Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dealing with Doubters, Part 1 (Homeschooling the Preschool Years)

Even if you have only just begun homeschooling, you have probably already encountered doubters and dissenters on your journey. For me, the first objections came before my daughter, who I will call Beezy, was old enough for kindergarten. My small family moved from Columbus to my hometown in northwest Ohio, when Beezy was 3. My grandma brought up the subject of a local preschool held at her church. As strange luck would have it, Beezy was not completely potty-trained, so I was off the hook. We did not have to make a decision that year.

By the time Beezy was 4, my husband and I were pretty sure we wanted to homeschool, and family members were aware of this. But my mother-in-law offered to pay for preschool, and upon hearing this Grandma delivered enrollment papers to us on multiple occasions, and even gave them to my mother-in-law! In hindsight my grandmother's intentions strike me as endearing, but it was quite distressing at the time. I called the preschool for Grandma's benefit, but many attempts to contact the director with my questions were unsuccessful, and from the one time I had spoken with her, it was clear that there was no real orientation program. The parents were to come on a particular evening and fill out paperwork, and no thorough discussion of the program was going to be given at any time.
I was used to the procedures of the Montessori school that I had taught at in Columbus, where there were numerous opportunities for parents to be indoctrinated into the Montessori method, so I was discouraged by this different situation. But mostly, I didn't see the point in having Beezy get used to going somewhere else for school, and then for kindergarten switching to homeschooling. Even if someone else was paying for preschool, it seemed like the money could be better spent. My Montessori training includes ages 3 to 6, so I was perfectly qualified to teach my child. Not that it takes special training to do so, but it seems it would have given others extra confidence in me to do the job.
I had read some opinions from early child development professionals suggesting that formal academic training is actually harmful to preschoolers. It seemed like the best idea to me to "follow the child," a term used in Montessori for child-centered learning. In the Montessori method, the key is a prepared environment with engaging, auto-educative activities that the children are allowed to freely choose, once they are shown how to properly use them. I had also read books by John Holt and became interested in unschooling, which basically involves answering the child's questions and facilitating in the learning process based on the child's interests. This reminded me of Montessori's "follow the child" philosophy, so for preschool, this was the way we went.

We had a Leap Frog magnetic alphabet on the refrigerator. Beezy began to ask what sound all kinds of words started with. I would say both the name of the letter and the sound it makes. In Montessori, the child learns the phonetic sounds first, using cut-out, mounted sandpaper letters. I found these letters at a consignment sale, so we began to work with those. Rather than have my mother-in-law pay for preschool, we asked her to help by providing art supplies that are difficult to come by where we live, and she was happy to do so. Beezy has been able to paint a zillion pictures on her easel, usually on a donated newspaper end roll from my aunt who works for the paper.

Being read to daily (the number one best thing a parent can do!), board games, tumbling lessons, story time at the library, Sunday school and other church programs, arts and crafts through our town's Parks and Recreation Department, nature explorations, museum trips, t-ball, soccer, play dates, and various other activities rounded out Beezy's "preschool."
Be aware, however, that no matter what great things you do for your child, the concerns of some people will not be alleviated, which was the case with my grandmother. They may be worried about socialization or just have negative preconceptions about homeschoolers. The hardest part in this situation was that Grandma had always been my champion. She was the one person in the world who had always provided me with unconditional love and acceptance, and for the first time ever, she was angry with me (for choosing not to send Beezy to preschool). This came as a shock. Had I stayed in Columbus and decided to homeschool, I don't think it would have been such an issue.
Ironically, I had moved back to my home town in great part to be closer to my grandparents. Grandma is one of the most important people in my life, someone I love dearly, and I did not want to lose this relationship. I also knew that my choices for my child had to come first. At the time, Grandma was having health problems that her doctors were unable to diagnose and treat effectively. Though the situation caused me terrible pain, I knew she wasn't herself, and I forgave her. For a long time, though, homeschooling was the invisible elephant in the room.

The silver lining is that these kinds of problems can be a catalyst for personal growth and spiritual healing, which I will explore in another post. Grandma has still expressed concerns at times, but our relationship is not only okay, it is as close as ever. In fact, she encouraged me to write about these issues and not to give up my mission for this blog, despite the discouragement of others. Most people are really not trying to vex you; they are sincerely concerned. In Part 2, I will discuss tactics for dealing with the doubters, and some of the reasons that I believe are behind their resistance.