Two years ago, we thought long and hard about pulling our daughter out of public school. When we’d lived in the city we had a lot of choices as to where she could attend but when we moved to a small town the choices dried up. There was the local public school, there was the option to drive her 15+ miles one way every day throughout the Michigan winters, or there was homeschool. At first, we chose public school and it really wasn’t a bad experience. Most of the teachers and the staff were super kind and loving folks, some of whom became personal friends. They were very skilled at their job and worked hard to give our child a great education. But…
we just felt it was a flawed system. Too few teachers, too many government restrictions, not nearly enough time for a kid to be a kid. We had lots and lots of small frustrations that added up to a big deal.
We started seriously considering homeschooling. A friend told us, “Make a list of 100 reasons. If you can’t come up with 100 you’re not serious enough about this. If you can, keep the list because there will be days (months, years) when you are asking yourself, ‘why in the world am I doing this?’ and at those moments you’ll be thankful for the reminder.”
It seemed a daunting task but we sat down to do it and, to our surprise the first 80 or so simply rolled off our tongues, one after another and the rest were quick to follow. (Our list can be viewed here). One of those reasons was that our daughter had a passionate desire to learn music. Music curriculum had been all but scrapped from the local elementary school and band didn’t start until 5th grade (she was in 3rd at the time).
Of course, many children study music through private lessons but we didn’t feel like we had time for that when she was in public school and we really didn’t have the money, either. As a homeschooler, she could join the National Homeschool Music Ensemble and begin learning an instrument right away. The cost was a fraction of what it would be to enroll her in private lessons. We jumped on it.
She began with the clarinet, but switched to trombone a few weeks in and she spent one year with the homeschool beginning band, learning the basics. The second year she moved to the concert band and Handsome Hippie Hubby began playing with her. Parents are welcome to play with NHME, which creates a very cool environment where it’s not unusual to see a 7 year old instructing a 40 year old on proper finger positions.
At the end of the school year her director approached her and said, “I remember in the beginning what you really wanted to play was French Horn.” She nodded, enthusiastically. She’s wanted to play French horn since she saw one as a 3 year old but they are terribly expensive instruments. We didn’t have the means to buy one and the band only had 2, both already being used by older students. He told her to go look in the closet and, there it was: A shiny brass tangle of pipes with her name on it. Joy of joys! A double French horn just for her! She was one happy kid!
So the plan was hatched: she could play French horn with the beginning band and trombone with the concert band for the duration of 5th grade and, when she gets to 6th, we’ll determine which direction we are going to go. But then…
Musical Cousin marched in the Rose Parade.
It was beyond cool. We all sat around the TV watching for him and crying proud tears, texting and Tweeting with family far and wide. His band did an extraordinary job. Not long after that we were able to see his band’s award winning field performance. The kids had worked for hours, nearly every day for months and it showed. The performance was jaw-dropping.
Sweet Hippie Daughter, wide-eyed, said, “I WANT TO DO THAT!”
Handsome Hippie Hubby and I glanced at each other. The homeschool band is a concert band. They don’t have the numbers, the space or the money to support a marching program. Our local public school, however has a stellar marching program. Smaller than Musical Cousin’s set-up (the difference between a suburban school that graduates thousands each year and a rural school that has about 1,000 students in K-12 combined), but extremely well done and well supported by the community, none-the-less.
We discussed it for a while. We love homeschooling. It may not be right for every family, but it has been a super fit for us. One of the things we love most is the ability to let our children spend as much time as they like pursuing those things that spark their passions most. If that means our school weeks end up revolving around learning 3 different instruments then so be it. She can play trombone with the concert band, French horn with beginning band and percussion with the public school band. Math work can be done in the car on the way to rehearsal.
We contacted the local band director and asked him if he would be willing and able to allow us to participate in his program under Michigan’s “Revised School Code.” This law says that, if you are homeschooling in Michigan (not virtual schooling or attending a charter school), you have the right to request permission from your local public school to attend any non-core class.
The teacher was very helpful and, with the help of the school administration, we figured out how to make that work. So, beginning just after labor day, Sweet Hippie Daughter is headed back to public school. Sort of. For an hour a day, a few days each week. She won’t learn to march in 5th grade, but she’ll be laying the foundation to move forward within that program in the future, if she chooses to do so.
Now we are homeschoolers with a side of public school and I think I’m OK with that. I am very aware of how rare and wonderful it is to live in a time and place where we have so many options for educating our children and I am humbled, as always, by the kindness and willingness of others to help us find the path that works best for our family.
Have you ever tried anything like this, as a homeschooler?
I would LOVE to hear about your experience!
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
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