Despite the Big Yellow Bus

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We’re all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Here’s something that seems to surprise people about us: Our children go to the regular public school. Every morning at just before 8 o’clock, they trudge down the driveway to wait for the big yellow bus, wearing backpacks that dwarf them, and carrying lunch boxes full of foods that perplex their classmates.

Waiting for the bus at the beginning of the school year

It occasionally catches me off guard. People that have just met us often ask (after other conversations about our world views, lifestyle, political beliefs, what have you), “So, you homeschool then, do you?” Once they have known us for several months, it often becomes, “Well… why *don’t* you homeschool, then?” Oddly, nobody ever seems to simply ask, “Have you ever considered homeschooling?” Clearly, they assume that we have considered it, and have rejected it for some reason. We have, and we have, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

We are all Homeschoolers

In the spirit of the current Carnival theme, then, allow me to consider what it means to homeschool children that spend 6 hours of the day in a typical institutional school setting. My kids go off to school most mornings excited, happy, and interested. They come home knowing things that I wouldn’t have  thought to teach them, speaking languages I don’t know, and with art projects that I could not have begun to envision. I have political beliefs regarding schooling, standardization, and What Education Is For that are not strictly consistent with the modern approach to schooling, but my kids seem to be thriving in this system. So far.

This pleases me, because not everybody does.

Different Kids, Different Needs

My oldest has a brilliant and incisive mind, but struggles to place ideas on paper and relate to other people socially. He absorbs information through his pores and makes sense of the world the way that a fish swims in water, so I primarily consider the school to be a place for him to practice relating to the rest of the world. The academics will come regardless of the learning environment, so for him my main goals are to provide emotional stability, resilience, and opportunities to exercise his strengths. We need to feed his intellect and grow his emotional intelligence simultaneously.  This involves keeping an atlas, globe, and flip-charts in the living room (for impromptu brainstorming sessions and sketches), a subscription to National Geographic, screenings of documentaries as requested, regular trips to the public library, and actively seeking out other kids with similar interests, including the ‘full time’ (or “real”) homeschoolers from the next town over. It also involves an unusual amount of intentional “check in” time with Mom. When gifted with a gentle, loving, curious child, I am responsible to make sure that he gets to stay that way, because the world needs more gentle, loving, curious adults… preferably ones who can talk to other people.

My middle child has, unsurprisingly, different needs. The biggest concern I have with sending her out to school every day isn’t her ability to fit in; she is, to my consternation, one of the popular kids… which means that she is encouraged at the tender age of 6 to have clothes that cost more than mine. Sometimes I feel that she “should have” been born to a wealthy family more attuned to the expectations of the society we happen upon. However, she wasn’t. So, for this one, my main goal is for her to learn to question the materialistic assumptions in which we are awash, because that way madness lies. Of course, if I play this wrong, she will simply decide that she is deprived and run off as soon as she is able to get all the (metaphorical) ice cream she can eat. To counter that possibility, our learning activities involve making sure that she has fun doing things that I value, like cooking, growing, picking vegetables, playing with physical objects and real human beings, and generally getting her hands dirty. This also plays to her strengths, because in addition to being a nascent hedonist, she is keenly physically adept, and concerned with other people’s emotional health. (Except, sadly, her younger brother, who is nothing less than the pest that wrecked her life along with her Lego castle.) It also means that this fall she is switching from music lessons to Tae Kwon Do, both to allow her the physical outlet, and to give her something to talk about at school. If her strengths involve being popular and fitting in, I’m not about to actively undermine her.

Which leaves us with the little guy, who (we just found out) gets to start going to preschool tomorrow. He is very very excited. He loves playing with other kids. He also loves books, colouring, chasing the chickens, playing in the river, going for a stomp, and dragging the cats around. Did I mention chasing things? He lives life full steam ahead, charging along and stomping things as he goes. He just broke a Fisher Price digger that had survived six previous kids and 30 years of use. (I was one of the previous kids.) He is really very unlike his older siblings. His education to this point has been essentially of the unschooled (or learning by doing) variety. He likes to bake, pull carrots from the garden, and he just started eating vegetables this summer when he discovered that he could grow them, pick them, wash them, and eat them. He can find wild strawberries in season AND he knows not to eat the red ones on the vines. There’s some practical knowledge for a three-year-old. I know he is testing his limits, because every day he asks whether he is big enough to go outside by himself yet. (No. Not yet.) He’s going to need something else from us. We don’t know exactly what it is going to be. But it will keep us on our toes.

Despite the big yellow bus that whisks my older two away and brings them back mysteriously enriched, our lives as parents are entangled with education. We have been very clear with the school that the family is not the junior partner in this enterprise. I will support homework, but I will not let it take over our lives. I will support the teachers to the best of my ability, but I will not sacrifice my kids to standardized testing. The school provides the standard stuff that we might not have thought of, the fancy stuff that makes life more fun, and some structure that is, frankly, not my strong suit… but we get to help the kids put it all together into a little practice I like to think of as “Becoming a Decent Human Being”. Which is, IMNSHO, sort of the point of it all.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)

19 responses to “Despite the Big Yellow Bus”

  1. I am intrigued with the last paragraph of your post – I’ve simply never thought of simultaneously taking advantage of the strengths of the public school system, while bucking it by not conforming to the standards it wants to set (the amount of homework, the standardized testing, etc.). I agree that there are aspects of traditional/public school that I am already mourning (since we plan on HS’ing), and I’ve wished there were a way to have the best of both worlds. I’ll be curious to see how your experience pans out (of course the teachers’/administrators’ attitudes/acceptance will make a big difference, so your experience will not mirror someone else’s).

  2. I love how you’ve blended some elements of homeschooling with your children’s public school experience. Many parents don’t know that you can opt out of your child taking standardized tests (in Canada, at least, this is possible). Another parent I know here made an agreement with her son’s kindy teacher that he will come for half days only, even though it is technically a full day program. I too wish there was more flexibility in the public system, but I think part of it is asking for what you and your child need.

  3. I love your writing style! Thanks for the perspective. As a mom with younger children whom I’m planning to send to public school I have some trepidation, but I like seeing how it is working out for you.

    How do you plan to deal with homework and standardized testing?

    • Ah. Now homework remains the bane of my existence. I admit it. My oldest only winds up with homework when he was spaced out all day and didn’t get the work done at school.
      In general, when he was spaced out all day, he remains spaced out all evening, so I have been clear with the teachers: we’ll catch up as necessary. It just won’t be all at once. Also, the key word in there is “necessary”. Frequently, if he is doing math problems, and it is clear that he already Gets It, we don’t expect him to keep plugging away. Sometimes, though, HIS learning outcome is about perseverance. So we talk about what the goal of a task is, and whether he can actually learn something from it. It’s never about content for him; it’s about process. FWIW, I used to teach university professors regarding outcomes, assessment, and curriculum design, so I have a bit of a different perspective on education. In fact, I think after this post, that I will start writing about education a lot more.

      The standardized testing is coming. I am torn between skipping it and just telling him it doesn’t matter. It’s all statistical anyway, and doesn’t provide any feedback to the individual, so I am still pondering.

  4. We “full time homeschoolers from the next town over” love getting together with your family, a family very involved in their children’s education, with kids who aren’t afraid to play outside 🙂

  5. Your paragraph about people just assuming you would homeschool — I remember having a conversation with my dad when Mikko was a newborn where I tentatively broached the idea that we might consider homeschooling, and he said, “Oh, I just thought you would.” The implication was, Since you’re such a hippy and all. It kind of made me laugh, since there was no “of course” about it in my mind.

    Anyway, I just love the thoughtfulness you brought to this post, reflecting the thoughtfulness you’ve put into parenting. It’s so important to meet each kid’s needs, which some parents (and kids) forget in the striving for “fairness,” which doesn’t really exist. I love that you are taking what you can get from mainstream school but putting effort into education beyond that, and also refusing or minimizing what mainstream school is offering that you don’t like. That might be the middle ground we have to come to, as we decide between schooling and homeschooling. Thanks for the food for thought!

    I love the pictures, too. So evocative!

    • I had a very similar conversation with my mother regarding home birth – I thought I was going to have to bring forward statistics and everything, and she just said, “Well, of course.” When I was still mulling it over.

  6. I love this. We homeschool- and partly we do it because we feel that it is our job to make sure our kids grow up to be “decent” people. I love that you feel the same AND you don’t “homeschool”. It shows that there is more than one wayto achieve the same goal. I think it is all about being present, being active in your child’s life, and taking the TIME to know them and help them grow- which you obviously do!


  7. There are many forms of intentional parenting. It’s nice to see parents utilizing a system while retaining their parental beliefs. So many people I know who send their kids to school just go along with whatever is decided for them.

  8. This post is especially interesting to me, as I’m considering homeschooling and my partner is a public school teacher. He’s obviously pretty pro-public school and I’m consistently horrified by his peers and students. I’m constantly lamenting the parents’ involvement/lack of involvement which at the highschool level seems to be either non-existent or totally wrong-headed (“you need to pass my son so he can play football! he’s gonna be famous and then you’ll be sorry!!!!”). You’re a model for utilizing and bettering the system. Awesome!

  9. I really enjoyed reading this. I find myself in a similar situation…being a “hippy” and all…I just can’t see myself actually being succesful at the homeschool thing. Partly because I have limited patience and partly because I just don’t think I could come up with cool and interesting projects, ideas and ways to teach my kids. But still, I still daydream about the possiblity of homeschooling. I guess I have a year to figure it out! In the meantime it was nice to read about a way to balance being involved in your children’s education despite them going to school. Thanks!

  10. I think the key point for me in this is ‘relationship’ with the teachers and the school and it seems to me that your children also get a more personalised education. How big are their classrooms and so on?

    I don’t know that that’s always possible, and think it would be highly dependant on where you live. Here in England you don’t even really get too much say in WHAT school your children go to – you fall in a catchment area and that’s just the way it is.

    I was in a very small private school, and there parents were a big part of our education – the school saw itself as more of a facilitator and that made a big difference, I think.

    The only reason I still consider ‘proper’ school for my daughter is that, like you, structure is not MY strong point!