Friday, January 7, 2011

This is Migillicutty's Mom. I've hijacked her post to answer a question someone asked about her education. At first I was just going to answer her directly, but I thought if I did it here we would have a more permanent record, and the person who asked could ignore it if it was more information than she really wanted and she could get a glimpse in to who Migillicutty is. So with all of those good reasons, here is.....

The Story of Migillicutty's Education 3-9th grade.

I really do believe that every child is different and so is every parent and every family, so there's not a formula for how to educate children. I'm going to share what we've done with Migillicutty and why. I think there are some good lessons to be learned. But I'm not saying that this is the way anyone else should do it.

Migillicutty first home schooled in 3rd grade. She had spent the entire summer between 2nd & 3rd grade reading every book the Clark County library system had on Greek Mythology and at one point she told me that she couldn't wait until she was old enough to learn Greek so she could read the Odyssey in it's original. I noticed that when she went back to school it kind of seemed to be getting in the way of her learning. At home she was constantly asking questions and reading everything she could get her hands on, but when she had to be at school all day and then do homework at night there was a lot less time for all of that.

We were moving at the end of October and she wasn't really excited about being "the new kid" so we decided it would be a good opportunity to try home schooling. I bought a Calvert 3rd grade curriculum and we followed it, some, but not super faithfully....

....pause for funny story that sums up Migillicutty very well. The first day we opened the science book to the first page which talked about Robert Ballard and some of the work he had done on Mars exploration. Migillicutty said "oh wow, Robert Ballard! He discovered the Titanic!"

"Oh, I didn't know that, " I responded.

"And you know what's cool?" she went on, "the ship he was on when he found it was called The Argo."

"Huh?.....Why is that cool?"

"You know? Jason and the Argonauts?"

No, I didn't know. She's been the one to answer the younger boys questions about science, weather etc. since she was 7 or 8. And so it was hard to feel super motivated about teaching a child who clearly was doing a fine job of educating herself.

We joined some home school groups that did field trips and park days and there was a girls book club that studied the American Girls books and of course there was church and activity days. And in Nevada you can participate in up to three hours of classes at your local public school even when you're home schooled, so she went to the gifted education class twice a week at school. She was definitely not socially isolated. (Home school parents are always defensive about the socialization criticism since the home school opponents beat that drum so loud.)

The next year we enrolled her in a charter school where she did all her work at home (mostly on the computer) and she had a teacher come once a week to our house to make assignments. This was nice because it gave a little more accountability and relieved some of the guilt I felt when we didn't do everything we were "supposed" to do the year before. And she was able to work at her own pace so she finished up 4rth grade at the end of March. I was hoping that the teacher would let her study what she wanted for the rest of the year. I thought they could come up with ideas for assignments together and then the teacher could just check on them the next week and help her come up with a new one. But she said if she stayed enrolled she would have to move on to the next grade and keep to the traditional curriculum. So we just pulled her out of school all together and let her do her own thing for the rest of the year.

My sister in law who has had kids home school and private school and charter school etc told me once in July that she had no idea what her kids were going to do for school the next year. She said "I haven't asked yet." She said she wasn't ready for the answer yet and so she hadn't prayed yet. In August she prayed and it turned out she found a great charter school that she wouldn't have been able to get any info about in July. I've sort of used that as a model for how I've decided about my kids education. Each year in the summer I pray about what they are going to do for the next year.

And the summer before fifth grade I prayed about it and felt like it was time for Migillicutty to go back to public school for a year. Fifth grade is the last year of elementary in Las Vegas and I am not a fan of public middle school. So I felt like it was the kind of the last chance for her to have good elementary school experiences for a while. It was OK. She didn't learn much academically, but it was good to be reminded what it's like to be in a classroom setting and fulfill assignments on time and have homework, etc.

At the end of the year I asked her teacher if she thought there was any point in Migillicutty going to 6th grade, academically speaking. "Oh no, she's not going to learn anything she doesn't already know." But for some reason, I can't honestly remember why, we didn't want to home school and I certainly didn't want to drop her right into the middle of middle school by skipping her to 7th grade public school, so instead we sent her to a small LDS private school.

There were some really good teachers there that she enjoyed and others that were not so good. She made a couple of really good friends, was mostly ignored by the cool kids and cried when the kids all picked on one boy who was mildly retarded. It wasn't a completely typical middle school experience, but at least she got the hang of changing classes and opening a locker and got some exposure to what kids that age are like-without over exposure. And one year was enough.

The next year she took a sabbatical. She was academically ready for High School but we definitely didn't want her to be any further ahead so she spent the year studying the Irish Potato Famine, how to remove cyanide from peach seeds to make almond extract, learning Greek online, etc.... and studied on her own. I was determined at the beginning to make her do certain things, but without any accountability at all I didn't stick to it very well. We bought a Saxon Math Algebra curriculum and she worked on that. She also took piano and cello lessons, she went to school for choir and orchestra and she was in another choir outside of school. And she studied and made power points and wrote a blog and a very short historical fiction novel just for fun.

And socially she really blossomed. One of the nice things about home schooling for Migiligutty was that she could be as nerdy and intellectual as she wanted at home and then when she was at church or choir or sports she could fit in the the other kids. They know she's smart, but they don't really see it the way they do when she's in class with them, so they can accept her as a normal kid instead of an egg-head.

This year she is in a magnet school for the performing arts and it's the first time she's really loved school. She's in all honors classes and every kid at the school had to audition to get in, so finally she's with other kids that are more like her. She's not sitting in class listening to behavior lectures she's actually learning. And as I said she's at the top of all her classes.

So I'm really happy with the way things have worked out. And I think the key was making that personal evaluation every year of what her greatest needs were. If she had never been to "real" school at all I know I couldn't have provided the structure she needed to be able to transition back into public school this year. Some people could, but I couldn't. However if she had gone to school entirely and never had any "at home" years, she might possibly have lost all of her love for learning. Or maybe not, but she certainly wouldn't have had as much time to pursue it.

And of course, once again, on the social issue, not all socialization is good socialization. In fact a very large part of it-especially in middle school-is negative. Kids learn to adjust and cope, but not always in positive ways. Some kids do just fine, but a lot could probably benefit from a year or two out of school so they can realize that social scene is not really what life is all about.


  1. Good post! There's a performing arts school like that near me, in california. i wanted to go there but I don't do many performing arts. :{

  2. Further documentation of Migillicutty's awesomeness. :)

  3. hi! Interesting post - my kids are in their...6th? 7th? year homeschooling. Glad you guys saw and found real choices to fit M's needs.


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