Mouse Mastery

M has been asking for a mouse to use with the computer so that she can navigate by herself, so today after music class, we went to the store and got a mouse. For the first few minutes of M using the mouse, I didn't know if she'd catch on... and then there was no stopping her!! She's unbelievable with the mouse, navigating her way through the websites I set for her, returning, by herself, to the main menu to start over.
It's great, now, to go to where she made pumpkins and snowmen and did the ABCs -- all by herself! I just can't get over how skilled she is and how quickly she caught on! When you think about the amount of coordination it takes to use a mouse, it really is astounding.

This opens up an entirely new set of learning possibilities for us.... It also makes me have a greater appreciation for I have heard so many great things about this website, but always found that it was either too easy (because she already knows her letters and letter sounds), or too hard, (because she doesn't know how to read). There didn't seem to be much in between. But now that she can navigate the site herself, it is awesome for her!

Growing Numbers

As I learn more about the homeschooling movement, I am delighted to see that it is catching on quite steadily in recent years. When I did my undergraduate research paper on the topic in 1998, there were about 850,000 homeschoolers nation-wide and, according to a Department of Education report, there were more than 1.5 million homeschoolers, (or 3% of the school population), in 2007. And this seems to be a conservative estimate, with some data suggesting homeschooling numbers well over 2 million.

While religious conservatives continue to be a large fraction of the homeschool population, the most growth is occurring in more mainstream populations, like urban, middle-class parents who want to stay in the city and not have their kids attend public or private school; suburban parents who are dismayed by the intense focus on standardized tests, academic rigidity, and negative social behaviors like bullying; and others who are disillusioned by the intense academic competition exhbited by students in private-- and some public-- schools.

According to an October 2008 New York Times article, "home-schooling is becoming more popular in New York City, with more than 2,600 students registered this year, up from nearly 1,600 in 2001, according to the New York City Department of Education." That's impressive growth, and I think we're seeing similar trends in urban areas across the country.

Interesting Thought on Socialization

In seeing how gregarious M is and how interested she is to meet new people and make new friends, I had a thought about the homeschooling-socialization notion: I wonder if she/they will not learn how to be as standoffish and reserved as many kids are. That is, at some point along the way we learn that not everyone wants to be our friend and we learn to put up barriers and form social cliques. They may not learn this, or at least not as overtly as they would in school. To me, this is exactly the kind of socialization that I think is detrimental to a person's development and am glad that they won't be "learning" this behavior... but it is a provocative question: Is it bad to not learn to be aloof and cliquey?....

On another note, we had our movement class at the Y today. Seriously, not a day now goes by when someone doesn't ask me, "How old is M?" Answer: "Almost 3." Question: "Oh, so where does she go to school?"

Purposeful Parenting

As soon as we made our decision to stay in the city and homeschool, I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted. It felt like the perfect choice for us. And I almost immediately began to see my parenting role in a new and far more productive, fulfilling way.

While I had been actively involved in teaching my kids, I had increasingly felt that what I was teaching them or providing them would be a means to an end: a way of preparing them for success in pre-school and beyond. I was also getting stressed about which pre-school to select and none of them appealed to me for a variety of reasons, including days that seemed too long, curricula that seemed too rigid, costs that seemed too extreme, and parental expectations that seemed too unreasonable (like contributing a hefty "donation" in addition to a $25,000 preschool tuition or participating in lots of parent-only socials and fundraisers--that is, if you can even get your child accepted into a private urban preschool).

As our focus shifted toward homeschooling, I saw things with much greater clarity and ease. I recognized and sought out learning moments in a much more meaningful and rewarding way. Learning is now learning for learning's sake.

"Purposeful Parenting" is far more enriching than more "Preparatory Parenting" I was practicing previously.

Homeschooling By Default

In my city, if you don't send your kids to pre-school when they're two, by default you are homeschooling.

I grew up in the suburbs where most kids didn't go to pre-school until the year before they started kindergarten, and even then it was only three mornings a week in the basement of some church. So I was quite shocked at the odd glances I encountered this fall when I indicated that, no, M would be home with me and not attending "school." Mind you, she's not even 3.... "Oh, so you're homeschooling," was the response I'd receive from numerous playground acquaintances or strangers. "No, I just prefer to teach my kids at home until the year before kindergarten," I'd reply. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if homeschooling would be an appropriate path for us.

I had written a research paper on homeschooling when I was in college and have always been intrigued by it. And my husband has been advocating for me to homeschool for quite awhile. The primary motivator for homeschooling, at least initially, was so that we could remain city dwellers. We don't like the trends we're seeing in public schools and the private school culture in the area doesn't appeal to us at all, so the only option is homeschool.

As I began to see what M and J and I were doing for activities each week, I saw that our "curriculum" was robust and engaging. Structured music classes, story hours, dancing and movement classes, an arts and crafts class, swim class, and informal playdates throughout the week kept us constantly learning and experiencing new things.

So I began to do more serious research on the homeschooling option for K-12, and the more I learned, the more excited and committed I became. Beyond homeschooling for simply geographic reasons, I began to realize that I wanted to homeschool for the sake of homeschooling: for the opportunities and advantages that homeschooling provides that regular schools cannot; namely, freedom, flexibility and individualized learning. In the first homeschool book I read, Homeschooling: A Family's Journey by Gregory and Martine Millman (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008), I was struck by the quote: "Today's homeschoolers succeed not because they do 'school' things better than schools do-- but because they do better things than school." I was already witnessing that we were doing better things than school with our age-appropriate activities, and that M was thriving as a result: learning to take risks, be more independent, more communicative, make friends, learn skills-- and the great part was that I was in the shadows witnessing it all.