Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Notes from a 'Retired' Homeschooling Mama... with guest blogger Paula Leven

I am so honored to be asked to share our homeschool story! I am one of those retired homeschool moms and I look back on those years with such pleasure and satisfaction! But I most definitely had a lengthy "adjustment period" when we first began...

You see, it had never occurred to me to homeschool anybody -- ever. But then one day, I chanced upon the proverbial "nutty teacher" in my daughter's 4th grade class. She had called to say Rachel wasn't doing well in math and that I should get her a tutor. So I showed up with a tutor -- and the teacher became furious! told me off! and refused to let my daughter leave class for the rest of the day (because she might come looking for me) -- and also wouldn't let her take home any math books!

Whoa. I had never met the lady before. And then the principal told me to "just forget it" and put the kid back in class. We truly struggled with wrapping our minds around the fact that if we were to be responsible parents, we needed to take our daughter OUT of school!

We never did figure out the teacher. They fired her a few months later but by that time we had discovered home school and never looked back -- at "school-in-a-building," that is (as my daughter calls it).

But now it was up to us. Well, more like, up to me.

I walked around clutching John Holt's "Teach Your Own," with the section marked to the story about the man from colonial times whose abilities and knowledge far, far exceeded his years in school. Where did he learn all his skills? Holt asked. He learned on the job, learned from others who knew the skill, and/or taught himself. And, Holt pointed out, he entered the workforce with far more knowledge -- and a much broader knowledge base -- than many college graduates.

These few pages (which became quite dog-eared and coffee stained) gave me the support I needed and reminded me again and again that there was life without school. And that I could do it.

Another homeschool mom gave me fabulous advice. She said it didn't really matter in which order you covered subjects, rather you should ask yourself "what do they need to know at 18?" So when Abraham wanted to study animals three years in row, I (repeatedly) calmed my anxiety that we weren't doing cell biology by reminding myself of her words.

She also said, kids don't ever get to just read in school. Just read -- no tests, no book reports. Just read. So we did that. It was lovely. And I read outloud quite a bit, even though they were perfectly capable of reading for themselves. My 12 year old son lay contentedly on the floor with his sister listening to the entire Little House series. The most fufilling and satisfying years of my life were homeschooling my kids. Truly.

As the years went by, my anxieties abated...somewhat...and John Holt didn't have to go everywhere with me. I started to add things I thought were important -- we attended a trial of five guys accused of selling methamphetamines -- the whole thing. My kids wore their Shabbat clothes everyday and sat in the audience. At the end, the judge called them into his chambers to find out who they were because he had become so curious!
Whenever I would hire a workman, I would explain that part of the job would be to talk to my kids. The exterminator, electrician, plumber, train conductor were all subjected to formal, written out interviews. The librarian of course knew them by name -- and I'm sure that's true for your kids too.

They each had their own private rebbes -- now that was expensive, but so worth it. Neither my husband or I had enough Jewish background to teach them the fundamentals of a day school education, but we did what we could.
My kids never won the national spelling bee or went to Harvard. Their papers weren't published in any professional journals either. But I believe they learned to think critically and, most importantly, learned how to learn -- how to use an index in a book, a library, and how to be comfortable with adults and learn from them.

My oldest kid today teaches humanities and philosophy in college; my daughter is a very wise rebbetzin and an inspiring doula, and my youngest just completed his three years in the IDF and will go to college this fall in communications and political science. We made aliyah when he was 12 -- and even after trying school in a building, he insisted on homeschool.

In Israel we met other homeschoolers through the Gilbert and Sullivan theater company. Although the performances were very professional, the director would take kids for backstage and sometimes for the chorus. What neat enrichment that was! And of course, by living in Israel, we didn't have to pay for him learning Hebrew.....homeschool thriftiness.....

As he worked his way through high school, I returned to the spinning and knitting I had always enjoyed. I decided that "in my retirement," I would take a shot at a small crafts business and opened an etsy story with my homespun knitting and weaving. When I needed to rest a joint in my thumb from overuse, I made ragdolls (because sitting still isn't one of the choices) and I have enjoyed making them too. There are a lot of scary looking rag dolls out there -- mine definitely aren't!

I am forever looking for an interested audience and should you know anyone who likes or wants these things -- and perhaps even wants them from Israel -- please do pass along my name and etsy link (see below). I toyed with making IDF uniforms for my ragdolls so I used my sons discarded shirts and copied what the women soldiers wear...I have them but not up on my site. Neither are the Beit Yaakov school uniforms.....but I can make them too.

Kol ha kavod to all the homeschoolers!

Paula Leven

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