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The Hard Knocks of School

Choosing The Right School

Choosing the Right School for Your Kid.

My wife and I were both homeschooled from K through 12th. Combine that experience with our already “crunchy” lifestyle and we were pretty well decided that homeschooling our own kids would be the best option. However, the last 48 hours have challenged everything I thought I knew about this and have quickly thrust us into a short notice search of choosing the right school for our oldest son.

For the past few months since we moved to central Oregon, I have been the primary parent while my wife is the primary worker. Previously, we had always just kind of expected and assumed that my wife would be the one primarily responsible for teaching our kids at home, but now things are completely backward. In and of itself that’s not a big deal. I don’t mind being the teacher at all… Except, that I’m also supposed to be trying to restart our home-based business SO THAT my wife can stop working and stay home again. That places me in a tough spot.

Choosing the Right School

I get a combined total of about 4 hours per day for work. Usually about 1 hour in the afternoon while our youngest is napping and I can let the older one play by himself for a while and two or three hours in the evening after they’re in bed. But, night time is a whole other struggle because our youngest still doesn’t sleep through the night. I live in a constant state of sleep deprivation… It’s bad.

If you have any idea what that’s like, then you can imagine how hard it is to do either task well.

If you DON’T know what that’s like, let me tell you… It’s kind of like the scene from Ip Man where he fights 10 attackers at once… only I’m not Ip Man. I’m more like Adam Sandler in Grown Ups.

Hopefully, that paints a clear picture for you. It’s really hard and I’m losing the battle on all fronts. Our business is going nowhere fast and the lack of sleep is making me become a very unpleasant and frustrated teacher for our son.

Yesterday was a particularly difficult day of attempting to get our son to do his lesson work. The curriculum consists of having him watch recorded online videos of a live classroom with a teacher. All the students are required to still extremely still and the teacher is very quick to rebuke even the smallest release of 5 yr old energy. It doesn’t suit him at all and I hate making him endure it. We don’t make him sit still. We try to turn the lessons into games that keep him moving and active, but he still has to watch and pay attention. He’s not doing well with it either. Not because the material is too hard, but because he’s BORED. We finally made the decision that if there’s going to be any real chance for him to learn the material and for me to get our business going again so mommy can stay home, then our son needs to attend a different school. Granted, we’re already planning on putting him in a Montessori school next year when he starts 1st grade, but for the remainder of this school year, we now have to figure out a ton of stuff a lot sooner than we had planned. (have you noticed the pattern yet? Of things not going as planned… life.)

Today we started touring schools and quickly having our eyes opened to the fact that we’re surrounded by rocks and hard places… And not just because we live in central Oregon.

Currently, our son is using the popular Abeka homeschool curriculum. We thought we were lucky when we found out that there’s a local Christian school just 1 mile away from our house using the exact same curriculum and they’re at nearly the same lesson place that he’s at.

Now before I go further, let me say that our son is ALL boy. He’s high energy, VERY intelligent, highly imaginative, strong willed and a force to be reckoned with. He fits the first-born, type A, leader of the pack personality perfectly. Now, pack all of that into a 5 yr old body and you have a real project on your hands. He is not the type to sit still and listen and we love it… Sometimes…

Choosing the Right School


The Rock

When we arrived at the Christian school, it only took about 5 minutes before I knew he wouldn’t survive there. The superintendent was quick and clear to note that their students spend the whole day sitting and doing lesson papers with next to no play or active time. (I also noted that out of the 75 students they had, nearly all were girls.) She also mentioned repeatedly (and proudly) that they’ve been using the same program for 46 years. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only progress they’ve made since they opened 46 years ago is having a website…which one glance will tell you that it must have been one of the first websites ever made and never updated since the 90’s.

As I told my wife, he’d be leaping out of his skin in minutes there and he would quickly learn to hate school and hate learning. He would be taught that he must behave like a girl and his exuberant boy nature was not acceptable. We were highly disappointed.


The Hard Place

We started the drive home, but before we made it back, my wife had googled and tracked down another nearby school which based on their website was much more promising. We turned the car around and headed to the address.

When we arrived, we thought we were at the wrong place because it looked like someones house, and we were right, It is someones house – which we discovered they had turned into a school. My eyes lit up as soon as we walked in. It was small, but it was like a sensory buffet with tons of cool hands-on learning stuff everywhere. There were only 3 other students (all boys) and they were doing cool fun stuff. There was not a single desk in the room (they had activity tables) and the kids were never expected to have to sit down. They learn while they move. I was immediately sold… Until they showed us the price sheet.

As much as I believe that you get what you pay for and that education is no place to go cheap, I also had to face the hard fact that we can’t afford that place.

At this point in the story, I’m going to slightly turn the direction. I could go on and express my frustration with America’s education system, but that’s not going to help anything. More importantly, I want to talk about fathering our son(s) in their education. While I am referring to our sons, meaning the two boys that belong to my wife and I feel free to also interpret our sons in the broader sense of all families.

Spoiler: boys and girls are different… Just thought I’d educate you. 🙂

My boys are BOYS. At ages 2 and 5, they play hard, they break everything that can be broken, (one of the toys they got for Christmas didn’t survive till evening) they’re fearless adventurers and they’re exhaustingly inexhaustible. Qualities which may be challenging for us as parents and teachers, but which are also qualities that will, one day, make stellar men. I don’t want some weak-wristed teacher training them to think they’re defective because they may not conform. It’s not ADHD. It’s called being a young boy.

Choosing the Right School

I don’t know how, when or why the notion of sitting still became considered the exclusive standard for acceptable academic behavior, but its certainly not based on any science of effective learning. Brain energy and focus is wasted on making kids sit still. Let them move and it will free the brain to learn.

The hippocampus is the brain’s center for memory. It’s been scientifically proven that the best way to form new brain cells and improve memory (for both adults and children) is through aerobic exercise.

In a 2009 study performed at NYU, Dr. Wendy Suzuki started a new class called “Can Exercise Change Your Brain?” In the class, the student’s combined aerobic exercise with academic study once a week for one semester and their academic performance was compared to a control group which did not exercise during class. Both groups were given a set of timed cognitive tests at the beginning and end of the semester. By the end of the study, the students who exercised displayed quicker response times with the correct answers and better overall memory retention than the non-exercising control group. Source: (http://theshawnstevensonmodel.com/wendy-suzuki/)

Aside from the scientific aspect of learning, practically speaking, if sitting still were the requirement for successful adult living, then sports, outdoor activities and products like the fidget cube wouldn’t be so popular.

As a parent who understands his wiggling energy, I want to embrace and cultivate his high energy and help him direct it in a positive way – not try to discipline it out of him. As a 32-year-old man, I don’t learn all that well by sitting still either. I CAN because I’m an adult and I have self-control, but I would much rather learn by listening to an audiobook while running or biking than by sitting still and reading. Even in my office at home, I built my own desk at standing level so I don’t have to sit down while I work. I was fortunate that my mother (who taught 4 of us at home) was very aware of this need and did a great job of keeping us active while learning.

So how can we as fathers help our children learn in a way that engages both their brain and body at the same time? We don’t all have the time or flexibility in our schedules to take on full-time homeschooling and educate them in a physically active way.

There’s no perfect solution. You may not be able to full-time teach your kids at home, but here’s a few simple and practical ideas which you can spend even just a few minutes on each day with your kid and they can be effective for both boys and girls. (Especially boys would love learning this way.) Ideally, it would be best to do these activities in the morning before you leave for work and before they go to school. By engaging their bodies earlier rather than later, it helps to activate those brain processes in the hippocampus and set them up for a more successful day. Heck, even the military knows that 5am exercise is best. 😉


Quiz Sprints

  •  Quiz them while having them run short sprints. Have them line up at the starting line, ask a question, the first one who knows the answer takes off running and shouts the answer. This could be done outdoors or indoors if you have space for it.

Multi-Jacks

  • Have them recite multiplication times tables while doing jumping-jacks. Again, outdoor or indoor.

Hop Phonics

  • Have your child sound out letters and words while hopping to the rhythm of the syllables. (Our kids do this on the couch.)

These are just a few simple ideas. You can certainly be creative and come up with your own versions or new ideas. The point is, the more we can do to help them engage physically and mentally in their education, the more we set them up to win… And isn’t that what we all want for our kids? We want them to be successful and excited to learn.

Choosing the Right School

For more info and thoughts on educating boys, here’s a great video from Prager University.

 

Please feel free to continue this conversation in the comments section below.

Bradley Lanphear

  • Gloria Lanphear

    I love your non-conformity to the established way of learning. Especially at a young age. At some point in their lives, depending on what they want to grow up to be, they may have to learn to sit still. I’m thrilled that they have parents who love them enough to give them the best possible learning environment at this stage of their young lives. Why not have fun while you learn? Mom