Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Truth About What School Can Be Like

Many of us have pink-tinted memories of our experiences in school. We have a tendency to think back affectionately on the people we knew and cared about, and to forget the painful situations that often arose.

Dana over at Principled Discovery has had the courage to tell the truth about what school was like for her. She generally says she had a positive school experience - but when she thought back to what she had learned in school, there was a lot of pain stored there. Her post is called, "Homeschool stereotypes vs. public school realities," and it's worth reading all the way through. The lessons she learned in school reflect, to a large extent, what public school "socialization" really involves; and they ought to stimulate each of us to think seriously about what kind of socialization we really want our kids to have. I know one thing - the things she learned are not the things I want my kids to learn. That's why I homeschool.

One of these days maybe I'll get up the nerve to write about my own experience in school as a child. I hope my kids will have much better childhood experiences to write about someday.

Great Homeschooling Links

This morning I discovered a website with an amazing number of top-notch links for homeschoolers. From organization and forms to free online books; from SAT prep to online math games; from foreign language to a clickable mummy - this site has it ALL! And almost every link is free. I must have bookmarked 20 sites from links I followed from this site, and I haven't even gotten to the bottom yet.

The post goes by the unassuming title, "Lots of Links to Help Homeschoolers," and here's the link:


Friday, August 15, 2008

Homeschoolers Transitioning to Public Schools

Not every homeschooler chooses to continue homeschooling throughout their child's school years. As a result, a significant question arises: what does it take for a family to have a successful transition from homeschool to public school? A doctoral student at the University of Missouri did his dissertation on the topic, and recently Milton Gaither reviewed it on his blog, Homeschooling Research Notes, in a post entitled, "Koonce on Transitioning from Home School to Public School."

Koonce's research was admittedly based on a very small sample of 13 Missouri families who agreed to be interviewed. That's too bad, because his conclusions are fascinating, and it would be helpful to have more statistics to confirm what he found. I hope someone will undertake further research on this topic. From Dr. Gaither's post:

What made the transition positive or negative? Positive experiences resulted when the school system was helpful and understanding of the student’s background (4 students in his sample). Negative experiences resulted either when the school was skeptical of the child’s homeschooling background (5 students) or when the homeschooling background had not adequately prepared the child academically (2), socially (1), or procedurally (1).

In short, the single most significant factor in the students' successful transition, found in at least 9 of the 13 cases, was the school's perception of homeschooling. If the school was "understanding of the student's background," the transition was generally positive. If the school was "skeptical of the child's homeschooling background," the transition was generally negative. Given the overwhelming prevalence of negative attitudes toward homeschooling on the part of so many people involved in the public education system, this is unfortunate.

It is also clear from these results that's it's important for parents to make sure children are prepared for the transition. Two of the 13 families had negative experiences because the children were not prepared academically; this is sad given the innate advantages of homeschooling. The single negative experience due to social factors is probably less significant, since it could be argued that at least one of every 13 kids is going to struggle socially regardless of their educational background.

In the end, according to Gaither, Koonce offers some practical suggestions:

Koonce ends his study with some practical suggestions both for homeschooling parents and for public schools to help ease the transition. Homeschoolers should make sure their curriculum is sound, that they keep good records, that their kids take “an anual nationally normed test” and that they have “a positive mindset toward public education.” Public schools should recognize homeschooling as a normal and legitimate educational option, provide a user-friendly enrollment process and mechanism for giving homeschoolers credit for academic work done at home, tap into the energy of the involved homeschooling parent-type, provide a liason to help students with the transition, and encourage part-time enrollment as a first step for those who need it.

While I think homeschooling is a great option, and I believe many kids would benefit from homeschooling all the way through high school, there are many who will eventually end up in the public school system. Parents send kids back to school for many reasons, including the difficulty of the subject matter as they get older. Art, band, sports, and drama all draw families back to the school system. And because kids are going to go back to the schools, it's important that more research be done on the topic of this transition, both for the sake of the schools and for the children's sake. I hope someone undertakes a much more comprehensive study of these issues.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Americans Think About Homeschooling

There's a fascinating article on yesterday's MarketWatch website. It's entitled, "Homeschooling a Constitutional Right, Americans Tell LifeWay Research," and it shows that in fact the majority of Americans do believe that parents have a constitutional right to homeschool.

The California appeals court shocked the nation with its ruling in February," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. "We decided, as part of a broad survey of more than 1,200 adult Americans, to get their reaction and found that 61 percent strongly agreed that the Constitution guarantees the right of parents to homeschool, and another 25 percent agreed somewhat." Eight percent somewhat disagreed, five percent disagreed strongly, and two percent did not know, according to Stetzer. "Americans appear to believe that parents, not the government, should decide whether or not they should homeschool."

This is surprising, and demonstrates a profound change in perspective about homeschooling among society as a whole over the last 25 years or so. Back in the 80's, homeschooling was little-known, and many people thought it was a strange thing to do. Oh, a few people did it - the University of Nebraska, for example, even allowed kids to earn a high school diploma through independent study (I know, I got mine that way!). But mostly it was reserved to the fringes and to the exceptional situation: farm kids, missionary kids, kids with sicknesses that kept them out of school for long periods, and so on.

It speaks very well of the homeschooling community that since the 1980's homeschooling has become, not only accepted among the general population, but a constitutional right. This can only be the result of many dedicated homeschooling parents working exceptionally hard to show that homeschooling can in fact be as good a way of educating kids as any other schooling.

However, we still have our work cut out for us in demonstrating that homeschooling not only provides a good education, but also excellent social skills.

Many have expressed concern that homeschooling fails to provide adequate socialization and connection to broader society, often leading to weaker social interaction and skills. In the LifeWay Research survey, 54 percent of respondents agreed, somewhat or strongly, that "children who are homeschooled often lack social skills."

Remember, this is a perception, not reality. The general public thinks homeschoolers often lack social skills. It's up to us, as homeschooling parents, to help change this belief on the part of ordinary people, and the best way I can think of is to train our kids, very carefully and deliberately, in social skills. Manners, etiquette, kindness, consideration - these things must be taught on purpose and consistently. We spend large portions of our time with our kids; we have the chance to observe them regularly. It's critical that we observe our kids' behavior and their interactions with others, and that we correct them for inappropriate social interaction. The more we do this, the more likely it is that our kids will grow up to respond correctly in social situations.

It's encouraging to see that our culture is beginning to recognize the value of homeschooling, and the right of parents to educate children as they believe is best for them. And as we consistently raise children who contradict the general opinion about socialization, that misperception will also fall by the wayside, and people will see the truth about how good homeschooling can be for kids.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Ultimate Homeschool Environment

My Google alert today brought up a post from IEducation called, "6 Effective Ways to Create the Ultimate Homeschooling Environment." It's a pretty short post, and it has some decent ideas, but the more I read, the more frustrated I felt with it. So I decided to add a comment, and write my own post on the topic.

The post begins with this:

Many people are now into homeschooling these days for whatever reason. It is important to design a classroom environment so the kids can feel as though they are at a school.

I should have known right away it wasn't going to be very helpful to me. You see, I don't believe homeschooling ought to be duplicating school at home. Homeschooling has many advantages and uniquenesses, and it seems to me we ought to take advantage of those. I've been homeschooling for 8 years now, and I'm pretty happy with our "homeschooling environment."

The author goes on to list the following "tips to create a perfect study environment."

1. Dedicated space.

Keep distractions away from the study area. No TV, no XBox, PS3, or any other gaming device. This is a time to learn and study. Keep it clean so the children will be ready to begin as they enter their home classroom.

Dedicated space? Not at our house! We use the whole house, the back yard, the neighborhood. As far as I'm concerned, homeschooling is LIFE! And learning is a part of life. Our favorite place to "do school" is the living room couch, but my kids use their beds, the floor in the family room, the outside swing - anywhere they want as long as they get their work done right. That said, we don't put on the TV during the school day, unless it's at lunchtime (and then it has to be educational videos, readily available from the library if you don't have them at home). My kids have learned to ask at lunchtime (even during the summer!), "Do we have any 'school' videos?"

2. Equipment Purchases.

Large white board. The teaching parent will use this frequently to show examples of
discussed topics.
One small student desk per child, or use a table for multiple students
Computer, an absolute must. A PC or Mac is needed to keep your child(ren) abreast of the latest technologies. Many educational programs are available online. Have your child(ren) involved in the selection of furniture and or equipment. They will take pride in their decisions and respect the condition of the particular items.

The only part of this I use is the computer and educational programs. I do have a couple of small white boards, which the kids mostly use; but if I need to diagram or illustrate something that's not already shown in a book we're using, a piece of paper is usually easier to use than a white board, and it's more readily available (we don't have to go to our "schoolroom" to use it). My kids do each have a desk, but they use their desks only occasionally.

3. Organization.

The parent and child(ren) need to stay organized. Keep record of books distributed, homework assignments, completed work, progress, and grades.

Here I agree absolutely! We don't do homework assignments, and we don't have a lot of grades, so I don't keep track of those. But without organization, your homeschool will fall apart - and your kids won't be able to find those wonderful educational supplies you've spent so much time and money on. Invest in some tools to help you stay organized, because you're going to have a lot more "supplies" than a household that sends their kids to school. A cabinet or drawer unit for holding art supplies is the most significant thing I can think of, along with plenty of bookshelves. You will also have educational games and toys you'll accumulate over time, and you'll need a way to store those. But don't buy them all at once - get what you need for this year, and keep an eye out for sales. As your supply of resources builds, you'll want to invest in more.

Get yourself a good planner, too. Keep track of the records your state requires, either in files or in your binder or planner. And definitely write down books you loan out, and when and to whom they were loaned - you may think you'll remember, but you won't! :) Have a special basket, box, or shelf for library books, too, so they don't get mixed in with the rest of your books - and let your kids know if they don't return books to the basket, they are responsible for any fines!

4. Motivation.

Encourage your child(ren) with their studies and reward them for great

I think the best way to motivate your kids is to show them you are learning right along with them. Use real books, preferably written by one author, rather than textbooks and workbooks, whenever you can. Textbooks are written by committee, and are therefore usually dull. But when you read a real book - whether historical fiction, biography, science, or literature - there is always something new to learn. Field trips, experiments, books on tape - all of these can teach us as homeschooling parents as well. And as the kids watch us being excited about learning, they get excited and motivated as well. At the same time, you can never go wrong with encouragement, or with reward big accomplishments (a tough math page ought to deserve at least a hug or a sticker or something!). :)

5. Syllabus.

Go beyond what is required by your local government or Board of Education. Take trips to your local library and let the
child(ren) select or suggest a few categories from which they have to choose.

The syllabus sounds like a lot of extra work to me, unless your state requires it. I do plan my kids' work, but I think a formal syllabus is a waste of time and prevents spontaneity. Instead, I spend that time and energy trying to find interesting, motivating materials and resources to help my kids learn. As for library books, suggesting categories is not a bad idea; I don't seem to need it, since my kids love to read. I'm also the primary person in my family looking for library books; I borrow dozens to read aloud or recommend to the kids when we are at home. (Usually I try to request them online before we go, so I can just pick mine up at the desk when we get there.)

6. Field trips.

These are always fun adventures for the child(ren). Depending on your location, select venues where you can apply their studies with the community or regional activities.

Absolutely! I try to plan a number of relevant field trips every year. And even a trip to the grocery store can be a field trip, especially with little people (try a new fruit or vegetable each time, or point out different shapes, or have them help you figure out which size container is least expensive; there are a thousand things they can learn there - and it keeps them busy while you're shopping!).

I think if you want to have the "ultimate homeschooling environment," though, you will want to make your whole home a learning center. Obviously it's not financially possible for most of us to invest a large sum in "extras" all at once, but over the years, you will want to accumulate all kinds of things that will make your home a great place to learn. Here are some ideas:

Art supplies - as many different things as you can think of. Don't invest a lot if your kids are little - buy discounted things at the beginning of the school year when you can. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolors, modeling clay (purchased or homemade), construction paper, cardstock, poster board, finger paints, stencils, foam shapes, glue sticks, white glue - these are all good for little guys. As they get older, you may want to invest in oil pastels, better quality colored pencils, charcoal, drawing pencils, watercolor pencils, acrylic paints, Plaster of Paris, and different kinds of paper for the different media.

Tapes or CD's - There are so many of these! Books on tape are fun; so are radio programs such as Adventures in Odyssey and Focus On the Family Radio Theater. And then there are the educational ones - geography songs, multiplication songs, Spanish songs, dramatized versions of American history, and more. These days many of these are on CD. Also be sure to invest in a good tape or CD player; if your kids are like mine, it will get hard use and you'll likely have to replace it fairly often.

Educational games and toys - I prefer the non-computerized educational games. We enjoy the Cranium series of games, but many of the Milton Bradley and Hasbro games also have educational value in the early years. Discovery Toys has some really excellent games, too, even for older kids. Puzzles of all sizes and types are fun and educational; so are building toys such as Legos, Magnetix, and K'Nex. Speed Stacks cups are also fun and increase eye-hand coordination.

Sports equipment - To encourage physical fitness skills, you'll want a basketball (or several), a soccer ball, some cones to mark out a playing field or at least a goal, a football, a playground ball (or several), a bat and baseball, and a bike. You may also want a badminton set, a volleyball set, a croquet set, golf clubs, tennis rackets and balls, and more.

Educational "tools" - My kids think these are toys, because we don't use them often for our formal "school" time. We like pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, geoboards (these use rubber bands on pegs to make shapes), counting bears, 3-D shapes, and attribute blocks.

Books - Books, books, books! Biographies, historical fiction, Usborne books, science experiment books, classic literature, Caldecott and Newbery Award books, picture books - you name it! Surround your kids with books, and read aloud every day so they begin to grasp what's in those books, and you are likely to end up with committed readers and learners for life.

One caution - DON'T try to do all of this at once! I've been homeschooling for 8 years, and an at-home mom for 12, and we have built up our supply gradually. I remember as a new homeschooler reading about this kind of environment and feeling totally inadequate because I just didn't have the budget for it. But the key is to do it slowly, but consistently. Choose a few things that fit your child at his or her age, and get those "for school." Then keep your eyes and ears open. Attend used book sales; watch for books, toys, and games at garage sales; pay attention to sale flyers. Get these kinds of things for birthdays and Christmas (and ask friends and relatives to do the same) rather than battery-operated dolls and the latest fads. Choose quality over quantity whenever you can.

Keep in mind that what your family needs is to some extent going to depend on who your family is. Your learning environment will be different from mine, or most likely from everyone else you know. The key, to my way of thinking, is to begin with the philosophy that you want your kids to grow up believing that learning is a way of life, and that it's fun - and to keep that philosophy in mind whenever you are shopping. If you choose carefully and stay consistent, eventually your home will be "the ultimate learning environment" for your kids.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Feminism and Homeschooling

There's an interesting blog entry this morning over at Kittywampus entitled, "Feminist Homeschooling - Why I Don't." I've heard a lot of arguments against homeschooling, but this one is new to me, and I find her thought process interesting.

As you know if you read my blog, I'm not exactly an avid feminist; still, I believe true feminism means advocating for a woman's right to make choices that are important to her, without being pressured by the culture around her. In that sense, I AM a feminist - though perhaps many feminists would disown me because I believe that in many cases conservative values are better for women than "progressive" values. I think women ought to be able to make their own choices, based on what is really important - if that means they choose to work, fine; if it means they choose to stay at home, that's fine too.

I'm especially interested in Kittywampus' reasoning for why women should work. She says about stay-at-home, homeschooling mothers,

If she works from home for pay, she rarely earns enough to survive financially if her marriage or partnership were to end.


I see lots of female students hoping to be stay-at-home parents without much awareness of the attendant risk of poverty, and I suspect many mothers decide to stay home with the assumption that divorce or widowhood won't strike them personally.

The question that comes to mind is this: are we feminists simply out of fear? My feminism is rooted in the belief that women should have the freedom to make choices in which we find fulfillment and satisfaction, rather than being locked into something we don't want to do just because men want us to do it. But it sounds to me like she's saying the opposite: women shouldn't have the freedom to do what we find fulfillment in, if it means we might be dependent on the men in our lives, because if those men should fail, we will be in serious trouble. We should follow the current cultural pattern and go to work so we will have a "safety net" in case our husbands should walk out on us.

Do we really want to make our choices based fear that the men in our lives might not follow through on their commitments? That's not the kind of life I choose. Instead, I married someone I was pretty sure I could trust, and we each made a willing commitment to the other. If he chooses not to follow through on his commitment to me, then certainly, there will be consequences in my life - just as there would be in his life if I chose not to follow through on my commitment to him.

All relationships are like that. Even in working relationships, there are costs if people don't follow through (suppose my boss should suddenly decide to stop paying me!). But if we choose to live our lives in fear, rather than in trust, we'll never find real contentment or satisfaction - whether we are working or staying at home.

My own feminism pushes me to make choices I believe are right for me as a woman - choices that bring me fulfillment and satisfaction. In my case, those choices include staying home with my children and homeschooling. I'm well aware there would be serious consequences if my husband chose to flake out (with life insurance, there would be fewer economic consequences if he died - in fact, we would probably be better off financially than we are now). But I'm not going to let my fear force me into getting a job I don't want, so I can live a pressured, harried lifestyle while someone else who cares less about them than I do raises and educates my kids.

That said, I do work part-time, one day a week, in the homeschooling enrichment program my kids are also enrolled in. Over the 12 years I've been home with my kids, I've worked a variety of work-from-home or part-time jobs, just to keep up my skills, and figuring that someday when the kids are gone I will work again to pay college bills and provide for our retirement.

And I'm pretty happy with my life. I have adult interaction in my work, at church, at homeschooling events, online, and in other social situations. I love interacting with my kids and being there to see the sparkle in their eyes when they "get it"! I love the way we've gone from the conflict of the preschool and early elementary years to true enjoyment in being together (and how many parents of a middle-schooler can say that?!). I love the way my kids have had to learn to get along, because they are each other's only playmates. I love sitting on the couch together reading a good story, going to the museum as a family rather than with 30 other kids, and taking a day off to go swimming or do something special "just because." I love sharing my excitement over a given time in history or a science concept or a great book. I love seeing my junior higher begin to adopt the values that are important to me, and to ask questions that show she's thinking about significant issues in her life.

I refuse to allow fear to rob me of that kind of fulfillment. I choose to trust, with full awareness of the possible consequences. And if my husband should choose not to follow through, I will then make the choices I believe are right for me as a woman under those circumstances. My belief in a woman's freedom - my feminism, if you will - demands nothing less.