Homeschooling

Back to School

It’s the first day of school here in NYC. I can’t help feel sad for all the kids returning to the constant grind of early rising and carrying bookbags as big as themselves as they’re sent away from home and forced to work on command by strangers all day, only to then hurry home and have to work some more.

Perhaps it’s a true dislike of school or perhaps it’s PTSD, I’m not sure, but something about this time of year, the end of summer and beginning of an annual ten-month sentence, deeply saddens me.

At Summer’s End…

I feel a sense of loss and grief as if the sunny days of playtime and dreaming – of childhood innocence and wonder – are cruelly snuffed out then forgotten as the rigorous months ahead take form and distract.

Summer memories fade no matter how we wish they would linger. And every year at this time, I feel the same sense of despair.

I’m always surprised when I speak to other people about their childhood experiences with school. Many loved going, enjoyed the social aspect of it, the newness of it all, the discovery. That forces me to dig deeper to understand what it is that bothered me so – then as now. It wasn’t studying or learning as my wonder and thirst for knowledge was as keen as everyone else’s – then as now. Rather, for me, it was the feeling of being ripped away from home, of being sent somewhere that I didn’t want to be without having any say in the matter.

I’m a free spirit at heart and school felt like prison to me – so much that I doubled up on classes in my senior year so I could graduate early and never look back. I didn’t even attend graduation. Once I was out, I was out and glad to be rid of it.

And now, as I look out my window and see a small army of children trudging along with their weighty bookbags on their backs, I feel sad for them, too. I don’t share the ‘joy’ we see on TV commercials where parents are celebrating their children’s back-to-school days.

My Own Child Starts School

When my own child turned school age, I dreaded sending her. I feared she might feel as I did – that she was being shipped off, sent away from home, forced to be someplace she didn’t want to be. I made sure to prepare her, to let her know it would be as happy a place as she made it and that I’d be waiting for her when she came home. We, my husband and I, became actively involved in her school, letting her know she was not alone while still giving her room to roam, and grow, and learn.

But as elementary school ended for her, so did the excitement of it all, the newness, the discovery. The friendships formed remained; however, the drudgery became burdensome and overwhelming.

Middle school teachers in our district treated the kids in their care like tyrants, insisting that the pre-teen years were the worst, that kids needed to know who was boss. That they needed to be kept busy lest they find themselves with free time and get into trouble.

It was then that we decided enough was enough.

Our Homeschooling Adventure Began

As a child, I felt like school was a punishment for some unknown slight. As a parent, I refused to allow anyone to treat my child that way.

My daughter was one month into middle school when we began our homeschool adventure. With thousands of NYC children being homeschooled, finding programs, activities and social outings was easier than I could have hoped or imagined.

We formed additional friendships with other homeschooling families while discovering a new and exciting way of learning.

We discovered learning through play, adventure and exploration, which incorporated the wonder of a child’s imagination and the freedom to just ‘be’.

I do miss the homeschooling days. They were a magical time that not only fed my child’s hunger for knowledge but also soothed the confused and angry child that lingered within me.

Time Marches On

Now, as always, the summer has come to another close and children head back to school. And I feel the old familiar twinges of sadness for them as I did for myself all those years ago.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about your own school days or those of your children. Were they happy and exciting or burdensome and frustrating?

 

 

School and Sleeping In

Mornings like this, dark, damp and chilly, remind me of nudging my daughter awake, telling her not to dawdle but to get ready for school. She’d stumble, bleary-eyed out of bed, hair a knotted mess, shoulders slumped, breathing still slow as if she could fall back to sleep right there on the way to breakfast.

Somehow, we always managed to get her to school on time – JUST in time, perhaps, but in time.

This morning, as I slowly rose and stretched, I had to smile. The sun had not yet risen. The sound of tires on wet road and the feel of a slow but constant cool breeze through the open window made me grateful that time of waking my daughter, pushing her to get up from a warm bed, was long gone.

As homeschoolers, we’re fortunate to be able to set our own schedule. I worried when we first started the process that we’d fall behind. Become lazy. I overcompensated for that possibility by continuing the regular school routine. I actually used a chalk board and timer so we’d cover lessons in the ‘proper’ amount of time. I was a stickler for the rigid learning schedule on which we’d turned our backs.

I did that because I was unsure of myself. Other homeschooling moms told me to relax. To allow my daughter the opportunity to set her own pace. I thought, judging from the way she stumbled from bed each morning, letting her set the pace was not the best idea.

I was wrong.

Children are amazing creatures. Eager to learn – living to learn – and with a drive we as adults cannot fully understand.

It took several months, but I finally backed off, giving my daughter room to explore. To my amazement, she did exactly what I was told other homeschooled children do. She began studying on her own. Setting her own pace, opening her textbooks and getting assignments done without my help interference.

Homeschoolers are often looked at with disdain. I understand to some degree since we are rule breakers. We’ve stepped out of the conventional routine and now march to our own beat. Since the beat is different for everyone, our routines appear to be without order. Perhaps they are. But then each child’s learning style is different and so, the unsteady, freestyle rhythm of our lives gives us the opportunity to learn and grow at an exciting and quite interesting pace.

My daughter chose to give up more than half her summer this past year in order to complete two high school grades in one year. I watched her rise later in the morning than she would for public school, but also witnessed her diligence, her accomplishments, her pride in herself and her work. I would have missed all of that if she’d been in school. And, perhaps, it never would have happened. She grew to understand what she needs and enjoys in a learning process but has also modified those wants and needs to fit what’s required.

I’ve talked about homeschooling before and will no doubt talk about it again. It is not for everyone. For us, for our family life, it was the perfect option and in coming weeks, I’ll give you a hint of some fabulous experiences homeschooling has provided.

We Chose Homeschooling

My soon-to-be sixteen-year old is just days away from finishing her high school studies.

As a homeschooler, she’s free to decide when she’d like to do her work – mornings, weekends, evenings – as long as she puts in the required amount of hours and covers the work we’ve outlined in our correspondence with the district’s homeschool director. To my amazement, my child has chosen to continue her schoolwork long past the end of the traditional school year. She has worked steadily since last September and has managed to complete two grades in that time.

I say this because I’m extremely proud of her. I also say this because, while we’ve been homeschooling for five years now, I’m still awed by the freedom, choices and possibilities associated with the process.

This is not for everyone and I would never say homeschooling is the BETTER option for everyone. I will, however, say it has been not only a better option, but the BEST for my daughter and my family.

Her traditional elementary school was wonderful. It was hard to let our little girl go there each day without us. Harder to know she was experiencing new and wonderful things, and we weren’t there to see the light in her eyes as she ‘got it’. But, it gave her a sense of confidence and independence that we admired. Add to that the warm, nurturing environment that was her elementary school, and it was – and still is – hard for me to see how homeschooling could be better or give her more.

In middle school, everything changed. The hours upon hours of homework after a full school day did nothing to help her ‘learn’ the subjects, but rather made her want to just “get it done”. Her friends were as overloaded with homework and projects as she was and so they barely saw each other. Homework was worse on weekends, as if the school had a policy declaring children should not be permitted any free time, ever.

The teachers were no longer nurturing. They were like drill sergeants. I get that tweens can be unruly and you have to maintain order. But I truly believe they’ll grow and learn better when treated with respect rather than contempt. I think of the bees-to-honey scenario.

It was the exhausted broken spirit I saw in my child that prompted me to, finally, make the move I’d considered when she was just three years old. Homeschooling.

It has worked for us in ways I could explain page after page. I will sum all of that up by saying my daughter had choices. She chose to work and to work hard. There are no ‘grades’, there is no competition, there is no principal’s office or hall monitor. There is only one child, one teen, doing her personal best because that is what she wants to do.

She’s fortunate to have had the best of both. I’m fortunate to have had the ability to provide that for her.

Have you made life or life-style choices for your children that could have gone either way? What were they? Given the same circumstances, would you make the same choice again?

Socializing the Homeschooler

Homeschooling in New York City may seem like a rarity but it has become quite the movement. Even I, a native New Yorker, originally thought of homeschooling as something done in more rural areas. Instead, many New York families have chosen to pull their children from public school and use the vast wonders of the city as their classroom. There are museums, science labs, historical sites, various cultures and cuisines. So much, that years worth of curriculum could be covered without traveling beyond a few subway stops.

“Great. But what about socialization?”

That question is the first in everyone’s mind when I mention homeschooling my teen. It’s a logical concern and, before we started the process, we wondered about it ourselves.

Recently, I was speaking with some new friends about homeschooling when the issue came up. I answered, saying how there truly isn’t much socialization in school during school time. The comment was met with amusement and I found myself confused. Then I realized that, of course, there is interaction in school, but is it really socialization?

Socialization according to Answers.com is “(psychology) The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.

Hmm. “Learning to get along… though imitation as well as group pressure.” Not sure I like that definition.

Let’s try another… from the FreeDictionary.com: (Psychology) Psychol the modification from infancy of an individual’s behaviour to conform with the demands of social life

“conform”. Well. I’m not sure how I feel about that either.

One more… from Meriam-Webster.com: the process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status.

Ah. Now that works for me. “Acquiring… through accumulated knowledge of society through education and training.”

No “imitation”, no “group pressure” and no “conforming”.

For many homeschoolers the difference between the first two definitions of socialization and the final one is monumental and is, indeed, the difference between socialization through public school versus socialization through homeschooling.

Most often, children in school interact with children their own age. Occasionally, there is interaction between grades but it is usually limited. They pick up on each other’s habits – both good and bad – fashion trends and attitudes. Homeschooled children regularly interact with children of all ages as well as with adults. During spontaneous and/or organized activities, the older kids in the group will look out for the younger kids, engage them and play with them. Not all the time, of course. Just enough to give the young ones a sense of comfort and security and the older ones a sense of responsibility, belonging… and independence. The kids often hold conversations with adults as well – parents of other homeschoolers, or, as in the case of my daughter, customers in our family photography business.

The socialization aspect of a homeschooler in this new millennium is a wondrous thing. Here in the city, there are thousands of homeschoolers and many belong to local homeschool groups. Curriculum is recommended and shared. Activities are organized and varied. Interaction with others is part of life and learning.

Of course, homeschooling is not for everyone. Some children might find it restrictive and suffocating, while others might find it exhilarating and liberating.

For my family, the words “exhilarating” and “liberating” hardly begin to describe the wonder that the process of homeschooling has brought to our lives.

I’m curious. What are some of your first thoughts when you hear a family is homeshooling? Or… if you’re a homeschooler, what are some of the reactions/responses you’ve received from people when you discuss homeschooling?

From Homeschool to College

It’s been four years since I rescued my daughter from the public school system. In those four years, we’ve come to understand how she learns, how she studies, how she struggles and how she excels. We’ve accomplished so much in these four years that a craving for more has filled us. I say ‘us’ because watching her learn this way has increased my desire to learn, to research, to find new evidence rather than rely on old assertions. A wonderful by-product of homeschooling is the ability for children to think for themselves and to form their own opinions based on a multitude of information from a wide variety of sources.

Daughter and I agree on some basic principles of life. However, there are areas in which we heartily disagree. I am forever floored by her ability to debate her view without resorting to the kind of mudslinging and finger pointing we so often see these days. I chalk that up to a well-read mind. One of confidence and poise. While she’s always shown this kind of silent confidence, I feel homeschooling has permitted her to nurture it. We’ve given her a safe environment in which to express her views – one where she will not be mocked, bullied or ignored but encouraged to share and expand on her thoughts.

As you can see, I am proud of my little girl – who is no longer so little. But now, I must start to let go, let her soar without me. Let her venture into a new experience where, hopefully, she will remain as poised and confident as she is now.

I’m speaking of her college years.

She is not quite 16, yet she is one subject away from completing her high school education. She is eager to begin college in the fall and we have been gathering information about that from all sides. One wonderful source of information for us has been from Kweller Prep. If this sounds like a plug for this learning center, then so be it. Point is, we knew very little about the process of preparing and applying to college before speaking with the people there. If you are in the New York City area, I highly recommend a consultation with them as they offer a range of assistance from tutoring to tests prep to finding scholarships to completing college applications and more.

Naturally, when it comes to homeschooling, there is a huge amount of information out there. Much of it is contradictory – with one side saying quality SAT scores are the be-all, end-all of college acceptance while the other side declares testing of any sort is of no consequence. Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between, and even then, morphs depending on the college of choice.

We are unsure where to go from here. Still looking into our options, my daughter feels confident that taking the SAT’s can’t hurt, while emphasizing her homeschool experience will enhance her appeal.

I will admit I was quite concerned about her entire education being reduced to a single test score. I am still uncomfortable with the idea. A child’s learning should not be boiled down to something so subjective – and test scores are subjective in that they do not show an entire understanding but rather an ability or inability to perform on command.

So the adventure continues. Research, sift, research sift, then form your own plan. That’s been our way for the past four years and will be our way for the rest of our lives. It’s an exciting existence, always filled with new discoveries. New desires. New interest in that which comes next.

We’re not anti-establishment, nor are we the follow-in-line type. We’ve created our own rhythm and believe it to be in harmony with others. If Daughter takes the SAT’s she’ll study properly, with help from a learning center like Kweller Prep. When she applies to college, she will stress her independence, her ability to motivate herself to learn and her interest in what others have to say.

If I sound proud of her, it’s because I am. And I am more than a little teary-eyed to have had the opportunity to watch her bloom while living fully in classroom that is this world.

Muddled thoughts of a Gemini

I know I haven’t been here in a while and, honestly, I can’t say why. The days are just flying by and the hours in each seem to have gotten shorter.

I’ve been working on the plot of my new story and still have April 1st as my goal to start writing it. That’s something I’ve learned from my previous work – a simple yet rounded bit of plotting works well for me. I’m that cross between plotter and pantser. And April 1st is when I hope to put plotting aside and start a month of pounding out some pantser pages.

Meanwhile, we’ve been attending a variety of homeschooling activities – which, not surprisingly pick up as the weather gets less frigid. We’ve watched holocaust movies and discussed World War II. We’ve watched David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, and turned them into lessons about 19th Century England. I’ve finally learned how to turn a simple event into an opportunity for learning and realize that every day life has more lessons in it than anything we could possibly plan.

Take the shelter, for instance. The lessons there are immeasurable. Daughter is learning so much from volunteering – not only about compassion and responsibility, but also about human strengths and weaknesses. She’s learning, sadly, that more often than not, when people see something curious, they stand back and leave it for someone else to investigate or fix. Even when stepping in can save a life. Or possibly save a life. I guess we’ll never know for sure.

We lost two newborn kittens last night. That’s what this is all about. The mother rejected them and everyone, apparently, thought it was just an anomaly… a mother cat not feeding her babies. Surely, they thought, it’s just at this moment she’s not doing so. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case and no matter what we did during our shift… it was simply too late.

Mother Nature is a cruel, cruel bitch at times but never more so than when an innocent is made to suffer. I don’t know that we could have done anything to save these kittens, in fact, on many levels I know we couldn’t have. Still…  and maybe this is partly the writer in me asking… but I’ll always wonder, ‘what if’.

School Trip or Family Day?

Recently, Daughter talked about going back to school. The idea of high school as portrayed in shows like Saved by the Bell and Degrassi thrill her. She remembers why we stopped traditional schooling but truly believes High School would be different. I believe it, too, but my thoughts of how different things will be don’t exactly thrill me. And so, I’ve decided to nix the idea of sending her back. At least for another year. After that? I don’t know. I’ll have to decide that as the time draws nearer.

The homeschooling lifestyle is just that – a lifestyle. I enjoy getting up in the morning without having to rush or worry whether homework has been completed and put away. I love not worrying about my daughter carrying a 15 pound book bag on her back all day. And I love not worrying about how much homework she’ll have and when she’ll have the time to just ‘be’.

It’s not pure bliss. I won’t lie. But it works for my family. In fact, the beauty of it is being able to adjust the learning methods as we grow more comfortable with the process. And of course, there’s the freedom of participating in activities with other homeschoolers. Like recently, when we went to Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay and covered both American History and Art.

raynham-hall-oyster-bay-long-island

The owner of the house, Samuel Townsend, was a Patriot when the population of Oyster Bay area was mainly Loyalists.  The children – ranging in age from 6 to 14 – were given an in-depth description of how a family whose loyalty was so firmly embedded in hope for this infant country had to live a lie when, after the Battle of Long Island, the British army occupied their home. They saw a letter written in 1777, from George Washington. Read it, ooo’d and aaaah’d at being so close to that original and recognizable piece of history. They were told how people lived during the times – day to day activities and chores, including the methods and necessity of candle making. They were shown entries in a diary from one of the Townsend girls who fell in love with one of the British soldiers occupying her home. Heartbreaking in it’s honesty, it clearly expressed how she knew she loved an ‘enemy’ but earnestly hoped – no, prayed – their differences could be overcome and they could one day be together. That day would never come and Sarah, or Sally as she was called, never married, but instead lived the rest of her life pinning for the one man who’d stolen her heart.

book_and_quill1 At the end of the tour and lecture, the children were given quills to form into pens. Using it to write and draw proved interesting… and, for some, quite messy. They gave a valiant effort though not one of them came close to the billowy and ornate flourishes contained in Sally Townsend’s diary or even in the hasty yet fluid lines from George Washington’s letter. 

They came away from the tour excited and enlightened and with an appreciation for the advances we’ve made in our day-to-day existence – as well as with a deeper understanding of how vital  and personal the fight had been.   

Sure, public schools have field trips, too. I know that. But there’s something magical about being there as a family, about learning together and sharing those wondrous ah-ha moments. Of course, as I said, it’s a lifestyle that’s not for everyone, but it works for us and my only regret is that we didn’t start the homeschooling process when Daughter was in elementary school. I would have loved to witness the ‘ah-ha’ moments she had during those wonderfully innocent and exciting years.

Back to “no-school”

I have to say it, while I disliked school as a kid, I did love the unique scent the end of summer brought. I called it the ‘smell of school’ and I liked it. It meant a change was coming and change excited me… to a certain degree.

Now that the air has that ‘smell of school’ again, I’m happy the change we’ll be experiencing will be unique. Yes, we’ll be starting ‘school’ but as homeschoolers, ours is more like ‘no-school’. We can pack the books and pencils, hop on our bikes and sit under a tree in the park to study. We can head to a museum to study art, science or natural history. We can sleep late, stop when we’re tired, then pick up again later on. The beauty of homeschooling – for us, as I know it’s not for everyone – is that children are constantly learning. Feeding their inquisitive minds is fun – and can certainly be a challenge. One thing that I love the most is that I learn as Daughter learns. I’m either reminded of things I’ve forgotten or I’m awakened to something new. What a thrill to learn together and to share the excitement of new concepts or understandings.

I’m very fortunate to be able to homeschool my daughter. It’s not just a wonderful experience for her, but a wonderful one for all of us as a family. There are some days when I think I’ve accomplished very little in my life, and I feel terribly low. Like right now with my writing, which has been on the back burner all summer. But then I realize how much we actually do – together – and know when Daughter grows up, she’ll take wonderful memories and moments along with her. Memories and moments I helped create for her not just as her mom but as her teacher and fellow student. She’ll be a life-learner, interested in why and how things are going on around her, not just that they are. The thought makes me smile as I plan another outing for tomorrow. Music and culture are the themes of the day.

Labor day morning at Bryant Park, NYC where pianist, Frank Owens, will be sharing the phenomenal music of Scott Joplin, the Gershwin’s, Eubie Blake and more while we sit under the trees and listen. And then Labor Day afternoon at the Botanical Gardens where we’ll learn about the culture of the Lanape Indians – a Native Nation vital to our area’s history.  

I look at possible events and can’t help circle them thinking, “Wow! This should be exciting!” And after all, isn’t that what childhood – indeed life – should be about?

And the winner is…

Well… you’ll just have to wait on that while I tell you about my day today. 🙂

Today was a brilliant day. We had our homeschooling “moving-up day” picnic. It was wonderful. The weather was glorious and the park we went to was just stunning. It’s called Belmont Lake State Park. The lake is so wide and still. So still, it looked glossy.

Belmont Lake Stat Park  Rowboats - Belmont Lake State Park

Considering that all week we had a heat wave here – into triple digits for several days – having this day was a gift. We arrived at the park at 10 this morning, and the children – about 40 or so of them – had time for free play while us parents chatted about the accomplishments we all witnessed this school year. At noon, we had lunch, and then we really started cooking! The drama club – of which Daughter is a part – put on a play. Two plays, actually. The younger crew performed Hansel and Gretel while the older crew, the one Daughter is in, performed Perseus and Medusa. What fun this was.

The stress of the last few rehearsals was a little overwhelming. And last night, we were up until midnight in my house, running lines. BUT… all was worth it because it went off without a hitch. Well… maybe one or two but no one noticed and it was a blast. When an audience laughs where you want them to laugh, you know you’ve done it right.

I’m thrilled that the school year is over but, in a way, I’m also a little disappointed. The homeschooling group we belong to is like an extended family for us. Great families, great activities, great fun. I’ll see them all in September and we’ll have more adventures together. But this was such a great year for us that I am indeed a little sad to see it end. At least I can say in all sincerity, it ended on a super, super high.

And back to our winner… drum roll please…

The winner of this lovely little item –

Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Flip-flop Necklace

… as mentioned in my previous post… was chosen by Daughter. The names of everyone who commented were written on individual pieces of paper and tossed into her Bronx Zoo cap. She closed her eyes, reached in and plucked out the one with Kathleen’s name on it!

KATHLEEN?! Come on down!! 🙂

Kathleen, just go to my website  and fill in your info. Go to the Contact page. In the ‘comments’ section, fill in your mailing address, then click ‘send’, and I will send this necklace right to you!

I hope you’ll enjoy it and wear it with pride.

Thanks everyone!

The Archaeological Perspective

As a fairly new homeschooling family, I’ve been amazed to discover how many learning opportunities there are for children beyond traditional book learning. We left public school at the beginning of last year and immediately began an online curriculum with teacher support. I believed there had to be structure, and to me ‘structure’ meant textbooks, essays and tests. Boy, was I wrong.

It has taken me two full ‘school’ years to fully realize book learning isn’t all there is. While we have experienced an amazingly wide range of hands-on activities – one more exciting than the other – I would have to say the best, by far, is the most recent. It’s called The Archaeological Perspective and it is a 4-day archaeological camp.

When my daughter was too young to even pronounce the word ‘archaeologist’, she knew that’s what she wanted to be. She called it being a ‘bone hunter’. She’s realized that dream this week in a very small but significant way.

During the camp, the children attending are taught a brief history of the period they will be unearthing. In this case, it is China’s Ch’in Dynasty – 3rd Century BC. Actual artifacts from that period (as well as earlier and later periods) are buried and the children are taught how to properly excavate the area, uncover stunning and fragile objects, handle them carefully and clean them thoroughly.

This is how their site was set up –

The Archaeological Perspective  Do-the-dig 2

And here are some of the remarkable artifacts they unearthed – keep in mind, these are NOT reproductions. They are the actual artifacts.

Do-the-dig 3 Do-the-Dig - 4 Do-the-dige 5 - Terra Cotta Archer Do-the-dig 6

Daughter is enthralled. She cannot wait each morning to get up and get out there to see what else she’ll discover. She’s actually handling objects made thousands of years ago – THOUSANDS of years ago!!! – and has learned the history of their creation.

After digging for three days, there will be a ‘museum’ presentation of all the artifacts the children have uncovered, and a reception with foods of the region. This is one week out of 12 1/2 years that I’ve actually been happy to have my daughter playing in dirt… and looking like she’s enjoyed every second of it.

Indiana Jones… move over, handsome… there’s a new Indy in town.

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