Unschool, Homeschool, Private or Public?
Having gone from nearly a decade of public school teaching as a band director to homeschool teacher when we had kids, I live somewhere in between the ideas of complete unschooling and fulltime classical school models. I know enough to know that I don’t know what will be the best schooling method for everyone. But I also know that I want my short humans to be well-grounded and well-rounded. I want them to have access to all of the learning things and a desire for whatever interests they choose to pursue.
That being said, we have come across many hurdles in our homeschool. First of all, there was the inconsistency that fulltime RV Travel brought us. The idealistic view that we could do “school” while moving down the road at 55-65 mph or that keeping all of their materials neat and tidy in 250 square feet would be simpler… well, that was just not our reality. We’ve seen many parents that do very well with this. But my brain is cluttered already and constant shifts in location and opportunity created a constant state of stress and overwhelm while we traveled fulltime.
That’s not to say that we avoided school for two and a half years. We did the best we could under the stress. We used the workbooks, we explored the places and did some of the things. But there was always a constant feeling of guilt that we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do. And then, we’d meet up with other RV Families and they would make us feel at ease for a few moments while they mused about the joys of unschooling. And then as soon as we’d get to the next location and set up, the worry and guilt would return.
As homeschool moms, it doesn’t matter what school of thought or method that is available, there is always an opportunity to feel some fomo or guilt of what we are doing versus what everyone around us is doing. And it can be said time and time again that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
Now that we have started to settle in to home life after nearly three years of travel fulltime, the there are many opportunities to choose new methods of “doing school.” And my kids’ desire for long-term friendships and a more “normal” routine has definitely weighed on our hearts and minds as we seek out what is next for our family. I have looked intently at a number of options and I’m going to take you on a tour of my brain (scary, I know) for the next few moments. Stay with me and we’ll show you the many options available where we are and how we narrowed the choices.
1- Public School
I was a public school teacher for nearly a decade and I know just what to expect from the public school system. Because I understand it from a few perspectives, I felt it needed some consideration. I looked to see what school district and what school the kids would be going to and heard from numerous sources that this was a great school district. That was encouraging. There are neighborhood kids that our kids like to play with so they would have a friend or two to help ease into the new situation. And, then, I take a look at the district website to gain more information. Front and center was information about the STAAR test (standardized test for Texas) and I about threw up in my mouth. Standardized testing and the administrators that get so excited about it is one of the biggest reasons I left teaching. Nope. That idea was shut down. Nope… Nope… Nope.
2- Private School
I looked at the various private schools here in our new area, and there were a few that could possibly fit within a tight budget. We found one that was about 5 minutes from the house and we inquired and took a tour of the school. The kids were excited. They even attended a “shadow day” where they met The teachers were amazing. It would be a stretch financially, but it would be barely in reach given what we had set as our current financial goals.
3- Homeschool Co-Ops
Homeschool Co-Ops are available in most areas and are a great option to help connect homeschooling families. We looked into several great co-ops in our new area. And, we applied to two. The first one came back weeks later to tell us that they were already full for the fall semester (we applied in April). This was our experience in other areas we have lived before. In order to keep these groups manageable they can only have so many families before they cap them. These families return year after year so it becomes a “you have to know someone to get in” type of group. And that often creates a feeling of elitism amongst families who are not able to get in to these groups.
The second group we applied to came back two months later and they mentioned they had two spots available for teaching. That sounded great until I found out what they needed and neither of the two classes seemed even remotely fun or interesting. And then, I was informed that all of the good classes had already been taken and I would have to select from what was available for this year. At first, I was prepared to do this because the fees were way less than private school and offered a one day a week place to go for enrichment activities. But the thought of doing classes that did not interest our family just to “get in” to the co-op seemed less and less appealing. So, we chose to opt out.
4- Homeschool Groups
Our local area has a large group that we were able to join based on our common interests and beliefs. This group is kind of a “free for all” mentality and allows any of its members to post activities or classes in their facebook group. This sounded like a good option, so we joined up. I attended a “mom’s night out” at the local La Madeleine and met some down to earth and fun ladies. There weren’t a lot of activities that we could attend, but figured it was at least a starting place for our family to connect with our new community.
But then the thought occurred to us, if we’re always interacting with people of the same belief system, would we have those “opportunities” to meet people and interact with people from all walks of life. This was something we truly enjoyed in our fulltime RV life and we were already beginning to miss this aspect of RV living.
Thankfully, the RV community is always on the move and we had the opportunity to interact with several families as they passed through the area where we’ve settled. This was a nice break and a return to something familiar from the past two years. We were able to go on a few small adventures- at the lake and out blueberry picking.
We’re going to stick with this Homeschool Group and see where it leads. I even signed up to help plan the seasonal parties for the groups. Only time will tell if this will allow our kids and our family the community that we’ve been seeking since we settled down. We have always found the idea of community to be slightly fleeting; because so often people in today’s ever active and moving society are just too busy to sit down for coffee and have a nice long chat while the kids entertain themselves. So often, we are caught up in making sure the kids are happy, healthy and entertained that we forget our own social needs.
But I digress… The Homeschool group; while it doesn’t have an immediate reward of community attached to it, there is a hope that more and more relationships will be built and more opportunities to just sit and chat and have adult time while the kids have kid time. Only time will tell. We were getting used to the “fast friends” mentality as we traveled and have made so many “fast friends” that have ended up being really great friendships along the way. Now, school, on the other hand is still an issue we are trying to settle.
5- University Model School-
While exploring houses in Tyler, we stayed in a hotel that had a sign next door advertising a University Model School. I was aware of these types of schools because we had actually enrolled our children in a University Model School right before we decided to go on the road to travel fulltime. These schools are a mix of homeschool and private school. Parents partner with the school and it’s teachers and follow the same curriculum at home 3 days a week while getting direct instruction from teachers 2 days a week. Much like a university education, these schools give students an opportunity to work with teachers on rigorous curriculum, while still having the experience of being home to learn together as a family. Parents are required to attend a training day where they will learn how the school and the curriculum operate and will be responsible for helping their student plan and get the work done when they are not in the classroom.
This idea has always appealed to us because it offers something we often lack as homeschoolers- accountability and community.
Much like the private school we looked into, the kids were allowed to visit, tour the school and complete a full “shadow day” where they could see first hand how the school operates.
The kids realized that the rigor of this school was a bit more than even the private school education. I look at it in this heirarchy:
1- public school- “ You get what you pay for”
2- private school- public school plus
3- university model school- true to life preparation for university and beyond
We applied to this school as well and took the steps towards enrollment; however, we hit a snag. I will discuss this and what we decided in the next blog post… so stay tuned.
But, there was another method of schooling that really appeals to my Pink Floyd side… Unschooling. Unschooling is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that you are just allowing your kids to run amok. This is not the case at all. The unschoolers I have met are wonderful individuals fully capable of self regulation and self-directed learning.
This environment is much like how we handled school on the road. We explored and as we had new experiences, we were able to learn what each child enjoyed and gravitated towards We then allowed them the opportunity to explore and learn more about those topics that interested them. For Rachel, it was cooking and planning and making unique things and business. For Ethan, it was rocks and minerals and gem mining and natural wonders.
We continued to focus on the basics of reading and writing and math with some workbook studies and standard curriculum. But we didn’t sweat trying to get through everything and we didn’t let grade level get in the way. Each new adventure offered new things to learn and each person we met was a new set of ideas to consider.
There are a lot of benefits to unschooling, and as I said in the beginning I live somewhere between this ideal and the rigors of the University Model. This is a hard range to live within. And because I am an adult, it’s time to make some decisions.
This new adventure of moving from nomadic to stationary and into a new community where there is an abundance of options, it has become slightly overwhelming. I have been back and forth between these options many times over in my mind. We’ve consulted the kids, the family and respected friends from both the nomadic world and stationary world and we still don’t know which is best.
But, we have made some headway in the decision making process and I will be updating you as more and more information becomes available. I hope this breakdown of options and opportunities give you something to think about as you homeschool, roadschool, unschool or look towards public, private and university model schools. There are so many ways to give our kids the tools they need to learn and succeed. Don’t get bogged down in the decision-making process.