“The world is our classroom” – That sounds really beautiful, but it provides no guidance when it comes to the practical aspects of ensuring your children become strong readers with the foundational math skills. Strong English and math skills will ensure that their future advanced literature, social science and math classes do not quash their ambitions to conquer the world.
There are many approaches to educating children, as so much is dependent on a family’s specific situation and context. That said, having spent the better part of the last 13 years moving about with at least one child in tow, I have figured out what does and does not work for us.
The corner stones of our family educational plan are (1) my fundamental belief that parents are the first and most important teachers and (2) consistency. While both of my children have been enrolled in both public and private schools, I have always maintained an at-home curriculum for both reading and math. Given how important these subjects are, I did not want to just hope that a teacher would cover specific material in a given year – I ensured it by teaching it myself. So in 2002 when we made our first big international move, we had a “process” to fall back on.
In 2002 I moved to Dakar, Senegal with my then 7-year old daughter. Senegal is a francophone (French-speaking) country and at the time my French was not fluent and my daughter’s was non-existent. We arrived in Dakar with a full year of homeschool curriculum in our bags and we started our work, as we settled into our new city. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that my daughter needed to have other children around to help her adapt to her new home.
We enrolled her in a local, private school in our neighborhood and basically dropped her into a sea of French and Wolof….. and she hated it. She hated not being able to communicate with anybody, including the teachers and she felt alienated…even after many weeks. My experiment with full immersion was looking like a complete failure….then we made a change.
I had begun to teach at the American School and around the corner from there was what ended up being the perfect solution, L’Ecole Bilingue, the bilingual school. May daughter started classes in which half the day was spent in English, the other was in French and she received intensive French instruction while the other kids were in gym class. The school also included a diverse population of locals and expats so she felt comfortable being able to communicate with the other kids, while at the same time quickly picking up French. After 8-months in Dakar, we returned back to the US and ten-years later, as a senior in high school, my daughter is still speaking French (and has now added Mandarin). For us, the bilingual school setting made settling in a new country, that much easier.
In 2010, we moved to southern India for two months, during which time I fell in love with our city, Pondicherry, and I seriously considered a longer term stay. My oldest child was now attending boarding school, so I was back to looking at 2nd grade (equivalent) classrooms again, for my youngest. Prior to getting to Pondicherry, I had contacted the French school (Lycee Francais) and did all the preliminary enrollment paperwork. I had picked this school because it was the only one that had an extensive website (that I could understand) and I knew that the teaching standards would be high.
We arrived during the summer season, so while the Lycee school year had not started yet, the local schools had…and of course, like any curious expat mommy, I set about checking them out. Some of the Catholic schools in town had strong reputations, but (1) the classes were very large (by US standards) and (2) they were not accepting new students.
We also checked out one of the Auroville community schools. The open design of the school grounds and the easy going staff that we met, made this the immediate favorite of my daughter. The buildings and the whole atmosphere was really “at one” with the beautiful natural environment that surrounded it. So I thought we were set…then we went to lunch in the main Auroville center and I met some of the other children and parents and one thing immediately came to mind – I had thought myself pretty liberal, but the hippie, do whatever you feel like (including not take a bath), unschooling way of raising children…definitely not my thing.
The final school we settled on was a really beautiful, private school that was in the midst of a school book fair when we walked onto campus. All the female teachers were dressed in same patterned saris and kids were running around the playground, laughing and smiling. The academic standards were high, each new applicant was required to take an entrance exam, and with a registration fee of about $1,000, the PTO was made up of the business and professional elite of Pondicherry.
That said, life as always intervenes and we came back to the US at the last-minute (literally bought the tickets 4 days before we left) so that I could begin to manage new business contracts I had just been awarded.
All of these experiences had a homeschool curriculum and lots of book reading happening simultaneously in the background, while we traveled, and I worked and raised my girls as a single parent. As in Robert Frost’s poem, I choose “the road less travelled”. It is sometimes not easy, and a lot of work, but the rewards for my children and myself are invaluable.
Again, there are many ways to go about educating children and I do not claim to judge for others, having a dual track academic process (regular school and homeschool) is just the process I have used and had success with.
Now as we look toward Ecuador, I am again considering the possibilities.