Thoughts on Charter Schools

We’re three weeks into the school year so far. Not really long enough to know the routine instinctively yet, but long enough to have tested the routine. So far things are going great. The biggest change to our homeschool is that we’ve joined a local public charter school called Vista Oaks, which provides us with curriculum reimbursement for materials which reach the State benchmarks for Common Core and are non-religious. They also provide free and optional on-site Enrichment Days once a week in 4 subjects: Physical Ed., Science, Language Arts, and Art. I signed the girls up for these classes because I could really use the few hours off each week. Another bonus is that they can remember what it’s like to have a teacher, to listen in class, and have classroom friends. At the end of the year everyone over 2nd grade will have to take a standardized test for Common Core. That’s one of our charter school requirements since technically we’re in a public school. I was afraid that this would be a big stumbling block for the girls, but they’ve jumped into the Enrichment classes so smoothly that I’m not as nervous to bring them to the testing. I’m honestly not very concerned about their score as much as I am about protecting their confidence in their ability to learn.

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Since joining the charter, I must admit we’ve sorta abandoned traditional homeschooling and begun a more “alternative school” approach. I am still responsible for math, science, reading, writing and history which is done “at home,” but a lot of this is outsourced to others and reimbursed by the charter. I do spend a lot of time in the car getting here and there. But so far the trade-off is all for the positive. My kids love their classes I’ve found in the community. They’re taking academic co-op classes, engineering classes through Playwell Tek, guitar lessons with a private teacher, gymnastics and swimming. We bring our curriculum along with us and work on the road on our busy days. We see our friends in class and fit afternoons at the park and hikes in between classes.

This balance is kinda the best of both worlds. I feel very in control of the education our girls are receiving. We can give more focus to the subjects which they are drawn to and still have time to get the rest done. The girls are developing very strong friendships with a core group of kids, but still have the opportunity to meet new people in their classes and at neighborhood events. But the pressure to be social is not overlapping with the pressure to learn. We can focus on academics in the comfort of our own home or on the road, in our own time, when we are most likely to be successful. But once a week, they are expected to accommodate the social requirements of being in a classroom. They need to wake up and get dressed. They need to prepare in advance, and fit into a larger community. They need to show respect to their teachers and the other students in their classes. And they are very happy in both settings.

Get stuck? Change the Plan

This morning ended with most of the living beings in our house in tears. The dog can’t cry, but if he could he would have sobbing because I was really mad. And the dog gets scared when I’m mad. Honestly, I get scared when I’m mad, too. I really value peace in our home, and when I’m mad there isn’t any peace for anyone. Today, there was no peace.

Today’s anger came bubbling out of a long-standing stalemate over math. What could have been done in 20 minutes lasted over an hour and half, mostly while I lectured and the perpetrator hid her head in her lap and sobbed (both real and fake tears). School is hard. And it’s harder when it’s the very beginning of the year. And for one of my kids in particular, it’s hard no matter what; homeschool, or school-school. And it’s hard for me to know that letting a kid play with legos and talk with me about outer-space is what would make a kid happy, but it isn’t what would make a kid grow into a real thinker who can get things done. It’s hard to be the tough guy.

But then I remembered that the nice thing about homeschool is that if we keep getting stuck…. maybe it’s the plan that’s not working. It’s not me that’s the problem. It’s not my kid that the problem. It’s that the plan we have set in motion isn’t achievable. We need a new plan. So, I switched math curriculums today. Just for one kid, and maybe even just for one week. But at least we can move forward. And hopefully tomorrow won’t be so full of tears.

A Homeschool Schedule Overview

School has technically started for the girls. We’ve decided to enroll in a Charter School for this year, which in California means we get to have access to some of the public school funds allotted for our kids to reimburse our curriculum/program expenses. In exchange we agree to teach to the Common Core Standards and having our children State tested each year. We also have the over-seeing of an Education Specialist who is a certified teacher. She looks over samples of our kids’ work through out the year and makes sure we’re reaching our family’s targets and helps us with curriculum choices if we need it. She lent us a child’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at our first meeting, so she’s OK in my book.

We’ve spent most of the summer relaxing, in spite of my original plan to keep schooling part-time through the summer. Olivia has been successfully institutionalized by her 3 years spent in school-school, and she cried at my suggestion we skip summer. We can’t have any of that crying about learning stuff, so we took it easy and did a whole lot of nothing. I’m interested to see how the kids react when we jump with both feet into our full schedule coming up. It looks a little bit like this:

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Oh yeah. That’s a lot of stuff. Do you see that big block on Friday? That’s an awesome part-time enrichment school option for homeschoolers in our charter. They go to the campus for a whole day and take hands-on learning classes in multi-age groups. People who know me on facebook know I had been venting a little about how I wanted a part-time school. Well, I found it. Now I’m just waiting to see if it fills our needs the way I’m hoping. If not, we’re committing to try them out until winter break and then we’ll know a little more if it was the right fit for us.

I’m hopeful that they’ll love the on site classes because I have some plans of my own. I’d like to start teaching sewing classes for homeschoolers on my off day. I also have a few other goals for that time to myself. I can get some of my web design work done while I’m free and even just sit quietly by myself. I love spending this time with my kids while they’re young. But, I’m thrilled that I’ve gotten to schedule some me-time this year. I can’t give my kids my all, when I’m always running on empty and there’s none of me to give!