Sunday, November 20, 2011

A More Personal Post: Considering Our Options

This is not about math. It's about finding a good experience for my son.

My son is 9. He was at a freeschool for Kindergarten through 2nd grade, where he got to play all day with lots of friends, and zoom around on bikes and scooter, and it was mostly good. When the school closed in 2010, one parent opened a mini-school in her home. That was a good experience too. She was hoping to expand, but that didn’t work out. There was a different teacher involved this school year, and the location has changed a bunch. They have just now decided that it’s not sustainable (there were only two students for most of the fall), and will end in December. So I am looking for a good situation for my son. I see 3 options:

1. Start a mini-school in my home, contract with a marvelous teacher / mentor, and find other students to join my son. I like the idea of schools as community centers, which I wrote about here. (Pros: I get to find just the right person, and if it works out really well, I can encourage other working parents to try it; cons: this will take lots of time.)

2. Send him to a school with a good philosophy: Diablo Valley School (pros: kids make the decisions, $760 a month is affordable; cons: far away, not much outside play space) or Crestmont (pros: close, almost affordable; cons: so different from what he’s used to; unknowns: how much choice do the kids have, how much playtime, what is their day like? And there may not be any openings...).

3. Find an unschooling family who’d be interested in having him join them 3 days a week (TWTh).  I’m not sure what the pros and cons are, but I am excited by this possibility.  If a family you know (close to Richmond, California) would enjoy having another kid around, we’d like to talk with you.

If you can see any other options, I’d love to hear them. (Public school is not an option on my list, because academics are pushed too early to be developmentally appropriate, there's way too much testing, etc.  I know of one public school I think would be good for my son, but it's in Minnesota. I can’t afford most private schools. I am a single parent, and I love my work, so staying home is not an option for me.)

My son is very smart, but is 'behind' academically because he's never done conventional school. He loves biking, trampoline, cars, taking photos and videos, and being silly. I sometimes imagine him becoming an engineer or inventor, but there are so many possible paths, I mostly want him to fill his days with adventures, learning what he's moved to learn.

Got any ideas for us?


  1. I totally understand where you're coming from. My sense of geography is abysmal, so I have no idea if this is anywhere near you, but have you heard of ??? Sounds right up your son's alley, so to speak. Good luck, may the force be with you, etc.!

  2. I hadn't heard of Brightworks, but I sure have heard of Gever Tulley. It sounds fabulous...

    And if my son were ready to ride BART on his own, it would be plenty close enough. But the tuition ("Tuition for the 2011/2012 school year is $19,800") is way outside my reach. I'm paying $800 a month right now, and am willing to pay up to $1000, but I might have to borrow some for that. I'd rather be paying about $700.

    I make enough that I usually don't qualify for financial assistance. When I applied to private schools when my son was headed to Kindergarten, they wanted me to borrow against my house. I said my house was part of my retirement plan, and I wasn't willing to do it. Of course, now my house is worth less than I owe anyway...

    Thanks for the lead, though. If I do try to start a school here, maybe I can use them as a model.

  3. They seem to be documenting everything they do on their website, so it wouldn't be too hard to recreate the parts that work for you. That's a LOT of money. Geez. Anyhow, glad it was of some use to your problem solving process. :)

  4. Yeah, I just looked through their blog, too. All that money buys lots of resources, doesn't it?

    It looks like the perfect environment for my son. So it gives me a great place to point to, if I want to find a teacher to work here.

  5. Would it be possible to hire a babysitter for TWTH, who could take him to activities during those days, then you could do the rest of the unschooling (not that it's ever "finished") on the other days? That's kind of what we do, except in our case the "babysitters" are the kids' father and grandmother (my fiance and I are full-time students, so our away-from-home schedule is similar to yours. We have homeschooling friends who do hire their care, to great effect. Their sitter takes the kids to dance, martial arts, science classes, and park days, and is very much on board with the family's style of unschooling. It seems like that kind of arrangement could be competitively priced compared to your other options, while allowing for maximum freedom of choice for you and your son.

  6. Yep, if I can find someone good who wants to work 21 hours for $800, then that works. On our local unschooler list, I posed the 3rd option as possibly being a teen watching him.

  7. Hey Laura, I see you're in California. Where are you?

  8. Homeschooling is a real option. Learning doesn't have to happen during certain hours. You just need to find safe and comfortable place for him while you work.

    There are many options.
    When I was finishing university I hired another student to care for my oldest (18 mo. when I graduated) on campus while I went to class, that worked out well most of the time. I've known other families that traded child care. And you can hire a lot of child care w/ $800/week. (at least here in CO)

    The danger is that you will fall in love with the collaborative learning and homeschooling life style. Then you will never quite fit into the straight world again.

  9. Thanks for your comment, April. I think I'm leaning toward that. My son, though, doesn't like doing new things, so it'll take someone special to get him out doing all those activities.

    I can spend $800 a month, not a week. And the people I see offering childcare mostly want more than that.

    I never have fit into the straight world, actually. :^)

  10. It's very easy to find people here at $10-20 hour to do stuff with kids part time - students, spouses of students who can't legally work, grandparents who want to have fun with kids, etc. Some homeschoolers keep an extra kid with the family, for free or for a fee, too. We had good luck with people who did not speak English (for language learning).

  11. We're in Dublin, and we attended your salon on Valentine's Day this year, actually. :)

    My friend who hires care part-time has a sitter who's also a student, and finding a student might work especially well for you, given your field. Students generally work for minimum wage, which is currently $8/hr, so if you were to pay $8/hr three days/week, four weeks/month it would come in just under your budget of $800/month, and would be a nicer working environment for the the student than a retail job.

  12. Hey Laura, I figured that out right after I posted my comment. I'm now subscribed to your blog. :^)

  13. My son will be staying with the family of the boy I've been tutoring in math (see my posts on tutoring 'Artemis'). Artemis' mom, Melanie, has been having a bunch of kids over from 10-1 on T-Th to do projects. She's expanding her hours to accommodate us. I think my son will be very happy there.

  14. Hi Sue,

    I haven't read through all the comments, so sorry if this is a repeat suggestion - try looking at AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) as a place to find out about educational alternatives:

    -- Dan

  15. Hi Dan, thanks for the thought. We're settled for now, but if we're in this situation again later, I will check out AERO as a possible resource.


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