Boston Magazine Article Debrief

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The editors of Boston Magazine certainly know how to tap into hyper-parenting fears about how to pursue the "best" education for our children. They want to sell magazines and it's a sure bet they will. I have no problem with the editorial slant, as skewed as it is from the reality of the article and the relaxed, unschooling approaches of most of the families highlighted in it. Homeschooling is on the cover of a VERY mainstream magazine's annual "Best Schools" issue. It's a big deal. Still, it's important to set the record straight a bit.

In its online version of the homeschooling cover story, the article's sub-heading states: "More and more of Boston's smartest families are opting out of the education system to homeschool their children. Is this the new model for creating elite kids?" 

Now, maybe there are some parents who choose homeschooling to create elite kids and ensure a spot in the Ivy League. But I've never met them.

Most parents pursue homeschooling because they are not happy with conventional, compulsory schooling. In fact, according to a recent Department of Education homeschooling survey, the top reason that the nation's 2.2 million homeschoolers list for choosing to homeschool is "concern about the environment of other schools."

Unschoolers probably go a step further to say that we value self-directed learning and want our children to be in charge of their own education, their own destiny, without adult coercion and compulsion. Milva McDonald (no relation), whose Harvard-bound, unschooled daughter is on the cover of the magazine, just wrote a wonderful post on her blog with her reaction to the article. Like me and my unschooled friends, her homeschooling goal was never about college and elitism. Never. 

My unschooling friend, Tracy, who is spotlighted throughout the article also wrote a great reaction to the piece on her blog, reinforcing the distinction between the unschooling approach that most of my friends and I follow, and the traditional school-at-home model that was described in the article. Unschooling and school-at-home couldn't be more different. The former approach positions the child as in control of her own learning; the latter positions an adult as determining what a child should know, when and how, and it usually involves purchasing packaged curriculum.

This is not to suggest that unschooling parents are uninvolved or inattentive. Far from it! In fact, an unschooling parent is arguably more involved and more attentive. We listen to our children, spot their talents and interests, provide them with abundant time and space and freedom to learn, and connect them to the many resources and mentors available in our communities to help them pursue their passions and deepen their knowledge.

I also think that the article doesn't fully showcase just how vibrant and diverse and connected the local Boston homeschooling community really is. There are homeschool park days almost every day of the week here and deep friendships that form from them -- for both children and parents. Yes, there are a lot of classes and opportunities and resources for homeschoolers and the article illustrates them well. But it's the people who make the community, and who sustain and grow it.

Regardless of the editorial bent and lack of clarity between "unschooling" and "school-at-home" approaches, I still like the article. And did I mention it's on the cover?

Of Boston Magazine.

It's kind of a big deal. 

Boston Magazine Homeschool Article

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

If you're a Boston Magazine subscriber, you have probably already received your copy of the new September "Best Schools" issue.

Guess what's on the cover.

Yep, Homeschool!!

With the tag line, "Why the new road to the Ivy League just might lead through your living room," this cover story by Bridget Samburg positions homeschooling as a mainstream option for parents considering all of their public and private education choices.

Several local friends are quoted in the magazine, including Tracy from OffKLTR, Deanna from Adventures in Teaching My Own, Megan from The Other Baby Book, Pat Farenga from John Holt Associates, and Milva from A Potluck Life, whose Harvard-bound, unschooled daughter beautifully graces the cover of the magazine. 

You all know that we are unschoolers, meaning that we don't follow a curriculum and do not have set times for "teaching and learning." The article briefly mentions how we value self-directed learning and that my children learn naturally as we go about our days together, exploring the city, gathering with friends, being together as a family. The article highlights different approaches to homeschooling, from a traditional, structured "school-at-home" model to the unschooling, whole-life learning approach that most of my friends above and I gravitate toward.

The cover story is now available online! 

This is big, folks. Boston Magazine's "Best Schools" cover story is about homeschooling. 

It doesn't get much better than that.

Why I Don't Like Summer Reading Programs

Monday, August 24, 2015

(Reposting from the blog archives…)

In her guest post on the blog earlier this week, veteran homeschooler Milva McDonald (no relation) wrote about the ways in which she helped her children learn the 3 Rs. One of her bullet-points on reading really stood out to me: 
  • We never participated in any summer reading clubs or programs that rewarded our kids for reading.
Yes! I couldn't agree more. As August comes to a close and back-to-school time emerges, children all across the country will hand in their various summer reading logs and get an assortment of rewards, ranging from stickers and pencils to free meals at a local restaurant or free admission to a museum. In some library systems, students participating in summer reading programs can enter for a chance to win a "grand prize," like an iPod or a digital camera.

I have a visceral reaction to programs such as these. I know what some might say: Libraries are just trying to encourage reading. What's so wrong about that? 

I can think of no better way to stomp out a child's natural love of books and reading than to ask her to read X number of books in X period of time and then give her a prize for doing so. I recall vividly as a second-grader getting so excited about the sheer competition of summer reading programs that I read merely for the game of it, for the prize at the end, without any interest in what I was actually reading. It wasn't until college that I once again learned to appreciate reading for the sake of reading, and not simply as a means to an end.

Libraries are the lifeblood of our family's learning. We spend a great deal of our time at various libraries, listening to librarian-led story times, gathering books that capture the children's interest, soaking in the sheer volume of books and resources available all in one public place, appreciating the importance of reading and literacy. Setting up reading as a rewards-based competition with certain milestones and markers and comparisons to others creates unnecessary obstacles to a child's natural curiosity and drive to learn when they are given the freedom and opportunity to do so. 

But, some might say, what about the children who aren't surrounded by literacy on a daily basis, who don't have parents who love to read, who don't have mountains of books in their homes? What about them?

I would say it's all the more important for those children to learn to appreciate reading for the sake of reading, and not for the sake of a sticker. Libraries and other community-based organizations can use summertime as an opportunity to ignite--or reignite--a child's natural curiosity, to help a child who is deprived of home-based literacy to discover the joy and adventure that can be found in books, to help a child understand that why she may want to dig into books all summer is so much more than a check-mark on a library form or the promise of a plastic frisbee.

Children are natural learners. They don't need to be coerced or cajoled into learning. They don't need competitions and rewards. They need to be given the freedom to learn what they want, when they want, how they want. They need to be given the freedom to ask their own questions, to find their own answers, to uncover their own interests without others dictating the way. And they need the commitment of their parents and their community to offer them the necessary time, space, resources, and guidance to do this.

Children need support, not stickers.

Urban Homeschooling On the Rise

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I am delighted to be quoted in Matthew Hennessey's well-written and spot-on article for City Journal, which was re-printed today by Time Magazine.

Check it out!

"Why More Urban Parents Are Choosing Homeschooling"

Boston's Local Market

Monday, August 10, 2015

If you haven't yet been to the new Boston Public Market, the first-in-the-nation permanent, year-round, locally-sourced farmers' market, you should check it out!

Similar to Haymarket, the current year-round outdoor food market, but hyper-local, requiring all of its products to be sourced only from New England, the Boston Public Market is a city gem.

If it isn't locally-grown or locally-caught, it won't be available. You won't find any lemons or avocados, and berries in January are out. It is a treasure-trove of local goods celebrating New England's seasonal harvests. When we explored the space over the weekend, it was vibrant and bustling.

The market just opened a few days ago, and other major cities expect to follow in Boston's local food footsteps in the coming months. Open five days a week, all year long, it is sure to be a place we visit and enjoy often.

Flirting with Fall

Friday, August 7, 2015

It's about this time every year, still knee-deep in summer fun, that I start to have that pull towards fall. Maybe it's the slight shift in the air come August: that hint, especially at dawn, of the scent of early autumn. Maybe it's the shortening days, the light fading earlier and earlier each evening. I pay closer attention to my local homeschooling message boards, noticing any interesting classes or activities planned for cooler days. The September calendar gets dotted. The anticipation grows.

With large swaths of unstructured time and plenty of room for play still the cornerstones of our unschooling days, fall definitely signals a shift in our rhythms. We will reconnect with friends who spend the summer traveling and vacationing. Weekly park days will reconvene and form the foundation of our learning weeks. Our beloved homeschool math class will resume. We'll take advantage of various homeschool-only programs, like those offered by Plimoth Plantation and Historic New England.

Here's a glimpse of how I see our fall shaping up:

Mondays - Homeschool park day
Tuesdays - Museum day
Wednesdays - Homeschool math
Thursdays - Homeschool park day
Fridays - Homeschool soccer

Sprinkled into the cracks of each day are also visits with relatives, play dates with friends, afternoon street play with neighbors, walks to parks and playgrounds, library time, errands. And then there are the crafting, reading, playing, writing, enjoying music, cooking and baking, eating, napping, and myriad other small acts of living and learning together as a family.

It will be a full fall. (But not too full.) I'll hold on to these summer rhythms for at least another month, but as the calendar inches toward September, I can feel fall's flirtations. Can't you?

Hike. Swim. Eat. Repeat.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My favorite beaches are the ones you need to hike to. Wide-open, rocky, pocked with sandy spots and brimming with critters hiding at low tide, these tucked away beaches are the perfect places to spend a warm August day.

We are visiting my parents near the Cape this week, trying to seize as many days at the water and into the woods as possible. Hike, swim, hike, swim. Repeat. That seems to be the rhythm of these summer days. And eat! Bottomless bellies need to be constantly filled from all of this hiking and swimming. Luckily, we have that organic farm nearby. The only problem is that the cherry tomatoes are usually gobbled up before we even get home.

I'm finding that the more protein-packed our snacks are, the longer they fill those bellies. So on our hikes or at the beach I usually bring along one or both of these two simple summer snacks.

What are your favorite filling summer snacks?


2 cups rolled oats
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey

In a large bowl, mix together peanut butter and honey. Add oats and roll into bite-size balls. (Also good to freeze and then let thaw along your hike!)

Egg McMuffins

8 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup of shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups or grease well. Mix beaten eggs and cheese together and pour half-way into muffin cups. Bake 18-20 minutes or until centers are set and tops are lightly brown.