Most of you who read this blog probably know that I was home schooled from second grade until I graduated high school. Matt was also home schooled off and on as well as attending various private schools (his family moved several times), a couple of which were started or run by his parents. Unlike most of my generation, I never minded being home schooled. I was always involved in church groups and home school groups. I loved shared classes and being able to learn at my own pace. However, I never, not in a million years, thought that I would become a home school mom!! Can I just say, that of all the directions my life has taken, being a home school mom has been one of the most surprising.
Home schooling the girls has been born more of necessity than desire. There are many quality international schools in the area, but they are all on the side of town opposite our current location and even further from our future location at Neema Village. This means that, if the girls were to go to the international schools, they would spend 2+ hours in the car or bus everyday. That just seems like too much of their young lives spent commuting. In addition to that, the international schools are astronomically expensive. Now if we lived in Texas our girls would probably go to a private school, but living here, on a more limited budget, $6000 per child per year is out of our reach. So we home school.
When we tell people that our kids do not go to school and that we teach them school at home, they look at us like an elephant trunk just sprouted out of our face. To a Tanzanian, going to school is The. Most. Important. Thing. In a country where many children are kept home because of not having the financial ability to send that child to even a public school, our choice to educate at home is an alien concept. Older girls especially are kept home to help with the difficult house work, while boys are often kept from education in order to herd the family goats. So when people ask our kids where they go to school, and they say that they do school at home, our weirdness status goes up a hundred points. This is such an ironic life experience for me, it is de ja vu, because I was home schooled in the late 80′s and early 90′s, when home schooling was only for crazy hippies and uber-fundametalist Christians. My family was neither hippie or uber anything. We home schooled because it was a good fit for us. We home schooled initially because it met a need (I was very sick during second grade) and eventually because we liked it. But we got the same gaped jawed stares back then as my kids do from Tanzanians. It is hilarious to me to watch my kids responding to people in the same way as I used to respond. To hear my second grade words flow out of the mouths of my daughters.
This year we hired a teacher to help me home school the girls. Tumi is such a blessing to our family. She is newly graduated from teacher training school, a certificate class where they learn the very basics about education. She has had a steep learning curve, as she had never heard of home schooling when I hired her. She has done a fantastic job and it has given me a freedom and peace of mind that has made our ministry sustainable. I can happily head to my work at Neema House knowing that the girls education is in good hands.
Tumi and I co-teach each day. She works at Neema House in the mornings, doing a pre-school class for the kids there. In the mornings I teach the girls Bible, memory work, literature, science and reading/phonics. We have had the best time this year with our literature and science. For literature we have been reading through some pioneer classics including Caddie Woodlawn and the Little House on the Prairie series. We have been watching the Little House on the Prairie TV series as a family and the girls imagination about this time period is on overdrive. Everyday I watch Mary (Camille) and Laura (Tabitha) having adventures all around our house and yard. One of our nannies is currently in the process of sewing them long dress (no, even as a home schooler I never learned to sew!) so that they can REALLY be Mary and Laura Ingalls on our prairie. I am so blessed that the girls love to sit and listen to beautiful stories and then see them translate that to play.
The other subject that has been our favorite this year is science. I bought an open-and-go curriculum for biology, where all the reading and experiments are planned for me, and it has been a blast. I clearly remember my own fascination and eventual love for science, leading me to get a degree in biology. Being able to share that with my girls has been a highlight of my parenting life. We have studied weather, microbes, Louis Pasture, habitats, and now we are on the human body. Today we made a stethoscope out of a funnel, balloon, and plastic tubing. Then we measured our heart beats before and after exercise. The girls have kept a science journal where they draw and write about what they are learning. It has been so interesting to see how differently they each process their world. When we do an experiment and Tabitha does her science journal, she will draw an exact picture of the whole event. She sees and draws every detail including what was on the table, what she was wearing, where I was standing, the color of everything, the legs of the table. Nothing escapes her eye. Whereas Camille will draw just the items of the experiment, no table, no person, no color. Then she will diagram the experiment and explain everything with words. Watching them learn has been a window into their mind. After we finish our morning learning the girls have a break and then Tumi works with them on math, spelling, language arts, hand writing, Swahili and arts and crafts. When they finish school they play outside or play games with Tumi or do arts and crafts.
Our school is excellent. The girls are learning to love learning. They are thriving and growing and developing their own taste and personality in what makes them excited. The downside and one of my greatest prayer requests is that most hated of all home school questions….what about friends? Right now we are pretty isolated. It is not by choice, I would gladly hunt down and drive to the ends of the earth to get together with friends. However, the majority our friends have moved away this year. It is the cost of expat life, the comings and the goings of relationships. We go to a church with many children, but so far we have been unable to form a good community. It is our daily prayer that God will bring friends into our life. I am toying with the idea of starting a home school group (Can anyone get over the irony of me starting a home school group? I know there are people reading this from BCCHEA who should be laughing.) I am also hoping that our upcoming move will open doors, or more specifically gates, with forming relationships with Tanzanian kids. In our current house there are no kids on our street, Tanzanian or otherwise. However, word is that there are several neighbor kids around our new house. I am confident that God is going to answer this prayer and bring friends into our life, not just for the girls, but for Matt and I. Until then, I rejoice that the girls love to play with each other.
A question I get asked frequently is when are my kids going to go to ‘real’ school. I always try not to bristle at that and bite my tongue about how I feel our home school is just as good as ‘real’ school. But the truth is, that there are days, sometimes frequently, when I pray that God opens a door for the girls to go to school. I have a feeling that this is the prayer of many a home school mom. I am content if He does not, and I know that He will provide what is best for our family. Not only did He see fit to make me a home school mom, but a happy one who loves facilitating the education of my girls. I love seeing them learn about His creation. It was a decision born of necessity, and continued in joy. It is a full circle I would never have expected, but would not change.