This is a time of change in our family.  We are making things happen – new things, Big Things.

Our friend Justin at The Great Family Escape, one of our favorite sites, recently asked a few followers about their “Next Big Thing” and shared his great plans. 2013 will be a big year of change for us and probably our most important “Next Big Thing” will be starting to homeschool our boys.

Over the years, our boys’ teachers consistently describe them as “model students”; they pay attention, work hard and participate.  This used to reassure us, as it indicated a strong likelihood of success in school.  Now, we’re not sure “success”, as defined by the school, is what we want.

During the first few years of school, we’re all on the lookout for big things: Is my kid’s brain developing correctly?  Does he play well with others?  Is he a biter?  Thankfully, we did not have any problems and the boys seemed to enjoy school.  It was social, fun and they liked learning new things.  Now, though, they often come home from their 4th and 5th grade classes exhausted or stressed out.  When they aren’t stressed, they seem bored or disinterested.  Yes, the curriculum has thickened and expectations have increased.  And yes they are entering early adolescence, and all the changes that come with it, but is seems like something bigger is going on.

The fun is gone.

Assembly Line Education – What’s Good for Cars…Is Good for Kids?

Many parents (and teachers) lament the culture of standardized testing.  We recognize that most teachers did not get into the profession to teach kids how to pass tests.  Regardless, they do a good job of it at our school (one of the “top” schools in the state). For example, we recently received the results of our boys’ state standardized tests.  They both achieved the top score of “Advanced” in every category tested. After an initial twinge of pride, our hearts sank because, despite these scores, we’re not sure how much they are truly learning.  Instead, they’re just meeting (i.e. conforming to) minimum standards, allowing them to move through the system without trouble – or attention.

Our kids are not mass produced commodities – why treat them like they are?

Recent parent-teacher conferences were another example of their clinical “success”.  Our boys are able to read and write, regurgitate facts and follow mechanical processes, all well and good.  When we ask the boys’ teachers about their critical thinking skills, however, the teachers seem confused by the question. They think the boys are fine as they are “model” students and need little assistance in meeting standards. We cannot help but think that, because the curriculum does not require critical thinking skills, teachers need not, and therefore do not, evaluate these skills in their students.  Instead teachers are incentivized to devote their resources to those kids needing the most assistance meeting standards.  That’s great for those kids, but what about the rest of their students?

A few weeks ago, we asked the boys what they would learn about if they had unlimited time.

Without hesitation E said “all about cars & RV’s”.  Understand that E has been obsessed with this topic since before kindergarten, and has quickly worn through an annual copy of Consumer Reports “Best & Worst Car Edition” every summer since.  He can recite every vehicle’s price, options, MPG and MSRP and is happy to assist you with your buying decision.  AJ, our 4th grader, immediately said he would learn all about “the president’s lives and the mysteries behind Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

Lincoln Was Homeschooled

Despite their post-school exhaustion, they remain curious and eager to learn, but don’t have the energy or focus after sitting still in class for six or seven hours a day.

We can’t help but imagine the curriculum we could build around these and other subjects – cars & RV’s? presidents?  I see history, math, engineering, writing, etc.  How much more engaging would learning be if we researched this stuff, and how much more fun!

We had preconceived notions about homeschooling.  

Aren’t homeschooled kids “weird”?  Do they have any social skills?  Am I supposed to be their teacher, too?  To answer these and other questions, I did some research.  If you are interested, the following books were very helpful in showing us different ways to think about the subject: The Teenage Liberation HandbookThe New Global StudentHomeschooling – A Family’s Journey.

Thankfully, we also have great personal resources.  One friend, Jenn Miller, from Edventure Project  has been a tremendous resource for us. You’ve gotta read the Miller family’s story!  Another friend, and neighbor, is in her 2nd year of homeschooling her elementary aged kids.  Both friends have provided a wealth of information (and inspiration).  Some of my concerns and the information I received:

Concern:  Am I an “adequate” teacher for my kids?

Response:  There are numerous resources available to help homeschoolers succeed.  A homeschooling “teacher” is really more of a facilitator, allowing self-directed learning and support in finding resources for the kids to learn.  we can do that, we are very resourceful!

Concern:  Should homeschooling mimic the classroom, sans the recess bells, disruptive peers and hand sanitizer?

Response: No, that’s the beauty of homeschooling. Flexibility. Freedom. Fun.

Concern:  Will my kids be “socialized” adequately if homeschooled?

Response:  Our neighbor is around homeschooled kids of all ages through the local district provided co-op.  Her observations confirm, hands down, that the homeschooled kids are much more “socialized” than public school kids (by the way, she is mom to public school teens, in addition to her homeschooled 3rd and 4th graders).  The homeschooled kids, of all ages, are engaged, collaborative, confident, and communicate well.  Rather than sulk and hide in their smartphones, the teens seek adult interaction.  Our friend, Jenn, has many tales of interactions her kids have had throughout the world and has responded to this question many times.  For example, check this rant post.

Scientists Measuring Geyser Temperature

Unlike the “normal” school experience, with homeschooling the possibilities are endless and can be consistently modified to fit the student.

We’re also looking forward to avoiding the Middle School/Junior High School years in public school.  The reasons for this can only be properly addressed in a future post.  For now, suffice it to say that, according to our calculations, 99/100 people hated this period of their public school adolescence and feel the teen angst did nothing to build character or teach life skills.  It just sucked – at best.

Learning About Wildlife Up Close

Lastly, we plan to travel.

Whether this means full time travel, long chunks away from home, or numerous shorter trips (like Yellowstone), we want the world to be our teachers and homeschooling will make that easier.  We believe it’s our duty and right to take the kids where we believe they will learn, at the time that is right for the family, and that travel should supplement their “normal” curriculum.

This can seem unorthodox to some.  We will be taking our first international trip in late winter and taking the kids out of school for two weeks.  A friend, in another state, asked us how we are “allowed to take the kids out of school for two weeks”.  In her state this would be considered truancy and there could be legal repercussions.  It had not even occurred to us that we would need permission to parent our kids.  Huh?  We’re not sure what it says about our society that we effectively need our school district’s approval to take our kids abroad for a couple weeks to learn, but it says something.

So, we will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, we would love to hear from you.  Do you homeschool?  What compelled you to?  What benefits have you noticed?  Anything we should be concerned about?  Like our boys, we’re eager to learn about our Next Big Thing.

Lastly, what is your Next Big Thing?

As mentioned up top, we were “tagged” to write about our Next Big Thing. In keeping with the fun, we’re tagging these great bloggers (and cool mamas) to see what they have planned!

Sarah from Our Spirited Life – a cool mama with a big plan to conquer debt and then the world!

Michelle from Around ‘n Circles – another cool mama planning to sail the world with her family!

Alyson from World Travel Family – yet another cool mama living in Australia and planning to backpack the world with her family!

16 Comments

  1. We started homeschooling our 7 year old boy this year. It is an evolving and wonderful experience.He is constantly asking questions (we are traveling) so we use Google a lot in addition to the other resources!

    • I really do love this idea, and applaud your bravery!

    • Thanks for reading velomom!
      I’d love to hear more about your experience having had your son in public school before homeschooling (assuming based on his age). Although our boys are on board with the plan, I am still curious how the transition will be. I am so happy to hear you are having a wonderful experience with it!

  2. Thanks for tagging me! I’ve never been called a mamma before, that’s a first! Your next big thing is an old thing for us, we’ve been homeschooling for two years and we’ve never looked back, it is a fantastic way for a family to live their lives. without it, we would have no freedom to travel whatsoever. If I can be of any help to you on your homeschooling journey, just ask. That goes for any other potential homeschoolers out there too, every family breaking free of school makes me happy. Our next big thing is to set off on our monster trip next year, the decision is made and things are happening to reorganize our lives. We’ve traveled a lot already, with and without the kids, but this will be continuous travelling, slow travel, just the way we like it. Can’t wait to go. see you on the road maybe!

    • Thanks for reading Alyson! We are looking forward to following your journey and I will surely look for information and advice on homeschooling! It’s great to have connections with those who have “been there, done that!”

  3. Not that we need more convincing, but here are two recent articles I found interesting:
    Homework: New Research Suggests It May Be an Unnecessary Evil
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alfie-kohn/homework-research_b_2184918.html

    The Benefits of Unschooling: Report I from a Large Survey
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201202/the-benefits-unschooling-report-i-large-survey
    (note: we are not necessarily going to “unschool” as we plan to follow a curriculum, but still found the concepts in this post interesting)

  4. Thanks for tagging us for the next big thing! Homeschooling is also on the horizon for us, so I’ll be looking to you for advice when we get there. :) I’ll be blogging about our next big thing: Selling our house (and most possessions) to downsize so we can (eventually) move onto a boat! Can’t wait!

  5. Hurray for you and thank you for the kind mention! I know you’re going to do great and your boys are going to just fly. Like any other thing worth tackling in life, homeschooling has its ups and downs, there are difficult things, there are roadblocks to overcome, but it is, unquestionably worth it. We’re 16 years in on our HS project and I can say without any hesitation that our teenagers are a direct result of their outside the box upbringing and we love who they are and where they seem to be headed. Dive in, swim hard, it’s gonna be fantastic!

    • Thank you Jenn! You, and your family, are an inspiration to us.
      One thing I am most looking forward to is seeing the boys excited about learning again. And, to be able to honor their distinct learning styles. They both want to learn, and to be able to honor HOW they learn will be a gift I believe we can give to them.

  6. “The essential thing measured by school is whether or not you are good at school. Being good at school is not relevant, unless your career involves homework, looking for answers already known by your supervisors, complying with instructions, and then, in high-pressure settings, regurgitating those facts with limited processing on your part. What they SHOULD teach in school is only two things. 1. How to solve interesting questions 2. How to lead” -Seth Godin
    You GO guys!!

    • Thanks Sarah! That is a great quote from Seth Godin, and really does represent what we are starting to see. We attended parent/teacher conferences a few weeks ago and heard so much about the boys’ behavior and compliance (all good, um, thankfully?). Two (of four) teachers actually said: “He is such a good boy. If I had a classroom of students like E, my job would be so easy!” Instead of pride, I felt a little sad. Our younger son’s teacher, though, did praise his tenacity and ability to think for himself.

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  9. Thanks for mentioning my book, The New Global Student! A lot of parents love the idea and process of homeschooling their younger kids but feel they will have no choice but to enroll them in high school when the time comes. Not so! It’s great for everyone to share ideas about what works, what doesn’t, and how to create the very best educational journey for your own kids. Thank you!

    • Thank you Maya! I could not put your book – The New Global Student – down, and was so inspired by the experiences and learning your family experienced. I appreciate you sharing those experiences in book form! We are looking forward to customizing our boys’ educations, which will include a healthy dose of global schooling.

  10. I LOVED that your son wanted to explore the mysteries of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Now THAT would fun! By the way – did you know that we have a 2-page spread in the current Ripley’s book? We’re next to a snake guy :)

  11. Thanks Nancy! How cool you are in the book! I can’t wait to get it and show my son. I’ve talked about you, and your family, and the great adventure. He will be amazed at me actually knowing you! That will go far in his quest to better understand the mysteries :)

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