Mommy, I Want to Go to School

by ChristinaPilkington on September 15, 2012 · 18 comments

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“Mommy, I want to go to school.”

Alexa made this statement right before we were going into the grocery store about a month ago.

Now, I know that most moms would be thrilled with this statement. They want their kids to be excited about school and look forward to going. But we’re an interest-led learning family. We’ve been learning and living every day in ways that hardly look like school at all.

We do some “school” things: reading lots of books, doing science experiments, and playing some math games, but we’ve never followed a curriculum or set schedule, never broke down learning into subjects assigned grades or even thought about what grade the kids were in.

But now Alexa was talking about going to school. I had always expected this conversation to come up one day. But I thought it might be when she was 12 or 13, not 6.

I guess I should have seen it coming. She had been asking questions about school all day long. What types of things did you learn at school? What was the schedule like when you went to school? What kind of work did you have to do?

At first I felt a little stunned. Was she not happy with the things we were doing at home? She always seemed to love all the trips we went on, the park days, the books we read, and the games we played. How could I not have seen this coming?

So, I gulped down feelings of inadequacy and tried to shush the voice screaming inside me at what a horrible mother I had been.

To Allow Kids to Decide Whether to Attend School or Not

Then we talked about school. We talked about how her life would be very different than it is now. She couldn’t wake up and start playing her favorite computer game right away. She couldn’t go out with Jared in the early afternoon and play pretend games outside.

I’ve always known that if the kids asked to go to school one day I would say yes. I know quite a few homeschooling moms who absolutely refuse to allow their children to attend school, no matter how hard they beg. I’ve heard many reasons for this; anything from they wouldn’t receive the same quality of education to they wouldn’t successfully be able to navigate the school environment and structure.

But for me, the decision to allow my kids to attend school one day if they wished has been pretty straightforward. I don’t want my kids coming up to me when they’re 25 bitter because they felt they had missed out on some important childhood experience.

And if they wound up loving their school experience, than that would be fine with me. More than anything I want my kids to be happy and fulfilled in how and what they are learning.

So after a half hour long discussion in the parking lot, I told her that I would look into registering her for school when we came home from our trip. I told her that after this week, she’d need to be prepared to leave the house at 8:30 in the morning and not get home until 3:30. And she would probably have to do a half hour to hour’s worth of homework every night.

And you know what? After all that discussion about school, turns out she doesn’t want to go every day for that long. She doesn’t even want to go for a whole year. She just wants to try out school for a little while but still get to do lots of fun stuff at home, too.

Then it finally hit me. I didn’t know how I could have been so dense before.

“Do you want to have times during the day where it’s kind of like school? Where we work on some of the same projects or topics together every day?”

Her eyes light up. “Can we? Can we play school every day at home? Can we have a math class and a reading class and maybe even an animal class?

“Uh….sure, honey!”

Even the other homeschooled kids that I know don’t talk like this. I’m pretty much floored. We do lots of things to learn all the time, but I’ve purposely never talked about it in terms of classes and subjects and sitting behind desks and having quizzes and assignments.

But my daughter is asking for this…begging in fact.

And so we had a “school” day…..this Saturday…and then on Sunday, too. She couldn’t wait for Monday she said.

Here’s what our first two days of “school” looked like:

1st day (Mind you that most all of this was done on the fly)

Science class (we had to call them classes) – I read a page from the book Tell Me About: The World about what is a skunk’s defense mechanism. Then we had to have a quiz (I was cringing inside; the kids were cheering outside) about what they had heard. Then I asked them to write the word skunk on a sheet of paper without me showing them how to spell it.

Math class – I wrote up a little worksheet for them of two digit addition problems. I quickly showed them how to carry over numbers from the ones spot to the tens spot if the number was higher than nine (first time they had done this). They joyfully….yes, joyfully, worked on finishing their 15 problems.

Animal Class (Alexa specifically requested this one). I found a bunch of old National Geographic magazines and asked them to tear out a picture of a mammal, reptile, insect and bird.

Literature Class – I read aloud a chapter from a novel we’ve been reading together. They had to draw pictures of what they were hearing and then come up to the front of the “class” and share their pictures with everyone and summarize the chapter.

History Class – I read a short excerpt from the book A Treasury of Amazing Knowledge about women who were heroes in the Revolutionary or Civil War. Then the kids worked together to make up a short skit about Molly Pitcher. Alexa had me write down their script and they rehearsed several times before performing their skit for Steve.

 2nd Day

Science Class – I read another page from Tell Me About: The World. This time the question was about if ostriches really bury their heads in the sand.  Once again the kids took a little quiz and then wrote out the word ostrich on a sheet of paper.

Math Class- I read aloud the second chapter in the Life of Fred: Apples book. Then they kids did the four problems that were at the end of the chapter.

Recess/Gym Steve took the kids on a bike ride while I made a good dent in the laundry!

Animal Class: Steve worked with the kids on this assignment. I asked the kids to think about an animal they would like to learn more about. Then Steve wrote down five questions they had. Then they researched those questions on the computer and wrote down their answers. They also had to list where they found those answers. Finally, they had to practice presenting that information. They were so cute! They worked out who would say the introduction, who would tell the questions and give the answers and who would do the conclusion.

I learned a great deal this week about some things that my kids need more from me. It’s also made me think a lot more about what types of experiences my kids will need to successfully complete goals and projects of their own when they become adults.

I’ve decided that we need to make a few changes in our lifestyle. We’ll always be interest-led learners. I feel very strongly about that. But the way that’s going to look in our family might be changing.

I’ll be writing about this change next Wednesday. I’m really excited to share with you some resources I’ve found and ideas that I’ve been developing.

Photo Credit: Cast a Line

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  • Fanny Harville

    Just found your blog via Lori Pickert and looking forward to exploring it!

    We’ve gradually evolved to a more structured day, or rather a day more organized by regular routine, because that is what feels comfortable to my son and husband (the primary homeschooling parent). They like doing “subjects,” while still recognizing that learning isn’t really that neatly compartmentalized. Melissa Wiley has a nice metaphor that captures the ebb and flow of structure in interest-led learning: “high-tide” and “low-tide” learning modes.

    I write about routines here:

    • christinapilkington

      I just came from reading your post. Thanks so much for sharing it with me! I like your description of high tide. I think we’re in a high tide right now of the kids wanting to so more “schooly type” things. I shouldn’t even lable it that way because all learning is the same, but I hope you know what I mean. They want to do more math activities and writing now, but then we’ll have months where we do more outdoor things and play lots of board games. I just like how now we’ve set aside a dedicated time to do activities together.

  • Susan

    I can imagine how you felt when Alexa said she wanted to go to school! Despite the feelings of inadequacy and the voices screaming in your head, it sounds like you handled this really well :) I hope I would do so well! Who knows, maybe it will be a sort of a phase, or maybe it will be more ongoing. Either way, following along with the way our kids want to learn is what it’s all about, right?

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks! She seems to be pretty content with having some more structured time during the day. It’s just caught be by surprise. I guess your girls had a taste of school already. Maybe because Alexa never even went to preschool she’s idolizing school from what she’s seen on PBS and other shows. I try to tell her that school isn’t like how they portray it on TV shows. It would just make me feel a little better if she waited til she was a little bit older to try real school for a long period of time.

  • Darcel

    We are going to start unit studies soon. The kids have given some ideas and I’ve come up with some of my own. Whenever we do flashcards or anything like that they call it circle time. I’m excited to see how they respond.

    • christinapilkington

      I think it is mostly about how kids respond to things we offer to them, isn’t it? We sort of do some things that look like unit studies, too. They’ve really loved the Magic Treehouse books. Whenever we read a new book, I try to bring in lots of other stuff that goes along with the topic of the book. For example, the book is about Mozart that we’re reading now, so I put in CDs of Mozart’s music, we listened to Mozart’s Magnificant Voyage, read a Boxcar Children’s book about Mozart, and read Mozart’s Wig. I also have ordered the Wonderkind little Amadaeus:the adventures of young Mozart for them to watch, too. They mostly like everything I pull out for us to do. If they don’t, than we put it aside and don’t do it. As they get older, I’d like for them to have a lot more imput into creating these studies on their own, but for now they like when I set up most of it.

  • Lori Pickert

    i think respecting their interests has to include respecting their wanting to try learning in different ways. the fact that you’re responsive to this curiosity she has leaves her feeling in control of her learning.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much for reminding me of this, Lori. That’s the main thing I want for my kids: to take control of their learning. Hopefully, this will also carry over to feeling in control of their work, too. I’ve been finding so many great tips and advice in your book Project-Based Homeschooling as far as working with kids to define, plan out and do their own projects and work. I think this is so valuable, and I’m going to be working on implementing this with my kids in the next few months. Thanks so much for writing such a great book!

  • tereza crump

    Christina, the other Moms that commented pretty much summarized what I would say. :)

    Here at my house, from time to time, we play school. It’s mostly a unit study or a structured art class that we will do a couple of times a month maybe. Sometimes the kids will play school. One will be a teacher and teach and then quiz the others and give them worksheets and all. Sometimes they go through a phase where they want to do the curriculum workbooks that I have in our office. ( I collect lots of curriculum. I just love them.) Like right now both DD9 and DS7 are going through our Singapore Intensive Practice Workbook. They get the books on their own and work on the exercises one page after the other. If they have questions, they come ask me. But that is just the thing they want to do now.

    My DD5 says the same thing. So I have a folder filled with worksheets and have bought her workbooks. So she fills them out. We do them together. Her sister who is 2.5 y.o. helps out and colors everything. The other day she drew a picture (an oval with 2 eyes, something that looked like a mustache and arms. On the bottom part there was something in the middle of the legs.) and I asked her what that was. So she said “it’s Dad.” and what’s this? I said “his eyes. his arms. his v*lva.” Yes, I laughed my head off. So I explained that Dad doesn’t have a V*lva but a p*nis. Kids!

    My DS7 asked me last year about going to school. So like you I explained the routine. He told me he wanted to go to see what it would be like. When I told him about staying seated for long periods of time he didn’t like that. He asked me if he could just take a break and go play outside or eat whenever he was hungry. I told him no. So his curiosity was satisfied and he decided he prefers to stay home.

    We have done a couple of summer camps where the kids have to work for 3 or more hours daily doing things of their own choice like drama and art. But because it is structured like school they did not enjoy it as much. The restraint of their liberty was very well felt. Although they enjoyed the activity, after a couple of hours they wanted a change of pace, or a longer break and just couldn’t have it.

    So anyway… I would say go with the flow. Like someone else said don’t count on it as being a permanent change. One thing you can do is require more accountability like having Alexa read a book and giving you a book report either orally or written. Or letting them come up with an activity and be in charge of leading it. Sometimes all the kids want is a challenge. A change of structure could be a challenge.

    Alexa may be needing to be challenged. the way she learns right now may be just too easy for her.

    Anyway, have fun with the changes… :)

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much for this advice. Now that I think of it, you’re probably right. She might just be wanting something more challenging. Now why didn’t I think of that!? I guess that’s why I need my other homeschooling moms! I’ve been thinking and reading more about project-based homeschooling and setting up a challenging project for Alexa might just be the right thing for her. She taught herself to read well by age 3 and is now reading 550 page novels, so she does like challenges!
      Sometimes I’ve had friends and family say that my kids don’t want to go to school because I make school look bad. But I honestly try to be very realistic. And I did teach in a public school only 7 years ago, so I’m not that out of touch with how things are done. I think other people hype up school to be such a fun place to kids when they are younger and then it can be a huge letdown. I tried to tell her that honestly she might find some things fun, but she would have to do the same things in the same way at the same time every day. She wants to do that at home, but even with our “classes” after about two hours of this, she’s ready to jump up and do things on her own again.
      And, oh my goodness, I was laughing so hard about your picture story. Priceless!

  • Liz C

    Mine go back and forth with “wanting class”… it usually lasts a week or so, then their need for strict structure is satisfied, and we go back to free learning. It’s kind of hilarious… my MIL will ask what the kids “are learning in class” and my 7yo always answers, “Oh, we don’t have class. We just do stuff.” And then I get to clarify… So Much Fun.

    • christinapilkington

      Lol! That’s the kind of thing my kids say, too. People always ask what subjects they like the most. We haven’t been calling them subject up until recently, so they’d say things like Animals or Legos or Batman. I’d get some questioning looks but mostly people would say, ” I wish I could have taken those subjects in school!”

  • Linda Wyatt

    Don’t be surprised if that change to having “classes” doesn’t last long. It’s still a novelty.
    When my kids were pretty young, we did the same thing, had a “school day,” pretending we were a one room schoolhouse. It lasted for one morning, until we discovered that having a class schedule and arbitrarily stopping one activity in order to start the next was just silly. Trying to make one subject “fit” for kids of different ages, interests, and ways of learning didn’t make any sense. Trying to engage them all in the same thing at the same time in the same way wasn’t successful. Having the specific topics and questions and answers pre-arranged by me missed most of what is good and interesting about learning. Worksheets and quizzes held their interest for a very, very short period of time.
    It may be that this sudden interest in your family is a passing thing, until they get their curiosity about “doing school” satisfied. Don’t get TOO caught up in “changing things.” Don’t get too caught up in being excited about ideas that YOU have been developing, instead of ideas your kids are developing. Be careful not to shift everything to a thing you are doing.
    Enjoy it, if you (and they) do, as long as it lasts. But don’t count on it being a permanent change and/or don’t force it to be one by prioritizing it as a “change in lifestyle.”
    Unless that’s what you want to do. It’s none of my business what you do. But I’ve been doing this a long time, and have seen, more than once, a parent get all excited about suddenly getting to play teacher. It is a shift very much away from people being responsible for, or having ownership of, their own learning.

    If they really, really want to “play school,” what would happen if they each took a turn at “being the teacher”? That might help with keeping it from shifting to a parent-dominated thing.

    • christinapilkington

      You’re right. It probably is a novelty. That’s what I’m secretly hoping anyway. Even now, though, with Alexa wanting classes, she still wants to be in charge of the order of things and when we stop. She isn’t having stopping at a certain time even if we’re playing “school”
      My son doesn’t like worksheets or quizzes that much either. But Alexa has always been different. She found a bunch of those BrainQuest cards at a thrift store and loves going through them. She’s a very factual girl. Since she was 4, she’d go on Wikipedia for hours reading facts about animals. When we go to a zoo, she thinks it’s her duty to inform people about everything she knows about animals and correct them when they’re wrong!
      She actually does like to pretend to be teacher. She’s great at sitting with Jared on the couch and listen to him read, now that he’s showing a lot more interest in learning.
      I guess what I meant by lifestyle change was that I need to make it more of a priority to make deliberate time to do the things with the kids that they find important. We do lots of things together all the time, but our days rarely look the same. Not that I want them to all look the same either, but I’m seeing from Alexa that it’s important to her to work on some of the same things every day. So I need to remember to make this a priority instead of flitting around from fun thing to fun thing without having something long-term that we are working towards finishing – or I shoudl say that she is interested in finishing. I guess I made a poor word choice when I said lifestyle change!
      I understand about getting caught up in ideas I’m developing. I definitely don’t want to fall into that trap.. But this honestly is her idea, something she really wants to do. I really don’t want to play “school” every day. I don’t want to write out sheets of math problems that she wants or to give her “quizzes”. But I’m respecting the fact that it’s something she wants to do right now. I know from years of being a teacher that pre-planned lessons just don’t work. You never complete the things you set out to do. New and fun thing come up, and you can’t do those if you are strict with plans you made a week ago, or even a day ago. She wants me to give her more guidance and direction right now, and I want to be there to meet those needs. I also want to find ways to help her plan out and direct her own projects and studies. But since she’s only six, I know she has plently of time to develop those skills. Her brother on the other hand does great with this!

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    I have always been opened to the fact that one day Keilee will want to ‘go to school’ while at the same time praying that day will never come. We discuss it every summer and she is always adamant that she does NOT want to go to school. I can only imagine how this made you feel. I love how you talked things out with her and learned that it wasn’t so much ‘school’ that she wanted but ‘lessons’. Keilee is very much a lesson kinda girl like I have told you before. What about a Co-op class once a week? I love that we can change and regroup when our kids needs change. You always inspire me Chris. Can’t wait to read your post next week.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much, Karen! We sort of do a co-op. Every Monday we do a Family Science gathering and then an hour of math games, writing games or book club. I like the group we’re in because we’re all pretty much the same – very relaxed and never present what we’re learning in a schooly fashion. We basically spend 5 minutes setting up a topic and then let the kids go from there with what they want to do with it. It’s been ok doing our little classes like they want this week, but I want to make sure that they are very involved in deciding what we’re going to do and how we do it. Alexa is like me when I was younger so in that she’s more than willing to let someone else tell her what to do because it takes too much time and work to plan and think of how and what to do on her own. I want to be her guide and introduce her to a lot of things and help her figure out what’s best to do, but I also want her to learn the important skills of planning, deciding on things, and figuring out how to go about learning things on her own,too. It’s been very, very tricky lately finding the balance between those two things. And she’s only 6!

  • Jessica

    Your children are at a different stage than mine, but our experiences are similar. Every year is a bit different. Last year was almost totally interest-led. This year we have more structure and they are taking outside classes for writing and history. Being willing to adapt to what they want and need is key. You handled it beautifully!

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks! I know that it’s going to be an up and down road these next12 years. I know that we’ll always follow what the kids are interested in, but I never thought that what the kids would be interested in would be having our learning look more like school! But I also know it’s probably a phase that will go in and out. I’m sure we’ll have lots and lots of phases, just like they went from hardly doing anything for themselves to now doing almost everything for themselves.

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