The Next Big Thing

Growing up, I didn’t like school much. Which is too bad, I suppose, since I was so good at it. The academic part, I mean. (When I received a “B” in college, I believe the general response was, “Thank the Lord! She’s human!”) It was dull and slow most of the time; I read novels during spelling tests, I invented extra layers to projects to make them interesting and challenging, I demanded extreme levels of perfection of myself (a habit that’s not serving me so well in the rest of life). I spent a lot of time hanging around my teachers. At home, I complained about the general immaturity of my peers. Fart jokes? In fifth grade? When will these people grow up?

Sending Caitlyn off to school was almost an exercise of faith. It’s been 30 years; maybe we’ve updated how public schools teach children. She’s her own person; maybe her experience will be different. But I had to trust that she and I would recognize when traditional schooling wasn’t working and that we’d be able to act on that information when it arrived.

I suppose I needn’t have worried. I think it was mid-March, at dinner, when Caitlyn announced that she’d like to homeschool. I’m paraphrasing her list of reasons here, but she had come up with more or less my old complaints:

  1. She didn’t like the schedule, being constantly yanked off a project because the clock said it was time for something else. Nothing was ever finished the way she wanted it finished.
  2. Similarly, the proscribed order of topics meant that she wasn’t free to explore something as deeply as she wanted or chase down an connection to an new topic.
  3. Everything moved so slowly. Material had to be explained and reexplained and then explained some more to be sure that every one of her 23 classmates understood it. This applied to everything, from facts and concepts to instructions.
  4. At least some of those classmates seemed to have a hard time respecting the school environment, preferring to disrupt the learning time of others out of their own boredom or immaturity.

We told her that she’d need to finish second grade, and finish like she cared about it, before she could “level up” to homeschooling for third grade.

Homeschooling has been part of our family culture from the beginning. Ian was a homeschooler. For years, we’d talked casually about homeschooling in the future, usually in context of middle school and the ridiculously early start times expected of eleven and twelve year olds. Time to walk the talk.

Fortunately, it isn’t nearly the extreme fringe thing homeschooling used to be. Caitlyn already knew kids her age who were homeschooling. The school district has a resource department for homeschoolers. There are several part time programs around Seattle for “full time learners”. There’s a statewide advocacy organization, with a trade show. There are lots of resources online (the internet changes everything, again). Most days, I’m only mildly panicked about this project we’ve started.

The goal is to be sure that Caitlyn knows how to learn what she wants to learn. That’s the critical skill. If you know how to learn, then you can pick up whatever you need to know when you need to know it. I’m insisting on building a strong foundation, which means Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. Everything else can come as interest and circumstance require. That’s how it works IRL, anyway. I can’t think of any time in my adult life, professional or otherwise, when I’ve needed to know the exact dates for William Wordsworth or Grover Cleveland.

So these days, it’s all cats and dragons. Caitlyn’s reading (and re-reading!) novels and, while the official biology may be somewhat off (eg, feral cats don’t make clans), she’s getting a nice dose of Narrative Structure and Story Arc, Drama, Politics, Sociology, Ecology, and Leadership.

Not bad for third grade.


  1. Good for you, good for Caitlyn! I think home-schooling is wonderful. Can I just say, if you aren't already aware, which you probably are because I think I remember telling you in person once, Saxon Math, Saxon Math, Saxon Math!

    We were lucky that many of the teachers our kids had in our public school system had adopted Saxon on their own (and at their own expense) but it must have been too successful and made the non-adopters look bad because the district adopted some other program with pretty graphics (yes, really, I had a fifth grade teacher show me the standard district math book and and say how much better it was than Saxon because of all the pretty pictures which somehow were supposed to make students want to learn their times tables). Then they made all the teachers who had adopted Saxon give it up. You should hear those teachers talk about how the math scores immediately dropped through the floor and student frustration with and inability to learn math concepts soared.

    Luckily for home-schoolers, you can adopt what works for you and jettison the rest.

    Happy learning to Caitlyn! Happy teaching to you and Ian!

    1. I remember you telling me about Saxon Math! We're starting with Singapore, which is the *other* math curriculum that gets a lot of local praise. I think there was a middle school in Seattle that bucked the district and used it with excellent results. If it doesn't work, we'll switch… 'cause we can do that now!

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