Amy and Simon Blog

The Natural and Healthy Lifestyle we Discovered Along the Way…

What’s a mom to do? June 24, 2015

The education system in America is broken, it must be. How is it that a child, a highly intelligent child, that just graduated high school with a true thirst for knowledge and whose main desire is to go to college to learn more, is unable go? And the reason being that, said child can’t go because the parents are new to the game, don’t have the prestigious contacts and the finances to send the child. How do we expect to build a better country if most of the people in the higher education system are there because they were told to go there, not because they want to be there?

As a parent, what do we want for our children? Ultimately we want them to be happy, right? And what do the experts say that makes up happy? Doing what we love. So it can be said that finding what you love and developing it your whole life would cause someone to have a happy life. Right? So what do you do when you have a child whose passion is learning? Well, you foster that passion like you would for the the child that has a passion for music, or soccer, or horses; you do what you can to make sure the child experiences all kinds of learning and continues to develop that passion.

This fostering of passions does not apply to only one child, but to all your children. Well, what if you have nine, like we do? Do you only do this for the first few? No, of course not. Well, at least, I thought not. But now I have to reevaluate. You see, it is my first child that has this passion for learning and now that he has graduated high school and I can’t give him the one simple thing he desires (to continue his education), I am thinking maybe we went about the whole thing wrong.

Maybe we shouldn’t have allowed him to explore his world to the extent he wanted to. Maybe we shouldn’t have let him just read the encyclopedias and dictionaries. Maybe letting him study a subject to his heart was content wasn’t a good way to go. We knew early on that this child was very intelligent. Using words well before his first birthday, singing recognizable tunes at a year, knowing his colors and counting soon after a year. By eighteen months he had over a 300 word vocabulary in two languages and had been speaking full sentences for months. I was told at that point I could easily teach him to read, but I didn’t. I waited until he decided he wanted to read. Which when he decided that, it was only a couple months before he was off and reading real books. But maybe that was the wrong approach.

Because he was so far a head and had this natural thirst for knowledge, we decided to homeschool him so he could develop this passion as far as he wanted. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do. When he took his first standardized test ever, he was not prepped or shown how to do well on it. He just took it and received a 97 battery (CAT test, 4th grade level, given at the end of what should have been 3rd grade). Maybe I should have prepared him, given him practice tests, shown him what to expect. Taught him concepts instead of letting him understand and learn them all himself.

When he asked for more formal schooling because he felt that other kids were starting to know more then he did, I found a hybrid classical school (two day a week) for him to give a try. With no formal schooling they put him in a grade based on his birthdate and a lower grade math. He did beyond well. On the Iowa testing that year he scored 13+ on all but maybe one area. He took the next year to do a few years of work so his grade would better reflect his level. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him do this. Maybe I should have let him stay where he was, or maybe I should have put him in a “real” school at this point.

Now he is ready for the high school years and we go with an accredited homeschool co-op, knowing full well, he wants to go to college so transcripts would probably be a good thing for that. He, of course, excels. His worth ethic and genuine interest in ALL of his subjects is nothing but commended by his teachers. He discovered his knack for speech writing and reciting those speeches, as well as his love of drama. The next year, the same, he continues to excel. Starts the year off with the PSAT, no prep and scores a 186. He decides at the end of the year to take the SAT so he can dual-enroll his junior year. He takes the SAT with no fancy prep course, studies for a week. Once again, as with all his standardized testing, no prep, he does well (1910 overall, 740 in writing). His junior year, he dual enrolls for science (college physics, receives an A) and designs his own English course as he continues to take classes through his accredited homeschool co-op. Starts the year with the PSAT, no prep, except for previous standardized tests, and gets just over a 200, qualifying for the National Merit Scholar honor. He applies for GHP (Governor’s Honors Program) in Communications and won at the high school level and represented our local public high school at the state competition. At the end of the year he takes the SAT again (increasing his overall to 2140, 740 now in Reading too) and a week later, with just that week to study, the ACT (31 overall, with a 36 in English).

At the beginning of his junior year he decided he wanted to attend a more intensive high school for his last year or two of high school. He had his goal set to get into one of the most prestigious in America, Philips Exeter Academy (PEA) in NH. Yes, a forty-six thousand dollar a year, high school. No he did not get in, most likely because they would have had to foot the bill, they knew very well that our family of ten (at the time) could not afford their school. But they did offer him a nearly full scholarship to attend their summer school that summer. Which we drove him to and once again he excelled. He took three classes, receiving passing grades in all and two with honors. He tried out for and received a role in the summer play and also participated in a sports program while there.

For his senior year, since PEA did not come through, we enrolled him in a local college prep high school. He signs up for four AP classes since he never had access to them before, as well as environmental science, public speaking, drama, chorus and tried to continue his weight training program on his own at school (which was stopped by the school within a few weeks unfortunately). He also decides to take two SAT subject tests at the beginning of the year (no prep, of course), one in English (710) and one in French (670) Not only did he excel in school and enjoy learning in all his classes, he also got to compete against other students from other private school in drama, chorus and model UN. He got a major role in the school play. He got to use his French for teaching kids at an international school, as well as participate in a French immersion weekend. He was inducted into the Thespian society, received an award for have over a 3.5 overall GPA. But did he graduate with honors? No. Should he have? You decide.

So here I am. I have this kid whose passion is to learn. He wants to go to college for Economics, a course he feel in love with his junior year. His love for it strengthened at Philips Exeter, where he received honors for it. He wants to work in the government, as a diplomat or what have you, and I can’t even send him to college. Although he fits the main description for most of the prestigious colleges, a true love of learning, he can not get into most of the colleges he has applied to. He can not compete with other high school graduates who have had eight or more AP classes, who are in the honor society, who have been trained to get good grades on the SAT, who have the connections and most importantly who have the MONEY. So I have to sit by and watch my son watch all his classmates from PEA and this prep school get into colleges he would like to go to and some he wouldn’t, with big scholarships that most of them don’t need and some of them DON’T EVEN CARE or appreciate. It breaks my heart to watch this.

We were so relieved when he would finally have some guidance for college, as we obviously knew nothing.  The college counselor at the high school obviously didn’t know what to expect with my son’s past experiences. He didn’t get into most of the colleges he applied to and the back-up school, he still remains on the waiting list. He wanted to go out of state; we were not told that would be nearly impossible to afford, so the colleges he did get in to are impossible to send him to. A $36,000 a year scholarship doesn’t mean much for a college with a $70,000 a year cost, for example. Since completing school my son has started applying to local public and private schools, giving up his dream for an out of state liberal arts school that excels in economics. Of course, he has gotten in with no problem, but all the merit based scholarships that he would have received are gone for the public ones and the private ones are still too expensive, even with the scholarships. The Hope scholarship will cover all of tuition, yes, but tuition on a public school is a fraction of the cost of everything else. And the Hope scholarship only covers a small portion of the private schools tuition. The bill will still be over $10,000 and my son can only qualify for a $5,500 unsubsidized loan. Our only option seems to be to do a gap year and see if he can qualify at these state schools for some merit based scholarships to help reduce the cost so he can pay the rest with an unsubsidized loan. A GAP YEAR for a kid who just wants to go to school and learn, truly, that’s all he wants.

So did I go about this all wrong?  Was letting him experience all ways of learning a bad thing?  Should I have put my child in the school system all along?  He would know how to take a test and get an even better grade. He would have all the classes his classmates had access to. He would have all the honors he deserves. His college counselor would have been better able to gauge where he could go to school. BUT would he have this genuine love of learning, the desire to really want to continue his education? That thing that all the top colleges are supposedly looking for.  Or would he have the same indifference towards college as most of his classmates?

I did my best to foster his passion, is that wrong? Now what?

What’s a mom to do?

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Planting fruit trees and getting the garden ready… September 9, 2012

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Why do our kids learn at home? August 12, 2008

Our first child was quite unique. He was a very early talker so we had the unique experience to know what our child was thinking before most people. Children know a lot more then we give them credit for. The amount of things they understand before they are a year old is amazing.

We figured by the time our son was three (Summer 2000) there was no way we could keep up with his rate of learning we had no choice but to enroll him into the best private Montessori school in town. To give you some little examples of his abilities, by twelve months he could hold a tune and sing a recognizable song; at his eighteen month well baby visit, he had a 300 word vocabulary in two different languages and spoke articulate complete sentences, and for what it’s worth he knew his ABC’s, colors and counting to eleven at least.

Well, we were wrong. We watched our very intelligent young man become a very timid child. He began to bite his nails; he stopped referring to his father as Papa because he was told that was wrong. He started changing and his love of learning was not the same. We thought that being in a Montessori environment with three to six year olds would let him continue at his own level, but instead it hindered his learning capabilities and he was only there from 9am to noon! Four months of that was more than enough. After that we let our little guy learn the way he wanted to learn, ON HIS OWN.

Because of the way he was, we became child-led homeschoolers, or shall I say more unschoolers. We never forced anything on him. If he didn’t like it we didn’t do it. We let his love of learning alone. We should have done that from the start. Thinking back we had always, until we put him in school. At eighteen month, we remember the doctor telling us with his vocabulary skills we could teach him to read quite easily by doing such and such. Well, we didn’t force the issue and when he decided he wanted to read, he was able to do it within a few months of working on it on his own. He was pre-school age when he did this.

We have applied the same principles of unschooling to our other children as well and they all have learned different things at different times. It is not about what they should be doing at what age. It’s more about “what do they want to do, what do they enjoy.” It is unnatural to stop learning something that you are interested in so you can learn something else. Why not learn all you want to learn about a subject, and then move to what you want to learn about next?

Some of our children enjoy “school work” at times, and not at other times. They are unlike our first, who always did everything by himself. The difference is our children will ask us to help them with it, instead of us telling them to do it. The only time we have to make them do something is for our state testing policy. They have to test every three years starting in the third grade. Our children do attend weekly Religious education classes, but for the most part they want to because it pleases us and they see us doing our part in our Church as well. They must feel like this is the way they contribute to our Parish Community. They are also involved in other aspects of our Church voluntarily. It helps to be a model of the behavior you want from your children.

You might be wondering how we teach a second language to our children without making them do anything. Well, basically it is as simple as, Amy speaks English all the time and Simon speaks French all the time. We have books, games, cd-roms, and workbooks in both languages at all levels. They can choose what they want to do. Our oldest speaks English to his mom and French to his Papa. He can read in both languages, but not as well in French because he doesn’t feel like he needs to. Maybe someday he will decide to and maybe someday the others will decide to speak French to their Papa just like their big brother does. Who knows, but it is up to them.

In our opinion, Unschooling is an extension of Attachment Parenting, which comes from Natural Living or following your instincts. As an attachment parent you give your child what he needs, when he needs it. That’s the natural way.

Amy: As a La Leche League Leader I see a lot of mothers who are looking for way that things should be done instead of following their own instincts. I try to ensure them that only they know what is best for their children, they just need to follow their instincts. It is my opinion, that in our society it is hard for parents, especially new parents, to follow their instincts because there are too many “experts” out there. Only the parents know what their children need. Sometimes parents get a feeling that something is wrong, but don’t know why. When the “experts” are questioned, the parents are told they have nothing to worry about. If this happens enough, the parents lose their instincts and the children suffer because the parents really do know what is best and they know when something just isn’t right. So stop listening to the “experts” because only you are the expert for your own child(ren)!

So in conclusion, our children learn at home because it is the natural thing to do. It fits into our natural lifestyle. It just makes sense to us.