There has been a question that has gradually becoming one of the most asked questions that people ask us:
When do you plan to put Silje back in school?
It’s a question that preadolescent homeschoolers get asked as much as pregnant women get asked “When are you due?” I was kind of expecting this conversation to come up outside our home. I’m just surprised how often, and how early it’s being asked by people. Also, it’s a question that states a big assumption…that we plan to put her back.
Our eldest is finishing up “5th grade” and at this point, people assume we are looking ahead to her junior high and high school years, and trying to get her ready for them. However we didn’t just buy a 5th grade program. We just keep teaching her wherever she’s at in a subject, taking the next step into a deeper knowledge, whatever that may be… and she happens to be a 5th grade age. She’s learned that when people ask what grade she is in, they really want to know how old she is, and don’t want to know her level in each subject.
Oh my, are we getting ready for the upcoming years! Knut and I have had several discussions on this topic. Brainstorming sessions, actually. Silje and I have had many discussions too. I want to know what she’s hoping for, and what her thoughts are on this topic too. While I don’t try to lay down promises, or “we will never/always” statements because I feel like I’m prepping myself for a big dose of humble pie when I say those things.
But I can say, that as of now, we don’t plan on putting Silje in junior or senior high, public or Christian. I went to public schools for the majority of my schooling, and went to a private Christian school for my last 2 years of high school. This particular private school has a ton of family history. My siblings, parents, aunts and uncles went there. I met Knut there. My grandparents went to the seminary and Bible school there when they were connected to the high school. It’s a boarding school for about 1/2 of their students, and has a huge international student representation too. I loved this school as a student. I still would like to consider myself somewhat of an involved and contributing alumnus.
And yet…I don’t think it’s going to be a good fit for Silje. I have looked into getting her involved part time, but the school is starting to limit some of the activities that town homeschoolers can do, and I completely understand the reasoning behind it, therefore it seems silly to fight it. When some kids are paying thousands of dollars of tuition, it’s only right that they are first in line to do some of the big things like band tours etc.
But where does that leave us? I feel like it is God gently closing a door for us. The fact of the matter is academically, she will easily be ready for college classes by the time she reaches her junior year of high school. Let’s be honest…she’ll likely be ready earlier if we choose that path. We just haven’t decided when that will be. Our state requires a yearly standardized test, and this year’s test the assessor said she’s performing somewhere around a 10-11th grade level now, higher in some subjects, except in her nemesis subject: math, where she’s at grade level. This was just an assessment, it’s not like the college entrance exams. We just needed a ballpark for where she is. Plus, it’s limited in what it tests her. It doesn’t test her maturity, or street smarts, or creativity or depths of friendships. There are more things to consider when assessing where she is at.
I can’t argue, though, that girl just loves to learn, and is so relieved when I finish “school” with her so she can read 3 hours of her choice books. Seriously, she’s the easiest student ever. The only difficulty I have with her is making sure she’s not being ignored in her studies with younger siblings who can be higher maintenance. She just devours information naturally and always has.
I remember spending 45 minutes with her when she was 3 years old on basic phonics because she asked. Just once. She basically took reading from there, with very little effort from me. For awhile I thought that was just normal. I didn’t know anything else. That became such a stark contrast to her 9 year old younger sibling who didn’t learn to read until 7, and is just now starting to get some traction in that area, or her 6 year old brother who has been needing lots of help for over a year, and is now getting a few 3 letter words sounded out. Each one is just so different. Each brain is so uniquely beautiful. For Silje, if I have a question about what species of bird or fish or butterfly I see, I can look it up, or just ask Silje. She’s like a human encyclopedia. I think she would be bored “going back” to school.
But the social aspect is tempting. I’ll be honest. I’m still friends with my friends from high school. Lifelong friends isn’t anything to snub. Along with other homeschooling moms, I abhor the stereotype that homeschoolers don’t get proper socialization. It has been proven wrong over and over.
And yet…I have my moments of doubt when it comes to high school.
I hate to admit it, but the school social setting is what I know from my own experience. Silje is the social butterfly in our family, and gets together with friends all the time. In fact, she is much more social than I ever was at that age. She is in Sunday School and 4H and a community choir, her volunteering, and speech class, and we normally do a co-op (we took this year off for a bit of personal sanity but we are back at it) and we are a part of the YMCA now…
It’s not the same.
Then I remind myself: we didn’t want the same.
And conventional schools don’t hold the monopoly on lifelong friendships and memorable experiences.
I’m a big believer in customized education, not standardized education. Each child has unique gifts, unique challenges, and a unique purpose. Every family has different reasons for homeschooling, but when we started looking at the option of homeschooling we realized we’d have to latch onto some kind of educational philosophy. There is the traditional model like public school but at home, the classical model, the unschooling model, the Montessori model, etc. We’d have to decide what school would look like for our kids.
We wanted our kids to not just learn in depth, but learn with passion. I wanted them to get an education that excited them…developing their own interests and gifts. We wanted to have the time to disciple them, and with long bus rides out to our country home and long school days, the opportunities for that were slim. It wasn’t as much about sheltering them from the world, but insuring that they were discipled enough to go into the world. Surely the time we had with her from birth to age 5, and a couple of busy days on the weekend weren’t all I was expected to devote to her discipleship. That was too big of a job with too little time.
We learned quickly into homeschooling that “school” does not equal “the world” and that “the world” is so much, much larger than any school system. Our kids have gradually been doing a lot in the world. They have friends of a few faiths. Actually, their friends range widely in ages too. One thing I’ve noticed about my kids is that when they tell us about one of their friends, their friend could very well be 70 years old. I’ve had to adjust my thinking to that vocabulary.
There won’t be a time that we return Silje to civilization/friends/peers. She never left. We changed the model of educating her; we didn’t remove her from the world.
I have seen some of my friends mother their children in the public/ private school system and they are discipling them, and reaching their hearts, and doing great things there. I’m in awe. Bless them. I want to applaud them because I know what they are doing is hard. In my honest opinion I think it’s harder, but that’s because I’m thinking of my personality and our situation. Each family needs to figure out their puzzle, according to the needs and issues within that family, and covered with lots of prayer. I wish more families had more choices. I think that for more people to get a customized education, we need more choices, less standardization.
For us? Homeschooling has really been working for us. It’s not always pretty, but I see the fruits. Not only do we not want to stop, we are starting to dream of what it’s going to look like for jr. and sr. high. Really, the sky is the limit and that’s exciting. The very idea of stopping makes me sad. That’s right. As hard as some years are, and I want to quit, the reality that this will not go on forever makes me sad. We moms are weird like that. We are a walking paradox. I’m really getting excited about the coming years.
I have been reading a lot about what other homeschoolers are doing. I’ve read that upon completing their credits, some students take college classes early, either locally or online. Still others just study the usual subjects, and graduate on time. Other families decide to spend a year or two doing internships, and exploring hands on what field they want to get into before hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on college. Still other families do big projects, like their senior in high school will write and self-publish a book, or start a business or charity, or build a robot. (I doubt Silje is picking a robot option, but she has a big interest in writing something. She’s already writing a fantasy story involving girls that turn into animals that’s pretty cool.)
Educational options are changing in our culture. If you look at what big universities are looking for in students now, a good report card doesn’t cut it. They want to know what the student has done in depth. They want to see a student with vision. It’s not important to me for Silje to get into the best colleges, though. What’s important to me is that she has options. I’m thinking high school for Silje will look something like one of those 4 listed above, or a combination thereof. Honestly, if she wants to travel the world when she turns 18, great. If she wants to go to an ivy league school and get her doctorate, we’ll support her. If she wants to get married and settle down, I’d love that too. To me, the only formula for success that I know of that I’m willing to preach to my kids is: fix your eyes on Jesus. If I can help train her in that, I will know success. It’s the only advice I have for those thinking about homeschooling, or stressing about public school or whatever. Fix your eyes on Jesus. That’s the only answer I have that’s worth repeating.
On our vacation to Arizona and California recently, I had Silje, David, and Elias spend a half a day at the school in which my sister and brother-in-law teach. Silje and David were in my sister’s class, and Elias was in his cousin Jack’s class. This school was a Classical Christian school, which is very similar to what we do at home. It’s an amazing school, and my sister is one of the best teachers there. (I may be biased, but not really.)
Some of you may remember that when we started homeschooling, Silje was less than thrilled with our decision. There were some years when I was nervous about her going to a school just for visits because I didn’t want her to have discontentment growing in her heart. She had this “woe is me” look on her face for awhile. She longed to go back. She longed to fit in, and be “normal.” That was part of the issue when she was there. She so quickly cast aside things that used to be important to her, and did only what she viewed as “cool.” She started hating books, because she thought they were nerdy and hard. Everything Knut or I said was stupid, even if when we agreed with the teacher. She wanted to make sure to tell us that we were wrong and her teacher was right. And we knew and were friends with her teacher, so I know it wasn’t coming from there. I honestly don’t know where it came from. She wanted to cut her hair, change her clothes, and rearrange every interest based on what other girls in her class were doing. By the end of the year she was so different, and it took awhile when we took her out to get her back to thinking for herself.
But having her spend some time in a classroom setting this time seemed like an interesting thing to do this year. After all, I wasn’t setting her up in an inner-city school in Los Angeles, with an overworked teacher, surrounded by bullies and drugs, for her to come back crying just so I could tell her “See? Do you see now why we don’t send you to school?” Haha!! No, we set her up with the best. She had so much fun that day. The small classes allowed her to meet some new friends, and she really enjoyed playing games during recess.
A few days after her visit, I saw her sitting on my parent’s porch swing, and I just snuggled up next to her, and started picking her brain. How did she like that school?
Her thoughts warmed my heart. She said she had fun. She said it wasn’t like the school she goes to for choir practice, which as “anti-bullying” posters ever few feet which really creeps her out. “What kind of school needs to remind the kids to be nice every 5 feet?” She says. (I didn’t tell her I’ve considered doing the same thing in our house at times. Haha.) She said everyone was nice.
Recesses were shorter than what she had imagined them to be. She remembered a lot more time to play when she was in kindergarten. She thought there would be more time hanging out with friends, but they just had little bits of that, but mostly learning and studying. She also complained there wasn’t a lot of free time for deep thinking. She thought they just went from one thing to the next and she really wanted to ponder some more about some things. She wished there was more processing time.
I told her about my struggle on whether or not to send her to my alma mater back home. I told her that we would decide because we were the parents, and we would be the ones paying for it, but that her opinion held a lot of weight. I asked her again what she thought about going there.
I’ll paraphrase (pretty closely) to what she said:
“I think going there would be a lot of fun. I’m sure I’d make friends there. But I’m starting to think about my future in more ways than just fun. When I’m thinking about my future, there’s a few things I know I want to do. I want to work out at summer camp as a counselor. [This is where I interjected how hard it was when I worked at camp, but did concede it was about the funnest summer of my life.] I want to go to that school in Montana [a Bible School Knut went to, and the kids and I all got to visit a few years ago]. I want to go on a mission trip to that orphanage in Bangladesh. Is it weird I want to go so many places that are so far from home?”
I assured her it was not weird at all.
“It’s just…grown ups ask me all the time if I’m having fun, and if I have friends. I do have fun, and I do have friends, but I’m realizing that the most important thing is that I need to walk in God’s steps. Why don’t people ask me that? I want to go where God can use me the most. I want to go where I can make the biggest impact. I want to do the stuff he has set out for me to do. I don’t want to just go someplace because it will be fun, or because I’ll experience what teenagers are supposed to experience. Who made those rules anyway? This school costs money. Is that the best way we can be spending it? I think that in some cases that would be yes. God obviously leads a lot of kids to that school. But I think he has some different kind of preparing for me, though I’m not sure what that is yet. I don’t want to base my decision only on ‘what’s fun.’ I don’t want to do something just because everyone else did it. Maybe that will mean lonely times. I hope not. But I want to just follow where God leads me as the most important thing.”
Well if that doesn’t knock the wind out of you…
It did for me.
Don’t get me wrong. Silje is a total preteen with major mood swings and can be a distracted dreamer when working, and wants to be independent, but totally isn’t ready. Believe me when I say that I’m really struggling with this kid lately because I’m watching her struggle through the emotional/hormonal flood I went through at her age, and she knows how to push my buttons more than any other kid. It’s been unexpectedly rocky for such a normally steady kid. Sometimes she’s exactly like me, which is hard because I’m really stubborn and insist on having the last word, but more so she’s just like my sister…eerily like my big sister, and let’s just say my sister and I didn’t live together very peaceably when we were kids. (Though we are very close now.) Then sometimes I get used to her deep thoughts and insight, and then get caught aback when she acts, you know, like a kid. This age is so new to me, and I’m still not quite used to it.
We are figuring out a lot as we go. But she is completely my “old soul” child who thinks deep thoughts. Her response to my question just blew me away, like so many other thoughts of hers. I don’t think anyone in our family thinks that the schools near us are “just fun” although the culture there may be it’s greatest feature. I guess that’s just the aspect that draws us the most. We don’t think it doesn’t do any training or doesn’t prepare students in ways besides social. It’s just that as we discuss it, none of us feel lead in that direction.
To be honest, a part of me is sad about that. In all types of life decisions, there are pros and cons. The alumnus in me is sad. But the mom part of me is excited to see what else is in store. That’s why we are headed in that direction.
So right now, we’re not saying we will “always/never” do anything. We just don’t see far enough ahead to make statements like that. But between Knut, Silje, and I, we are all leaning away from sending her back to school. We are not sure exactly what it’s going to look like yet, as we are still thick in the dreaming stage, but step by step I’m sure we’ll get to wherever we are going.