When we decided to move back to Denmark, we faced a small dilemma regarding timing. We briefly considered whether we should let the BBE finish out the school year in the U.S., but by that time I would be too pregnant to travel overseas. The thought of moving with a newborn sounded more daunting than moving while pregnant, which I’ve done a few times before, so we decided not to worry about finishing the school year in Virginia. But we also knew that it would probably be tricky to get the BBE into an international school with only a few months left in the year, as there tend to be a limited number of places. Knowing that I would be working from home as a part-time consultant, I suggested that this might present a unique opportunity to try our hand at “short-term home schooling”. It seemed like it could be a fun change of pace and a new experience for all of us…without actually committing us to full-fledged home schooling.
For background, I am not completely clueless what goes into bona fide home schooling. My mother home schooled two of my siblings for a year during elementary school, and my youngest sister did a sort of home schooling hybrid for the first part of high school. Moreover, I have an aunt who was a true pioneer in the field, having home schooled her 10 children — with extremely successful results — starting back in the early 1980s. When I worked as a radio journalist, I actually interviewed her for a story about home schooling. These days, my aunt’s oldest daughter is carrying on the tradition and home schooling her own three children in Washington, DC (follow her awesome home schooling adventures here), and I have a handful of friends who are also choosing to home school. I share all this only to say that I did go into this “short-term home schooling experiment” with at least a degree of knowledge about just what it entails. Still, I don’t think I adequately appreciated or admired the women who devote themselves to teaching their children. Here are six things I’ve learned over the course of 2.5 months home schooling the BBE and the MP:
1) I am not patient. Actually, I already knew that. But this has further confirmed it.
2) The hardest part about home schooling is keeping kids at different ages engaged and occupied. In my case, this mainly meant ensuring that the MP wasn’t constantly getting her way and watching mindless Netflix shows while the BBE eagerly discussed topics like WWII, the metric system and Viking history with me. I don’t know how a true home schooler would accomplish the feat of keeping all kids occupied at once, but this was a real challenge for me when we were home and trying to get through schoolwork.
3) Kids love to learn when they can help direct their own course of study. The BBE has been a good student for the past two years, and he thoroughly enjoyed his public school experience in Virginia. But I have absolutely seen him thrive in a situation where he has a huge amount of control over what he studies. It has been exciting to watch him learn about subjects with great enthusiasm, largely because they were topics that he specifically asked to learn about. Of course, the short-term nature of our home schooling means that I haven’t had to insist on learning about many of the things that I would be obligated to teach him if I was really home schooling him for the long-haul. But I can understand how home schooling can really bring out the love for learning in kids by giving them the option to focus on things that excite them. That is something you just can’t replicate in a regular classroom setting, by and large.
4) Kids love other kids. A lot. One major challenge throughout this home schooling period was the fact that we rarely had the chance to hang out with other kids during the day. Home schooling is probably even less common in Denmark than in the U.S. (just a guess, but I think probably an accurate one), so virtually every school age child in Copenhagen is still in school during the week. While I view this time with my little duo of pupils as exceptionally precious, I can also tell that there are days when they are both pretty sick of the limited company we’re keeping. The BBE, in particular, seems to literally crave interaction with other kids his age, and he is always desperate to extend play dates as long as humanly possible. The MP seems more able to survive solely on the company of her big brother, but that may also be due to the fact that he willingly takes her abuse and continues to love her unconditionally (and honestly, what friend or school mate would ever do that?). It’s been manageable in the short-term, but now I understand why “home schooling groups” are so vital. Kids need other kids to keep life interesting, it’s as simple as that.
5) Home schooling opens a world of possibilities for hands-on and first-hand learning. If I’m being honest, I have never come to love our morning school work sessions, where I try to be a bit more structured with the kids about what we are learning and accomplishing. I’m not sure I was able to establish much authority as the “teacher” (the words, “Would you behave this way with a real teacher?” might have crossed my lips a few dozen times), and I’m not sure I’m the world’s most fascinating…or, ahem, patient…teacher. But home schooling has allowed me to give my children a wealth of interesting experiences over the past several weeks that they could never have had sitting at a desk every day, and I have relished this opportunity. Fortunately, we live in a city that offers an unbelievable wealth of free or very inexpensive activities for children that also have huge educational value. We have used this time to tour the city’s museums, historical sites, libraries, parks and more. Home schoolers are so fortunate that they can build these types of activities into their weekly routine. I don’t know whether home schooling would be this interesting in all cities, but it certainly works well in a place like Copenhagen — perhaps the only place that can hold a candle to DC when it comes to amazing, free museums.
6) Home schooling is a major labor of love. I have had quite a few different jobs since I entered the workforce more than a decade ago. Some have been more demanding than others, some have been more rewarding than others. I don’t think any of them have been as tough as full-time home schooling would be. You can’t really call my experience of the last 2.5 months “real home schooling”, as I haven’t actually ever viewed myself as having the full responsibility for educating my children. After all, the BBE spent seven months of the 2014-2015 school year attending school from 9am to 4pm every day, and he’ll start up again at his new international school come August. So my responsibility has been very much an interim one, and I have also been fitting in home schooling around a consulting schedule that has averaged 15-20 hours per week but has sometimes reached up to more than 30 hours per week. A real home schooler, like the ones I mentioned above, don’t do anything half-way (like yours truly). Rather, they throw themselves into this incredibly important role and make it their life’s work. Their work requires long hours and loads of preparation, but they never see a paycheck and they don’t get health benefits, retirement accounts, donuts on National Employee Appreciation Day, etc. They do, however, get the satisfaction of playing a leading role in their child’s education and shaping their schooling experience.
I can definitively say that I am not cut out for full-time home schooling, and I’m not sure my kids would even want me as their full-time teacher. But I can say that I have loved and been grateful for the chance to test out the waters briefly. It has given me a greater appreciation for those people who do commit to home schooling, and it’s given me a unique opportunity to spend a huge amount of focused time with my two children. Now, I won’t go so far as to say that I’m not looking forward…just a teeny, tiny bit…to school starting up again in August. But I will always treasure this season as short-term home schoolers.
Photos above: 1) Children’s Museum, part of the Nationalmuseet or National Museum of Denmark – free admission 2) Post & Tele Museum – free admission 3) Orlogsmuseet or Royal Danish Naval Museum – free admission.
Orlogsmuseet or Royal Danish Naval Museum – free admission
Østerbro Bibliotek (Library)
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek – free admission on Tuesdays
Christiansborg, seat of the Danish Folketing (Parliament)
Lego room at Remisen indoor playground