parent's posts

Being Better

Written by Sandra Dickie

As we as a nation debate and discuss ways to make our children healthier, we have failed to tap into one primary source of change – our schools. Traditional schools are not healthy places for children.  Research shows that physical activity, healthy eating patterns, and supportive families are essential to children’s health. But traditional schools are set up to work in direct opposition of these needs. Children are confined to desks with limited access to indoor or outdoor play. Children are rushed through meals whether or not they are hungry. And family time suffers with hours of homework each night. There is no room in the “core curriculum” for this core concept of wellness. So why is there no outcry? Families value the health of their children, but continue to send their children to traditional schools. There is a discrepancy between what they believe and what they do.

In my work I help people to quit smoking. A patient who otherwise values their health may also be a smoker. When asked if they have ever thought about quitting, they may respond “I’m good”. The patient assumes this is the end of the conversation. As a practitioner, I cannot let this be the end of the conversation. So I work to bring to consciousness the discrepancy between smoking and their other beliefs and goals.  What are the downsides to smoking? How would their life be better if they didn’t smoke?  This plants the idea that there is something else they should consider. I don’t stop the conversation just because they say “I’m good”. The patient is totally in charge of the decision about whether or not to quit, but I get them thinking about change.

As advocates of alternative education, we can use similar ideas to get families thinking about change.  It is too easy for people to go along with the status quo and not think about the possibility of alternatives to traditional schooling; too easy to say “I’m good” despite being in an unhealthy situation. We cannot allow the conversation to end. Let us challenge them to embrace a new paradigm for education that aligns healthy living with learning. Let us help them see that one is not exclusive of the other.

How would your life be better if you did not spend every night fighting over or reminding your kids about homework? How would your kids’ lives improve if they could spend hours outdoors, running and playing and exploring?

If we want families to embrace alternative education, we must show them that it is possible; we must remove barriers. The idea of leaving the traditional school environment can be overwhelming – it is all most parents knew for themselves and is what everyone around them embraces. But tangible alternatives do exist.

Even families embracing alternative education could challenge themselves to provide a healthier environment for their children. In our world children are rarely able to play independently in their neighborhoods and playgrounds. And yet they need this freedom to grow strong and healthy in mind and body. Families desire such an environment for their children; they speak longingly of ‘back in the day’ when this was the norm. But most parents are challenged to provide it for their kids. Such places of independence and freedom do exist, and we should be encouraging families to see this possibility for freedom.

Resource or self-directed learning centers like Macomber Center are forms of alternative education that provide children with a healthy, supportive environment where they can grow independently. These centers do not have any agenda other than freedom and respect.  What a child gains by spending days a week at a center is freedom and independence, and consequently healthy growth. Members join a group of independent homeschoolers of a diverse range of ages, with adults serving as role models and helping as needed. By offering this resource, these centers empower working families with the option to choose homeschooling. Children are welcomed into an enriching environment during parents’ working hours. This experience is supplemented by whatever learning the family pursues at all other times of the week. Part of the beauty of these learning centers is that families, and only families, decide how to school their child when they are not at the center.

My friends in traditional schools battle against homework and sacrifice family time every evening and weekend. Traditional schools are not healthy for children; they are not healthy for families. We need to introduce a new educational paradigm. We need to gently suggest that families contemplate the possibility of not being in traditional schools. Most of us long for a world in which our children have the freedom and independence we experienced growing up. We remember running around inside and out with a pack of friends of a variety of ages. Something like this is becoming available at learning centers. Solutions do exist; we can embrace them.  We can help more families move towards alternative schooling for the health of their children, and consequently, the health of our society. We cannot allow the conversation to end just because someone says “I’m good”. We can help them be better.

The Accidental Homeschooler

By Cindy Morningstar

Homeschoolers are as varied as snowflakes, or flowers in a field to use a more spring-like analogy. We share many common attributes including an intense concern for the well-being of our children as whole and unique human beings, as well as the desire for them to have an education that meets their individual personal needs. Many parents knew from the birth of their first child, and even before, that they would homeschool. Others didn’t give it much thought until they received that letter from the town announcing that their baby had reached kindergarten age and it was time to say goodbye. Still others have become home-schoolers by default, or what I call “accidental” homeschoolers.

Their kids started down the traditional path and all was fine until one day something changed. One unhappy day becomes an unhappy week, the tears flow and parents are scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. And beyond that “what” lies the “what now”. Teacher conferences, IEP’s, doctors’ visits and more, and still there is no peace at home because school is no longer working and something needs to change. Sometimes that change works out within the system, and sometimes a new school is found that better suits the needs of the child. Often, however, the only solution is to abandon the notion of “school” altogether and start down a new path that no one in the family ever expected to be on.

I fall into the last category, though my unsatisfactory experience with my son’s preschool was 23 years ago so I feel like I have always been a home school parent. My first-born’s tendency to want to do things his own way, and his unusual appetite for telling long tales during sharing circle did not earn him any gold stars. Instead it landed him in the quiet corner segregated from his peers for the crime of having too much to say. Well, I quickly decided that I liked his independent ways and his long stories so I decided to keep him home with me. Shortly thereafter, I had my last tearful battle with his two younger brothers who were dutifully enrolled in preschool (because everyone sends their three and four year olds to preschool if they want them to have the best start in education, right?) All they wanted to do was stay home and play, and I realized that all I wanted them to do was stay home and play.

So here we are, 23 years later, still home schooling the youngest siblings of those delightful little boys who opened the door to a life I never expected to lead and wouldn’t change for the world.

This is my journey as an accidental homeschooler; what’s yours? Please send us an account of how you arrived at homeschooling with your children. We would like to gather and share a multitude of such stories, each one unique and interesting to those on the same path.

Empowering Parents!

By Sandra Dickie The majority of mothers and fathers in our country work – be it part-time, full-time or more than full-time. So when it comes to educational choices for their children, working parents often overlook homeschooling. Parents believe they can send the kids to public, religious, or alternative schools, but the very real option of homeschooling their children may not seem feasible.

Macomber Center, and other centers like it throughout the country, empower working parents to exercise their right to home educate their children. By providing a staffed, enriching environment for children ages 4-19, Monday through Friday from 9-5, the Macomber Center offers children of working parents a safe, reliable space where their kids can pursue their interests in the company of other homeschoolers.  Self-directed learning is at the heart of the Center. Children come and do whatever it is that they need to do that day. For many of the members, this means chatting with other kids, engaging in board and card games, taking a hike with some friends, drawing or painting, or playing an instrument. For others, it is a chance to sit quietly and read or work on their computer.  As homeschooling families know, learning does not take place only during ‘school’ hours of Monday through Friday. The Center does offer a variety of activities each week, which members can choose to participate in, or not.  The staff at Macomber Center respect the endless variety of approaches to home education that take place outside of the time members are at the Center.

Because the Center is not a school, members are not confined by an attendance policy – families are responsible for their child’s education, so if this means a child is pursuing an internship or attending a specialized class, they can still do that. Members choose which days they are attending each semester. Teens especially find that having a place of their own, where they can connect with other homeschoolers, is a valuable experience.  Unlike coops, where parents are required to assist or attend the classes, the drop-off nature of Macomber Center gives kids this very important freedom from home, without confining them to the requirements of school. Macomber Center offers families the freedom to do what they deem important; families do not need permission to ‘pull’ children out of school when relatives are visiting from out-of-town, or to go visit a museum, or simply have a mental health day in pajamas at home.

Until recently, homeschooling and working parents did not seem compatible. With the opening of Macomber Center in 2012, and the growth of other resource centers throughout the country, working parents have been empowered to take advantage of this schooling option for their children. In an age of increasing standardized testing and decreasing respect for the needs of the individual child, homeschooling has become a popular, mainstream option for many families. Macomber Center helps guarantee that it is an option for all parents, not just those who are home.