Thursday, September 20, 2018

School days, now

As we settle into the school year, and my children - now in fourth and seventh grade - become more independent and self-directed, I've been thinking about our school life. I've had some questions asked lately about our educational situation and I thought it would be nice to devote a post to discussing it as it stands today. I've written about our fairly unusual schooling approach before, when my children were younger. Most things about it are still the same - we attend an alternative school within our city's public school system that is designed to give students a combination of traditional classroom learning along with homeschooling. Our school has gone through some changes in the past few years that have taken it from a primarily 50/50 (classroom/homeschool) split to a primarily 80% classroom-based program. I think this has altered the basic concept of the school. We have persisted with the 50/50 program, shrunken though it now is, because we believe in it.

Why did we choose this program? There were several reasons (all of which apply only to our little family; I have no judgment of others' choices; I'm only saying what we've chosen). The Bear and I like the idea of homeschooling, but we do not feel that full homeschooling is right for us, mainly because we don't think we'd be able to provide the kind of social experiences kids need in addition to academic ones. We are both fairly introverted, as are our kids. Having them in school part-time lets us give them the outside connections they need, which are not always easy for us to provide. We like having them work with an adult who isn't one of their parents.

But we also like having some level of control over what they learn, which is to say that with our program we can direct much of it ourselves, supplement where we feel it is necessary, and dispel misinformation or myth if we have to (which does happen from time to time). We're both quite liberal in our attitudes about what kids should know and learn, and we don't limit them aside from what is age- or developmentally-appropriate for them. It's not that we wish to shield them from learning anything (we discuss it all around here, sometimes to my own squeamishness), it's more that we aren't always happy with what they're picking up outside our home, from kids and adults alike. I am always loathe to get into controversial topics on my blog, and won't be doing it now either, but it's an unpredictable world out there, as you well know.

The small Bears attend school Tuesday through Friday, for several hours each morning (Fridays are the long day, at about four and a half hours, the other days are about three and a half. We don't have school bus service to our school, since it is an alternative school, so we are required to drive them to and from school every day. This is a pain, though a fairly small one. I pick them up and bring them home to eat lunch and start on our homeschool, which usually takes us through most of the afternoon. They bring home assignments from the teachers, but they also have work that we devise for them. We make our own lesson plans and give them assignments in addition to whatever the teachers assign. We do our own homeschool plan year-round; both children have assignments every day through the summer break. This may sound draconian to some, but the summer break is so relentlessly long here. Having daily work helps fill the time and also aids skill retention. This is not a requirement of the school, and to my knowledge few others do it, but it's important to us.

We feel very fortunate and proud to have bright kids, though this comes with its own challenges, of course. The math curriculum at school is solid (the Bear has had a hand in some of the development of it, actually, another source of pride for me), but some kids reach a point where it isn't enough for them, which is now the case for the LB. He has completed the curriculum at school, so while he continues to receive review work in the courses he has completed, we have moved on at home. This requires us to buy textbooks for teaching him. If you're looking for a great math curriculum for students in middle school and up, I can strongly recommend the series known as The Art of Problem Solving by Richard Rusczyk. The LB has completed the Prealgebra book and is much of the way through Introduction to Algebra; the GB is now learning from the Prealgebra book.

The LB is also learning from the textbook Conceptual Physical Science (Hewitt, Suchoki and Hewitt, authors), to supplement the science curriculum he receives from school. We choose to supplement in science for a few reasons, namely that he is very interested in the topic, and also to build a strong science foundation for high school, which is coming in two short years. It's just around the corner, really, and the high school both kids will attend is very competitive and it will pay to be well-prepared. Miss GB is included in his science learning as well.

When they were younger, we spent almost all of our homeschool time together in the kitchen and family room, which are really one large, open room. I'd float back and forth between them; he was usually on the couch, while she liked to sit on the floor near the coffee table. Nowadays, she prefers to sit at the kitchen counter on a stool, while I stand nearby or sit on the other stool to work with her. As a fourth-grader, her independence is increasing, but she still needs a fair amount of guidance. I really like this age group, by the way. I enjoy working with her right now because she has a lot of confidence in her own skills but is still very welcoming of my involvement. She is practically my opposite as a student; she's willing to try again and again, and she doesn't demand perfection from herself. She wants to do well, and strives to, but she understands it better than I did: she knows that it's about what you learn, not the number in red ink at the top of the paper. She's an excellent student and I think it's because she lets herself make mistakes and then learns as much as she can from them.

The LB has opted lately to work alone in the living room. Our home is small and only one level, so it's simple to walk in and out and see what he's up to. He doesn't need very much hands-on help anymore, once we've finished a lesson in a textbook and its accompanying exercises. When doing schoolwork (or anything, really), he likes to spread out all over the room, including the coffee table, the floor, the couch and the nearby end tables and chairs. As long as he picks up after himself when he's finished, this is fine with me. We continue to work on organization and legible handwriting. As a student, he is less focused than his sister, and almost entirely unconcerned with grades or confining rules, but it's just his nature; he's one of those people who seems to float unruffled through life. Must be nice! We're working on some of this, but overall, he's a great student. He also possesses an incredible curiosity, which I think will take him far. It's interesting to see the differences between my son and daughter as students and learners. Having been a teacher (of high school English) before I had them, with many different kinds of learners among my students, I do see some of it as gender-based, but there is so much that is related to personality too.

I hope this helps answer some readers' questions; it was good for me to revisit my own thoughts and feelings on our school life too. I'm still happy with our choice, in spite of the changes that have occurred recently (which haven't always been positive ones, but in general they haven't affected us directly). I'm thankful for the opportunity to teach my kids at home, and to be very involved with what and how they're learning. It's good to look at what we're doing now that one of them is at the tail-end of his combined schooling experience; we do plan to send both children to our neighborhood public high school. This is not a decision we've taken lightly, but in the end, we feel it's the best way to meet their social and academic needs. Some of us are really looking forward to the school bus service, but I'm not naming names or anything...


  1. There are several people I know who are also doing the homeschool/regular school mix. There's two schools in our area who do this and I think it's a great idea. If this had been available when my kids were young I would have thought seriously about it!
    PS - My daughter was so happy with the family planning kit. She said they thought about getting something similar but they are quite expensive. I hope that at some point I can report a pregnancy to you. :)

  2. What a great idea!
    This sounds amazing.
    How wonderful for your children and for you.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. thank you for sharing Jennifer!
    it is always interesting to see how other families fare in their schooling and education and their thoughts on it all too.
    garren was in a semi private school last year but we decided it best to homeschool him this year. My eldest two boys were schooled all through their lives - and I have noticed the difference in education from our eldest who is now 22 to our youngest boy who is finishing off fourth grade now at home. xx You have such lovely children.

  4. I'm always interested to hear about your experiences with your school/home school mix. It's something I've never heard of before reading about it on your blog in the past and it seems to work really well for your family, you've got two very bright children there.

  5. Our school district doesn't have anything like that here. I wish they did. I probably would've considered it myself when my kids were growing up. Phil begged me for a couple of years (1st & 2nd grade) to homeschool him, but I just couldn't do it. He was a very challenging and gifted student and had the same strong-willed, stubborn personality. We butted heads a lot. I felt it was in his best interest to learn from other adults. I think the part public school/part homeschool would've been a perfect solution. Anyway, it sounds like your kids have the best of both worlds.

    1. Oops, that should read "had the same strong-willed, stubborn personality as me."

  6. Good morning Jennifer. I always enjoy reading about your schooling experiences. I can tell by your writing just how much thought that has gone in to planning for your children’s school life. Our children had a mix of public school, private school and homeschool as they were growing up and I think they benefited from all of it. In fact, as you know, the two oldest had Bachelors degrees by the time they were 20 and Alex had his Masters at 19! I Think it’s wonderful that you are so involved in your children’s education. I think it makes a huge difference in their success later in life. Thank you again for sharing.
    Blessings, Betsy

  7. What an interesting post - thanks for sharing. Your children are so lucky to have parents who put so much thought and effort into their education. X

  8. I have always been very jealous of your education choices. We can't do that in the UK. You go to school or home school - no halfway. You have been able to help your children in the most special of ways encouraging a fully rounded pair of wonderful children - dancing, guitar, swimming, cooking etc. Well Done you guys! Jo x

  9. It really does sound like the perfect combination, you're lucky to have the 50:50 option available I think. And I'm very impressed at the amount of effort you and the Bear put into the homeschooling side of it. It's great that things can continue through the summer as well. I have heard teachers here say what a huge step backwards children take over the holidays, which for us is 6 weeks. To stay in the game as it were must be a huge advantage. You're both doing an amazing job I think. Lucky small bears. CJ xx

  10. I love reading about the thoughtful choices you are making in educating your children and am so glad you are able to have both home and public school. Our boys attended the public education system in elementary and high school in New York, and then the girls finished off their high school studies with homeschool and our youngest daughter went on to get a master's of science and nursing informatics degree. Thanks for posting, Jennifer!

  11. I think your way is just right. I'm so thankful for the homeschool option. Even though I was a public school teacher, I am happy that our grands are homeschooled.

  12. I really admire you for homeschooling. We considered it for our eldest who has Aspergers but luckily we persisted with school and he is doing really well. I say luckily because I really don't thik I would be able to teach any of my kids. I can handle the material, just don't think I'd have the patience! I too have a school run to do, hubby drops my son off and I pick him up. He's in his 12th year of schooling - that's a lot of school runs!

  13. I think this is a great thing, 50/50! And that you can give your children what they need, esp as they are smart and can go at a faster pace. That's a blessing! I enjoyed reading this! thanks! Many blessings! (and thanks for the comment on my blog the other day, always so happy to see you there!)

  14. I read this with great interest and think it is a great way of schooling. If I had the opportunity to do this here in the UK and was available to do this I would without any hesitation. I do think that my children would thrive and learn more with independent learning. However I also like the mix of attending school for the social aspect. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  15. This is so fascinating to me. There is nothing like this available here, and homeschooling is not widely chosen as far as I am aware. I think you and the Bear do a remarkable job. I'm not sure my maths or science would be up to the task!

  16. Thank you for sharing. It was very interesting to read. I am always in awe of parents who homeschool. I don't know if I would ever be able to keep any sort of schedule or my kids especially the younger one would take me seriously.

  17. This is really interesting Jennifer, I enjoy learning about other parents' educational choices for their children. Your dedication to your children's education is admirable and totally amazing. You and the bear put a lot of thought and even more work into helping your children achieve to their best potential. It is really fascinating how siblings are so different in how they learn, isn't it? My daughter is meticulous and likes to have detailed notes for everything. Her older brother is more laid back and tends to focus on the bare essentials. The younger ones are not genetically related and are very different again.... it makes for an interesting life.

    I wouldn't know where to start to be honest and lack the pedagogic understanding necessary to teach children. All our children go to the neighbourhood schools but we considered a Rudolf Steiner School for our two youngest because they do have more special educational needs than the older ones and we thought that a school that does allow children to learn in their own time would be useful. Alas, the school burned down and the option was no longer there.

    I hope you have a wonderful week. xx

  18. Wow -- I've always wondered why you mentioned going to school when I thought your kids were homeschooled -- now I know. We don't have anything like that around here -- I think it sounds like the perfect solution!


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