I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Amy Tudor. You can follow her homeschooling adventures on Instagram at amy.tudor and find her articles in Taproot magazine. We’re thrilled to have her share her homeschooling story.

Homeschooling never appealed to me. We live in a remote Vermont forest with very few other children nearby. My oldest spent her early years surrounded by grown-ups and I was looking forward to her having regular contact with other children.  But when we started her in preschool, her interest tapered off within the first few months. We repeated this the next year and the next for kindergarten.

As social creatures we humans often employ tactics, communications and power struggles in an attempt to have our needs met.  Unhealthy dynamics never, ever, escaped the notice of my oldest. Somewhere between three and five, she outlawed sarcasm, seeing the anger and cruelty it masks.  At eight, she cut the word weird from the family vocabulary, observing how people used it to isolate one person from a group. I can still picture her in the car, shrugging her shoulders to her friend in the backseat and offering a “well, everybody is different” reply after hearing a story about a ‘weird’ child.  Because of her sensitive nature, groups of people are very challenging for her to be part of.

Our homeschooling journey began with confusion and fear (on my part). There was so much to learn and even the process of registering in Vermont was overwhelmingly confusing. The home study office at the Department of Education confused me the most telling me to be much more thorough than I had to be. Experienced families offered nuggets of wisdom through various homeschooling Facebook groups. Because once you see the relief and joy on your child’s face, the struggles in your own heart quiet down.

The first technique we tried (that didn’t work) was school-at-home, that is, following the traditional school model of doing certain things at certain times, whether or not the children are interested in it.  I see new families quit at this point in the process because they can’t get their children to ‘do school.’ This frustration always makes me think of us grown-ups preparing our taxes. How many of us enjoy following such mind-numbing directions from the powerful Internal Revenue Service like “Add line 41 to 13.  If this number is less than $24,000 then skip to line 300“ and so on. Demanding that my child read chapter three and master skip counting on a set date feels like the same sort of external motivation that I don’t want to pass on to my children.

Many experienced homeschooling families will advise beginning with a few months (or more) of deschooling, especially if your child has been in traditional school for more than a few years.  Deschooling is the process of letting your children get back in touch with their own natural daily rhythms and rediscovering what sparks their own curiosity. If you didn’t have to be at school at a certain time, what time would your children naturally wake? When are they most hungry? When is their mind most active? What time of the day do they need to recharge?

Our night owl goes to bed at the same time every night, but can wake anywhere from 7 am to 9:30 am.   Teaching our children to place rest high on the priority list was lost in traditional school. When an idea sparks, she can work on self-directed projects on her own timeline. One day she spent seven hours setting-up and photographing the life stories of her doll families.  If one must break real life down into measurable learning, I observed art (photography, setting the scenes), social studies (adoption and family dynamics), storytelling (suspense, proper order of events), health (babies being born, arm injuries, physical activities), and science (tsunamis, blizzards, air temperatures) all rolled into one. In traditional kindergarten, the activities moved along so fast, it was common to hear her describe her school projects by saying “and I didn’t have time to finish that.”

Packaged curricula can be a good place to start for new families, because so many families are frightened that their children will miss some crucial benchmark and will never succeed.  Start there if you must but then try to remember that other people set those benchmarks (and then let them go, if you can). Children are individuals and learn different skills when they’re ready.  One of the things I now love most about homeschooling is the freedom.

Once your home environment is relaxed enough, you’ll know what to ‘teach’ your child because they will ask you questions about what they don’t understand.  In our house, if we parents don’t know, we write it on the chalkboard and our ‘schooling’ is usually researching it together at the library or by asking someone who knows.  Right now, we’re trying to figure out exactly how oysters filter water.

This year, our child-led model has resulted in knowing that cavemen ate nettles and other greens (because the children doubted that greens are really necessary in their diets). We studied how the Eiffel tower was built and what rare fish lived in the lakes of Tanzania. Our forestry studies have touched upon beech blight and the emerald ash borer.  And so much more. This learning-style is such a way-of-life for us that our youngest has picked up the habit. When big sister decided to make a lapbook on porcupines, our youngest was three. Without prompting, little sister decided to check out library books on bobcats for her first lapbook. Typical subjects like reading and writing are a by-product of their own curiosity.

I recently remembered that I had ordered the preschool books from Oak Meadow when my oldest was two years old.  The Heart of Learning remains one of the most influential parenting books I have ever read as it presents a way of guiding children that resonated very deeply.

I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first, but now that we’re over the beginning stages, it turns out my learning was just as important as theirs. And seeing their parents adapt to the unexpected teaches them to do the same. I am so glad we took the leap of faith and are pursuing an unconventional education for our children.

 

Perspective and Process

reading photo

Photo by Hannah Westbeld

This is a guest post by Hannah Westbeld, a homeschooling mama of 3 who is active on Instagram as @myheartshomestead. She lives in Tennessee and her whole family loves using Oak Meadow curriculum, especially the math gnomes. Thanks, Hannah!

Sometimes I wish I could rewind time to bestow upon my earlier self the elusive gift of perspective. Having a healthy perspective is an incredibly powerful viewpoint that, once attained, can change our approach to almost every aspect of life. But in homeschooling particularly it is a tool unlike any other. It gives the parent, as the teacher, the ability to see and connect with their child’s unique learning abilities. It releases them from the constraints of mainstream educational standards and frees the child and the parent to learn together in a setting and at a pace that best suits their individual needs and interests, while allowing the process of education to unfold in a beautiful and natural way.

3 children reading together
Photo by Hannah Westbeld

A few weeks ago, my oldest son asked if he could read to me from his current favorite book. We snuggled up, side by side on the couch, his head resting on my shoulder, as he read his favorite passages aloud, one by one. I listened intently to his words, my mind flashing to images of the times we had spent together just like that in years past. The earliest images were, of course, reading to him when his little fingers couldn’t yet turn the pages of his favorite board books. I saw him as a toddler pointing to his favorite images in picture books, slowly mastering the pronunciation of words. I saw us side by side on the couch when he began kindergarten, staring down at the pages of our first book of reading lessons. I saw the tears of frustration and sadness on his cheeks over the following two years when he simply couldn’t master the art of reading. I felt the anxiety I placed on my own shoulders as I questioned what I was doing wrong and wondered if I was qualified for this important role in his life.

children reading together
Photo by Hannah Westbeld

But then I remembered how it felt as I allowed my own mind to change, grow, and adapt to his needs. I saw myself tucking away the lesson plans, gently wiping away his tears, and assuring him that I would read to him for as long as he needed. For the next several years I read to him and his younger siblings every chance I got. We lost ourselves in entire imaginative worlds, we discussed fairy tales, we read silly picture books. We read through novels. We stumbled across the power of phonograms and spent a few moments each day learning their sounds. And then one day he flawlessly read a street sign. Another day he read an entire paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ writing on his own. He began pulling familiar picture books from our bookshelves and reading them with an ease and excitement that stunned me. And then one day, not long ago, he read through his very first novel entirely on his own.

We’ve been on quite a journey together, he and I. Even though I look back wishing for better perspective when he first began Kindergarten, we were both given the gift of “the process” together. Together we learned what was best for him as an individual, and gifted each other one of life’s most beautiful things – perspective – and along with it the knowledge that learning is not defined by one moment or one grade level, but is, rather, a journey that occurs over the whole of our lifetime.

Embracing Winter

Meg's son, Ian, hanging a suncatcher on the tree

Meg's son, Ian, hanging a suncatcher on the tree

This is a special guest post by Oak Meadow K-6 teacher Meg Minehan.

Meg Minehan is an Oak Meadow teacher for grades K-6. She currently homeschools her own children using the Oak Meadow curriculum. Meg co-leads a monthly forest and fields program for preschoolers in Chester, Vermont. She embraces winter by cross country skiing and sweating in her woodfired sauna. 

Although all of us at Oak Meadow extol the benefits of getting children outside, we also recognize that getting young ones outdoors in winter can be quite challenging! Here are some helpful hints to help you and your children embrace these blustery, and for some of us, downright frigid days.

Perhaps most of you are familiar with the oft-quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather…” Although my feelings about that quote can change depending on my mood, the wind speed, and the type of precipitation I am about to endure, it is important to acknowledge that wearing appropriate clothing in winter is a must. These past few weeks, you may have encountered temperatures that are too cold to be safe. Most days, however, can be safely enjoyed, if only for a short time, provided you and your children are clothed appropriately. But even after investing in or, better yet, inheriting quality outdoor clothing, how do you entice children and their caretakers to go outside?

For many children, a fresh snowstorm is usually a welcome invitation to play outdoors. There are the obvious tried-and-true activities, such as sledding, snowman making, snow fort building, snowshoeing, and skiing. Now that my children are older, ages 16, 13, and 10, these are some of their favorite activities. I no longer need to encourage them to go outdoors. In fact, usually I am calling them in, so we can get some of our Oak Meadow work done. When my children were young, however, this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes they needed a hook, something to entice them to “get out and blow the stink off ye.” (quote courtesy of my father, Ed Minehan) Here are some ideas that worked, at least some of the time, for my family.

Fisher and Turkey Tracks/Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Get Moving and Follow the Tracks: On the coldest days, the only option was to keep moving. Even getting out for a short hike or snowshoe was still worth it. To keep things interesting, we often went tracking. Because we live near the woods, this was, admittedly, pretty easy for us. But driving to a special trail adds a sense of adventure too. First, spend a little time familiarizing yourself with tracking patterns. Is the animal a straight walker, hopper, waddler, or bounder? Kids can practice walking in these styles as well. Next, examine the print of the animal’s foot. Notice the shape and size. Can you count the toes? Are their claws present? What other nearby animal signs or clues can you spot? To maximize child participation, I made each of my kids a laminated detective tracking card with pictures of the four patterns and common prints. I photocopied our cards from the Shelburne Farms Project Seasons book. There are many great tracking guides or cards available. We approached each tracking expedition like a mystery. As they got older, my children became more interested in the C.S.I. scene. They loved following the tracks and searching for evidence of last meals. Yes, sometimes the results were a little gruesome, but always exciting.

Curriculum Extensions: Keep in mind these snowy mysteries can lead to imaginative storytelling, story mapping, further research, and investigative writing projects. These activities can easily be integrated into science and language arts lessons. Talk to your Oak Meadow teacher about substituting assignments. We want you and your children to embrace winter too!

Trail Games: Simple trail games are another way to keep things interesting on a cold winter walk. One of my favorite games is Christmas Tree for a Mouse. I learned it from Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder. As we walked through the woods, we would look at various trees, gauge their relative sizes, and decide which animal would be perfectly suited to which tree. This can be a fun way to talk about the animals that live in your area. This game could be easily modified if Christmas trees aren’t part of your family’s traditions. Maybe you could find the tree with the best treehouse option for a mouse, a mink, or a bear. If you and your child are feeling really ambitious, you might even assist with the building process.

Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Winter Art: Scavenger hunts and treasure walks were also a good way to build enthusiasm for a cold winter walk. After collecting simple treasures, such as pine needles, cones, and winter berries, we would put them in a mold with twine or raffia hangers, fill with water, and wait for them to freeze. We’ve used mini-bundt pans for wreaths, but silicone molds work even better. These lovely ornaments or sun catchers can be hung nearby. Quite often, however, I would encourage us to share our decorations with the birds and squirrels. Aha! Another “excuse” to get out for a walk.

Finally, on those days when everyone needs a little extra enticement, there is nothing like the promise of homemade hot chocolate and a favorite board game awaiting. Happy winter!

NOTE: Oak Meadow recently posted a great link on Facebook about following tracks: http://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-reading-bird-tracks-snow

Dia de los Muertos

Photo by Sara Molina

This post and the photos come from Sara Molina, our Spanish teacher, who splits her time between Vermont and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Thanks, Sara, for introducing us to this wonderful and colorful cultural celebration of our ancestors!

Skulls, death, skeletons: these items often inspire fear, or at least negative feelings. But in Mexico, and many other countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is quite the opposite. ‘Día de los Muertos’ is a colorful holiday of joy and festivities based around honoring the lives of loved ones who have died. This is a time to celebrate and remember these loved ones through parties, dinners, altars, and parades.

This celebration has a history of thousands of years, starting with a month-long holiday in the time of the Aztecs and then evolving to be celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 with the arrival of Catholicism.  November 1 is generally for celebrating infants and children who have passed and November 2 is to honor adults. Offerings play a large role, where the deceased are honored with their favorite foods, drinks, pictures of them, and other colorful decorations. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, at the graved of loved ones, with music, food, and drink. As opposed to the somber tone often felt at cemeteries in the U.S., the feeling is festive and happy at these Day of the Dead cemetery celebrations.

 

Papel Picado in Mexico
Painted skulls and altars in Mexico
Evening Festivities for Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

Skulls and skeletons are an integral part of the Day of the Dead. The Catrina is the main skeleton seen, she is elegantly dressed and was created in the early 20th century by an artist aiming to poke fun at the high society ladies of the time.  Some of the Catrina creations are stunning, with elaborate face painting and gorgeous and colorful costumes.  Another fun tradition that just began last year in Mexico City, was a Day of the Dead parade. This was modeled after the Day of the Dead parade in the recent James Bond movie, ‘Spectre’.  The opening scene features an impressive parade in Mexico City, and some leaders in the city decided to make it a reality this Day of the Dead.

Feel like getting into the Day of the Dead Spirit? Create an altar or offering (ofrenda) for a loved one (pets too!) who has passed. Include flowers, their favorite foods or drinks, music, symbols of activities they enjoyed, pictures of them etc.

Or if cooking is more appealing, create the traditional Día de los Muertos dish: pan de muertos (bread of the dead).  This is a basic sweet roll that is often molded into various shapes: angels, animals, or of course on this holiday – skeletons!

And if you’re a crafty person, try making a traditional decoration of this time: Papel Picado. This colorful paper is cut with patterns, and hung around the altar, and all over streets during this time.

Regardless of our level of celenration of the holiday, pausing for a moment to fondly remember loved ones no longer with us can bring a smile to our faces.

Additional Resources:

National Geographic site about Day of the Dead (good for general Day of the Dead info and activities. A clean and well organized site)

BBC documentary about Day of the Dead in Mexico (a 20ish minute documentary, one of the better ones I’ve seen about Day of the Dead)

Recipe for Pan de Muertos

Directions and Template for Papel Picado

Mexico City Day of the Dead parade video

On Poetry

by Antony Yaeger, Oak Meadow teacher

Photo Credit: Szmodis Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Having studied poetry with amazing teachers in my life, and having honed my own craft at Sarah Lawrence College, it is a joyful and enriching experience to teach poetry at Oak Meadow. What makes poetry so unique is something discussed in our poetry course: Poetry is a universal art form that can be found in all aspects of human life and can hold within it elements of all other art-forms. Poetry is not bound solely to the page. The famous phrase “poetry in motion” is a purpose of graceful fluidity, such that moves with tactful elegance throughout. Abstract, yet direct and completely beautiful to all 5 senses. We live with poetry every single day, even if we don’t have time to pick up a book.

To find poetry in the world, we often look to nature. To try to create an essence or impression of nature in art, we often turn to poetry. In my teaching, I try to teach in a way that takes into account my student’s developing mind as well as their heart, blending the two with their imagination. Poetry is one perfect way to do this. Each student brings their own unique perspective to analyzing a poem and their own special voice to the crafting of their own poems. Poems can be successful in any number of ways, but calling on the senses of our readers is crucial.

Photo Credit: Starkus Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What makes poetry even more incredible is that the reader is welcome to read between the lines, to string together their own meanings and ideas, to bring their own working palette of comprehension to the experience of reading. I feel this way with my students in this distance learning course and in the monthly poetry workshops we have created together. In these workshops, students celebrate their classmates’ poems and give them the gift of constructive feedback. It is amazing to see how perceptive each student becomes, how kind and selfless they are in making another poet’s poem better.

Poetry exists around us all, and you can read into that statement all that you want! For it’s not simply an abstract or ambiguous thought, but a truth waiting for us all to discover.

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Antony Yaeger received his undergraduate degree in Poetry and Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and his Masters of Science in Education and Waldorf Education from Sunbridge College, New York. Antony spent four years at the East Bay Waldorf High School in Berkeley, CA teaching poetry, photography, literature, and directing school plays. In 2009, Antony graduated once again from Sarah Lawrence College, this time earning a Masters Degree in poetry and creative writing. He encourages students to use writing as a tool for self-exploration and to gain clarity and perspective on world events by examining issues from new angles. 

For more information on enrolling in Oak Meadow’s semester-long high school Poetry course with Antony Yaeger, click here.

For more information on purchasing Word: The Poet’s Voice curriculum for independent use, click here (on sale for the month of April 2017 in honor of National Poetry Month!)

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists—leaving notes here and there all over the house—and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. That pile of tasks that seemed doable early in the morning looks like an impossible uphill climb by lunch time and morphs into Mt. Everest by dinner time. Sigh. Another day slips by with a vague feeling of incompletion.

Photo Credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be leaving out or forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.

At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Photo Credit: Witman Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

No matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement—just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. The book report will get done before the grammar exercises or spelling quiz. That’s not to say spelling and grammar aren’t important—they are—but the book report will get done first to make sure it is completed before moving onto the next book.
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. Who cares which days you homeschool and which ones are free days? Do what you can in the days remaining; any leftover tasks are moved to the top of the list for the following week.
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.
Photo Credit: Brandie Lujan
(Oak Meadow Archives)

More reasons to love your planner

Feel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

Photo Credit: Oak Meadow.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

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DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.

This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

Exploring Ornithology: A Week on Hog Island

by Fianna Wilde, senior at Oak Meadow School

During this past summer, my sister Blythe and I attended a week-long teen birding camp on Hog Island, Maine. The Hog Island Camp, run by the National Audubon Society, is now in its 80th year of existence.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Having applied for and received scholarships to attend, we joined 22 other teens to learn about everything from bird banding to seabird restoration. In the sport of birding there are few young people, so spending time with other fledgling birders was particularly special.

Not only was this our first camp away from home, it was also our first time birding on the East Coast. Other campers were endlessly helpful with identification, and everyone was so willing to share their knowledge.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We designed an advanced study project (ASP) through Oak Meadow about our explorations in ornithology, and our trip to Hog Island was a part of that adventure. Being able to pursue my dreams and incorporate them into my high school experience is one of the reasons I find Oak Meadow extremely special.

A Day on Hog Island…

4:00 a.m. Get up and out of bed, having awoken long before, unable to sleep because of the excitement of unknown birds singing and the lobster boats motoring around checking pots.

4:30 a.m. Out the door and down the creaky wooden stairs of Crow’s Nest cabin to meet up for a bird walk or thrush banding with Scott Weidensaul (program director) and a few other souls.

7:00 a.m. Breakfast, finally!

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

The weather held, and we motored out aboard Snowgoose III on an all day trip to Eastern Egg Rock. Common tern chicks hatching, Atlantic puffins feeding, and painting the five research interns’ shelter on the island while being dive bombed by a tern parent are memories I will never forget.  

12:00 p.m. Lunch  

Off to a bird banding workshop, or an intro to recording bird song, or drawing with the resident artist.

6:00 p.m. A delicious dinner.

7:30 p.m. Nightly presentation by someone highly regarded in his or her field; tonight it was Stephen Kress, author of Project Puffin and director of the Sea Bird Restoration Program that brought puffins back to Eastern Egg Rock.   

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Then teen campers known as the Corvids met to discuss the day, do activities, and enjoy bonding time.

Bed? Not quite.

Owling with Josh Potter (teen camp leader), moon and star gazing, and then journaling time.

10:30 p.m. Heather (teen camp leader) singing and playing her guitar as the campers fell asleep, to do it all again tomorrow. Paradise!    

Hog Island, Maine is an incredible place with remarkable people. The National Audubon Society camp I attended, Coastal Marine Bird Studies for Teens, would be an excellent camp for teens with a strong interest in birds, hands-on learning and a love of nature. Hog Island hosts camps for those interested in other aspects of birds, including drawing and photography or a wish to learn more about nature. Explore the Hog Island website (http://hogisland.audubon.org) to find out more.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

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Author Fianna Wilde is a senior at Oak Meadow High School. “Since I can remember, I have loved all aspects of nature. My sister Blythe, also a senior at Oak Meadow, and I used to have lunch with all of the bugs we found around our yard. Two years ago my family moved to Morro Bay, California, and that is where my love of birds took flight. From then on, birding evolved from a pastime to a passion. “

Note to Former Self: What I wish I’d known before our two decades of homeschooling

by June M. Schulte

When we began homeschooling in 1982, our eldest was just over seven years old, the legal age for school in Vermont. Although we were doing a lot with our children – reading aloud, making crafts, singing, dancing and so on – we weren’t quite sure which things might count as education and what was needed that we didn’t even know about. The day we received word from the State that we were okay to homeschool, our five children were ages 7¼, 5¾, 4, 2, and 10 days old. John Holt spoke to homeschoolers nearby that week, and we were encouraged by his words about the natural way children learn by doing.

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We had searched for a good curriculum to use, and felt the one which best matched our view was offered by Oak Meadow School. Based on exchanges with cofounders Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, our eldest was placed in second grade and our daughter in first. We also bought the kindergarten curriculum to guide the younger children and, in truth, to reassure us in case our eldest had missed something important. We felt ready and excited.

Execution of the curriculum was another story altogether. Our fifth child was a newborn and a robust 10lb-er; however, he also startled very easily and had rapid respirations for his first two weeks. In years to come, we would discover he had attention inconsistencies, but in those first months of homeschooling, it translated into needing to keep the household relatively quiet (in Winter) so the baby wasn’t over-stimulated. Also, as a nursing mother, I had a series of breast infections not easily quelled with antibiotics, as we eventually discovered there were two germs involved, not one. It was a challenge!

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

By the time we were sending our first quarter report and samples to Oak Meadow, I was quite concerned, as it seemed to me we had failed miserably. I felt that the most academic thing we had done all season was make a leaf mobile!  We had also written a poem about the season, read aloud, sung songs (things that can be done with a babe in arms), and played a lot. But there were few lessons of any kind. At least I had kept a journal of what learning I noticed, and sent it along. I braced myself for the response from Oak Meadow.

What came was a beautifully encouraging letter from Bonnie Williams herself, highlighting the many learning opportunities she found evident in my journal. Being a mother of four, she had read between the lines. She noted that my older children had learned that babies come first, to make their own sandwiches, and to help one another. She assured me that there would yet be plenty of time to accomplish the paperwork in the curriculum and recommended we simply stay with it.

We did, and I am so grateful for that. Bonnie was right. By the end of the year, we had completed the lessons in the curriculum, and our State Certified Teacher (who later opened a Waldorf school) confirmed it, giving me the greatest sense of accomplishment and peace!

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Our children are now ages 41½ , 40, 38, 36, and 34. They all made the Dean’s List their first semester of college, graduated, and have been gainfully employed since. They are not social misfits. In fact, our eldest is a company manager, 5th-degree black belt and international TaekwonDo referee, dad, and co-owner of a horse farm with his spouse. Our daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and is a partner in a worldwide firm, a mom, and owner of a large house in Maine. Our third child has a Ph.D. and is a wildlife biologist who headed up shorebird recovery in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill; he is a dad, town selectman, marathon runner, and 3rd-degree black belt who teaches TaekwonDo. Our fourth child has a degree in Computer Science, works in customer support, and founded a non-profit focused on sustainability that grows food for food shelves. Our youngest has a degree in Networking and Website Development and makes websites for a good living; he is a dad, records local bands to get their music out to the public, and owns a house with his spouse.

Moreover, they are happy. They care about the world, the nation, and their local communities. They play with their children and are good friends. The many fears we had in those early days (and along the way) have been allayed. Our six grandchildren, currently age 10 years to 10 months, are intelligent, funny, sweet people.

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

I wish I could have known at the outset how it would be now. But, really, we just had to take it one day (sometimes one hour!) at a time. I’d say keeping a journal was the most important work I contributed, because it not only recorded the moments for which there was no paperwork, but it helped me notice and appreciate their slow and wonderful flourishing. On the tough days (and there were many), it was sanity-producing to read back over the last month’s journal and know for sure that we were making progress. It was what I drew from to create our end of year reports.

Note to former self:  If a child is loved deeply, is given good resources, great art materials, lots of trips to libraries, field trips when possible, hands-on exploration, and heaps of fun, they cannot help but thrive. The curriculum itself is secondary. There is no way we can give a child all the knowledge they will need in life. So we need to teach them, largely by example and conversation, to mull and articulate, to explore, discover, invent, and create; give them the tools for doing their own research, creating their own art, writing their stories, and living as caring citizens. Give your heart to it and don’t second-guess yourself too much. If something isn’t right, trust that you’ll recognise that. Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to other homeschoolers who share your philosophy. Have a small group of homeschoolers you can get together with or at least some homeschooling pen pals (for you as well as the children). You are all going to be just fine.

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)


June Schulte completed her college degree as an off-campus student while homeschooling her children. She applied for and was granted the maximum three semesters of Life Learning credits from Goddard College (known for its progressive approach), earning a B.A. in Home Education and Religious Studies. She then completed a three year Diocesan Study Program as well as some seminary studies. A lifelong contemplative, June also completed the two year Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program, and for 20 years has been meeting with people who are seeking spiritual guidance. Guidance seems to be most of what homeschooling was about for June, and she feels that her children taught her more than she taught them. June and her husband, Bill, have been married 42 years so far, and are the delighted Grammie and Grandad of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As the Irish saying goes, “Children are the Rainbow of Life; Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold!”

My Journey with Oak Meadow

by Lucy Enge, Oak Meadow high school student

Photo Credit: Chris Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Chris Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

My journey with Oak Meadow began in the fall when I was almost six. My parents had decided to homeschool me (for kindergarten) using Oak Meadow’s curriculum; they liked the Waldorf influence. And we continued our journey with OM homeschooling through the eighth grade! It has been ten years now, I am almost sixteen, and I am about to start my second year enrolled in Oak Meadow’s high school program as a tenth grader.

During my eighth grade year, when my parents and I were deciding about what to do for high school, we knew that I (and my mom, too) loved homeschooling. However, as my mom had worked in college admission for years, she thought it was important for me to look at and consider all of my options before deciding what to do for high school, in hopes that I would avoid second guessing my choice later.

Photo Credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Ruby Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

So, we created a list of the possibilities: homeschooling (using OM independently), enrollment in OM’s distance learning school, two magnet schools, a parochial high school, and two nationally acclaimed private schools. My mom wanted me to see it all! Then, we explored each option/school further. We researched online, attended some open houses, took tours, and participated in shadow days.

Separately, my mom, my dad, and I created a list of pros and cons for each option/school. My parents did not share their lists with me as we looked so that my final decision was truly mine. But, they certainly did listen to all I said about each option as I sorted things out in my mind! Finally, after hours and hours of “work,” I narrowed it down to three: homeschooling, enrolling in OM, and the parochial high school. After another shadow day, I eliminated the parochial high school.

Photo Credit: Lucy Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Lucy Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We discussed continuing to homeschool as we had since kindergarten, but, after a lot of talking together, we decided that enrolling in Oak Meadow would be the best for me and my high school journey. It would require me to be accountable to other teachers (outside of my mom), provide me with a rigorous curriculum and an accredited transcript, and also give me a flexible schedule and the freedom that homeschooling had allowed me in the past – the perfect bridge (for me) between homeschooling grade school and attending college.

And so I enrolled! Starting with our first conversation with Rachel, my education counselor, we were warmly welcomed to Oak Meadow and well guided in what courses to enroll in. For my ninth grade year, I took Algebra I, Environmental Science, French I, Introduction to Literature and Composition, and World Geography. Once I began my courses, I felt myself being positively challenged, enjoying everything (well, except, rewriting an essay, but from that, I know I became a better writer), and truly flourishing!

Photo Credit: Julia West (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Julia West
(Oak Meadow Archives)

My teachers, Antony, Jacquelyn, Julia, Lydia, and Marnie (I love you all!), are amazing and are everything I (and my parents!) wished for and more. They have pushed, encouraged, and inspired me. Whenever I have a question, they are happy to answer and do so timely, and their comments on my lessons are constructive and helpful.

With their assistance, I have also created projects for myself that let me explore a particular topic that relates to the material that I am studying: I have written poetry; painted watercolors; read books; cooked meals from Peruvian cuisine, to a Jewish Shabbat dinner, to vegetarian sushi; made a Malaysian kite; studied children’s literature; and watched many documentaries. Truly, I could not have imagined a better first year of high school!

Photo Credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Ruby Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When I look back at myself a year ago (before ninth grade) and at my early ninth grade work, I see that I have come a long way. I am more confident and poised, I know myself (my values and my beliefs) more clearly, I am a much stronger writer, and I have gained a lot of new knowledge. Oak Meadow is not for everyone – it is hard, in a good way, and you have to want to learn and be an active part of your education! – but it certainly has been right for me. I love Oak Meadow and could not be happier with my high school choice! 

____________________________

Lucy Enge lives in a small Connecticut river town with her family. Her interests include (in no particular order) reading; classical music; baking/cooking; old television shows; poetry; walking/hiking/biking; sewing/knitting; watercolor painting; (almost) all things Peruvian, British, and French; and traveling. She also enjoys living simply; eating local, organic food; and going to charity shops and estate sales.

A World of Thanks: The Gift of Homeschooling

by Morgan Wiebke, homeschooling parent

I’ve been a parent for almost ten years now and a homeschool mom for going on three. If you had asked me four years ago whether I would ever homeschool my children, I probably would have laughed out loud. I mean, only weird people homeschool, right? The people who can’t function in society, or are bullied and are not safe in a traditional setting, or [insert any number of scenarios that would never apply to MY family].

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

It wasn’t until my oldest son was actually in public school that we started to doubt the system. He is a smart kid, a really smart kid, who also happens to deal with Sensory Processing Disorder. We didn’t really think that mattered too much, as he’s been in therapy his whole life and was thriving in school. Until he wasn’t anymore.

He developed anxiety and was increasingly overwhelmed with the simplest of tasks. He was quick to tears and always tired. His school work was still perfect, though; he was at the top of his class, so it wasn’t a surprise at all when his teacher told us he had tested 3-5 grade levels ahead of his peers. We were thrilled! What parent wouldn’t be?

But then we realized, if he’s already so far ahead, what exactly will he be doing in school this year? His teacher said there wasn’t really anything she could do with him; he’d just be filling a seat. We approached his teachers and the administration about ways we could work together to help him grow and thrive, but we were unequivocally shut down. He no longer fit into the neat little boxes that they require kids to fit into, and not a single person within the school system was willing to help my son.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When my husband and I sat down and really thought about that, along with our son’s newly developed anxiety and personality changes, we decided to take matters into our own hands. Several friends of ours were homeschooling, and we loved their kids. We spent months researching what this change would mean for our family.

I was terrified, as the only homeschooling families we knew were religious, and we are very much not a religious family. Were we going to have to compromise our ideals in order to do this? Was I going to have to spend money on curriculum that I’d have to edit out most of the things we didn’t believe? I was increasingly overwhelmed and wondered if we’d made a mistake.

Because I had researched the importance of “deschooling,” I knew I had some time to decide. We had two full months of letting our son explore things he was interested in and spending time as a family reconnecting. Time was running out, though, so I sat down and scoured numerous homeschool pages on Facebook and stumbled across Oak Meadow. I immediately went to the website, where the word “secular” jumped out at me. Hey, we’re on to something here…

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

I kept reading, and it felt like a light went on over my head. Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy felt just right. It was nature based, with a relaxed approach to academics in the early years, a strong focus on emotional growth as well as academic, hands-on learning, and plenty of arts and crafts. This was literally everything I had been looking for, and here it was, all packaged up in a complete open-and-go syllabus.

I requested a copy of the curriculum guide immediately. The day it arrived, I handed it directly to my husband and told him our search was over. He agreed to give it a try, and I ordered the second grade curriculum the same day. We couldn’t wait to get started. I registered my new homeschool with the state; we lived in South Carolina at the time, so I followed protocol to keep things legal.

Our first day was spectacular. My son fell in love with the animal stories. He was excited about creating his Main Lesson Book and worked diligently without complaint. We began to see changes in him, changes we had been waiting his whole life to see.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Our little boy who was born afraid of textures and getting dirty was outside digging in the woods, bringing us the worms he’d found and the caterpillars he spotted climbing the trees. He woke up well rested every morning – when his body was ready to wake up and not when an alarm clock told him it was time. He spent endless hours outside, exploring, and taking notes in the nature journal he asked me to make for him. The anxiety disappeared, his confidence soared, and for the first time ever, I felt like he would have the opportunity to grow into the well-rounded and happy boy he was born to be.

When we saw how incredible Oak Meadow was and how life changing this curriculum could be, we knew immediately that his younger brother would love it just as much. We had already decided to “hold him back” a year because he has a late summer birthday. We finished kindergarten this past spring, and it was one of the most magical years we’ve ever had. He was six when we started, and even though he “knew” just about everything that was covered, we had seen the possibilities for growth beyond what can be measured with lists and bullet points.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

And we were right. He was enthusiastic about his lessons every single day and eager for what came next. We scoured nature for letters and shapes, had scavenger hunts, and painted in the creek. We read stories in the shade of the trees outside, then relaxed in the grass and spied the clouds for anything recognizable. Our year was inspiring, building confidence in a way nothing else had up to that point, and a deep love for learning was instilled.

Our family has grown closer since we decided to homeschool, and we have numerous plans this year to connect with the lessons like never before. We plan to travel out west as we study westward expansion and have half a dozen trips to landmarks throughout our state planned for our state project.

We’re gearing up to start first and fourth grades in a couple weeks, and this begins our third year with Oak Meadow. We couldn’t be happier! We are thankful every single day that a curriculum as inspiring and wonderful as this one exists and that we are fortunate enough to make it happen.

We are extremely excited to see what this year holds and can’t wait to share our journey with other Oak Meadow families along the way!

____________________________

Morgan Wiebke is a mom to three homeschoolers, ages 9, 7, and 3. Morgan says, “We LOVE to travel (that was very high on our list of benefits to homeschooling). I’m very crafty and enjoy all things related to creating something from nothing. I sew, embroider, draw, paint, DIY house projects and pretty much anything else you can think of. We recently relocated from the Carolinas to Delaware and are very excited to explore and learn about a new part of the country.”