Archive for March 2011

Are you qualified to homeschool?   Leave a comment

I often hear it asked, “What makes homeschoolers qualified to teach their children?” This question reminds me that we live in a society that has professionalized every aspect of our lives from birth to death.  This was not always so.  Births happened at home and were tended by midwives or other women in the community.   The dead were prepared at home and often laid out for their wake on the dining room table.  Sicknesses that cause people today to flock to walk-in clinics or grab over the counter medication, were once cared for with varieties of herbs and salves mixed and prepared by women who were taught how to use them from the generations before her.  If parents were literate, learning to read and write often began at home.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for birth centers, funeral homes, clinics and schools, but we have professionalized all these areas of our lives to an extent that we either don’t know how to do them on our own or that society does not allow it anymore.

Many years ago, a woman I know often asked me how our homeschooling was going.  She was a professional woman with children much older than mine and she always commented that she didn’t think she was smart enough to homeschool.   I always got the feeling she was really trying to say, “If I don’t think I’m smart enough, what makes you think you are?”   

I think people envision that homeschoolers are knowledgeable in every possible subject that their children study.  After all, teaching is a profession and education is a complex system run by professionals.  That is what happens when we professionalize our lives – it complexes life and we forget that there is beauty and ease in simplicity.  What is often happening in homeschooling is not a teaching/learning process between parent and child, but a co-learning process.  I learn alongside my children.  If my twelve year old is reading about the ancient Middle East, I’ll  sit with her and ask her to tell me about it or we may read some of it together.  I don’t have to teach it to her – the information is right there in the book. 

The main thing that I teach my children, is how to learn, not what to learn.  My 15 year old son is in the process of building a wind turbine to put on our roof to generate electricity and he is learning about how to make biodiesel.   I did not ‘assign’ him these projects, nor do I know anything about these topics.  But his childhood experience has not been him passively waiting for someone else to feed him information, but to pursue what he is interested in and how to go about gaining that information. 

So then, what makes a parent qualified to homeschool?  A couple of states say that a bachelor’s degree is required.  Let’s take a look at that.  Thirty-five year old, parent A wants to homeschool her children as does thirty-five year old, parent B.  Parent A went to four years of college paid for by mom and dad, saw dorm life as one big party and had barely passing grades.  Parent B joined the workforce after high school, saw the need for a higher education in their life and paid their own way through a tech school for an associates degree.  According to these states, parent A is the only one qualified to homeschool.  I would conclude that this requirement is not an accurate assessment of a ‘qualified’ homeschooler.

My opinion is that the qualifications to homeschool are much simpler.  The first is fairly obvious – parents need to be literate.  All other information can be obtained because of the ability to read.  I don’t need a degree to help my children learn middle school science, but I do need to be able to read so I can learn it myself and help them to understand it. 

The second qualification is not one that can be measured with a degree or exam.  It requires that a parent must enjoy spending large amounts of time with their children.  One can have obtained a PhD in smart-ology with honors high enough to make their nose bleed – but if they don’t enjoy spending day after day, year after year with their children – they are not qualified to homeschool.  Sure, homeschoolers have days that we are irritated with our children and need time alone, but for the most part we enjoy what we do.

When we look past the façade that childhood education must be handled by the so called ‘professionals’, we see that educating children can be done by any literate parent who enjoys being with their children and has the desire to take back a part of life that society has come to believe belongs in the hands of experts.

Posted March 26, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Proverbs 22:6 – is it the way ‘we’ think a child should go?   Leave a comment

One of the most well known verses in the Bible is Proverbs 22:6 which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  We love the promise God has for us in this verse, but often the “train up… in the way he should go” part is confusing as each family and community of believers offers their own interpretation.

When thinking about the phrase, “…the way he should go…” we, as parents, often interpret that to mean the way we think they should go.  To some extent that is so, as in teaching them God’s word and learning the do’s and don’ts when it comes to proper behavior.  But if we look at that part of the text as also meaning, allowing children to grow according to their natural bent and drawing out their God given talents, we see that homeschooling has the potential to provide a great setting in which to carry out this scripture.  

If children are free from an environment that pushes them to perform at a predetermined academic level and conform to the masses, they will be more likely to blossom at their own pace without labels such as ‘delayed’ or ‘gifted’.  They have the time to pursue and nurture their natural gifts without having to live at the frenzied pace that many in our culture do. 

When too much “we” is added to the verse, it is often our own selfish desires coming out.  We want them to follow a certain career path or go to a certain college.  We fear how we may appear to others if they are not on the path on which we think they should be.  We want them to make certain life choices.  When the focus is on having our children meet our needs in this way, we can lose sight of the fact that each child has their own God given bent in which He has asked us to train them up.

Often, this verse is interpreted to mean train them up in a Christian bubble.  Christian friendships and tools, such as books and DVD’s, to help build them up in God’s word are great, but instead of leading them to God, they are often dragged along with vice grips.  There is fear that exposure to anything outside of the ‘bubble’ will keep them from a relationship with God.  This tight grip squeezes the life out of them, leaving them with little desire to want to experience God’s grace.  The result can be rebellious behavior, often times with serious consequences, and damaged relationships between parent and child.

Proverbs 22:6 will continue to keep parents on their toes, but if we keep one eye on God and the other on our children, minimizing the ‘we’ and bursting the bubble – hopefully we will someday see God’s promise that they will not depart from the way they should go.

Posted March 22, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

Playdates and early academics interfere with a creative childhood   1 comment

An aspect that solely defines childhood in every culture is play.  No matter where children are found or at what time in history they have lived, children have and will always learn about their world through play.  There have been times in history where the playfulness of childhood had been cut short due to poverty or war.  But in recent times, children’s play has been suffering due to over-involvement from adults.  I believe this over-involvement comes in two forms; the push for early academics and too much structured play, such as a playdate. 

The word playdate actually makes me cringe. It brings to mind images of helicopter moms overly concerned with their child’s social calendar.  I have nothing against children playing together – but I guess what I find irritating about playdates is that it is yet another adult orchestrated child activity.  Many times the mom has crafts and a special activity planned – bless her heart. But what I think children need more of is unstructured, unplanned play and loads of it.  The kind where you throw them out the door and say, “Don’t come in unless someone’s bleeding – profusely!”   

When I started half-day kindergarten in 1973, I had never been to preschool or had any kind of lesson or activity.  I played my days away at home with my sister.  Today, most children attend preschool for a couple of years before they go to all day kindergarten with possibly afterschool care for a couple of hours.  Even before they get to preschool, as babies, they are plopped in front of Baby Einstein videos, with the hope of giving them an academic edge, but in reality it just produces kids who have spent more time than necessary in front of the TV screen. 

The push to get children involved in academics does not seem to be producing smarter kids.  My oldest son is in college and I returned to school last year and we are both appalled at how truly uneducated young people are.  We are required to read our classmates’ papers in some of the classes and both my son and I are blown away by much of what we read.  So many cannot express themselves properly in writing; awful grammar and punctuation – one paper I read the person did not know how to punctuate a quotation.   If this is the result of fifteen years of schooling, from the ages of 3 to 18, it’s definitely not working. 

All this structure robs our children of the chance to be bored.  Bored?  I know that you are thinking that being bored is a bad thing, but boredom gives kids the chance to come up with something to do on their own.  No one has scheduled a playdate for them, no Gymboree class to go to, or preschool to fill the time – they have to use their own creativity to fill their days, not just find something to do for a half an hour before supper. 

Of course a structured activity is not bad.  My kids have taken art classes, gymnastics and have been invited on playdates.  But when it’s all put together and most of the hours of their day are orchestrated by someone else, the freedom to use their own creativity and find ways to fill their time is gradually lost. 

Play is the work of childhood.  If we continue to devalue it and replace it with activities, electronic media and academics, I think we will continue to see a decline in creativity and educational performance in our youth.  We need to tell our children more often to… “Go find something to do.”

Posted March 19, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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Curriculums and tests do not always equal education – even at home   2 comments

I am not a big fan of shopping so I guess it would make sense that after all these years of homeschooling I have never been to a curriculum fair – which just seems like it would be an educational supply store on steroids.  Browsing through a sea of curriculum, where many have smiling kids on the cover to help you imagine that your kids will be beaming just as brightly as they cheerfully complete the work, seems like a good way to get a headache and tired legs.  Plus, these curriculums aren’t cheap and if I buy them, I am going to be stressed out about finishing them.  As a homeschooler I am often asked what curriculum I use and my answer is that we don’t use a full curriculum, but we loosely use a variety of books for the basics like Math and Language arts and of course, the public library comes in handy.

We are what you would call relaxed homeschoolers. In fact, only one time in all these years has one of the kids finished a math or language arts workbook and that was last year when my 7 year old (kid #4) fully finished her language arts book.  I take a no stress view about ‘finishing’ – when the good weather comes in spring, it’s time to move outside to work in the garden and play.  My view of childhood learning is that it does not need to be divided up into segments we like to call grade levels that need to be completed, but a continuing, natural process.  Learning to read and do math is just part of the growing up process for my children and I do not want to get burned out trying to finish curriculums.

 When I first began homeschooling I asked myself if a purchased full curriculum was necessary. Elementary school isn’t that complicated.  Many people in the past learned to read and do math at home or in simple one room school houses without access to expensive curriculum or any curriculum at all.  They simply passed on the basic skills of reading and arithmetic to their children.  The three R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic supplemented with good aloud reading to learn about different people and places, basic science and lots of hands on toys such as legos, Lincoln Logs, puzzles and games, seemed good and we’ve been rolling with that for elementary school ever since.  Feeling like I had to stick to and complete a curriculum based upon what my child ‘should’ know seemed forced and unnecessary.  

School is so ingrained in our lives and we have a hard time imagining childhood without it. Most homeschooling parents went to school and therefore, have recreated school at home.  We are in our comfort zone when we act on what is familiar to us.  I like to think that education does not have to require curriculums, tests or a recreation of school, but that it is process in which we learn about the world and gain life skills. School is something that is done and education is something that is acquired.  Sure – there can be education happening when school is being done, but if we really think about our own education in life, I would guess most of us would say our education was something that was not acquired in school or by ‘doing’ school. 

I like to think that when I made the decision to homeschool that I just did not free our children from years of formal schooling through a system, but from the mindset that school – even in the form of a curriculum done at home – equals education.

Posted March 12, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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So… does proper socialization equal peer interaction? I don’t think so.   Leave a comment

I remember hearing the story about a 90 year old surgeon who was still practicing heart surgery regularly.  When he was asked about the secret to his longevity and his ability to still perform open heart surgery, he replied, “I don’t hang around old people.”  He surrounded himself with people many decades his junior; people who were actively engaged in life and not stuck in the mindset of his peer group.

When homeschoolers, especially newer homeschoolers, are asked the question of how their children will be socialized without schooling, they are quick to list off all the activities their children are involved in with their peers; sports, lessons, scouting, clubs and whatever endless enrichment activities are offered.  Homeschoolers often are comforted by being able to list off these things because we have bought into the idea that proper socialization equals peer interaction (because no one answers that question saying that they eat dinner around the table together every night or that their children are actually friends with each other).  In the earlier years of our homeschooling, I felt the same, but now I beg to differ and suggest that proper socialization really has nothing to do with peers. 

It has been interesting looking up various definitions of socialization. One definition read that socialization was to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation.  I definitely do not want my children behaving similarly and imitating their peer group – no thanks.  In a peer setting, imitation is what it is all about.  They dress the same, have the same gadgets, talk the same and act the same.  To them, the world is an 11 year old world, or a 16 year old world or whatever age they happen to be.  But the truth is, it’s an adult world and children need to grow up and learn to immitate adults so that they can eventually enter that world. 

The following definition from Dictionary.com caught my attention; socialization is a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.  I would think the ideal environment a child acquires a personal identity is not one in which they are surrounded by their peers for almost all of their childhood, but one where they are encouraged to grow and learn at their own pace – not a preset pace determined by an educational system.  A place where there is no such thing as fear of being different from the crowd, because there is no crowd.  When a child has grown up at home and does encounter the crowd – they realize it is pretty lame. 

When a child spends years with their peer group, they become peer dependent and take on the identity of the group, which would include the norms, values and behaviors mentioned in the definition.  In order for personal identity to be acquired, it first has to be valued.  I personally believe there is no better place for that to be nurtured than through an environment that does not include excessive peer interaction, as the peer group generally does not value personal identity.   I think it would be more fitting for homeschoolers to ask their schooled counterparts if they are the ones concerned for their children’s socialization. 

How does this all tie into our 90 year old surgeon I mentioned at the beginning?  In order for him to keep himself from becoming like his peer group (here is where the ‘learning the norms, values and behavior’ comes in), he had to remove himself from it to develop a personal identity that didn’t keep him bound to the peer group mindset.  If we admire this man for stepping out of the norm for his age group and are not worried that he does not have friends his age – then I don’t think we need to be so concerned about children when they are not in step with their peers and have people of various ages that enrich their lives.

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