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Last month was Month of the Military Child. I wanted to write about my own children and how we school on the move but we were in the middle of move number eight for my oldest child (16), and move number seven for my youngest (13). It made it difficult to find the time to write. So, here we go, a couple of weeks late - a diary on schooling on the move.

When my oldest reached the age to enter first grade, we were moving from Germany to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. He had been enrolled in German kindergarten, a program for 3 to 6 year olds that is somewhat like our pre-school but without all the drama of numbers and letters and formal learning. Not that kids didn't learn those things, but they didn't take precedence. In our German kindergarten, the teachers were more concerned that kids learn how to tie their shoes so they could go out to the playground (they wore hausschuhe indoors), how to brush their teeth after lunch, and how to get along with their fellow students, no matter what the difference in age. And, most important of all, they wanted to make sure that kids had the opportunity to play - in groups both small and large as well as individually.

We were looking for a similar school in the states but we had a caveat - we wanted a public school. You see, we couldn't afford a private school and even if we could, we didn't want to isolate our kids from the community. And I had found a public Montessori school in downtown Anchorage; my son was number 4 on the wait list when my husband called me from afar (he was on temporary duty at the time) to let me know he had gotten a better assignment at a different location. We were now moving to Las Vegas, Nevada. After the tears (we had lived in Alaska once before and loved it), I started a new hunt for a new school. And broke into tears again. There was NOTHING that came close to what we wanted in Las Vegas. And the Montessori schools were out of the price range of what we could afford - both for tuition and for the neighborhoods where they were located.

I knew my boys. I knew they thrived in the environment that their kindergarten had provided and this was first grade we were looking at - the year of learning how to read. It was an important year and I had a child that struggled with reading skills (we were trying to teach him how to read at home, that's a whole diary for another day!). School was super important.

We had a decision to make. I was sick and tired of the hunt and this was just first grade. Military moves are already stressful, what with the househunting and the car buying and the culture shock of each new location. And we knew that the moving was only going to get more dramatic the further along in my husband's career. We knew that from day one. An officer who stays in 20 years should have a minimum of 2 one year assignments - one for major's school and one for lieutenant colonel's school. We didn't even know about the upcoming wars back then. I would be looking for new schools for both my boys every single time. And this first time was kicking my butt.

I also had my own memories of military moves growing up. My dad had been an NCO and though we didn't move as often as officers' families, we did move a lot. School was always an issue. The first move I remember was from England to California. They didn't know what to do with me in California and, in the course of three years, I was skipped to second grade, held back a year and kept in second grade, and then skipped to fourth grade. I missed third grade all together and learned how to write in cursive and to multiply numbers at home. My reading skills were far above other students but my math skills were always behind.

When my dad finally retired, I was 13 years old and in 9th grade. We moved from Louisiana to California. High schools in both locations teach different subjects in different years. I missed 9th grade biology so the counselor decided I should take it in 10th grade. But rather than have me take it with the 9th graders, she had me take it with all the kids who had failed it the first year. It was an interesting class, but it wasn't college prep and that hurt me as well. In California, those 4 years of college prep classes set you up for success.

Basically, my own experience with school had been colored heavily by the moving around. The great teachers were wonderful but the overall experience left me dreading new schools, and I wanted to protect my own children from the negative aspects of changing schools.

We had known people in Germany who had homeschooled and loved it. They appreciated the flexibility homeschooling gave them. They travelled around Europe off-season since they weren't tied to any school schedule whatsoever. They could take time off after deployments or before deployments and use those precious moments to bond as a family. And, the kids knew who the new teacher was going to be at the next base - the same one they had the base before. Just one less stressor in a stressful life.

We swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker. And, after some fits and starts, we found our groove and have made a successful homeschool environment for our boys. It's 11 years later, and the proof is in the pudding. We made the right choice. You see, our flexibility has freed us to make some interesting choices we didn't even know would be on offer.

Last year, we enrolled both boys in a local school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The schools there run from March to December and everyone was concerned because we would be out of cycle.

"What cycle?" we said.

Everyone was concerned because they were bound to get some bad grades. After all, the classes were held in Spanish and my boys didn't speak the language.

"Grades?" we said. "We don't care about no stinkin' grades." Okay, I didn't really say it that way, but you get my point. Grades don't really matter when the point of education is to learn - and our point was for our boys to learn Spanish, not to get good grades in math class. If they managed to do both, bonus points, but we knew that the transcript didn't matter for our junior high school age child and, as for our sophomore, we explained the difficulties it could cause and said that as a homeschool student back in the states it most likely wouldn't matter and gave him the choice. He jumped at it.

Everyone was concerned about returning to the states... the cycle thing all over again.

"School?" we said. "We'll just figure it out as we go along."

So, here we are, mid-move in May. Back in March, the kids in Argentina were starting classes while we were touring Northern Patagonia and learning about marine life along the coast, dinosaurs in the desert, and volcanos along the Andes Mountain range to the west. We listened to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything which was surprisingly apropos. As we drove through land explored by Darwin, we learned of Darwin. As we saw marine mammals, we learned of marine fossils. As we learned of the fossil record, we were exploring fossil beds in the scrublands, and when we got to geology and volcanos, we were passing Volcan Lanin.

As we arrived stateside, students here are finishing up their school year and some of our acquaintances have wondered if we would enroll the boys for the final month. Why? My boys are learning real life lessons at the moment. They are involved in the househunt and learn from watching their parents ask questions about the cost of utilities and how a house is heated and what the neighborhood is like. They help us find new places to shop for groceries and to help us readjust our diets to fit the foods we can find affordably. They shop and compare prices and make a trip to the grocery store go a lot faster as they take on their own responsibility in the store. They take part in conversations about the affordability of cellphones and help us chose not only the models but the plans themselves.

They learn geography every time we move. They figure out how to pronounce complicated names like Potomac and wonder why this is the tri-state area when only two states meet a district. Both are becoming expert navigators and map readers. We don't use a GPS and instead value the time it takes to get turned around and lost a little while they learn how to tell us to turn right in two blocks before realizing that the street goes one way the opposite direction or is completely cut off by a gate or barrier.

They help wash clothes and dishes and attempt to keep rooms clean - not for themselves but for the help that comes in on a daily basis to vacuum and change towels and sheets. Living in a temporary lodging facility comes with it's benefits but for boys that would prefer to live a little messily, it's a good lesson to learn that sometimes other people have to deal with your mess, even if you don't want them to.

They learn to meet new people and hold conversations with strangers. This time, they are learning to greet old friends from years ago and figure out how to build on a long friendship that has only recently reblossomed on Facebook. Real life is different from Facebook. Granted, if they went to public school, they would be learning those lessons as well but instead of being limited to kids within their immediate age range, my kids are meeting others of all ages - from little ones to teens to adults. They are asking questions at the museums about volunteer programs and internships which they can take advantage of eve when school goes back into session.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty and feel like we should break out a math book and tackle an algebra lesson, but not often. My kids learn best when they pick it up for themselves and both understand the connections between book knowledge and going to college. They are both intelligent, well-spoken young men and they will succeed, whether I break out the algebra book now or they chose to pick it up later. And, actually, I think they will actually do better when they choose that time, when they know that their life is ready to embrace the next new challenge. On their schedule. Heaven knows that they have had to live on an imposed military schedule their whole lives. It seems a small thing to wait until they are ready.

And so, that choice we made a long time ago has turned out to be a good one. We are all happy we made it. Without it, my boys probably would not have gone to Argentina, because we would have asked for a more conventional military experience in the USA. If we had gone to Argentina, they would have gone to the American school on an American schedule with American grades and would not be near fluent in Spanish or have seen as much of South America nor made as many Argentine friends. Our choice a long time ago has allowed us to remain flexible in the face of a fairly inflexible lifestyle. I am thankful for it. I am thankful for the parents who went before me and fought to make homechooling a legal option in the United States. I hope it always remains that way so that families like my own have real choices and can educate their children in the ways that they think are best for their family.

Originally posted to Education Alternatives on Sat May 12, 2012 at 06:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Military Community Members of Daily Kos and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wonderful diary... (6+ / 0-)

    Moving frequently is hard, we don't move as often as you do, nor for the same reasons, but generally every 4, 5 years we're moving somewhere else. Sometimes it's close to the old neighborhood and friends, sometimes it's further away.  I know from talking to other kids in military families, always being the 'new' kid in school comes with its own baggage. One of your gifts to your children is they don't have to deal with that baggage, you've made it into a wonderful, fulfilling exploration of the world instead.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Sat May 12, 2012 at 06:38:11 AM PDT

  •  I don't know if I should envy you and your kids (4+ / 0-)

    or not. It seems to me more like I already DO envy your kids. :)

    As you say many people move, and the moves are more than moves in between schools of the same language and country.

    And often the moves are out of need and not embedded in an organized way with the military scoial structure surrounding the bread-winners of the family.

    I just try to imagine if the many of the US immigrants would start to homeschool their kids to be able to educate them in their own mother language.

    This is such a touchy issue to me. I managed to make a mess of my son's schooling. Thirteen schools, three different language and countries, four different cultures ... one thing my son refuses to do ... is moving again, especially because he moved as a low level military enlistee to three different countries again and travelled a lot as a child with us parents. He has seen a lot, learned a lo (and not only the nice stuff), but it has harmed him to compete academically as an adult.

    Your sons are very lucky to have you and your husband as a mom and dad.

    It's the forever stupid, stupid ! - with h/t to weatherdude's ... "but stupid is forever" diary.

    by mimi on Sat May 12, 2012 at 07:55:59 AM PDT

    •  Even different people in the same family (7+ / 0-)

      living the same moving experiences handle it differently. Here I am, moving around the world all over again and my two sisters have tried to stay put. One has moved around CA but she would prefer not too. Her husband's job required it.

      There is no right answer on any of this.

      As for immigrant families - I would assume that those families want to make life here work for them. Many of them come not only for the jobs but for the public education. And, if they chose to homeschool, I can only imagine that language acquisition would be high on their list. After all, you can't survive in a foreign country without it. The only exceptions I can think of might be extremely religious families who expect their daughter's to marry within the culture and religion. I would hope those are far and few between. And I'm uncomfortable about legislating how they raise their children.

      Of course, we've met plenty of Americans that move to foreign countries and look for schools that are as American as possible and their kids don't learn the local language. They just don't see the need. Of course, they usually aren't immigrating either.

  •  This is such a good argument for (7+ / 0-)

    homeschooling! Continuity instead of disruption. Child-centered learning rather than struggling to catch up and having a sense of inadequacy!

    It sounds like you're in the DC Metro area. If so, there are so many great opportunities for learning. The year we moved there, I took the kids to Mount Vernon where they had hands-on displays for the kids. My daughter tried on colonial clothes while her little brother sad down to fit pottery shards together--everybody happy!

    The Claude Moore Colonial Farm is also worth a visit. There are internships and apprentice programs among other things.

    Good to hear everyone is getting settled.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Sat May 12, 2012 at 09:14:57 AM PDT

  •  Welcome back! (5+ / 0-)

    Really nice diary.  I like how the points about choice, flexibility, not having to keep up with different school curriculums and having opportunities to experience other cultures because of those choices emerge from your narrative.  Also, how living in this way deepens family members relationships with each other and respects each person's natural rhythms.

    Thank you!

  •  What a wonderful (4+ / 0-)

    upbeat adventure you're all having! Thanks for sharing.

  •  Congratulations on the Community Spotlight!... (4+ / 0-)

    What a great story of the logistical challenges of constantly relocating.  I resonate with how quickly we develop as human beings when we are constantly on the move, having to assess and scope out new environments and more fully learn to realize our own needs within each new environment.

    Grades don't really matter when the point of education is to learn
    Yeah... amen to that!

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Sat May 12, 2012 at 11:19:02 AM PDT

  •  Grew up in the military...... (5+ / 0-)

    .....and wound up going to 12 different elementary schools including Augsburg, Germany.  

    Always behind until my father left the military when I was 9.  Even this it took until 8th grade to catch up. Given my mother's skill sets I think homeschooling would have been the way to go.

    "I Welcome Their Hatred." - FDR

    by dehrha02 on Sat May 12, 2012 at 11:35:05 AM PDT

    •  It just wasn't an option when you and I were (0+ / 0-)

      growing up... assuming we're about the same age. I think it was even still illegal in a few states when I was growing up. Really, it's amazing how far homeschooling has come in a short amount of time!

      If you are ever interested in writing about your military upbringing, let us know. I would love to publish your diaries with the Military Community Members of DailyKos.

  •  Great diary, angelajean. It brought your family (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, FloridaSNMOM

    adventures to life, and gave me a peek into what an officer's family has to go through to bring the officer up through the ranks.

    We homeschooled for a year as well. Our son was small for his age, and had learning problems. The homeschooling enabled him to be better prepared for middle school and high school.

    We ended up putting him through a Waldorf education from second grade on. We home schooled while a middle school was built, then he boarded through high school.

    I understand your reservation about private schools cutting your children off from their communities. I think that is one of the problems with charter schools. It was also a problem with our son in coming back home after a couple years of college. He isn't as plugged into the community having been away from home for so many years.

    Your homeschooling will pay off for your children, I think. Now I wish I would have home-schooled our son through high school.

    Winner: Prof. Obama vs Mitt "5 Sons No Service" Romney

    by 4Freedom on Sat May 12, 2012 at 01:09:58 PM PDT

    •  It's funny, because once we found our groove, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I thought we would always homeschool but when my oldest hit 9th grade, he really wanted to go to a 'real' school. So we had him enroll in the local public school in Monterey, CA. He managed one semester before we moved to Argentina. He loved the social interaction - a little more lively that what he had been used to in TX on the military base and enjoyed some of his classes. Even though he was in many college prep courses, however, he didn't feel challenged. He felt like he was getting away with something. And, many of the classes spent a lot of time wasting time in his eyes. Of course, the teachers weren't really wasting time, they were trying to make sure all the students got the material. Then, after the year in school in Argentina, he has said he is ready to be at home again. Actually, he wants dual enrollment, part time community college and part time home study. We're trying our best to find that for him.

      As to charter schools - I have to say it must depend on the charter. We were fortunate to use a great charter school in CA for homeschoolers and it introduced us to a diverse community of folks who lived in the Sierra Foothills. My boys met families of all political persuasions and religious beliefs. I know that many charter schools are succeeding in doing what progressives want - providing diverse educational experiences in their communities to a wide variety of folks. I only wish we could control the for profit models that are placing profit before education and pretending to do otherwise. We really need more educational models that put kids first.

      I'm actually jealous of your Waldorf education experience. We would have jumped at that as well. By the time we found a charter school following the Waldorf model, my boys were older and benefiting from homeschooling. But if we had lived in one place, I would have worked hard to make Waldorf available!

  •  I need to go through the comments, (4+ / 0-)

    But first I want to try to show a graphic sourced from the USDept of Ed. It is the second most popular post on my blog, and just a moment ago, I was thinking I should post it on Daily Kos.  Here you were on the top of the list...made it easy for me!

    homeschool hy 2

    Against typical progressive reasoning, religion isn't the only reason.  Many think it is racism, but I have met just as many black homeschoolers as white. Another very important reason that is not included in the graph is that many parents don't want to drug their kids to make them "teachable" in todays school environment. My son no longer  takes ritalin.  I guess they thought he was just "too scattered to learn", said of Thomas Edison.

    "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice." Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

    by rosabw on Sat May 12, 2012 at 02:49:17 PM PDT

  •  Wow, Angela! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, FloridaSNMOM

    Tuning in late, as usual, but I hope you see this . . . I love this diary.  You opened my eyes to a side of the military experience (actual adventure and world-exploring) that is so not reported elsewhere.  The curiosity, perseverance, resourcefulness and openness to new experience and cultures you've demonstrated -- and shared with your kids -- are really impressive and admirable.  Thank you for sharing a wonderful story.

    •  You are very welcome. (0+ / 0-)

      Diaries like this were one of my goals when I came to DKos. It wasn't just about politics but about finding ways to explain our lifestyle to those who aren't familiar with it at all. I hate the "all military are conservative Republicans meme" and I hope this kind of writing goes a long way to helping change that :)

      I'm glad you stopped by!

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