Tuesday, January 13, 2015

some hard choices for next year

This past Sunday was the height of insanity: we attended an open house for one local dayschool, followed by a movie screening for "Class Dismissed". Oh, and it was my daughter's birthday, she turned 5, just the age for kindergarten or for chumash, depending on your perspective.

I have four kids, and I am expecting. I am also drowning. We are told that real drowning is really quiet, you have to watch for signs of it instead of expecting a victim to make a big loud splash and call for help. I feel that I am openly and loudly putting the signs out there that I am drowning, but I guess it appears to be quiet from the side, and a lot of people choose to look the other way.

I am very committed to the ideals of homeschooling. I know what it feels like when it is going smoothly, when kids are learning, when the sense of contentment and satisfaction fills the air. I also know what it feels like when things chafe and grate, and every day starts on a sour note and goes downhill from there. Lately, it's been feeling like drudgery, not unlike the feeling of school. There has been yelling and talking back, tantrums, messes, broken promises, unmet expectations (on both sides), and a whole lot of unhappiness. Some days I feel that we do not have a plan, others I feel overscheduled. And then throw in a newborn of unpredictable temperament into the mix, and you've got yourself a hot mess.

So I have been agonizing over the hardest decision: what to do with the kids for next year? Do I simply send all of them out, to give myself a year to regroup? Do I send out my oldest, to separate him from his impressionable brother, who is slowly coming into his own, in hope that school will give him structure and consequences? Do I send out 8 yo, hoping to alter the dynamic by having the "hardest" child out, and giving him a taste that other kids his age struggle with the same material? Do I send out my daughter, who is eager to go to school? Do I send out my 1 yo, in hopes that his active energy will be managed better outside the home and I will have some peace and quiet? Do I send out some combination of the above? Keep the older boys home while sending out the younger ones? Keep the younger ones home, do workbooks and reading at my daughter's bidding, and give them a chance to play and explore? Send out my oldest and my daughter, while focusing more on 8 yo?

I mull all these over and over in my head, I toss and turn and miss on sleep, yet the solution eludes me. I told the kids that school is a real possibility for next year, and they might not get much say in this decision.

The local, closest dayschool will not take 8 yo, despite incredible strides in his behavior over the past 6 months, since we have not started on medication or therapy. They would take my oldest son and daughter, and I could send 1 yo to a playgroup around the corner, running on the same schedule as a the school. But 10 yo will be in middle school, so drop off and pick up will be different from kindergarten and from 1 yo's playgroup.

The dayschool that held open house this past Sunday is probably off the table. They have the exact same schedule from infants through middle school, so that is a huge convenience factor. However, we attended on a Sunday, and all the kids that we met in the hallways, practicing for a play or basketball, did not wear a kippa. All the teachers and administrators were wearing slacks. They are clearly not marketing to the frum community. While the school is under Orthodox auspices, it is not a place where Judaism seemed to be a way of life. G-d did not enter the picture, but there were sprinklings of "feel-good" Jewish stuff, like random relics. The administrator obviously was more comfortable promoting the secular studies and enrichment over Judaics.

When we moved here, my husband quipped: there are two dayschools here: one does not believe in G-d and the other does not believe in dinosaurs. I hate having to decide between these two options.

A snippet: as my boys were touring the classrooms, they were reading posters on the walls. They wanted to stop and investigate further; the administrator was more interested in showing off "learning environment" and moving on. My oldest caught a math problem and noted how the prices for bananas and oranges in it were deflated. She exclaimed: you must have been to a grocery store to notice this! So I will be substituting real life for this educational fakeness which will supposedly be giving my kids real-life skills like thinking which this administrator insisted needed to be taught precisely through her thinking map program. I am sure it works great for some, and confuses others, but it sure makes administration feel great: we are teaching kids to think!

There is a third Orthodox option here, a Montessori-based Chabad school. It is on two campuses, one for preschool and kindergarten, and the other for elementary. We toured it with 8 yo back in November, as a possibility. They are holding their open house later this week, just for adults. The advantage is that their Judaism is authentic AND warm and fuzzy. The school is smaller, and they will probably take all four kids without too many discussions. The disadvantages are many: different approach to Judaism, which is more of a concern for older boys; weak academic stimulation due to poor resources, and kids are likely to languish without school supporting them or letting us know until they fail some sort of standardized test. Then again, if the goal is just to park kids somewhere not too damaging for a year and regroup, this might be an ideal place.

Now, for "Class Dismissed": I liked the movie. I recommend it for everyone: for those whose kids are in school. for those who are homeschooling, for those who contemplate homeschooling, but would never do it, etc. I think everyone can find something to take away from the movie. It follows a famly with two middle-school daughters, where mom pulls the girls out and chooses to homeschool. They try different approaches, talk to other homeschooling families, question their decision, try charter school, finally settling on an approach which works for them. After we finished, my husband said that he feels strengthened in his resolve to homeschool. I chuckled; I am committed to homeschooling, too, only we have slightly different circumstances. And this is where fantasy rubs against reality.

I am not aiming for school at home. I have dropped many of my expectations. I am ready to follow my children's lead and give them opportunities to pursue what interests them. The problem is, I have four of them already; I do not have a spouse who can routinely take kids with him to work, and I do not have that third parent (the girls' parents are divorced, so the girls spend some time with their father) to give the kids over and get some personal space. In fact, when they interviewed people on the street, the supposedly false assumption about needing three parents struck me as true.

What I do have are four kids withe very different personalities and needs (about to become five). One wants to socialize the whole day through, two want to sit at home and read. One wants an occasional play date, one wants a bunch of friends over for a competitive board game. One wants park non-stop, one wants a pet, one wants high-level science stimulation. Two crave imaginative play. One wants to scale every mountain, explore every rock, climb every tree. One wants Minecraft creativity and online socialization.

And then there is me, who also wants something, most likely a quiet hour here and there, and a nice hot cup of beverage, preferably the one I do not have to prepare myself, or clean up afterwards...

Oh, and then there is my husband. whose poor head is ready to explode as he is looking over dayschool tuition. It's a fact: even as a doctor, he is not making enough for us to be able to pay any of it in full. It is not a matter of being comfortable, or indulging; it's a matter of affordability. He is not making hundreds of thousands of dollars that would offset 50K that it would take to send my kids to school. So we will have to enter the world of explaining what is going on, how we have crazy medical school loans, how we are paying for every little aspect of our life ourselves.

I want homeschooling to work out, but I do not see how to do it successfully on my own. I don't want to send my kids to school and drive ourselves further into debt. But I also need to accept the reality that I cannot afford full-time help or assistant, and nobody in my immediate family will step up and take on that role. I also have to accept that my husband cannot do more educationally for my kids than sporadic learning, nor that he can reliably give me that breathing space. I will have to manage this aspect of my life by myself.


  1. Wish you could move to my city. Great schools, lots of support. And schools willing to work with parents and fundraise tuition. Good luck momma!!

  2. What about online classes for some? That worked for us this year when I felt to overwhelmed to begin teaching Mishnayos to my oldest. He enjoyed the onlne classes so much that he begged to be put in to more classes. But his personality suits online classes. I am not sure if my others would do as well. B''H we aso have 5 children.

    Also, I obviously don't know anything about the Montessouri school you are referring to, but generally speaking Montessouri schools champion self directed learning and are often able to provide a stimulating learning environment, even with limited resorces. Perhaps you will see that in the upcoming open house?

    May Hashem give you clarity and peace of mind!

  3. Schooling choices are difficult. I am a limudei kodesh special education teacher and I have dedicated my life to helping children succeed academically in learning Chumash, Gemara and kriah. Many of my students face similar challenges in trying to find a school that meets their special needs.I run an online resource room in which I build the skills of children all over the world. You can view videos and find further information on my website: http://www.thekeytotorah.com/the-online-resource-room.html. Please share this service with your readers. Thank you.
    Rabbi Yaakov Aichenbaum
    MA Spec. Edu.