Not Back To School

UnschoolingbusIt’s that time of year again– yellow buses, backpacks, lunch boxes, and first day of school jitters.

The back-to-school scene is a bit different in our household. My daughter begins her sophomore year of high school and her 9th year of homeschooling. No bus, no hall pass, no lunchroom, no recess, no homework.

She’ll be taking on a rigorous program of study tailored to her abilities and interests including ballet, music, screenwriting, and drama. 

Thanks to the many opportunities for homeschoolers in our area, my daughter has taken wilderness training, zoo school, MIT workshops, drama and art classes, and a host of field trips.

When we first began our homeschool journey. We grew to enjoy the flexibility and efficiency it offered. My daughter learned, explored, made friends, and honed her talents.

Since she began homeschooling, I managed to work part-time by teaching, consulting, and writing.

Homeschooling takes a lot of energy and time, but it also gives me a lot more time with my daughter. She is my youngest child and the only one not attending college. So, the time together is especially meaningful. Last year we took a field trip to Washington, D.C. which my daughter was responsible for planning.

When people hear that she is homeschooled, they often assume that I do all the teaching. Over the years, my daughter has had other teachers. She’s taken online courses, science and enrichment classes, joined study groups, and been involved in a school pilot program. Next year, she’s likely to take a community college course. Gradually, I’ve become more of a guide and coach to my daughter, as she directs most of her education.

And so, here we are today, on the college track, with full intention of a homeschool graduation in 2016.

As happy and well-adjusted as my daughter is, I still get bouts of parental angst (mostly 3:00 am).  Does she need a wider circle of friends? Is she getting a strong enough Jewish education? Will she know how to study for tests?  (She doesn’t take many.) Will she be fluent in Spanish? I even wonder if missing all that high school drama and the girl cliques will somehow put her at a disadvantage.

We all want the best for our children, so second-guessing our choices comes with the job description. Our desire to “get it right” sometimes makes us feel that others are getting it wrong. Read any article or news story on homeschooling and you’ll find commentators attacking this choice, claiming that it is inferior to public school, that children won’t be “socialized”, that we “shelter” our kids, on and on.

Never mind that they may have never even met a homeschooler before!

Underlying these negative comments and defensiveness (on both sides), may be our own insecurities. We want our choice to be the “right” choice.

I don’t question other parents’ school choice and I ask the same in return. I am fortunate to have a choice, and it’s what works best for our family right now.

Homeschooling is not for everyone. My choice not to send my daughter to traditional school does not say anything about your choice. I’m simply an advocate of learning,  whatever form it takes for your child to thrive.

Wishing you a successful and exciting school year!

Celebrating Summer’s Swan Song


Sometime back when my kids were all in preschool/elementary school, I started the tradition of giving them each a book bucket on the last day of school.  This was simply a beach bucket with their name on it.  Tucked inside were paperbacks for summer reading.  I also included: puzzle books, comics, magazines, stickers, journals, bookmarks, pens, stationary, and the summer reading club sheet from our library and B&N. I tied a balloon to each bucket and then surprised the kids when they came home from school.

With celebratory music playing in the background, I’d congratulate them on a successful school year. Then we’d ring in summer vacation.

The kids loved this and it became a yearly ritual until graduation from high school. (Two down, one to go.) As the kids got older, I tailored the books to their interests. (This summer my daughter’s book bucket included a much coveted Hunger Games Movie guide.) Anticipation for the buckets began around June 1st.  The kids loved comparing their book bucket photos from year-to-year.

Thankfully, all three of my children enjoy books and creative writing.  Recently, I had the unanticipated pleasure of bringing my first grandchild her book bucket of baby books. I hope her mom will continue the tradition.

The book bucket idea came naturally to me as a reading teacher, book lover, writer,  and later, homeschooling mom.  But there is another reason: my love of summer.  Of course, no matter what I do to try to make the summer stretch out or to slow down, it always seems to pass in a blip.

When my fourteen-year-old daughter came down for breakfast yesterday, she sleepily said: “Mom? Is it really September 1st today?”

I gave her a hug.

“But I still haven’t finished my book bucket!”

Like me, she is definitely sad to see summer go.

As I write this post on the last official weekend of the summer season, it occurred to me that maybe we need an End of Summer ritual–a way of letting go and embracing the fall.  I’m not sure I could actually call it a “celebration”, like  at the beginning of summer, but I need some way to envision the upcoming school year without getting stuck in a snow scene.

So for starters, I decided to make a Looking Forward list that my daughter and I could write together, then display in our homeschool room.  This list would include events, happenings, and trips that we are looking forward to in the fall, winter, and spring.  We could add to the list as new items come our way.  Everyone needs something to look forward to, right?

Here’s what I came up with so far:

*Planning our mom/daughter trip to Washington, D.C

*Going to Albany to play with baby Chaya (her niece/my grand daughter)

*Visiting Sam at college

*Hot cocoa mornings  (Not sure about this one)

*Cousin Akiva’s bar mitzvah

So maybe the Looking Forward list, along with a final swim in our town lake, will become the ritual for celebrating summer’s swan song.

How do you say good-bye to summer? (Or hello to fall?)