Monday, September 22, 2014

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Homeschooling

photo by Anita Peppers, via morguefile
In the category of "things everybody knows about homeschooling", Everybody knows that homeschool is a lot of hard, serious work. There are whole systems out there that involve carefully orchestrated hours of study, prayer, and folder after folder of perfectly displayed projects and assignments. These are serious families who take education very seriously, every day. Their kids are going to get into Harvard on a full scholarship and go on to cure exotic diseases while on mission in developing countries.

Then there are the lazy girls (and boys). You'll find them sleeping in on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, they'll be doing Algebra at their desk in their pajamas. You must excavate their essay on War and Peace from underneath their pillow. Nobody knows where the actual book is. The dog might have eaten it, or Dad might have taken it back to the library.  School didn't get out at the end of May not because you're on a year around schedule, but because somebody hasn't finished their online, work at your own pace, class yet. It will be mid-July before it's finished.

It takes an extraordinarily laid back mom to admit that nobody at her house was dressed by two pm more than one day last week, especially in the face of an internet filled with pictures of perfectly groomed homeschoolers conducting science experiments and taking hikes in Kamchatka. It's easy to start feeling really inferior in the wake of all those homeschoolers with their photo ready, effortlessly orchestrated lives. And let's face it, the surprise visit from critical relatives is never going to happen on the day that everyone is out of bed at 7:00 am, building a scale model of the RMS Lusitania . No, that surprise visit is going to happen the day the kids are building a demon fortress on Minecraft while you hide in your room with a migraine.

Keep a stiff upper lip, homeschooling parents of lazy kids. Your efforts are not going to waste. Your kids are not going to be living at home forever, unable to get into college or get a real job. Take it from parents who have been there, done that, and had to buy new pajamas to replace the ones destroyed by homeschool Science experiments. Your kids will eventually learn to respond to alarm clocks and deadlines. Yes, it seems grim when you find your kid asleep with a biography of Abraham Lincoln open over their face. Keep in mind that they are actually reading Abraham Lincoln's biography, and possibly even enjoying it. Maybe you didn't get everything done that you hoped to accomplish. Maybe nobody put on real clothes all last week. I'm not judging. You've got the whole world (and those critical relatives) to judge you. I'm here to say, it will work out. Don't give up. You and your kids will be fine.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Managing Childhood

Some of my best memories from childhood involve free play in unstructured areas. There was a
photo by taliesin from
lack of parks in the neighborhood I grew up in, so kids played in the gulches and undeveloped prairie. One gulch was devoted to BMX style biking, the sides and hills worn smooth from the passage of many bike and motorbike tires. It was the most structured play available in the area, invented by kids, for kids. Occasionally someone would have a semi-serious wreck and the adults would talk about having to "do" something about it, but for all my childhood it remained. The amazed joy I felt when I finally conquered riding the bowl (a trick that involved zooming down a high-side hill and then traveling horizontally around the inside of the slick gully walls) remains with me to this day.

Try as I might, and believe it or not, I've tried very hard, it has been a struggle to try to facilitate my children being able to have similar experiences. I've always been willing to get out of the way. I have no personal need to orchestrate my children's lives.

But there are no gulches for them.

Bunmi Laditen, in her recent Huffington Post editorial, laments all the time, creative energy, and money that today's parents lavish on their offspring. I suspect, a bit defensively, that she'd classify me, homeschooling mom with an entire cabinet full of assorted craft supplies (not counting my own sewing stuff!) as one of the offenders. But there are no gulches for my kids.

When my kids were "play in the yard" age, we lived in a big old corner house in a marginal neighborhood on the cusp of re-gentrification but not there yet. I had a sturdy fence, a smallish yard with a swingset set in a big box of sand, and a large, loyal dog. The house had many windows. I could see my kids no matter where they were in the yard. In the summers, every kid in the neighborhood would come to play.

Random strangers regularly stopped their cars in front of my house and came to knock on my door to tell me how unsafe this was. According to them, anybody, at any time, could simply swoop down and steal/abuse my kids. Only in their tabloid-style news fear fests! But if that was the reaction to my letting kids play in a completely normal way, I figured letting them get lost in a gulch was likely to trigger a visit from official family services.

Digression: In case you're wondering, the worst thing that ever happened to my kids was when a door-to-door evangelist from one of the local "Bible Believing" style churches came by and tried to chat up my kids and give them pamphlets. I came out and told them to not speak to my kids without asking me for permission first. Cue a stunning selection of curse words and not nice labels applied to mom in front of her kids and the neighbor kids. Not exactly the best way to "win the neighborhood for Jesus!" I was amused, the kids were horrified, and I suspect this is one of the reasons why my now teenage daughter is a solid agnostic. Back to my point. . .

If I hadn't engineered certain experiences, my kids would have had no access to them. 

The overly fearful, tabloid shocker addicted society that we live in has shut down kids' access to kid-built dirt bike parks, hiking into the gulch and examining the abandoned, rusted out cars from previous decades, the building of dodgy earth and tree forts, the going down to the river to go fishing. I would have loved to get out of the way of my kids' play more than I did. As it was, I was riding the edge of "neglectful parent" with my kids getting to do 1/10th of what I got to do under the eye of a mom who was labeled extremely overprotective in her time.

Maybe some of us field-trip and craft-obsessed parents are doing it to keep up with the Pinterest Joneses. Some of us, however, are trying to do our best to give our kids something resembling a childhood instead of a prison sentence of school/extracurricular activity/learning camp/ rinse lather repeat. I didn't want to manage my kids' childhoods. This modern age didn't give me a choice.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

College Acceptance!

photo via morgueFile
My son just got accepted to Texas A&M. I am full of self-congratulation. Make no mistake; he's the one who did the work. The effort and accomplishment are all his. My homeschool kid got into college. Not any old college, a very well-respected college. I think it's a fear that plagues many homeschoolers-- how will my homeschooled child get into college? The answer for us was pretty much the same way any other kid gets into college.

One thing that made it easy for him is that for the last year and a half, he's been attending a Richard Milburn Academy. This is not homeschooling, but at the time he entered, I pretty much considered him done with school. He, however, wanted an official state issued high school diploma and this was a relatively painless way for us to get it. He took a few classes that for whatever reason the school/state thought he needed, got stunning grades in them, and poof. He's accepted into a great college on the basis of that and his good SATs. He knew most of the material in almost every class he took, but he enjoyed the experience nonetheless. He's graduating next week, top of his class.

I think he could have got into college without the RMA alternative school experience, but it was really personally important to him that he have a state issued high school diploma. There are ways to submit your homeschool transcripts and get a state issued diploma in some states, but not in ours.

My homeschooling career with my son is officially over. I still have a couple of years left with my daughter. For today, however, I'm going to have a small celebration. We were not insane. We did, after all, give our son a good enough education to get him where he wants to be at this time in his life. Our wildly eclectic, out of the box, curriculum assembled/written/invented by mom, part online, part co-op, part in class, part traveling/camping adventure homeschool for the win!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advice for Preschool Homeschoolers

Just Enjoy Your Kids!

Collage Photos from Morgue File
"Just enjoy your kids!" is probably one of the most annoying things that was ever said to me when I was a parent of preschoolers. Almost inevitably it was part of conversations that I had with other parents, teachers, and other supposed experts on child-rearing. It's a nice sentiment to be sure, but it infers that we are anxious, worrisome mothers who simply need to calm down and change another diaper, and everything will be just fine.

It's very frustrating, because if you're at all an alert parent, you can see before you in your preschooler a living knowledge sponge. Here is a little person who wants to know everything. Everything. Right now! Here is a little person who finds the world the most exciting and wonderful thing ever. She wants to explore it all. He wants to find out how it all works. You want to exploit that, because all too soon they'll be weary, jaded teens who don't want to learn a darned thing.

Engagement: Secret Learning Weapon!

Okay, I admit it. I am going to tell you to calm down a bit about that last part. I promise I'm not going to waste your time telling you to enjoy your kids. Of course you're already doing that. No competent parent needs to be told to enjoy their kids. However, your kid or kids, however smart, do not need to learn formal Math, the foundations of Western Philosophy, or even the entire sonnets of Shakespeare by heart right now. There will be plenty of time for that later. Yes, they may be able to do those things. This does not mean that they should. And if you don't want those weary, jaded teens who don't want to learn a darned thing, you won't inflict formal learning on your preschoolers.

How to Teach Your Preschooler "Too Much!"

When we attempted to enroll our son into public school kindergarten, one of the accusations hurled at us by the administrators was that I had "taught him too much". He was ahead of "grade level", he was too smart, too social, too polite. You can read that story elsewhere on Rebel Homeschool. My point is, there we were with the Kid Who Knew Too Much. And yet he had not been exposed to any formal learning at all. How did that happen?

My son's about to graduate from a charter school where he finished up the last couple of years of high school work (he wanted an official state-issued diploma). He's got great SAT scores and currently he's Valedictorian of his class. Public school experts want your kid in school, in a formal learning environment, earlier and earlier. They'll tell you this is how you end up with my son's result.

People who actually pay attention to what preschoolers need know this is junk advice. Just because impoverished kids living in terrible environments do better if taken out of the terrible environment for a few hours a day doesn't mean that every preschooler is better off in such a regimen, stuffed in a classroom pretending to be big kids. I'd argue that it's not even ideal for the impoverished kids, but for now it's the best the system can do. So what about your preschoolers?

Awesome Preschooler to Lifelong Learner Track

  • Read. Read to them. Read a lot. Read to them even after they learn to read themselves. Make an adventure and an art out of reading out loud. Do the funny voices. Examine every picture in the picture book. My kids are both older teens now and we still read aloud to each other.
  • Make Drama Story Art. Make a "dress up box" of bits that can be used to make a variety of pretend outfits. Hats, masks, scarves, crowns, various pieces of fabric that can be capes, togas, robes, etc. Re-enact their favorite stories. Let them lead the way. Let them change the story. Play along.
  • Make an Art Mess. Watercolors, salt dough clay, craft paper projects, crayons, do them all. Some craft stores host classes, if you're feeling timid or don't want cotton balls glued to your sofa at home. Skip the coloring books for now. Let your kid color not only outside the lines, but without lines at all.
  • Get Imagination Toys. Blocks, trains, sets of dishes and fake food, building toys, puppets, any kind of toy that can be used for multiple purposes.
  • Get Out of the House. Go outside as much as possible. Ride the bus, even if you have a car. Go to museums, and not just the Children's Museum, though you might find yourself living part-time there. Go to outdoor festivals. Go fly a kite, throw a ball, run in circles, explore the world.
  • Talk to Your Kid. No dumb down speak, no baby talk. Tell them family stories. Talk to him like he's a little person you love to talk to. Talk to her like she's amazing and smart. Use your big words. Explain what the big words mean, but only if asked. Model the polite behavior you'd like to see in your kids. Tell them they're wonderful, amazing, people. Tell them how much you love who they are and how much you enjoy being with them. And oh, yeah. Enjoy your kids! :P
tlryder is a homeschooling mom of two teens. Her memoir, "Ankle Deep in Craft Paper", will be out as soon as she's done having her obligatory homeschooling mom nervous breakdown.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Five Foreign Language Learning Tips

Many homeschoolers want to incorporate foreign language learning into their studies, but it seems like a daunting task if no one speaks the desired language at home. In much of the US, access to foreign language speakers can be hard to come by. Even if you're interested in Spanish, one of the most commonly spoken languages in the US after English.  Many language curricula are built around a common and widespread language learning structure that is not only actively hostile to home use, but serves to give Americans some of the worst foreign language acquisition skills ever.  So what can you do if you want your child to learn a language and be actually able to use it?

Study Latin

If you're going to learn a Romance language, some basics Latin will go a long way to jump-starting your language learning. There are plenty of Latin language resources available. Many focus on Latin roots and general language competence instead of teaching Latin as a formal language. As a bonus, scientific names will make much more sense with a little basic Latin

Sticky Tab Your World

Infants tend to learn names for things, i.e. nouns, and simple verbs first. Get some sticky tabs or notecards with a little poster tack and label everything you possibly can around the house. Learners can practice looking at the item and saying its name in the target language. 

Play Games

Uno is a good game for colors and numbers, as is Sorry. Other board games and games like the old playground favorite Red Rover can be adapted. The key is to use existing vocabulary to play the game, and to strive to use only the new language while playing the game. There are also online games available in foreign languages.

A girl learning English in Shanghai.
A girl learning English in Shanghai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

YouTube and TV

There are lots of great language segments on YouTube, and many are available for free.  You can also watch foreign language  television shows and movies (some are also available online). Watch once with subtitles and then again without to help increase learning.  Find foreign songs and music videos and sing along. 

Children's Books

No matter how old the learner is, really basic children's books can be a fun way to increase language learning. It's possible to find Dr. Suess books in Spanish for example. Don't overlook original foreign language children's books as well. That way you can get a taste of the culture as well as increase language learning.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

William Morris

"Basically every white surface in the house is suspect – there will be colour underneath it," Breslin said. "Why have three clashing patterns when you can have six, seems to have been their motto." 

James Breslin, property manager at Red House speaking to The Guardian newspaper about recent restoration work there. 

There was a great article on The Guardian today about conservation work at William Morris's Red House.  Morris was part of the British Pre-Raphaelite art movement, as well as a social activist. Many people who aren't particularly interested in Art History or politics are nonetheless familar with his work because of his extensive collections of wallpapers and other home decorating items, which seem to have perennial popularity.

Queen Guinevere
William Morris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I first became interested in William Morris when we were remodeling an Eclectic Victorian house.
Though much of Morris's work is more suited to Arts and Crafts style architecture, there is still a lot to choose from in Morris's collections for an Eclectic Victorian residence.  You can see some of his wallpaper and fabric collections at The Original William Morris & Company store online. Personally I think his work stretches from the hideous to the sublime, but interior decorating, like any other art, is much in the eye of the beholder.

Further Information:
William Morris Gallery, where you can see a wide range of his work in various media, and works by some of his friends and collaborators as well.

Red House National Trust website, with photos of the house.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why We Chose Homeschool over Public School Parent Involvement

When we lived in Utah, we attended a Unitarian Universalist church. UUs as a group tend to support governmental programs like public schools, and so we homeschoolers got a lot of push-back about "deserting ship". The reasoning was that if we had time to homeschool, it would be better if we had our kids in public school and spent that time volunteering at public school to make our school system better. Homeschooling was seen by quite a few people as the selfish, non-community minded option. Most of these people had their kids in private school (and didn't volunteer at public school either), but they viewed that as a superior choice to homeschooling because you can volunteer at the private school and they feel that helps build community as well.
By Ramblersen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ]
via Wikimedia Commons

My Kids vs. The Common Good
Sorry folks, but I'm not going to sacrifice my kids' education for some theoretical common good. Whatever education my children would have received in our local public school district would have been substandard and not appropriate for kids of their ability. As a volunteer parent, my ability to affect my own son's and daughter's education would have been minimal. The UU would be school activists' response to this was that I could always "afterschool" my kids to make up any lack. Ironically, some of these were same parents who would also moan to me that they couldn't understand how I could bear to homeschool when just doing a couple of hours of homework per night with their kids was pure torture.

But What About Afterschooling?
Afterschooling is an option that I only suggest to parents when they absolutely have no other option. For most people, afterschooling is frankly wretched. Assuming you have time after the pile of busywork from school is completed, you're now going to try to jam serious learning into the precious few moments left before bedtime? On kids who are probably so jaded and burned out after their day at the mind-numbing substandard public school? No thank you.

Read this before you jump into the comments to attack me: If your public school is excellent and stimulating and challenging and your kids come home in a good mood, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and ready to have extra Latin and Calculus lessons, great! Please understand that for most people working in average school in the U.S., this is not even in the neighborhood of the usual school experience. If your kid is bored and mind-numb at school, trying to afterschool them when they come home (likely angry, restless, and burned-out) is a really rough task.

If your kid is bored, struggling, and getting more and more resistant to learning, don't mess around with afterschooling. Find a way to homeschool or find a way to get them into a better school. Robbing them of their few hours of decompression time is not going to make them love learning or improve their grades.

What Do Volunteer Parents Do, Anyway?
Having been a parent volunteer in a local school, I could see that they really needed me and other parents to help do support work-- for teachers and administrators. Even after you pass the background screening, in my experience, most of your tasks for public school bring you into only minimal contact with kids. Most of the kids I worked with were really suspicious of adults anyhow, having been taught by popular media to view adults as stupid and out of touch, and taught by the system to view every adult as a potential child molester.

Don't get me wrong. Teachers really do need someone to make 500 copies of worksheets for them. I just don't deceive myself that by helping with that, that I am "making our schools better" or "helping make a positive change in the system".

My UU friends would say the problem is that I didn't get involved deeply enough with the PTSA, which is where the "real" change happens. This could be so, but in my two PTSA experiences in two different PTSA organizations in two states, the only thing PTSA wanted from me was money, forms, and baked goods. Oh, and to buy school tee-shirts! Again, your mileage may vary, but I've spoken to many parents for whom this experience is true.

Broken System is Broken
As a parent with a kid in the public school system, your ability to affect the things that actually matter, that improve your child's chance at academic success, and provide safe and enjoyable learning environment is very small. I think our public school system can and should be fixed, but it's not going to be fixed by me throwing my kids in, and me volunteering alongside them in the trenches. I can best help by raising well-educated, civic-minded people who can challenge and affect the system at the levels where real change can happen. For us, that means homeschool. Alas, things are not going to get better at public school because I baked cookies for a fundraiser.

This Post Partially Inspired by:

The Center Cannot Hold (Archdruid Report)