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The transition to homeschool and back again

Twin mom shares her successes and failures on her journey to public school

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Roxanne Ferber's twins were enthusiastic about learning as homeschool students. They learned through hands-on activities such as this trip on a Spanish fighting ship. Their transition to public school eliminated outings like this and left them feeling frustrated.

Making the choice to become a homeschool family is a very personal decision. I have friends who homeschool to keep their kids safe from violence, some for religious reasons and some enjoy the extra time with their children.

For me, homeschooling provided my daughters and I with enriching experiences and amazing adventures.

The decision to homeschool
I really had no intention of homeschooling Camille and Nora. It seemed like a whole lot of work and I worried about feeling isolated.

A constant list of pros and cons ran through my head as well as criticism from friends. One beautiful summer morning when my twins were just about two years old, I was pushing them on the swings in our backyard when it hit me that kids their age spend most of the day inside. I decided then to homeschool them for as long as they would let me and that homeschool did not have to be a final choice, but one I could assess year to year.

Homeschool allowed my preschoolers to enjoy full days of play without the pressure of academics. We spent hours at the local parks, took advantage of library programs that included painting, stories and music and we traveled to kid museums.

My kids learned their ABCs and 123s in real time and not from a worksheet. They were so eager to learn I almost could not keep up with their need to know more about animals, the ocean, art and science.

As much as I loved it, it wasn't always easy balancing the terrible twos (and threes) alongside lesson planning and managing a home. Each school year had its struggles and adjustments, but for us nothing was more difficult than transitioning from homeschool to public school.

READ MORE: Homeschool 101

Trouble with transitions
My children began their first year of public school in kindergarten. Our first obstacle was adjusting to an entirely different schedule.

We had a tight routine at home and our learning was constructed around our daily rhythm, but we were not married to any specific order of the day.

We also had to change our morning routine. We were used to a leisurely home-cooked breakfast together at the table before we started our day. Now we were at the mercy of the bus schedule, and the morning was satiated by convenience foods. The day was no longer our own to make. We began living on someone else's clock.

The biggest adjustment facing my almost 6-year-olds was performing on demand. At home there were far fewer worksheets and tests than in public school. We did most of our learning outside, at the library and in museums.

Being locked in one building the whole day was new. Outside playtime was reduced to just 20 minutes a day, and it had to be earned.

Lesson plans no longer included the chance to explore and discover at their own pace. They were now required to be plugged into the same work at the same time as 19 other students. It did not matter if Camille and Nora were ahead of what was being taught, they were expected to complete the work they were given.

This was a huge change. After a few months my kids, who once woke up eager to read a new book or to look up facts about dinosaurs, were beginning to lose their enthusiasm for learning and wanted to stay home. They no longer enjoyed going to school and their behavior at school began to change.

READ MORE: Ready for kindergarten...or not?

I put my twins into separate kindergarten classrooms thinking this would allow them to learn and grow on their own. My daughter Camille had a wonderful, nurturing teacher who saw her many strengths. My other daughter Nora, sadly, was assigned a teacher so bent on perfection that it became unbearable for my child. She began breaking down during homework if she made the slightest mistake.

"It HAS to be perfect! If it isn't perfect my teacher won't like me! My teacher says there are 100 ways to do it wrong, but only ONE WAY to do it RIGHT!" That's when I knew our time in public school was limited.

Heading back home
After about six months of meetings with teachers and the principal and advocating for my daughter, I pulled both of my kids from public school. I was tired of hearing over and over what things my daughter could not do perfectly, and hearing her described as "absolutely terrible" to work with.
It felt unfair to my other daughter who had a great teacher, but the constant anxiety of hearing her sister crying in the hallway was making her so stressed out.

My kids finished the remainder of their kindergarten year at home with a tutor and we reinstated our days of adventure.

We returned to playing in the park, we toured a Spanish fighting ship, we picnicked by waterfalls and hiked to the river for our science lessons. I could see my children begin to love learning again.

I wish I could say the tears ended, but every morning for months after returning home my daughter would crawl into bed with me and cry about how horrible her kindergarten year was. And then I'd cry too.

READ MORE: Choosing a homeschool curriculum

Giving it another go
It was hard for me to see the social media posts of all of their friends graduating from kindergarten to the first grade without them. My kids were not even given the option to participate in the ceremony,
or even given a certificate to acknowledge how hard they worked. I felt resolved to homeschool my kids again because surely public school had failed us.

But my kids began asking to go back. They missed having their own friends, riding the bus and all the special classes like art, music and the library. It took many months for me to realize that public school was not the problem for us, it was just that particular public school where controlling their kindergarten students was more important than encouraging them.

We toured other schools in our district and settled on another elementary school across town. It offered a more child centric classroom that my kids needed.

I am proud of how well they have moved on and have learned to thrive. Math is a favorite subject again, homework takes less than ten minutes, and, most importantly, both kids arrive at school with a smile every single day.  

My children now attend public school surrounded by teachers who love them and an administrator that encourages them. They are both straight A students and have won awards for reading and being the most respectful in their class. I think all of us have grown since that first horrible year in public school.

Homeschooling worked for us when we needed it, and if there ever comes a time we need it again I am sure we'll all be ready.

Roxanne Ferber is a twin mom and freelance writer living in Saugerties. Homeschool teacher is just one of the many hats she has worn as a mom. She also makes extraordinary food her kids won't eat and writes about her parenting frustrations on her own blog at TheWhateverMom.com.