Life Hack: A Shorter School Day

quotes“Life Hack: any shortcut, skill, or method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.”

There’s a lot of talk about hacking things lately. Modern society coined the term “Life Hack” as a catch-all to describe making our everyday lives easier by utilizing little tricks, such as using nail polish to identify different keys on the same ring or using a muffin tin for condiments at a BBQ to save clean up time. The point being, there are little things here and there that we can use and reuse to make life just little bit easier.

But what about school? Does the act of going to a traditional school for 12+ years lead to a better job, better relationships, and a better life? I pose this question so that we can begin to think about the purpose behind our 6-8 hour school day and whether or not the act of physically going to a school really means a better life outcome.

The American School Day & The Industrialization Era

It’s no secret that the rise of public education and the Industrialization Era went hand-in-hand. “Before the industrial age, provision of formal schooling virtually everywhere was scarce — dependent on tuition and fees, voluntarist, and usually limited to males,” explains Jim Carl, who wrote Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification.

So when parents began working in the factories instead of on the farms, the school day got longer to accommodate the change in times. Of course, now our work days often exceed the standard 8 hours and our schools have had to accommodate again with school-sponsored or third-party-contracted Before School and After School programming. Our kids are often at school from 7am-6pm, five days a week.

Life takes place at school. But are our children learning more?

Homeschooling’s 3 Hour Day

We’ve got to remember that what we consider traditional schooling is only about 160 years old, with Massachusetts passing the first compulsory school law in 1852 and the rest of the U.S. following soon thereafter.  That’s really only about five or six generations.

Before children went off to school, parents and communities formed little schools within the home or neighborhood. Yes, homeschooling was once considered the traditional school format.

Homeschooling today is required by law to have children study for “at least three hours a day for 175 days each calendar year“. Compare this requirement to our public and private school students who get up at 6am and have to be at school for their first period by 7:25 (that’s when my high school began, and everyday it was a struggle to get up and get out the door. I’m still tired!).

So which is better?

Well, as I get older and another birthday rolls around next week, I realize that having more for the sake of more does not equate to better.

A shorter school day may just be the life hack your kid benefits from the most.

Check out this great, little nugget of wisdom from 13 year old Logan LaPlante who discusses his take on HackSchooling

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

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Thinking Inside the Box

homeschooling in a box

Thinking Inside The Box

A friend of mine recently posted this picture of her son, clearly engaged in his homeschooling homework while sitting in a box– thinking inside the box, if you will.

Homeschooling Gets a Second Life

Homeschooling is on the rise. Its focus on individualized attention, teaching to your child’s strengths, going at your own pace, and making learning come to life is getting a second wind. In fact, I can think of at least five friends and family members who have chosen to homeschool their children.

Whether it’s a response to the public school class size (up to 40!) or pricey private school alternatives, homeschooling provides a chance to dig into the subject matters that interest your kids the most while allowing your child to explore and think creatively without the confines of a classroom.

There is no one-size-fits-all education. There never was. Traditional, Public, Developmental, Progressive, Therapeutic and the Unschooling Movements

Traditional schools teach to the middle while developmental, progressive, therapeutic and especially the unschooling or non-schooling movement embraces the idea that teaching to the individual is the preferred route to take. Where homeschooling is not an option, I’ve guided many parents towards these alternative school choices. 

Let’s walk through these various school movements using Sara, a slow reader, as an example.

  • Public Schools set the traditional model standard. They focus on standardizing objective criteria, pulling from data to ensure that all students are learning within the normal range. So for someone like Sara, who is a slower reader and would likely fall outside of that standard deviation bell curve, her reading scores would put resource teachers on notice that Sara may need extra interventions. An SST (Student Success Team) Meeting as well a potential IEP (Individualized Education Program) may be the next steps to seek.
  • Developmental Schools focus on allowing the child to learn according to their own development. For example, just because Sara is a slower reader than Grayson is not cause for alarm (at least not yet). The developmental movement allows time for each child to learn at their own pace.
  • The Progressive School is the antithesis of the traditional public school. It agrees that Sara is a slow reader but instead of seeking remediation it will focus on Sara’s strengths, let’s say in her case — math. By playing up Sara’s awesome math skills, she will gain more overall confidence and learn to naturally compensate for her slower reading levels. Individual study and strength-based education are two hallmarks of the progressive movement.
  • Therapeutic Schools are great for kids who have learning differences, behavior challenges, and social skills needs. These schools cater to students that need extra attention outside of their studies. They usually have well-rounded academics coupled with a focus on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). So if Sara’s slow reading turns out to be dyslexia or a processing disorder coupled with ADHD this school would be able to address all of those concerns.
  • And finally, the Un-Schooling or Non-Schooling Movement. This is a controversial form of education, whereby a child completely chooses his or her educational programming. In fact, the choice not to choose is also a choice recognized by this movement. For self-directed learners or gifted kids who are not being challenged in the classroom, this may be a good option. For Sara who struggles with reading, she would likely just choose not to engage in any reading. The outcome could go one of two ways: (a) Either Sara chooses to forgo any reading and instead focuses on her love of math and art, or (b) Sara learns to independently compensate for her low reading skills by using visuals, project-based learning, and books-on-tape.

What’s Most Important for Your Child’s Education?

The thing that gets me about traditional schools in this day in age is not the rigorous academics (I think that’s a good thing) but the superfluous stuff, like busy work, learning to line up, walking down a hallway in a quiet manner, and asking to the go to the bathroom before being able to leave your desk. There’s only so much modeling you need to understand social conventions.

Traditional school formats were once a preparation tool for learning to be a productive member of the industrialization era. But today, technology and the internet has opened up so many more entrepreneurial doors. Instead, our focus should be a strength-based, confidence-building, creative environment where each child can learn to love learning independently but can come together naturally to share their ideas and learn from one another.

Maybe it’s not a matter of thinking inside or outside of the box. Perhaps, we just need to change the box all together.

Take a listen on NPR: Parents On The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling and check out Terry Tutors: Our School Placement Consulting Services

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Learning versus Thinking

learning v thinkingLet’s be clear: School is not just about learning but also about social conformity. For example, we must line up to go outside for recess, write our essays in MLA format, eat lunch at a certain time during the day, follow a schedule, participate by raising our hands, and I’m sure you can think of countless other examples. Because I work with kids whose social “deficits” cloud their ability to participate in a traditional classroom, I often wonder: Are we teaching our students to think for themselves or learn by example?

The short of the argument is that students need to learn both critical thinking and social modeling to live and work in the society we’ve created. However, where we struggle in our educational culture is letting the thing kids are passionate about doing, define their learning career. And no, I’m talking about video games 🙂

All too often the thinking skill in our classroom is put aside in favor of following the social cues. Some will argue this comes from our industrialization of education, modeled after Ford’s Model T Assembly Line technique. Others will argue that EQ (the Emotional Quotient) is more important than remembering facts and figures because how we interact with others on a basic human, social level will ultimately determine our success.

I’d like to think that we’re teaching our students to question, rather than just blindly obey. But I’m not sure. For that reason, I’m fascinated by the progressive school movement, which sprung from many homeschooling groups. In general, they believe in a multidisciplinary model of education. This means that independent learning, self-directed study, and outside of the classroom settings are the backdrop to thinking creatively–outside the box– and therefore guiding our students towards their own individual definition of success rather than a set standard of achievement.

As a public school graduate, myself, I followed the traditional classroom model all the way through law school; there is something to be said for teaching our kids to follow the leader. More often than not, however, there is a creative potential in all kids that may get lost along the way, thinking that the expected path is the best path. It happened to me.

I chose my educational journey, my parents did not choose it for me. In fact, they encouraged exploration and defining my career path by my talents and strengths. I was the one who had an exact idea of what success looked like, and I decided early on in my education that I wanted to achieve that set standard. It was only later, after graduation and the recession of 2008, that I started to really think outside of the box and combine my skills to create a company founded on collaboration–an intuitive but outside-of-the-box approach in special education advocacy and education in general.

Did I have this potential all along? Could I have tapped into it sooner if I hadn’t already decided that I wanted a pre-determined notion of success?

The point being is that we’re all born with unique gifts and talents, but our human desire to socially be accepted often overrides our ability to follow our own path. Those students who feel like outsiders, or are treated as such, are the ones that, if nurtured, end up not following the crowd and doing something outside of the box–something uniquely innovative. We, as educators, should cultivate those critical thinking skills and applaud our students when they come up with a novel idea. Although needed, we should place less emphasis on conformity and more on developing an individual’s talents because when it comes down to it, following the crowd will only take you as far as the person in front of you goes.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student, combining Academic Support, Behavior Support, and Education Advocacy to bridge the gap between home and school in order to serve the whole student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com