Adventure into the unfamiliar to learn about people, places and above all, ourselves.
How it all started
The Home School began because Thomas and I, in the course of designing our future plans have determined we want to guide the opportunities for learning for our children – deeply. There are various reasons for this. Given my educational background I have strong preferences for the kind of learning environment they live in, first of all, but also we will be living part time in Costa Rica where we have a home. The Spanish-language immersion and social experience with other families there will be a powerful experience in their lives – and in ours. As the parental units, we discovered that growing our own minds and stretching us to see and learn is the only way we can offer the same to our kids.
Planting roots in a few different places (U.S. and Costa Rica) naturally lends toward an evaluation of the pros and cons. My gnawing question has been: how do I create a coherent, cohesive educational experience for the kids that inspires and challenges us and also is a contribution to those around us? I want them to be able to enjoy the stimulation of being part of unfamiliar cultures and environments, be able to sustain long-term friendships and take part in things that require presence & time (such as a sports team or a play), and provide value and service to those with whom we live.
As I’ve embarked on the thought experiment of home-schooling the kids, I’ve done some research. I’ve discovered that – especially in a post-pandemic world – many families seek outdoor, experiential education – not unlike what VVS offers. But until kids can go to such a place, perhaps I can connect with like-minded families? Maybe our home in Pavones (on the ocean by the border to Panama) can be a place for folks to come together explore how to Home School?
The Home School
This is a version of an un-school designed and created by us as parents of our children. Each home is as distinct from one to the next as are the Schools each family creates for themselves. What we have in common is sloughing off the old ways of education and creating with our children a profound, beneficial path of lifelong learning and personal growth.
The Home School is based on the following premises:
- The Home School parents and guardians consciously evolve their ideas and habits together with their child. The young learner (student) from her earliest days into adulthood bases her whole life’s learning in her roots at home, with her family. She learns values, habits, assumptions, attitudes and beliefs about herself and the world around her from those who raise her. Her growth into a wise, happy, intelligent, proficient, engaged, curious and kind learner relies on her parents or guardians cultivating these in themselves first. Her ideal development occurs only to the extent her caretakers cultivate their own journey of learning as teachers, guides and people. Caretakers embrace change to their old habits and attitudes in order to expand their world view and develop themselves to reflect the values they wish their child to adopt.
- The Home School family seeks and provides diverse experiences in which the child can explore. build and connect. The child is a competent, whole person from day one who can and does record, track and later, understand all of what is presented, displayed or discussed around her. From a young age, she naturally is drawn to and connects with people and languages. Her capacity to share, connect, learn, contribute and create is limited only by the assumptions and experiences provided by those who care for her. She will find her “spark” of interest in many things you may be surprised by, and it is your job to continue to place before her those opportunities to go deep into her passion where she will best learn. For some it may be karate or dance, for some it is Legos and engineering inventions. Some might love role-playing and games such as drama, costumes and props. Set your imagination free and let go of assumptions in order to breathe life onto your child’s “spark” that it may catch and become a lifelong flame. Credit here to Reggio Emilia pedagogy and to Eleanor Duckworth’s Critical Exploration theory.
- There is no classroom as such, as the home and world become the playground for learning and growth. We use an iterative process of trial and error in all things at home and out in the field to cultivate mastery of skills. Leave behind the framework of 4 walls, teacher and a dismissal bell. In the Home School, the 4 walls are swapped for the parameters of a project, such as developing an organic food garden. Swap the syllabus for the phases of developing skill, such as a gardener who develops familiarity with all topics spanning her task such as plant biology, soil science, natural history, art and landscaping design, culture and gastronomy. Play and create a farm-to-table project to prepare and eat the food you grow, letting the project evolve into new areas of learning in the kitchen as well. Swap the teacher who demonstrates and gives answers for a guide who asks questions of the child, invites exploration and plays along side. The guide encourages experimentation and the power of designing and learning in the face of failure – and success. Swap the schedule for your quotidien life, finding opportunities to play in and reflect on our experiences such as around the dinner table, in the car and visiting with friends. The guide treats the child like project co-equal by respecting their ideas and contributions, and taking a backseat to give front stage to the child’s learning process. We theorize that this process repeated over years and spanning all manner of projects in settings at home and abroad will result in a creative, joyful and self-possessed person of skill and interest. Credit here to Tony Wagner’s work on mastery-based transcripts in schools focus on skills of thinking and innovation. He says, “Transforming the classroom experience at every level is essential to develop the capacities of young people to become innovators.”
- Travel and life abroad are essential to cultivating awareness and connection. We explore the globe and immerse ourselves in various environments and cultures with a focus on learning, connecting and contributing. The child learns only what they are exposed to, so we value living outside of one’s familiar surroundings as a useful tool in the Home School. Our ability to persist and connect across difference is a defining skill for a whole person, and foreign experiences (global is ideal but at least unfamiliar domestically). Indeed, “Home” becomes the turtle shell your family carries on its back as you live humbly in communities outside of your own. Steeping ourselves in the unfamiliar stretches caretaker and child alike as we hone non-/cognitive skills from linguistics to social-emotional to to global awareness. For many of us, the understanding of oppression and the dynamics of power, privilege and suffering are invisible to us and we don’t know where to begin. How do we understand ourselves or how to help others? The notion of “helping” in and of itself is seen as problematic, and becomes deconstructed as a mindset of “I have capacity and you do not.” We live in a foreign place to develop true relationships and find ways we can contribute. In the process we gain perspective on our native circumstances, culture and assumptions while also sensitizing our values to what others may experiences, be it racism, hunger, poverty, restricted access to education and especially the local natural world, beauty, art, dance, customs of kindness and and so on. We aim for allyship and advocacy in our lives on behalf of those who struggle, and learning how we ourselves can become friends on a mission for peace and justice.
The Home School is an idea, first (2021) and soon to be a process we McPhersons will undertake as our children enter school age. We already espouse these principles however we have not made a formal retreat from the education system to create a parallel track of our own. That begins in 2 years.
Depending on shared interest from friends and family we expect to host an in-person retreat program, or “Family Immersion” in 2023. Our concept is to provide space for families to join us in as a community in Costa Rica. We will explore ways to practice the above 4 tenets by engaging in local marine conservation, surfing and yoga, organic food harvesting & preparation, hiking and ecology and – all while being in the Spanish-speaking world. This training-and-playing style 6-week session is for kids and adults, but mostly for the family unit to field test out Home School.
Your comments and ideas are welcome. Please share!