Homeschool Urban Style, by Jen

We started our homeschool endeavor in 2001, pulling our two oldest boys from the parochial school my husband and I had attended as children. The boys were starting second and fifth grades. We lived in a small town with miles of empty land for them to roam at the edge of our neighborhood. One was ahead, one was behind, you know the drill. I was spending time before school and after school teaching them. It suddenly occurred to me that I could do this at a more convenient time of day.

We did “all the home school things”:

Nature study at a pond that only a few families even knew about;

School at the river when the salmon were running;

Giant art projects in the driveway;

The dreaded mummified chicken.

Quite a few years later our location has changed a bit. Our eldest three boys have graduated, and with only two kids at home we decided to try something completely different. We eliminated my husband’s long daily commute. We found a condo only two blocks from his office in downtown Chicago. It started out as a casual look just to see what condos even looked like. After all, someday when the kids were grown maybe we’d live in the city. A month later we were moving in. We exchanged our home in the suburbs for a condo half its size. What we sacrificed in space we have more than made up for in quality of life. I wondered if I could pull off all that the older boys had experienced. Would we be stuck inside? What about nature study?  Where would we put all our stuff?

Turns out it was a easy transition. We went from two cars to one and then to none. One of the older boys needed to borrow our car, and as it turns out, we very rarely need it back. All our books fit, and two loft beds ensure that each kid has some actual personal space. We moved in at the beginning of one of Chicago’s coldest and snowiest winters to date.  Right away I was a fan of not having anything to shovel.

We have the privilege of being near some of the world’s finest museums. There is nothing like studying rocks and minerals and then running over to the Field Museum for a hour just to check their displays. All our science experiments, including one that required us to find a rock in the middle of winter, have been completed. We strapped on boots and walked around the block searching. On the way back we found some in the landscaping around our building — who knew? Nature is all around if you stop to look for it. (insert photo of planter outside Willis Tower) All the museums in Chicago are incredibly supportive of homeschooling. The Museum of Science and Industry even grants home school families free entry.

Another benefit has been our increased fitness. Soon after we moved here I bought fitbits for all of us. All our errands are now completed by pedestrians. We walk two to five miles each day. We got ourselves an old lady-esque rolling cart and are good to go. We don’t quite fit the demographic of our neighborhood as most of our neighbors have pets not kids. We get unsolicited directions all the time. In their defense, walking around on a school day with a couple kids practically screams vacationers.

We’ve witnessed both unbelievably funny things and horrifyingly sad things just while walking to the grocery store. Instead of viewing the less fortunate on a documentary, we see them on our corner and learn their names. When my big boys were small and I let them go out into the forest all day with a packed lunch it was a calculated risk. They were trustworthy and our area was safe. Now we live in a city that isn’t always safe, and I have a teenage daughter who wants to take full advantage of city life. I prefer if she has a buddy with her. We’ve had no shortage of suburban friends who love spending the night in the city. Having teenagers as guests has been a blast. They find out-of-the-way quirky spots that I might have overlooked.

This fall we are in uncharted waters. My teen daughter joined a theater group which has meant that she is taking public transportation home by herself. That was when I realized the same rules still apply in both country and city, such as “be aware of your surroundings.” I admit that I do require her to text me and let me know she is on the move.

We have a local bookstore, record store, comic book store — none of them chains. When we lived in a small town we had nothing but big box stores to choose from. Plus, the library here is fantastic. We live near the main branch which has seven floors of books. Add the access to every book that the Chicago Library owns at their eighty locations, and we have been in readers’ heaven.

I feel like we are really living our life here. We said for years — someday. Instead of waiting for someday we changed our circumstances so that someday is now. This is something that we always thought would be good for us. At almost the one year mark I still think it was a good move. My one surprise has been that I assumed everything would be within fifteen minutes of us. Wrong. The city is huge, so we still spend some time trekking to activities on the El. What are the downsides?

My husband misses having a backyard, but not mowing it. I miss seeing the stars; I get a brilliantly lit skyline instead. I asked the kids what they miss, and the answer was nothing. They are good right where we are.

Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog:

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