Ahhh our favorite time of year… NOT back to school, or *new curriculum time*. Ok, it’s not our favorite time, but it might be MY favorite time! I love all of the new and innovative curriculum coming out for homeschoolers. We are secular but we’ve found a lot of value in some non-secular curriculum as well, as long as the religious aspects are easily taken out and not central to the learning process.
So what are we going with? This year the girls are actually doing two different curriculum for all subjects, although there is quite a bit of crossover in Social Studies. They are also doing music from the same curriculum, as well.
I’ve been eyeing Oak Meadow forever, and this year we are finally going for it! I found the course books used and for sale, and decided on the grade levels based on the interests of the girls. With an all-in-one curriculum like this, each subject may not be at the correct level. For example, my “fourth grader” is probably at a grade 1-2 level in reading and language arts, maybe lower in writing. But she is definitely able to do the grade 4 social studies, science, and art. So I decided to do read-alouds with the literature, and supplement the reading and writing just a little with something at her level. Our “fifth grader” is probably just below fifth grade writing, but as far as grammar and reading she is right there.
OM covers a variety of topics in science, which I felt like we will enjoy this year. We spent a year covering earth sciences, then a year doing the animal kingdom. We’re ready for a little more variety. 4th grade is very much about making observations and coming to conclusions from those observations, and 5th grade really starts using the scientific method. There is some astronomy, using a microscope, some physical science, and still quite a bit of earth and animal science which both girls continue to enjoy.
We spent a year doing the basics of government, citizenship, geography, and light generic history. Then last year we covered ancient civilizations with Torchlight, from the stone age to the Romans. I think the girls absorbed about as much of that as they could for their age, and it was very continuous from our earth science (history of the universe and earth), to ancient plant and animal life, to evolution and early human civilizations. So now we are going in the direction of local history, our state and country. 4th grade OM focuses on local topography and history, and 5th grade begins with early explorers from Europe. I do not want a Euro-centric history, however, so we are pulling from Woke Homeschooling‘s “Oh Freedom” curriculum, which tries to tell American history from the perspective of people of color, especially indigenous Americans and black Americans, although there is good focus on latine Americans later on. So, we will have our book basket time all together doing readings and activities from Oh Freedom, as well as from our local Ohlone tribe who put out their own curriculum about the tribes of the Bay Area. I’m extra excited about that, because what a wonderful thing to have access to! A curriculum for grade-schoolers written by actual tribe members, about the history of where we live! I could not believe it when I stumbled across it on the regional park website in our area. I hope something like this is or becomes available everywhere!
5th grade will ask the student to do a lot of her own time management. She’ll be assigned readings that relate to social studies, and have to read it in a certain time frame. It will be up to her to decide how she wants to accomplish that, so that will be interesting! She actually has quite a good grasp of grammar concepts, thanks to The Good and the Beautiful language arts program. She knows parts of speech, parts of a sentence, can diagram sentences, and name a lot of literary devices. A lot of it is a bit useless, honestly, so we are just going to stick with the grammar in Oak Meadow, which seems more practical to me and more focused on actual writing mechanics, which is what she needs help on. A lot of paragraph and report writing this year. Our fourth grader will be able to do the OM4 language arts assignments in the beginning (verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc) but it may be over her head after a while. I will keep using the exercises from TGTB level 1 for practice, that book is almost finished. I’ll also use Wild Reading 2 for her, for hands-on practice and nature-based reading. TGTB readers are just too dry and vanilla for me, and their coursework is so grammar heavy. I do think identifying nouns, verbs, adjectives etc is necessary, but the more advanced sentence diagramming is not so much at this age. I like the proofreading exercises, so we may ultimately try something like Fix-It grammar or something like that.
We will continue with The Good and the Beautiful Math 4 for our fifth grader, because she is a little more than halfway through and has made good progress. She has asked for a little more variety and hands-on stuff, though, so I will be adding in books and games/activities from Wild Math 4. When she’s ready for level 5, I’ll see if I want to continue with TGTB 5. I do have Wild Math 5 and can keep using that for supplementing or learning. Maybe that’s all we’ll need, since she does have the basics down at this point. For our 4th grader, we’ll keep using TGTB 3 (old version). She really enjoys the slower format, and the games like Sodoku and pentominoes. For her, we will be doing a LOT more of Wild Math 2, since she very much enjoys and needs tactile learning to be engaged.
I don’t have any particular music curriculum. I guess I’m making my own. We will start with The Story of the Orchestra to gain familiarity with each instrument, and the accompanying music that goes with the book. We’ll also read about early composers and musicians, making sure to highlight contributions by women and BIPOC figures. We’ll read some fun books about music terminology, like tempo and dynamics. Finally, we’ll keep doing the recorders and practicing reading music and keeping rhythm in that way. I myself and practicing banjo and fiddle, and we have the piano and a guitar, so if at any point the kiddos want to try those instruments, they are available.
Art is included in the 4th grade curriculum, and related to the science activities, so that is easy to do. For fifth grade, we will start off using Blossom and Root Math in Art Level 2. We did part of level 1 a few years ago, and I already own level 2, and I thought it would be a good level for her to explore different kinds of art and artists.
I’ll have both girls continue with Nessy Fingers for typing a few times a week. The fifth grader is done with formal handwriting practice, she just needs to actually slow down and make sure that her printing is legible. I’ll also have her do a fair amount of her writing assignments in cursive for the practice. The 4th grader is going to do another practice book from TGTB for both printing and cursive, and then another cursive practice book after that. She is really only just starting cursive, still.
Last year I designed a unit study-type curriculum based on Torchlight Level 1 (for history and geography), Blossom & Root 3 (study of the animal kingdom), and The Good and the Beautiful for math, language arts, and handwriting. We also did typing at Typetastic and Nessy Fingers, cursive from various resources, and Brave Writer Dart series plus a flex class on Outschool. As usual, we kept changing things, and in the end I am pleased with how the girls are finishing. That is to say: strong!
The biggest challenge? That’s easy. Two little boys aged 2. They are impossible to do anything around, as they are loud and rough and just plain wild. What really helped the most this year was sending them to a friend’s house once a week for several hours. Also helpful was when they went to bed. This coming year they will be at preschool and we are SO. GLAD. Homeschooling should feel like a total breeze compared to what we went through this year!
4th Grader Our fourth grader started the year truly struggling in math. She hated it and had a lot of anxiety and mental block in the beginning, to the point where we were actually becoming concerned. We had her tested by the school district after the holidays, and strangely… she stopped fighting math right after. She even started saying it wasn’t so hard anymore! Huge turn around there! For math, we used The Good and the Beautiful level 4 math (old version) but we had lost the 2nd book of level 4… so we switched to the new version which is only one book. I thought she she would be able to start about halfway through the book, but NO. We ended up doing a lot of the beginning of the book because she didn’t seem to be clear on most of it. The backtracking worked, I guess, because she has finished very strong. We have not had a meltdown at all over math for more than two months!
3rd Grader My active strong-willed child, she often becomes frustrated when she can’t catch on to something right away. She really hates instruction, preferring to figure everything out on her own. Even so, she claims that math is her favorite subject. She finished The Good and the Beautiful level 2 books (the old version) after the holidays, and is plowing right through level 3! We are still using the old versions, because I find them to be slower paced with more opportunity for games and activities, like the pentaminos and soduko, which she really enjoys.
Mom rating for our math curriculum choices this year: A. We have liked The Good and the Beautiful math because it is all in one book and has lots of variety and colors. The spiral approach is reassuring to me, as well, and prevents us having to “re-teach” everything over and over. It does mention God or the bible once in a while, but those parts are easily skipped over or left out or even changed into a discussion about religion and different schools of thought. Both girls advanced a year’s grade level, and both seemed to have solid understanding of what they learned. Most importantly, they are both finishing the year saying that math is one of their favorite subjects. That’s a win!
For next year, I would like to have more math games, math books, and hands-on math just to get us away from book work more often.
4th Grader I didn’t intend to use just The Good and the Beautiful for Language Arts, but it really worked so well for us to have such an open-and-go curriculum. I started out the year having our 4th grader reading one novel, a chapter or so a week, and doing various activities from the novel’s Dart from the Brave Writer program. She read The Rickshaw Girl, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, The Peacemaker, The Year of the Dog, and maybe another I’m forgetting in this way. It was good, but then I got bored with doing a Dart every time. We switched it up a bit with Heartwood Hotel, Ways to Make Sunshine, and a few more books, just printing some activities from TeachersPayTeachers to go with the reading. Finally, she read Kensuke’s Kingdom and did a Flex class on Outschool which had some quizzes and writing assignments. Honestly there wasn’t much to do with the Flex class so I wouldn’t do that again, most likely.
Our biggest goal for the 4th grader was to get sentences down and then paragraphs. She really felt daunted by paragraphs for most of the year, but the last month something seems to have clicked. Her grammar skills are really very good. She worked her way through TGTB level 3 without any problem, and we started skipping the readers and all of the dictating because it got dry and boring. She then started level 4, which was actually much better in my opinion. The grammar seems pretty easy for her, so she has pretty much mastered 4th grade grammar concepts in my opinion. More importantly, she is finally writing paragraphs without crying. She has learned ‘The Writing Process’ sucessfully and is just now writing multiple paragraphs without tears, editing/proofreading and making her final drafts. We’re super proud of how far she’s come! She’s also reading for fun a lot, too, and quite thick novels. Reading was a big struggle for this one earlier in her elementary years, so boy am I glad we started homeschooling and she could slow down and go at her own pace. It’s a joy to see her interested in a good book!
Speaking of struggling reader… the difference here is that she never realized she was “behind”. She has been homeschooled since first grade and usually a solid two years behind “grade level”. But who cares! Because this year something has clicked, and she began plowing through The Good and The Beautiful Level K like it was child’s play, and now has almost finished level 1 (which is about 2nd grade level in most schools). Much much more importantly, she enjoys reading and feels very proud that she can now decipher signs and other text. She has never gotten an A, a C, or any other grade for reading. It now seems ridiculous, like grading someone for how they grow in height! They just… do when they do. And you just… support them as they go! We provided phonics lessons, we provided lots of reading and books, we never told her where she “should be” or that other kids her age were “already” reading other things. She’s going to be reading novels in no time now… the important thing being that she can get information and enjoy it! She particularly likes to learn about animals, so reading will be her best tool into gaining the knowledge she’s always seeking.
As far as literature, I always have an ambitious list. We read several of the same books as the 4th grader and really enjoyed them, plus some additional classics, like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist series, the MadamePamplemouse series, and Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos series . We read through her stack of books that were Christmas books, as well, including A Wolf Called Wander and Coyote Peterson’s book of animal adventures. Many of our reading choices came from Torchlight Level 1.
Mom Rating of our Language Arts curriculum this year: A- Torchlight had great suggestions for some read-aloud bedtime books, and The Good and the Beautiful really solidified grammar knowledge for our oldest and helped with word decoding and reading practice for our 3rd grader. Dart and TGTB both got a bit dry toward the end, however.
We did the same social studies curriculum for both girls, and it came from Torchlight Level 1. We used Curiousity Chronicles as our guide through all of the ancient civilizations in chronological order, starting with the Stone Age and ending with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Ancient Egypt was a big hit, as was the Stone Age, but I think many of the cultures just went in one ear and out the other for the girls. I hope they at least came away with an understanding that as humans, our history of civilizations is worldwide and very old. We took some interesting field trips, including to a local Egyptian museum which was quite good. We talked about the beliefs of native people and introduced the concept of conquering civilizations and how they often oppress or destroy those whose lands they seek to control. We have ended on Maori and Aborigine people, and I think we are in a good position to start introducing our state and national history next year. With a solid foundation of what a “civilization” is, and how one can often be detrimental to another, we can talk about how our own country came about, why slavery existed and how it still affects our country today, and how we came to live in our own state instead of the natives who came here first.
Mom Rating of Social Studies Curriculum this year: B+ B+ only because I built much of the curriculum myself, meaning I took the themes and subjects from Torchlight and found similar books, or books not mentioned, videos, movies, and field trips that related. That’s totally ok, and I enjoyed making my own curriculum. Torchlight ended up being more of a reference than a program I followed, though. While I did find their booklists helpful, I did not stick to their timelines, schedules, or assignment sheets at all, and we did our own thing with science. Torchlight doesn’t include language arts or math.
Both girls did science together, just as they did last year. We had a truly great experience with Blossom & Root Year 1, earth science, and finished with their dinosaur unit, so we were well prepared to take on Year 3, which was the animal kingdom. (We skipped year 2, plants.) Essentially, I used their subject order, their book and video and activity lists for suggestions, but also built in my own activities and books and videos. Again, I mostly used BR as a resource for building my own curriculum, just like with Torchlight. My 3rd grader especially enjoyed studying each type of animal very thoroughly, and they both have a great grasp on animal classifications and life cycles, as well as the effects that humans are having on their existence. They ended the year this week with an animal report (I got two different templates from TeachersPayTeachers) and poster presentation. I was very proud of their end result!
Mom rating of the science curriculum this year: A- B&R is a great curriculum for starting new homeschooling families off on the right path. I really learned how to tailor curriculum to my own family and lifestyle from them. They were the perfect age for animal studies, and I highly recommend bringing in great movies that teach better than a textbook. Like watching Free Willy to learn about Orcas, for example. Naturally, we visited the zoo, aquariums, and watched local wildlife, including bird watching. This was a basic intro to all of the different kinds of animals in the animal kingdom, and it kept us interested. I think we are a bit ready to move on, now, to physics, space, biology, etc.
Handwriting and Typing This year both girls worked on handwriting with The Good and the Beautiful, as well as cursive workbooks. Our 4th grader has very nice cursive and our 3rd grader now has the basics. In addition, they are getting a grasp on typing with the proper hand position, thanks to Typetastic and Nessy Fingers.
Art and Music We did several handcrafts this year, including finger knitting, wood carving, and clay (again). The girls were introduced to the recorder, and we’ll pick it up again next year. Additionally, our 4th grader took homeschool group art classes at a local studio and the 3rd grader took a weekly drawing class on Outschool.
Ranching, Farming, Hiking, Survival Skills The girls continued to attend a local program for both homeschoolers and after-school students that has kids outside no matter the weather (as if the weather changes much in CA), gardening and harvesting and preparing food, both from their crops and from gathering edible plant life, hiking, plant identification and medicinal uses, raising animals, survival skills like shelter and fire building, archery and pottery, woodshop, and social-emotional skills and team building with their groups. Our initial attempt to have the girls in the same group failed, so by moving the 3rd grader down a level, it all improved and they both made friends and enjoyed their day there. I can’t say enough about how great this place is for kids! In addition, the 3rd grader continued riding lessons twice a week, and began cantering this year!
Needing a change for the new year, we joined the Wilder Child Moon Club for 2022. The girls studied the moon extensively: its phases, its orbit, what its like to be an astronaut on the moon (I highly recommend Astronaut, Aquanaut: such a cool book!), what ancient civilizations called each moon of the year and why, and how to track the phases of the moon and witness some of its major events, like eclipses and super moons. We’ve also done Moondalas with each new moon to set intentions, and read stories about the topic coinciding with that particular moon. (Snow Moon, for example, included books about snow, both fiction and non-fiction, and snow activities and videos.) I have personally loved feeling more in sync with the moon.
Emotional growth and Growth Mindset
We did all sorts of stuff here… sibling relationship programs, Big Life Journal, Mom/Daughter journaling, plus lots and lots of library books that went along with the theme. We talked a lot about making and learning from mistakes, anger management techniques, setting goals, resilience, being kind to yourself and to others. Our 4th grader did a whole Empathy workbook and our 3rd grader worked through the whole ADHD and Me workbook. It’s hard to say if they can really use what they learned, but at the very least they have an awareness and it won’t be brand new information to them as they get older. The sibling programs are a work in progress and we just keep finding as many resources as possible to help them with their animosity toward one another. Helping our older girl understand ADHD and trauma behavior in her younger sister was a big focus for us along with empathy. And both girls often feel a lack of attention with the boys taking the lion’s share of it all the time.
What Didn’t Work
It sounds so sweet and good, but I just couldn’t pull it off with any regularity. Plus, I don’t want the toddlers breaking my beautiful tea set. So, maybe when they are at preschool next year, we can try to do it at least a little bit more. At the very least, we will read more poetry!
Big Life Journal curriculum
Don’t buy this pdf. It’s redundant, and so is the podcast. It literally repeats what is in the journal itself. Just the journal is good enough, and a quick google search for “growth mindset books for kids” will bring up lots and lots of excellent lists that you can find at the library or as read-alouds on YouTube.
I was initially excited for this resource. The girls had a few good experiences, including a MineCraft group, an art class, and escape rooms. The Flex classes were pretty disappointing, though, and unfortunately we just can’t seem to be home on time or at the right times to pull these off consistently. I do think the online gaming with friends is particularly good for my 3rd grader, so I may try to find a time that I know we’ll have to be home in the future for these groups.
The Good and the Beautiful readers
Some of these are really boring. It’s always sort of a very vanilla story without any real complex problems. I opted to use level 1 readers from the library instead. No one wants to read things that are boring!
Game Week We never did it. I think it will just be easier to add games into the actual daily schedule. After all, we had plenty of weeks without any school due to sickness or vacation!
Main Lesson Books I’m not totally giving up on this, it just wasn’t in the cards this particular year. First of all, my 3rd grader just ended up drawing on every page all the time, so her MLB was full of this and that way too soon. I still love the idea, and as we’re going to use Oak Meadow next year, I’m still planning to try again! We ended up not even using them the 2nd half of the year, because I’d run out of creative steam. It was open and go curriculum for the main subjects or nothing.
So there you have it! The last school year was a great success, in my opinion. The girls both advanced even more than one grade level in math and reading/language arts. There were way fewer arguments and hardly any tears over any writing or math at the end of the year, and we all learned a lot about animals, the moon, and hopefully ourselves!
It’s back to school time… the time most parents love, and kids dread. Like, how sad is that, all these adults celebrating their children’s misery? Or at least something that seems to be causing a significant amount of stress and anxiety to their children. Anyway, we aren’t immune to all of the feelings that this time of year brings. We, too, want/need a break from caring for children sometimes. Our eldest also wishes that summer was not at an end, and that she didn’t have to go to school. We are trying to focus on helping her manage her anxiety and find solutions to her problems, however.
For M, though, she is spending the week with her mobile “school”, which is sort of an unschooling field-trip based program. From September through June she will spend Wed-Fri with her group and her teacher, exploring various parks and museums and community centers and fire stations and stores and beaches…. etc and so on. They bring a backpack with lunch, water, and a clipboard containing a pen and paper with an activity packet for further exploration and reflection on the day. I feel an enormous sense of relief, pride, and euphoria that instead of being virtually imprisoned in a classroom all day, she has spent her day doing this:
Yep, this is what her school days will look like… exploring creeks, and visiting and learning about rescued animals. Her teacher says, “She just loves the outdoors, animals, and nature!” Yes, she does. It’s definitely where she belongs. We also received a video of her today giving a presentation for the teacher’s camera about coyotes, and how she talks to them. She has a love of coyotes and wolves, among other animals. She has also made a new “best friend”, an 11-year-old girl who will be in her group! The mixed ages provides so many opportunities to learn and grow socially for children, and I couldn’t be happier to see the diversity in ages. There is definitely something to learn for everyone wherever they go… shoot, I wish I was going, too!
Who knew I’d ever be so jealous of my daughter’s “school day”???
I have been on a journey to removing my daughter from the conventional education system since she was 2 1/2. Today, we are three days away from seeing that dream realized. My daughter, so full of energy that she has been diagnosed with ADHD, so sensitive to noise and light that she has been diagnosed with SPD, so in tune with her brain’s physiological need to feel the breeze, the soil, the rush of equilibrium as you jump or race through space, that she has been called disruptive, annoying, “special needs”, and wild (even by me), would have done so well in a hunter gatherer society, where the sensations of nature all around her would have given her a sense of balance and peace, where her energy and enthusiasm would have made her one of the most successful members of her tribe, where her curiosity and incessant need to do would have driven her to quick and easy accomplishment and satisfaction.
She doesn’t live in a hunter gatherer tribe. She lives in a truly weird version of humanity that has arisen in 3% of human history. (Written human history is 3% of anatomical human history.) She is, historically speaking, a completely normal homo sapien. She has not adapted genetically or physiologically to the last 3% of our biological history. She possesses completely normal biological instincts, as most children do, but unlike many children, she has not been able to adapt, in her 6 years of life, to a biologically weird culture. And so she is a biological norm, and a cultural anomaly. She is “wild”, and I, her mother, have failed to “tame” her. All of the supplements, occupational therapy, food restrictions, punishments, rewards, pressure, shaming, and leading-by-example in the world has not transformed her from her biology.
But it’s ok. I can’t change the culture or the society or the world that she was born into. I can step back and look at the big picture. I can take advantage, at every opportunity, of the scenarios in which she shines as a truly human mammal. Look at her on the beach, for example, running and digging and playing for hours. Not too tired, not too cold, not whining about sand or sun or wind. She has stamina, she has the ability to meet her own needs, she has drive, she has focus, she is kind, she is insightful, she is generous, she is in all her glory.
When you see children who do not learn well in school, they will often display characteristics that would be valued and admired in any number of non-WEIRD cultures around the world. They are physically energetic; they are independent; they are sociable; they are funny. They like to do things with their hands. They crave real play, play that is exuberant, that tests their strength and skill and daring and endurance; they crave real work, work that is important, that is concrete, that makes a valued contribution. They dislike abstraction; they dislike being sedentary; they dislike authoritarian control. They like to focus on the things that interest them, that spark their curiosity, that drive them to tinker and explore.
My daughter is exactly as above. She wants to contribute to the real world. No amount of “Montessori work”, as brilliant and creative as it may be, can take the place of figuring out how to make a bridge out of sand, how to make cupcakes out of random kitchen ingredients, or how to keep a fire burning with leaves and sticks. She needs to play, and not in the cutesy way of driving little trains along little tracks, or assigning mother/father roles to baby dolls (although yes, she does that, too). She needs to play exuberantly, and with the force of her whole body. She can play this way all day, and she can because she must. She is driven to socialize and interact in every moment. You can sit her at a desk, but that won’t diminish her need to talk to and explore with another human being. This is how she learns and grows from her world. She is the fullest expression of what it means to be a young mammal. Observe and study young monkeys, young tigers, young dolphins, and you’ll see what I mean.
Is my job as a mother, then, to force her to comply with the trappings of this modern era? Should she be made to sit still in a circle, or at a desk, for hours on end? What will this achieve or accomplish, other than a sense of control for the rest of us? I must encourage and model kindness of spirit, respect for the boundaries and needs of others, and the ability to regulate oneself for ultimate inner peace. Yes, those must be my goals as a parent. And yet, my little human mammal has arrived on this planet to show me that this need not be achieved within four walls. She is at her most regulated, kind, and respectful when she is respected for who she is and what she needs. And what she needs is the type of environment where she will blossom into who she is meant to be.
My daughter, my teacher, my inspiration: In three days you will be released into this world. You will be asked to take control of your own learning and your own fate. You will be given guidance and leadership, but not force or control. You will become responsible for what you know, and how you know it. You will learn to regulate yourself in whatever way works best for you as a unique individual. You will find those places in which your caring spirit and your insatiable curiosity lead you to greatness.
You will bloom into your truest, most radiant self. I am humbled to be with you on your journey as your mother, your mentor, and your friend.
Four weeks left of school for my little one! There are certain days that inspire me to enter the next year, without “school”, with passion and without fear. One of those days was Sunday, when my girl and I headed off to a new beach to see what we could see. We discovered a free children’s program led by park rangers, we got to see them feed the aquarium life there, a little tour behind the scenes of the tanks, and then out to the beach!
With my own eyes, I could see that play in this mud was worth 1000 hours in a classroom. The cooperation, teamwork, communication, sensory stimuli, engineering, creativity, knowledge building, and nature exploration was good for body, mind, and soul, not just mind. And let’s be honest… who can learn when their body’s needs, and their soul’s needs, are not also being met?
As well-meaning and loving as the adults in my daughter’s school have been (and they have been so loving with her), nothing can fill a child with learning the way that freedom can. After school, my daughter is grumpy, sad, irritable, and tired with low self-esteem. After 5 hours straight on the beach, exploring freely or learning from rangers, whichever she chose, she was calm, regulated, confident, and happy. So, it seems to me, the choice has become a no-brainer.
Not everyone has the choice, financially, or for child-care reasons. I’ve been given an incredible gift: an opportunity to give her the learning that fills her up, rather than empties her. We are taking it! Now, wouldn’t it be amazing, if someday, all children could access this type of education???
Today we withdrew my daughter from her private school for the foreseeable future. I’ve dreamed of homeschooling, or actually worldschooling, or real life education, since my daughter was two, but until now I’ve never had the means. With twins on the way, and with a two parent household, someone being home all or most of the day every day is finally a reality (and a necessity). And with a little bit of research into the homeschooling community around us, a lot of inner searching, much excitement, and some trepidation, we are giving it a try!
Even in the small, lovely Montessori private school that she has attended the past two years, I see my child suffering in a “school” environment. I see her growing sullen, reluctant to go to school, and feeling irritable and cranky after school, unable to focus on the activities she loves in the evenings. Why do children need to “recover” from school anyway? Because it’s work. Not good work, that you are inspired to do, but often drudge work. The school our girls go to really improves on public schools in a number of important and valuable ways, but when I looked at my very active, very impulsive, sensory processing-challenged daughter, I see a child for whom “classroom learning” is not the right fit, not right now. All of the authority that goes with a rigid schedule of academics and the crowd-control necessary for a peaceful group of 25 three-to-six-year-olds is a round-hold square-peg scenario for her.
And yet, we’ve been wavering because, well, we love the people at the school and appreciate the nurturing atmosphere that contributed so much to our children’s well-being. And also because we aren’t sure how we can possibly tolerate having this very energetic and sometimes difficult child at home 24/7. Actually, having her at home 24/7 is not even an option that she will tolerate.
The only way this could work is if we found some sort of outside programming that she could attend during the week to take the place of school. Something supervised but free-form. Something engaging and active. And so far, we think we have found a few very good options. Programs that take place all day, every day, in the great outdoors (thank you, California weather!). Programs that allow children to learn and inquire and grow at their own pace (goodbye to the reading level expectations!), while allowing for maximum movement and activity. And, by the way, it’s for a fraction of the price of private school tuition AND the occupational therapy required to fit my little square peg into that big round hole that is “school”.
But is it all too good to be true? What will it really be like, to drive her further, to have her around more, to balance homeschool activities with sister’s school schedule and two newborn babies?
We don’t know. It may turn out to be nothing like we hope, but I have a feeling it will be amazing. And I know that by taking giant leaps on faith alone, you sometimes find more joy than you ever could’ve imagined!
M is three years old, and already most people respond to the news of my upcoming travel lifestyle with one single question, “But what about going to school?”
What about going to school? She goes to school now. It’s fine. There are things she likes about it (her friendships and teachers) but there are more things she doesn’t like about it, and neither do I. Namely that she is allowed much less independence than what she can handle, and is subject to rules that exist to keep order but that don’t actually benefit her. She prefers not to go to school, even though she often enjoys the activities and friendships there. She’d rather stay home, though, which tells me that even at age three she finds her own interests, and the real world, more interesting than the artificial world created by school. She wants to go with me to the bank, the vet, and the grocery store. It’s easier for me to go alone, sure, but she truly enjoys “real life” learning and prefers it over simulated learning.
She’s extroverted, however, and seeks out friendships with her age-mates as well as with older children and adults. Today at the swimming pool she asked no fewer than five children if they’d like to be her friend and play with her, and they all said no. (I was an introverted child and probably would’ve replied in the same way, but it breaks my heart to see her heartfelt offers of friendship so primly turned down.) She really wants to play and laugh and bond with others, so I do wish that she could go somewhere that included children in a community-like setting, but without the institutionalized and formal environment. I wish we could find Sudbury schools where she could form these friendships while also being surrounded by materials that inspire learning and creativity, but without the adults dictating to her what she should do with all of her time.
We may find some of these types of “schools” while traveling, but we may not. For now, I intend to seek out some home day cares wherever I’m working where she can go a few times a week for part of the day to play with and interact with others. We may find some democratic schools or learning communities that allow part-time enrollment. But once she’s five or older these options will be harder to come by, as almost all of the other children around will be in traditional schools all day, and Sudbury or democratic schools require full-time enrollment and high tuition.
I have no doubt that we will figure it out as we go. She may decide she wants to go to school and try it out. I’m not sure but I know it will work out… I just don’t know how many of our friends’ and family members’ heads will explode in the process if I have to tell them all that I’m not sending her to school!
Many kids (and parents) are getting ready for back-to-school on social media, and some friends who have 4 and 5-year-olds entering kindergarten are crowd-sourcing answers to some of their parenting questions. Issues revolve around how to ‘ease the transition’, and basically get their kids to not be so terrified.
The whole idea is kind of, well, terrifying. I mean, we’re so indoctrinated as a society to think that school is as necessary as showering and brushing our teeth, that we totally accept the fact that the vast majority of young children do NOT want to go to school and have terrible adjustment problems (stomach aches, behavior changes, excessive tiredness, “blanking out” after coming home, etc). We’re told “oh that’s totally normal, it’ll get better when they get used to it.” No one ever even ponders the idea that if something is that upsetting to that many children, maybe it’s not in their best interest???
I know, I know. I sound like the crazy one. About 100 people comment on posts like these advising not to “coddle” your child, they need to learn how to deal with life’s challenges, this will force them to socialize and make friends, etc and so on. As someone who grew up with very real anxiety and panic attacks, I vehemently disagree. Being put into a foreign environment, a concocted and unnatural social milieu, with no support, no life experience, and a total lack of ability to cope with extreme stress (as children naturally do not), is just traumatizing. You don’t have to force kids to learn by putting them through that. They will learn just fine without feeling distressed. In fact, they will learn more easily, and they will learn to love learning!
Life is going to deal many challenges and hardships to your kids without shoving them into something they aren’t ready for, not to mention something in which they had no choice. In new jobs or social situations we, as adults, at least have the choice to be there or not, and the option to leave at any time. Children are essentially imprisoned within the school building for a large part of the day, without any input as to where they would like to be, how they would like to learn, and which types of people they feel comfortable around. They cannot leave if they get overwhelmed. They cannot step out and take a break, or threaten to take their business elsewhere. They can’t even pee without a fucking permission slip.
So yeah… I’m not impressed with the way most of my facebook acquaintances think of their children. I’m not surprised, but I’m also a little outraged. Why do we do this to the people we love the most?
And also, yes I send my daughter to “school” and no, she doesn’t have a choice. So am just the world’s biggest hypocrite? I guess because I have no choice (single working mom who needs child care) she also has no choice. I’m not saying children should not go to school under any circumstances… not at all. Some children like their school and would choose to go. Some would choose to go but only feel comfortable in certain “types” of schools (Montessori, democratic, learning community, Waldorf, etc). Some would choose not to go at all. Some parents would take their child’s beliefs and opinions into account and still make the decision to place them into school. And some have to go somewhere while their parents work, and as parents we put them in the care of a school or person we hope will be nurturing and understanding and fun.
I’m just advocating for more compassion, more awareness, and more willingness to take our child’s developmental needs, personal preferences, and individuality into account.
First, I will share a speech given by Astra Taylor at Pomona College about unschooling, liberalism, and the use of public school as a system that provides an opportunity to rise up in socioeconomic status:
As a progressive, or a liberal, I think this speech really speaks to the cognitive dissonance that occurs when one considers withdrawing their own children from a public school, and publicly denouncing the system as a whole. Liberals tend to view public school from the viewpoint of egalitarianism- equal education and equal opportunity for all. A child whose parents are struggling with addiction or other crises on a regular basis and do not provide the child with access to books, parks, or other sources of stimulation and knowledge will have a chance to acquire these at school. Despite my passion for unschooling and my disdain for institutionalized education, I still know that this is true, and that compulsory free school is still very much a necessity for a large part of our population.
The fact remains that unschooling is for the privileged few. You need two parents, one of whom makes a living. Or you need to be able to work from home or be independently wealthy or pair up with another family, etc and so on. If you desperately need your child to go somewhere affordable or free AND be in a learning-conducive (so-to-speak) space, you need to send your kid to public school. Waldorf, Emilia Reggio, Montessori, Sudbury Valley, and democratic or “free” schools are anything but free. Tuition can be as high as $20,000 per year per child, or at the minimum $10,000 per school year for the first child. Obviously, access to the “best” schools and education as far as child development researchers and experts on child psychology are concerned are currently only available for the elite, wealthy, or lucky.
One democratic school (no grades, all ages mixed, no standard curriculum, etc) that is tuition-free (mentioned in the speech above) is Windsor House School in Canada (British Columbia). I believe this type of respectful educational space should be the new compulsory schooling, publicly funded and if not mandatory, at least encouraged, so that those families who cannot provide unschooling at home are funneled into it.
Did I mention that I feel so lucky that in our very rural, small-town boondock area we now have a public Montessori school? Yes, it sucks that there is mandatory state-testing and grades, but still.
There are a whole bunch of us out in the world that, no matter how dismayed we are by institutionalized education and “the system”, circumstances are such that school becomes the only feasible option. How so? Take low-income families, where both parents must work. And take single parent families (hello!) where working full-time is the only option to pay the mortgage/rent and put food on the table. Imagine that one or both parents work full time, meaning 36-40 hours per week, add transportation time and it’s more like 46-50 hours of childcare needed. Imagine you pay $10/hour (quite a minimum) for a babysitter, that’s $500 per week, and not doable on most incomes. Say you are lucky enough to work 9-5 and you can put your kid in a center and you pay only $6/hour. That’s still $1200 per month. (Sidenote: I take home about $3000 a month and one-third of that, $1297.80 to be exact, goes to preschool and child-care.)
Personally, I can’t afford to pay even a few dollars more for child care, and I’m still depending on my mom for 15 hours of free childcare per week at the very minimum. Public schools are free, and provide not only 6 hours of free childcare, but latchkey and other after school programs which can bring you up to 9 or so hours per day of child care. If you do shift work like me, you’re gone 13-14 hours in a day, and still need to pay someone for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening after the after-school care, but that’s certainly a dollar amount that is doable.
My daughter will be ready to start kindergarten in the fall of 2018, and we will have the option of keeping her in the same building’s Montessori public school (7 1/2 hours of free childcare). I don’t know of any other free Montessori schools in the entire country! (Readers, let me know if you have some near you!) We also have an alternative public school that is popular with home/unschoolers here who have lost the ability to stay home from work with the kids.
There’s one more reason I’d send my daughter to school (albeit with much reservation and regret): we don’t live in a neighborhood with children available to play with, of any age. Even introverts need playmates and a community of all ages to interact with, and my daughter is an extrovert who feeds off of her time with others, especially children. She loves time with her mommy, but she doesn’t care at all to do things alone. She will if she has to, but it’s vital for her mental and emotional health that she be surrounded by peers and community members more often than not. That doesn’t happen here at home. I feel very strongly that she will really want to be in school for only that reason.
What about world schooling? Or travel nursing? We are back to the 14 hour per day, $10+ per hour conundrum and the pesky fact that we would still have to eat and pay bills. (So when I get a volunteer to travel with me and stay home with the kids while I work 3 days a week, we can go ahead with the plan! Lindsay at Solo Mama Life, I’m talking to you!)
So what is a proponent of unschooling to do? Move to Massachusetts and put her in Sudbury Valley School, of course! Or my nearest city has a lovely unschooling school with financial aid… except I live an hour away and can’t afford to move and pay a tuition and before and after school child care. Finding a few other moms to take turns supervising the unschooling process (and watching each other’s kids), that would be ideal, right? I’m accepting applications right now, and so far I’m on my own. So until I find the travel companion, or the group of fellow unschooling moms, my only option is brick-and-mortar school.
I hate that because I’m a single-income family, and because I don’t live in a community-like neighborhood or extended family group that provides my daughter with the socialization time she craves, I have to subject her to a system I not only feel is ineffective, but also think is damaging and destructive in countless ways. I’m heartbroken over it. Never before now have I wished so much that I could’ve been born into a culture in which children are raised by a village and spend all their time playing and interacting with each other and nature!
All I can do is opt her out of standardized testing, find the most free-minded school/teacher possible, and try not to fight with the administration/teacher more than once a week. Or- move to Nepal. I’m seriously considering both options.