Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Mock Day

Last week I heard those dreaded words that every homeschooling parent fears ... "I might want to try school." This from T, just about to turn 9. 

I can't blame him. Virtually every kid's book highlights the escapades and camaraderie of school friends, making school sound like a glorious adventure book, with a new chapter to be read and experienced every day. In addition, homeschooled children are bombarded by society's expectation that to be "normal," kids must be educated in the public school system.

Obviously, parents who homeschool don't make that decision lightly, and the vast majority are just regular folk who want what's best for their kids. They usually do tons of research about it before jumping in and put in lots of time to make it work for their kids, so for their kid to think that school might be better is ... well ... a bit distressing.

But this post isn't about why we homeschool. It's about our mock day. Interestingly, S decided to try it with her younger brother, so it made for a full day. Mind you, they spent their first few school years in a variety of private schools, so they have a good idea of what a classroom setting is like.

Here in our local school district, elementary school starts at 7:45. Usually at that time, my kids are dozing on the couch, waking up slowly, after being dragged out of their beds at 7:00. We don't really get started until well after 8:00, and sometimes closer to 9:00. But this morning, I get them up at 6:45, as I am determined to follow the school schedule rigidly. (After all, the school watches the clock, so for this to be a true representation [or as close as possible], we need to follow the school's schedule.) They had to be dressed, with shoes on, and in their seats (two desks set up in our gameroom in front of a giant whiteboard) no later than 7:44. So far so good.

We spend the Morning Announcement time (7:45-8:00) talking about how our day will go. Last night, I printed out a bunch of information from our school district - things like class schedule, curricula, worksheets, examples of science projects, book lists and reading logs, and other things like that. (If you noticed that I didn't make a blog post last night, that's why.) We talk about how the normal school day is run and how we will follow it as closely as possible. I also assure them that I am not going to skew the day to make it distasteful; that won't give any of us any real information. I want to make this day an example of our "best scenario," asking them to imagine that each other is their best friend and that I am a really nice teacher (a real stretch, I know). 

They are eager.

So the day begins with each kid sitting next to his/her best friend, cheery smiles on their cherubic faces, in the class of the nicest teacher in the school. I want them to look at this day as how good public school gets for a typical mid-year, non-testing, non-party day. (For what it's worth, our district's schools are ranked consistently in the top in the country, so a good day there is a good day anywhere, even if we are in Texas! LOL)

I remind them that this is a real school day, so they need to raise their hands to talk, ask permission to go to the bathroom, and stay in their seats unless I allow them to move about the room.

Math is the first subject, an hour and a half. T lasts 10 minutes into it before he starts complaining about how his butt hurts, how tired he is, and how long the day is going to be. But he soldiers on. After all, he realizes, this is his idea. We just finish the lesson in the time allotted (this takes each of them twice as long as normal, since one is waiting while the other is doing, just as they would in school), when it's time to move on to Language Arts. I have them do a minute or so of jumping jacks, stretches, and jogging in place just to get the blood to their brains. When they get a bit out of control, I remind them that they wouldn't be able to do that in a class of 25 kids. 

LA lasts an hour and a half. One of the books on the classroom reading list is Little House in the Big Woods, so that's what we start with. We take turns reading, have a rousing discussion about life in the 1870s in the Wisconsin winter, and then move on to LA "fun" worksheets (puzzles, word games, etc.). At the end of the LA period, they put their unfinished worksheets in their homework folders alongside their math homework and their reading logs.

It's now 10:45, and the kids are starving, restless ... and rapidly working toward cranky. By this time on a regular day, they would have done a number of individual activities and be working on their first snack of the day. Instead, T is trying to lie down at his desk, putting his head in his hands, and sighing and moaning under his breath. To take their minds off of food, I run them through another minute of in-place exercise.

On to "Specials." This could be art, music, or another non-academic class. I choose art, since my kids aren't natural artists so wouldn't choose that on their own and since they regularly take guitar lessons anyway. I want them to experience something different, just like they would in school.

I can see that this last 50 minutes is quickly circling the drain, so I choose something active: gesture drawings. We look at Rembrandt's gesture drawings, watch a tutorial video, read a little on the basics, and then spend about 20 minutes actually drawing. They love that. They're moving, working, creating.


Meanwhile, G sneaks partway up the stairs and softly whines, "When's lunch? I'm so loooooonely!" (He did not want any part of Mock Day!)

Finally, lunch! I have them line up, walk silently down the stairs, stop to get their meal punch cards, and then walk with them into the kitchen for their leisurely 25-minute lunch. They're so hungry that they each eat 2 sandwiches! They're scarfing down the last one, with T jamming the last bite into his mouth in the last minute of lunch.

The half hour of recess (I remind S that she wouldn't get recess next year in middle school) is a godsend. We all need it. They go wild, chasing each other around the house and outside, laughing like banshees. I remind them that in lots of schools these days kids aren't allowed to run on the playground, since someone might get hurt. I hole up in the office, breathing a bit of non-kid air for my precious 30 minutes. I quickly see why the Teachers' Lounge is such a popular place in schools.

It's now 12:30 and up we go to Social Studies. One of the items on the curriculum list is Government, so we talk together about the Constitution, the Articles, and the 3 branches of government for an hour. During this time, I'm looking at the kids, asking questions and expecting answers. S is still chiming in, but my ADD-type kid is completely glazed at this point, with no glimmer of life left behind his eyes. He's completely checked out, his face like paste.

1:30 and time to move on to Science. This is T's favorite subject, so I'm sure he'll perk up. As I put away the Social Studies materials, I hear S say, "What?" to T. He replies a bit more loudly, "I give up." She says, "You can't give up. You're in school."

T shifts from his chair to the floor, plops down cross-legged, and says sternly, "I give up!"

I say, "You wanted to have a mock day. We need to finish the entire day so you can have a good idea of what school is like."

But he is done. I get him to agree to sit on the floor with me where we can all talk about what 3rd-graders are expected to accomplish in Science, instead of actually doing a lesson. That doesn't last long, however, and he's soon standing on his desk, jumping up and down, and chanting, "I GIVE UP! I GIVE UP!"

And gee, he didn't even raise his hand.

But I am determined to finish out the day, just so that he can have that experience. We spend the time after Science, called "Flex Time" (whatever that is), playing a dictionary game with G.  

At 2:45 school is dismissed, to the delight of all.

Before they scamper away, I remind them - being the helpful, nice teacher that I am - that, if this were a real school day, they would go home (possibly after ballet lesson, piano lesson, or Cub Scouts), have a half an hour or so to relax, then do their homework, which looked at that point like at least an hour of work, then have dinner, and last collapse into bed. And tomorrow start the whole process again. The blood drained from their faces in horror.

All in all, it was a successful day in many ways. The kids got what they wanted. I felt like I gave them as real an experience as possible without having the benefit of the school. I gained a much greater appreciation for teachers. I have always appreciated teachers, but this experience has taught me just how tiring the day is and how much work is involved. 

What's more, the kids seem to have gained a greater appreciation of their educational situation. They saw how confining desks, regimented schedules, and strict curriculum guidelines can be. They saw just how much freedom they have to learn what they want, when they want to, and to the depth they desire.

All in all, a good day.


  1. This reminds me of the Cosby Show episode where Theo decides he can manage living in his own apartment making money as a first time model (no portfolio, nothing, just the idea he was goodlooking!). He came home to find his parents have done an elaborate setup in their house, of landlord, bank loan officer, thrift furniture shop etc. He immediately gets a taste of the "real world" ! I always marveled at the parents' creativity, and the lengths they went to to teach him the lesson in a way he would really understand. Hats off to you creative moms!

  2. I loved this! Nothing as perfect as a brilliant, resourceful and calm parent choosing to homeschool their children - couldn't get more customized or perfect.

    I was curious what morning announcement was. Do you normally have that every morning? I want to be in this school of yours Camille!

  3. This was a brilliant idea. I really need to be more creative with my children's education.

  4. What a hoot! When you talked about T's eyes being glazed and his face the color of paste, I could TOTALLY Picture it. I read part of it to my dh and kids, and mine immediately started chanting, "I GIVE UP!"
    Good for you for that prep work -- and for not being arbitrarily mean about it! I'd be tempted to do things Miss Hannigan style. ;-)