Math in the jungle, language arts around the campfire, learning social skills by making pizza; everything at Christina Zimmerman’s school is outside and hands-on.
Her 80 students learn counting with coconuts and go to the beach for marine studies. Her nine teachers are encouraged to hold classes in nature throughout Kauai’s North Shore as much as possible.
When the rain on Kauai’s North Shore drives them inside, they do art projects to understand geometry and recently they dove into some science by building voyaging canoes out of driftwood and then taking them for a test in a nearby pond.
Yoga and meditation, social skills and environmental stewardship, cultural practices and critical thinking are all part of the curriculum at Homeschool Now in Hanalei.
What makes Homeschool Now different than traditional public and private schools?
Although we have wonderful public and private school options on the island, it doesn’t always meet the needs of all children. I have parents call me daily about their children not fitting into their current school system and knowing they need a change. We’re here to offer that change and to help each student succeed at their own pace.
We recognize the need to educate the whole child — attending to cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and talent development of children. We aim to create an environment that inspires children’s creativity, imagination, compassion, self-knowledge, social skills, and emotional health.
Why start Homeschool Now and what’s your background?
After teaching in public schools for six years, I was feeling burnt out and discouraged with our current system. As a society, our philosophy of educating is a one-size-fits-all model, and it’s simply not working. I wanted to create a personalized education experience for the student that is not often offered in traditional classroom settings.
Four years ago, I set out to create this program and continues to grow every day. Finding the locations to host the classes has always been one of my biggest struggles. We are always on the lookout for open spaces that share our same vision.
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. I come from a family of five children, three younger brothers. I was a ‘mini-mom’ from the time I could help. My love for children was instilled in me from such a young age. When I went to college, I knew whatever I majored in, I wanted to work with kids.
Education was always appealing; I felt drawn to that field knowing I could make a difference. I was teaching fifth grade and finishing my master’s degree in Kentucky when I came to visit a friend on Kauai for a short 10-day trip. It was an eye-opening experience so I decided to come teach here for one year to explore and then head right back to Kentucky. That was eight years ago.
How has Homeschool Now grown since it was started four years ago?
I started with a small group of three seventh-grade boys four years ago. I had no idea at the time I even wanted to share what I was doing. I envisioned always keeping it small and helping a few students every year. A good friend encouraged me to grow the idea and help more students that would thrive in this environment. I had no clue what I was doing and I’m still working it out through trial and error. Becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit was the biggest obstacle, but once I succeed, I felt like I could do anything. I knew if I put the work in, we could continue to help students thrive.
Fast-forward, we now have nine teachers who share my passion and over 80 students (grades K-8) benefiting from alternative education.
Why do you combine different curriculums and teaching methods at Homeschool Now and how did you decide how to structure your curriculum?
Combining various curriculums and teaching styles in key. My main goal behind HSN was giving the teachers freedom back in the classroom. We focus on small group education; each class only has 10-12 students. Teachers are able to cater to each individual child and find a flow that works best for their class.
Each class is different and unique, depending on the dynamics of each grade. We all work together to support the program and bring new ideas/styles of teaching to HSN. Each day looks different for each grade and we’re constantly evolving in order to meet the needs of the kids.
How does nature play into education at Homeschool Now?
When I started HSN, I knew I wanted nature/environmental education to be a huge component of the program. Our program runs full time, Monday-Friday. Each week, every class does a full nature day with two incredible, certified nature school teachers. In addition, the teachers and students are encouraged to always be in nature during the regular school day. Instead of counting blocks on a worksheet, they count rocks or coconuts outside. They always opt to read outside under natural lighting and find peace in nature. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
What kinds of things do the kids learn during their days at Homeschool Now?
The students primarily focus on intertwining classroom academics to outside nature time. For the younger grades, the curriculum focus is not solely on teaching academic skills, but to help children develop essential physical, emotional, social and personal skills through free play in nature. For the older grades, the students intertwine environmental science and biology into nature days.
They are doing water studies with Surfrider Foundation and studying the trash on the beach. The purpose of nature days, regardless of age, is to allow children to be comfortable in nature and have a better understanding of how it works thus becoming emotionally attached to it. Students who have this attachment will most likely want to protect nature. These kids are the future protectors of this land and we need them (more than ever) to be aware and be the next world changers.
So, what’s the future vision for Homeschool Now?
We plan to continue educating and serving as many students as we can. There are always the logistics that keep us from expanding too much, but we’re working them out each year. We have beyond incredible teachers that have dedicated their lives to this program and we couldn’t be more grateful for them. They are the real heroes and as long as we continue to have a solid team, we will continue to educate.