Learning without a classroom

For some home-schoolers, lessons and activities don't break for the summer

For some home-schoolers, lessons and activities don't break for the summer

July 18, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

So far, summer for the Chapelles has been pretty typical - swimming, biking, kayaking, reading, math and "Runaway Children."

For the home-schooling family of 10, learning - and creative play, including the children's make-believe episodes of running away and being reunited - never takes a holiday.

"They're pretty active, they're pretty much always doing something and this time of year, it's pretty much always outside, except when it's super hot," Sheila Chapelle said as several of her children played with other home-schoolers at Greenbrier State Park last week.

For the Chapelles, who consider themselves "unschoolers," learning requires no curriculum or classroom. Parents who home-school say learning need not follow any calendar, either.


"I want them to look at learning as something you do in life," said Wendy Knight, who educates her two sons at their home in Frederick, Md. "It's not just something you do between the hours of 9 and 3."

According to Manfred Smith, president and founder of Maryland Home Education Association, home-schooling families operate around a variety of schedules and structures. Some families continue math and reading lessons over the summer, while children in other homes might enjoy extended vacations, just like their peers in public schools, Smith said.

"People who believe learning has no beginning and no end, they don't start, they don't begin their education on Sept. 1 with the schools and end June 15 with the schools," Smith said. "Learning doesn't have borders, and it doesn't have time frames."

The Columbia, Md.-based association, which provides resources and advocacy to home-schoolers, includes about 1,000 member families, Smith said. According to Smith, about 17,000 Maryland families educate their children at home.

At the Chapelles' Sharpsburg home, some of the girls played "Clue," while Ocoee, 5, showed off his latest work - buildings of blocks neatly labeled with handwritten notes as "Dungeon," "Sleeping Tower" and "Doubled House."

Ocoee, the youngest of the Chapelles' eight children, often instructs his older siblings to put notes on his projects "so people know what I've named them."

Neither Ocoee nor 6-year-old Rowan read yet, though both children enjoy copying words.

"Anything he sees in letters that seems important to us, he'll get a big sheet of paper out and copy out the letters," Sheila Chapelle said.

To show off his skills, Ocoee printed out the letters on his brother's drum set - CODA - while his sister wrote her name.

Storytelling, music making and cooking are some of the learning pursuits family members take on together.

"I think it's given them a sense of 'I can do things. At age 11, I can have an idea, and someone listens to me, and it's a good idea,'" Sheila said during a conversation at the park.

Inside their West Main Street home with its distinctive purple doors, the Chapelles also are taking on a project sure to extend through several more school terms. Ancient wood beams cross over exposed dry wall and insulation, and missing rocks reveal holes in the mantle above the iron stove where the children sometimes gather in winter for their lessons.

Sheila Chapelle said her 14-year-old son, who normally is more interested in horses than books, especially enjoys the home-repair project.

According to Chapelle, "he went from reading comic books - books that were in comic form - to reading big, fat home-repair manuals."

Other home-schooling members of Appalachian Regional Co-op who gathered at Greenbrier said reading is an important part of their summer plans.

Jessica Reehl, a mother of a school-aged boy and 3-year-old girl, called her lessons eclectic. The focus for 6-year-old Jayme has been reading, though work on telling time and counting money has extended through the summer, Reehl said.

"This is the first year through the library he's actually been reading the books himself," said Reehl, of Falling Waters, W.Va. She has read aloud four of the five massive "Harry Potter" books released so far.

Thirteen-year-old Brandon Knight also was eagerly awaiting the next "Harry Potter" book, which hit the shelves Saturday.

Brandon's mother, Wendy Knight, said even when more formal home-schooling lessons stop, learning - through reading, field trips and family discussions - continues.

"For us, living is learning," Wendy Knight said.

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