey Into Homeschooling – How It Began

Boy wearing backpackOur journey into homeschooling (and, ultimately, out of) started with an enthusiastic mother in law. She chose to homeschool her children because of her disappointment in public schools. Not just the specific public schools they were in (although that was probably what initially prompted it), but public schools as a whole. She did not agree with the idea that children should all be able to learn one way, sitting in a desk the bulk of the day, being quiet – basically, the one size fits all education. Often, it just doesn’t work. Kids get frustrated, parents get frustrated, teachers get frustrated…

I am thankful that many schools DO seem to be addressing this and have found new ways to teach things that seem to include more of the senses/learning styles; however, when your classroom is overcrowded with 25 kids to 1 teacher, it’s hard to meet every child’s needs. My husband’s mom was tired of having to step in and advocate constantly for her children, she was tired of not agreeing with what subjects were taught (and how) and, when she stepped in and spoke her mind, feeling resistance, and, often, resentment, from the schools (which, in turn, embarrassed the kids)… She was just tired of it all.

Being a trained, experienced teacher herself, she felt she could do a better job. So, out of school they came when David, my husband, was in 5th grade (his sister was in 3rd and his youngest sister, at the time, was in 1st. The younger boys weren’t around just yet!). By the time the younger boys came into the picture, she was a staunch home school advocate. She schooled them at home from day one and felt that, by far, it was the best route to go. When I mentioned school to her, I didn’t always HEAR arguments against it (although, often, I did), but I felt them in her body language and the questions she asked.

When Jonathan, our oldest was born, my mother in law had gone back to school to get her master’s degree and then her doctoral degree. It was a long road, but much of her reason for going back to school was to further her work with Virginia homeschoolers. It is a huge, huge part of her life. The amount of research she has done on homeschooling could result in probably 3-4 books. Maybe more. I’m not even sure. But, she is certainly what I would call an expert on the topic. Of course she would advocate hard for Jonathan to be homeschooled. When we chose not to homeschool him for kindergarten (it really wasn’t a CHOICE – I was working. We didn’t have a choice in the matter), I know she was disappointed. I could feel it any time I said anything remotely negative about his school (and he went to an Art’s Based charter school for kindergarten, so it was anything BUT traditional).

What A Difference A Teacher Makes!

Boy at schoolMy husband went back to school in 2009 and we moved to Northern Virginia to a suburb of Washington D.C. called Alexandria. The school Jonathan went to was a good school. Great test scores, smaller class sizes, an active, enthusiastic PTO and a supportive administration. It seemed ideal. And, since I was working and David was in seminary full-time, we again didn’t really have an option. 1st grade was fabulous. Jonathan had a wonderful teacher who played to his strengths. None of the “issues” we heard about from his kindergarten teacher were brought up by this teacher. He did well and had a great year.

Micah started kindergarten in the fall of 2010, when Jonathan was going into 2nd grade. BOTH teachers this year were disappointing, to say the least. We are fortunate that Micah had a great teacher’s assistant who took him under her wing because he and his teacher just didn’t “mesh” well. He learned a lot, but he’s a bright kid. Of course he learned a lot. But, he had serious behavioral issues that we had not seen at home. He’s not perfect. He’s stubborn and strong-willed and prone to throwing tantrums occasionally (well, back then it was more often) when he doesn’t get his way or can’t do something as well as he would like to do it (I can’t IMAGINE where he gets his perfectionism from?? ;)). However, we had never seen him be violent, we had never seen him throw things or scream until he was worn out,… These were new behaviors.

I commend the school for working with us to get these issues under control. They had an on staff psychologist who met with Micah and worked with him. This did help a great deal and made me feel slightly better about the situation, but other parents’ comments had me concerned. They noticed a discrepancy in how Micah was treated for certain actions versus their children. One parent told me that her son could do the exact same thing as Micah and the teacher would laugh where as Micah would be moved from a green light directly to red and/or be sent to the office! She was appalled to the point that she felt the need to call me and tell me. The principal also had concerns, after observing the classroom, that she was putting him on red at the beginning of the day and not allowing him to redeem himself. The principal felt (and I agreed!) that the teacher was setting him up for failure because why should he try for the rest of the day if his behavior was already “shot”? To this day, I don’t know why she had it in for him. He can be slow to warm up to people, but once he does, he’s a smart, sweet, lovable little guy with a killer smile and an even better laugh. When you don’t like a kid and expect the worst, they are going to give you their worst.

Ironically, Jonathan’s 2nd grade year was pretty disappointing as well. He had a young teacher with zero social skills who was in her early 20s and already on her third teaching job. She was horrible about classroom management, and, as a result the kids’ education clearly suffered. She often kept them in from recess because they weren’t completing lessons because of behavior issues (not Jonathan) that she couldn’t get under control. The parents were constantly complaining to the administration, but somehow she lasted through the year (she was NOT asked to stay the next year). By the time he ended 2nd grade, my bright, enthusiastic kid didn’t like school, felt bullied and was clearly somewhat behind academically.

Kid with head inside shark mouthOnce David graduated and found a job, I would be able to be at home with the kids for a while. It was a deal we had made when he went back to school. I worked my buns off in a job that I didn’t really like (loved the people, thank goodness!) for him to go to school. I had earned some time off! Plus, I was pregnant (surprise!) with baby number 4 and I love to be home with my babies if possible.

So, for the first time, homeschooling was an option for us! I probably wouldn’t have even thought much about doing it had we had good school experiences in Virginia. But, that particular school (which, ironically is in the news with some bad publicity due to a student bringing a toy gun on the bus recently) left a bad taste in our mouths. We thought, “Why not! Let’s give it a shot!”

Starting HomeSchool

I told the kids from day 1 that it might not be a permanent thing. We had to make a schedule and stick to it. They had to cooperate, or back to school they would go! They said they were game and all were excited about being home when the new baby came. I ordered some curriculum for Math and Science, David promised to teach Social Studies (one of his undergrad degrees is in History) and, with my English degree, I figured we’d just do a lot of library time with reading and writing for Language Arts. I felt well equipped.

We decided to start homeschool on September 1st and the school system required that we turn in attendance sheets to show we had done 180 days of instruction (at least 4 hours/day). I was a little nervous (my kids don’t always listen well for me), but excited for our new adventure.

Well, it was not all I hoped it would be, by a long shot. I learned that my kids stall really well, my patience level was even lower than I thought it was (although, I will say that really started happening after the baby was born in October, so I can probably blame that on lack of sleep), and the curriculum I paid good money for wasn’t a great fit for my kids. To my surprise, we started drifting more and more toward unschooling.

Unschooling Or Learning Through Life’s Experiences

Eco homeworkUnschooling, by definition, is learning through life’s experiences. There is no set curriculum. You let the kids take the lead and jump in on any learning opportunities. I’ll admit I’d not had a good opinion of unschooling before I started doing it. It felt like a cop-out. Only lazy moms did that kind of homeschooling. I went to school to be a teacher. I’d do it “right”! HA! I was so wrong. It’s amazing once you focus on what life can teach, how much you can use every day experiences to teach.
We did go to the library and read lots of books, we watched LOADS of documentaries (my kids can probably tell you anything you’d ever want to know about the ocean, the Titanic (and not from the Hollywood movie), or astronomy), but we also cooked, went to playgrounds, to the swamp and the “River-quarium”, Cub Scouts, Y sports, church,…. ALL of it became lessons because I took the time to make these experiences learning opportunities by talking to my kids about it.

Homeschool Life Lessons

  • My then 4-year-old even suddenly showed interest in learning Spanish from catching a few minutes of a Spanish television station!
  • We learning adding fractions by cooking.
  • We learned about team work and good sportsmanship.
  • We learned about Science in nature.

Life is the BEST text-book there is! I shocked myself by throwing the Math curriculum I had spent over $100 on to the side and following the kids’ lead. And, if it hadn’t been for the fighting, we may have stuck with it after finally letting go of MY expectations. My kids were learning, but I didn’t feel like any of us were happy.

The Big Decision – Back To Public School

Kid playing with dominosMy kids are back in public school now. I don’t know if it was just me and my nerves. If it was insecurity. If it was having a fussy baby who wanted (and still wants) to nurse constantly. I really don’t know why I couldn’t handle it. But, I felt like I was doing my kids a disservice. They are EXTREMELY social children. They take after their father. Micah, my 8-year-old, calls himself shy. But I’ve met shy kids. He’s not shy. They all love to be around people – particularly friends.

Being around me (and each other) 24/7 was hurting our relationship. I love my children more than life. They are my world (I think I’ve said that before – sorry!). But, man did spending every waking moment with them wear on my nerves!!! They fought constantly. In fact, one time, Micah said to Elijah, “Elijah, I don’t know why you are my best friend when we fight so much!” It was wearing, on all of us. My temper flared more often than I was comfortable with. They were bickering non-stop. Something had to give. My hat’s off to the Duggars because 4 kids at home – all day, every day – was too much for this mama!

So, I made the calls and enrolled them in public school. I felt like a big old failure, but they seemed happy and excited to be going back. That helped a lot. I was worried that they’d have trouble making friends and/or be behind their peers in academics. I knew we’d learned a lot, but since we didn’t follow curriculum, did they learn the right stuff? Only time would tell. We finished up our homeschooling year the second week in June. They would start public school the first week in August.

The Big Return To Public School

In the Fall of 2012, my kids went back to public school. I was a little nervous (okay, a lot) on their first day, but it quickly became obvious that we had done just fine. My kids have gotten straight As (well, the equivalent in 2nd grade – they don’t get grades yet) the entire year. It took some adjusting to the routine again, but they are doing fine now. They just needed to get used to sitting in a classroom again and not being able to speak whenever they felt like it.

There are days when I miss having them around, but knowing that I did do an okay job while they were home makes me feel more at peace with my decision to send them back, strangely. It was by choice, not by necessity. That leaves the door open in the future to pull them out again if I feel like we need to. For now, though, I’ll enjoy my peaceful hours at home with my fourth and final little Rose bud and my sanity.

My Homeschooling Lessons Learned

  • If you are 8 months pregnant, you might want to rethink starting homeschooling with a routine. If you can go with the flow, you might be okay. But, give sleep deprivation the consideration it deserves.
  • If you can’t do specific “lessons” every day, grab a hold of life and teach from its lessons! Life may disappoint, but even in the disappointments, we can learn and grow!
  • On the same note, use your resources around you! A park with trees and animals is a classroom. A library, a computer, even (gasp!) a television can be classrooms if you guide your children to make smart choices about what they view and takeaway from each experience.
  • Finally, have confidence in yourself. Kids teach themselves if given the right tools to learn. You don’t have to be Einstein or even a math scholar to teach math. If you don’t know how to do it, learn with your kids. Often, you’ll find they end up teaching you (and teaching is the best way to learn!)!
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