A Day in the Life

Homeschooling and Medieval Living

School Choice Week

schoolchoiceweek.com

National School Choice Week is January 25-31, 2015.

“National School Choice Week (NSCW) provides an unprecedented opportunity, every January, to shine a spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children. Independently planned by a diverse coalition of individuals, schools and organizations, NSCW features thousands of special events across the country. The Week is a nonpartisan and nonpolitical public awareness effort.”

I recently came across School Choice Week while I was researching for my homeschooling book. I took a good look at the website and I spoke with a customer service representative. The site is basically a place for organizers and schools to sign up. I looked for events happening in my area through their nifty search engine. I found four events in my state. The one in Dallas is an open house for a Catholic school. All the others were over 200 miles from me. Although there is a great event happening on the steps of the Capitol Building in Austin, it’s a four hour trip.

As soon as you open their site, a chat window opens up and a CSR asks if they can help you. It was a little annoying at first. I told her that I was a homeschooler and I was interested in helping out the cause somehow. She said I should be an organizer and directed me to the homeschool section of the site. When I arrived at the site, I noticed the form for organizers to fill out. So, I filled it out. If approved, I will receive a complimentary box full of goodies such as scarves, posters, fliers and more. I am not sure what I will do with all the goodies if I get them. Do I just sit at a table downtown during the School Choice Week and talk up homeschooling? That would be odd. Most people would ignore me or think I was three fries short of a happy meal.

Does anyone have any ideas about what I could do with all this information? How can I get the word out that there is a need for effective education options for children. I guess I could set up on the steps of the Fort Worth court house. I would love to do this locally but my town is so small. We have a tabernacle in the middle of town. I guess I could set up there right next to the farmers’ market. “Hey! Have a flier with that apple. Support education and farmers at the same time!” Maybe. I would love to get your feedback. Just leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks! BTW, this will take place January 25-31, 2015.

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Are unschoolers really nuts?

When I first began homeschooling about five years ago, I researched everything to do with homeschooling. I attended co-ops, support groups, and meetings. I read every article and website. I watched A LOT of YouTube. I then decided to teach my children through structured homeschooling. This means that I re-created the public school experience at home. We had a tough schedule with grading and testing. I kept records and gave out rewards such as stickers and fake money. They used the money to buy things from the treasure box. It seemed to be going well – at least for me.
During this first year, I met all sorts of homeschoolers and unschoolers. The homeschoolers I could understand, but the unschoolers? They were completely bonkers. They actually let their children do whatever they wanted. There was no structure. There were no grades. There was no testing. This was insane! I did not want that for my kids. I wanted them to go to college and be successful. My son loved bugs so he would go to A&M and study entomology. My daughter liked art, so she would go to art school. I had everything planned out. There was only one thing I did not even consider. My children were miserable.
So that first summer, we regrouped. I took some of the structure out. We had school four days a week instead of five. We went on field trips with a local homeschool group. We went to SCA events. We still learned from text books and I still gave grades and rewards. But they were still miserable. What the heck was going on? Couldn’t they see that this was for their own good? They would be successful, by golly.
That next summer, we regrouped again. We still had text books. We still learned from them. But this time, I borrowed a bit from Charlotte Mason and others. It seemed to help but trying to raise the perfectly educated child stressed me out completely.
Fast forward to last year. I started a tech support job from home. I worked the 12-8 pm shift. My husband was attending college in the mornings. We still homeschooled, be it a little more relaxed form of it. So, many things did not get done. Grades were not kept, textbooks were used less and we spent more time together as a family. I missed my kids so we used our time together to bond and have fun. I noticed one very important thing. The world did not end. My kids did not revert back to a Neanderthal state. They still learned. Really? Could this be?
Well, we had many things happen last summer. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to leave my job to take care of my mother (she is in remission now and doing great). So I had more time on my hands, which disappointed my children. You see, I love research. When I start something, I get a bit obsessive about it. So I was back on the homeschooling kick. I got my husband’s college math book and taught my children college math. I also taught them college history. My kids are now 13 and 16 so they breezed through it all. Although my daughter absolutely hates math. I love it. I could factor polynomials all day long and giggle while doing it. But I am nuts. My son likes math though. He giggles too. He also likes Java (silly kid). How does my daughter work math problems? First she opens the book. Then she copies the problem. Then she cries. Well, not really. She does pout and cross her arms a lot. “But I HATE math!” is her mantra of the day. My son spends more of his free time playing video games and less time exploring. He does this to escape. He is not happy. My daughter spends all her free time writing stories and drawing. They were slowly withdrawing from family time. We were all miserable. What should I do?
Last week, I came across Ms. Gwen’s blog. Through it, she introduced me to Peter Gray. He is a psychologist who studies children and how they learn. He is a huge supporter of unschooling. His article titled “The Danger of Back to School” is eye-opening, to say the least. Seeing all of this gave me insight on how I could make my children happy. I realized that success should not be measured in how much money you make (although that is a nice bonus). It should be measured in how happy you are. They say if you love your job you will never work a day in your life. Why shouldn’t school be looked at the same way? We make children do far more work in school than we do at our jobs. They are micromanaged and taught to sit still and do the work. Really? Would you be happy if your boss treated you that way?
So the rest of this year will be spent on happier pursuits. My son will still work on his Java and math (because he likes them) and I will give my daughter a break from math. I will give her more time to draw and write fan fiction. I have even read her stories and they are pretty good. So what if she can’t factor polynomials? She wants to write, draw and act. I don’t think her lack of numeracy knowledge will be a hindrance. I now have the kids work together on projects. There are times when my son is working math on the board and my daughter will lend a hand. My son will also proofread her stories. They still learn but they have fun doing it and they do it on their own terms. I have found unschooling to be more than I thought it could ever be. It is a great way to raise happy kids. My son no longer wants to be an entomologist (although he still loves all insects and animals). He is more into creating digital art and games. My daughter wants to be a voice-over artist. I am done pushing college. As a teen, I had college pushed down my throat. I was the only one in my family to attend a university. I have done nothing with it. It was a great experience, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t use any of that knowledge today. It is really overrated. But that is a whole other blog post all together.
In the end, I have changed my views on homeschooling and unschooling. I have also found that there is a wide spectrum of people in each category. So are unschoolers really nuts? They just want their kids to be happy. So do I. So I guess I am a little nutty too.

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Homeschooling and Public School

Letters on the fridge

Photo Credit: Lyn Lomasi via Compfight

I have homeschooled my children for the last five years. I feel that I have been somewhat successful at it. My daughter will be attending college next year to study acting. My son is only 13 and he already knows and loves Java programming. He is currently working on a Java project of his own. Although most people might think this is an achievement in and of itself, I don’t. Granted, I am very happy and proud of what they have accomplished. But, I am even happier about something that most people don’t notice. They are creative thinkers. When they have a question, they ask it (even when it is an embarrassing one). If I don’t know the answer, we look it up together. Hey, you are never to old to learn something new. My daughter takes things apart just to see how they work. If either child is interested in something, I encourage them to learn more about it. I don’t care if it is “age-appropriate” (well, within reason). My son has been doing advanced algebra since he was 10. He absolutely loves math. My daughter has been reading college level books (such as Tolkien and Shakespeare) since she was in the third grade. Her public school told her that she was too young to read them. So, she checked them out of the public library and read them. I have always made sure that they had support for whatever subject interested them.

When most people think of homeschoolers, they generally think of severe right wing conservatives who only teach what the “good book” tells them to teach. I am here to break that stereotype. First of all, we are Unitarian Universalists and we are pretty liberal (although I wouldn’t go so far as to call us severe left – just moderate). I also practice secular homeschooling. I feel that religion/spirituality/philosophy should be taught separately. Academics should be just that – academics. Secondly, I feel that my children must learn about society and learn to cope within it. In order to attend college, take part in the workforce, or just interact with society, they must learn cooperation, communication, and leadership.

In a way, I have been “homeschooling” my children since they were born. I was there to teach them to walk. I read and sung to them constantly when they were toddlers. I gave them a safe and loving environment in which to explore and learn. I wanted to give them the best that I could. Then, they grew to elementary age. I lovingly sent them off to public school and all was well. I loved the school so much that I helped whenever I could. I was room mother and volunteer of the month. I also took a job as a substitute teacher with the district.

So, if everything was going so swimmingly, why did I pull them out of school? The elementary school was great, fair enough. But then, my daughter began the fifth grade and, in so doing, moved to the intermediate school – which was not so peachy. There were seven classes a day as opposed to one. There were cliques. And the guidance councilor was not as empathic as she could have been. In fact, the woman pried my daughter’s hand out of mine and took her to the councilor’s office daily. In short, the school let me down. It let my daughter down. She begged me not to make her go back to that school and I just could not make her go.

My son, on the other hand, loved school. He was still at the elementary school (in the second grade). But, I could see that there would soon be problems. His teacher complained that he could not stay still. His attention span was very short and he would not stay on task. His desk had been moved several times, but it did not help things. “He really should be on meds,” was what the teacher and staff told me constantly.

On a day in mid-February of 2009, I took them out of public school and I never looked back. I have used many methods of teaching: school-at-home, Classical, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Waldorf, and Unschooling. Finally, I just decided to let them learn however they could (and all of this without medication). Now, my kids use their own methods for learning. This doesn’t mean that I just leave them alone. They still study math, science, computers, drama, the piano, Java and anything their heart desires. I am the bellows that keeps the embers lit. I think any and every parent can do this. Anyone can raise a creative thinker with or without the help from a public, private, charter, or online school. If your child attends a really great school, more the better. There are great schools out there. But that doesn’t mean you should just leave all the teaching duties up to the school. As parents and caregivers we could do so much more. I didn’t just leave it up to someone else to teach my children alone. I have used all the resources I had to make my children the best they can be. Will you?

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Homeschooling – 10 Things I Would Do Differently

My oldest daughter is coming to the end of her homeschooling education. She is a senior this year at the age of 16. This has led me to wonder about our last five years together on this homeschooling path. I took her out of school during the fifth grade. (I have posted in a previous post about how that went.) So this has given me much to think about.

I have done much for the homeschooling community. I have created a course at Udemy, created a homeschooling YouTube channel, taught at a local co-op, and enjoyed fellowship with a local homeschooling support group. Even so, I feel that there are things I would do differently. In the style of David Letterman, here is my Homeschooling Top Ten List.

1. Be Less Rigid

When we started out, I taught the kids in the same manner as public school. We only used text books and we had hour-long chunks dedicated to each subject. The kids learned Science, Math, English, History, and an elective of their choice. That took us about five hours a day. We were all miserable. The next year, we moved to alternating days – still miserable.

The following year, I gave them a list of weekly assignments to be completed by the weekend. The assignments were not completed and the kids were grounded for the weekend. Then, I had to work and their dad went back to college. So, Nana helped out a lot. That was the year of chaos, needless to say.

This year, I have a list of subjects and we work on them as we have time. I figure it will get done eventually. My stress levels are now significantly lower. Luckily, Texas treats homeschool as a private school. Therefore, we are not required to spend a certain amount of time in class. Thank goodness.

2. More Field Trips

In the beginning, we attended 1-2 field trips a week with a local homeschool group. Then, my husband lost his job and I started work. We were only available on weekends. The group did things during the week. We only had weekends free so we were really picky about what did during that time. Plus, we had less money. So, we stayed home a lot more. Time just seemed to get away from us. This year, even though we still have less money, I am determined to do something outside of the house. We are more housebound than we should be. My kids spend way too much time on the computer. I vow to get them out even if it is on the weekends. We have found a Magic: The Gathering group at my husband’s college. My 13 year-old son loves Magic. He now spends two days a week at the college with his dad. Now I just have to find something my daughter likes. Wish me luck on that one. So, my advice is to get out once a week if you can. It will be so worth it. Plus, it will give you more to talk about during the week. “Remember when that guy did that thing?” Oh yeah. Lots more conversation.

3. More Socialization

This is actually a “bad” word in the homeschooling community. The thing I heard the most when I began homeschooling was “But how will your children socialize?” I grew so sick of answering that question. We joined a local homeschooling group, went on 2-3 field trips a week, joined a local history re-creation group (Society for Creative Anachronism), and we went geocaching every month. In fact, we spent so much time “socializing” that we had little time for classwork. I was burned out – we all were. So we stopped everything except the SCA. Last year, we had very little money. So, we stayed home most of the time. This year, I am getting more and more freelancing work. So, I hope to be able to get out more. It is imperative that we get out.

4. More Active in Support Groups

We were very active in a local secular support group during the first year. Since then, our dedication to the group has waned. We have not had any contact with the group in nearly two years. I think that there could have been a happy medium. Just because we were members did not mean that we had to do something with the group every week. Membership had its rewards. It gave me access to events and activities within the homeschool community. There were people who had the same issues we did. I had someone to talk to who could empathize with me. My kids had others their age who were also homeschooled. I really miss the group and I would love to join them again. This is another thing I will change for the upcoming year.

5. More Reading

This little tidbit comes from my daughter. She is a bibliophile. She read her entire World History book in less than a month. “OK, I am done. Next.” She thinks I should give her more reading assignments and fewer worksheets. I am all for that. In the beginning, I gave them worksheets and tests. I spent most of my time grading them and keeping records. This brings me to:

6. Less Curriculum Planning/Record Keeping

Texas does not require homeschoolers to keep records of any kind. Local community colleges do not require records from homeschools. So why keep records? I am a product of public schooling. I was a substitute teacher for a couple of years and a preschool teacher for one. It was ingrained in me to keep records. So, I did. I thought local colleges and universities would actually care what grades they made in homeschool. Silly me. I look back on all those hours spent every week on planning and grading. I was working more at home than I did at work. I missed so much time with my family. So, I quit. I now spend more time getting my daughter ready for college and teaching my son more worthwhile subjects. The local colleges look at SAT/COMPAS scores and community involvement. So, that is what we do now.

7. More Community Service

This really goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Since more colleges look at community involvement these days, we really need to spend more time doing that. We are members of a historical re-creation group. But that doesn’t really count. This year will see more activities in our community. There are many to choose from 4-H, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Trinity Trash Bash, local animal shelters, soup kitchens, mentoring, etc.

8. More Hands-On Activities

The kids and I have gotten so bored with text books. I fall back on them time and time again because that is what I know. That is all I had in public schools. They offer guidance and information at my fingertips. I feel that this has been a crutch. Instead of reading about plants, we should have planted a garden. We did dissect a shark with our homeschooling group. It was amazing – even though our house smelled of sugar cookies for a week. We really miss that. So, I will try to have more of that this year.

9. Teach More Life Skills

This one won’t take a lot more work. I have really taught them some life skills. Both kids know how to do their own laundry, balance a check book, write a resume, sew, and cook. They can read and follow recipes. We just need to work on it a bit more. I do most of the cooking. I really need to change that. I think they could cook a meal a week. That wouldn’t be too hard. My son could take Mondays and my daughter could take Wednesdays – or something like that. The person responsible for the meal will make a list of what is needed, go to the store and buy the ingredients, and then make the meal.

10. More Career/Life Planning

This is the most important thing that every homeschooling parent should do. Once your child figures out what career paths/activities make him/her happy, you should explore those things. I watched Logan LaPlante on YouTube the other day. He is awesome. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he said “I want to be happy.” TED Talks is full of youth who are inspiring and doing remarkable things. I think that teachers should spend more time cultivating happiness and passion in youth and less time teaching to a test. The US is way behind the rest of the world in education. After spending two years teaching in public schools, I can see why.

So, I am now off to teach my 13 year-old college algebra. I have been using my husband’s college text books  to teach our children for the last two years. My son is currently taking Java for Beginners on Udemy. He absolutely loves programming. My daughter writes fan fiction and short stories. So, I am not spending so much time worrying about the Common Core or any other educational nonsense. They do what they love and that is ALL that matters. Isn’t that what we all want out of life? Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. Words to live by.

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