Several weeks ago, my aunt asked me if I was planning on sending Levi to preschool this year. She had heard fantastic things about a local school and encouraged me to look into it. “I think he would love it!” she said.
To Send or Not to Send
The conversation really stumped me. I had been somewhat open with my friends and family about my hopes to homeschool Levi (for various reasons which I’ll go into another time), but was unsure about whether or not I should consider preschool. Both of my sisters-in-law homeschool their kids, and neither sent theirs to preschool. I didn’t see neither a need to or a danger in sending him; it didn’t seem like “real school” so much, more like a place to connect and play with peers. I’m sure he would love it. He just turned three in May, though, so up until my aunt asked me, I figured I’d process the question for another year and make a decision later.
Yet there I was, questioning, should Levi be in preschool now?
So I looked into it. While the school seemed high quality and I appreciated its vision, I took one look at the price tag and cringed. For a few hours a week, it seemed like a high price for us. Also, class met on a day that my husband is often home from work (he gets off a week day because he works most Saturdays), and I didn’t like the idea of Levi being away from us on a family day.
The decision was an easy. No, I was not going to send Levi to preschool.
Phew. Glad that was over with.
Change of Plans
One night, Kevin drew my attention to an acquaintance’s Instagram story. In it, she was paging through binders of beautiful, simple, clean curriculum. The educator in me began to stir in a way it hasn’t in four years. “What is that?” I asked, my heart pounding slightly.
It was The Peaceful Preschool, a curriculum developed by Jennifer Pepito, a veteran homeschool mom to seven children. I fell blissfully into the rabbit hole and researched the rest of the night. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped open as I clicked the Instagram page, looking at the beautiful images, and my heart said, “I want this,” and “Is this even real life?” at the same time.
Within 48 hours, I had studied the free letter A Unit, generated a list of necessary school supplies, and declared to Kevin that I was ready to homeschool Levi and, “Could I please spend the $39 to buy the digital copy of the curriculum?” Thirty. Nine. Dollars. Come on.
He said yes, of course, with a glimmer in his eye and a shake of his head. What can I say? When I commit to something, I commit.
The Homeschool Ideal
The past two weeks were spent accumulating craft supplies, cleaning house, organizing a temporary homeschool space, requesting books through the library, printing the curriculum, cutting and laminating flash cards, and following every homeschool-related Instagram page I could find. I was giddy. It was like my first year of teaching again.
But, as it always does, reality slowly crept in. As I perused those Instagram pages, as I saw the impeccably laid out themes, the variety of gorgeous manipulative, the charming chalkboards, the handmade baked goods with tea time, the elaborate celebrations of bees and apples and the moon and trees and the ocean, the pristine homeschool rooms and the children compliantly learning within them…well, heart transitioned from being inspired to despairing.
Our homeschool life will not look like that. Oh, I want it to. I want to lay outside with Levi on a quilt, looking at the sky and comparing cloud formations while we munch on pumpkin scones and I sip a latte. I want the fresh cut flowers on a clean white table, a beautiful watercolored textbook opened to the page of the red-winged blackbird we recognized from our recent trip to the local bird sanctuary. I want to pull a large map down over my vintage green chalkboard, I want wooden storage bins filled with balancing blocks and play silks and hand-made lacing beads, I want the extensive library of gorgeously illustrated texts. I want the child who will seamlessly transition from one well-organized activity to the next, the one will make a breathtaking collage out of all of the “A” images he cut out of a magazine, writing his name on the back, all the while telling me how much fun he had learning and how lucky he is to have me as his teacher.
But here’s what I have: a curious and busy three year old who’s recent love affair with glue has left every surface in my house slightly sticky; a one-year old who keeps trying to steal and eat Levi’s crayons; a stained, hand-me-down table with pastel pink chairs; a 500 square foot first floor in which I have to somehow teach as well as do the rest of our daily living; hand-made lacing cards; some library books; some alphabet shaped cookies; no budget to buy all of that fancy, homemade, hand-decorated stuff; normal children whose left-brain is not nearly finished cooking and either of whom can be found crying during various points in the day for various impractical reasons.
I began to play the lose-lose game of comparison, vacillating between the ugly worlds of judgement, resentment, and envy.
When I spoke to Kevin about that Perfect Homeschool I was seeing all over social media, he shook his head. “That’s not even real life, Kristin.” He reminded me that the moms probably had to set things up perfectly for that shot, that it wasn’t representative of a normal day, that it was an image of an ideal, not what was really happening.
He’s right, of course. We all do that, don’t we? We want to show the best versions of ourselves, our homes, our kids, our hobbies. I can’t fault those Perfect Homeschool Moms, but I certainly can’t compare myself to them.
Finding a Balance
Every homeschool family has their reasons for homeschooling. For me, it’s a combination of valuing my children’s education, wanting to foster and protect their natural love of learning, wanting to preserve their childhood, wanting them to focus on their natural interests, wanting them to be most influenced by the people that love them most, wanting them to be preserved by so many of the stresses and pressures and problems that come along with the institutional school system. And as someone with my degree in education, I feel capable and confident in being my children’s primary teacher.
And though I haven’t really done it in a long time, I love teaching. I love seeing that spark that comes when a connection is made. I get excited about lesson planning and creating a beautiful, peaceful learning environment. This month has really reignited in me a passion for educating and learning.
And while I love those beautiful posts about various themed lessons, I need to take them with a grain of salt. The goal is to teach my child, and I am going to do it the best that I can with what I have, because that’s my situation. The success is not found in the image of the thing, but in the thing itself. I want to raise lifelong learners, and that is going to be messy. Because life is messy, learning is trial and error, and the more I try to control it, the less I am giving my child the ability to make his own way.
Our First Day of School
So we started preschool yesterday. I woke up well before the sun to the pitter patter of rain. I did a few yoga stretches, sipped a hot cup of coffee, tidied Levi’s desk, reviewed my lesson plans, and opened a journal to document my feelings. In the journal, which was a gift, my sweet sister had written the following inspirational words by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver: “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
The words were like sunshine to my soul. Yes. This is what living is, and it is also what teaching is.
With that mantra in the back of my mind, I went through the day. We worked on a puzzle, made baked oatmeal, dressed, and took a few photos before the “school day” began.
And things went…well…as to be expected. Levi and Lucy fought over flashlights while we tried singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Then, Lucy pooped through her clothes, so I had to stop and change her. Levi only wanted to glue stuff, and was madly disappointed when I put the glitter glue away. One of the books I chose for read-aloud was too complex. A neighbor knocked on the door, and the conversation, while pleasant, broke up our learning time. We prepared to go on a Leaf Hunt, but Levi couldn’t find his “noculars” and was very upset when we couldn’t find them. Then, when we were eating lunch, he knocked over his glass of hand-squeezed lemonade and it shattered all over the deck.
But, all in all, it was a good. Levi enjoyed using glitter glue and sorting out his found leaves into piles of green and brown. He liked the hand-made lacing cards and squeezing lemons with the hand press. He climbed trees and found spider webs and told me stories. One thing Levi especially enjoyed was taking pictures with my camera (something I did not plan for). He snapped this beautiful, artful photo of a leave quite on purpose, I think. It’s a beautiful memento from our first day of school.
Lucy did well, too. She enjoyed collecting acorns into a little bin while she and Levi played on the deck. She liked the music and going on a nature walk. And she only ate one crayon.
Looking, Listening, Learning Together
I wanted to first teach Levi the letter “L” because that’s the first letter of his name. He already can write it and identify it, but I wanted to reinforce all the awesome words that start with the same letter, words like life, looking, learning, listening, laughing, and, of course, the greatest of all, love. We got to enjoy all of those great “L” words that first day.
I think homeschooling Levi is going to be very good for our relationship. We had more intentional time together than we’ve had in a while, and he told me he loved me on two separate occasions, a rare and sweet treat.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I know it won’t always be Pinterest-worthy perfection, but that’s ok, even good. What matters is, my son and I will be looking, listening, and learning together.
Here’s to a great year.
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