By Emily J. Weitz
Finding the right educational path for your child can feel like fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each child is unique, and even with an array of choices on the East End in both public and private schools, there is not always an obvious fit. It’s often in these cases that parents explore the option of home schooling their children; although being solely responsible for your child’s education can also be a daunting idea.
The Whole Child Foundation is an organization conceived by Julie Rosenshein, LICSW, to support a new way of learning that fuses home schooling with a more traditional learning environment. She’s created two learning cooperatives in Massachusetts, and is coming to Sag Harbor this Tuesday for a discussion about the possibility of starting another one in the village.
“I started home schooling learning co-ops where families that are home schoolers come together with a teacher or two and specialists to create essentially a school,” says Rosenshein. “We decide with parents what they feel they want in terms of delivery of the curricular material of language arts, writing, and math.”
Staying within the state requirements for these subjects and emphasizing the importance of other subjects and other ways of learning is critical, she said.
“We aim to help children be really nature-based and arts-based in their learning,” says Rosenshein. “Kids learn best when they’re able to have the things that make their systems balanced. Being outside, being connected with nature, and having arts woven into the curriculum helps them feel what they’re learning about matters to them.”
One major concern for parents who are considering home schooling their children is socialization, which can be as important as learning to read, for example. How can a child learn that if he or she is only interacting with a parent all day?
“Usually home schooling is done by a parent in isolation,” says Rosenshein. “But in this context, hopefully, the community has enough home schoolers that are all coming together, so there is socialization. The teachers and children and parents create a community.”
This community brings a sense of support, both moral and academic, she said.
“Another problem with being a parent and home schooling is you have to make your own curriculum and schedule,” says Rosenshein. “If you don’t have the skills to know how to teach your child, you’ll need extra resources. We provide those resources by coming together as a community.”
Sag Harbor resident Mare Dianora is intrigued, and looks forward to Tuesday’s discussion.
“What really spoke to me,” says Dianora, “was the co-op aspect of the program she’s introducing. You would not be ‘home-schooling’ on your own but involved with a community and a teacher. Julie compared it to ‘stone soup’ when we spoke, and I loved that analogy. There is one person making the soup, and everyone contributes with his or her own experience, knowledge, strengths and ideas.”
Dianora, a mother of two young boys, is always engaging them in hands-on learning.
“As a teaching artist,” she says, “I would love to personally have an involvement that is interdisciplinary — doing the sorts of things I am already doing with my four-year-old son, Finny, on a more formal and organized level — hand binding books for stories we write together, photographic documentation of the process of a particular event or project, growing food in our garden and finding and creating recipes to cook with those foods — to name a few.”
Rosenshein has been a social worker in public schools for the past seven years, and she sees a lot of kids coming to her because they are “acting out”.
“These kids aren’t misbehaving because they’re bad,” she says. “They’re misbehaving because the schools need to change the way they are delivering content. The reason I am doing what I’m doing is that we are modeling the learning to fit the child, not the child to fit what we need.”
So as you piece together your jigsaw puzzle, is this going to be the right fit? Rosenshein says that a key part to finding the answer is listening to your child. If they don’t like going to school, there may be a better way to instill a lifelong love of learning.
“Most parents come to me because their child has a real reluctance to go to school or there are behavioral issues,” says Rosenshein. “Then there are the parents who have made a philosophical choice that the public school system isn’t aligned with what they want for their child.”
She points to private and charter schools that can be educationally progressive, but also can be cost-prohibitive.
“We are creating an affordable hybrid,” she says, “paid for by members of the community.”
How parents pay is also up for discussion, as they may offer time and work, or they may just pay their dues.
“Homeschooling isn’t even a possibility in this world for many working families,” says Dianora. “I hope this is an alternative that can be considered by all different kinds of families.”
On Tuesday, February 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Whaler’s Church, Rosenshein will be probing the community to see what it is Sag Harbor parents are looking for in education.
“This is a new undertaking for us,” she says. “What we do will depend on the families interested. It will be formed as we have more parent meetings. My goal is to meet with community members that are interested in what they hear, and create something from the inside out, based on the needs here.”