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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In which we cross the line into public school

Tomorrow is Gigi's first day of kindergarten.

It looks wildly different from Chebbles' first day of kindergarten.

On Chebbles' first day of kindergarten, we sat her in front of an advanced video of Khan Academy math and videotaped her while she watched it. She didn't understand the topic, but we snickered with glee... it was the first day of kindergarten -- homeschool-style!

Kindergarten generally looked like this for us: Chebbles and I would sit together at the kitchen counter after her sisters went down for their naps, and we would first tackle a series of math problems, then some handwriting and grammar, then after a trampoline break we would run back inside, or sit on the hammock, and read history and science together.

It was cozy. Only occasionally would she resist a lesson, and she would soon get back on track, particularly if I gave her a little snack for brain food.

And you know what? Kindergarten was awesome like that. She learned so much, so quickly, and she still had plenty of time to read her books and play. But eventually both she and I were starting to feel a little lonely.

I found some homeschool groups, and made some connections, but homeschooling people like us were difficult to find, and none of them were local. We were homeschooling because Chebbles is very gifted, and the local school was not prepared to take her on, in my opinion, as they had 31 kids and one teacher in the kindergarten classroom.

We were not homeschooling because we were Christian and we were not homeschooling because we were idealists. It was a default choice for a kid who turned 5 in September yet was reading very advanced material.

We tried to send Chebbles to public school for the second half of first grade, but it was not a success for our wildly asynchronous child. When she wanted to read something other than the Berenstain Bears, she was restricted from more complex literature -- super-frustrating for all of us as she began to regress in her main subjects and start to get really bored and sad at school -- so I went back to homeschooling.

Second grade at home was a grind for both of us, leading me to sign her up for a lot of classes and outsource the maximum amount of classwork I could. She became more resistant to my teaching and I started getting bored with homeschooling. We were an increasingly combustible combination when the time came to actually show she was working (which she commonly wasn't).

We'll see how third grade goes for Chebbles, now that her lessons are mostly in others' hands (thank you, Quantum Camp Microschool), but Gigi?

Gigi is starting public kindergarten tomorrow. And I may be completely deluded but I think it's a really good idea. She even has the same teacher that Chebbles had in first grade, and I also think that will be a really good match!

Today I took her to "Welcome Day" where we signed up for various programs (Spanish!) and met more of the parents and kids at our local school. The whole thing suddenly seems like such a good idea. Gigi is such a different kid than her sister. She's bright, but she's not reading. She loves playing with numbers, but doesn't really "get" how they come together. (She is particularly vexed by the idea that 99 cents is less than one dollar. I mean, REALLY, how can that be?)

Gigi will be heading into a classroom that is filled with kids a lot like her. We are lucky in that we live in a neighborhood where the demographic is basically a lot of kids who are much like our G. And a teacher who sails on a very even keel is exactly what our middle girl needs.

And you know what Gigi doesn't need? A bored/stressed-out mother trying to muster enthusiasm for teaching D'Nealian handwriting again.

I am having further fantasies that I can put both Chebbles AND Birdy in public school with Gigi next year. I have this vision in which I walk them all down to the bus stop at 7:15 in the morning and then they all get on it.

Then what!? I will probably go home and take a five hour bath the first day, with a cocktail and a stack of Sunday New York Times Magazines.

And then in the ensuing days I will write short stories and nonfiction. Because Alice Munro just officially retired, North America needs a new mom writing short stories between loads of laundry. Then perhaps I will consult for companies who need public relations, or edit something fascinating. Some activity that involves other grown-ups, perhaps?

So often during my homeschooling career, people would say, "Oh, public school is just state-sponsored day care."

And I would totally agree.

And now I'm thinking, waaaaait a minute. The state sponsors day care? Why am I not taking advantage of this?

I am ready to do something a little different with my life next year, when a few hours of childlessness might stretch before me. I am ready to stop gestating babies, and possibly to stop micromanaging their education. I am not saying I would abdicate their entire education to the State of California, but I am saying I am ready for the State of California to start helping with the load.

And I felt so strident about homeschooling several years ago, with my five-year-old genius and her sleeping sisters. But my babies have grown up, and all of them know how to roll their eyes, and it's time for all of us to do something a little different.
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