Finally both Joaquin and Jovani are in school! I want to write a bit and describe the school itself and the educational philosophy behind it. We wanted to send the boys to school, not because I’m sick of homeschooling them, but because Israel and I both feel that attending school will be the best way for the boys to achieve native fluency in Spanish and because we feel that is the easiest way for children to make friends. Traveling and moving around from place to place constantly over the past few months has been a bit isolating for the boys, so we thought that slowing down and allowing them the opportunity to form relationships with others is important right now.
All of our Spanish skills have improved over this trip, and we are all fluent, but you should understand that there are different levels of fluency that one can attain when learning a foreign language. I am fluent in Spanish and have been for many years, but I will never be able to attain a native level of fluency, simply because I learned the language as an adult. It is extremely important to me to give the gift of native fluency in both Spanish and English to all our children. At this level of fluency one doesn’t get confused by verb tenses, pronouns, or whether or not a word is masculine or feminine. Language learning was a large part of our decision to embark on this journey. So it is our hope that they will attain this level of proficiency by attending school where they only speak and hear Spanish everyday for six hours over the next six months or so.
Obviously, building friendships while constantly moving around is a challenge. The little boys were lucky to spend such a long time getting to know their cousins and hopefully they have started to create a bond that will last them a lifetime. But even with our attempts at meeting other travelers, they have still been a bit isolated by our new lifestyle. So another goal of attending school and slowing our travel is for them to create some friendships.
We have been homeschooling for six years now and my educational philosophy has evolved quite a bit over time, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. We started out with a pretty school-at-home feel, with a schedule, and designated time for each subject. But as life happened I became more relaxed with our studies and chose a more natural flow to our day. I don’t like labels, but I now consider our style of learning to be closer to unschooling than anything. Unschooling is the philosophy that children will learn in the same way as adults or small children, which is to learn by interest and discovery. Think about it. Do you need an hour carved out of each day to learn math, reading, science, history, and geography? Or do you learn new things as your interests lead you. As an adult I have learned so much over the years as my interests have changed. When I was pregnant and had small babies, I was very interested in learning more about fetal development, breastfeeding, early learning, parenting, and child development. When we first started homeschooling I read everything I could find about educational philosophies, curriculum, and child development. My interests are constantly evolving and I love learning new things when I am ready and my interests guide me. I have never had the desire to read a business book until this year. If you would have given me one prior to now I would have been bored to tears. Now I have ten books on business and marketing sitting in my Kindle library.
We feel that our children should have the same opportunity to learn the way that everyone else does. Judah was painting when I got home today and wanted to paint some planets, so we went to the computer and learned a bit about the different planets in our solar system. Last year Joaquin was interested in Japan, so I helped him find an online class about Japanese culture and history. Jovani loves to build and use tools, so Israel is helping him design and create a carpentry project. I feel that my role as their teacher is more as a guide that is teaching them how to learn. Memorizing historical names and dates, equations, or the elements of the periodic table is not essential in this day and age. What is important, is learning why these things are significant, learning how to find this information yourself, how the information fits in the world, and how it applies to other aspects of what you are learning.
Anyways, the school that we have found has a similar educational philosophy to our own. Here they call it educación libre. I’m thrilled that I now know the term in Spanish to describe what we do. I found Tikapata by looking online for alternative schools in the Sacred Valley. The more I communicated with them and read about the school, the more I was convinced that this was the right school for our family.
The school tries to create a warm, caring, safe environment for the children to learn. Escuela Tikapata is on a couple acres of land is comprised of five adobe constructed buildings that each contain one of the multi-age classrooms in an upstairs loft as well as a room downstairs for all the students to use. There is an art room, a movement and music room, a computer room, a library, and a workshop. The children have a lot of choice at this school that other schools don’t provide. The older kids design their own schedule based on their interests. All the kids have the opportunity to learn cooking, building, gardening, art, music, and movement. Jovani loves the cooking class and looks forward to the days that he gets to go to the real workshop to work with real tools. Much of the kids day is spent outside. There is a vegetable garden, a labyrinth, a play structure, a basketball court, and a kitchen with a covered eating space.
Parental involvement at Tikapata is also important, the school itself was built by parents. There are parenting workshops scheduled throughout the school year and last night we attended the first one. It was good to meet some other parents and get to know the teachers a bit more. This was much different than the parent-teacher night at the schools we have been to back home. We all sat on cushions on the floor in the movement room and went around in the circle and introduced ourselves. Then the director asked us what the word presence means. We all brainstormed the various definitions and synonyms of the word. We then embarked on an activity of trust where we were attached to a partner by a string with our eyes closed and had them guide us around the property. After switching roles, we then came back to the room to discuss how the activity changed our ideas of the word presence and how this all applied to parenting in general. If you know me you know how cynical I am and you realize that this sort of activity is absolute torture for me. But, even though it was touchy feely and extremely long and drawn out (three hours!), it was an interesting exercise and got me to think about the way I parent and how to be more present.
Jovani has enjoyed the school, but it has definitely been an adjustment for him not to be at home with us all the time. I have seen his Spanish improve immensely over the past few weeks and he now speaks to Israel entirely in Spanish. He has made some friends and even went to a friend’s house for a play date last week.
Joaquin just started yesterday and finds it extremely boring, just like everything else in life. His teacher seems pretty engaging, and I’m hoping that with only 11 students in his age group, that he will be forced to participate and interact in class. Hopefully he will find someone to connect with during his time here.
We are committed to stay in the school through July, but may consider staying longer if we see the boys thriving. If you’re curious to learn a bit more about Escuela Tikapata, here is a link to their website. https://www.ecoescuelatikapata.org/ You can probably use Google translate to help you if you don’t understand Spanish.