October 29, 2008

An Arts High School at Home

My middle child didn't really learn to talk until she was past two, and even then, it was years before she could clearly communicate verbally. When other kids her age were learning to read, she was crying over phonics lessons. But around age 10, everything made sense and she was reading with very little trouble. In those early years, I could have worried that she was learning disabled, but she was extremely bright, quick thinking, competent, and excelled in anything that required control over her body. She potty trained herself when she was two (is this getting too personal?). I sat the potty chair out one day and that was all she needed. She could ride a two-wheeler at 4 or 5. No instruction, nothing. That was easy! When she discovered painting around the age of 9 or 10, she made beautiful flowers and commented once that when she painted, she felt like she was going into another world.

I noticed her love for music as a baby. A parade went by our house and she bounced to the beat. As a toddler, she would lose herself in music, dancing expressively around the house. She took ballet classes like most little girls, and at performances, people would comment how her movements were so much more mature than others. And singing. When did that start? We had whole years in our household when Meg sang instead of talking. I remember telling people we lived in an opera.

In the summer between her 8th and 9th grade years we learned of a theater company that was having auditions for Annie Get Your Gun. All three kids tried out and it was the beginning of their theater careers. That fall Meg enrolled in a drama and dance program at a professional theater that does a children's musical every Spring. She got a great part and loved every minute of it. The next school year she took the classes again and got the lead as Gabriella in High School Musical. This year they will do Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She plans to stretch her skills and try out for Willy Wonka!

Helping Meg through her high school years, I've tried to keep her on track with the basics, with an eye toward giving her every opportunity to develop her love of music theater. I wondered if there was such a thing as a high school that focuses on the arts. I know there are math and science high schools, but arts high schools? Just a little Internet searching answered that question. As I learned about Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Perpich Center for Arts Education, and The Boston Arts Academy, I realized that's what we're doing--an arts high school, but at home.

Arts high schools make dance, music, theater and visual arts the focus. Every student chooses a track and pursues their art form. These schools also require the more traditional subjects like math and science, but they teach from the perspective of art and with the artistic student in mind. When I read about these schools, I'm tempted to move out of the cornfields and into those cities.

Here's what our arts high school looks like:
  • History: Documentaries and a time line book that she is creating
  • Science: She hasn't done much in science so far this year. She's very interested in the brain right now, so she's been watching documentaries.
  • English: reading from a college textbook of dramas
  • Dance: private lessons with a wonderful teacher who's preparing her to go into music theater if she chooses
  • Drama: class at a nearby professional theater that will produce a musical in the Spring
  • Music: choir at the high school, an a Capella group at the high school, piano lessons with Dad, and music theory tutoring with Dad (he is a music professor, otherwise I'd probably hire someone to do this)
  • Food Service: Part time job at a coffee house
  • Psychology: her current fascination (documentaries and readings)
  • Stage Craft: reading about lighting for the stage from a college textbook and a part time job running a spot light at a nearby theater
  • Interior Design: she's always redesigning her bedroom. :)
Every day she does math (ideally) and reads and practices piano. The other things are sprinkled in. She is very conscientious to do her "educational" things before noon. I like that about Meg. She's very responsible and wants to be prepared for college if she decides that's the best choice.

She's also interested in cosmetology. That's a one year program that meets all day every day at our local community college. She could actually start that as a high school senior, but it would mean giving up choir and the a Capella group, so she decided against it. Instead she'll probably enroll in math and English for dual high school/college credit next year. I like that plan because I'd be here to tutor her, and if she goes away to college, she'll have those classes out of the way.

When I asked Meg to read this over and give me an idea for an ending, she suggested, "In conclusion, Meg is my favorite high school child." :)


Traci said...

Thank you for this post! I tend to worry about Bella since she is learning so differently than Emma. I can rest assured that she is right on track for her.

It takes a special parent to not be freaking out about a learner that is not following time lines that we normally expect. Kudos to you.

Jena said...

Hi Traci, Thanks for your nice comment. I had a lot of panic, to be sure! But I kept remembering things I'd learned in college like "don't worry if a child can't talk until he's three." I knew she was smart, so I was willing to wait for the reading. I'd read somewhere that Woodrow Wilson didn't read until he was 12, so I'd decided if she still couldn't read at age 12, I'd get some serious help. I'm glad her story encourages you.

My Journey so Far... said...

Great post! I love reading how other kids learn at home. And your daughter sounds so much like my ds who is almost 17.
We actually just had a heart to heart talk about education and what his goals are. We talked through what would be needed for him to pursue those goals and both decided that for now he will focus on his music (he is amazing!). We'll throw in geometry (TT), history documenteries/movies, science DVDs and hopefully a little writing along the way.
He said to me, "I know I'm not learning much because I'm so focused on my music, but the textbooks bore me!" I smiled and told him that he is learning tons of stuff, maybe not everything his friends are in school in the more traditional way but he has had more life experience through his high school years than he would have if he'd been stuck with his nose in a textbook. I think he finally got that he is getting an education and we both feel better about how we've gone about his high school years.
Thank you Jena for sharing your heart and your homeschooling with us all. I can't tell you how you have helped me on this amazing journey called homeschooling.

Heather said...

So encouraging especially since this is almost definitely the route my middle child will go.

Jena said...

Amy, I'm so glad you and your son are feeling good about your choices! You're right, he is learning more than he knows. Time to develop his passions is priceless.

Thanks to both you and Heather (and everyone else) for your encouragement.

Unknown said...

Isn't it amazing how when our children follow their passions, they learn so much more in other areas of life? I just wrote a post about my husband and guitar playing. http://thelifeandadventuresofcatepoo.blogspot.com/2008/10/guitar-playing-dad.html
By playing guitar, he has tapped into so many other life skills while still staying grounded in who is he.

I love how you have embraced the differences in each of your children. You are truly an inspiration to me :) Cathy

team gesink said...

Hello, and thank you for your mention of our Alpha Omega Curriculum on your blog.
We would appreciate it very much if you would please post a link from your blog to our website. http://www.aop.com
Thanks and have a fantastic day!


Anonymous said...

There is an arts high school in NY as well (Fame was based on it; it is still there but now also has visual arts and the like as well as performing arts). One of my online knitting friends' daughter went there and I got to see her graduation art show. Really amazing.

and here in Ottawa, there is an arts specialist high school in the public system. a lot of homeschoolers who go to public school for high school seem to end up there, at least in the circles I hang around in. Arts specialist high schools are also common in England.

I've often thought that that's what we're doing, too though we aren't up to high school yet. Drama, music and creative writing seem to be Tigger's gifts and I've tried to make them the centre of our "school". Shunting that stuff off to the status of "extracurricular" is nuts, particularly in the family of a music professor.

Jena said...


You've commented on my blog before and there is no email to reach you privately, so I'd like to assure you that I didn't mention your curriculum at all. As a matter of fact, I really don't like Alpha and Omega Curriculum. We've used them for some subjects over the years, and my children never really liked them. They are basically glorified workbooks, so I would only recommend them for children who like workbooks, and then only sparingly. The Switched On School House math CDs are better than the workbooks, but we only used them one year for one child. The other two didn't like it. I much prefer Garlic Press' Straightforward Math Series at www.garlicpress.com. Garlic Press is concise, easy to use, and not boring.

Maybe you are thinking that Teaching Textbooks (what Meg is using for math) is your product. Actually, they are an independent publisher found at teachingtextbooks.com or at the CBD link I have on my post.

Thanks for your comment.

Jena said...


That's great to hear about those schools. I saw "Fame" so long ago, it didn't click with me that that was an arts high school. :)

Cathy, Thanks for the nice words. :)
I'll go check out your post. I

Mindy said...

My oldest child sounds a lot like your daughter. She struggled with reading until she was a preteen then one day it just clicked and she was off. I so wish I had been more in tune to her back then rather than subjecting her to so many tutors and teachers who wanted to label her.

Jena said...


How ever old your child is, it would be good for them to know that there are many, many people out there who learn like them and have successful lives. It's a matter of rethinking the past and what happened. You did the best you could for your child with what you knew. That's all a parent can do. :)

Unknown said...

One of the girls in my daughter's ballet class recently received a full scholarship to The School of Rock in Philadelphia. It's a performing arts high school.
Although I wouldn't trade homeschooling, I think it is nice to see more education alternatives. I've seen charter schools that focus on the arts, sciences, math, vocational training, etc. It's nice to see that families are being offered more choices.
Jena, your performing arts high school sounds fabulous! I'm taking notes from you for my dancer in training:)

Letitia said...

It is so wonderful that she is able to start developing her passions now. I wish I had known to do that with Briana (and Ashley). We did to some extent, especially with their writing, but we were stuck with the theater. We don't have a theater with an education dept here, so that is great she is able to take advantage of that now. You asked about the school Briana is attending. She is only getting a chance now (a year and a half after high school) to do what your daughter is doing. As I mentioned, she was slated to attend a college majoring in interior design. This July, she finally admitted to herself that that was not what she wanted to do. I had been questioning it for months, but she thought musical theater wasn't practical. It was too late to get into a new college, since she was set on a private Christian college. We needed scholarships! This year she has moved 2 hours from home, and is living with my parents training in the education dept of a local theater. She's having a great time. My only concern is that she needed extensive voice training since she has never had that, but the voice teacher is so over extended the lessons have been hit and miss. Anyway, we have been looking for Christian colleges with musical theater degrees, but there are not many, at least near us. She does not want to move that far from home.
We also have the situation now, that after she has been out of college for several months, she does not want to go back. She wants to just jump in and swim. We do not insist that our children go to college, and I'm okay with that on that level. I just don't know what the requirements would be for her to get good parts. all of the actors with the big rolls have degrees. I'm also concerned that she get more acting and voice training, and those 2 are not coming together like we hoped this year. As a dancer~she's got no troubles. She is dancing 7-10 hours a week this year (and has danced her whole life). So, we're just in a wait, and pray, and see mode right this minute. We are trying to find a new voice teacher, but she will be back home for a month starting the 2nd week of Dec., so there's really no time to get started.
Briana is also probably going to try out at Disney this spring. She'd love to be a princess, but is a little on the tall side at 5'8". She'd be satisfied with most any part, I think. : )
THis is already too long, but I also had a slow reader in my 3rd, and one now. She's really starting to push herself and wants to read now, so she's trying to sound things out. Probably a direct result of peer pressure! I think she'll be reading before too long. She's 7 1/2 now.

Letitia said...

Does Meg have a blog or facebook? Briana would enjoy "meeting" her.

Jena said...

Kim, I hadn't heard about charter schools being specialized like that. That's really cool!

Letitia, thanks for all the info about Briana's journey. One nice thing about music theater is that talent trumps education. At an audition, they want to see what you can do, not what degree you have. So it's great she's already skilled at dance. That's one thing that is hard to just pick up without training. Acting and singing can come more naturally, I think. It's great that she's in a theater's education program. That will teach her a lot and give her some connections and information that she might not otherwise get. Maybe you could find voice teachers at local colleges (professors or students) and maybe even high school choir teachers.

Meg doesn't have a blog (I try to keep up on one for her that's really a scrapbook). I'll email you her contact info.

Jena said...

Letitia, I guess I don't have your email address. Write me at yarnsoftheheart@gmail.com. :)

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