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Home school

Unconventional methods can help children learn

July 29, 2011
By Kristy MacKaben,

Never in a million years did Jodie Garzarelli of Ebensburg think she would homeschool her children.

But she felt the schools let her down, and she was bound to advocate for her kids.

Her oldest son, A.J., 11, experienced bullying in the schools and her middle son, Jarrod, 9, had a learning delay which teachers didn't catch.

Article Photos

Mirror Moms photo by J.D. Cavrich
Jodie Garzarelli of Ebensburg, homeschools her children, A.J. (left), 11, and Jarrod, 9.

As a stay-at-home mom, Garzarelli wanted to provide educational opportunities for her children by taking them on field trips. The teachers and administrators, however, weren't pleased when Garzarelli wanted to take her children out of school for a trip to Washington, D.C., during the week her husband, Marc, was off work.

"My husband doesn't have weekends off, and the school had a problem with that. Then, I thought Jarrod was lost in the system. There were just many problems," Garzarelli said.

Eventually, Garzarelli pulled her children out of school and decided to start homeschooling, though her youngest son, Rocco, who is 4, is in preschool.

Fact Box

Ideas for parents

In "Unschooling Rules," author Clark Aldrich (below) provides the following ideas for parents to advocate for their children:

1. Create portfolios of children's interests and accomplishments over the years to augment any transcripts.

2. Increase your children's time spent with adult experts who are passionate about what they do. Be out of sight, but do this without "dropping off" your children and transferring responsibility at least initially.

3. Take your children on short family trips, even if it upsets the schools.

4. Include meaningful work into every week. Don't let the abundance of papers due and tests get in the way of helping your children actually help other people.

5. Encourage play in areas of interest. Allow children to pursue passions, even when it gets in the way of doing homework. Be prepared to fudge a sick day for both parent and child to indulge in areas of deep passion.

Since homeschooling through a charter school, A.J. and Jarrod seem to be thriving.

Sometimes it takes thinking outside of the box to find the perfect educational fit.

Not every family can or wants to homeschool, but parents shouldn't leave all the teaching to the schools. This is the message Clark Aldrich, a global education expert, relays in his book "Unschooling Rules," a guide to providing authenticity and self-directed learning to children's educational experience.

"A huge part of the question is: Where do schools come from? Do they work? Is there a reason we do the things we do? The more you look, we do a lot of things for very strange reasons," he said.

Aldrich has been involved in years of educational reform, but all of the efforts have failed because people are not willing to change.

"Schools are having a really, really hard time changing. There is no bad guy. Just through almost a lot of bad luck, we have these institutions that are having a lot of hard time changing. It's no one's fault. The reality is they're stuck," Aldrich said.

A lot of aspects of traditional schooling don't work, such as classrooms, standardized testing, test books and the manner of teaching, Aldrich said.

Ideally, students should focus on learning to be and learning to do, instead of just learning to know, which is where traditional education is geared.

"Most kids want to figure out who am I? I want to discover myself. I want to discover what my unique talents are, what my role on the stage is," Aldrich said.

Diane Zink, director of marketing for Penn-Mont Academy in Hollidaysburg, couldn't agree more.

Every child's style of learning is different, and Penn-Mont Academy, a Montessori school in Hollidaysburg, focuses on the interests and strengths of students.

"You're always moving ahead. You're trying to reach your greatest potential. The environment is what drives the opportunities for children. Having a very rich, multi-sensory environment allows children to be self-directed," Zink said.

Providing different methods of learning is important for every child, Aldrich said. Even if children attend traditional schools, parents should communicate effectively with educators and be involved in the child's education.

"A really important philosophy is a notion of it's the parent ultimately responsible for their child's education, not the school," he said.

"You need to add a layer of authenticity into a child's life," Aldrich said.



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