I first became interested in homeschooling as an education option for families as an undergraduate, but it wasn't until graduate school that I began to see homeschooling's greater implications in terms of education choice.
As I was reading the current issue of Ed. Magazine, the alumni publication of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), I thought back to my time there over a decade ago. I concentrated in the school's "administration, planning and social policy" division, where I grew increasingly alarmed at the lack of education choice for many families. It seemed that a district school was the only option for the majority of families, and I became very interested in ways to expand family choice, researching education policy and ideas such as charter school expansion and vouchers. I also saw homeschooling as a component of education choice for families, particularly as its numbers were swelling and community support structures were being established by and for homeschooling families.
It wasn't until I had my own children years later, and confronted their education options, that I realized homeschooling would be the best fit for our family. As theory became practice, as research became application, I felt fortunate to be able to choose homeschooling as a natural extension of our parenting philosophy and appreciation for child-led, self-directed learning.
While much has been done to introduce the idea of education choice over the past 10 years, there is still much to act on. Charter school numbers are growing, but demand still exceeds supply. Vouchers are such a hot political target that efforts to introduce them often stall. As EducationNext editor, Paul Peterson, writes in his book, Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning: "For all the talk about charters and vouchers, it is homeschooling that is the fastest-growing alternative to the country's district schools."
Families continue to want and expect options for their children's education, and as they do, I hope, more choice will be available to them. As Peterson writes: "...education is now being thought of as something that must be customized to the needs and wants of families and individuals. That families should have a choice of schools is no longer just the ideology of an isolated fringe; it is now broadly accepted as a legitimate claim, despite the disputes over the form it should take."
I feel glad to now be an active participant in the education choice movement, selecting the education option that is best for my family, rather than just an academic onlooker.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Monday, September 24, 2012
When I became interested in learning about different homeschooling approaches and pedagogical philosophies, one of the elements of Waldorf early education that most resonated with me is its focus on seasonal celebrations. I had never paid much attention to changing seasons, no matter how dramatic they are here in New England, or the historical, agricultural, and social contexts in which they occur. Now I do and it makes welcoming each new season an opportunity for celebration and reflection in our family.
We began this autumnal equinox weekend with a trip to the farmers' market on Saturday to collect our weekly CSA foods, and used this week's veggies and meats to make a hearty harvest stew for our family dinner, and "equinox corn muffins" for dessert--a recipe we enjoy from one of our favorite autumn children's books: We Gather Together: Celebrating the Harvest Season, by Wendy Pfeffer.
One of the fun things I've learned to appreciate as we've focused more on seasonal shifts is recognizing the harvests that are tied to each new season: harvesting Christmas trees and holly near the winter solstice, tapping maple syrup around the spring equinox, picking strawberries at the summer solstice, and apple-picking for the fall equinox. On Sunday, we enjoyed a trip out of the city to the apple orchard, and the subsequent scents of simmering apple sauce, baking apples, and apple pie from our fall kitchen.
The equinox weekend ended with our city's annual Revels RiverSing concert, a concert dedicated to celebrating the start of autumn with art, poetry, and a singing crowd of revelers on the banks of the Charles River.
How did you celebrate the autumnal equinox weekend with your family?
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Someday my chairs won't be sticky;
Someday my floors will have sheen;
Someday my home will be quiet and lonely,
Even if it is perfectly clean.
Someday my walls won't be painted in crayon;
Someday my faucets will shine;
Someday my children will be off and away,
And I'll miss these times they were mine.
Someday my sink will be spotless;
Someday my windows streak-free;
Someday my children will be on their own,
And I'll remember them at five, one, and three.
Someday I'll have organized utensil drawers,
And a tupperware cabinet you'd envy;
But now I'm enjoying these spots, streaks and spills,
And the children who make them around me.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
I got a call recently from the Massachusetts program coordinator at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). He had read my blog posts about our family's organic whole-diet CSA and our efforts to buy most of our food directly from farms and farm collaboratives, and was curious for my input in a series of urban homesteading workshops he is hoping to design and offer for homeschooled children next year.
We talked about the programs that NOFA/Mass. already offers for "grown-up" urban homesteaders, including classes on soil health, composting, urban gardening, rainwater collection, alternative energy sources, urban bee-keeping and backyard chicken-keeping, cheese-making and food preservation, and more. It seems to me that versions of these same classes would be perfect for young urban homesteaders as well! Perhaps less-focused on the "how" and more focused on the "what" and "why" for topics such as solar energy and urban chickens, this class series could create exciting learning opportunities for urban homeschoolers and others who are trying to live more sustainably and self-reliantly.
But that's just my opinion. Drew at NOFA/Mass. would like to gather more ideas on how such a series of urban homesteading classes for homeschooled children might work for next spring/summer, including input on topics and format. The classes would take place at various community gardening spots around the city, and would likely be a mix of two-hour morning drop-off classes for older homeschoolers, with maybe some simultaneous programming for those of us with littler sibling homesteaders. (My vote!)
Sunday, September 16, 2012
"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood." - Mr. Rogers
Someone recently asked me what the kids do at our weekly homeschool park days and playgroups where we gather together with other homeschooling families. Is there someone who leads a lesson each week? Do you have the kids do activities? What kind of learning takes place? The kids just play, I responded. Just play? this person asked, growing more skeptical.
Yes, just play. We grown-ups get out of their way and let the kids just play. And as we do, they learn so much more than we could ever teach them. They learn how to make new friends and involve others in their play. They learn to collaborate and create together, conjuring elaborate play scenes with descriptive characters. (Last week's involved crocodiles and kings.) They learn how to lead and how to follow, how to suggest and how to listen, how to negotiate and how to compromise. They learn frustration and disappointment, as well as success and reward. They learn how to use and transform natural materials from their vast play space into tools that augment their play. They learn by play.
Our learning "classroom" looks so different from the traditional ways in which children learn that it may understandably cause confusion and skepticism. But mounting research on the value of play-based learning for children reinforces what we homeschoolers already know: play is the work of children. The New York Times has reported over the past couple of years on the growing research on play-based learning as an antidote to the often over-scheduled, technology-driven lives of children, stating in this popular article: "Children learn to control their impulses through games like Simon Says, play advocates believe, and they learn to solve problems, negotiate, think creatively and work as a team when they dig together in a sandbox or build a fort with sofa cushions."
One of the most outspoken advocates for open, unstructured, free-play is Free-Range Kids author, Lenore Skenazy. She gained greater attention this week regarding her post about "charging" parents to let their kids roam unsupervised in Central Park. "I'm always trying to figure out ways to get kids back outside playing with each other," Skenazy said in a recent interview regarding her provocative blog post.
Getting my kids outside, immersed in free, unstructured play with others, building relationships, negotiating group dynamics, collaborating on creative projects, deepening their imaginations--these are important priorities in our homeschooling week. Even if it is just play.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
We spent much of the day at the ocean, finding crabs and snails, poking under rocks, exploring tide pools and seaweed patches, splashing in the sea beneath the bright September sunshine.
If you have a photo that captures a moment of your children's learning this week, please link to your blog in the comments below for us all to see!
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
If there is ever a time to visit museums, September is it. Tourists have finished their summer jaunts, students are back in school, field trips haven't begun yet, and the museums are marvelously empty, allowing us to slowly soak in all the great exhibits and enjoy one-on-one time with the museum educators.
I try to make September our "museum month," visiting as many of our city's museums as possible. While museums play a vital role in our urban homeschooling all year, we get the most out of them this month, before the groups begin pouring in again, before our fall activities get into full swing, before the cold weather makes picnic lunches on the museum grounds less inviting. This is the month to make our memberships worthwhile, asking lots of questions, getting to know the museum staff, finding out about homeschooling programs or group activities.
Here in the Boston area, for example, many of our museums offer classes specifically aimed at homeschoolers, including programs offered by the Museum of Fine Arts, the New England Aquarium, and the Franklin Park Zoo. And most museums, including the Boston Museum of Science pictured above, have excellent online learning activities, podcasts, videos and materials related to their exhibits that can enhance museum learning.
If you haven't peeked yet at the Smithsonian's online education site, I highly recommend it. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry, and the San Diego Zoo all have wonderful age-specific curricula, lesson plans, and activities available for free download or online viewing.
September is a great month to take advantage of the vast learning resources that local museums offer and use these tools to get the most out of the museums year-round. What are some of your favorite museums and museum-related resources?
Monday, September 10, 2012
Neighbor: How old is your daughter?
Me: Almost 6.
Neighbor: Where does she go to school?
Me: We homeschool.
Neighbor: Oh, I could never do that!
As the conversations continued, as I tried to make the homeschooling process seem a bit less mystifying, I unraveled some of the key issues that seemed most intimidating to parents regarding homeschooling. And, for the most part, it seemed to come down to time--as in too much of it.
While I do certainly believe that homeschooling grants us a lot of time, I am not convinced that it takes more time than parents dedicate to their child's traditional school. The parents I know whose children attend various public and private schools devote a great deal of their time to school-related activities, becoming active in PTO events, keeping abreast of academic expectations and performance, meeting with teachers and administrators, attending school functions, participating in school fundraisers, coordinating bake sales, planning after-school playdates and activities, making sure breakfast gets eaten, getting kids out the door to the bus, transporting kids here and there, preparing school lunches and snacks, and managing homework.
I don't think that homeschooling takes more time than all of that. There may be lesson plans to consider or activities to coordinate, playdates to organize and park days to attend, but we are able to move throughout our days and weeks at a slow, unhurried pace -- preventing burn-out from both children and grown-ups. We are able to adjust schedules, cancel activities, and regulate our pace if things get too hectic or if family rhythms change. We are able to focus our time on the activities that are most meaningful and important to us, recognizing changing interests and skill-levels. And then there is all that time for reading and snuggling, playing and pretending, dreaming and discovering.
In my view, homeschooling gives much more time than it takes.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
I didn't know how clients and deadlines would seem so much less important than on-demand nursing and diaper-changing.
I didn't know what it was like to have a non-stop, 'round-the-clock job.
I didn't know how messy my house could become or how I wouldn't mind.
I didn't know how intimate I would become with poop, and pee, and spit-up, and throw-up.
I didn't know how quickly mountains of dirty laundry and dishes could grow.
I didn't know what patience was and how to conjure it in the most difficult moments.
I didn't know how challenging, exhausting, frustrating, and draining mothering could be.
I didn't know how exhilarating, rewarding, invigorating, and uplifting mothering could be.
I didn't know how deep a mother's love could go.
I didn't know how transformative mothering is, how it leads us to discover new wisdom and strength.
I didn't know how important it would be to honor and protect birth, ensuring that we mothers are the ones in control of how our babies are born.
I didn't know how powerful mothering is, how extraordinary it is to grow, birth, feed, and nurture our babies with our own bodies.
I didn't know how powerful our home is, how productive it can be in sustaining our family.
I didn't know how much I would love it.
I didn't know much.
Friday, September 7, 2012
Homeschooling laws vary by state. It's legal to homeschool in all 50 states but states and school districts vary widely in what they require and expect. Massachusetts is one of a handful of "approval" states, or those that request parents to submit a formal education plan and receive an approval letter from the school district indicating that the education plan has been accepted.
We received our written approval yesterday.
As much as I feel the government shouldn't meddle much in the lives of individuals and families, I can go along with submitting a simple education plan each summer. I can appreciate that school districts want and need to account for all school-age children and make some attempt to ensure that there is no parental neglect or woeful inadequacy of academic content. Still, as I completed my brief education plan earlier this summer, modeled after this template, it seemed rather silly. Sure, I listed the resources we use in and around the city: the classes and lessons, the museums and libraries and universities, the civic and cultural events. I mentioned the books and magazines we are reading and those that will likely make their way into our home-library this year. I highlighted our focus on child-directed learning and listed some of the resources we use to trigger natural curiosity and exploration.
But it was just so...one-dimensional, so generic and bland compared to the actual learning and doing that takes place daily, weekly, and seasonally around here. True learning cannot be captured in a box or on a form; it cannot be measured around a set of arbitrary metrics that necessarily fail to recognize each child's dynamic talents and interests. True learning, the kind we all see with our children every day when they are given the time and space to do so, happens genuinely, spontaneously, involuntarily. Children are bursting to learn, to know, to do, to become.
We can nod our approval if it makes us feel good; but then let's get out of their way and let them learn.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Empty beaches. Warm water. Bright sunshine. Carefree picnics. This is such a wonderful time of the year for outside adventures. We spent much of today digging and splashing and swimming at Henry David Thoreau's famous Walden Pond. Not too far from the city, it's the perfect spot for September swimming with siblings.
Being at Walden, I couldn't help but think of Thoreau's Walden, or Life in the Woods, as his classic work is sometimes known. The themes of his book--simplicity, self-sufficiency, deep connections with Nature--continue to resonate with many of us. I especially love this quote of his from Walden:
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
I cherish the opportunity to live fully in the season with my little ones, spending time together outside on these warm, quiet, late-summer days, munching on cherry tomatoes at the pond, knowing that these September swimming days will pass just as quickly as their childhood.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
One of the nice things about unschooling is that we get to pick and choose from a variety of educational philosophies, incorporating the pieces we like most of each. One such philosophy is Waldorf education, and many of its guiding principles find their way into our family's daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms.
Some of the Waldorf practices for early childhood that resonate most with us include spending lots of outside, exploratory, unstructured time in nature; using natural items (like sticks and rocks and shells and pinecones) as the foundation for open-ended, imaginative play; noticing and celebrating seasonal changes and festivals; involving children in home production, including baking and cooking together (we couldn't do without our Learning Tower), and encouraging handiwork like knitting and sewing; valuing the creative arts and music-making; and fostering imaginative play with fantasy stories often involving fairies and gnomes and other magical creatures.
My favorite store for high-quality, Waldorf-inspired toys and materials is Maine-based Bella Luna Toys, founded by a former Waldorf educator and veteran homeschooling mom. As a nice way to celebrate this not-back-to-school time and help you stock up on some fabulous supplies, I am giving away TWO, 50-DOLLAR Gift Certificates to Bella Luna Toys!! Enter below! Winners will be announced on Saturday!
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
We celebrated not-back-to-school day by gathering with homeschooling friends at the New England Aquarium and Boston waterfront. How are you enjoying not-back-to-school time in your area?