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It is expected in my household to teach the basic subject matters that are taught in the classroom.  Reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, art, etc. are all addressed in my homeschool curriculum.  My boys have a book bag, books, pencil boxes, protractors, compasses, calculators, rulers, etc.. We start our school day after everyone has had their breakfast.  Being self starters, my sons have been known to get up and get started on their studies before I get out of bed.  Some days, we may end early or we let the schoolwork drag through the day.

There have been times I’ve found a subject, idea, or concept that was more important than the book learning I had planned, so I go with the wind and find a truly wonderful teachable moment.  It is in these moments the true learning happens.  Children learn best through experience.  Book learning has its place, but the learning that engages the child’s imagination and experience lasts forever. A child may forget how to calculate the speed of a wave, but they will never forget a lesson that sparks their interest.

For example, today my sons had a quiz on oceanography.  One son was working on his algebra while the other was working on fractions.  Feeling under the weather, I was not the usual taskmaster, but it was a joy watching them work like a well-oiled machine.  During a lull, the youngest wanted to work on an engineering project which focuses on different types of circuits.  With my permission, their eyes lit up and suddenly they were in overdrive with their engagement.  Listening to them work out the circuit and explain to me the purpose was a joy.  In that joy I found comfort that I was teaching the whole child.  Their interest  stimulated learning.

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When did it become imperative that every child should have a birthday party every year? Honestly, some marketing genius started a campaign to guilt parents into giving their children a full blown birthday party EVERY year.  When I was growing up in the 70’s, milestone birthday parties were the rage if you were good and your parents had a nice stash of cash to blow on a clown, magician, cake, and party favors.  Birthdays were small celebrations with family and a close friend or two.  Mom would bake a 1/4 sheet cake or buy one from the bakery.  Birthdays were not a big fuss.  Sometime during the 80’s birthday parties became a big to-do.

As a teacher in the 90’s, I remember parents asking me weeks in advance if they could bring cupcakes to the classroom.  This perfect party was genius.  The child’s friends were in the class.  The parent didn’t have to worry about getting their house dirty while making their child feel special.  Yes, this kind of party took valuable time away from my teaching, but I made allowances if I had plenty of notice.

Toward the end of the 90’s kids’ parties became larger affairs.  Places like Chuck E. Cheese became the defacto party spot.  Instead of taking off from work, parents could plan the party for the weekend at a place that kept the party mess away from the home for a nominal fee.  Then suddenly parents were out party planning each other.  The parties got bigger, parents were giving out expensive party bags with toys to the guests, and high priced entertainment became the rage.  I’ve been to parties where the entertainment was to name a few:

  • clown
  • pony
  • licensed Disney character
  • portable laser tag vehicle
  • video game truck
  • trampoline venue
  • bouncy houses
  • movie theater
  • train

It felt like every month there was another fancy birthday to attend.  As  guests, I’m hyper-aware that the party was expensive, so I would shop for a gift or gift card that will work as a price for admission to the party.  My boys would be thrilled to go to the party while I would dread it.  I hated having to go to a party where the noise is loud, the pace is frantic, and I’m forced to make small talk with people I do not know very well or have little in common. Birthday parties became a special kind of hell.

Lately, the etiquette for birthday parties in my homeschool community has become non-existent.  I have received a loosely worded text a couple of weeks before the party with the details.  I have gotten a word-of-mouth invite with no follow-through from one mom with a short attention span which disappointed my boys and her son because she “forgot” to send me a Facebook invite with the pertinent details.  And tonight I received a group email from a mom who is making park day in 2 days a birthday party for her son.  TWO DAYS! She’s giving the parents 2 days notice on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year for a birthday party.

Why?

When was the mandate passed that we must give our children a birthday party? And this imagined mandate is making parents appear self-centered or neglectful.  This particular parent is known for giving her children fantastic parties with well-thought out themes. This off-handed invite two days before the day is negligent.  It appears that she’s mailing it in so she could check the box to say she gave her child a party.

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My children are at an age where they can finally enjoy Harry Potter.  Together we are reading the novels and watching the movies.  As we discuss the different plot points and characters, I pause to reflect on the controversy surrounding the series over a decade ago.  I remember religious factions banning the books for the promotion of bad behavior, witchcraft/magic, and other infractions too long to list.  As a lover and academic of literature, I find the Harry Potter books to be well done.  I’m jealous of how J. K. Rowling could tell a multi-layered story in a rich, magical world.

J. K. Rowling’s world exploits the horrible underbelly and the simple goodness of human nature.  As the reader delves deeper into the world of Hogwarts, there is a longing to shed the Muggles skin and dive into the magical world where the magical misfits can overcome adversity.  As we read about the abuse Harry suffers at the hands of the people who were supposed to take care of him, we cringe.  How often are people abused because of their differences?  As a reader, you know Harry is innocent, so it’s heartbreaking to see him abused because of his family’s fear of his differences.  The movies try to make the abusive nature of Harry’s family a bookmark into a comedy, but in the books, there is nothing humorous about the situation.  Then the idea of having mixed blood (mudblood) is also very cringe-worthy because it’s the perfect depiction of what people do to discriminate in their social, racial, and gender-based circles.

I don’t think a book like one from the Harry Potter series would be considered worthy literature in public or private schools.  There is a time and a place to read literature penned by dead men and women long ago, but in this turbulent time, there is a wealth of learning in the pages of a fantasy world where heroes come from unexpected places and the antagonist is clearly labeled.

 

Homeschool Field Trip


I don’t miss taking my class of 30 elementary school students on field trips. These excursions were exhausting and stressful. I still get a case of anxiety when I think about 7 year old Jasmine wandering away from the group to go to the gift shop because she had money. The students were more interested in being out of the classroom and being somewhere other than home. If there was a teachable moment, it would get lost in the excitement.

A homeschool field trip with my 2 sons is a perfect symphony. First, the destination would be a place of mutual interest. Second, I can direct their attention to anything that I find important and in turn they can highlight their points of interest. In other words active learning is in full effect.

We don’t bother with reports or instructional handouts. The best learning occurs when the mind is engaged. The best retention of information is when that information is relevant and meaningful. My job as their teacher is to facilitate them making connections between their new learning and old learning. These connections will be remembered years later because they were engaged in their own learning.

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This is a question I get from friends, strangers, and curious acquaintances who do not understand why I don’t take advantage of the public school system and get a 6-7 hour break from my children.  Yes, I have had other parents wonder why I would choose to be with my children 24/7 rather than allow the public school system take care of educate my. children from 8-3pm.

The short answer to this loaded question is pretty simple.  Everyday after breakfast, I get my boys into their books.  Depending on the weather or our mood, we sort of gather in whichever room the boys feel comfortable to work.  Sometimes they work together and other times they work apart.  Since they are at different levels, their assignments are individualized for their interests and success.  One child enjoys coding while the other likes 3D animation.  They both are in the same books for science which has a great online component.

Rarely do I make the boys get dressed for the day. Schoolwork does not last a typical school day.  After 3-4 hours of work which includes the practice of instruments, the boys have the rest of the day to explore their other interests.  I do not give homework because the work we do at home is sufficient.  I do give my children a standardized test at the end of the year to measure their growth. The results are used to evaluate their progress and guide further instruction.

My program works for my family.  I can’t say that my sons are in love with the work they need to complete.  There are days when they may drag their feet or give me push-back when the weather is  nice and they’ve been indoors too long.  On those days, we go on a field trip.  Museums, science centers, and historical sites are nearby to explore.  The world becomes our classroom.

This is how I homeschool.

 

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The homeschooling community is like any other community.  Being a homeschooling mom for 7 years, I’m still learning the etiquette as I go along.  When I’m at home, I’m the ruler of the kingdom as far as curriculum, scheduling, and pacing are concerned.  Being left to my own devices without having to toe the line with an administrator and school district dictating everything I do is heavenly.  With that said, I’m content.  My anxiety kicks up when I leave the house and mingle with other homeschoolers.

Every homeschooling family has their own approach to educating their children.  I had a rude awakening to this fact when I was kibitzing with a mom who was new to homeschooling.  As a teacher, I had my perspective which I believe was a good fit for my family and I was sharing it with this young mom of 3 children.  A well-known leader in the California homeschool community who was a hardcore advocate of unschooling was eavesdropping on our conversation.  When she heard me mention that I was a teacher, she said snidely, “Oooooh! I can’t wait to hear THIS!”  Then she turned her nose up as if she was trying to identify a bad smell.  My blood boiled and I wanted to confront her for her rudeness, but I was used to standing up in front of a hostile room filled with children, parents, teachers, and/or college students.  I knew how to hold my tongue and press my point.

There is a cult of personality in the homeschool community which is no different than the high school lunchroom.  The gluten-free vegans are at one table while the raw diet paleo folks sit at another.  The religious sit on one blanket while the secular lean against the bleachers.  The unschoolers are near the swings while the traditionalists are under the tree. The anti-vaxxers are climbing up the slide while the vaxxers are trying to slide down the slide.  And among these groups, there are sub-groups.  And the sub-groups have sub-groups.  In other words, the social landmines are intense and everywhere.  My negative experience with that advocate for unschooling made me realize I don’t like spending much time in these situations because it’s exhausting trying to avoid the landmines.

For example:

Me: I took the boys today to get their shots.  I couldn’t believe how long we had to wait before they found a nurse to do it.  We were there for 15-.

Anti-vaxxer (with horror): You allow them to put that poison into your kids?

Me (confused): Um, it’s the flu season.  I thought it’s time…

Anti-vaxxer: Did you see that documentary about…

Me (embarrassed, angry, tired): No.

So I breach the homeschooling etiquette.  I rarely pull out a chair and join the circle at park days because I despise making small talk. I like talking to like minded people, but when different factions want to get into it over their differences or when the group decides to shun someone (me) because they landed on a landmine, I tap out.  I did my time in high school and college.   I don’t feel the need to subject myself to the nonsense.

 

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Violence in the schools, religion, and bullying are just a few reasons why parents choose to homeschool their children.  If you are beginning to entertain the idea of stepping into the homeschooling world, here are a few things you need to consider.

  • Can you afford it?
  • Are you familiar with your state laws?
  • Do you have an independent learner?
  • What are your educational goals?
  • Can you access support and resources?

To downsize a two income household to a single income household takes commitment.  If your local school system is unusable and your only option for a good education is private school or homeschooling, you may find homeschooling can be the best way to guarantee your child would get a good and affordable education.

Every state is different when it comes to the requirements for educating your child at home.  Go to your state’s website and do some research.  California has fairly reasonable requirements for homeschooling.  A household must apply for a private school affidavit between October 1-15 to establish the home as a place for education.  Records, subjects, administration, school district, etc. are all listed as a framework.  Another option is to have your child serviced by a private school satellite homeschool program like CAVA (California Virtual Academy). Your child will have the school curriculum available at home and/or online.  The educational program will be on the same pacing and testing schedule as everyone else involved in the program with a periodic meet up with a teacher. Another option is to have your child taught by a certified educator/tutor.

After you have checked  the state laws, you need to look at your learner and question if this new way to educate would be a good fit.  If you are looking at a more traditional program, you may want an independent learner.  It takes discipline to sit at a computer to watch an educational video and get a wealth of work done in a structured period of time when all the creature comforts of home is near. Another popular philosophy on homeschooling is unschooling .  This student driven approach may be uncomfortable for you, the parent, or the child because of the seeming lack of direction in schedules, subjects, and all the bells and whistles tied to traditional schooling.

The educational goals you set up for you child should be deeply tied to your approach. Truth be told, the way you may begin to homeschool your child can/will change from day to day or year to year.  You may have one child who thrives with a structured, traditional program while another child prefers an unschooling approach.  The best resources for a new homeschooling family are conventions and local/statewide organizations.  California has California Homeschool Network and Homeschool Association of California which are two great places to get information.  At the local level, many communities have co-ops or homeschool groups that meet regularly for park days, classes, field trips, social gatherings.  I belong to a great homeschool community where the calendar for social events is always full.

The advice I always give to parents who are thinking about homeschooling is to try it out.  If it’s not a good fit for your family, you could always re-enroll your child into school without much disruption.  Your local school would not turn your child away.

Mom’s Favorite Word

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That hard C followed by the gentle hiss of the soft C embodies the visceral feeling I get when I see that word in an email or a text. As a 21st century mother who finds it necessary to over-schedule her children in all-so-important activities that will enrich their lives, pad their college applications, and keep them busy, I spend more time on the move from city to city.  While well-meaning people worry (imagine scary mime hands here) about my homeschooled children not being socialized, I can guarantee my children are probably over socialized.  Between music lessons, physical education classes, team sports, science camps, educational field trips, and park days, my boys are seeing more action now than I did at their age.

So from Monday through Saturday, we’re on the move.  I have become very adept at packing up all my creature comforts to take with me (i.e. knitting, Kindle, iPod, etc.) while my boys are responsible for their things (goodbye diaper bags).  With a full tank of gas and NPR or talkradio providing me with the adult conversation I crave, I’m combating Los Angeles traffic and speedtraps to get to our destinations on time.

Now once in a while I would get that last minute text or email with that beautiful and sexy word winking at me.  Suddenly, the day becomes a little bit brighter. Unlike some people, I don’t need an explanation for the cancellation.  That would be like looking a gift horse in the mouth.