Thursday, April 2, 2009

Three Encounters Bring Doubt

I was sitting next to another mom at Gianna's ballet class a few weeks ago, who had pulled out her daughter's kindergarten worksheet for personal review. I happened to glance over and I admit I grew concerned. The page revealed accomplishments my own kindergartener is not yet able to execute.

My concern was not laid to rest. Last week a friend and her babies came over for lunch and, as we are often wont to do, we began discussing school. Her son, born within a month of Gianna, is enrolled in a local Catholic school (a solid one). My friend had considered homeschooling, had even resolved to pursue it. But when three babies came one after the other after her son, she found her hands very full and thought his education would be best served outside the home. As we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of our choices, she revealed (unnknowingly) a number of areas in which her son excels that I have not even begun with Gianna.

Again, my concern persisted. This past weekend after mass I found myself talking with another dear friend, whose daughter, Gianna's companion, is enrolled in a private school. Little Caitlyn is a sweet, lovely girl....and she's also fluent in French. She became so in less than a year of kindergarten outside the home.

I know I shouldn't compare. I know Gianna is receiving many benefits other children are missing. It isn't that I want her to excel above others - I haven't a competitive bone in my body. But....but, if she is falling behind because of my own failure to teach well, that is something I need to consider. I'm a very free-spirited, stop-and-smell-the-roses type of person as I've mentioned before. Discipline and schedule are not my strengths, though I strive for them daily. It concerns me that my own weaknesses could fail such a vital aspect of my child's life: her education.

We love homeschooling. Most days are as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as Father Serra's flowers in the previous post. We will continue learning together next year, and hopefully the year after. I'm only realizing I have new elements of my daughter's education to ponder and to bring to my Father in prayer.


Aniki said...

Perhaps instead of viewing these encounters as signs of failing on your part, you could view them as an opportunity to consider if these are things you want to teach your daughter. You won't be able to teach *everything*, but what makes homeschooling so wonderful is the ability to tailor a curriculum to suit your daughter's needs and passions. Good luck and don't get discouraged.

Juli said...

I can definitely relate. I get concerned if somebody else is better at something than my children as well. Then I stop at think, will knowing French get my children to heaven? You also have to stop and think of how your relationship would be affected if your children were gone at school all day. One thing that would concern me the most is the influence that some of the other children might have on my children. I think they also pick up too many bad things at school as well. Your daughter will learn to enjoy life and enjoy learning more at home. If you want to add more, then you can add more. Don't beat yourself up. You're doing a fine job and your children are getting to enjoy more of being a child at home.

Elliot and Jeannie said...

I am coming out of "lurkdom" here to leave a comment. I rarely do this. I came across your blog one day from Elizabeth Foss's blog. I have enjoyed reading your posts.

I have to tell you I see your posts and admire your attitude. Perhaps it is because I am such list and schedule oriented person. :)

What I would say is that you seem to take your homeschooling seriously and that what works for one family may not suit another family. I would also add that as long as you are making sure she is learning what she should be learning at her age the other things are electives. Enrichment courses you can change from year to year.

I understand what you mean about not being competitive in the sense of comparing your children. I had a feeling of major failure about a year ago when my almost 4 year old daughter could not spell her name and her cousin of the same age could. I am the only one attempting to homeschool on my side of the family and feel the extra scrutiny sometimes.

I also might suggest you also consider the wonderful and beneficial activities you have been able to do with your daughter. Some of those activitues might not have happened if your daughter had been in a formal school. Just a thought.

Your posts have inspired me to enjoy this time with my children.


mommymonkey said...

As a former Catholic school kindergarten teacher, I would often become upset with how much curriculum is pushed on little 5 & 6 year olds in our school systems. Too often I had to plow through curriculum instead of ‘stopping and smelling the roses’ with my sweet bunch of kindergarteners. There are so many more important lessons to be learned when we slow down. Have you ever read Mitten Strings for God? It is a wonderful book that focuses on the importance of teaching your children to slow down and enjoying the simple things in life. I think there is a need to find a healthy balance and our education system does not seek to find this balance. Many are more concerned about ‘test scores’ and which school out performs the next. There are a lot of politics behind what is taught and how it is taught. Even though there are some wonderful, solid, holy, & Catholic schools out there, I now have a tainted view about what really goes on behind the scenes of a school. Yes, take this to prayer and the Holy Spirit will lead you. Just please do not underestimate what you are teaching your daughter by ‘stopping and smelling the roses.’ Those are lessons she would not be learning if she were in a class with 20 other children.

Marisa said...

My oldest daughter just turned 14. We have always homeschooled. When we started so many years ago, I often thought about what a long time it would be getting my kids to 18. I was so wrong. The time has flown by and even as I enjoy my teenage daughter, I lament at how quickly it has all gone by.
This time is precious. In the long run, speaking French or reading the classics in first grade will not be what you daughters remember and treasure about their childhood. They will remember smelling the roses. And I have no doubt that they will have a well rounded, rich education.

katherine said...

I'm sorry that you're struggling. I have to admit that it is something that I struggle with off an on. In fact, most homeschooler that I know battle doubts. I think we would continue to doubt regardless of our decisions. At one point I doubted so greatly and life was such that our children spent a year in school. It wasn't as academically impressive as the award-winning elementary school claimed to be (or the parents of the children).

I don't think comparing is necessarily part of being competitive. I think we all have to fight the temptation, regardless of our personalities. The only thing it really helps us to is to despair. I can tell you that after homeschooling for the past 8 years, Gianna's age the difference with her peers in ability can be enormous, even in the same classroom. And what you see in other people's children is only a snapshot and not the full picture.

You're in my prayers. We can use these doubts as our energy for prayer. As you said, it's a perfect opportunity to turn toward God.

Cheryl M. said...

Kristen - my children are older and we've homeschooled, public-schooled and Catholic schooled...I love mommymonkey's comment and will simply ditto her. :) Hugs to you, Sweetie. :)

sarah said...

I have always admired the grace with which you are raising your daughters. The things you are teaching them are priceless. Very few children get to grow up in such gentleness and beauty, being allowed to develop freely without pressure on their minds. bodies or souls. The benefits of your approach already show with your girls, who appear gentle, well-mannered, self-confident, and so very happy. That foundation will stand them in so much better stead throughout adulthood than an early knowledge of French ever could. I would say you have your priorities exactly where they should be.

Besides, you have many years of education ahead of you. Do you really think they are going to graduate without having all the necessary skills? In many ways, it is better to put off academics as long as you can. Infact there are definite schools of thought on that! And research shows that children who don't delve into serious studies until later in childhood do just as well (if not better in many cases) than those who had strenuous academics at a young age.

Someone said to me once, it's not a race, it's a marathon. And from what I've seen you have set a wonderful pace.

Just my humble opinion.

Grace at Home said...

May I just say that I would presume if you did send Gianna to school, you would have concerns about what she was missing by NOT being home. Welcome to the world of being a concerned and loving parent! ;) Of course, you have always been one but my point is that you will probably always have moments where you question your choices, whether it be how you educate your children, your choice of discipline approaches, down to what type of peanut butter you serve. The difference between homeschooling and other types of educating is that you don't really have a 'last day' by which you need to have met a list of criteria. Homeschooling is a life long process (or at least as long as they are under your roof). My attitude is so what if my child isn't reading, for example, by the time she is 6. She is a happy, well adjusted child who loves life, loves our Lord and IS LEARNING. Maybe she won't read until first grade, maybe not even until second grade. But I KNOW she will be able to read in time and in the meanwhile we are having lovely times together and creating special memories and she is learning things that perhaps she would never learn if she were in school everyday. I'm not being critical of other forms of education (I attended public school my entire childhood)but just want to reassure you, Kristen, that you have 12 more years of teaching Gianna things that she may not learn this year. But do try to look at all the wonderful things you are accomplishing with her through God's help. He will show you what you need to teach her in time. Gianna's education is a work in progress, not something that has a deadline of June 1 or she is thought of as having failed. Does that make sense? I know you are doing a fantastic time. I just know it! :)

Lerin said...

Juli and mommymonkey nailed it for me... I can't say it better, so I won't!

This is our first year to homeschool, and there are times when I doubt myself. But overall, there is nothing more important than God and our family life. Having my children home with me is the best way I can focus on those "subjects" :)

Jennifer said...

I'm feeling that way now too Kristen. I'm just flipping through the homeschooling books looking at all my daughter has not learned or learned and forgotten already. I offer no solutions, just understanding.

Margaret said...

Kristen, my goodness did this post resonate with me. I also find myself wondering about our homeschooling life. My friends unknowingly have become sources of anxiety when they update me innocently on their children's progress. I find myself making comparisons and beating myself up over my choices of curriculum, extracurricular activities, field trips and socialization.

Regardless, I don't want to enter the artificial world of 'school', standardized tests and pressure to learn at a preset pace. I have to trust that God will lead us to where we need to be.

I had to amend this post to say that discipline and following a schedule are definitely not my strengths either. This first year of homeschooling has in many ways been a year of homeschooling ME. I have to teach or my daughter won't learn. My overly laid back attitude just won't cut it anymore. I think that God has called us to homeschool to change me as well.

Today's message on my daily calendar says - "It is a happy talent to know how to play. Ralph Waldo Emerson" I am holding onto this thought today and I plan to more intentionally enjoy our gently paced learning. Hugs to you and your precious girls.

Theresa said...

But your daughter gets to be a child! What a blessing!What an irreplaceable gift! Once taken away you can never, ever give it back. French, on the other hand, can be learned any old time.

Anonymous said...

After what I felt was an unsuccessful attempt at homeschooling my 5yo daughter, we decided to send her to our Catholic school. As a 6yo in Kindergarten, she is doing well, but I am not. I looked back and realized that she was doing well - that I taught her the foundations for what she is learning in school and that if I'd had more patience and trust, she would probably have been just fine at home. So we are going to homeschool her for first grade and are enrolling in Seton for my peace of mind...

Meredith said...

Kristen, you've had so many wonderful responses already I won't mire the pot, only to say that Our Lady has you in her arms and is loving you and your sweet daughters just like she did Jesus. You are a beautiful child of God and are doing exactly what you should be doing right now with your little sweeties!! Enjoy it and don't fret :)) Many blessings,

momof2boyz said...

Kristen, some school districts have a liason who works with homeschooling families. My younger son's district, Saugus Union, north of Los Angeles does. If you are concerned about Gianna's progress, checking that out may be something to consider. Perhaps the Catholic diocese in your location has resources for homeschoolers. I have taught in a public school setting for nine years now, and I can echo much of mommymonkey said. Also, as a parent and a teacher, I have come to realize that single most important factor in a child's long term academic success is a strong familial support of education. Gianna will be just fine, whatever you choose to do.

Kristen said...

Wow. Thank you, everyone. I'll be printing your words to keep them close.

To clarify, let me say I'm not worried about Gianna being behind this or that child in her education per se. I'm concerned that my lack of discipline is teaching her it's ok to be undisciplined. And I ponder the effect this can have on her education (not to mention the larger picture).

Momof2boyz, yes, we are actually registered with a public homeschooling charter school. We meet with an ES ("educational specialist") once a month. There's not much accountability for K-1, but from 2nd-11th grade the students test every spring. I'm not sure it's a good measure, though.

momof2boyz said...

Big oops ! I just spotted 2 big typos in my post. Sorry..
momof2boyz (for some reason I had to use my old user name)

momof2boyz said...

You are right about STAR testing- it is excessive, and I know, not a reliable indicator of real progress. (I better stop... I may go off on rant about standardized testing.) However, you have the right to opt out of STAR testing in any regular public school. Since charters are public, I would think that policy would apply there as well. (I am supposed to be correcting papers.. instead I am blog surfing...) Oh- I have always been told that we (teachers) are not supposed to tell parents about that option, but if parents ask, their students can be exempted from STAR testing.

Carmen said...

Kristen, I realize it's all been said here, but I'll just add that I go through this a lot. Sometimes, I'm perfectly content with what I'm doing and then sometimes I panic that we're not doing enough. When I'm in the latter phase, I start thinking about adding more and this totally goes against my less is more philosophy. I'm always trying to keep the balance so that I don't panic. I really like what MommyMonkey wrote. If you realize that you know you're going to grow concerned periodically, when it happens, think on all the beauty that you're giving your girls!!

Kimberly said...


A lovely thought to ponder:

When you sit down, at the end of the day, or perhaps over a cup of tea with your little darling, you won't ever, ever have to wonder how her day went. Or search beyond her words, wondering if she's hiding anything.

You'll know.

You'll always know...

Having been on every side of the education of children over the past quarter century, I can assure there will always be areas where you just can't compete.

But...that works both ways! Who would trade fluent French for an ever strengthening mother-daughter bond? I'm quite sure you wouldn't.

I spent the early years of my marriage working in public education. My children have attended public school, private school and homeschool. Only through homeschooling was our family able to strengthen "the ties that bind." Perhaps this wouldn't be so for every family, but it's what keeps us strong...

The world creeps in, ever so slowly, into even the most secure of refuges. Postpone it for as long as you can, my dear! You are pouring your heart and soul into the loving care and education of your children...our Lord is asking for nothing more than that!

Blessings to you...and thank you for sharing your concerns with a lot of moms who truly care!

Alexis said...

Hi - I've been lurking for a little while. I'm 28 and will start my oldest in homeschooling K next year but today my perspective comes as a product of homeschooling, K -highschool.
I think that your realization and attitude are mature and humble. My personal experience as the child of a "laid back"/stop-and-smell-the-roses homeschooling mother was mixed. I'm a ENTJ (emphasis on the J) and so I yearn and thrive under structure and schedules. My mother was very much a P and so our styles of learning/teaching clashed.
She didn't recognize this until I was in high school and I got a really structured curriculum for the first time and finally learned to LOVE learning, and to love the sense of accomplishment that structure provided for me.
Before high school though I was very frustrated by the inconsistency and didn't really learn the lesson of perseverance and the true reward of accomplishment - it was all too fluffy for me :). The other downside is that I still have a very underdeveloped understanding of math and science - the subjects that my mind was not naturally inclined to and my mom didn't push enough to make me learn.
My mother did manage to hammer-in some of her appreciation for nature and love of the moment into me though, even though I am not naturally bent that way. And I'm also going to homeschool my kids, although I will be using a curriculum with a lot of structure. I certainly don't want to come off too negative. My siblings and I are all faithful Catholics and are close to each other so the ultimate goals were met.
Moral of the story: As long as you take steps to balance your natural inclinations for smelling roses with a true dedication and perseverance regarding to the fundamentals/core of your girl's education then they will reap all the benefits of homeschooling. That's my own conclusion based on my limited anecdotal experience :). It's all about mature, humble self-reflection and balancing out our pluses and minuses. I'll have to really work to not drive my kids too far, too fast. We've all got our things, don't we? Good luck and God bless.

Anonymous said...

You are the final say but we must consider if the teacher is qualified and doing the job. I don't care if it is at home or in the classroom. I personally know nothing of home schooling. I assume there are standardized test that you give so the child is measured and receives the proper learning levels. All you can do is pray and go forward.

Andi said...

My aunt is a kindergarten teacher in a public school and she says that they have raised the standards in the Bay Area of what to teach in kindergarten. Apparently five hundred teachers thought this to be ridiculous, as they signed a petition to change the standards back to what they used to be (half day, kindergarten basics, etc.)I'm thinking that these new standards are probably taking place in other districts as well. So I think that you're probably doing a fine job with Gianna. :)

sea glass hearts..... Laurie said...

God gave you those particular 2 little girls and you are the best parents for those girls.
God has you where you need to be and where they need to be at this time.

You can't compare the Needs that your girls get fulfilled at home that the kids in school are missing.

Think of the constant love, attention and fulfillment you give your girls being Present each moment of the day.
Fulfilling needs like hunger, boo-boos, fear, love, tiredness, spiritual, God's presence, peace, joy.
Those kids in school are surrounded by kids that have the same needs and none of them get satisfaction.

Reminds me to say to read the book "Hold on to Your Kids"
tells how kids NEED to attach to others. So if they are at school they look to other kids for attachment. (I don't want that for my kids)
IF they are at home they will attach to parents; and We can help keep them Attached to God & our Catholic Tradition (T).

Lissa said...

Kristen, as I read through the wonderful comments following your sweetly earnest post, I was struck by your remark that you worry about "teaching her to be undisciplined." I skipped right to the combox (leaving several comments unread, but I'll catch up--I saw Laurie's name there and I know she'll have great advice!) to say this:

There is no possible way you are "teaching your children to be undisciplined." When I think of you, I think of: deep and active faith (you bear witness to the fruits of a commitment to prayer every time you post here, and how much more so in real life!!), dedication to maintaining a lovely and pleasant home, initiative in learning new skills and crafts like sewing, quilting, and woodworking--now there's discipline! You are modeling "discipline," determination, follow-through, work ethic, however you want to put it, for your girls every minute you are with them, just by living the life you are living. Would that we were all as disciplined as you, my dear!

Anonymous said...

I have graduated two of my homeschooled children and am working on the other five. I don't think young children belong in a school during the grammar stage. Most moms can handle that much fine and those years are also a time of developing strong bonds with our children. However, sometimes as children enter into their teenage years, more structure is needed and a school situation can benefit some children. For me it would have to be a great school - one of the solidly orthodox, independent, small, Catholic schools (like St. Augustine Academy in Ventura). But for our family that is not an option. So we plug away at homeschooling. I feel very comfortable and capable of teaching my children how to read, diagram sentences, write decent compositions and even master first year Latin; but I do not feel the same confidence teaching mathematics and science. This is definitely my older children's weaknesses as well. All my children "hate" math. Looking back with my older ones, I should have sought more outside help - tutors or classes at a junior college.

I have a son who is very easy-going (he doesn't fight me - he just drops quietly beneath the radar). As he enters high school I could definitely see where more structure and some friendly competition and challenge from other males would benefit him greatly. So if I had a great school nearby and could afford it I would send at least him to school. My husband taught in a small Catholic high school with a number of former homeschoolers as students. A good number of these kids truly thrived and blossomed in the school. Their parents were very pleased and credited my husband with their children's accpetance into Catholic colleges. A great teacher can make a big difference.

But I wouldn't even worry about school at your stage of homeschooling.

KC said...

Big hugs, Kristen. I go through this every year.

Anonymous said...

I am thankful to have all these responses to process. Thank YOU for initiating gracious, faith-filled conversation. Mary Brooke

Anonymous said...

It is good that you are considering what is best for your girls -- really best. It's hard to know, sometimes, until you try something. My 10-year-old is in a special magnet public school program and he is thriving so much. Blossoming, even. It is a beautiful thing to see, and we almost didn't send him. One of my other children has a passion for music that has flourished under the direction of two particular teachers. As a parent, I feel it is my task to provide opportunities for them to discover where their passions lie.
Hugs to you!