I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
January 23, 2015
Pretty much everywhere I go these days, everyone has one question:
“How’s that HOME SCHOOL thing going?”
To catch up those of you who are new here, when my daughter was finishing elementary school last spring, I looked very carefully at all of my options for middle school, I looked at private schools such as PVCC, I looked at our local schools, but Iwent with my gut, and took the most radical (and most affordable of my private school options)- a two-day-a-week academic tutorial program. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Punky goes to school and takes Math, Science, Art, Literature, Composition and Social Studies from four different teachers, as well as a Junior Achievement program after school. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, she works from home with me on assignments that the teachers have given her to complete. A reader told me this scenario is called ‘hybrid home school’ where she lives, and I’ve used that term ever since, because it describes what we’re doing very well.
I wanted to wait to give you my thoughts on the whole thing until we’d had a chance to complete her first semester. Now that that’s happened, I think three words can adequately sum up how I feel about it so far:
I. LOVE. IT.
Seriously. Hybrid home school has actually exceeded all my hopes and dreams. My daughter and I are closer than we’ve ever been before, she’s happy and active and rested and engaged in all kinds of creative activities in her spare time, she’s made new friends and kept the old, she loves her teachers, and she has learned so very much in just a few months about hard work and discipline and budgeting her time, in addition to the many things she’s learned from her studies.
That’s not to say it’s been easy — Far from it. We’ve had very good days, and we’ve had… well… awful days. Punky’s work load has been substantial and on Wednesdays in particular, we often work throughout the entire day (with lots of breaks) to get everything done. To give you an idea of just how much work she’s been doing, by the end of her first semester, nearly every one of her subject binders were already completely filled with her work. I was stunned.
That said, she has been able to get everything done without too much stress as long as we devote the proper amount of time to it– and she’s able to work fairly independently, which is very good for me as a novice home schooler. Giving her some ownership and flexibility over her work schedule has made a huge difference in her work ethic. She has decided on her own that it’s generally best to get the hardest work done first, and she’s starting to realize that she’d rather take action and complete everything on her own than have me tell her what to do and when to do it. This makes me so happy, because these are skills that will serve her for the rest of her life.
She also has the freedom now to take as much- or as little- time as she needs to complete assignments. Punky can generally finish grammar and reading assignments very quickly, but she sometimes needs extra time to focus and figure things out when it comes to math and science. At home, this is not a problem. At school… it was.
We both like the fact that I’m now in on what she’s learning. Although the teachers determine the assignments and curriculum, I have to go over everything, too, to make sure that she knows and understands it. This led to a revelation in math class in particular- At the beginning of this school year, Punky would learn a concept at school, then come home and have trouble remembering it once she got started on her homework. As a result, I began taking five or ten minutes to “reteach” the latest lesson and go over a few sample problems at home before she started her work. It turned out that that was the missing link for Punky in math. She simply needs to go over new concepts twice to lock them in- It was that simple. Not only did she make an A in math this semester, she actually made a 100 on three of her six tests (and the tests weren’t easy!). This, for me, was the biggest success of the season- Punky had decided in fourth grade when math got more complex that she “just wasn’t a math person” — She has since gained so much confidence in the subject that she’s completely changed her tune.
Now that I’m one of my daughter’s teachers, I feel like I’m getting to know her so much better. Before this year, a large part of her time was a mystery to me. I’m learning now how her brain works– and it turns out it’s pretty easy to help her succeed. For example, if my daughter simply reads a chapter in her history book, she probably won’t remember much of it a day or two later. But, if she reads it and then we discuss what’s interesting about it and why it matters, and– better yet– we also watch a movie or documentary or read a book or story about that period, she actually retains the information. She simply needed context– and there’s not always time for context in the classroom, or at home after a kid has been at school all day, every day.
Socialization was one of my biggest concerns, but so far it hasn’t been an issue. Between the kids in our neighborhood, at church, and at her old and new schools, she plays with SOMEONE nearly every day of the week. On the other hand, one unexpected benefit of two-day-a-week school is that Punky’s classmates have become part of her universe, but not the center of it. I read recently that fifth and sixth grades are the years when what peers think typically becomes more important to a girl than what her parents think. At Punky’s school (her campus has 4th-6th grades only), there have been rumblings of cliques, jockeying for social position, and occasional teasing — all typical behaviors for this age group. The difference is that none of them seem to take the others very seriously.
“We only see each other two days a week anyway,” Punky has told me when recounting social struggles. “It’s really not that big of a deal.” And from her stories, it sounds like the other kids feel this way as well. They aren’t getting their sense of identity from their peers in the way that they would if they were in school with them most of their week. I remember feeling like IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD when I was snubbed or made fun of during those awkward preteen years — I love hearing stories of the kids at Punky’s tutorial just shrugging it off. And I love watching my daughter become who and what she wants to be, unencumbered (for now, anyway) by what she thinks her peers expect from her.
I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m thrilled with how this is going- but the experience has also convinced me that I would personally never want to home school on my own. I am so grateful for Punky’s teachers. I believe in their training and their many years of experience, and I wouldn’t want to do this without their involvement. I believe that some parents are absolutely cut out for home schooling on their own– and I know now that I’m not one of them! I love leaving the curriculum decisions in the teachers’ hands, knowing that my daughter will finish the year with all the same skills as fifth graders who go to traditional school. Having a syllabus and strict due dates for assignments has also been great for me as a parent– Some weeks, I’ve been more into home schooling than others, and if I were doing it on my own, I’m afraid it would be too easy to procrastinate or blow some things off. I can’t do that in this scenario. The work has got to get done, and waiting until the last minute to assign it at home just hurts my daughter– something I definitely don’t want to do.
So that’s how it’s going… for now. I’m well aware that a lot can change as my daughter matures- she may want to go to traditional school again when she’s older, and we’re trying to stay prepared for that scenario- That’s one reason why it’s so important to me to mirror as closely as possible what’s being taught in schools at her grade level. But right now, hybrid home school is working for us – and I’m so grateful I went with my heart on this decision, despite the fact that it was totally different from what everyone else I knew was doing.
Today, I have a ten year old girl who’s realized this school year that she loves history, who has rediscovered her love for science and experimentation, who’s had the time and inclination to read The Fellowship of the Ring, Divergent, and so many other great books in her spare time, whose handwriting and organizational skills have skyrocketed in just three months, who has taken up fencing and joined an acting club… and most importantly, WHO IS HAPPY.
It’s all I could ask for– and then some.