November 20, 2018
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How Maine families that homeschool mark back-to-school season

Courtesy of Jasmine Fowler
Courtesy of Jasmine Fowler
One of Jasmine Fowler's children works on a homeschool project.

For lots of Maine families, back-to-school time means clothes shopping for fast-growing children, stocking up on brand-new notebooks, pencils and other school supplies and making sure little ones don’t get on the school bus without a hug and a quickly-snapped photo.

But what about the Maine families that choose to homeschool their children? Even though they do not have to be tied to the traditional school calendar and usually don’t see the yellow buses pulled up to their driveways, homeschool families say they often have important back-to-school rituals of their own.

In Dedham, Kristin Beauchamp’s children were engaged last week in one of those rituals — cleaning and preparing the classroom at Lone Spruce Home School, which usually has just three students: Stephanie Norman-Beauchamp, 17, Wyatt Beauchamp, almost 8, and 6-year-old Ruby Beauchamp.

“You might categorize it as a tradition. We go through, clean and refresh,” Kristin Beauchamp said. “We move furniture around and have a little ceremony, a fresh start feeling.”

And while the family recently has started doing school year-round, in part because her son, Wyatt, has had many medical emergencies due to epilepsy, September is still a special time in their homeschool calendar. This year, they plan to start their new school year in the second week of September.

“I like starting in the autumn. We have always taken a picture on their first day of school,” she said. “I treasure it. And we always take a class trip somewhere very special to kick it off.”

This year, she said, they are planning to go to Mount Desert Island for their class trip, where they will hike the trails, visit Sand Beach and more after the bulk of the summer tourists have gone home. They appreciate the freedom to make their own schedule. Still, Kristin Beauchamp’s kids have a diverse educational background, including stints at public schools, and she has incorporated some of what they did into homeschooling.

“I’ve taken little bits of the traditions of all the diverse forms of education and kept some of them,” she said. “It reminds them they’re a part of something, even if it looks different than the experiences their friends have.”

For Sasha Kutsy of Belfast, who homeschools her children Mirabelle Kutsy-Durbin, 12, and Kai Kutsy-Durbin, 9, the Common Ground Fair in Unity in September is an important part of the family’s back-to-school tradition. Prior to that, they continue to camp, hike and swim as long as the weather allows.

“We generally use the Common Ground Fair as the marker of the summer being over,” she said. “And then we often just get inspiration from a lot of the different activities and skills, the different craftspeople who are there. We get inspired by them and their projects.”

Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
Erin Gerbi, 13, paints a pineapple on the cheek of her sister Megan, 11, during a normal day at home in Orono, Jan. 25, 2017. The Gerbi family are "unschoolers," whose parents strongly believe in child-focused learning.

Kutsy, who has a teaching degree, does a combination of different education practices with her children, including project-based schooling and “ unschooling,” where the kids take the lead. And after the fair, it’s time for the family to regroup after a busy summer and plan for homeschooling projects and subject areas.

“We have a planning meeting,” she said, adding that she takes the kids to a local eatery for a smoothie and some conversation. “I ask them the question, ‘What do you think you want to explore and what skills do you want to work on this fall?’”

In the past, they have chosen to work on such things as building a clubhouse, learning computer coding, writing, making a plant identification book, participating in community theater and much more, Kutsy said.

Jasmine Fowler of Morrill has a similar annual meeting with her children Wylie Fowler, 15, Juniper Fowler, 13 and Kale Fowler, 8, speaking to them individually to set their goals for the year. When she first started homeschooling with her kids, she figured that they would be learning and homeschooling all year long with life as their classroom. That was the case when her kids were little, but as they got older and school work got more complicated, things had to change.

“Gosh, it’s a lot of work for the parents. And we end up taking summers off,” she said, adding that in September, they reconvene and talk about how they want their school year to go. “They usually have an idea. Some project work, or something academic. We have a 30 to 45 minute meeting with each kid where we plan out how they want to structure their day or week, then we’ll revisit that again in January.”

Courtesy of Jasmine Fowler
Courtesy of Jasmine Fowler
One of Jasmine Fowler's children works on a homeschool project.

Meanwhile, in Eddington, writer and teacher Crystal Sands is marking the back-to-school season this year by creating a brand-new curriculum for her 9-year-old son. During the summers, the family spends more time outside working in the garden, caring for their chickens and other seasonal activities. Then, when fall comes, she does an assessment to figure out where her son is academically and they start schoolwork. It can be hard to transition back to a more scheduled type of learning, but the new curriculum, which names academic subjects with fun titles based on the classes Harry Potter took at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will help, she thinks.

“This year, in order to make [school] a little more fun, I decided to do a Harry Potter theme for all the subjects. History is Muggle history. I decided to do herbology with the plants. And his assessments will be O.W.L.S.,” she said. “We’re going to do a little bit of rhetoric with him, and I’m going to call it ‘Defense Against the Dark Arts.’ And Care of Magical Creatures, we have our chickens and our dogs.”

She thinks her son is excited about starting school this fall, she said, and that’s her goal.

“He loves summer and the freedom of summer,” Sands said. “I’m hoping that this will be an extra fun way to ease back into the routine of homeschool.”

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