Home. School.

I’ve been thinking for a while about our would-be homeschooling and how it has turned to rah-rah Our School and why and how and telling you all about it.

First off, I didn’t see the light that I was misguided to homeschool.  I still tell people that we considered it seriously and might yet do it some year or two if need be, and they STILL say “oh but you can’t protect them from everything!” and “they have to be socialized!” Which STILL drives me nuts because protecting them from “real life” (as if SCHOOL were real life?) was never a reason we were planning homeschooling and as for socialization, I say again, school is hardly a realistic slice of society–especially as it is most commonly done, with 30+ same-aged children and one or two adults sitting in desks for hours on end.

So. I still staunchly defend homeschooling as a great option and one we might need in the future.  As for now, though, We LOVE our school.

One reason it’s easy to love our school is that it doesn’t have many of the elements I dislike about traditional school.  It’s Montessori, which means there is an evenly distributed three-year span of ages in each classroom.  Nat, for example, really enjoys playing with the younger kids (3 and 4 year-olds), although she reads like a 10-year old.  Because the class size is small and the curriculum is 100% individualized, she can play with whom she likes and read as well as she can without being singled out in any way as having some strange difference that requires special handling.  This was one reason I had planned to homeschool, but she gets it at this school.

Nat and Selina are in the same class this year, Selina in the first and Nat in the last of the three years (though Nat will only get two of them, because she started a year later than her classmates).  The school frowns on siblings in the same room but I insisted for scheduling reasons and it’s going really well, I think.  They are independent of each other, but also enjoy having each other there.

The other reason it’s easy to love the school is because the girls love it.  They love it so much they could marry it.  They are overjoyed to go and dance and sing about it when I tell them it’s a school day again, after a long weekend.  They would rather go to school than any other place on earth, I think.  They are both very social–extroverts to be sure, though Nat is shaping up to be a shy extrovert it appears–and while school is not the site of socialization, it is a nice tank full of acceptable peers for them to befriend without their shy, introverted mother having to dig around for a good homeschool group and socialize myself with a lot of other parents.  I know I’d get it eventually, but it’s an aspect of homeschooling I had not considered–how much effort it would take on my homebody part to get out of the house to the homeschool groups and activities until we found our niche.  The school is an automatic niche and I MUST leave the house, like it or not, to get them there during the proper hours.  This is bittersweet, because I dislike being on someone else’s hours.  But it’s not that bad in the big picture.

And here’s the other thing.  We homeschool anyway.  We do most of the things I had planned to do for homeschooling–since we had planned to mostly follow an unschool approach.  We still do lots of reading, lots of stopping on walks to discuss the weather, the plants, the birds, the cars, the people, the street signs, etc. etc. etc. We do a lot of “theme” days or weeks in which a concept which arose in normal daily life gets repeated in a variety of contexts until the kids are bored.  For example, last week was all about the difference between solids and liquids.  We would call out something, then identify it as solid or liquid and then talk about why we could identify it that way–or why it was tricky to identify one way or the other, then talk about what might make it change to the opposite.  Last winter, Nat and I discussed the water cycle quite a bit in casual conversations while driving past the lake in various states of freezing and thus we could now discuss how solids and liquids (and gasses!) sometimes change under certain conditions, chiefly temperature.

That’s just one example, but we have similar stuff going on all the time regarding history, geography, culture and religion and all kinds of other areas that just pop up.  So I guess that while we do indeed love school, I have no worries that we could leave school next week and keep learning and growing.

Which is another nice thing about the school.  The older the kids get, the smaller the classes.  I suspect parents jump the progressive schooling ship for a place more focused on test scores and grading as kids get older.  So when ours are 10-14 they will have tiny classes with loads of individual attention.  If we had an opportunity to leave the country for a semester or a year, the kids would come back to school and be considered family returned from an adventure and their year abroad might well get incorporated into the curriculum of their classmates.  They wouldn’t be “a year behind,” but a year richer in interesting experience.

The school goes through 8th grade (about 14 years old) and the kids in the 7th and 8th grade class are only a dozen or so.  The school partners with other Montessori middle schools in the area on a regular basis for special activities and field trips to give the older kids a broader base of friends.  The middle school kids are also responsible for leading certain community activities with younger kids in the school.  The whole thing is organized in a very multi-age, multi-generational way that is much more “real world” than the traditional school.  The teachers go by first names.  The kids are encouraged to leave the classroom at will and find the resources they need for their work and to cooperate together in mixed-age groups to solve problems.

The older of the two elementary groups (4th, 5th, 6th grade) have a kitchen in the “shared resource center” between their two rooms and every day they cook their meal and share it with school administrators, hand wash and put away the dishes.  Why isn’t EVERY public school in the country doing that in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade?

Which brings me to another thing.  Paying for this private school is not easy on us–especially since we have two households to run, what with Cole working out of town.  And as with all private schools, they are squeaking by, paying the teachers much less than the public system etc.  But I don’t think the difference is all that great between what we pay and what the public system spends per child.  It kills me that every kid in the country doesn’t get the same kind of school our kids are getting.  There’s no excuse.  As a nation, we more than have the resources.  So I will add that our school inspires me to fight the harder for better neighborhood public schools.

I am not a big joiner of any kind, but as progressive education movements go, I do like well-done Montessori.  Here’s a slide show and lecture from a guy who visited our school last year to talk about Montessori and brain development.  Watch this and tell me why every public K-3 school in the country isn’t following Montessori method:


“Good at Doing Things” from Steve Hughes on Vimeo.

8 responses to “Home. School.

  1. Great thoughts on education! I’m glad you shared. :)

  2. If anything ever brings you and your family to Milwaukee, we have a family-centered, parent-run, public charter Montessori school that (except for the cooking lunch thing) I suspect would fit your family to a T. http://www.highlandcommunityschool.org

  3. I’m guessing we can’t afford the smaller class sizes, honestly, although I don’t consider that an excuse.

    I consider homeschooling our legitimate second option if our current schooling choice stops working for our kids. The driving factors in our schooling choice were my own love of public school as a kid (tempered by social troubles, which I don’t discount as issues now) and then our kids’ love of their school experiences.

    I confess to a tiny bit of defensiveness at a few points in this post. FWIW, all of our school classrooms feature group tables and learning centers and I’ve never once seen a teacher sitting at his or her desk during the school day (in fact, they’re so piled with stuff, I doubt they could see over the piles if they did sit down). And also, all three of our kids’ teachers are right now thinking about how they might use skype and smart boards to integrate our kids’ semester in the UK into the curriculum in the spring, as well as include the kids in various famous fourth-grade projects which they are sorry to be missing. NO ONE is talking about it as “falling behind.” The universal response is: “what a fantastic opportunity this will be, can we share in your fun?”

  4. Damn, I meant to add this: You are NOT responsible for my defensiveness. I know know KNOW that folks who take homeschooling seriously get SO MUCH CRAP from people about it. I do wonder how many people might want to say, but your image of public school is nothing like how it works in our district. Because I really, really want to say that. (I have the same reaction almost every time education comes up on at 11D. I know we’re very lucky in our public-school options.)

    Anyway, my point: you are not responsible for my reaction. I didn’t mean to imply that you had to take every possible permutation of school into your calculation as you wrote your post.

  5. That all sounds awesome, Jody. I didn’t mean to open combat against public schools, but to suggest more of these obviously positive elements be put into them. Yours clearly has many. In our district, though, there’s a 50% graduation (from HS) rate. The lecture I linked at the bottom here points to a study in which a similar district (with a 50% graduation rate) had a nearly 100% rate of HS graduation for kids who had been randomly selected to attend a public Montessori 1-3 elementary school. So that early stuff made a huge difference to those kids years down the road, all factors of income and race etc. aside (random assignment).
    More public elementary schools should be doing what yours is doing.
    Right now, I’m in the early stages of trying to figure out how to advocate for this here. NOT just finding the one magnet/charter Montessori public school in my district for MY kids (my kids are set), but trying to find out who is working on changing the whole district for the better with proven education strategies so our neighbors’ kids can get this too.

  6. P.S. You’re awesome, Jody.

  7. Sounds like you all are crazy busy, and that it’s all good. I love this post, what a great look at all the different ways kids can be educated.

    I thought of you at the St. John’s conference, bumped into the wonderful young man who was in the race session at AAC :)

  8. Hi – I found you on Twitter and stumbled onto your blog here and I’m glad I did because this is a lovely post! I was homeschooled and both I and my parents (mostly my dad, long story) got a lot of flack about this as well. I’m in my 30s and very outgoing and yet I _still_ get asked about the socialization thing. Drives me mad or makes me laugh. Mostly though people just shake their heads and say they could never do that (the homeschooling).

    I went to Montessori for pre-K, and had a brief stint in 5th grade so I always knew the differences and how blessed I was, even if I couldn’t have articulated it very clearly at the time. And I’m thrilled to hear that your precious ones are so much in love with their school – if only every children could have that experience, or at least have the opportunity for it.

    I’m curious to know your thoughts on the work that Michelle Rhee was doing in the D.C. school systems.

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