Because our children attend a school where some of the students board from other cities and countries, the Christmas break is quite lengthy. We really needed and enjoyed it. However, after nearly 4 weeks off, we were all ready for a return to routine. Just a couple of weeks before the break, we made the decision to bring our two middle schoolers back home for the majority of the school day. We really, really wrestled with the decision, but now that we are two weeks into our new routine, I am thoroughly convinced it was the right choice for our family.
I know there are lots of different "takes" on school. When Ryan and I worked in children's ministry, each year, beginning about December, moms of the upcoming kinders would come with questions about what might be the best choice for their family. We lived in an area of the States where there were many great options...public, charter, private, and a myriad of homeschool support options. Of course, we couldn't tell any family what was the best choice for them and we simply encouraged them to pray, examine their options in light of the needs of their children and family, and then be willing to follow where the Lord directed. There were families who we respected very much and whose children we loved using every conceivable option for educating their children. We did not believe there was a right way to educate children.
However, we knew that homeschooling was the right choice for our children, and I loved it. It became my hobby and I loved exploring new curriculums, methods, and ways to meet the needs of my children. It was how we did life. So, when we made the decision to send our kids to school this year, I really, really mourned the change.
I knew that my oldest two were ready and I felt strongly that the right option for them, in light of our life here, was school. For my youngest, I also knew that it was the right choice for him. He NEEDS structure. He NEEDS people. He is thriving in many, many ways. But our middle schoolers...I had my doubts. The doubts stemmed largely from the fact that they are middle schoolers, which is the time when I feel the benefits of traditional school are least likely to outweigh the cons. It's a hard age for anyone (raise your hand if you would like to do middle school again....no hands right?!?) I had other concerns, knowing the individual strengths, needs, and personalities of my children. But, they wanted to try, I knew I needed time to learn French, and I knew that they would be very isolated if we didn't try it. So, with much fear and trembling...I sent them into middle school.
And, let's just say... all of my fears were confirmed. It was not a good fit in many, many ways. A combination of the personalities of my children, the schedule/program/philosophies of the middle school department, and my ideals of what should happen during the middle school years weren't meshing very successfully. But, each night, after helping them with their 3-4 hours of homework, I would talk myself off the ledge, remind myself of the benefits I did see, and I'd convince myself we could make it another day.
There were lots of tears involved. Mine and theirs. It was no fun. But then, life isn't always about fun, is it? So we kept on for the entire semester, dreading Mondays and embracing Fridays. I continued to have significant concerns about the needs of my individual children and how well this schooling choice was or was not meeting their needs. I just kept telling myself that this was the only choice we had for this season.
Then one day, about 3 weeks before Christmas break a series of things happened that made me realize that we didn't really have to finish out the year in the same fashion and that maybe it wasn't even the right thing to do. But then I realized that we would be oddballs if we didn't. We function in a very tight community that centers largely around the school and I knew that a decision to pull them home would make us all strange, and that's no fun. Not to mention, it would make my schedule really tight. It would complicate everything. And it might create waves or insult people or..._______________(fill in the blank with a dozen other reasons.)
Ryan and I decided that we needed to pray and honestly seek the Lord's direction. As uncomfortable as I was with making a change, I was also very certain it would be the right choice for our kids. So, I made some phone calls and appointments to get it all approved. We talked to the kids, who were far more willing to make the change than I thought they would be. I spent much of Christmas break planning and setting goals, desiring to use this season back at home as strategically as possible.
In the end, we decided the kids would stay at school for French, PE, and their elective. So, I take them in the AM and I exercise and have French class at the school while they do their classes. Then we come home and tackle the rest of their content before the others come home. It has been a very positive change. Our evenings are so much more peaceful. They feel so much more successful. I feel like I am seeing the happy side of my children again. Not to mention, we have more time to focus on the character building that is so key during the middle school years, while still focusing on their individual academic needs.
I have no idea what next year will bring. Isaac, who will move into the high school department next year, will likely go back for the bulk of his classes. Lily and I may just be school buddies until she moves into the high school years, or beyond. There is uncertainty, but I just know that I am thankful for this unexpected season, even if it is just a few months, that we have to focus on a few goals. I don't want to raise quitters, but I do want to raise children who are introspective and not afraid to do what is most effective and best positions them to grow and serve well. It is my hope and prayer that this little decision will help to teach them that.