When I became a mother at just 22 years old I decided that I was going to do my very best to raise a well-rounded child who lived up to her potential in every sense. I would work hard to provide her with everything she needed and usually everything she wanted. I had some very great examples of mothers surrounding me who I would look up to and emulate as best as I could. At just about three years old she would start “full-time preschool”. I made sure to send her to the best one I could find with a very good curriculum that would best prepare her for kindergarten. Then when she turned five years old on August 23rd, I was told that she could start kindergarten. From then on, she would always be the youngest in her class and there is usually no mistaking it as she was petite and not always on the same “social” level as other kids in her grade that were a year older. Either way I was assured that she was well prepared for kindergarten. I did what every other mother of a child her age would do, make sure she had all her immunization went to the school filled out the paperwork, enrolled her and delivered her in a brand spanking new outfit and the perfect piggy tails for the first day.
I always thought I was doing the right thing. Not only was it what I did and what my parents did and what their parents did but it was also what everybody around me was doing.
I put a lot of emphasis on grades and rewarded her when she would make honor roll or bring home a perfect test score. I would encourage her to read, even though I knew she dreaded it. I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of one of those bumper stickers that said “Proud Mom of an Honor Roll Student”, although I never did put it on my car, I was proud, not crazy.
In seventh grade, with high school right around the corner, we made the decision to move. The way we decided where we were going to move was simple, we wanted a neighboring town, culturally diverse, with a great academic and athletic program.
It was very important that we provided our daughter with the best education within our means. This is what landed us in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
To my knowledge we were doing “the right thing”, the same thing everybody did for their school age kids. We woke up Monday morning, brought her to school, picked her up at three and this continued from September to June, like clockwork. Year in and year out, there was never even so much as a thought that this was our OBLIGATION to her, a good public school education.
To be quite honest with you, it never even occurred to me that there was any other way!
Until about a year ago, while waiting for my carrot & ginger juice from the local organic market. As I stood there waiting for my juice in the middle of the workday I saw this woman and a young man next to her and of course the first thing that crossed my mind was, why isn’t this kid at school? But I have learned to not ask so many questions and not always say what’s on my mind. Somehow, we began to talk, juicing can be quite time-consuming. The young man mentioned that he had eaten that type of rice in India, chickpeas just like that in Greece, and he laughed that he never came across Greek yogurt there either. This young man stood in front of me, made eye contact, spoke clearly and confidently as he began to tell me about his travels with his mother. I was so intrigued, and I wondered how he would be able to get all this traveling done while being a regular 13-year-old student. So my curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “where do you go to school”, when he said that he was homeschooled and they travel as part of the curriculum. It all made sense.
You see, I had heard of homeschooling before and I just thought it was something that stay at home moms did because they could. Honestly, when I heard people discuss homeschooling it always had a negative connotation and was usually followed by discussions about children who were not socially adjusted or capable of handling pressure. I heard people imply that it made children lazy or unable to adjust to “the real world” when they would eventually have to work for someone else, punch a clock and do what the rest of the kids had been “PROGRAMMED” to do their entire lives. All of these things sounded very valid and because I had never taken the time to look into it, I ignorantly believed what I heard.
I should add that I had cousins who lived in California, they were vegans, who lived near a beach, that went to an “alternative school”. When our families would get together with them I would hear stories about them walking around barefoot on the school grounds, taking “clown classes” and riding unicycles. It never seem real to me. As much as we all joked about it, including them, I just figured it was a West Coast thing that was beyond our New York City mentality.
So here I am today in the year 2016 I have a 15-year-old daughter who is in the ninth grade, she goes to a breathtakingly beautiful school where she has a great group of friends, a fun social life and plays sports. Why does this make me sad? I am grateful that she has the opportunity to live where we live and go to a good school with amazing teachers that I have personally seen go above and beyond for her and other kids. I have no doubt in my mind that, at this point, Chloe is where she needs to be… But, if I could do it all over again, maybe I would change some things. Maybe.
It is only recently that I began to explore alternative schools, not because I was going to pull my child away from everything she knew and make her start over, but because I was so interested in seeing what was out there. What did we miss out on, where are the studies that show that these kids can turn into productive citizens.
I would love to see a world where there was no such thing as standardized tests because there is no such thing as a standard child. I can’t imagine it would be hard to convince your kid to explore the world and learn first hand about where the pilgrims came from, or how the pyramids were built using mathematics. Like I’ve said before, even as a adult, picking up a book and reading about something cannot compare to experiencing it in real life.
Maybe Homeschooling and traveling wasn’t entirely realistic for me then, but that doesn’t mean I only had those 2 options, there are so many schools out there that offer so much and I never even knew they existed. Here are a few fun articles I read online and two of my favorite TED TALKS that really made me think about this in the first place. Enjoy!