My name is Kara Tupy. I’m the Associate Director of Instruction, TK-8, at The Cottonwood School, and just as importantly, I’m a homeschooling mom.

About two months ago, my thirteen-year-old son and I hit the proverbial wall. It seemed like every lesson, every assignment, and every conversation caused one or the other of us to burst into tears! Not at all what you’d expect when you feel like you’re a “veteran” homeschooling family. Surely, after seven years I’d have this down, right? Why, then, are we hitting so many speed bumps at this moment?

One Saturday morning, over pancakes–-because junior high boys are much more likely to stay at the table long enough to have a discussion with a plate of pancakes in front of them–I put on my listening hat and started asking questions about my son’s homeschooling experience. Unplanned, but rather perfectly timed, his siblings chimed in, lending their rich experience to the conversation. Our curiosity as the guide, I probed, “What do you like best and least about homeschooling?” A scary question for a parent to ask. What if the thing they like least is me?

What we like best:

  • Having more time with friends & flexible scheduling
  • Exploring our interests and going at our own pace
  • Being outdoors, doing projects, and hands-on learning

What we like least:

  • Too much independent work and doing school “alone”
  • Boredom & too much screen time
  • Too few activities with friends

When we scanned the list, we realized that we had stopped doing a lot of the things on our “best” list and by default had begun doing too many of the things on our “least” list. It’s amazing how kids intuitively know what they need. Just by naming what had been going on, the solutions began to make themselves known. We brainstormed ways to incorporate more of those “best” things back into our homeschooling routine.

At the top of the list was hosting a book club. To be honest, I thought my son hated book club last year. So when his older sister started high school, I just let it fizzle out. Turns out, I was wrong! We contacted some friends, purchased a Bravewriter guide to “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings,” and beginning today, we’ll be hosting book club until the end of the school year for a few of our homeschooling buddies.

Next on my son’s idea list: project-based learning. My first reaction to this idea? “How will I ever pull this off?” As a working mom, I outsource a lot of our homeschooling, and my husband is incredibly involved, too. Classes are our best friends. A textbook with auto-grading – sign us up! But these, or more specifically, these alone, weren’t giving us the rich homeschooling life we desired.

Over spring break, we gathered with friends, learned about ecosystems through escape rooms and hikes, researched biomes, and designed houses, all in the pursuit of creating a fantastical board game based on real world phenomena. The game may not be finished yet, but the change has been palpable. My withdrawn thirteen year old is smiling again. There’s a buzz of excitement around the dinner table as we recount our day.

I think to myself, “From the start, we’ve always sought to homeschool in community. Why did we ever stop?”

That’s why the choice to be part of the learning community at Cottonwood is easy for me. Whether it’s the science fair or field trips, Superstar Readers or Boost classes, storytime at the library, or programs like CVHS and Junior High RISE, just to name a few, Cottonwood families have so many opportunities to be connected while embracing the individuality of each student’s homeschooling journey.

This is what drives me as an administrator at Cottonwood. I feel it in my bones–this need to center learning in community. It’s born out of my own experience as a parent, as much as an educator. It’s why I am so very excited to share all of the community-centered plans we have in store for our TK-8 Instructional Programs for the 23-24 school year. It’s gut-wrenching work. Pouring over every detail of the schedule. Trying to imagine every student’s need as we hire teachers or plan events. But it’s so very worth it.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to reimagine my own family’s homeschooling routine this year. I think you’ll see traces of that journey woven into the in-person learning opportunities for students in Superstar Readers, Boost, and RISE as we pair in-person learning with the convenience of online classes. I hope you’ll join me at one of our upcoming TK-8 Instructional Programs Info Sessions to learn more.

Joyful learning happens in community. Our experience backs up this claim. As we plan for next year, may we intentionally seek opportunities to enrich our learning experiences in community.

With hope,

Kara Tupy