We moved to Okinawa with Zoe when she was a newborn. We put her in Japanese preschool and that was sort of a disaster (but that has nothing to do with why I homeschool, so let me get back on topic). The summer that Zoe turned five and was heading into kindergarten I had a wake up call. Mind you, at this time I also had a three year old and a newborn and was doing full-time ministry--so thoughtful moments were few. In July of that summer I realized we didn't have plans for Zoe's kindergarten.
Because we were not active duty military we did not have the privilege of sending her to the Department of Defense School (well, we could have for a fee of $18,000 per year). There was one private school option, Okinawa Christian School International. In fact, the bus stopped right in front of our house and they had a discount for missionaries. We learned that this option would cost us around $5,000 per year and also that kindergarten was all day--so Zoe would be gone from 7:30am to 3:30pm. This option did not sit well with me because the price seemed steep for kindergarten and I really didn't want to send my five year old away for eight hours a day. We didn't feel good about putting her in Japanese public school because we do not speak the language and didn't want to be unable to converse well with her teachers.
So there we were: no American public school, not a great private school option, and not willing to do the Japanese public school option. I honestly sat down at my kitchen table, pulled out my laptop, and googled "homeschool." That's how I got started. Not very inspiring, is it?
I was overwhelmed by the options, as there are so many now. Over 3% of American kids are now home schooled and the market is flooded with curriculum options and tools. Not only did I need to wade through the available options I also had some personal bias and misconceptions to get over. After talking to many wise and older moms and also meeting some incredible young adults who were the product of homeschooling, my quest became less overwhelming.
I settled on purchasing a curriculum that did a lot of the thinking for me. We use Sonlight. I like it because everything I need for the entire school year comes to me in a box (from books to science lab materials to handwriting paper, it's all there--which is a must if you live overseas). I also love that Sonlight tells me exactly what to do in every subject every day for a 36-week school year. It takes all of the guesswork out of the painful wondering of whether or not I am teaching my kids what they're supposed to be learning. I know there are many, many other excellent curriculums out there. But I am not inclined to window shop, so I'm sticking with what's worked for us so far.
In August 2008 our first Sonlight box arrived and we started our homeschool career. I was really surprised when I LOVED it. I had a blast teaching Zoe. She and her sisters now also really enjoy it. Don't get me wrong--most days are fairly messy, it's all far from perfect--but we're learning together and having a great time.
I have a few more things to share about our homeschool journey, but I'll close for now. The main point I want to make today is that homeschooling has been a surprising joy for me. I'm four years and four kids into it now and I really like it and so do they. Homeschooling isn't reserved for ultra-conservative jumper wearers on society's fringe--anyone can do it and I think almost anyone would find they enjoy it. We found ourselves in a situation where we didn't have much of a choice, but for those of you with a buffet of choices, I would encourage you to think outside the box and not robotically follow what the US Department of Education says you should do. They're your kids!
Zoe and Abby Grace sitting at our school table drawing a bean sprout in their science notebooks.