Our year of traveling the world is over and the kids are back in a “brick and mortar” school. We’ve been home for about three months and I just finished the last of the my travel blogs about all of our activities and what I think about them, but Scott has been telling me that I should write about the “other stuff,” the more reflective stuff. First up, are my thoughts on home school versus public school. It seems like a good topic since I started writing this on the road and now that the kids have been back in school for about eight weeks I feel like I am in a place to compare the two. We got a lot of questions about our methods of schooling during the year and now that we are home, questions about how the kids are readjusting to public school and where they are compared to their peers.
School on a train
The majority of people that were interested enough to ask questions about how our kids were on a safari or a glacier and not in a school, agree that the global classroom is a fabulous idea. We visited countries where non-traditional school is not allowed such as Germany, and countries that it is very common, like New Zealand. How did it work for us? The kids were enrolled in an online and fully accredited school called Laurel Springs. They had a teacher and full curriculum for each class and could interact or ask questions via email and participate in virtual classrooms or visit the teacher during virtual office hours. Scott and I could call or email all of their teachers as well, which we did a few times. The kids had recommended due dates for assignments to keep them on track to finish the course in ten months, but assignments are never late, you just end up paying more if you can’t finish in ten months.
Grant was able to take Honors classes that transferred back to SLO High School. The online school was both rigorous and creative in pleasing the parents, while maintaining its standards, at least for us. For example, Ashley wanted to take Algebra as a 7th grader, but she did not quite meet the requirements of the very long, Laurel Springs proctored exam required to take the class, so LS enrolled her in a program that allowed her to learn the pre-algebra components that she was missing and then continue on in Algebra, all at her own pace. She completed pre-algebra in October and went on to finish Algebra in May.
School started for us on August 1, 2015, with a steep learning curve figuring out all of the technology, how to turn in assignments, and contact teachers. The kids had to watch countless instructional videos and it seemed like a lot to manage, especially in our little apartment in Germany where the internet connection was heavily monitored and cut out constantly. Scott and I were the “instructional coaches” and naturally he was head of the math, science and Spanish departments. My specialty was in literature, history and P.E. and I was surprised at how much I learned over the year, especially in World History as Grant’s professor was phenomenal and I was inspired to extend the research for myself.
School in our Cinque Terre apartment where Scott had to do magic to our computers to get them compatible with the internet connection. It was also the apartment where the first thing our hostess explained was how to get the power back on. (Cinque Terre, The Land of One Million Steps)
The classes were challenging and there was a high level of expectation when it came to independence in learning. Duh, right? Sign up for an online school and you sign up for independent learning. It is more than that though. The classes are clearly laid out, as well as the rubrics for grading the assignments, but the assignments require independent research and exploration of different topics and often the student is asked to research and make a relevant choice for the topic of the assignment. All of these steps have made better and more efficient students out of the kids over our year of travel and now it is especially evident as they are back with their peers.
Scott and Grant are technologically gifted and simply more computer savvy, but Ashley and I had some hard lessons, losing files and fun things like that. Scott finally devised an organizational structure for all of the schoolwork and drilled it into our heads (I’m sure it’s not quite all of the way into my head yet). It was an unplanned bonus to have all of their school papers on a hard drive and not floating around my office this year.
Just like traditional school, we all had our favorite teachers. Grant’s history professor had his doctorate and spoke a few languages. That is impressive in itself and at the beginning of the year it was intimidating, as was the course load, but as we progressed through the year, the truly impressive thing was that this professor wrote amazing feedback when he returned Grant’s assignments. There was a lot of work in Honors World History, but the teacher’s feedback ensured that he was getting everything out of his lesson that he was supposed to. Ashley had a great 7th Grade English teacher who was also her P.E. teacher. She gave thorough feedback as well and graded assignments quickly. We have come to really appreciate teachers that are available, give clear feedback and grade papers quickly.
Did we have a schedule? No, we didn’t have a schedule as we thought we might in the beginning. It was a day to day thing depending on where we were in the world and what the activity and internet access was at the moment. In Germany it was best to get up earlier and work until the apartment got warm and then go to the pool (above) in the heat of the day or hike in the morning, go to the pool, and then work on school in the evening. In Spain, the best time to be outside was from late morning to early evening and we found that we became night owls there. We would hike in the daylight, do school in the evenings and stay up late relaxing and then sleep in until 9 or 10 because the sun wasn’t warming anything up until then. In New Zealand, the daylight hours were so long that we could sleep in, do homework and go for a long hike starting at 2 in the afternoon and be back with 2 hours of daylight to spare at 8 o’clock. The sun didn’t set until 9:30 at least.
There were days that no work got done and some days that all we did was catch up on school work or work on something particularly difficult. We were able to incorporate school into lessons by traveling to the places the kids were studying in history which was especially fun.
We had a great time taking a spur of the moment trip to Lake Bled, Slovenia because it came up in Ashley’s history lesson. That is Ashley’s arm and Scott’s head swimming across the lake. It is a beautiful place with very nice people and twenty years ago it was hidden behind the Iron Curtain.
We also toured Augsburg, Germany (A Lesson in Augsburg, Germany) because it came up on list of towns that Ashley could choose from to make a travel diary project in history. We thought it would be fun to go there and while it does offer some interesting historical tidbits like the first social housing project, it wouldn’t be my first choice of travel destinations. Still, the fact that we could hop in the car and see it for ourselves was priceless.
Rome was so much more meaningful and thought provoking to me especially because I was helping the kids study the Roman Empire. School had another very important role that we only realized this past summer when we spent about a month traveling through Japan and China after the kids finished school. It became clear that school made us stop and take breaks. We were always careful to reserve days to catch up and usually worked at least a few hours every day on lessons. School was built-in physical rest. And for Scott and I it was mental rest as well, we didn’t feel guilty not being out seeing things because it was our responsibility to make sure the kids did well, learned and did not return to traditional school behind their peers. We were so tired on our Asia trip because there was no reason that we couldn’t tourist until we dropped.
School in Rome and the crazy, beautiful apartment hidden six flights of steep steps above the ground. (When in Rome…)
Even if we weren’t traveling, there are many positives to this way of schooling. The kids are learning, the standards are high and the program is rigorous, yet there is the freedom for them to study ideas and people that are of particular personal interest. The assignments leave a lot of room for exploration and creativity. I never really considered the higher level of understanding that is needed to be creative in an assignment. For example, Ashley had to re-write lyrics of modern songs to tell about people of medieval times. Grant had to write all kinds of letters or dialogues to and between historical figures both real and imaginary, depicting a feeling of a certain time for history. That stuff is much harder than writing down facts in a five paragraph essay.
This is one of Grant’s history projects that he completed when we were home for a short break.
This is the introduction to a slide show Ashley put together for a history mid-term project.
The kids were also asked to makes videos, drawings, stories and explain, explain, explain. Grant was often assigned an “analysis of the topic he most struggled with” in his Algebra II class and how it might be used in real life applications. Then, how he was able to understand the concept. Their online school taught them research skills, how to process the information and then convey it in their own voice in a creative and interesting format. And plagiarism was not even a possibility, at least at the high school level. Grant had to run his papers through a website called Turnitin.com which checks for plagiarism and scores the paper only on its originality. The report had to be turned in before the teacher would accept the assignment to grade.
One surprising benefit for our kids, especially Ashley, who has always been a night owl, was enough sleep. She has struggled since the beginning of her school years to fall asleep early enough to be well rested for the next day. For a year, with no pressure to get to sleep and she had no sleeping issues. She is back to lying awake for hours in bed.
This was the home school home stretch in Aruba.
Throughout our year we talked about “next year” and encouraged the kids to think creatively about their education. Scott and I (me more so) wanted to continue with Laurel Springs, even if we didn’t travel as much. It was so nice to have the freedom of school that you can take with you and we loved the kids around and being a big part of their education. In addition, both of them grew so much in their independence as learners, technology skills, and communication skills, tools that will serve them well the rest of their lives. But the choice was ultimately theirs and both chose public school after some agonizing consideration. I do understand, although I have struggled to adjust to being back in school much more than they have. The inefficiency of public school grates on me daily and I miss them terribly. They are tired, have homework or want to unwind when they get home and so we spend maybe an hour or two together in the evening or catch up in fifteen minute chunks in the car, but overall they are thriving and happy.
There were cons to online education and constant movement. The big things like friends, especially the beloved neighbor kids across the street that pop in to hang out or study and everything else like football games, birthday parties, tennis, hours in the climbing gym, hanging out downtown or flirting with the cute boy/girl in math class every day. Like Grant told me recently, “There is always so much going on at school.” Ashley enjoys everything about school this year, even the drama she encounters at middle school because she missed it all last year. Grant and Ashley both wasted no time in creating new clubs at their schools. Grant wished all year for a group of people to make movies with and so he created a film club at the high school. Ashley made many new friends and formed a garden club with one of them. They really longed for a social life and although I believe that a year of travel honed their social skills and gave them a new appreciation for friends, it certainly could never replace that need in their lives. There are little cons too like they really didn’t have to memorize things for school last year and so that is different and time consuming this year and a skill that probably lost some ground in the past year. It’s also challenging to learn a foreign language on the computer without the practice of a daily class and speaking out loud. Of course, Spain, Peru and Ecuador helped out with the Spanish.
These last few weeks have been a little harder and much busier than the first few weeks of the school year. The excitement is not as fresh and the homework is getting harder. Grant is buried under a mountain of rehearsals, school work and the film club’s premier of their first project. Everyone is tired, parents included, because as my sister-in-law once counseled me, you’re only as happy as your most miserable child. Ashley took a day off yesterday, she was maybe a little under the weather physically, but certainly emotionally exhausted. All considered, I would go back to online school in a heartbeat but it’s not my choice…at least this year:).
SLO High Film Club’s first project!