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When my daughter was 4 years old, I signed her up for school – just like all the other kids, moms waving them off to the bright yellow bus in the morning and catching up over dinner in the evening. Like all the other kids, she went through the normal joys and struggles: reading slowly but surely became a fun activity; exhaustion wore her down like a tidal wave. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Reports from her teacher came home made me glowing and proud: my daughter was bright and kind, smart and lovely. She shared, she helped her friends, I heard of her joyful demeanour, great behaviour and evidence of her being smart as a whip. The transition had gone beautifully.
I had no complaints about her teachers, I’m not aware of any bullying and by all accounts we should have been a happy little family, going about the educational system with a smile and a heart of gratitude.
But my husband and I work in the wedding industry and we spend many evenings and weekends consumed with our work and our clients’ needs. Our daytimes are quiet but we make ourselves available to our clients when their own 9 to 5 is over. My daughter would come home from school wiped out and in need of a nap, a snack, some screen time, and by the time she was feeling a little more like herself, we’d head out to work.
We entered a rhythm of hello-goodbye with our kindergartener and realized that our role in rearing her had just about come to an end. Already. At 5 years old, she was being raised by teachers and nannies, babysitters and grandparents, simply because of our opposing school and work schedules. Raised by a single mom working 12-hour hospital shifts, I knew where this could go. My role would be relegated to packing lunches and signing permission slips but the days of making a major impression were behind me. Time-wise we were clocking in one, maybe two hours a day together – at most.
Summer came. A time of rest and ease for her and a busy season of work for us. Our paths kept crossing, barely. Breakfast, child care, home time, dinner, bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. Rarely together, passing ships, mother and child in our modern world.
Being a part of her development had always been a dream of mine and it was too soon to feel like I had done my bit. I realized that most of the school year occurs during our off-season for work. So why not use that free time in another way: what if I kept my daughter home? What if I didn’t send her to school? What if I … home-schooled?
I had always believed home-schooled kids were social outcasts; relics of a hippie generation gone sideways, playing alone in the trees, unable to engage in normal society or, you know, have friends. I couldn’t fathom how one mother, educated or not, could raise up multiple youngsters with the kind of skills taught in a professional educational environment by a professionally educated teacher with professionally sourced tools in, well, a school. The task was a professional one.
Plus, who had that kind of patience?
I began my research anyway. As it turns out, in my province the entire curriculum is available online and much of its teaching materials are available for purchase. These outline expectations and guidelines for grading, where a child should stand in relation to other children and on their own. They outline suggestions and ideas for how to execute good learning, and most of the ideas are actually pretty good. I felt a glimmer of hope, like maybe I could do this thing. Maybe we could get our time back.
With that, September rolled around, and we submitted our formal letter of intent to let the school know she wouldn’t be coming back. And in our tiny room at home, we started to do “education”… ourselves. The early days were filled with tears. (If I’m being honest, the present days are often filled with tears, too.) It took us at least six months to find a groove, something fellow home-schoolers might refer to as “deschooling”: the process a child tends to go through as they adjust to a home where there is also much expected of them educationally. It’s also a time to build family connection, trust and set behavioural expectations. Not a simple time, but a really beautiful one, when I now look at it in a rearview mirror.
These days, our house is exhausting. Loud. Busy. Dare I say, educational? If I was hunting for connection, trust me, I found it. If time together is connection, our family looks like an electrical fire some days. I see so much of my kids, I’m hustling to get them out of the house into organized programs as many weekdays as I can just to feel like I can breathe – or think. Did you know kids spend entire days just … asking questions? Yet, somehow, deep inside, I know that whatever the sacrifice, this is worth it.
I don’t recommend home-schooling for everyone. On the whole, I’m not holding a pitchfork to the doors of the educational system. I pay my taxes and I was a happy participant while it served us. Now that I home-school, I have met dozens of families entirely failed by classroom sizes, limited resources and lack of access to funding – by some stroke of luck, that wasn’t our story, and yet we still had to find another way.
There is something to be said for a face-to-face connection with my daughter that I couldn’t get when our schedules opposed. Short of giving up my career and the income I draw in for our family, nobody was going to solve this for me. This was my space to create. And home-schooling allowed me to connect again.
Samantha Butler lives in Hamilton, Ont.