I’m going to stop counting the days because it seems a little dramatic, but I would like to continue to chronicle our adventures. I am making a commitment to myself to sit down every week day and write out the day’s experience.
Yesterday was the first day of school in South Florida, including the high school where my husband Mo is a teacher. Because it was the first day of school for the rest of the world down here it felt like a certain excitement was in the air. Over the summer I did a lot of internet research on homeschooling, and felt like I had a general picture of what was available in this area. I found a group on Meetup.com that gets together at a park about half an hour north of here every Monday morning. No one else had RSVP’d to the event, but I figured at the very least we would spend the morning in a park that was new to us.
We got lost on the way but still arrived at Treetops park a few minutes early. It was gorgeous, lush, green all around, with three different playground areas, a horse barn, and a butterfly garden. This place was pretty epic! It was also empty, and I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach of being the first one at the party. Homeschooling is bringing so many new social interactions into my life, which feels pretty intense, especially considering the level of social anxiety I used to deal with. Thankfully having kids means being forced to meet strangers constantly, so I have gotten over a lot of the stress I used to feel about meeting new people. Lately I think I have been coping pretty well. About six months ago I was really struggling with anxiety again and found some herbal supplements that sort of helped (I sometimes use the Stress Relief formula from Simplers). I think what has helped, and continues to help the most is talking openly with Mo and friends about my feelings, working on the roots of my issues with my therapist, and writing this blog.
I was feeling adventurous and I didn’t feel too worried even as we wandered around the park looking for the group. Ben was wearing a cape made of his favorite blanket and carrying his lovey toy George the monkey under his arm. I had a wave of self consciousness wash over me, “I’m the homeschooling lady with the kid in the cape!” but I laughed at myself for caring and thought with love how brave Ben was being joining a new group, facing the unknown, and he needed some support from his accessories. We finally found the rest of the meetup group and as the morning went on, I was amazed at how much the playground filled up. There were about fifty kids of all ages from all different backgrounds. I got the impression that most of the families were Christian, but the group was very loosely organized so I didn’t actually speak with too many people. The highlight of the morning was watching a herd of kids from age three to ten walk into a wooded area, pick up sticks which they slung over their shoulders like wild adventurers, and hike around pretending to be all sorts of things. There was a Han Solo, a Ninja Turtle, an Indiana Jones, and more. They came across a wild armadillo (for real!) in the woods and even more kids trooped in to see the outrageously cute little creature. His face was so sweet, with his funny armored body and skinny tail…I couldn’t believe it was real. Ben was impressed!
Overall I was really amazed by the level of imaginative, creative play, as well as the cooperation and general lack of conflict. As I listened to kids introduce themselves and as I introduced myself to several moms, I realized that most of the other people there were also new to the group, and many were new to homeschooling. It really felt like we were at the first day of school, yet it was so nice that we were not at school at all. It was almost an anti-milestone: today, we don’t send, we don’t separate, we get together and move forward with the integration of our kids into our everyday lives and learning.
I really don’t want to offend anyone who happily sends their kids to school. I know that what works for every family is different. I do want to freely share my opinion about why I have decided homeschool and what I like and don’t like about it. I hope that you will share your opinion in the comments and we can learn from each other.
While I was at the park I chatted with a few moms who shared all sorts of local homeschooling support and activities that I hadn’t heard about. There is a nature class on Thursday mornings, a part time “unschooling” project-based school nearby, and a parent support group that organizes field trips all over (Fan boat tour! Chocolate factory! Legoland! None of the above with a 15 month old, but sounds cool). I started to realize that a challenge of this homeschooling adventure is not going to be finding things to do, but rather choosing what to do from all the options. I will also have to decide which groups to be a part of.
After we left the park, feeling encouraged, Ella fell asleep in the car. I debated where to go. It was still pretty early in the day so we drove to another park where I figured the kids could play when Ella woke up. As we pulled up to the playground I saw a group of kids gathered under a huge tree across the way and thought that they seemed older than preschool age. It dawned on me that maybe I had accidentally happened upon the homeschooling phys ed class that I had read about months ago without even remotely realizing the day or time. I literally pulled up just as the class was gathering, walked over and asked if it was the class I thought it was. By luck or fate, it was! Ben joined in and spent the next two hours in the class led by a coach, running around with a group of about fifteen kids, who were mostly Jewish. This was exciting because at the other group we seemed to be the only Jewish family. I grew up Christian and now my family is observant Jewish (part of my story is here) so I feel like it is important for my kids to spend time with all different people. I don’t want Ben and Ella to feel like they need to only be around people just like them, although I’m pretty sure not so many people are JUST like us! I also want them to have a sense of belonging and community, especially spiritually. We haven’t really found a synagogue nearby that we like to go to, and now that Ben isn’t in Jewish day school I want to make sure he learns about the holidays and Hebrew, etc. This phys ed group, funny enough, with all the boys with kippot and tzitzit, seems like a good place to start!
The moms there told me about another entire set of playgroups, classes, and resources in the area. I felt like our homeschooling fortune was overflowing! It was great to sit and chat with the women at the phys ed class. They were from all different backgrounds, lived totally different lifestyles, and were all very intelligent and clearly committed. We talked about why we had decided to homeschool and the overwhelming response was that “school was taking over our life” and “with school we had no true family life.” These were not parents with fundamentalist religious views, nor were they super crunchy granola anti-establishment folks. They were just people who had seen something in their lives that wasn’t working, and decided to take a leap and find a way to change it. Some said that the main deciding factor was simply not being able to afford to outsource the kind of education they hoped for for their kids. I can relate to all of these reasons, and it was very empowering not to feel alone. I don’t know about you, but some sort of outdated stereotype of very socially awkward, religious fanatic homeschoolers lingered in my mind. I was relieved that at both groups everyone seemed truly overwhelmingly “normal.” Let me say that I truly love “weird,” I used to be entirely socially awkward, and some of my closest friends would be considered religious fanatics. What I really mean is that I was thankful to see that homeschooling has actually become a bit more mainstream and all sorts of people are doing it.
By the time we left our second play extravaganza of the day, the kids were filthy, shirtless, sweaty, and buzzing with excitement. I was feeling so grateful to have found both groups, and looking forward to fleshing out our weeks with all the classes and get togethers we had learned about. I am feeling really happy and satisfied with our decision to homeschool this year, and I am proud of us for following our intuition. It felt like we were going against the grain in a certain way, but really following our hearts. Now that the “first day of school” is behind us, I’m looking forward to an interesting year full of love, growth, and learning!