Friday, August 28, 2015

Reflections on the 10th Grade: Mom’s Point of View

It's so rewarding for us to hear the stories of our families who have gained freedom and joy in their lives by getting free of the school system. Read on for a moving story from this mother about how her son went from being an angry teenager to an engaged, alive person pursuing several passions. Next week we will post the son's reflections of his experience in school, and the difference since he has started homeschooling. Check back next week for part 2!
                                                                                   - Peggy and Karen

"Deciding to homeschool/unschool has been an incredible decision for our whole family. After a very rocky 9th grade year, we went into the 10th grade year with an agreement (from all of us) that we would not have a repeat of the 9th grade. We briefly discussed homeschooling, but my son made a decision that he wanted to try school again for the 10th grade. I think he wanted to be with his friends, and I think there was some hope that things would be better. By mid-year of the 10th grade in public school, though, my son was a shell of his former self. Moody, angry, irritable, reactive... those are words that could be used to describe all of us! We were all exhausted and traumatized by the constant battle to get school work done. As parents, we were getting scary e-mails and phone calls from the school, and the expectation was that we better do something about our kid - and fast! The threat was that if we didn’t, we risked letting our son fall through the cracks, only to become a teenaged failure. This was horrifying to us, and we didn’t understand what was happening with our son. I am sure the pressure was even worse for our him! Our bright, observant, thoughtful kid was miserable, and every time we talked to him about school, he became deeply defensive and angry. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and neither could he. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that our relationship with our son was more important than his grades. Even though we were getting a lot of scary stuff from the schools, we made a difficult decision to let him succeed or fail on his own terms. This was really hard, but ultimately, it helped us to make choices that would lead us home.

Even though we had decided to back off and not take on so much of the pressure we were getting from the e-mails, robo-calls, and messages from school counselors, we all still struggled. It was painful to watch my beloved son struggling every day with going to this place that obviously made him feel terrible! I tried enlisting help from all of our son’s teachers, and only got a response from 3 of them. I think his teachers cared, but I also think they had a huge amount of work in front of them, and our quietly failing boy in the back row (who they barely remembered) was not high on their list. This was very stressful, and we were not perfect in our resolve to let our son fail. We struggled with our own fear and panic. Would our son be OK? Would he ever have the chance for a full life? Was he throwing away his opportunities for success in the world? And, even more importantly, why wasn’t he happy? Why was he struggling so much? He couldn’t articulate this, and the more we asked, the more frustrated he became with us. We had to really work to back off. It took us a long time to let go, but when we finally did, it was a watershed moment.

I picked my son up from rock climbing on a Wednesday just before he finished out the fall semester. “Vinnie,” I said, “It looks like you are going to fail some of your classes. Dad can probably help you figure out how to pass them, if you want. But, more importantly, I want you to know that there are other ways to become an educated person. Maybe this way isn’t working for you. There are other options for you. I don’t know what is happening for you at school, but we can do things differently. If you want to talk with me about options, we can get some dinner and talk.” To my complete surprise, my son started talking. He admitted that he was about to fail, and talked about how even though he was interested in the subject matter, he just couldn’t bring himself to comply with the assigned work. He described how the work felt arbitrary, and how he felt insulted by the “busywork” of school. He didn’t want to do the things they wanted him to do. I told him that we could consider a variety of options, and that we as a family would take the winter break to decide what would be the best option for our son.

From that moment forward, I finally felt like the mother I have always been. I remembered that my son’s life is HIS life. He doesn’t belong to the schools, and neither do we as his parents. His school’s structure is set up to warehouse hundreds of kids and make sure they all meet big external standards as a group. This has never been what education has meant to us as a family. What we value is freedom and joy in learning. We believe that learning is and should be fun, and that  becoming educated means you have your head on your shoulders and can examine the world and your life consciously and critically. Being educated means you know how to get the information you want and need when you want and need it. It is about being able to take in information, process that information thoughtfully, and communicate about it effectively. It is about being able to deepen as a human being, from a well-informed place, so that you can live a full, exciting, passionate life of your own creation.

By the end of the winter break, my son informed me that he had decided to homeschool. This was the day before school was supposed to start for the spring semester. Vinnie told me that he was concerned about losing touch with his friends, so we decided that he would go to school, get as many numbers as possible, and make sure he felt good about this decision to homeschool. When I talked to him after school the next day, my son had cleaned out his locker and made his final decision. The relief was absolutely palpable.

Over these last few months, my son has gone from an angry, unreachable teen to an engaged, alive person. He is reading again, with as much voraciousness as he did when he was younger. He has rested and recovered. He has sought out the things he wants to learn. He started taking online computer programming courses and has found a college degree program he’d like to get into some day. He traveled across the US for a month with my Mom and sister. He got to drive a tractor and feed the goats and donkeys and chickens on their farm property in Texas. He learned to scuba dive, and he is learning to drive. He joined the varsity rock climbing team and is able to climb three days a week. He got interested in social justice and race relations, so we watched movies about civil rights leaders, read news articles, and had discussions about Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He spent time snowboarding in the mountains, and skateboarding to Dairy Queen. He is exploring what it means to be a friend, and what it means to say no to people who drag him down. He is owning who he is, and taking responsibility for being an educated person in his own, shining, unique way. He is becoming himself, in the best way possible.

Of course, we are not without struggles now. We still have to work on letting go, and he still has to work on taking responsibility for himself. But this is now in the spirit of joy and freedom and growth, rather than pressure and threat and fear. This is healthy and challenging, rather than traumatizing and terrifying. I am so grateful every day that we made this decision to take back the power in our lives. I am grateful that we could let go enough to see that there really are options and possibilities in this life. We are not at the mercy of the system, even though it can feel like it when you’re in the middle of it. We are the true creators in our lives, and we are glad to have reclaimed this for our family."

~ Rachel S., Colorado.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Homeschooler Leads Robotics Team to World Championships

Our students have diverse interests and accomplishments. In this post we are focusing on the unique accomplishment of one of our students in the world of robotics.

Sally (name changed to protect privacy) was the Team Lead for a robotics team this year. The team consisted of 50 teenagers from public, private, charter and home schools. They have mentors on the team that have volunteered their services and experiences to assist them. The mentors are either parents of students, employees from sponsoring companies, or members of the community. She says while many of her teammates prefer to work directly with the robot, she loves to be an organizer of people. 

Her organizational skill showed as her robotics team was one of the top 600 teams (out of 6,000 teams world-wide) who made it to the World Championships of Robotics. They finished as one of the top 60 teams! 

This was the first year they have made it that far, and it may be partly due to her improved implementation of the Solidworks CAD program. The 16-year-old says: 
“My inspiration for learning Solidworks CAD came from the fact that our team relied on the 3D computer construction of our robot, yet few students were able to actually use the program. Over the summer of 2014 I took extensive tutorials and online explanations, and I slowly but surely taught myself how to use the program. Through the 2014-2015 season I used my skills to develop small parts that we 3D printed for our robot.” 

Sally was introduced to the robotics team through her family; her sister was previously a team lead and her father is the team president. She says that although she was initially drawn to it through family and friends, she came to love robotics itself and the challenge of organizing a team. Now she is considering the idea of specializing in the field of robotics in the future. Meanwhile, she's looking forward to the challenge of organizing and fundraising for the team, as she was voted in as Team Lead again this year. 

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility to devote time to a student’s passions. Sally says:

“Homeschooling has allowed me to be very involved in my robotics team. I have more free time, and I can multitask with my school work and the organizational demands of my robotics team. I am able to keep to a schedule with some flexibility since I have to balance school work, robotics, and soccer. Some days it can be a little crazy, and I have to push myself and remember that I love all the opportunities that I am given.”

What is the process that she uses to create her learning plan for each year? She describes it like this:

“My mother and I meet at the end of summer to plan my next academic year. It is a mutual process that involves me first professing my interests and what I would like to study and my mother providing feedback.  For example, my grandfather gave me a collection of Shakespeare’s plays bound in small, leather books that were brought over from London during World War II by my great-great-grandfather.  I brought these to my mother, and we decided that for my English course I would read these plays and write papers concerning them. My grandmother is Hungarian so I picked Hungarian as my language of choice and decided to go to Hungary and stay with relatives there this summer.  This year I am taking two classes at the community college since self-teaching and my mother’s extensive knowledge can only bring me so far. The process of picking what I will study that year depends on what I have access to, my interests, and what my schedule will allow."

It’s quite apparent that she is able to keep her schedule quite full with fascinating activities that are meaningful to her. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to help create a new paradigm of education

How to help create a new paradigm of education

Lecture style teaching and the increasing volume of testing are based on the premise that we can manage and control learning in others. Growing evidence is demonstrating that this method doesn’t work. What really works is to acknowledge that other people, of any age, are autonomous, powerful and intelligent human beings who choose what information that they will accept and what it means to them. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a two-year-old about why a food that they don’t like is good for them and tried to convince them to eat it, you’ll know what I mean. Broccoli chunks on your nose is the most likely result!

The current school environment of standardized testing, and the assembly-line view of the process of creating education for young humans is failing miserably. How arrogant of adults to think that they can force-feed knowledge into another human being and make them retain it through mindless repetition! Human beings have an amazing capacity to use our brains to be creative, inventive, and make meaning of the world around us. We all have an impact on everyone and everything that we touch, but we are ignorant of of that basic fact. Instead, we often fall prey to the deception that we can actually control anything or anyone. When we let go of trying to control others and accept responsibility for our impact, we see that everything we do matters. This leads to taking more careful consideration of our words with other people, and of our actions in relationship to our environment. 

Children are sponges that absorb everything around them. The most effective way of “teaching” them is to simply create an environment around them that allows for and supports their learning. All it takes is genuinely listening to them when they tell you about the inner world of what excites them, and then taking action to help them find the resources that will take them one step closer to achieving their goals. If they’re excited about something, then they’ll learn it effortlessly, and retain everything essential to them. If they’re implementing information, then it will become permanent knowledge. If they choose what they are learning, then they will be inspired and joyful about learning it.  

What if instead of schools with rigid curriculum and standardized testing, we had resource centers with passionate learning facilitators and personalized portfolios? These centers exist currently in various forms, but they are in the minority. What if they were the norm and every child had access to them? Homeschoolers create this for themselves through co-ops, support groups, and community involvement. This is wonderful for them, but so many children are still in the standard system and aren’t given this environment. What if this kind of environment were available to every child? What if every school and every parent were committed to this vision for all children? What kind of world could we all live in, and what kind of future could these children create? 

While this may sound idealistic and pie-in-the-sky, we all can have an impact in transforming the
world into this vision by taking a stand for this in our own homes and communities. It’s so simple. You can choose to be loving and supportive of the unique individuality of the children (and adults!) that surround you. You can choose to be courageous by raising your voice in your community in support of this learning environment. You can choose to take ownership of your impact in the world. You do have a powerful impact in the world; what will you choose for it to be? This future is possible. Will you take a stand for it?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Homeschooling/Unschooling Resources to start off your "back to (home) school" time!

"Back to School" advertisements are all around you, and you can't help but get caught up in the excitement of planning for a fun year of learning with your kids. We thought we'd contribute the resources and lists that our families have found helpful in their planning. 

Whether you are following a curriculum or doing completely student-led unschooling, this is a discount source for purchasing learning materials. 

Free! Who doesn’t love free, online learning materials? This homeschool mom and blogger has put together a great list of free, online educational resources. Even better, she has them sorted by age and subject. 

Another extensive list is here:

One of our families said this about a fun website that they have enjoyed using: 
“We found a site called DIY which is, as the name suggests, do-it-yourself learning based on kids' interests.  There are different areas (art, animation, genetics, Legos, astronaut training, etc.  - it's very eclectic!) and each area has activities and challenges presented as short videos that the kids can do on their own and earn virtual or real patches for leveling up.  The site itself is free, but they also have 4 week camps on the same model that are $40 for the 4 weeks.  We signed up for stop-motion animation, one of his skills. It's fantastic for unschooling!”

A popular avenue for learning is Minecraft. Here’s “31 days of Homeschooling with Minecraft” for your Minecrafter’s enjoyment!  

Maybe you’re wondering how to “unschool” in the high school years. Here’s an example of how one family does an “unschool curriculum” for 10th grade. (They also have other posts for previous grades!)

Lastly, now that you have a fun variety of activities and learning programs, how do you keep track of what you've been doing? Several families have highly recommended this app as an easy way to track and record what you do during the year. 

We hope this gets you off to a great start in 2015!

P.S. Enjoy this homeschool comic to remind you why you're doing all this work and research! ;)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Our High School student shares her experience of Unschooling

One of the unique benefits that our school offers is that our students have the freedom to customize their own educational program to suit their individual needs. This can include everything from an eclectic, interest-led, unschooling approach, to purchasing a curriculum for every subject, as well as everything in between.

In this blog post we are sharing what a student in our High School Diploma Program says about her experience unschooling. 

“Unschooling is much like regular homeschooling.  The only difference is we don’t have a curriculum telling us what we need to learn, and when we need to learn it.  I have always had the freedom to choose what I wanted to learn every year.  They never told me I had to learn something at a certain time, which I loved.  It has made my years of school a million times more interesting!  I was never bored out of my mind learning about something that I am not even close to being interested in.  My parents have always pushed me to seek what I was interested in, and to always go at it full force.  I remember my parents sitting me down every year, and asking me what I wanted to learn.  They wrote down everything I said, and made it happen for me.  That’s something I will appreciate forever.”

Two common questions that those unfamiliar to this educational philosophy may have are: “Will a child learn if they are not told what they should be studying?” and “Will they be socialized and mature if they are not in a classroom with other children their own age?” This student gives her take on these questions. 

“I remember so many of my friends complaining about how much they hated school.  I was never able to relate to my friends because I have never been forced to learn anything.  I have always wanted to learn things on my own, and honestly, nothing has ever helped me out more in life.  I am always curious about everything.  The urge to learn has constantly kept me moving forward.  Being unschooled and having parents that treated me equally as an adult has allowed me to have my own opinions.  I feel it has helped me to mature very quickly.  One thing that has always stuck out to me when I have a conversation with an adult is that they are always very surprised to hear that I am only seventeen. They say my communication skills are very good.  Being unschooled has given me many opportunities that most young teenagers never get because of the limitations of a school schedule.” 

How does she feel about preparing to graduate high school after a lifetime of unschooling?

“So for now, I am finishing up my unschooling adventure and moving on to a new chapter in my life.  I am excited and a little anxious for these next few months as they represent the end of an era for me. Thank you for West River Academy.  This school has enabled my parents to give me the freedom to learn without the constraints of traditional schooling.”

We’re happy to support students like this one in their educational journeys, whatever form they may take. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

World-schooling an exemplary life

This week we are spotlighting a family who are world-schooling their children by living at the moment on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Originally from a Middle European country, their inspiration to start traveling began with their children 7 years ago. They felt a desire to show them the world; how big it is, and how much is possible. Beyond their own children they feel a responsibility for the world. They strive to live an exemplary life by not smoking, drinking alcohol or using medicine. They are also environmentalists who recycle, are vegetarian and live a low-cost life. Modeling this wherever they live in the world is important to them. They have faith that they world can improve, and want to provide an example of how that can be accomplished.

They have a 2 year old son, a 6-year-old daughter and an almost 8-year-old son. The children are naturally curious about new things, and have become accustomed to adapting to new environments. They say that the most important element to traveling as a family is that the children trust them and have confidence in their decisions, because the children know that their own happiness is important to their parents. As a result, they have fun everywhere!

The family stays in one location for a year so that they have time to explore their surroundings and experience the local culture. They do not have an easy lifestyle and there are a lot of uncertainties. However,  they draw strength from their faith that they can contribute to making the world a better place. They find that if they are stable, then the children are stable too. 

For them, homeschooling while traveling is accomplished through the richness of their environment, as well as from their books and toys. They can use their tablets to access the internet and learn anything they want to know. Their philosophy is that life is experience and experience is learning, so they are always learning!

Friday, July 17, 2015

"Bee" the Change... through Worldschooling!

Homeschooling provides freedom to explore the world. For some families that is the world immediately surrounding them, and others take the opportunity to go farther from home and make traveling their lifestyle. We have some families here at West River Academy that are “worldschooling” and have taken their education on the road! Let’s hear from one family directly about what they are doing and how it works with their homeschooling. 

Meet the “Caring Bees” family: Fritz, Terra, Ky and Kai! They were living a comfortable, normal suburban American lifestyle, but dreamed of roaming the world. Sound familiar? Well, this family took the radical step of selling their belongings and taking off for New Zealand! They created a website focused around their family’s passion for health and bees. Here’s what they say about what is inspiring their focus:

“Caring Bees was created because our family is passionate about our health and discovered Manuka honey, specifically, to have amazing versatile natural caring/healing properties, above most other foods and herbs!  Also, we have great concerns about the future of our lovely bees and would like to look deeper into this issue, find out what we can do to help and share with the world!” -

I wondered what the children’s reaction is to this big change in their lives. Terra said “Well, actually, we keep praising our kids on how well they are doing with all of the changes and uncertainty a day may bring, while traveling. We are learning so much each day, there is not enough time for anyone to complain or irritate each other, like they did at home. Such a win/win!”

What does homeschooling on the road look like for them? “Every evening, the kids will journal their day's adventure. Once it is done, they will go further with either research on any questions they need answered, draw what they liked about the adventure or create a project from it. We also use an iPad app called "Homeschool Helper" to keep a detailed log of learning hours and studies. This has been an invaluable tool for us in keeping on track with all different areas of study.” 

Curious to see where this adventure takes them? You can follow this family in their adventures following bees and learning from their travels on their homepage, and their social media outlets: Facebook Twitter Instagram and Pinterest!

P.S. - Next week, we’ll feature a European family that has been traveling for 7 years. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A homeschooling year in review

This time of year we love receiving the year-end reports from our families, who inspire us with everything they’ve been learning over the past year. We leave the content of the report up to each family. Our primary goal is for them to summarize what they feel was of educational value for each child in the past school year.

We sometimes get inquiries from families who would like to see some samples of what year-end reports look like. To help provide that, one of our families who is homeschooling their 13-year old daughter has given us permission to share the year-end report that they created. They have been homeschooling for the past 6 years. 

This is a great example of how to write a report. It is a short summary of hands-on projects mixed with academics, illustrating an eclectic approach to homeschooling. They say:
“Homeschooling is a journey and we seem to be changing just a bit each year, but I try to include any curriculum we've used or experiences she's gotten to have that contribute to her learning (or as we seem to say more and more: "Anything and everywhere is a chance to learn!”)”

Scholastic Daily Word Ladders, grades 4-6 workbook
Wordly Wise 3000, Book 7
Learning Language Arts Through Literature, The Tan Book
Creative Teaching Press: Sixth Grade Math Minutes workbook
Math U See, Zeta: instruction book, workbook, dvd, and test booklet
Holt Science & Technology, Texas Edition, grade 7
Creating America: A History of the United States – McDougal Littell
The Care & Keeping of You, Books 1 & 2 – American Girl
The U.S. Government (workbook) – Remedia Publications, 2009
Wordly Wise, Book 4 – Kenneth Hodkinson & Joseph G. Ornato
Youth Digital Mod Design 1, Learn Java using Minecraft
Youth Digital Server Design, Program Your Own Minecraft Server

We had a house built between June 2014 and November 2014. Our daughter got to see and participate in all of the planning, designing, and creation of our new home. She saw “real world” applications for knowing area and perimeter. She saw framing of the house, wiring, instillation of fixtures, and all of the work that finished the inside and outside of our new home. She also got to see how much paperwork is involved in buying a house!

Activities this Spring included: “Crazy Chemistry” at the local library March 31, a STEM event for girls at St. Mary’s College on May 2, 2015, a visit to the local Civil War Memorial: Point Lookout Prisoner-of-War Camp on May 17, explorations of the beaches around the Chesapeake Bay with our guests on May 17- May 20, a visit to the local Naval Air Museum at NAS Patuxent River on May 19, a trip up to the National Mall which included visits to the Washington Monument, the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, The World War II Memorial, The Lincoln Monument, and the Korean War Memorial, on May 20.

This Summer our daughter will continue to work on her Java script course and her server design course on the computer. She is participating in Minecraft events at the local library. She attended one on June 30, and she has two more this month: July 14 & July 28. She will be spending the night in the National Archives in D.C. on July 25 and gets to sleep in the rotunda with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence! In August, she will be taking a Nature Trekkers Art Class August 4- August 7 in Leonardtown, Md. 

Grades              30days  60days  90days 120days  150days  180days Final Grade
Vocabulary          94.8       99.3     93.7      93.3       93.9        97.8         94.6 A
Language Arts     94.7       93.2     93.6      96.3       95.9        99.2         95.4 A
Math                    91.4       95.4     95.5      93.2       89.9        86.5         91.9 A
History                 96.6       96.4     95.0      93.3       93.8        95.5         95.1 A
Science                97.0       99.0     97.4      95.0       96.7        96.6         96.9 A

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pursuing a passion-driven life

2015 West River Academy High School Graduate, Chris Bones, exemplifies a life of pursuing passion. In an interview with Entertainment Scoop’s Vivian Adaobi, he answers her question on what drives him with one word: Passion. “Without passion, I would have quit a long time ago” he says.  “I wake up early, I go to sleep late, I work and I have fun while I do it! Because, that’s passion.” (Ent Scoop, 4/16/2015;

He’s been pursuing that passion since he was young. His first experience was acting in a musical theater show at 6 years old. Ignited by the passion of acting, at age 9 he moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to New York City to pursue a professional career in acting. While there, he played a role on Emmy Award winning daytime television show “One Life to Live”.  

A few years later, in 2009, he followed his love of music to Los Angeles to launch his career as a recording artist. In April 2015 he did his first tour, touring with High School Nation. To see him in action on stage, doing what he loves best, check out his YouTube video “Chris Bones - Live on Tour!” here;

To get a taste of his musical talent, watch his covers of Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran at and Jealous by Nick Jonas at

He is currently working on his first original album, due out this summer. Watch for its release by following his Twitter channel (@thechrisbones) and Facebook page (

Congratulations to Chris on graduating from West River Academy! We look forward to seeing where his passion leads him to next! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Life is beautiful...

I think you will feel the "joie de vivre" that Grace expresses in her last report to complete our High School Diploma Program. Grace lives in Divide, Colorado and graduated March 15, 2014.

"Well, February is gone and March is beginning.  It’s been one crazy awesome month.  I completed my painting for the congressional show and turned it in; the reception and awards ceremony is in a week.  Then as soon as that project ended we launched into heavy duty rehearsals for our play, 'A Night of Mystery', which we performed last night and will be performing today.  I’m still editing my dad’s book, but I’m a week behind now because of all the time I’ve had to spend on our performance this weekend.  On top of all this madness we’re moving this weekend to a new house in town!

'Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself, trying to be involved in so much.  Then I realize I couldn’t have it any other way.  I need this life, full of adventure and struggle.  There’s a sense of achievement and satisfaction that always waits at the end of a huge project.  Maybe it’s the light at the end of the tunnel, but then maybe it's just the sun going down after a long day.  I cannot even begin to describe the feeling it has given me to complete this painting for the congressional show.  I look back at the process and I realize I’ve been strengthened and refined by it in so many ways.  I found a way to put my heart and soul into the colors and lines.  I hope that if someone stares into my painting they will feel all of the words I try to say, but can’t, all of the emotion that doesn’t fit in common English.  I have a new confidence in myself.  I CAN do the hard things even when I’m tired.  I CAN bring something beautiful into existence even when the pain of the world is pressing on my shoulders.

"If I didn’t know it before I know it now.  I am a person who feels deeply.  With deep feelings comes the need for great expression.  Obviously I’ve found a lot of solace in painting out the feelings, but I’ve come to regard acting as the air my soul needs to breathe.  When I act, I make a connection with the characters I portray; I empathize with their feelings and strive for their goals.  In the end I always find that there’s a part of me in that character or maybe that character is part of me.  When you act you realize that humans are very multifaceted.  We’re all so complex and different, yet so similar.  In a way acting makes it easier to see myself as I really am.  When I act I look through another person’s eyes; for just a while I see as they see.  I gain a perspective from acting that is so different from anything I could conjure otherwise; I need that.  

"Just as February ends to make way for March, this play is coming to its conclusion and a new one is taking center stage.  We’re doing 'The Heiress', which is a Broadway classic.  I get to play the heroine, and I already know it’s going to be the most challenging part I’ve gotten so far.  It’s a drama so emphasis will be on the subtle emotions in the interaction between the characters.  This time it’s a teen/adult cast and that will be another first for me since I’ve mainly acted with kids younger than me up to this point.  We don’t have a lot of rehearsals between our first read-through and the performance at the end of May, but I think the deadline will help to keep everyone focused.  I’m really excited about doing this play for many reasons, but the biggest one is probably that the script allows for such poignant expression.  I just can’t wait to dive in.

"I suppose April will find me just as busy as ever.  There are always more art shows, always more long work days, always more blank pages to fill. Maybe if everything was more ordered, if we didn’t try to experience so much, if we didn’t try to love, then it would be perfect, but it wouldn’t be life.  Life is beautiful, so amazingly beautiful in a strange, crazy, vibrant way."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Isabella's Comments as an Unschooler

Here is what Isabella from Hawaii wrote in her educational biography about natural learning:

     "It is amazing how much school we do in everyday life. You wouldn't notice if you hadn't been un-schooled, but every time we buy something, sell something, check the time, or do anything as simple as figuring out how many hours are left in the day, we are doing math. Every time we read something, be it a sign, a newspaper, a book, or a poem, and every time we write something, from our name to a novel, we are doing English. Standing in nature, observing wildlife, standing on the beach and watching the tide, feeling the wind in our hair, that's all science. I could take my dog for a walk and that would be PE, I could listen to the old men in my neighborhood talk about the pool hall in 1919 that they cleaned as kids for their first jobs, and that would be history. The point I am trying to make now, and the one my mom and I tried to prove years ago, is that there is a difference between being taught something, and learning something. That difference, no matter how small, was the thing that kept me apart from those with the ability to learn in the classic school setting."

Monday, February 10, 2014

From Bullying Victim to Unschooling Freedom

Here is Josh's story of his educational experiences from Kindergarten as he reflects on the ups and downs of each grade. We don't often get to hear the student's perspective on how traditional school and the people who run it affect the student.

Josh writes:
Josh ______
Longmont, CO USA

     The first few years of public school were enjoyable for me. Being a young child, I was very interested with the idea of going to new places, meeting new people and learning new things. I made friends quickly, had a lot of fun trying new things, and my teacher absolutely adored me. I had a strong desire to learn and really enjoyed going to school. Since I am a fairly optimistic person, I had assumed that the rest of my years spent in school would be similar. It turned out that I was wrong.

     Middle school proved to be quite a challenging experience. Bullying and other harassment incidents became a huge problem for me by the time I had entered 6th grade. Something about me made others feel the need to hurt me in ways I had previously not thought other kids to be capable of. Following the advice of school counselors, I tried to ignore it and just focus on my education. I felt like school was something I had to get through in order to be successful in life. As time dragged on the bullying became worse, more hurtful, and more dangerous. During this time I realized that not only are peers capable of bullying, teachers and staff are too.

     I had started getting into a lot of fights by the time I hit 8th grade. As if the experience of being in a fight wasn't bad enough, the staff handled it horribly. I was the one being sent home for 'provoking' the other students. The ones who were hurting me and hindering my ability to learn were the ones who never got in trouble for some odd reason. In addition to this, there was a lot of gang activity going on within the school. Of course, the staff was completely oblivious to everything that was happening. When I tried to talk with school counselors about the difficulties I was having, their solution was to have a meeting with the students involved. The meeting would take place and kids would promise to stop harassing me.  It sounded good, but their behavior didn’t change. 

     I didn't really like any of my teachers during this time. They always seemed out to get me and tried to place the blame on me. Myself, along with a lot of other students, were very concerned that these teachers weren't passionate about teaching at all. Some of them seemed to hate their students. This was further reinforced by the fact that one of our teachers told us that she was just in it for the money, and she didn't care if we learned anything or not. After she told us that, we filed a complaint, but again nothing changed. Trying to learn and grow in such a negative and hostile environment was definitely a challenge.

     Various incidents occurred over the course of middle school that caused me to question if a traditional public school education was right for me. The thing I had once enjoyed had turned me into a rather pessimistic and miserable person. The three years I spent in middle school wasn’t entirely bad. I did have the support of a few close friends that helped me through everything. I suppose that's why I ended up making it through middle school and into high school.

     Going into high school things started to get slightly better and my optimism had started to return. It became easier for me to learn as the bullies started to fade away. There were a few minor altercations, but it was nothing like what I had experienced back in 8th grade. I enjoyed the majority of my teachers and classes. I found it easier to make friends. High school brought along a new sense of freedom that I didn't know could exist in school. We were allowed a lot of choice in what classes we could take. I really liked selecting my own schedule too. Within the classes, we had some choices about what projects we could do. Things were starting to look up and I was hopeful about being able to complete high school.

     My promising outlook didn't last very long. After my first semester of high school, I became very sick. My sleep schedule became very sporadic and I was sleeping nearly eighteen to nineteen hours every day. I was not able to return to school because of my sickness. The doctors had diagnosed me with post viral fatigue, possibly from mononucleosis. I was essentially bed-ridden for almost 6 months. This illness caused me to miss out on my promising high school experience. Unable to attend school, I lost friends. There were even rumors going around that I had died.  What happened as a result of getting sick was one of the worst possible things that could happen to me.

     The staff at the school caught word of my sickness and they called my mom and me in for a meeting. They were seriously concerned that I was faking it. They threatened to take my Mom to court for not making me go to school. They had thought I was ditching class for several months and treated me like a criminal. They did not believe that I was unable to attend school, even after seeing the state that I was in. After the meeting was over, they escorted my mom out of the building and forced me to attend class. I was unable to make it through even one class, so I spent the day in the nurse’s office.

     I felt betrayed and confused. They didn't trust me nor did they trust the countless doctor's reports that we had sent them. It was at this moment that I realized I simply could not continue to pursue a public education. It was also the moment I realized that I had actually been hindering my own opportunity to learn by attending a public school. I wanted to change the course of my education, but had no idea what direction to head. The public school system had failed me. I was not a problem kid, but they assumed that I was. Instead of working with me to figure out a plan for my education that would help me, they just let me fall through the cracks.

     It was during early summer that my sickness had begun to fade. I started to have a little more energy and was looking forward to feeling good enough to enjoy my summer. I was only sleeping 10 to 12 hours a night and felt a little better.  My doctor said that I was coming out of the worst of it and I would slowly be able to rebuild my strength in the coming months. During this time my mom received a call from my high school. They informed her that it was mandatory that I attended summer school. If I didn’t, then I wasn’t going to pass my freshman year. I didn't really know what I was going to do at that point.

     Unaware of any other options, my mom worked out a plan with the school to send a teacher over to our house every day. I wasn't particularly fond of the idea, but it was still better than having to get up and go to a classroom. It was extremely hard work. I had to essentially do a full semester's worth of work in less than three months. The good news was that if I managed to pull it off, I would be able to pass my freshman year and resume my sophomore education in the fall. Despite the fact that I worked extremely hard on all of my assignments, they still did not pass me. They had betrayed my trust yet again. All of my hard work had been for absolutely nothing. I spent three months doing everything they asked me to do and when I completed what was asked of me, they told me that it just wasn’t enough and I would have to repeat the semester.

     It was at that point that my mom and I decided to pull me out of public school. I cannot express how grateful I am that we made that choice. My mom had heard about West River Academy through a friend of a friend. She did some research on the concept of unschooling and we decided it was a good choice. I was then enrolled in West River Academy from that point on. Knowing that I learned better in an unstructured environment, I took an instant liking to the concept of unschooling.  I once again was taking an interest in my education, now that my input was being heard. I loved being able to choose what I wanted to learn and when.

     It was as if nearly all of my problems faded away after leaving public school. Without the pressure of meaningless assignments in memorization, I was blessed with the time to find out who I was and who I wanted to become. I learned more in the first six months of unschooling than I had in three years of middle school. Information-based knowledge is great, but you simply cannot become intelligent without real life experience. Going out and enjoying life has proven far more valuable for me than memorizing outdated information from a few textbooks. Being out in the world experiencing life, rather than being locked in a classroom is very helpful and important for a person like me.

     I am no longer pessimistic, miserable or weighed down by the atrocities of the public education system. I am truly myself and I am free. I am allowed to learn about things that interest me and learn them in my own way. I discovered that I still love to learn, but am unable to do so in a rigid, outdated and controlling environment. I now have goals, aspirations and dreams. I have developed goals that I wouldn't have thought myself to be capable of. I think that public school made me feel like I was never good enough. Constant judgment caused me to feel like I couldn't achieve my goals. I felt that since everything I worked so hard on would be graded, criticized and deemed not good enough that I developed the attitude of “why even bother doing it at all?”

     It has been said that public school prepares you for life and helps you achieve your goals. My experience with the public education system has proven the opposite. While I do agree that it is important to be well educated, I believe that it is also very important to be able to go about it in my own way. I believe that people should be allowed to focus on their inherent natural talents and abilities, not forced to memorize facts about things that hold no interest for them. I am very much a hands-on learner, and public school didn't allow me the freedom to learn through exploration. Unschooling has given me everything that I've wanted out of an education. I look forward to creating my future. I am creative, optimistic and free, just like I was when I was a little kid.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Teen Reports on First Semester of Homeschooling

"I’ve highly enjoyed this semester of West River Academy and recommend it for anyone hoping to get away from the drama and biased social conventions of public school and the 4 years of stretched out teachings that most people will never use in the real world. I remember when I was in public school and they tried to scare me with the ideals and expectations of college, but when really they are just feeding you crap. Excuse my unprofessional language but now I know the truth that they are lying. I’m 15 years of age and I’ve already started furthering my education beyond high school level. Thanks to this program and much support from my mother I’ve jumpstarted my future by at least five years in the making...

"Thanks Peggy for giving me a totally new experience and a different outlook on the educational system and how it works...
Mathew, Las Vegas, NV USA 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Budding Filmmaker's Self Education

Shannon is a 2013 graduate in Santa Monica, California USA who spent his elementary years at a Waldorf school, then did 9th grade in a public school, then chose to self educate through West River Academy. He used internet resources that may be helpful to others. Enjoy his story!

"After ninth grade, I moved to a different city to live with my Dad, who is a film director. It seemed logical to pursue a home-based education, which would allow me to follow my passion of filmmaking with my father. I researched online and found West River Academy, and it is a perfect fit. Now that I don’t have to conform to typical school hours, it allows me to split my time between school and filmmaking. I don’t think there could be a better way to learn about
filmmaking than actually working on real films, which is what living with my Dad allows me to do. At public school, each day of the week is tightly scheduled in a pattern that is repeated in exactly the same way every week. Now that I homeschool, every day is completely unique, so there is never a dull or boring moment. Schools that follow traditional schedules take three-month-long breaks in the summer, and due to budget cuts some schools are only open four days a week. Since I actually enjoy teaching things to myself, I don’t take any summer breaks, and instead I manage my time so that my work, study and play are in balance. That allows me to learn more in a year than I ever had before. I research all of my school subjects online. There are so many great ways to teach yourself anything online, whether it’s with Khan Academy,
Encyclopedia Britannica, or even YouTube. When I teach things to myself, I can learn things faster and more efficiently. I read hundreds of RSS feeds and thousands of tweets every day. I follow real people that are experts in the subjects I care about, like technology, science and more, and learn from their thoughts and what they link to. There is so much information available online, and there are so many ways to ingest it. I have recently been using a app called
ReadQuick, that only shows one word of a book or article at a time. You can control how fast it flashes the words, and as you use it, you are able to read faster and faster. I am up to four hundred and twenty five words per minute, and it saves me a considerable amount of time. I am also learning more things than typical high school subjects, things that are actually practical skills to have in the real world. I work with a small group of coworkers/friends, and I am one of
the people in the group who has developed an understanding for the technical details involved in producing feature-length media. Because of that, I am constantly being asked questions on a variety of detailed subjects, which has greatly improved my problem solving skills. Sometimes, I get questions that I can’t answer, so I have also learned to effectively research online and quickly
comprehend any knowledge that I need to retain.

"I recently watched an inspiring TED Talk by Sugata Mitra, who said “The education system is designed to produce identical clerks to run an empire that does not exist and a manufacturing industry that has gone away.” While trying to figure out how to improve education, Sugata did a test where in a foreign country he placed a computer in a hole in a wall. Kids with no access to education ran up to the computer, and started teaching themselves how to use it. Sugata came back after a few months and they had already taught themselves English, and they were learning about the complexities of DNA. With no help and only a computer, they gave themselves their own education. Sugata is now on a mission to build an online school in the cloud, where the students are also the teachers. One of the most important things I have learned during my
homeschooling is that I can start teaching myself almost anything immediately, using the power of the internet. Since I am working on films with hard deadlines, I have also learned the importance of finishing what I start. Missing the delivery date for a film is not an option. I have had to learn how to manage my time efficiently to make sure everything gets finished on time. In the past three years, in addition to learning about the main high school subjects, I have started my career as a filmmaker, and I have developed practical skills that I can use as a adult. Of all of the different schooling methods I have experienced, I believe I have learned the most by teaching things to myself during these past three years."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lifelong Homeschooler Describes Learning Challenges

Lauren, from Morrison, Colorado USA writes aboutlearning challenges that she has faced head on and dealt with in a most inspiring way. I hope her educational biography will encourage others who are struggling.

March 14, 2013

Dear Peggy,

My name is Lauren Smith and I am 18 years old. I have been homeschooled all my life and I am glad that I have had the opportunity of having a unique way of learning that does not involve the same system as regular schools. Mostly, I'm thankful that homeschooling gives me the freedom to learn at my own pace. I don't think I would be doing nearly as well as I am now if it were otherwise.

In my family, we have a disposition toward what many consider learning disabilities. My father, three of my brothers and I all face challenges concerning information integration, memory, and output; for me it is mostly output. We all have varying degrees of these challenges and they occur in different ways depending on the subject matter. Some things we are perfectly fine with while other things just don't stick easily. With integration, information comes in but our brains don't necessarily have a place to put it, which leads to difficulty with memory; if it's not stored, it's not retained. Output issues involve knowing the information is stored, but not being able to retrieve it and/or communicate it. As you can imagine, this can be very challenging and frustrating at times! 

My education as a whole has involved a great deal of repetition and patience as I am not always able to learn at the pace that I wish. However, I have learned that everyone is unique in every way, including the ways we learn, so it is better to persevere than to despair in the lie that we aren't as good as everyone else. Everyone has different strengths as well as challenges to overcome, and although my brain doesn't fit as well into a traditional educational structure as some, there is nothing wrong with it; everyone's brain is unique. Some people are wonderful at traditional academic subjects while others are wonderful with a more hands-on approach; either way the world needs both to thrive and each is very beautiful in its own way. It has taken me a long time to understand this and every once in a while I forget it, but I always come back to this realization.

When I was little, I remember school was a fun thing to do. I don't really remember why, but it's most likely because at the time it involved a great deal of art. I have always been fascinated with art, and although I wasn't very good at it when I was younger, in these recent years I have pushed myself to learn more of it. I used a variety of crayons, markers, and paints back then, and whether I was learning my A-B-C's or 1-2-3's it was usually very colorful and more fun than work. This lasted until I started learning how to read. I don't remember the details, but I do remember it was a big struggle. It was then when I first started having difficulties with learning, and suddenly learning wasn't quite so fun anymore. My mother has told me that my brain had a hard time associating letters with sounds, but all I remember is the frustration and tears. After reading finally clicked for my brain, I discovered the joy of the fictional worlds that books contain, and my nose has been in books ever since.

I also have had similar difficulties with math. Adding and subtracting were a fun game, especially when I was able to practice it with M&M's. However, once multiplication and division were added to the mix the numbers would not compute. I have had difficulty with math ever since because it has involved a great deal of almost never-ending frustration, hammering away at a subject that has at times seemed nearly impossible. Along the way I would find hope and encouragement as my brain would finally get it and it all fell into place, then I would move onto the next part and start the process all over again. These days I do fairly well with my Algebra 2, getting mostly A's and B's while I now tackle Geometry. The biggest lesson I have learned from math is to choose a positive attitude in discouraging times. I may not be able to choose all of my challenges, but I can choose my frame of mind while overcoming them.

Thankfully, not everything has been as difficult as reading and math!

Once I became a little older we started focusing on science and hands on activities. I loved learning about plants, insects, and the little creatures that the ecosystem needs in order to thrive. It was fascinating to plant beans and corn as well as other plants and watch their sprouts grow bigger each day. Once they got big enough we moved them from their little peat pellets to the garden and eventually ate the delicious food that they produced. One of my favorite places to go was to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. Sometimes in the spring we would get up early and spend the whole day out there looking at all the different plants, bugs, and occasional wildlife. If there is anything that instills more wonder and beauty in my eyes than art, it's nature and life itself.

Another thing I enjoy doing is art. Growing up we always had water color paint, markers, crayons and colored pencils lying around. Every now and then, my siblings and I would sit down together and attempt to paint things that we liked, or something from outside, or whatever we could think of. Although I loved art when I was little, I wasn't necessarily good at it. It wasn't until about four years ago that I decided to apply myself, learning how to draw and learning digital coloring with a photo manipulation program called GIMP. I have come a long way since then, and although I haven't found the time to do much digital coloring this past year, my drawings have greatly improved and I am also looking to explore different kinds of traditional artwork besides pencils.

I am currently working on completing the courses I need to graduate. I have to admit that I do not enjoy subjects such as English, Civics, and Geometry as much as I enjoy History and elective courses such as International Cooking and Art; in other words, my favorite courses have subject matter I can experience while learning. My most favorite subject in my education has to be PE. I have found that physical activity, whether shooting, Tae Kwon Do or riding horses, tends to come more easily to me than bookwork.

I started riding horses five years ago, cleaning out barns and working on general tasks around the stable. After a year or of that, I enrolled in a precision mounted western drill team youth organization called Westernaires. Horses have taught me so much and helped make me into the person I am today. While riding horses, riders need to learn to stand up for themselves otherwise horses won't listen. I learned how to be firm and yet kind, to be calm even in the face of danger, to have confidence in myself, and to trust my equine and human partners. Drill riding also has taught me a great deal. While riding in teams in Westernaires, sometimes riding with fifty or more girls on a team, I have learned to speak up, to pay attention to detail, to have spatial awareness, how to work as a team, how to better myself in order to reach a goal, how to be a leader, and so much more! Horses have given me so much experience in life, and have helped me to grow so much more than I would have ever hoped. 

In thinking of what to do for my future I thought about getting a job and going to college as well as moving out. I realized that in order to do those things I would likely have to take out a loan in order to pay for it all and I don't want to have to worry about working off a debt. So, I expanded my career options to the military because of the many benefits it offers such as traveling, having a well paying job, a place to stay, food, education, insurance, and financial aid to complete a degree if I so wish. On top of all that, I am able to serve my country.

In looking at possible military options there was a great deal to consider. I’m not interested in combat, so I decided that the Army or the Marine Corps probably weren't the best fit for me. I was more focusing on either the Navy or the Air Force because they offer the opportunity to travel, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Ships and the vast open waters of the ocean are wonderful; however, that's not really my interest. The Air Force seems to be a better fit. That branch of the military involves incredible airplanes and interesting intelligence jobs, hopefully out of harm's way, with the opportunity to travel so I decided to choose the Air Force. 

After I graduate high school, I will begin preparing for the ASVAB test. To prepare for it I'll be filling in gaps of knowledge in: electronics, such as the basics of electricity, electric circuits, and electric devices and systems; auto information, such as automobile components and systems; shop, and general mechanics. My goal is to achieve an ASVAB score in the high 90’s like my brothers, for two reasons: it offers more job opportunities and, honestly, I really want to beat my brothers’ scores.

I know that when I join the military I’m not guaranteed the career that interests me the most, however I can put myself in a position to better my chances at obtaining the job I would most like to do by learning a language that they would likely end up teaching me if I did get the job. For instance, I would like to be an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist. According to the website, an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist's primary job is to receive, record, translate, evaluate and report on foreign communications and intelligence using a variety of locations, both foreign and domestic. To help me achieve my goal I am studying the Persian language, also known as Farsi. I am learning Farsi now so I can have a head start in case I start having difficulties with it. So far, the speaking and listening have been sticking quite well. The reading and writing is harder to remember because of the Arabic alphabet, but I am also making progress in that. 

As of this moment, I am not certain of what I will be doing after I complete my service in the Air Force, but I plan on using the life and educational experiences that I learn to help guide me to find something that I will greatly enjoy doing.

My education to this date has taught me many lessons, mostly about myself. I have learned that being unique is something to be celebrated, not discouraged. I have learned that with perseverance and a positive attitude I can overcome most challenges that come my way. I have learned to be patient with myself and most of all, not all lessons are in the classroom. Life itself is an education if I choose it to be, and I choose never to stop learning and never to stop growing. I am grateful for the education I have had thus far and look forward to continuing it in the future.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ben, 13-year-old Unschooler, Reflects on his Year

"One important aspect of this year is the drastic difference between my middle-school/learning experience and other teens I know. I have been able to grow academically, socially, and emotionally, without the level of teenage angst of my friends. I think it is because I am in control of my learning, my day, and my life. Being in control helps me understand who I am and what I want in my life. For example, I tend to get very anxious in large crowds. I was able to recognize and work on my fear of crowds because I was in control. I have to decide when and how to push myself into healthy social environments. For instance, I volunteer about twice a month for our local L.G.T.B. center's library. I also participate in a circle of “Indigo Children" held once a month at a metaphysical bookstore in town. A friend, also unschooled, and I also organized a large yard sale. This gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to many people. It was fun working with my friend Anna and getting to know some of my neighbors. I made about one hundred dollars, too! What I have learned about myself emotionally this year is that emotions are just states of mind. They do not need to control the outcome of my experience by controlling me. 

"This year I became very interested in foreign languages, language acquisition, and linguistics. These subjects have always been very interesting and it is great to be able to focus on them for as long as I want. In the year, I have learned some aspects of Russian, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese, but I mostly studied German. To understand language acquisition I took these languages apart and reassembled them into a constructed language with its own vocabulary, grammar, and numeral system. I met native speakers along the way that helped me achieve a basic understanding of German, Hindi, and Russian, as well as working on an internet site called LiveMocha is neat because I get to talk to native speakers from all over the world and I helped many of them with English. 

"My interest in nutrition and health led me to plan and plant a garden. From that sparked an idea to build a terrarium for some exotic plants. All of that taught me about how ecosystems work. The curiosity I had about meditation lead me to the philosophy of Buddhism. Their teachings of forgiveness and compassion inspired me to incorporate them into my life. The teachings also took the "you have to be perfect or worthy" out of my life and education. The only analogy that fits what I felt about this school year is I blossomed into myself. 

"Meditation and Yoga have been a large part of my year, too. I play several instruments like the ocarina, didgeridoo, and different drums and I incorporated them into my meditation. Each instrument adds another feeling in meditation. For instance, the didgeridoo is played using circular breath and knowing how to circular breath has advanced my breathing technique during meditation. This year music was an offshoot of meditation but next year I want to make it more important by relearning the violin and advancing in the ocarina. 

"'Discovering new ways to discover and evolve'--this statement perfectly fits my year. I dived into old paths and found new trails to follow. I found courage to flower and expand into myself. Most importantly, I learned without much distress from my old mindset of "I'm not learning enough". In conclusion, I must say, I am positive that I will learn so much more next year and I am thankful for this new experience."

~Ben, Fort Collins, CO USA