We’re back on the bus. Or at least David and Laura are anyway, and I’m quite thankful for it. I should be clear about my gratitude here, which has more to do with reclaiming my time back than it has to do with the school part of it. I’ve given some thought to last year and wanted to share things I learned. This letter is geared towards parents interested in breaking away from the traditional bricks-and-mortar schools for any period of time as well as those who simply want to supplement their children’s learning.
Let’s cover the law and regulatory concerns first because this is an obstacle for many of us. It took me over half a year of research to come to terms with doing this on my own, walking into my district offices, and withdrawing my three children. That only took a few minutes. I admit that the withdrawal letter took longer to write because I included a page of information the district didn’t really care about. Only a paragraph is required for our state.
Effective immediately, I am withdrawing my child, Jane Doe, from the Your Town Public School District. I will be homeschooling my child in accordance with CT General Statute (C.G.S.) 10-184.
There you go. I waited to meet the Superintendent but she was busy and the district never asked a question the entire time we were gone. This proves that indeed Connecticut is a “Green State” because it is one of eleven states that have no requirement for contact with parents. Too bad if you reside in New York or Massachusetts, because these are “High Regulation” states.
Curriculum choices may consume you, but I want to tell you that it is easier, far easier than you imagine. There is so much wonderful stuff available today, but you need only focus on three things in grades K-8, mathematics, English, and history. I used Saxon Math (the old books not the new Common Core ones published by McGraw Hill), Rod & Staff English set, and Story of the World by Dr. Susan Wise Bauer. The English set is arguably the best English program available; it includes writing assignments every lesson. It’s dated, I agree, and there are bible lessons and references which we found entertaining, but the program is excellent and I learned a lot I was never taught myself. Math is a traditional program and Story of the World is a history book which lends itself to reading aloud. I purchased the DVDs to reinforce learning in the car.
Outside the big three of math, English, and history, do what your kids like, or better, do what you like. I believe in the classical model which stresses learning from the greats, building a solid knowledge base in the elementary years, learning to question and engage in the middle school years and developing persuasive rhetoric in the teen, high school years. Our extras included Latin, piano, logic, physics, penmanship, typing, athletic pursuits, and reading classics.
Schedules are helpful for everyone because let’s face it, kids need structure but you will as well. I printed a schedule for each child and they worked on math first, then history, and English. Working on math first thing is important, the other subjects they can study as they wish. On a good day they’re done the big three inside of three hours. In the middle grades, math will take an hour if they are working at the appropriate level. Our children had very full schedules because of the extras.
Traveling changed the routine and the children took only their math and English books with them, studying two or less hours in the morning, touring during the day, journaling in the evening. We carried a lot of books the first couple trips and found that tearing out chapters or copying helped lighten the load. History comes alive when you travel to the destination and the world becomes the classroom, like visiting Kensington Palace after studying the Victorian Empire. But after weeks of travel, we were ready to go home, to see our dogs, to do laundry, and to sleep in our own beds.
To stay in touch with friends at home, we joined some fun groups and started some too. We hosted a weekly board game with my son, invited friends over for both daughters and joined the youth groups at church. The kids tried new things like riding lessons and travel teams and they went early while their peers were still in school. But it was their friends they missed most, and that is a lifestyle change
Our lives changed. I have taught soldiers, corporate employees, and college students, but teaching your own children is different because the relationship is unique. All parents are educators to some degree because you are models in all you do and say. Parents are in the driver’s seat for education and if you forget that, don’t be afraid when you crash. We had a few accidents this year. Teaching three children is consuming and changes your way of life. My eighth grader became very independent, the sixth grader needed occasional help and the fourth grader needed routine instruction. It’s a few hours of your time each day and kids have good days and bad. They are growing emotionally too, so that can be quite challenging. The rewards are great, but the stressors are too. The path is not better, it is different and it is not for everyone. It helps to have an abundance of patience and an open mind. The concern is not the curriculum or whether your child will keep up, because she will. The challenge is most likely your sanity.
It’s taken me time to complete this letter because it’s hard to evaluate our year without seeing how the children transitioned back into school. Caroline chose, with our full support, to attend a private school. She has found a level of contentment and challenge that was not on her horizon one year ago because she was so influenced by her peer group. We met for conferences yesterday and Dr. Z who teaches Spanish exclaimed with some fervor, “Caroline speaks English! “ which was a surprising statement from a foreign language teacher. He continued, “And she is the only student in the class who understands the correct use of whom.” He congratulated me as her English teacher that she actually understands our language, its usage, and in this she is unique. Her English teacher also commented on this.
I was flattered, but I knew it had more to do with the curriculum than my teaching. The more I used Rod & Staff, the more I liked it. David and Laura have mentioned homeschooling again, possibly next year. If I had it in me, I would teach each child two to three years to ensure they knew English, history, and the fundamentals of mathematics. I have been close minded about education and this year, for the first time, we explored other paths, homeschooling and private school. I have serious concerns about public school and it’s refreshing to see excellent teachers simply teach in private school. It’s even more compelling to know that my kids learn and grow wherever they are, in school, at home, or abroad.
March 26, 2014