Friday, June 8, 2012

School's Out

Wednesday was Kenny's last day of elementary school...and the last day my three oldest will attend the same school...until all three are in high school together (Kenny a senior, Diggy a junior, and Kirsti a freshman).

This has caused me to reflect on the best kept secret in America: Our incredible mix between Home School and Public School.

Usually these two educational methods alongside positive words do not co-exist in the same sentence. Many of our homeschooling friends cringe when thinking of mixing their kids up in their local public school. Many public school friends stare with confusion when I talk about how much we LOVE home school.

We love home school because it gives us the freedom of time, structure, and content to best fit individual and family needs. My kids can progress at their own rate in many subjects like math, grammar, reading, writing, spelling, typing, etc. (usually faster than long-school-day peers, but in some subjects, slower...each child is different). We find these core subjects take less time to learn when they are tackled on a one-on-one basis, which allows my kids LOTS more discretionary time than the ordinary student. It's fascinating to see what they choose to create, play, and do to develop other talents when they have time, space, and resources (ie. freedom of thought) at their fingertips. Observing the passion and outcome of this "dream time" is my favorite part of home schooling.
The living room often gets transformed into a zoo or another planet.

The girls are in the back yard pretending to be homeless...because "in real life we're really not" (see how great of a teacher I am?). Feeding themselves lunch that day was part of the game. I think it was inspired by The Boxcar Children...or maybe the library book we read about a group of Dutch children who survived the Holocaust.

We love to explore science and history together. I'll have to share more details sometime...But it's very common for Diggy (my hands-on learner) to walk away from the history table and immediately act out the latest topic...Above, he's reenacting D-Day at the park where Kenny had soccer practice. 
He said the Allied Forces won...phew.  

It takes a lot of brain power (mostly prefrontal cortex brain power--yeah!) to keep a "game" going as long as they do sometimes (hours or days)...that'll come in handy in the future.

My school-age children largely manage their own schedule, which keeps them motivated and self-disciplined. And I love that their "homework" is accomplished during the day leaving evenings to family time, dinner, and the enormous number of activities they'd all like to be involved in.

But what about catching the vision of being part of a larger community and experiencing life beyond our living room? Most home school families tap into co-op groups, extracurricular activities, etc. These options work well.

However, because we have an awesome public school within walking distance, we decided to try something taboo and risk developing a relationship with them...and for the last 4 years, it's been a HUGE success!!

I will forever credit and be grateful for their warm, visionary leader, Ms. Csensich, who was willing to navigate uncharted territory with us. (Speaking of stepping into the unknown...she's taking a principal      position in Peru next spread her influence to another part of the world. We will miss her TONS!! We need to get a picture before she leaves our hemisphere.)

It has also worked because of some of the best teachers in the country.

This is the music teacher who will go down in my children's personal history books as one of the most inspiring people from their childhoods. We can't imagine life without Mrs. Opitz.
And too bad I accidentally erased the Mr. Hengels pic. Do we not all remember our elementary school PE teachers? Mr. Hengels' legacy will be no exception. He's athletic (obviously), cool, and very admired.

The public school in our community embraces diversity...including diverse ways of educating children.

Instead of feeling defensive regarding our educational style, the entire leadership community at our public school shows open-minded support in our direction. They are willing to customize education for all children, which allows the innocent, young, developing minds in our home (and in all the other homes in the district) to feel like they truly belong to something worth belonging to.

My kids love participating in band and orchestra and a variety of clubs. But our public school doesn't stop there. Each year, our kids are assigned to a class, and when that class attends music, PE, and Chinese or has a party or field trip, etc., my kids walk, run, or ride over to the school to join them. We attend many of the awesome PTA events, too.

And the best part...The front office assistant greets them warmly and asks them about their day. The principal knows them by name (like she does all the the other 450+ kids). Their homeroom teachers smile and welcome them whenever they are there and invite them to all sorts of random class events. And naturally...the students (their peers) follow this excellent example and give a cheer or a high-five when our kids join the line-up.

As a result, my kids feel included. They feel welcome. They belong. That's a good feeling that lasts a lifetime. And they walk away with all kinds of memories at the end of the year:

 Halloween Parades around the neighborhood (Kenny is Luke Skywalker)

A musical production with their classmates every year 

Plus: roller skating parties, Fun Fairs, Book Fairs, Open Houses, Valentine's Day parties, Field Days, field trips, picture days, ice cream socials, fundraisers, service projects, assemblies, yearbooks (and the all-important signing of the yearbooks), and gathering around the flagpole with the whole school on the last day...essentially they walk away with lots of friends and a vision of what it feels like to be part of a  community.

So, because of our mix, I guess Kenny, Diggy, and Kirsti will still get to attend school together next year...and the next...and the next...

They'll continue to build a tremendous sibling bond...because they'll spend so much time learning together here at home. And when one of them returns from dashing over to the school for an hour or two, they'll chatter...together...around the lunch table about the funny things Mr. Hengels said in gym class or about which Birthday Book they picked or about what so-in-so did to get attention.

Yes. Our educational experience is an exciting novelty. I wonder if it will catch on.

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