Once children reach pre-teen age, their need to be separate from parents intensifies dramatically. They begin to develop their own identity more fully. They can be very susceptible to peer pressure and may mold their behavior around whatever standards make them acceptable to their classmates. This is manifested even at elementary school age.
For families that home educate, this presents a challenge. Many parents have concerns about the negative influences that exist in a middle or high school environment, but aren’t left with many other choices. Kids can do activities outside the home, like lessons or sports, or independent study online, but often this isn’t enough to fill their personal needs.
I want to tell you about a new kind of school that fulfills many of the needs our children have at this time of their lives in a highly positive way. It’s called a New Commonwealth School.
Some years ago a mom noticed that her teen had needs that weren’t being satisfied by their homeschool. She wanted her teen to interact with other teens who could provide friendship, commonality and positive peer pressure in a wholesome, uplifting atmosphere.
She got together with some other parents who shared similar values and goals. They organized classes, hired teachers and established a weekly day of school for the kids, who then studied on their own the rest of the week. They were able to tailor the classes to the interests of the families involved and it was a success.
After a few years of directing this program, the mom just couldn’t do it any longer. She got the parents together and told them she needed to quit. She expected the group to discontinue, but the other parents were so happy with how things had gone, they insisted on finding a way to keep it going.
They elected a new director and several parents volunteered to be on a board of decision makers. They established bylaws and structure that could continue year after year, thereby creating a pattern that could be duplicated.
The mom that directed the school found another mom that had done the same thing in her community. These two got together and wrote about the experience and shared instructions on how to do the same thing in any community. Together, Aneladee J. Milne and Tiffany Rhoades Earl published their story in The New Commonwealth School.
My own son attended a local commonwealth school last year and loved it. He took Shakespeare and a class called “Key of Liberty” which was developed by the authors of the above book and is based on American History.
This year my son is taking an upper level Shakespeare class and the next class after “Key,” called “Sword of Freedom” which is based on Civil War history. My daughter will also be old enough to attend, and is taking Shakespeare I and “Key.” They will both also take a ballroom dance class. I am serving on the board as the parent-to-teacher representative.
The curriculum that has been developed by Milne and Earl are designed to teach and inspire youth to:
- Study for extended periods of time out of personal choice
- Start doing the “hard things”
- Learn time management
- Discover more about who they are
- Understand their duty as a citizen
- Write independently and with insight
- Think deeper, study things that may not interest them at first
Milne and Earl have also founded a support organization called the Leadership Education Mentoring Institute, which offers training and continued help for parents and others who plan to teach in a commonwealth school, or just want to be better mentors to their children. Their trainings are 1-3 days long, and webinars are also offered occasionally. I participated in a webinar last year and it helped me understand how to be a better parent-mentor to my kids.
We don’t need to force our children into a compulsory education system, just because we feel there are no other acceptable options. There are alternatives. A Commonwealth school is one of these.
Our children are our future. If we don’t help them learn powerful skills and values relating to their education, what kind of future will we have?
Let’s seek out the best opportunities for them, fulfill their needs in a positive way and enjoy more freedom in the process.
*Updates: 9/10/10-Also check out this blog post on How, Where and Why I Recommend Online Learning… by Rachel DeMille.
9/21/10-Just to let you know how motivated Raquel (she’s 11 1/2) was during her first week of Commonwealth, here is a list of the Shakespeare plays she listened to AND read within that time:
- The Tempest
- The Comedy of Errors
- Twelfth Night
- Merchant of Venice
- Much Ado About Nothing
- The Winter’s Tale
- As You Like It
She’s seen most of these plays performed over the last few years here at the Shakespearean Festival, which I’m sure helps her comprehension and attention span. There are some good movie versions of these plays as well. My son, Nathan did the same thing last year over his semester of Shakespeare.
Kids can love learning the classics!