Evy, Calli, and Ellie Birch, via http://www.sparrowandlilies.com/

Evy, Calli, and Ellie Birch, via sparrowandlilies.com

Calli Birch is passionate about education – just look at her resume. She spent nearly a decade teaching English literature to girls in our neighborhood.

“I worked at Hockaday for a fabulous seven years of my life,” she says. “I was part of the community, very integrated and happy.”

Everyone assumed Birch’s daughters would attend the school when they were old enough. She received Hockaday onesies as baby gifts and couldn’t imagine her children going anywhere else. But life got hectic. She was working long hours, sometimes 60 a week, and raising two young girls. After much deliberation, she resigned from Hockaday to concentrate on being a mother.

The decision to streamline her life led Birch down a different path when it came time for her oldest daughter, Ellie, to enter kindergarten. Though she was surrounded by educational choices, Birch chose homeschooling. She’s one of 10 families in a Meetup.com group for Preston Hollow Homeschoolers, which was founded by a mother in our neighborhood. The members get together once a month to swap stories, participate in fitness activities and picnic in Jamestown Park.

“It’s no longer a separatist movement. It’s not an ‘anti’ decision. It’s more of a decision for something – a slower pace of life. It’s very, very positive in its focus.”

Birch had long toyed with the idea of homeschooling. Private school is too expensive, and she doesn’t like the standardized testing in public schools. But it was a friend who finally encouraged her to take the plunge. Over lunch they discussed Birch’s background as an educator, concluding that she was perfectly capable of teaching her own daughter.

“Ellie has a creative spirit,” she says. “When you give her space and freedom she excels.”

Birch and her husband decided the first year would be an experiment. If it didn’t go well, they could enroll their daughter in public school the next fall. Ellie completed kindergarten recently, and Birch has no regrets.

“It’s about slowing down,” she says. “We move at a gentle pace but still press in with critical thinking.”

Though the pace of Ellie’s education is gentle, the Birch family stays busy. They read every day and have so far plowed through several books including “The Little Princess” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Ellie verbally summarizes each chapter so her mom can test her comprehension. Birch keeps a blog called “Sparrow and Lilies” where she documents her experience as a “teacher mom.” She writes about lesson plans, books, and the nature walks Ellie attends. The walks, which are popular among homeschooled children, expose Ellie to science and allow her to connect with her peers. She also makes friends during homeschooling events at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Communities such as Preston Hollow Homeschoolers have proven to Birch that homeschooling isn’t what it used to be.

“It’s no longer a separatist movement,” she says. “It’s not an ‘anti’ decision. It’s more of a decision for something – a slower pace of life. It’s very, very positive in its focus.”

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