Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Never in a million years did I imagine I would end up being part of the homeschooling community. This is our story of how we turned away from standard schooling and pretty much launched ourselves off the high-dive board into the deep end of an unknown pool!
(No, that's not us but the image is close enough to reality: older boy, younger girl and a family of four :) )
This has been by far one of the toughest decisions we have made as a family. We live in Japan and Japan is not known for being supportive of homeschoolers. While it is not illegal to homeschool (thankfully!) there are almost no organisations that would help out homeschoolers figure out important learning milestones and provide the much needed social circle for the kids. Na-uh - you're on your own out here!
Ok, ok, that's a little bit too dramatic. There are international homeschooling communities. However, most of them tend to be far out from Tokyo (I believe Okinawa and Nagano have groups), or they homeschool because of religious reasons, or (for most Japanese) they homeschool because of undiagnosed mental illnesses which makes the rigours of Japanese school unbearable.
None of the above scenarios apply to our particular lifestyle and for a long time, the decision to homeschool was very much up in the air. Taking our kids out of school will give them plenty of perks - one I'm particularly looking forward to is avoiding all the big crowds at any events and outings. However, it would also mean that they would no longer have their regular social circle. Sure they would be able to play with the kids in the playground, and sure they make friends easily, but it is not the same as seeing the same group for three quarters of the year, day in, day out.
We had already been considering how to ensure that our children are well versed in the different cultures that they are part of. They live in a Japanese environment, learning English with a Russian mother and a Portuguese father (yes, you are allowed to feel sorry for their brains!) The reality is, however, that there are more and more families in the same multicultural situation and, while we are not draconic to the point that the kids are not allowed to speak anything other than our mother tongues, both of us feel strongly that the next generation in our family should have a fairly good grasp of all four languages as well as the cultural heritage behind those languages. Would a Japanese school be able to provide that? No. Would an international school be able to provide that? Not really either. At least, not with the combination of cultures that we have. Could we find a Saturday school version for Russian and Portuguese in addition to regular school? Probably, but as a native bilingual parent, I have been through that particular torture and have described it enough to my husband that neither one of us wants to subject our kids to that. Kids are supposed to climb trees and have fun and that won't happen if they have 10-12 extra school hours on the weekends.
So we were stuck. Too afraid to take out kids out of the traditional schooling system that provides them with the foundational knowledge and the social circle they require; too frustrated with the inability to provide them with the much needed knowledge of our home countries. Too terrified to let go of the free time school allowed us as parents to work and (in my case particularly!) "pull ourselves together;" too anxious that we do not get enough quality time with our little treasures because we are all tired and grumpy at the end of the day (sound familiar?)
And then came Covid-19......Needless to say that Covid has been such a massive influence to all out lives. During the first lockdown it hit me hard just how mindlessly boring some of the tasks can be in school. Mind you, I have incredible respect for the teachers pulling themselves together so quickly to ensure that learning carried on smoothly. However, despite having loads of support from hubby, I personally found it difficult to make sure that the kids were both up to speed and inevitably it meant that I was teaching them one by one and the second child was climbing the wall in the meantime. Literally! It inspired me to get a climbing rope and suspend it in the doorway to allow them to get some steam out.
This setup could not continue very long. It took me a surprisingly short amount of time to realise that our well-being as a family was far more important than sitting down each day to watch a set of 10 recorded videos with each child. Soon, Miss 5 (as she was at the time) was joining her older brother for most of his tasks except for Maths and English and it ended up working rather well. She was happy to be "involved" in older brother's work and I was able to relax a bit knowing that they were both doing activities at the same time AND it actually gave my husband some time to do his own work. Needless to say, with this setup we found that most of the bookwork got done within about two hours in the morning and, given that we all get up by 7am, sometimes we were done by half 9! (Give me five, No-Commute!!!!!)
And this is what really triggered our "let's do this" conversations. We were saving massive amounts of time on the commuting, kids had the "boring" work done before lunch on most days and could then do things they were interested in, we are both in a position to be able to work from home and therefore able to provide the learning, and we had more free time at the end of the day to pursue our interests. When we officially start homeschooling in September 2021, the kids will be free for the first time to choose their clubs and extra-curricular activities in a way that was simply not possible before because of time constraints. They would be getting home around 4pm, tired and grumpy, and we just didn't have the heart to make them attend clubs on top of that and instead preferred to let them loose in our local park or have some down-time at home.
So this is our story of how we went from firm believers in the school system, to wondering what it's like on the other side of the fence, to actually jumping the fence to try in out!
What's your story? We would love to hear what prompted you to make the leap!