Friday, September 14, 2012

The Freedom to Take on Something Bigger

My son's joining the training choir at St. Paul's Cathedral caused me to reflect on the great gift of flexibility that homeschooling provides.  As kids progress in the choir program (an excellent free music education), the commitment can grow from one day a week to several.  Several days a week on one activity is a significant commitment that I am not sure I could have done it when I was a child.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade was horrific for me.  It wasn't the change in the work even though the academics got quite a bit more difficult between the two years, but the big change in schedule.  Kindergarten was was only half-day.  We had a focused three hours of school, reading groups and all.  Then we went home to have lunch and free time.  First grade was the first year of full day school.  Despite being six and a half and having plenty of recess time, I remember crying every afternoon for two weeks at the beginning of the year.  This also happened for one week at the beginning of second grade too.  I don't remember the details as much as would be helpful, but I know that my mother explained that I had to go to school no matter what.  After that, I am pretty sure I did my best to hide the crying as much as I could since I was the compliant type.

I know now from everything I have read on homeschooling why this happened.  It isn't natural to expect kids under 7 or 8 to be away from their parents for such long periods of time, 7 or 8 hours if you include the bus ride.  Now it is worse, of course, since kids go to full-day pre-k even younger and there is less recess time.  Many kids are more resilient than I was and can handle it better than I did, but that shouldn't justify the thinking that such things are normal or healthy.  I am not sure that it is right to blame my mother personally.  Homeschooling was very remote during the 1980s.  I am not sure that the option was even known to her.  If she had known about it, the pressure of doing exactly what she and my grandfather had done may have overridden her decision anyway, nevermind the possible griping by extended family members.  Certainly before the internet, resources weren't as readily available either.  Of course I didn't hate school, just the full day part.  Going half day, even year round probably would have been fine for me.

This difficult adjustment, however, limited the activities I got involved in.  I remember trying to go to brownies in first grade and hating it.  I think it was mainly that it extended the day too much after the long school day.  My mother tried to come with me, but it just didn't work out.  I also didn't like the arts and crafts focus.  One of my issues with first grade was also that you couldn't just circle answers on worksheets, but had to spend the time coloring.  The work was just drawn out.  In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn't necessary to be cooped up for such a long day and I knew it was the source of my misery.

For now, T's involvement in the training choir is only one day, but if it grows, he will have the free time and low stress to be able to tackle it.  It won't be piled on an overscheduled week.  This is good, because he has such an interest in singing.  He walks down the streets of Buffalo singing all the time.  He will really get a chance to do what he loves. I think that the overall social influence will be good too.  The boys in the program, all of which are older than T, went out of their way to welcome him and I overheard them saying that they want to set a good example for the younger kids.  I was impressed by this conscious effort from 8 and 9 year old boys.  The best part was when he came out with a big smile on his face saying that he couldn't wait for next week.

His activities don't need to be limited to choir.  Since academics take up only about an hour and half a day for T, he has plenty of time left for something else if he likes, maybe a sport or dance.  This experience this week reinforces that homeschooling is such a good choice for opening up opportunities.  Have you had a similar experience?  Are your kids able to take on more because they aren't in school?