Now that we have a brief respite in between the massive hurricanes Africa is hurtling toward us this season, Mel will continue summarizing our experience these past two years. Let’s talk about school.
You: So, did you have any trouble getting them back into school?
Mel and Greg: No. For details on our curriculum this year, click here. Here’s the deal. America is quirky, and that worked to our advantage. Every state has its own rules and requirements on homeschooling, ranging from none to burdensome time and testing requirements. We did not claim residency in any state while we were cruising. This was such a foreign concept that the schools treated us as if we were moving from abroad, which is sort of true. Fortunately, the kids had been in regular school until two years ago, so the fact that they had old standardized test scores helped with their placement. In fact, the only thing that hung us up was that Tommy missed a tetanus booster shot while we were out, so after a quick trip to a pharmacy he was enrolled!
You: How did the kids handle the transition?
Mel and Greg: Right now the kids have attended school for a month. Allie joined the sixth-grade class at a public elementary school, and Tommy is an eighth-grader at a public middle school in an excellent district that is diverse and has great college placement. The transition has been exhausting, but the kids are doing great! After taking a Pre-Algebra final, Tommy placed into honors Algebra despite the fact that we were only able to finish a quarter of his Singapore math textbook for the year, and Allie is rocking her reading, which involves reading books a lot lower than her Lexile level. Here are some things we have heard over the last few weeks.
Allie: It was hard to get used to waking up early every day and being on a strict schedule all of the time. I like my math class the best, because it is very organized and systematic. It is nice to be with other kids. They are just like boat kids!
Tommy: It was hard to get used to how inefficient and slow things are. I read a lot in school after I finish the assignment. Homework is nothing but busy work. I like my Current Events class, because I get to debate a lot.
You: What have Mel and Greg noticed about the kids’ return to school?
Mel and Greg: We are very happy to hand over the difficult task of teaching to trained professionals! However, we do wish there were more options for gifted kids in the US public system. The kids were exhausted by the schedule for the first couple of weeks, but they got used to it. They have a lot more noise and distractions now in school than they were used to, but it is good that they are learning how to handle all of that. Tommy especially is encountering some unsavory characters, a rarity while cruising but a common thing in middle school, and he is acquiring some necessary skills because of this. Cruising kids end up playing with kids of all ages, but now that they are collected with other students of similar age, they are noticing that kids mature at different rates. This wasn’t obvious before.
You: What are the pros and cons of homeschooling for a couple of years and then returning back to public school?
Mel and Greg: One of the best parts about returning to land is that the kids have been able to get back into their extra-curricular activities. Tommy is going to Tae Kwon Do again and is rapidly moving through his forms after two years off. Piano lessons have started, and basketball will start soon. Allie is back in ballet, is taking competitive swimming lessons, and will soon start volleyball and guitar lessons. Their swimming muscles were nice and strong (Tommy is apparently a push-up king!), but they’ve had to build up their aerobic endurance and are a little behind at team sports.
One of the worst parts about returning to land is that now Mel and Greg have resuscitated the Google Calendar app, and the damn thing dings event reminders at us several times a day. The family is so busy now, Mel may just have to schedule in sundown every day so she won’t miss it!
Even though it was hard work, Mel is sad about the end of homeschooling. Homeschooling gave our kids an advantage for unexpected reasons. This reason goes beyond our rigorous curriculum choice, the one-on-one tutoring, and even the freedom from distraction. It’s because the flexibility of it all made the entire family take a more active role in the kids’ education. The kids’ interests and test results drove decisions about what to do for school the next day, and so both the parents and the students became more engaged despite the fact that, over time, there was less direct teaching and more self-study. The spoon-fed baby is slow to feed itself. You’ve gotta make that baby eat with his own hands, even if it makes a huge mess. For example, since starting public school, Mel has witnessed Tommy, without prompting, check his grades on the computer and send an email to his teacher about an irregularity. Also, when Allie gets a graded paper back, she reviews her missed answers to see how she can improve. In other words, the kids are aware of their performance level and are just, well, on top of their shit. Mel thinks the critics of traditional schooling focus too much on curriculum and teacher style and instead should evaluate how much a system teaches its students personal responsibility for their own education. So if the kids have any advantage from their homeschooling, it is not only because we were able to tailor an advanced curriculum to their levels, but also because they have learned to teach themselves.
And of course they both know how to drive a dinghy, do a cleat hitch, and what to buy when they see a hanging, decapitated camel head in Morocco. Useful stuff!