Last weekend, I was enjoying some creative time with my sweet mama-to-be friend, Jennifer from @slowfashiondiary and it was the night before Nico’s first day of school.
We were on the topic of kids, school and seasonal cycles when I thought aloud:
Why do American schools start in the Fall instead of the Spring (and is this competing with our natural rhythm)?
Even though I grew up in California, there were still beautiful nuances to align with the cycles of the seasons. There is the early spring with its unpredictable showers that would either replenish the water falls and mineral springs or leave them stagnant and dry. The summers that delivered bright orange poppies and purple verbena, baby rabbits, and some rattlesnakes over our hillsides. The coastal crisp of the dewy fall would soften the oak trees with a palpable woodsy scent, relaxing into a sprinkle of acorns to the ground. Then there is the quiet of winter, when the air is muffled from overcast fog but the ground is a symphony of crackle from the oak leaves, twigs and clumps of muddy soil. Your senses have to attune here, your body always looking for the signs and sounds of a transition and tranquility.
Historically, American schools were built to support families and the seasons of farming. And boys were a significant contribution to the family farm in the 1800’s. Following the cycle of the seasons, farmers would plant seeds in early spring, tend throughout the summer and harvest in the fall. There was little help required from children once the cold winter arrived, so it was set aside as a time to study for boys. Girls and small children, on the other hand, would begin their studies in the summer sessions to avoid the harsher weather elements that winter would bring.
I didn’t really think about how schools around the world would have approached education. And I soon learned that not all schools globally start their school year in the fall. Australian schools start in January and end in December with two breaks in-between. While in Kenya, children begin school in January and conclude in November. Russia and China both start their school years in September and run through the late summer.
But what about the country with the seemingly best education in the world? Do Finland children begin in the Fall? Turns out, they do and even more interestingly, all children do not enter into the school system until the age of 7. The major reason for that decision is to allow young children time for developmental play. Finland does not require standardized testing, there is no ranking of schools (because the expectation is excellence) and there is a much later start time that usual, which is between 9am and 9:45am allowing for a critical component for success, uninterrupted sleep.
Our American school system all started with one structure - the classical school house.
The mid 1800’s brought about the concept of the school house. It was a designated building that would group the farm kids of all ages together to learn how to read. The simple goal of reading early was so that all children could begin reading the Bible. And who better than the local church to handle this for the farmers? The single school house wasn’t able to support the pace of growth by the towns, so they turned into grade level school houses and eventually was turned over to School Societies to be run by groups of parents. There was still considerable segregation during this time, so children from POC were taught in church basements until school houses were formed, leading to what would be considered a head start by those who identified as white.
You can start to see where the story falls apart when we talk about gender and social equality and education.
Young boys working on the farm and going to school in harsh weather. It really makes you think about the dynamics of success within the educational system where, even now, girls outperform boys academically (while boys still get top jobs). Are boys really less attune with academics and therefore just do poorly, or were girls always more in alignment with the seasonal cycles?
So let’s consider this aspect, while parents were busy forming their School Societies, they would eventually hand over the responsibilities to the town until, in 1909, the concept of the governmental Board of Education was established. This is where my ears and curiosity perks up.
If a child is in a public or private school, does that history have roots (and energy) in segregation?
I know, this one is a tough one for me too. If I am being objective though, I want to see what energy drives our institutions, networks, relationships and self. So I am going to lean into this area a bit more.
In 2018, my husband and I decided to sell our home to move our son into a more academically higher performing school district. We lived in an adorable, picturesque farming community in North County, San Diego and the quaint school was a perfect size for an elementary school experience.
But there were signs.
You know when the world gives you clear signs of something not being right? It wasn’t just personal aggressions, it was how parents showed up, or didn’t in this case. For me, quality matters, presentation matters, feelings matter, intentions matter, self worth matters, and modeling behaviors matters. You can’t hide those things. But I had enough self awareness to know:
“If you spot it, you got it.”
So that’s when I asked my husband, if we expect differently from this experience, why do we think that staying will change how others behave? I consulted my sister, who I consider and expert in education, and her words stick with me now,
“You do what’s best for your child, he is your priority.”
From the time I called my mom and told her I wanted to sell, to the time our back neighbor offered to buy our property via text - it was no less than 2 days. I kid you not. When I say I am ready to do something, I am ready. I don’t say it unless I feel it and I have intention behind it and somehow things get into flow.
So back to education. And Covid.
In 2019, along with you, our move to a better quality school was cut short due to the lock downs.
We had just moved our whole life to be at this incredible school with beautiful parents and souls only to get just over a year there before remote learning took place. At first, remote learning felt insurmountable, especially while running a business. But every single moment I could spend with my son and learning who he is as a person, and making him my priority, was an easy trade off. The transition was hard for everyone. But the flow became apparent. We decided that as long as masks were required, he would not be returning to school. Then, middle school came and he personally chose to continue homeschooling.
Our first year in remote learning was what holistic education would refer to as “School at Home”. In order to better compare, here is a little summary of the varieties available to parents. To further delineate, l will compare them in the matter I learned from 5 Hour School Week founder, Kaleena Amuchastegui.
In essence, you should aim to only manage two of the three for home schooling success:
What are the different types of home school education?
School at Home: Traditional school curriculum done at home. This is multiple subject per day with a consistent timeframe, curricula and set amount. This aims for managing all three of the above criteria. Time: 1x a day, Pace: 45 min to fit every subject in a day, Curricula: 5-6 subjects per day. I was only familiar with traditional schooling, so this felt like it was a “supposed to” vs a “we chose to”.
Classical Homeschool: Chronological, Christian-based, just like the original school houses. Learning is reading based and focuses on latin and greek language as well.
Charlotte Mason: Developed by British educator, Charlotte Marie Shaw Mason. Chronological, Christian-based education but with shorter spurts for learning (typically no more than 30 min per subject) to allow plenty of time for outdoor activity and nature learning.
Montessori: Developed by Maria Montessori, this is considered holistic method of emotional, social and intellectual balance - to engage with others deeply and form a more apprenticeship approach. Typically longer blocks of time for studying a subset and learning with other age groups to allow the older children to guide the younger children.
Unschooling: Pioneered by John Holt, this method is a free-form individualistic approach to learning. It is adaptable, creative, with a loose structure and led by the student. Lessons vary day to day and follows the natural ebb and flow of the student’s interest.
Eclectic Education: A variety of all forms based on your family and child’s needs.
5 Hour School Week: Developed by Kaleena Amuchastegui for the global learners. This method focuses on the most important lessons and implements them by following the child day to day. Dedicates one hour a day, or 5 total hours a week to study specifically what the interests and needs are for the child.
When my son asked if he could continue Middle School at home, we decided on the method of the 5 hour school week!
The old me had a lot of stress about ditching the School-at-Home method. But after speaking with his charter school counselor, she assured us that only Nico really knows what’s best for him. That’s when I relaxed from my teacher mode and moved into supporting mother mode. I would trust his path.
How does it work for our family?
We decided on the Time (Day) + Curricula (subject matter) structure, with a limit of 5 hours for the week. He is a deep dive, independent learner, so asking him to study something for a set length of time was against his natural learning style. For example, studying math from 9am-10 am and science from 1pm-2pm did not flow for him at all. Now he gets to choose when he is ready, which it turns out he is bright eyed from 10-2pm and likes physical activity from 2pm-7pm which is why skateboarding and parkour are how he likes to round out his days.
This works for our home too, because he’s ready to go get active as soon as my husband comes home, so we have a hand-off so I can tend to business matters for the latter part of the day.
As far as merit and grades. We don't do any. He is on a complete/incomplete system and takes the STAR test at the beginning and end of the year to measure what curricula he should study for his learning level. For example, last year he was in 6th grade curricula but his assessments put him at a 9th grade reading and math acumen, which is why student led learning is critical to keep them moving along in their abilities (or to give them more time if they need more review). In reality, parents can decide to decline any testing with the school system with a written note to the school Principal, which we chose to do through 5th and 6th grade to limit any stress testing causes, coupled with a lock down.
What does our Middle School schedule look like for my son?
Morning: Since I also work from home, a typical wake-up time is 9am for my son. His bed time is 9-10pm and he has always been a long sleeper. People would always comment on how he would sleep through the night as a baby.
Breakfast: One of my priorities is a healthy breakfast for both of us. I want my son to learn how to prioritize his health and wellness every day without being rushed or grabbing something that won’t sustain him. A typical breakfast includes an egg burrito with strawberries, bananas and crepes or waffles and apples. He’s very carb-fiber leaning.
Lessons: We cover 1 subject per day and he has one in-person class called “Life Skills” this year at his charter school where they learn about community volunteer work, environmental education and finances.
“Class” begins at 10am every morning and will last until we are complete. Sometimes its 30 min, sometimes its 2 hours or more.
Lunch: My son is a foodie, so we take this time to incorporate what tastes good and has nutritional value. Lunch is his biggest meal of the day, so depending on the season, we use the Nutrition Workbook written by the Haselmayers of Homegrown Education. This year, its grass-fed burgers and waffle fries, or Chicken Tacos with pico de gallo and fruit are frequent meals. I use this as a time for me to slow down and switch gears to cook intentionally for and with my son.
Activities: This may or may not surprise you, but we allow my son unlimited electronic time during the day as an experiment after reading Free to Learn by Peter Gray, who also explains that kids will reflect their environments in this article. So as long as you aren't overusing as a parent, they too will become bored and find other activities and he stands firmly by his motto, "Children behave as well as they are treated."
I want my son to learn and discover for himself what he is interested in and there are some areas I can see benefits to gaming, such as scheduling meet up times with other kids online, sticking to an agreed upon game, generosity, finance (does he have enough budget to buy what he wants) and positive mental wellness. In addition, he is part of a local Parkour community, enjoys swimming, riding his bike and skateboarding.
How did I create a student led learning experience?
At the beginning of the year, I put all the subjects into a mind map. Within each mind map block, I create topics that are relevant to his age and our world as a whole. Then, he gets to highlight what sounds interesting for this first part of the year.
Here is what we came up with:
Math: Finance, Investments, Crypto, Statistics, Spreadsheets, Business
Science: Nutrition + recipes, Healthy Body, Energy Use, Green Cars, Chemistry
History: Battles, Cultures, Food
Language Arts: Penmanship, Formal writing, Reading happy novels
As you can see, there are already themes he is leaning into more as a pre-teen. The part I didn’t realize would be a benefit, is that we truly do take his learning everywhere we go. In San Diego, there are plenty of museums that offer free passes for residents, we’ve gone camping, brought schoolwork to the skate parks and done school work on the road when I travel for work.
My priority is my son, each day. To teach him what it feels like to make good (and bad) decisions from the comfort of his home and support system. I want him to speak his mind and form his healthy boundaries even when the only audience is a pair of adults. He’ll learn how his voice matters.
He is actually looking forward to a day that he can go hang out with a group of friends at school. He says to me with delight, “I’m not going for the grades, Mom.”