About a month ago, I started homeschooling Mary.
The first question everyone asks—“Why?”
A friend provided the short answer, “Because Mary gets to be Mary.”
We adore our local elementary; we love the teachers, the volunteers, the principal and Mary’s adorable friends. But for months, years really, Mary begged to be schooled at home. She was both bored and exhausted. Bored from the repetition and waiting associated with group instruction and exhausted by the long hours of sitting and a school day that didn’t end until nearly 4 p.m.
Actually, Mary seems normal to me. I don’t understand those kids who can race home from school, grab a drink of milk and go straight to dance class. She’s always needed down time, alone time. A classic introvert, she thrives on spending hours quietly reading, sewing, playing with dolls or simply playing in the backyard by herself. With seven hours of school, dance class, tumbling and piano, Mary couldn’t find time to recharge.
After weeks of daily complaints from Mary, I told her to make a schedule, research home schooling curriculum and present me with a plan. At the end of first term, we made the switch.
And it’s been wonderful, glorious, better than I could have anticipated. Yes, we’re only a few weeks in, but within days Mary’s energy and happiness soared. She skips through her day, checking off her subjects one by one, taking breaks to dance around the kitchen, run around the yard or pound out her own compositions on the piano. Before, I dragged her to dance class and tumbling—she loved the classes and didn’t want to quit, but she was always exhausted. Now, she puts on her leotard fifteen minutes early, reminds me when it’s time to go. At the beginning of the school year, her ballet teacher asked her to add a third class to her schedule. Mary flat out refused. But after one week of home school, she asked me to register her for the class.
Before, Mary was often exhausted and grumpy with her brothers at the end of the day. Now, her unflagging cheer enlivens the household. She helps with homework, takes over dishes chores for overwhelmed brothers and plans fantastic family home evenings.
Her curriculum includes math, reading, language arts, social studies, science, scripture study, French, art and piano. She practices handwriting by writing a letter every day (you might receive the next one) and composition by writing on her own blog: Mary’s Spoonful of Sugar. Although she’s good at getting in plenty of physical activity, we’ve decided to take the dog on the walk at noon to insure we all get enough sunshine during the short winter days.
Despite my picture perfect descriptions, we’re sorting through challenges. Just a few days into our adventure, Mary realized I wouldn’t go easy on her. I’m a tough teacher and expect excellence. Many of my friends worried I’d feel tied down, and I might, but I like to be home. I’m grateful for the luxury of staying at home with one very cooperative little girl. I certainly ignore her at times, but she can manage her own responsibilities.
I’m most worried about Mary growing apart from her sweet, polite, imaginative friends: smiling, innocent girls who aren’t trying to grow up too fast. After years of mothering, I know good friends are rare and precious. Without a shared classroom and school recess she’s spending less time with them, but with effort we hope to preserve those friendships.
People worry a lot about social skills for homeschoolers, but I’ve witnessed marked improvement in Mary’s interactions. She’s much more comfortable in large groups, answers questions and makes eye contact when adults talk to her and the sometimes drama of little girls seems to roll right off her back. When we had men working in our yard, she stirred up mugs of steaming hot chocolate and delivered them with a smile. A month ago, she would have been far too shy to offer hot chocolate to an almost-stranger. Now that she doesn’t deal with the exhaustion of constant social interaction at school, she’s able to stretch and grow. It’s much like a weightlifter with too much weight on the bar—they can’t get it to budge until a few plates are removed.
Not every parent could or should home school; many children would never want to miss out on playground games and the camaraderie of a classroom. But I’ve decided to let Mary be Mary. For us, for now, it’s working…. beautifully.