The Reluctant Homeschool: Our Educational Journey Thus Far

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as HomeschoolersI spilled the beans in a previous post that we’ve become educational outliers – we do school at home now.

Even before I became a homeschooling mama (reluctantly, as the title reveals), I was intrigued by the educational choices of various families. I truly enjoy reading and discussing the rainbow of perspectives on everyday experiences that are common to all people (food, clothing, education, hygiene, medicine, relationships, etc.). I am fascinated by the differences, encouraged by the similarities, and drawn to each story’s underlying reasons.

In case any of you are cultural anthropology nerds like me, here’s the why and how of our homeschool journey.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

History

I grew up thinking homeschooling was both completely awesomeStay home all day! No drama! No PE!and absolutely horridWould I have to wear denim and turtlenecks? Would I fit in if my hair didn’t reach my rear end? My mom doesn’t drive a 15-passenger van.. is that ok?

I was never homeschooled as a child, and I never intended to homeschool my own children.

As an outsider looking in, I thought homeschooling was WAY too much work. I’d rather have my kids go to school. They could leave for half of the day, and I could get a job doing something I enjoyed during school hours while earning some extra money (hilarious, I know).

Homeschooling was definitely out of the question.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Math

When we moved to Germany in 2010, we thought it would only be for one year. That year turned into two, and that two turned into four. When we would visit the US, I would talk to my old friends about what their kids were learning in school, and what their educational experiences had been like (see? nerd!). It was through these conversations that I learned American kindergartens teach kids to read.

WHAT!?

German kindergartens do not teach their children any academics, only useful skills like how to manhandle power tools, chop potatoes to make soup, and scrounge around the forest for seriously cool sticks. And, even if they did teach the kids to read, it would be in German. Duh.

I suddenly realized that if (okay, WHEN) we moved back to the US, I could end up with a first-grader who was unable to read, write, or do basic math.

I felt for my children. I did not want them to be the weirdos that didn’t know anything about schoolyard politics, the latest cartoons, how to speak decent English or six year-old slang… AND they would be illiterate.

No, no, that would not do.

Homeschooling in Germany is illegal, but I figured the Germans wouldn’t mind as long as my boys went to German kindergarten, too. So, that’s what we did. German kindergarten in the morning, English homeschool in the afternoon.Thrifty Travel Mama | Our Reluctant Homeschooling Journey

English

I started with the book How to Teach Your Children to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I set my expectations low (finish the book) and got to work. Eventually, I added a math workbook, taught my son how to write English characters, and I even sprinkled in some fun activities based on the Five in a Row series.

You guys, to my utter astonishment, it worked. I cannot even express to you how mind-blowing this achievement was.

Full disclosure – we had our share of tearful, hair-pulling, fist-raising moments. But, my kid could read! And write! And do maths! And he didn’t hate me! (yet..)

At this point, I still was not on board the homeschool full-time train. When we landed in the US last October, I again met up with my friends for good ol’ what’s-your-kid-up-to chats. Alpha was now in first grade, and I wanted to know what “normal” first-graders were learning… Spelling. Science. Spanish.

CRAP.

It was then that I started to feel the tides turning. I panicked a bit, thinking about all of the things my child didn’t know. We still were technically homeless, and I had no idea how long it would be until we were settled.

Putting my sons in school and then pulling them out whenever we traveled to look for jobs was just not an option. In my own childhood, I attended 18 schools in Kindergarten-High School. I know from experience it’s terrible to constantly be the “new kid.”

I began to realize that perhaps it would be better if we homeschooled for the rest of first grade to help with the transition and then Alpha could go to the local elementary school.

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

 

Geography – Mapping Out a Plan

I scrambled to put together a loose plan of what we could manage while on the road when we had no permanent place to live and could only take what would fit in our car. We worked on plus and minus, long and short vowels, print and cursive whenever we could.

When we finally moved to Arizona for a job, I looked into the local public schools and the many wonderful charter school opportunities in our city. But, I just couldn’t bring myself to register my kids at any of them.

With a husband working all day and all night to keep one lecture ahead of his classes, a house to unpack and organize, four years of paperwork to catch up on, waves of reverse culture shock to tame, and countless other tasks to figure out and do on my own, there was one thing I could not manage – getting three kids and myself out of the house every day, twice a day, for school.

This is in no way a complaint or meant to disrespect or discount the MANY parents that do this every day. Both homeschooling and organized institutional schooling are hard on families in different ways. I know I/we are blessed with choice, and I do not take that lightly.

Once my mind was made up to give this homeschool thing a go, I bought legit curriculum and made legit lesson plans. Slowly, we worked our way up to a full load (well, for a first-grader).

I encountered the usual whining and complaining here and there, but on the whole, I felt like this experiment was still working. My kids were learning, and (surprise, surprise) I actually liked being with them. There was just one problem.

Charlie.

Spelling… T-R-O-U-B-L-E

Oh, my dear Charlie. This kid keeps me laughing, guessing, and fuming all day long. He craves attention, and when he does not get it, we all pay.

Charlie is not interested in addition or spelling rules. Charlie does not want to play quietly in his room while his brothers learn addition and spelling rules. Charlie wants to be in.your.face.all.day.long.

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Fill in the blank… Homeschooling is a ______________.

At first, I did the bulk of our school day in the afternoon while Charlie napped. That worked well, but it left me with NO quiet time to recharge. As an introvert, this was a recipe for a very mean mama and seriously stressed kids. I felt like I could tackle just about anything if I could only have an hour or two of quiet several afternoons a week.

In our new circle of friends, I started asking if any teenagers would be interested in being a mother’s helper to my absolutely charming two year-old (hey, he’s potty trained! No diapers to change! That’s got to count for something, right?).

Thank God, I was able to find two great kids willing to come over a few times a week in the morning to gain experience and a little pocket money in exchange for hanging out with a bossy awesome kid.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Science – Experimenting

Okay, that was last school year, but will we keep things the same for this year?

Yes… and no.

I absolutely agree with this post by Tsh from The Art of Simple. I love the idea of evaluating each child, each year. I am in no way anti-school, and I am not ruling out a public or charter school possibility for the future. However, for second grade and kindergarten, Alpha and Bravo will stay home.

Oh, and Charlie? He’s already signed up for preschool. 🙂

What kind of school do your kids attend? Would you change it if you could? Have you ever tried homeschooling? I would love to hear about your options – even if you think I’m nuts – and what you like and dislike about your current education situation.Signature Thrifty Travel Mamatitle photo source

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Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultWhy, hello there. Didn’t think you’d see me ’round these parts again, did you? It has been a long time. And I’ve played out this reunion in my head many times. Has there been too much space and distance? Well, let’s just let it be awkward for a minute and then be done with that.

Over now? Good, moving on!

In case you’re new here, nearly four months ago I excused myself and backed away from this blog, forcing myself to turn and take one shaky step in the direction of serious language learning.

Fighting the this is never going to work fears and I’d rather be blogging thoughts, it took all I had in me to walk in the door of the language school near my boys’ kindergarten and ask what they had available.

You see, in our little city, the options for learning a language are as follows: (1) take an intensive course at a language school which means 5 days a week, four hours a day, (2) take a course at the community college for two days a week, two hours a day, or (3) find a private German teacher and pay through the nose.

That’s it. Take your pick.

What do you think I chose? What would you choose?

Like many bloggers, I’m an introvert. I despise group work and small talk. Busy work for the benefit of the whole class kills my desire to learn. Plus, I’m a mama, and I know from my previous experience taking an intensive course that there is just NO WAY I can manage being gone all morning, every day of the week, plus do homework at night for more than one week at a time.

The second option is just too slow. Plus, I honestly had no clue what level I was or which class to take.

Believe it or not, I swallowed my thrifty ways and tossed an incredible amount of cash at a private teacher.

Gulp.

But, old habits die hard, and I could not pass up an offer I found for two weeks of nearly free German classes. The catch? It was every night from 630-830pm, the absolute worst time of the day to leave my husband to solo parent. I love that man.

Over the course of nearly sixteen weeks, I took over forty hours of private German classes as well as eighteen hours of group classes. In between that, I struggled to finish my homework with one hand while warding off the laundry, dirt, and stench beasts with the other. We may or may not have had pizza and chicken nugget dinners every other night..Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Learning a new language as an adult is incredibly humbling.

I watch my sons chatter away auf Deutsch, and I can’t help but be a tiny bit envious. It’s true that they essentially are in their own intensive course while at kindergarten four hours a day, five days a week. But, they also have no inhibitions. They’re not self-conscious at all when it comes to making mistakes or speaking with an accent. Ah, to be six again..

My German classes literally brought me to tears on several occasions because I felt so unbelievably stupid. Why is this so hard?! I would ask myself. My brain is just not wired to learn foreign languages.

Undeterred by the snotty nose and runny mascara, I kept the end goal in sight: I am doing this for my sons, to help them keep up the gift of being bilingual as well as for own enrichment and mental health (ha). So, here I am, still plowing through, one umlaut at a time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Despite the difficulty, I’m happy to say that the payoff has been huge.

HUGE!

Before these classes, I would shrink away from any opportunity to even attempt speaking German when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I started almost every encounter with, “Do you speak English?” Now, I do my best to tuck that question away and only pull it out for serious situations like doctor visits and the like.

Just yesterday, I met with another mom from my church that I barely knew. I was aware that she spoke English, but I made myself start things off with, “Wie geht’s?” (how are you?). I occasionally had to explain a few things in English, but I steered the conversation back to German after each detour. Thirty minutes of this kind of mental workout left me exhausted and literally sweating.

Oh the things I never thought I’d do!

Here are a handful of other examples that just a few short months ago would’ve been impossible..

  • Argue with a police officer about why I was breaking the rules (if you must know, I was riding my bike on the sidewalk with my kids at a dangerous intersection).
  • Select, order, and pay for festival tickets over the phone (no hand gestures!).
  • Read an entire parent letter from the kindergarten without the assistance of my pal Google translate… and understand what I read.
  • Sign up for a tandem partnership with a total stranger.
  • Consider asking all my German friends to only speak German with me (okay, I’m still on the fence about this one..).

Sounds amazing and like I’m doing swimmingly, right? Well, don’t believe everything you read.

Some days, the words won’t come. Other days, I won’t let them because I just don’t feel like it.

In between those thoughts, I wonder why I am doing this. Why am I learning another language with the intention of becoming fluent? Why am I learning German?Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

And, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a downside. There’s always a downside, isn’t there?

The truth is, I now feel like I can’t speak any language well. I often trip over words in my native language, often forgetting what common items are called in English (!). I end up stuttering and then scrunching my face up in frustration because I just can’t manage to squeeze the right words (in the correct language) out of my brain.

I mean, I love bargains and all but the whole “buy one foreign language, get a free speech impediment” thing wasn’t exactly what I had in mind..

And when I’ve had a conversation with my tandem partner, for instance, I can’t seem to turn the German off and end up jabbering away in German to my husband who would rather just understand what his wife is saying, thankyouverymuch. The Deutsch monster just won’t shut up once it has been awakened.

So, what now?

Well, I simply keep on keepin’ on. At this time, I am done actively taking classes, at least the expensive private kind. I feel like my German is at a level now that I might be able to handle a regular group class (though my introverted, anti-group-work self will surely protest this possibility).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultI bought a textbook and workbook with a DVD to keep up my independent study. But, really, what I need now is to just practice speaking as much as possible, hence the tandem partner.

And, in between all of that, I’m going to try to hang out here at Thrifty Travel Mama more regularly. But, don’t worry, I won’t start blogging in German any time soon.

Though I have missed blogging at TTM, I’ll admit it’s been a good thing for me to have a break, to refocus and, honestly, to decide whether I would like to continue writing. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do really enjoy blogging, because I often feel I have something to say either with the intention of helping others or simply throwing my two cents at the blogosphere.

So, pull up a chair, add me back to your Blog Lovin’, feedly, or subscribe to posts by email and let’s do this Thrifty Travel Mama thing again!

I often think to learn a second language you need as many of these things as possible – time, money, youth, and a live-in dictionary/language tutor. What do you think?

And, if you’ve learned another language as adult, how was your experience? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Marvel: Homeschooling in Germany – Illegal!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - MarvelsCan you believe it?  Educating children at home in Germany is illegal!  And I don’t mean illegal as in it’s illegal to operate a dance hall on a Sunday in South Carolina.  No siree, trying to homeschool your kids in Germany is dangerous business.

I’ve known about this rule for a while now, but I never gave it much thought.  When we first arrived in Germany, T-Rex was only 2, and Screech was barely 10 months old.  We had no plans to stay for more than one year.  Since children must already be 6 to start first grade, what concern was this homeschooling law to me?  Plus, I wasn’t even sure I would want to homeschool.

Actually, I’m still not sure.  But I like options.  I don’t like serious fines and legal mumbo jumbo and threats about taking away custody of my children because I might decide that a German primary school isn’t the best place for them.  Unfortunately, that’s the reality for any family who dares to fight the iron-clad, you-must-not-educate-your-children-yourself rule.

Germany is very serious about their compulsory education.  All children are required attend a state-approved school, no exceptions.  Absences must be sorted out in advance.  My neighbor had to secure special permission to take her daughter out one day earlier than the scheduled Christmas break so that the family could fly to their homeland for the holiday.  If she had not obtained this approval, she could’ve be stopped at the airport and denied boarding with her daughter.  No, this is not North Korea we are talking about; this is Germany.  One of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world is also one of the most fearful.

Fearful of what?  Of course one could argue that fanatics of any religion might want to indoctrinate their children and isolate them from peers and open thinking.  This is a concern to be sure.  But that doesn’t seem to be the underlying thought when it comes to this particular law.  No, this fear is fixated on losing control of the masses.

All governments around the world share this anxiety, at least to some degree.  If enough of the people do not agree with the government and teach their children to dissent without respect, then disastrous consequences could ensue.

While these worries may be reality in some places to some extent at some time, it’s extremely pessimistic.  Loads of creativity, innovation, and advancement are also possible, perhaps even likely.

Fortunately, not every country in Europe is as tyrannical as Germany when it comes to homeschooling.  Sweden is an ally in Germany’s prohibition, but Switzerland, France, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom allow home education to some degree.

Do some families in Germany risk fines, imprisonment, or even losing custody of their children in order to homeschool?  Yes.  Some teach at home under the radar, doing their best to avoid detectionOthers are advocating for change, allowing themselves to be examples to the world and hoping the exposure of their trials makes way for dialogue that leads to a reversal of the law.

But, what about Americans and other foreigners living in Germany?  Are they exempt from the German education laws?  Usually not.  Some members of foreign armed forces or families of diplomats can get away with it.  But everyone else must obey and send their children to a German school (public or private).

This is not to say that German schools are inherently bad or that they are brainwashing children on the sly.  I merely aim to point out the lack of choice and bring attention to the prevailing public thought that the government knows what’s best for all children in Germany.

Be thankful for your freedoms, Americans, hug your children tightly, and pray for the wisdom to handle the challenges – educational or otherwise – of raising them.

You can read another excellent post discussing homeschooling in Germany here.  If you’re looking to get involved and help a homeschooling family, you can find action steps at the end of this article.Signature-Marigold