The Classroom Upstairs
Homeschooling successes and challenges
The Langdon girls work on projects in their attic school room.
Photos by Douglas Foulke
Despite its growing popularity there’s something about homeschooling that seems mysterious, even daunting, as we conjure up images of mothers and children sitting around the kitchen table, floating in a sea of books and paper. According to the National Center for Education statistics, approximately three percent of the school-age population was homeschooled in the 2011-12 school year.
As I sit down with two mothers with different approaches I quickly learn that this way of teaching is not just innovative, but clever, creative, and indeed social.
The Young family moved to Fairfield from Oregon a year ago where they had already begun homeschooling. “I was looking forward to continuing in Connecticut,” says Emilie Young. After some research, she found Classical Conversations, a traditional, Christian-based program that seemed to suit their needs.
Once a week the Youngs meet with other homeschooling families and a tutor where they are presented with a week’s worth of material on subjects ranging from Latin to geography and English to math, which is presented in a way that is engaging to children of all levels. “The lovely thing about homeschooling is that our day is very flexible. We look into what seems interesting to us and carry on our conversations over breakfast or lunch, or throughout the day.”
While there’s no typical school day, the children work on reading and math, and building their foundations. At the moment, they are memorizing times tables, which is done in song form so that the four-year-old can grasp it. With a two-year-old in the mix, much is dependent on the nap schedule. “We are often in the schoolroom when he is napping. I find that mornings are most productive while evenings, from 4 to 7, can get tricky. That’s when we focus on our reading and spelling—nothing too hard,” says Young.
“There are many misconceptions that you must have all these hours of school/desk time,” she adds. The field-trip element is fantastic and it’s a great get-together with other mothers and children on similar schedules.” Young feels her children do well without structure for now; this allows them to explore and to be creative.
The Pepperdine graduate chose to homeschool her children because she was homeschooled as a child but transitioned to public school in eighth grade. Since her own high-school years were so wonderful she hasn’t ruled out the notion of public school for her own children when they get older.
Young believes that learning should be fun and a lifelong pursuit. “I want to keep their curiosity alive.” She also believes that it is personally refining. “They are little fires. Sometimes I get singed. They test my patience and I hope this will help me be a better person, not that other things couldn’t, but this is the path we have chosen.”
The Langdon Family with their six children decided to try the homeschooling route when they couldn’t find a curriculum that met their needs. Of the six, the three older girls are homeschooled, the older son attends Fairfield Country Day School and the youngest two attend Hunt Ridge Montessori and will head to St. Thomas for a couple of years starting in first grade.
“I can’t imagine not homeschooling,” Lori Langdon says. “The first thing we did was hire a full-time teacher, then converted the attic to a classroom area where all of their schooling is done.” Since they started, the Langdon girls have participated in all sorts of events and impressive projects that have had them interacting with top university professors, and traveling around the country, including a trip to Washington, D.C., where they spent time with former Senator Bob Dole. “No matter how good a school is, you just can’t get those kinds of in-person experiences,” says Langdon.
Langdon believes that socializing with peers is important but worries that it can also be an enormous negative. “We socialize in managed and positive ways. The rest of the time is spent with tutors, participating in online classes, or interacting with adults who are willing to give so much of their time for them,” she says.
This year much of the Langdons’ learning happens through the Stanford Online High School. The oldest two take classes at Fairfield University. “People are starting to recognize that sitting in a classroom for nine months may not be the best answer for everyone,” says Langdon.