Lessons Learned Through Family Gaming: A Year-end Report

Lessons Learned Through Family Gaming: A Year-end Report

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At the end of each school year, we ask the families to send us a summary of how their natural learning journey went. Families can summarize their year however they choose; some send it in the form of a letter/report, or spreadsheet-style with course names and grades, or a slideshow presentation with pictures. One of the greatest benefits of learning at home with family is the bond that comes with being a part of every step of the journey.

In this year-end report, Erika shared the details of how her children are engaged in every aspect of their learning. We love reading the parents’ perspective because it is such a gift for them to be able to witness their children blossom!

Greetings, we want to share with you our past year.  If this year had a theme, it would most likely be gaming in all forms. 

In any given week in 2019 Dean could have up to four opportunities to play Dungeons & Dragons:  the “Adventure League” at the local gaming store, the online program “Outschool”, an after-school-teen group, or running his own games in our dining room.  He studies each “Game Master” (GM) he plays with to learn their methods and style of storytelling and tests them out on his friends during his dining room sessions.  He definitely prefers playing in-person games over virtual games with a regular group of people.  The most sustained group is with the after-school-teen group that met at the local rec center, run by Roll Play Lead (RPL).  Jamie, the founder of RPL, sees the value in what role-play games like D&D can offer beyond just gaming for fun.  Understanding that more kids and teens these days live with anxiety or other forms of mental illness, she sees how well-suited role-play games can be used to help kids learn social skills, and the games can cater the story to meet the individual’s needs or challenges. 

Dean and Vivienne both enjoy playing video games and both have their motives for getting what they want out of the games.  Dean is very interested in the gameplay and strategy where Vivienne gets swept up in the story and creatures she is working with or battling against.  Vivienne has become a rolodex of information on Pokemon and can’t seem to get enough of the unusual creatures and abilities.  The stories presented during the gameplay offer a uniquely catered story for Vivienne which provides the desire and drive to improve her reading skills in order to follow along.  Vivienne is gaining a good sense of pre-planning and problem-solving skills in order to move forward in the story.  Whether she needs to have the correct Pokemon cued up ready to battle, or understand when it’s time to run from a fight, she is exercising her thinking ahead and planning for the future skills that are so important for daily life.  

Dean on the other hand is more interested in strategy, cause and effect, and manipulating situations to meet his needs.  Dean doesn’t have a favorite game, rather he relishes finding a new game, observing others playstyle to help create his own.  Dean also enjoys seeing new artistic styles each game developer puts into their content and has grown fond of the music each game or level in the game presents.  Online games offer many good things, such as strengthening your ability to work together and improve communication skills, but there are also some darker aspects that we find ourselves discussing with Dean.  Not all gamers are playing the game for the same reasons, and Dean finds himself interacting with some not so nice teammates that are more interested in trying to get under other player’s skin or are just downright rude.  Maturity also plays a big part in how Dean deals with these types of people.  Rather than going on the defensive or offensive, Dean uses the situation as a sort of social experiment and either attempts to “change” their outlook.  Despite other players’ mean or aggressive attitudes and playstyles, his findings have shown that when only responding to them positively, the rude player either leaves the game or ends up changing their tune.  

Since Dean was seven-years-old, we’ve gone through waves between obsession and dis-interest when it comes to Minecraft. Each Minecraft resurgence we try to find ways to play with friends without having to go through the trouble of starting our own server.  When COVID-19 struck, the kids missed their friends so we knew it was the right time to figure out how to host our own server.  We dove into the daunting process of getting a server up and running and named it CoronaCraft.  We learned there is a lot we don’t know but we got far enough to get a working server to host all the kid’s friends.  Besides giving the kids a virtual playground for the kids to stay connected, it has been an invaluable learning process for everyone in the family.  We play on the server along with the kids, Minecraft is one of the few video games that has captured our sustained interest; it’s great having a hobby the entire family participates in, especially during a lockdown! It proved to be a great distraction and escape from all the bad news outside the house. It took a while to master basic server hosting and we made mistakes along the way. The worst was a server crash or two, losing weeks of work, but we re-built and made it better the second time around, as well as how not to let it happen again.  We helped the kids navigate setting boundaries with friends and have witnessed the amazing teamwork and building skills of all the kids on the server.   

Dean has shown real maturity during this pandemic.  He has made a real effort to understand all he can regarding the facts about COVID-19 and he has shared that information with his friends as a way to stem fears his friends were sharing with him and he was able to help his friends make sense of the situation as only a pier could.  It was rough for Vivienne to have a birthday during lockdown since we couldn’t throw the usual big party.  So we set up a secret amusement park on the server and asked all the kids to build rides in time for her birthday.  We held a virtual surprise birthday party for her, spending the evening trying out all the rides and eating cake, it was just as fun as a regular birthday.  Since we are not experts in the world of Minecraft we are asking for the kid’s help all the time; they light up with confidence when they are teaching us how to make things work.  Many of our dinnertime discussions covered Minecraft topics and we’ll spend many evenings watching Minecraft YouTubers for inspiration.  Dean has challenged himself with complicated “redstone” creations, he says it’s his “big brain” moment when he’s successfully executed his design.  When Vivienne asks to show us what she built, we are always impressed with how well her plan comes to life.  It’s in the world of Minecraft we have seen both kids at their most self-directed and resourceful, not to mention their most giddy and cheerful while playing online with their friends.

Vivienne is inquisitive and curious, as always.  Her favorite way to explore the world is through interacting with others with her pop quizzes.  She inquires into other’s minds by playing question games, asking top favorites on any variety of things.  Like what is your favorite animal with wings, or favorite animal from Australia? But she can get complex at times, like “pick an animal’s superpower” (like an Axolotl’s limb regeneration), and then the other person is to counter it with the superpower’s weakness (but it grows back too big).

Vivienne continued to attend as many nature classes at our local nature center as she could in 2019 although she is aging out of the classes they offer and they are the same ones she’s been to year after year.  The nature center has a fairy garden for kids to decorate and arrange logs, sticks and rocks for the fairies. We were inspired by this so we created a fairy garden plot in our backyard for all the nature Vivienne brings home from hikes and outings. The garden gives the stones and sticks she collects a place to live and be creative with that isn’t in her bedroom.  In August 2019 the reptile store, where we get feeder insects for our lizard, gave us a complimentary hornworm to feed our pet bearded dragon, Sneezy.  Vivienne was struck by its bright aqua color and was sure Sneezy would choke on its large size.  Not knowing what else to do with this worm we decided to take it in as a temporary pet and named it Bobbert.  We learned how to care for Bobbert so we could watch it grow and transform, which was absolutely fascinating to witness!  We found information on caring for hornworms from Carolina Scientific, a place where teachers can order these worms to bring into their science classrooms; in our case life brought us this science lesson.

Art and creativity are ingrained into Vivienne and she uses her skills to provide art sculptures and costumes for her stuffed animals, or clay sculptures amongst other artistic endeavors.  Waiting around and long car rides are usually filled with drawing in one of her many drawing pads.  There are moments where Vivienne is so lost in her drawing, that she doesn’t hear her name being called.  Getting lost in something so deeply that the rest of the world is “tuned out” demonstrates Vivienne’s passion and concentration for what she is working on.  Vivienne recently received a new computer and also a drawing pad.  The pad is similar to the devices Vivienne’s favorite YouTube personalities use to create the animations she enjoys so much and gets inspiration from.  This provides yet another medium for her to try and gain experience from. 

The change in routine brought about by COVID-19 in some ways limited our opportunities to explore our world, but in other ways, has stilled the waters of our life enough to see the things below the surface that had gone unaddressed since we began our homeschooling journey.  The year ahead is beginning like no other and we are looking forward to where the new twists and turns in our road will take us.

Best Regards,

Marc & Erika, Colorado USA

I Don’t Want A Day Without Learning…

I Don’t Want A Day Without Learning…

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Rocio is a West River Academy senior in Argentina. Unschooling has reignited her curiosity and love of learning.

I’ll be honest, I always found it difficult to follow a routine but having one and sticking to has been easier these past few months.
Before, my routine was based on activities, schedules and places I didn’t like – not interesting or fulfilling at all. I can guarantee that I enjoy every moment now; I like what I do every day, even those days that are similar to others.

Some of my favorite things are books, photography, cooking, languages; each one teaches me something new and changes me. I think every time we learn, we also change, we are not the same person we were before, and one day without learning is a wasted day. 

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, which makes me so happy and adds only excitement to my days. There is nothing more beautiful than to visit a place you wanted to go to; to imagine being there and then to finally do it. Apart from learning about the place, I really enjoy taking pictures.

I want to say thank you to West River Academy for giving me the opportunity to set my own schedule, activities and academic learning according to my interests. I’m grateful for being able to fully enjoy my hobbies, to finally feel mentally and physically healthy. I love where and how I am now. I love what I do.

 

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A Graduate’s Journal

A Graduate’s Journal

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In our Graduation Program we not only want to hear about the curriculum you might be doing, but we want to know who you are, what influences your thought process and the person you are aspiring to be. Because in a society that has forgotten to value wisdom, curiosity and introspection, young adults who are nurtured in this way during the most developmental period of their life are an incredible asset to our world as whole.

Prospective graduate, Michael Heaton, delivers a reflective report of his personal growth and shares his thoughts as he navigates a trivial time in his life.

If I’m honest, I could call February my realization month. I read many books from prophets to philanthropists, philosophers to fables; everything. Many of them had different messages and sometimes they were conflicting. But the things I have learned have helped me to see where I truly am, where I will go if I continue doing what I am doing, and where I truly want to end up.

In the beginning of February I had a huge personal expense come up. The good news is that I finally paid it all off. But that whole month I felt totally broke. Which is not a bad thing to feel at my age because I don’t have a family or spouse depending on me. It just makes me realize how much growing I still have left before I am really ready for the real adult world. In a nut shell I’d say the beginning was humbling.

That works out perfectly for this type of education because it proves the old story of Socrates. Most people know about the young man who goes to Socrates and says something to the fact that he wants to learn from Socrates and be wise like him. Socrates then walks down to the beach and shoves his head in the water. The young man fights to come up to breathe. And finally when he almost drowns Socrates lets him up. Of course the young man is furious. Socrates responds calmly saying that once he wants truth and knowledge as bad as he wanted air, then he would teach him. That very desire that Socrates points out, is what I had in February. I got tired of settling for the life I had. My income seemed capped. My friendships, limited and self absorbed. My spiritual life, mundane and routine. My physical health, mediocre at best.

After I realized where I was at, I wrote some things that I wanted to change. I put up a white board where I can track my progress in different areas in my life to see what I needed to work on. Although I’m not perfect at updating it, it is in my room and I constantly look at it as I do my schooling. I’ve learned that if you want something to improve, you need to track it. The moment you do that, it becomes a priority. That has really helped me appreciate the gift of a day. There will never be a day like today ever again. And each day we are given, we trade for the things we think are important. Whether we are just killing time, or investing it, we can never get that day back. So we must use it wisely.

Previous to February, I often found myself bored, unfulfilled, and not where I wanted to be. If that continued, I’d follow the saying, “Some people die at 25, and aren’t buried until 75”. I don’t want that by any means. When I was bored and unfulfilled I also found that it effected my relationships. Not because people were all a sudden being jerks. But because I was focusing on myself so much more because I had nothing else to do. And lets be honest, none of us like a friend who is self centered.

Once I realized that my laziness was effecting who I was becoming, I decided to change. I started passing out flyers to expand my landscaping business in South Phoenix. I’m reading deeper into the words of God. I’ve tried to be less task oriented and play with those around me when they ask for my attention. When I think of old friends, I send them a text to let them know that I appreciate their role in my life. If I have down time, I invest it into my future. Just those simple things have revolutionized my life; not to mention my self confidence.

Now I know a lot of this could not be classified under math, science, or history. But I still believe that it is education. I believe that education is supposed to make life easier. Without knowing the things that I’ve just shared, life would be much harder. And if I could narrow down everything I’ve learn last month, I’d say this, success is never an achievement or trophy that we can attain and lock away for the rest of our lives. That is what you call a goal. Most people, including myself, think that success can eventually be achieved once we do this, or accomplish that, or face a certain obstacle. But the truth is success is only realized in the pursuit of your goals. The moment we stop stretching for what we want, and becoming a better person each day, we are no longer successful.

So thanks again for this program of credibility, and accountability. It’s helped me a lot already. Talk to you next month.

A Graduates’ Path to Self-discovery

A Graduates’ Path to Self-discovery

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The West River Academy Graduation Program students are a true testament to the philosophy that there is beauty in diversity. The young adults that we cross paths with have learned that it is okay to hit walls, question your identity, and feel imperfect. Because what you learn from that is how to bounce back, be authentic and embrace your uniqueness.

Marta Chan is an exceptional young woman in our Graduation Program Class of 2018. In one of her monthly report assignments, she reflects on a trip to Finland, growing up in Estonia and her journey to self-discovery.

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine… And it’s breathtakingly beautiful!” L.R. Knost has managed to put into words the description of how this month was for me.

I learned once again, that sometimes things just don’t work out as you planned. I thought I had already learned this lesson, but this month proved me wrong. Nothing seemed to go the way I wanted. I was really upset and irritated. But then, I started noticing all these unexpected little, wonderful things that happened in my life. I realized how I sometimes rush to get everything done and forget the reason why I’m doing these things in the first place. Writing my thoughts and feelings down into my journal, really helped me find some serenity and peace of mind.

One thing that was constantly on my mind this month, was my dad’s Chinese origin and his ancestry. It’s challenging for me to do family history from his side, because I do not speak neither Cantonese nor Mandarin Chinese. I’m learning the latter, but it’s rather difficult. It’s not so much the language that’s hard to learn but the notion and culture of the Chinese people. As I have learned more about their culture and traditions, I have recognized pieces of it in myself. I know my parents gave and still give their best in raising me and my siblings and I am really grateful for them, because they have allowed and encouraged me to become the best me. But at times I feel like I am disconnected from the Chinese “part” of me. When I was younger, I always tried to convince others (and myself) that I am a “true- Estonian”. And I remember being so upset when someone would point out that I’m “half- Chinese”, because it made me feel as if I’m incomplete and hence insufficient. But with time I came to realize, that’s not true! Rather than trying to define myself, I learned to know myself. Who I am? Who and What I love? What are my fears, my talents, my passions? What do I do to accomplish my dreams? These are the things that matter. These are the things that make me complete. Not perfect, far from that. But whole.

I learned that if we come to accept ourselves the way we are, it helps us move forward and better ourselves. The beauty in being a human is that we have both the ability and power to improve ourselves. Our backgrounds and situations do not play important roles in this. Our attitude does. My dear grandpa told me once: “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t drive the car anywhere until you change it. And if you change it, you can go anywhere your heart desires”. I agree with him.

February Twenty-fourth officially marked the one-hundreth birthday of the Republic of Estonia. This gave me again a reason to dive into my family history and celebrate the people who built this country. Their sacrifices and diligence in hardships don’t cease to both amaze and impress me.

Screen Shot 2018 03 16 at 2.21.51 PM 48x36@2xOne of the highlights of this month was our family trip to Finland. We went there by a ferry. It was really cool to see the frozen Baltic Sea. All of the water was pretty much asymmetrical blocks of ice. Finland is really pretty! They have many lakes (about 168 000) and endless uninhabited boreal forests! But our first priority was to visit Helsinki Finland Temple. I believe it to be (along with the rest of the 159 operating temples our Church has) a sacred place and the house of God. It was wonderful to visit it and it really made me appreciate everything that has been created, even more than I did before. The time there also gave me a chance to rewind everything that has been going on in my life lately and steer myself back to where I want to be. In conclusion, this month I mostly analysed and studied myself. As ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

The Balancing Act: Eden’s Story

The Balancing Act: Eden’s Story

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“Everyone brings into the world unique talents and abilities, and some of mine include my strong will and determination. I will continue to engage myself in school, work and sports and try to remember to enjoy the journey along the way. Somehow I have managed to get to the places that always feel right, and this is where my education has led me.”

Eden Mccoy is enrolled in our Graduation Program for the Class of 2018. In her Educational Biography she describes the balancing act that is her life as an athlete, student and actress.

I was in the third grade when my parents enrolled me in a two-week theater camp. They told me it was just for fun, but they were hoping it would help me be more confident about speaking publicly. It’s safe to say that it worked.

At the conclusion of the camp, there was a showcase performance, where our parents and also a few Hollywood youth agents were invited to see us perform the monologues and plays we had been working on. An agent approached my parents at the end of my performance and asked them about me, and although they laughed it off at first (we weren’t a “performing arts” sort of family), I let them know that acting was something I definitely wanted to pursue. My parents agreed to support me in that pursuit as long as I maintained my good grades in school. So we began our journey into balancing school and acting work that I am still on today.

I’ve learned that in the auditioning process for acting jobs, there is very little that you can control in terms of getting the job you are auditioning for. This is because there are many factors that have nothing to do with the audition (contracts, salary, availability, co-stars, network requirements, agency agreements, etc.) that determine who books the role. In schoolwork it is just the opposite. When I put the effort in, know the material and complete the assignments and tests to the best of my ability, I know that I will most likely get the desired result.

I could not be more grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given on a show that’s been a part of American pop culture for 65 years. I am surer than I have ever been that acting is what I want to do with my life. My work on General Hospital has taught me that I need to dig deep to get to some of the emotional places that the stories require, and I know that having a “regular” life with school, sports and non-actors has helped give my performances depth and helped them to feel real. I have an acting coach who once told me that I should “read about and learn everything you can about whatever you can, because even if you never have an acting job related to what you are learning, it will still give your acting depth.” When my character, Josslyn, struggled with her embarrassment at her schoolmates learning of her kidney transplant, I knew that I could show her emotions realistically because I know what the pressures of fitting in at school and wanting to be like everyone else feels like.

No one is exempt from turmoil in their lives, and I can honestly say I am grateful for the challenges I have had because they have strengthened my character and brought forward certain virtues I might otherwise not have known. Coming so close but ultimately not getting a few huge acting jobs that would have been life-changers has been heartbreaking for me. But everyone brings into the world unique talents and abilities, and some of mine include my strong will and determination. I will continue to engage myself in school, work and sports and try to remember to enjoy the journey along the way. Somehow I have managed to get to the places that always feel right, and this is where my education has led me.

Max’s Story

Max’s Story

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“Homeschooling has been a fundamental part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has given me exciting opportunities along the way that I would have never been able to fulfill otherwise. I am beyond grateful for my parents’ decision to teach me of their own values and truths rather than subjecting me to the sometimes unproductive world of public school.”

Max Rollins, a lifelong West River Academy student, is now enrolled in the Graduation Program for the Class of 2018. In his Educational Biography, he describes his childhood as an unschooler in Colorado.

Our Home was built on sixteen acres of dense forest, consisting of sprawling gullies, arid meadows grazed down by cattle, and meandering streams, full of life. All of it seemed to be as infinite as the universe to my youthful imagination. I spent hours exploring every nook and cranny of the acreage with my closest of friends and even drew up fictional names and trails we’d discovered on to a map. I still, to this day, think back on how exhilarating it was to stumble upon a new stream or clearing in the woods and how obsessed we became to find all the secrets our plot had to show.

As I grew older, my parents started teaching me the art of gardening and cultivating the land. They showed me that a hard day’s work had more value in it than almost anything else in this life. I didn’t quite see it as a value at the time and just saw it more as a distraction away from the truly important things in life, my Star Wars action figures. But eventually, I started to see what they were all about.

When I was about 8, my mother and some other homeschool moms in the valley started a Thursday-school that I attended with many of my friends for a handful of years. We would participate in arts and crafts, conduct skits, and do other fun activities that hardly seemed like school, which was quite all right by my amigos and me.

By the time high school rolled around, my time of being taught by my mother was coming to a natural end, with my needing a more social outlet for learning and her not being able to teach me the harder subjects in school, such as Chemistry and Math. I started attending classes at Grand Valley Academics in the fall of my 8th grade year. It was a sort of make-shift school led by a handful of homeschool parents who were well educated in different subjects and fields. My first year attending, I took Creative Writing, Biology, and Literature all with the same teacher. Weird, huh? Thankfully, within a year they had upgraded from the youth room of a local church to their very own building with actual classrooms! I’ve taken classes with them for my entire high school experience and have acquired a wealth of knowledge from all of their brilliant teachers along the way. I’ve had many of them for my entire high school career and will be sad to see them go when I graduate. However, I’m still exuberant to be going on to college and excited to see where it takes me.

Homeschooling has been an incredible experience for me, and, if I could, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my education. It has given me the chance to wholly delve into subjects of interest that I wouldn’t have had being confined to an 8:00-4:00 routine. I’m so appreciative of the effort both my parents put into making my time learning as beneficial and enjoyable as possible, and I hope to provide a similar experience for my children one day.

Happy Holidays from Our Family to Yours!

Happy Holidays from Our Family to Yours!

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As the end of the year rings near, we want to express our gratitude for your trust in West River Academy which has allowed us to support families all over the world.

West River Academy is expanding more and more every day, and we are so happy to share our experiences as an unschooled family with you all! Now that WRA is a family business, each of the sisters brings different strengths, yet we have in common the same goal, which is to provide a safety net built on freedom and individuality for the upcoming generations.

We invite you to read Our Story, which describes each of our very unique unschooling journeys. We are pleased to be able to offer you the perspectives of Karen, Stacey and Rachel as unschooled children as well as Peggy’s perspective as an unschooling parent.

The main topic of discussion at our Thanksgiving table was how we can now, as a family, serve you. So, please know that the West River Team has your back and truly wants the best for you and yours!

Warmest holiday greetings from all of us,

Peggy, Stacey, Rachel & Karen

A Letter from Ayelén: A Graduate from Argentina

A Letter from Ayelén: A Graduate from Argentina

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Ayelén reflects on her experience as one of our recently graduated students from Río Negro, Argentina.

“I am very happy with this learning option as I didn’t only learn about core subjects such as math, language, physics or chemistry but I was able to develop other skill sets that I usually wouldn’t have had the time for. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to know and understand different cultures and learn in many different surroundings.

Being a Christian girl, I enjoyed having the time to practice mercy and love for others through my art (comics, pictures, etc) offering a faith message in the places I visited like nursing homes, small towns lost on the “map”, and preaching at the bus stop.

I would like to thank God for this kind of education because I am convinced that if I had not traveled this way, my life would have had another direction.

That is why I encourage all the kids and parents who are about to make this decision not to doubt it as long as they are united as a family, in good will to go through it.

I have included some pieces of my work.

Greetings from Dina Huapi, Argentina.”

Ayelén Zogalski.

A Very Rewarding Experience

A Very Rewarding Experience

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María Teresita is one of our senior students from Córdoba, Argentina. This is what she has to tell us about her educational experience these last months of her journey.

In the last months I made orientation tests, I’ve been looking into careers at different Universities, I started thinking about my university life and how would I be dealing with that. What courses to take, what career to pursue as a goal for my whole life. In the meantime, I want to help my family economically as a Project, selling our handcrafts.

In my spare time, I like to hear Padre Ángel Espinoza and Yokoi Kenji lectures from whom I will quote really important reflections.:

  • “You should always tell the truth, with with transparency and clarity, so that communication will not deteriorate. Where there is truth, there is trust”.
  • “Corruption is born in a nucleus called a family, when we abandon our principles like the one written: you will not steal“. The Japanese also have that religious text: “If you find a bag in a chair, do not touch it, it is not yours, leave it there, if you find a wallet in the street, it is not yours do not touch it leave it there”. After the war, Japan learned a lesson, and that is there is no way in violence, the war, definitely, doesn’t work. Why repeat a story if we can learn from another’s falls.
  • The difference between honesty and integrity is that honesty speaks of what I do and integrity speaks of what I am. Honesty speaks of what I say, integrity speaks of what I think. Honesty speaks of my public acts, integrity speaks of what I do even when no one is watching me.

maria teresita 2 1 1An anecdote of this speaker begins when he proposed to his father to cross a red light, saying that at that time were no cars and no cameras to see them. The father, in a tone of reprimand, shouted a phrase that left a deep echo in his life: “I am watching myself!“, Representing the conscience of each one, which can not be fooled.

To complete this report, I must pay tribute. I can not explain the feeling of gratitude towards this learning program, for allowing me to develop as a person, to learn according to my way of being, valuing my personal capacities and preferences. I really feel very grateful for my learning and for you for this educational adventure that we have shared. It has been rewarding!

A Homeschooler in Canada Shares His Story

A Homeschooler in Canada Shares His Story

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Here is the story of William, a West River Academy senior in Canada. Read his story of going from a difficult school experience to thriving in homeschooling.

paperclip3 William 300x154@2xThe story of how I became a homeschooler/unschooler is, perhaps like many others, rather unique and filled with both joy and sorrow. I began my journey nearly ten years ago, in my hometown of Montréal, when I was eight years old and unlike many of my homeschooling friends, I attended public school until grade 4. Usually when a child is taken out of school in favour of a home education it’s the parents who initiate the change, however, this was not the case for me. In my case I was the one who asked my parents to homeschool me because my experience with the school system was so awful. At my old elementary school the teachers would use fear and shame tactics to keep the children in line, practices that would certainly get them in trouble today if they were found out. If you misbehaved, the teachers would take away your bathroom privileges, if you disobeyed a teacher you would have to walk down the long hallway and announce your misdoing to the other class. Crying was forbidden and your recess for that day could be taken away if you did, imagine telling a six year-old child if they cried they would be punished, or preventing them from going to the washroom. I suppose it was a very old fashioned way of discipline, going back to the days of dunce caps and getting the strap. One instance that stood out for me especially happened in art class, when I was about seven. My friend had found a paperclip on the ground and had artistically bent it out of shape, something a child might do in art class. When the teacher saw him with his bent paperclip she immediately started yelling and forced him to stand in front of the whole class and bend it back into form. As I stood there with my classmates and watched my humiliated companion try, without success, to bend this paperclip into it’s original shape I wondered how such an angry, unartistic, “inside the lines” person found themselves teaching a 3rd grade art class. Both my mother and grandmother were artists, so I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged, which is why this moment in particular was so strange for me. I could talk for hours about the anguish I endured in school, and how it’s affected me, but I’ll just say that by my last year in public school I was livid with the system and grew a real hatred for learning. It didn’t take a lot of convincing when I asked my parents to homeschool me, as they had shared my pain and frustrations with the school over the years and thought that taking me out of it was the best course of action. And so began my journey.

Because I was coming from such a toxic environment it took some time after I was taken out of school to adjust to a new way of learning, a way of learning that wasn’t centered around fear or humiliation. I believe that every child comes into this world with a natural sense of curiosity and desire to explore the world around them, mine had just been taken away from me. I can’t explain how wonderful it was when I regained this thirst for knowledge which had long been so foreign to me. I don’t know what would have happened if my wonderful parents hadn’t listened and pulled me out of that horrible place. I believe that learning anything should be fun, even if it’s in the smallest way, and my mother helped make that happen. Because my father had to work it was mostly my mother who taught me during my first few years out of school. Deciding to homeschool your child is an enormous leap to take that requires a lot of change in a person’s life; a change many people cannot afford to make. I’m very thankful for both my parent’s devotion to my education. They ensured a graceful and smooth transition to this new way of life and it wasn’t long before it felt completely natural.

William Election 2008The rest of my elementary school years were a breath of fresh air. I found new ways to express my creativity that I had never even fathomed before. I met so many amazing people who I’m proud to call my friends. People who wanted to learn and have fun just like me. For the first time in my life learning didn’t feel like a chore. I finally enjoyed reading books, writing papers and doing projects. My mother also came up with lots of interesting and creative ways to make learning fun. The range of topics covered in my first year alone were far more diverse than anything I covered in school. We talked about everything from the paleozoic era to the historic 2008 U.S. presidential election, which was happening at the time. It was my first time ever discussing contemporary issues, something we would continue to do, and I came out of my first year at home with a far better understanding of the world around me, with both a historic and modern perspective. It was marvelous.

During my second year I started to get involved with my local homeschooling community, a community which I have been an active member of ever since. I think one of the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers is that they spend most of their time alone in their house, when in reality it’s the opposite that’s true. I would say that 90% of the things I do in regard to school takes place outside the home and involve other people. I also think the notion that homeschoolers are anti-social is another misconstrued idea. Some of the most outgoing, energetic and sociable people I’ve ever met have been homeschooled. William Fencing 1One very unique thing about the classes put on by homeschooling communities is that the teachers are, more often than not, parents of homeschooled children. Since they don’t make their living off of teaching, many of the parents will work regular jobs just like everybody else which allows them to teach some interesting courses pertaining to the work they do. Alongside basic classes, like math and history, I’ve also learned things like 3D modeling, fencing, acting and animation just to name a few, all from people who have experience in their respective fields. It almost felt like an apprenticeship which is something most kids in elementary school don’t get to experience.

Before I knew it I was already graduating from my homeschool equivalent of elementary school and moving on to “high school”, a change that most elementary school students dread, I, on the other hand was very eager to begin this new chapter of my education. I think the reason that most kids in the system fear high school is because the age gap is so wide, something which I had already been accustomed to. From my first time taking courses with other homeschoolers I noticed the fact that people of all ages were often mixed into the same classroom. People weren’t separated on account of their age but rather their willingness to learn, I’ve seen eleven year-olds do presentations with sixteen year-olds and work together in perfect harmony. Often times I’ve found the younger kids who are placed into more advanced classes will outperform the older ones! This diversity of age in the classroom really makes your colleagues feel like family which creates a very special experience.

William Piano 300x169@2xDuring high school I’ve expanded my knowledge of subjects that I had previously covered and also learned countless new things that have all been equally interesting to me. Things such as economics, piano and driving have all been new and welcome additions to my curriculum. I’ll never forget the day when I finally was able to play Fur Elise perfectly or when I passed my driving exam and went home with my license in hand. I almost felt spoiled, never before had I had such a wide variety of classes that I enjoyed taking. It was also during this time that I found a new sense of political intrigue after the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, and so I started attending city council meetings.

My high school years weren’t without their own challenges however. Those are the years where adolescence is at its peak and, as someone who has friends that aren’t homeschooled, I sometimes found myself feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially whenever my friends were having conversations pertaining to school, or going on graduation trips together. I would never be learning the exact same thing as they were and so when I didn’t know about something they were talking about I felt stupid. There was a point during these years where I even contemplated going back to school, as some of my homeschool friends had done, but in the end I decided against it and have absolutely no regrets.

William Montreal City Hall 300x252@2xReflecting back on these past ten years and relishing in all the wonderful memories I have, has reassured me once again that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m extremely fortunate to have had such a unique education which I can look back on with contentment. Now as I’m about to enter this new stage in my life, I can only look forward to the future with great optimism. I hope to one day use my struggle with the school system and interest in civic affairs to hopefully get involved in the process of government, whether the level be big or small, and help prevent others from going through what I did. I’ve seen more and more people choosing to homeschool these days and it’s an incredible honour to serve as an example to them. I can only hope that their journey is as amazing as mine.