Saturday, January 5, 2013


Well, this transition to high school and institutional school has been quite a challenge.  I am going to try to explain (without too much confusion) what we've experienced the last 6 months.  Eleanor's goals were these:  to improve her social skills around peers, get more academic rigor, and experience what "real" high school is like.  She has done all three.

It has been an interesting and challenging journey.  We are trying desperately to use the school system to meet Eleanor's needs, but it has not been easy.  We are not willing to sacrifice our family life, educational goals, or her soul.

After the first quarter in the local high school, Eleanor decided that the pace of the academic classes was too slow and the interactions between the students and teachers too often unproductive.  She lamented that one teacher, in particular, was very nice and interesting when she was one-on-one with Eleanor, but she turned into a sarcastic and not-so-nice person when dealing with the class as a whole.  Eleanor would've loved to explore science with this woman in another setting.  However, the school setting was just not productive or enjoyable.

I found Eleanor's reflection incredibly similar to Grace Llewellyn's description of her teaching years.  Llewellyn quit teaching and started advocating homeschooling and actually wrote a book entitled The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education.  Ms. Llewellyn explains that she quit teaching after she realized she became a different person (who she did not like) when in front of a class.  She realized the traditional classroom setting was not a good environment for learning.

So...Eleanor withdrew from academics at the high school and started taking her academics through our local public on-line high school.  She decided to stay in the local high school's choir, which she really enjoyed.  While the pace of classes was too slow at the local high school, the pace at the on-line high school is faster and the material more difficult.  Let's just say that doing classes 100% on line has its ups and downs.  It is very easy to get really far behind, really quickly.  It is lonely.  It is flexible (a good thing). In summary, French didn't work so well, English and Algebra have been OK.  However, we must continually ask ourselves, "IS IT WORTH IT?"  Eleanor's stress level has been very high and her love of learning has been compromised.

On a positive note, Eleanor has learned a lot about herself and has improved her people skills with peers.  She has done well in her on-line classes, which have required much more traditional school-type work than I have ever asked of her.  She is having a wonderful experience being recognized and rewarded for her singing skills at the high school.  The kids are very supportive and love to hear her sing.  She is also playing basketball for the school.

We continue to strive to find a balance between traditional classes and real-life, soul-filling learning.  We have decided to cut back on traditional classes and re-incorporate less traditional learning. Eleanor is embarking on a real-life project that will stretch her skills and help others.  She has committed to volunteer with Friendly Water for the World ( which brings BioSand Water Filter technology to Africa.  She is nervous, but I think it will be an amazing experience for her.  She has already had contact with a woman in Uganda and will go to Washington State in the summer to learn to build these filters.  If she wants, she may go to Uganda in November.

We continue on this wonderful journey and feel fortunate that we have options!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn...

This school year is bringing a fairly substantial change to our household.  Eleanor has decided to attend our local high school part-time.  It is legal, though rare, in our school district.  Luckily, the principal is supportive and welcoming.  Eleanor has chosen this path for several reasons:  just to try "regular" school, to have more consistent interaction with peers, to meet kids her age in our neighborhood, and to have more structure for some of her academics (I am not always good at this...).  I understand and respect her reasons.  She spent a lot of time considering her alternatives for 9th grade.  It has not been an easy decision.

Our local high school is in the process of "re-inventing" itself.  It has had some very difficult years.  Most of the kids are on the Free Lunch Program.  Teacher turnover is high.  The current principal is beginning his second year.  We are going to take it week by week.  Since this school is implementing a new year-round schedule this year, last week was the first week of the new school year.  The school is incorporating 4 off-campus learning excursions.  The first one was last week and I chaperoned.  Eleanor and I were very impressed by the amount of support the kids gave each other (including her, one of two Anglo students out of 300) when they were pushing their comfort zones (like sharing a talent, speaking up at workshops, etc.).  Of course, there were behavior issues and the lack of freedom we experienced due to the needs of crowd control was hard at times (for example, our little group of 12 girls traveled en masse everywhere we went).  As homeschoolers, we have gotten used to making our own schedule and avoiding crowds!

As we push the envelope with the school district and push ourselves out of our own comfort zones, we will learn and grow.  I'll keep you posted...

Monday, March 5, 2012

The "Producers"

Although we are constantly pegged as consumers by the media, I think we really prefer our role as producers in society. We maintain this dance between consuming and producing:  producer by day, consumer by night.  Producing usually requires some type of creativity, while consuming is more passive (maybe that is why some people enjoy bargain-hunting so much--it makes shopping less passive and we feel more productive).  Some people have jobs that provide more satisfaction than others, so some adults find other ways to be producers "after hours" through their hobbies.  Parents are producers 24/7 (which can be taxing) by actively producing new members of our society as they raise their children.  As much energy as it takes, it is so rewarding when our children become great human beings right before our eyes.

Children are given plenty of opportunities to be active consumers in our society of "buy, buy, buy."  However, they are not provided as many opportunities to be REAL producers.  Most opportunities for producing are fabricated by the adults around them--teachers, parents, and coaches.  In school, they are given assignments in which they are required to produce something--like a completed worksheet or a science fair project.  Some lucky children find a passion and are able to pursue it (sports, music, etc.) and feel the wonderful power of producing something truly beautiful (a piece of music, a well-played basketball game, a drawing, or a well-cooked meal).

This producer/consumer paradigm has helped me re-frame our homeschooling journey.  We are in the process of shifting our homeschooling experience to provide more real opportunities for my kids to be producers through projects of their selection.  Through these projects, they will not only have products, but they will also learn the skills and knowledge they need to be successful producers throughout their lives:  project planning and execution--something adults are required to do at home and at work on a daily basis.  Along the way, they will attain a certain level of competence at reading, writing, and math because those are basic skills adults need to be successful producers.

I believe that being productive is, in itself, a motivator.  When the day is done, don't you feel better when you are surrounded by things you have produced rather than the spoils of your consuming?

Producing is fun!  Our entry into the 2012 Peep's Diorama Contest

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Walkabout

The Walkabout education model is a self-directed learning experience that is based on an Aboriginal coming-of-age ritual.  The core of the model is five "Challenges" (called "Passages" by the school we visited). These challenges cover areas of life:  adventure, practical skills, creativity, logical inquiry, and community service.  The student selects the specific project for each challenge (with the help of an advising group) and creates the plan to accomplish it.

To be clear, these challenges must really be challenges.  The student must select challenges which are really hard, ones which force them to face fears or require a lot of physical and/or mental exertion.  These things are meant to take years, not months.  This is a plan for all of high school.

When they have completed these challenges, the idea is that they are ready for adulthood.  They have proven their readiness to be a responsible member of the tribe.  I highly recommend Maurice Gibbons' article introducing this idea

This model seems quite logical to me as a road map for the high school experience.  It creates an experience where learning has real meaning.  There is a reason for the learning.  The teen is highly engaged in her high school experience.  By creating the challenges, she will grow as a person and learn along the way.  This is not an easy way out.

As my daughter weighs the pros and cons of different high school options, we will incorporate all or some of the Walkabout model over the next four years.  She will be an active participant in her education.  She will do more than simply pick courses and satisfy requirements.  Hopefully, when she is 18 years old, she'll have completed some challenges, faced some fears and feel ready to join the world community as an active and engaged adult.

Re-thinking high school

As my daughter finishes her 8th grade year, we are confronted with what to do for high school.  It seems the beginning of middle school and high school are common times that homeschoolers enter "traditional" school.  It has always puzzled me since, I feel, that as kids get older and have more maturity, the opportunities for learning in the community expand greatly.

However, as our family approaches this point ourselves, we are confronted with the reality that homeschoolers can have a difficult time finding peers with whom to socialize.  The "easy" answer is to jump into a place that has lots of kids the same age:  a school.  But is it worth all the sacrifices:  the loss of control over your time; the negative peer pressure; the bells, whistles, hurtles, hoops, etc.?  These are the questions we face.

Parenting choices are rarely easy.  This is merely one more in our quest to provide our children with the most healthy and nurturing environment that we can.  We want to prepare our children for the adult world that they will eventually have to enter.  What is the best way?  Traditional school hardly seems the answer.

We visited a non-traditional school the other day.  I was excited by their model.  Thrilled to find an educational institution that did not seem like an institution.  It is a wonderful place...if you have to go to school.  However, no matter how wonderful the model, it is still, alas, a school.  It still has the trappings of school:  the shallow interactions, the peer pressure, the posing.  This school, I admit, seems to have less than a traditional school, but it is still there.

This school, however, has introduced us to a potential model for our high school experience:  The Walkabout.  Read my next post to learn more.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sometimes, it is all about timing

My daughter wouldn't pick up a pencil to write anything (barely even her name) until she was about 10 years old.  She hated writing.  She got caught up in the misspelled words or word choice--the minutia.  She couldn't see the big picture.  Now, at 13, she is quite a prolific writer.  She writes pages and pages.  The change did not occur because I gave her writing assignments or forced her to write.  It was serendipity--the right thing at the right time.

In April of last year, she attended a writing workshop (at my request) held by a dear woman who is gentle, yet firm.  Some kids respond to her methods, some don't.  My daughter responded--big time.  I can point to that workshop as the day she became "a writer."  She continues to attend these monthly writing workshops.  They are stand-alone workshops with a rare optional assignment given.  Today, my daughter's written stories are full of wonderfully descriptive words (many still misspelled), loads of detail and characters with personality.  The amount of time she spends on writing ebbs and flows, but I do not give her any direction or "assignments."  I am merely a consumer of her writing.  I listen when she asks and give ideas when she asks.

She had a similar experience with reading.  She did not really read until she was 9.  The more I pushed, the more she pushed back.  The day she said, "I hate reading," I pulled back.  Then, on her 9th birthday, someone gave her a book that she liked and read.  From that point on, she considered herself "a reader" and she enjoyed it.  Now, she is always reading several books at once and loves to read.  It was again, the right thing at the right time.

In school, kids are not allowed the luxury to wait for the "right thing at the right time." If they are not progressing at the normal/approved rate, they are labeled and everyone starts working on a "plan" to get them up to "grade level."  Of course, this approach alerts the child to the fact that they are not progressing "on schedule" and there is something wrong with them or they are not smart enough.

I know that some kids have real learning struggles and I am not dismissing those that need special help in crossing hurdles.  However, I do think that people are individuals and have different schedules for when they "get" things.  Will it hinder my daughter in her life that she became a reader at 9, rather than 6?  It doesn't seem so.  However, would it have hindered her life if she had been surrounded by people telling her that she was "slow" or people who kept pushing her every day to read when she wasn't ready--making her feel dumb?  I think so.

All the pushing in the world does not make the "right time" come any sooner.  If kids are allowed to blossom at their own rate, I feel they will have the self-confidence they need to be successful.

Closing schools and getting rid of "bad" teachers

I read yet another article about school reform that was about closing schools and getting rid of "bad" teachers.  This seems to be a trend and mantra in the current wave of education "reform."  Both of these strategies seem very flawed to me.  I'll address "closing schools" in this post.

Why are we closing schools?  Doesn't that mean kids will have to travel farther from home to go to school?  I doubt they are closing the wealthy, high-performing schools, so most of the kids affected are probably from neighborhoods with "poorly performing" schools, ie poor neighborhoods.  There seem to me many reasons to put our resources toward ensuring all kids have a quality school within walking distance of their house

1) Family Time
With family time dwindling, shouldn't we be finding ways to give families more time together?  Increasing a child's commute to school does not do this.  Kids must get up earlier (which makes them even more sleep deprived than they already are) and endure long bus rides to and from school (up to 3 hours a day, I've heard!).  The school already chips away at family time by filling evenings with homework.  When is a family supposed to just hang out together?  To have that "quality" family time, you must first have some "quantity."  If kids lived within a short walk to school, they could even go home for lunch--like they used to in the past (and like they still do in some European countries).

2) The Environment
Aren't we trying to decrease greenhouse gases?  Why are we increasing the need for buses and cars to get kids to school?  I have personally witnessed long lines of idling cars on a cold day waiting 15-30 minutes to pick up kids from school.

3) The Cost
That gas isn't cheap and running the extensive system of school buses isn't either. 

4) Neighborhood Cohesion
With no school in the neighborhood, or most kids "choicing out," kids don't go to school with their neighbors.  This means families in the same neighborhood might be less likely to know and interact with each other (playing after school, attending school functions, etc.).  Neighborhood cohesion can affect all sorts of "indicators" for a health community:  crime and safety, neighbors helping neighbors, goods and services in the neighborhood, etc.

5) Parental Involvement in Schools
"Parental involvement" is always mentioned as an indicator for school success.  It seems to me that the farther a school is from a family's home, the more difficult it would be to get the parents "involved."

6) Children's Health
This seems like a no-brainer to me.  Isn't it healthier for kids to walk 10-30 minutes to school instead of riding a bus for 1 1/2 hours?  Please, First Lady Obama, see the connection and work for strong neighborhood schools to combat childhood obesity!

7) The Next Step
Hopefully, the next step is changing the way school is "done."  Keeping kids in the neighborhood, I believe, is a good first step.  Allowing principals, teachers and parents to work together to create the school that is right for their neighborhood is what, I hope, will follow.

I'll talk about those "bad" teachers later.