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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Traditional School, Home School, Unschool: South Sound Options

A true educational movement in this country is underway. American families, more and more, are looking at "alternative" means to educate their children beyond the traditional school model. This movement has taken two forms: homeschool and unschool. Parents choose these routes for a variety of reasons (religious, ethical, practical, and so on). However, a growing population of "special needs" students are joining the ranks for homeschooling and unschooling. There are a variety of reasons for this phenomenon, but typically, the most common reasons are traditional school systems being unable and/or unwilling to provide accommodations, medical issues, or the child simply would thrive better in a nontraditional environment/schedule. Whatever the reasons involved, Washington State is in the forefront of fostering alternative education. With laws that really work in the families favors, it's becoming more of an option. The Washington Homeschooling Organization (WHO) has an amazing websites that explains the law, requirements, resources, and support.

Sounds perfect? Oh, no. Complications can (and do) arise. It isn't easy. But what about any kind of education is easy?

What is simple to understand is the concept of homeschool. The child does their schooling in the home environment under the watchful eye of a parent/guardian/caregiver. This adult is responsible to teach and administer lessons. This can be done in a variety of ways. Purchased or borrowed curriculum can be used or a more free form approach (developing one's own curriculum and materials). It's up to the parent's judgment and what works best for the child. Homeschool parents provide continuous enrichment in the community, through events and activities, to supplement the child's home education and stay within the law.

is another approach that is popular particularly in Puget Sound. The Unschool philosophy is that the child shapes his/her own experiences, life lessons, and education, by going, doing, and being. Unschoolers are like homeschoolers, but with a very free form kind of structure and philosophy.

What's interesting is that each home school is unique. Parents can combine multiple approaches, or just use one. I know families in which their children have all three methodologies at their disposals (part-time traditional school enrollment, which is allowed for any child in our state, and then elements of homeschool/unschool).

Regardless of one's opinion as a parent or citizen (and believe me, there are a lot of opinions on this issues, some of which are quite heated and even downright venomous), at least where we live, as parents, we have some options.

Readers/bloggers, come into the discussion. What do you think about the homeschooling trend? Where do you stand with our traditional school system? Is there a happy medium? Families of special needs children, your thoughts?

Where local education is concerned, this is only the beginning folks.


Lorraine Hart said...

I'd have to look at each individual case to make any judgment I think Kim. In your case, I know how smart and committed you are to opening up the best in your son, committed to giving him better than the school system he was in because his needs weren't being met.

If a child is kept home, let's say, for extreme religious indoctrination and to be kept away from socialization that might challenge that ideology...well, I have a big problem with that.

I also have a big problem with an unstructured, let the child lead approach. A child needs to have their world opened-up in small and manageable bites, a parent leading, to learn the coping skills for a big wide world.

Kim Thompson said...

Hey there, Lorraine. Good comments. I think you hit the nail on the head and say I'd have to look at each individual case. I think that's the point folks miss--everyone is an individual.

I am a lurker on a unschooler online support group because I wanted to understand this approach because that movement (around since the 70's) is steadily gaining some momentum again here locally. My biggest concern for this approach, that if the kiddo leads, what happens when LIFE calls and they CAN'T take the lead. Then what? I worry that there would be some life skills missing to cope.

JosephMcG said...

I find this discussion very interesting. I am a Catholic school product... grade school, high school, college, graduate studies...
so I am going to enjoy exploring the questions you have raised...

Lorraine Hart said...

That's one of my biggest worries too Kim. I see adults who barely have coping skills and are not equipped to teach their children. It takes years to teach the steps of "what happens next," so that a child can begin to understand the decision-making process in life. Where is the balance with parents and teachers alike? Kids are often just told what the decision is...until such time as they are of age and suddenly responsible for making decisions themselves...not educated enough to know the process involved.

School is the first autonomous step away from the home. It's the first socialization, often, outside of the family cocoon. If we are to be a self-responsible society, the view has to be opened-up to more than just mum and dad's perception...not that their view becomes unimportant.

The cruelty children sometimes exhibit in social mixes is often a by-product of what the family has taught is acceptable "humour," though many would protest their prejudice.

Joseph, may I ask...did you feel nurtured through your religious school upbringing?

Stephanie Frieze said...

I believe that the success of home schooling is totally up to the competence of the parents. I have a cousin who decided to homeschool because she was afraid of the "element" her youngest was going to school with. That lasted a year because she wasn't cut out for it. He ended up dropping out of public school and got his GED when he was 25. My ex-sister-in-law has home schooled their son. He's won essay contests for scholarships and taken college level classes while still in his early teens. He's charming, polite, and a well adjusted boy. I agree with Lorraine, Kim. You're up to the challenge and the Y offers so many extra classes (not just swimming) to enrich a child's life that you can be as busy as you want to be.

Kim Thompson said...

Thanks Stephanie! Sometimes, Homeschooling is simply not the best fit. Thanks for the words of encouragement, too.

Stephanie Frieze said...

There are a variety of reasons that people choose to home school. I don't necessarily agree with all of them, but the luxury of a parent-as-teacher's attention can be very beneficial. There is a convention of home schooling parents in Puyallup in June. Ana has been told it is very valuable.