On Monday, my last homeschooler will load up a backpack and lunchbox and head for school.

She’s thrilled.  She went to shadow for three days as a preparation for next fall, and had a marvelous time.  She came home saying, “I want to join!”  I wasn’t at all surprised, and actually had expected and encouraged her to consider it before this year, but she didn’t feel ready.  Now she does. 

 Looking back at the baby years, child led weaning, and the principles of attachment parenting, I’m grateful that I have learned to trust each child’s unique schedule in moving toward independence. A bird pushed from the nest will certainly fly, but one who gets to decide when it’s time to go has the feeling of self determination that can’t come from being pushed.  Curiosity and readiness determined our learning choices in homeschooling, and the choice to go to school works the same way.

She’ll attend the small Montessori school where Connor is thriving this year.  There are less than twenty kids in the entire sixth grade, and more than half of them are Molly’s tribe of girl scouts (the group I co-lead.)  One of her two teachers is a scout mom we’ve known for years.  The art teacher is a student of mine at the guild, the music teacher Molly has known through community band.  There are kids there she has known from the UU church since preschool.  So there’s nothing big and scary; she says she is surprised that she’s not nervous about starting, since she often hesitates before big changes.

A combination of financial aid and the money we’ve squirrelled away for Molly’s education have made this an option.  The timing couldn’t be better, work wise: I am at the college/guild/studio during much of the day now, and Jeff oversees her on line schooling, but beginning in March he’ll be teaching part time in three places: two on-line biology classes for out of town universities,  and an environmental science for a local business college. The grandparents are in Florida, and Molly doesn’t love being home alone. So this works. Her teachers have no qualms about her starting mid year, and see it as a nice way to learn the ropes before the much more self guided junior high experience.

Anyway, the time is right.  Every year, since grade school, when we did our year end homeschool portfolio assessments with the obligatory certified teacher, we’d go out to dinner to celebrate “graduation” and ask the kids how they wanted to school next year.   They had friends and teams and sports and scout troops with schooled kids, and had some idea of the options, but they continued to choose homeschooling.  

We had a wide tribe of homeschool friends, a huge grassroots organization of families who did museum art classes and docent guided tours, lego robotics teams, weekly gym classes at the rep, weekly park days, HELP meetings and social gatherings.   There was a group of kids they had grown up with who came to do clay at the studio, or plant a tree for earth day, came to birthday parties and invited them for sleepovers.  They resisted school because of what they would miss.

As they reached their teens, though, there were fewer big kids at the gatherings.  I joke that Tyler chose to start school in 9th grade at Toledo School for the Arts for that fine academic reason, “to meet girls”.  Connor started a year later in 8th grade at the Montessori, which badly needed some boys in a girl-heavy class.  Molly has watched them both make a fairly seamless transition.  They may grouse about homework but they come home full of stories, and look forward to heading back to their friends at school on Mondays.

The teen years are a perfect time to head out on your own for parts unknown, take on new adventures, feel more independent. School — a concept which is old hat for a lot of their peers — is a whole new experience for my kids right now, and the freshness of it has kept them from being bored or jaded.  At this age they know who they are, are not particularly blown off course by peers, and have a value system firmly intact.

It was a little nerve wracking for me, as their sole teacher for the first decade, to turn them over to school, wondering what we had missed at home and where the gaps would be.  I felt like their grade cards would be grading me, and how well (or badly) I had done in guiding their learning.  It was especially disconcerting because we had used a very child led, interest based “unschooly” approach through grade school, letting them run with their favorite subjects and blurring the lines between living and learning.

Our house was full of animal cages and tank critters, telescopes and microscopes, maps and posters.  A time line down the hallway with thumbtacked kid art traced civilization from the fertile crescent to the fall of Rome. Another tracked Ohio history, and a winding bit of yarn traced the timeline of the planet (in which scale all of human civilization was concealed under the thumbtack holding the end to the wall.)  The bathroom was wallpapered with old national geographic maps, and shadowbox kitchen counters held their collection of fossils, geodes, arrowheads and coins.

When they cleaned fish, mom printed out fish anatomy so we could locate the parts.  When we camped in Hocking we learned geology and studied rock strata, went caving, read aloud about what surrounded us.  On long drives we read the history of each state when we crossed a state line, and the kids had their own maps to chart our course and color the flags and state birds.

I started Singapore math with them fairly early, my one concession to a traditional  curriculum timeline, based on the “if I get hit by a bus and they end up in school” factor.   They did Rosetta Stone Spanish, hitting it with renewed interest when Uncle Cap married much loved Jenny from Columbia.   We planted our garden every year, which meant bar charts for seedlings as they popped up under lights, testing soil for Ph and nutrients, and an earthworm composter in the basement.   The kids brought in every odd seed pod, bug, turtle, egg shell or stone, often to be googled and identified.   We looked at rain barrel water under a microscope and sprouted seeds to dissect the root systems with charts.   We took a shopping cart to the library and had almost 100 books checked out at all times.

Still, it was nervy of me to ignore the standard “food pyramid” of what kids were “supposed” to be learning in this grade and that.   I was following a theory that learning is best connected to living, but the guinea pigs were the people I loved most in the world, and the stakes were their futures.  No pressure, lol.

I was reassured by their standardized testing; they all tested at twice their current grade level, a fact that I attribute more to their love of reading than our educational choices.  Those tests seem slanted toward good readers and writers, in all subjects.   But I still wondered how they would do in school: were they sheltered, naiive, vulnerable?   Poorly socialized, ripe for mockery, poorly tuned to the unspoken rules of school and the pitfalls of nerdiness?

So far, so good.  They are decent human beings.  The boys have good grades and good friends in their small, personable schools.  Unless Molly experiences some unforeseen “failure to launch”, I can soon breathe a sigh of relief: I wasn’t hit by a bus when they were little, and I apparently didn’t screw them up too badly.  They are confident, close to family, with good values and inquisitive minds.   Love of learning appears to be the key, and I needn’t have worried about whether they had enough Ohio History in second grade or whether we should have done pilgrims in October and fractions on schedule. 

Meanwhile, my house continues to morph.  High chairs and board books made way to bean bag chairs and novels.  Cloth diapers in the laundry were replaced by Tae Kwon Do gear, and now the ubiquitous giant sweat socks and school clothes.  Little blue cub scout uniforms made way for huge boy scout shirts and badge-heavy sashes.   Toys have been replaced by Connor’s fishing poles, slingshots and bb guns, and Tyler’s ipod, wii games and fencing gear.

We still value hands-on learning.  Molly will begin horseback riding lessons in spring, and is competent on the potter’s wheel.  Connor plays percussion  in a community band. He and Jeff took a wood turning class last week, and are looking for more cooking classes in spring.  Tyler’s packing for a thespians conference and attends a fencing club weekly. 

And scouting is a passion as well.  We’re both troop leaders. This weekend, Jeff and the boys are at Klondike weekend at Camp Miakonda, racing a dogsled they built (pulled by scouts in harness) against other troops, and staying up late in the cabin playing cards and board games.  My girl scouts did their winter camping last month, and are getting started on cadette silver award projects.

And now, I’m off with Molly to shop for school supplies. I’m glad she stayed home this long; it’s the tear-the-bandaid-off-slowly approach to mom letting go of homeschooling.  Jeff’s job loss kind of threw us into a schedule where more independence was inevitable, and Molly had chosen an on-line charter school this year for transition to traditional schooling, but the social pull of her girl scout friends is strong.

Logic and acceptance aside, I’m going to feel really weird on Monday morning when all my kids are, for the first time in all of life, at school.