The Academy at HeronsGate

inspiration for the journey


A place to find outside resources, as well as to keep up on the philosophies and experiences which shape Heron's Gate.

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Questions For Parents

Posted by Sarah Pierzchala on January 28, 2015 at 12:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Maybe you're just looking into the concept of home/unschooling and you're gathering data and exploring different approaches.  Maybe you've been schooling at home for a while and it's not working out the way you'd envisioned. You're exhausted, frustrated, confused and your kids are unhappy.

If that's the case, perhaps it's time to step back and take stock of where you are, and re-visit the questions you asked in beginning, and maybe confront some new ones.

Prayerfully consider the questions asked in the following worksheet. Remember there aren't really any right or wrong answers, because every family situation and every child is different.

*What do you believe is the ultimate purpose of a good education?

*What do you want for your adult children?  

*What tools/skills/ do you believe they will need to achieve these goals?  Try to also think of overall characteristics/strengths rather than just specific training.

*Why do you choose (or are considering) to homeschool?  Are you acting out of fear of the culture, a desire for academic excellence, convenience?  A combination of these reasons?

*If a combination, which reason is the strongest and how is that affecting your approach?

*If you are homeschooling but are now considering switching to traditional schooling, what are your reasons?  Best for the children's personalities (they asked to); exhaustion/frustration; poor academic results at home?

*What is your higher education ideal: A liberal arts education, vocational or a hybrid?  Do you insist that your child attends your idea of a "good" college and is your homeschooling model focused on that outcome?

*Would you consider researching 21st century career paths and be open to other options for your children than the tradtional college/debt model (online credentialing, community college certificates, etc)?

*What is your definition of a "numerate" (math-literate) adult?  Someone who holds a PhD in mathematics obtained by taking on a large college debt, or someone who can wisely manage their personal finances?

*Do you believe your adult children will thrive in the world by being taught to memorize discrete facts and figures, or by becoming life-long learners and critical thinkers?

*Have you talked at length with your child about their goals and desires for their own educational journey?

Best of Both worlds: My Personal Educational Journey

Posted by Sarah Pierzchala on January 27, 2015 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, in and around the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. In the early 1970's, I attended public kindergarten, followed by a year of Catholic school.  Towards the end of that first year, my college-educated parents decided that they would not re-enroll me for the following term. They decided that they were going to join a growing movement that advocated "homeschooling" children, in response to the disentegrating academic and moral standards occurring throughout the culture. As this was the '70's, even (or perhaps especially) Catholic education was hardly immune from these seismic shifts. I believe they were also influenced by much of the back-to basics, hippie movement, as well as thinkers such as John Holt and Raymond S. Moore.

Although I'd been happy enough attending traditional classes, I was also happy to be at home. I wasn't a fan of getting up early or having to do the same things at the same time everyone else was. Academically, I was also ahead of just about all of my classmates, so I wasn't really learning much, just having some fun with the other kids.

My brother was about two years younger than I, so he was never enrolled in school.  Being a red-headed, left-handed, active boy, my mom's experience in teaching him was different than in teaching me.  He struggled with dyslexia, and teaching him to read was quite a challenge. This task was made all the more challenging, as she had access to virtually no resources or support groups. She only had her heart and gut and perhaps more than a few whispers from the Holy Spirit, to guide her towards what was best for him.  By being patient, understanding and sticking with phonics rather than any trendy whole-word techniques, she was eventually rewarded with success and he became a solid reader.

Not having many educational resources, my parents got good at cobbling together their own makeshift curriculum, largely consisting of cute old readers purchased from second-hand stores. And since most of our early childhood was spent in a tv-free home, me and my brother had plenty of time outside. And to read (mainly about Narnia and Middle Earth). And to draw (horses, dragons and spaceships). And make toys out of sticks and pine cones. (We did of course have "real" toys, but sticks and pine cones can be more adaptable depending what kind of games you're playing. For instance, they can be used as stick horses, stick dragons or stick spaceships---that can fire pinecones.)

By the time my sisters arrived (the next in line is a full ten years younger than myself), the homeschool/unschool movement was really taking off in America.  There were far more legal protections in place for families, as well as more resources and varieties of full curricula to choose from.  This situation was something of a double-edge sword.  With so many shiny new resources--all promising academic success-- there was a temptation to move away from the freedom of the de-facto "unschooling" we'd been enjoying, to more of a formal, standardized "doing school at home" mindset, which bolstered the expectation that we would all attend college, whether we really wanted to or not.

Being in the advance guard of a counter-cultural movement can be both exciting and stressful. My parents suffered many sleepless nights wondering if they were in fact doing the right thing for us, or if they were ruining our lives and destroying all chances for us to have successful careers or personal relationships. We kids sometimes felt like freaks or outsiders. It was diffcult to blaze new trails, but by the end of the late 1980's, things had really changed. We had accrued a support group of like-minded families and so had many friends.  

I made the transition from "un-high-schooled" to community college very smoothly, where I had not the slightest trouble interacting with fellow students and instructors alike, as well as mastering the academic material. The transition from cc to local university was also quite easy. My brother had always been driven towards the goal of joining the Air Force and flying fighter jets, so the first stepping stone towards this was joining his local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol at about age 13. Although later in his "rebellious" teen years he complained a bit about not having some of the same opportunities and experiences that main-stream kids had enjoyed, he now admits that being shielded from distractions, temptatons and time-wasting was actually very beneficial for him. At an early age he became very good at setting goals and meeting them. He also graduated university, and after his stint in the Air Force (where he was flight engineer on rescue heliocopters, not a fighter pilot), he went into the Secret Service, and from there, the private sector, in the area of banking cyber-security.

My younger sisters have pursued careers in art restoration and early childhood education, obtaining both the certification and the life experience useful to both fields.  They are both seasoned world travellers, who act as unintentional ambassadors for "unschooling". Foreign acquaintances are amazed at how much more well-balanced, well-rounded and educated they are compared to the average American public school graduate.

After my own graduation and marriage, I focused on free-lance art and prepared for a family. Although my husband's European educational experience was very old-school and strict, he was open to and supportive of the plan that we'd educate our kids at home. This was nice, because I'd always assumed that we would be doing this.  But to be honest, on days when our special-needs, high-energy son was particularly challenging, I would prayerfully consider placing him in a tradtional classroom. Always the answer was that that wasn't best for him.

Teaching my eldest was certainly not the rosy, cosy, Charlotte Mason-esque experience that I'd hoped it would be.  He had more learning and personaiity issues than I'd thought possible, and even my experienced mom couldn't help much. But I did have an advantage over what she'd experienced with my brother in that there were far more resources and support systems for families like us. Now that he's in his teens, it's obvious looking back that we did in fact do the right thing by him and that by carefully tailoring his educational experience to his strengths and weaknesses, we've given him the best chance in life he can have.

As our family grew, we remained committed to homeschooling, though always with minds open to adjusting our approach or customizing each child's journey.  For example, for a few years, we were enrolled in a Catholic correspondence school.  This approach worked for our family for a time, but when we outgrew their model, we had to be open to really restructuring as well as questioning our underlying reasons for continuing to homeschool.  After much prayer and soul-searching, as well as looking back at my own childhood and recalling what had worked and what hadn't, we decided that our family was ready to try a much freer, "unschooling" approach. This doesn't mean that there aren't expectations or oversight, but the kids are much freer to explore their own interests and hone their own skills.

So now we are striving for the best of both worlds in our kids' learning experience: "Unschooling" freedom to explore their world and develop their God-given gifts, as well as navigating and assimilating the vast array of resources available for self-educating students and families these days.

Educational Philosophy Library

Posted by Sarah Pierzchala on January 26, 2015 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

This page lists the influences that have helped shape our family's educational philosophy.  There's some really useful and thought-provoking material in here, so take your time and explore!

I will be periodically updating these lists as I do more research. Some of these resources are available as free PDFs!

Print books, with a brief summary of what we've found useful about each title. Clicking on a title will most likely---but not always---take you to Amazon:

Responsibilites and Rights of Parents in Religious Education, (1998, Catholic Home School Network of America/Seton)

A handy guide for parents to help empower them in the face of any oposition they may encounter from family, friends or clergy regarding what really is or is not expected/required of them regarding the religious instruction of their children, and by extension, other areas of learning.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education, by John Taylor Gatto (1992, New Society Publishers)

Written by an experienced and lauded public school teacher. The title says it all.

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, by Salman Khan (2012, Hatchette Book Group)

A very inspiring and uplifting overview of the philosophy behind the phenomenally successful Khan Academy.

The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How The World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves, by James Tooley (2009, Cato Institute)

A very readable and absorbing personal account of how parents and communities worldwide can succeed if governments and beauracracies would just get out of the way.

The New School: How The Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds (2014, Encounter Books)

A convincing,  reality-based argument against taking on massive debt to achieve the questionable goal of meeting society's expectations for higher education.

Workshops Work! A parent's guide to facilitating writers's workshops for kids, by Patricia Zaballos (2012, author published)

Handy, nuts-and-bolts guide for jumpstarting and maintaining writing workshops for homeschool students; techniques can be adapted to other subjects.

Thriving in the 21st Century, by Barbara Frank (2011, Cardamom Publishers)

Great resource with lots of real-world examples and advice for creating adaptable, resourceful kids facing the rapidly changing global economy.

Other challenging and fascinating online articles and free stuff:  (Links to his best articles. Read them).     (For all things JTG)

Deschooling Society, by Ivan Illich (PDF) (A very radical overview of modern society and a precient recipe for remedies).

Your Guide to Academic Deviance: Replacing College with self-directed learning, by Dale j. Stephens.

(A brief guide to breaking out of the traditional educational mold and taking control and responsibility for your own learning).

The Edupunks' Guide to a DIY Credential, by Anya Kamenetz (Smashwords e-book)

(Hands-on guide for the student to create their own alternative high-school experience with online courses, how to find a mentor, how to create online portfolios, etc).

An exciting study from India about the roles of computers in learning:

A helpful link-fest to various articles on how kids REALLY learn to read or do math:

A significant study about teaching mathematics you've probably never heard of:

Our Educational Resources: Web links

Posted by Sarah Pierzchala on January 20, 2015 at 6:20 PM Comments comments (0)


This first blog entry will be a listing of useful and fun web links that we use regularly at Heron's Gate. This list will be updated regularly, so check back from time to time:

Our students are involved with creating and maintaining these sites:

These are outside resources that HG uses regularly: (for high-school level courses in some subjects) (for math, coding, etc.) (for science, logic and apologetics)

Our favorite local destinations:

OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)

Portland Aquarium

Oregon Zoo

Hatfield Marine Science Center

Newport Aquarium

Our local resources for PE:



Our home-base parish:

Our favorite service project:

Resources, videos and project ideas for grade-- and middle-schoolers. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what's available online for all ages and interests:

Free college courses offered through MIT and other affiliated institutions:

Heron's Gate recommends membership in these organizations:

Homeschool Legal Defense Association:

Oregon Christian Home Education Network (assuming you are a Christian living in Oregon, of course!  If not---check what's available in your state or country!):

To keep abreast of the latest research:

National Home Education Research Institute:

Here is Bruce Deitrick Price's site, which is a treasure trove of the history of education in America, as well as TONS of ideas on fun, creative and effective ways to teach different subjects:

This blog has many insightful and challenging takes on homeschooling:

HeronsGate does not endorse all the viewpoints and opinions found on all outside links. Please use your descretion when visiting some of these.