It is 9:30 a.m. on a windswept, rainy Friday morning at the Camp Seymour parking lot, where parents dropped off their children for a day of ornithology and canoeing. What is unique about this group is that all of the children are home-schooled.
Scott Gjertson, the camp’s outdoor environmental education director, said that this networking program for home-schoolers has been growing since December of 2003.
The first session only attracted one family; however, there are now 33 children in attendance.
Julie Gonsalves has been bringing her 9-year-old twins for the past five years to this outing and said the “program really stands on its own.”
Gonsalves is a former public school teacher who, when asked what prompted the decision to homeschool, pointed to the disproportionate ratio of students to teachers in traditional educational institutions.
During the event, parents gave a variety of reasons for switching to homeschool such as wanting to be with their children more, the lack of accommodations for special needs, as well as the freedom for children to learn at their own pace.
Gjertson said activities like this one at Camp Seymour provide supplemental learning opportunities that mix science with physical activity, as well as provide a chance to socialize in a structured learning environment.
University of Puget Sound’s Slater Museum of Natural History donated specimens of birds for the day to be identified and studied by students. The children then reported to the class on what they learned about their respective bird.
“This is where I get nervous,” said Colin Wood during his team’s presentation. Immediately following this statement was an overwhelming amount of encouragement from the class. Reassuring and supportive affirmations filled the room as Wood continued on with his report.
Camp Seymour naturalist Matt Herndon said it is gratifying to see some of the same kids year after year and watch them grow up.
The kids casually shoot witty quips between Herndon and another naturalist, Amelia McClelland, throughout the day.
Many parents describe the experience at camp to be very different than learning through public institutions. The youth are not sheltered from the average student experiences, however. At lunch, students participate in the rush to find a place in line as well as a spot to sit; a process that closely mimics a traditional school.
Parents in favor of home-schooling have created a grassroots institution, such as Washington Homeschool Organization, to connect and provide opportunities outside of the in-home curriculum.
Homeschool parent Christine Wood said the culture of homeschool teaching is evolving to address traditional concerns including socialization and the lack of diverse opportunities in the home.
Wood said adding new experiences for learning gives children an opportunity to try a variety of subjects while having flexibility in choosing what interests them. “I think of them as Velcro, I keep tossing new ideas at my children to see which ones stick,” states Wood when describing her teaching style.
Camp Seymour presents this program once a month from September through May. Each activity is lively and has a structure that encourages participants to learn.