Monday, January 26, 2015

Grace and School

Grace. There is so much to say about my sweet, spunky, three and a half year old. She's inquisitive, dramatic, extremely verbal, and loves books. She loves her friends and she is one hundred percent an extravert. She is happiest when we are on the go and around other people. She is emotionally and socially intelligent. She loves to be played with but hasn't quite yet discovered her imagination.

Most of all, Grace loves school.

Adores it.

And it looks like Grace and schooling will always be an adventure for us.

At four months old she had to attend a little local day care that had horrible health and safety conditions and I never felt a peace about taking her there. I had to though. I had one year left of my Arabic language program and, at the time, there weren't any other available options.

When we finished our studies and moved away, I was so glad to have her home with me and I loved (almost) every minute of it.

During that year, from the time she was 18 months to just shy of being 2 and a half, her personality really developed and I knew that she would love school and the classroom setting. She hated being home and she wanted to be around people (people, PEOPLE!) every minute of every day. And I wasn't quite cutting it. She didn't (and still doesn't,) have the best imagination and the ability to just play well with what's in front of her. She wants direction and guidance. Constantly.

When we went to the States, our church in Tennessee let Grace attend the half day preschool program there for free while we were in town. She was head over heels within days of starting. She talked about her teacher and her friends and even though they weren't really learning anything academic, her social and emotional skills really took off.

When we returned overseas in January of 2014, just shy of her third birthday, our lives were so upside down for so many months that there was no way we were starting her in school, or so I thought. But, through the grace of God, a spot opened up at a preschool that was most in line with what we would expect from a US preschool and we had many friends who recommended it. Grace went for the final term, April through the end of June, and was in class with her very best friend, three half days a week.

I loved it. Grace loved it. The break from each other was so good for both of us and gave me time to get things done with just one little one under foot. But I was heartbroken. There was no way we could afford it for another semester, not to mention another year. Plus, her preschool said that the next year Grace would only be eligible for their full week program, which we did not want to do.

The system here is so different. Grace would be eligible to start in KG1 (Pre K in the US, but here it is part 1 of kindergarten,) as a brand new 3 year old. She would be in full day class and her going to school would save her a spot in a reputable school. If I can be honest here, there was NO WAY we could afford sending her to private school (private schools are the only option here,) for two extra years before she even turned five and started what we consider kindergarten. Nor do I feel that full day schooling is best for little 3 and 4 year olds. The opportunity to play and rest when needed is very important for these little souls.

So the summer of 2014 I wrestled with what to do with Grace. How was she going to continue growing and thriving when I knew that a classroom situation is the best thing for her? I had no answer and felt no peace. I was a wreck. It really is a horrible feeling to know that there is a best thing for your child but that you can't provide that for them. It made me feel like I was back in language school and having to place her in a situation where I knew she would not thrive.

Then, two weeks before the school year started the preschool secretary emailed me and told me that they changed their policy. Grace could still go to a three day a week, half day program. And they had a spot for her. And they had a spot for Sophia on the same three days. Would I be interested?

Yes! Of course I was!

But how would we ever afford it?

Through providence alone, we received an equivalent to a language study grant so that I could continue in my Arabic studies for the semester. The money covered any childcare expenses so that I could study and talk with a local speaker in peace.

 I thought it would only be for the Fall semester and was torn because it would mean Grace would be home for a year and a half before eligible for US equivalent of Kindergarten here. How could I nurture and grow her in the way that she needed without running all over town to play dates?

Again, we were surprised when the grant came through again and we were given one more term of school. The girls both started at their preschool earlier this month for, what I considered would be, their last and final term that runs through March. We are praying for a miracle, that a grant would come through and that I could continue my language studies very soon after Luke is born, so that the girls could finish the school year out. Or we are praying for a large sum to somehow appear in our bank accounts, haha.

I would like to clarify that there is always the option to "Homeschool," Grace and Sophia.

At this time, homeschooling does not seem like the best choice for Grace. She needs the classroom structure and environment and she does better with someone else as a teacher. We are trying to reevaluate very often though, as I know this can change from one school year to the next, or even more frequently. We don't have the great co-op situations or classes that churches can offer in the States, and I do think that would make homeschooling more doable for Grace.

Sophia is still a big question mark. I think she could do well with homeschooling. And though she loves her teacher and classroom, her behavior is not as adversely affected when she is home all day with me. She is only two though, so we will see!

I also want to clarify something else: this was never, ever, EVER how I thought I would feel about schooling. I was infatuated with the idea of homeschooling before Grace came along. I loved it, researched it, and learned about it as much as possible. I knew all of the different curriculum and their pros and cons. I knew the different learning philosophies and models and I followed many people on their quest to homeschool. AND I was a certified Elementary educator with classroom experience. And I still loved the idea of homeschooling.

As an aside, I don't believe what us moms do at home (most of the time,) with our preschoolers, should be called homeschooling, but that just may be a game of semantics. I think that a mom, at home with her kids, teaching them things, creating with them, and playing with them, is just being a great mom! My mom taught me to read at home before kindergarten and it was never considered "homeschool." There are always those cases where the planning and time going into it would be equivalent to a K-12 grade homeschool day so I am not discrediting anyone who feels that is what they are doing. Like I said though, just semantics and just my opinion.

That being said, I DO supplement with an at home reading curriculum and we LOVE it. We use All About Learning's Pre-Reading program with Grace (and Sophia is often in the room,) and she does so well with it. The lessons are quick, easy, and foundational. I love seeing Grace progress through some important pre reading skills in a fun and engaging lesson with ME as her teacher!

Whenever we finish and look forward to the next school year, 2015-2016, when there are no more preschool options, we will move onto their reading curriculum.

Was that confusing enough? Did I lose some of you when I said it shouldn't be called "homeschooling," before kindergarten? In the end, it's all about doing what is best for each and every one of your own children. Grace's situation has been back and forth, with having to come to a crossroads every 3-4 months, but we are so thankful that the opportunities that have been placed in front of us! We will take any changes in our own plans and ideas with as much grace, humility, and patience as possible. If there is anything I've learned over the last 6 plus years it is that my own plans for things never turn out the way I want them to!

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