Archive for the ‘homeschooling’ Category

A Little Encouragement for What Sometimes Seems Like an Uphill Task   Leave a comment


Another May has come around – meaning the end of another homeschooling year with a long summer to which we look forward.  I know many homeschoolers may feel a bit of burn out and might even ask themselves, “Do I want to do this again next year?”  Maybe there’s even a bit of doubt that your kids are ‘keeping’ up, that you’re not doing enough – or that even it is an uphill task and you’re close to getting crushed under the weight of it all.

I would like to offer a bit of encouragement.  One thing that has kept me from serious burn out over the last 15 years is that I don’t worry about “finishing.”  I think about the end result of a child’s education and have found that leaving pages unfinished in workbooks or not getting to everything I thought we “should” has had no affect on the end result.  They have still learned, they are still curious and ready to move forward. 

When you look at what your family has accomplished on a daily basis, it may seem like you’re going nowhere and getting there fast.  Doctor and dentist appointments interrupt your day, sick kids, grumpy kids, grumpy moms, new babies, dad’s unexpected days off – all of these things throw a wrench in your daily homeschool plans. 

But when you look back over a year’s time, you will see that you really have accomplished more than you realize.  Even those things that you think are keeping you from getting ‘school’ done are a learning experience in themselves.  It’s called, life – and experiencing life together as a family is the best curriculum around.


Why crafts to go along with reading books just aren’t my style   1 comment


Years ago I was in an educational supply store and saw an activity booklet to go along with the book, Sign of the Beaver, which my son had recently read.  I felt as though I should buy it– I was, after all, in an educational supply store surrounded by materials promising to give children an ‘edge’ in their education.  I certainly did not want my son to miss out on some great opportunity to expand his knowledge– this activity booklet would deepen his understanding of the book – right?  So I bought it and we proceeded to do the activities in it.

While in the process of finishing the booklet – I thought, wait a minute, I never draw maps of the settings from the books I read, build covered wagons out of popsicle sticks or make a huge paper mache map of the country in which it takes place – yet I am able to enjoy a book without feeling that I have to do enrichment activities to deepen my understanding.  A book may spark a desire to read even more information on the subject or prompt me to visit a museum to learn more.   But I can’t say I ever felt a desire to make a paper mache horse after reading The Black Stallion or somehow create a stovepipe hat out of a grocery bag after reading about Abraham Lincoln.  So why is it that I think my children need to all this extra ‘stuff’ to get the most out of a book?  The booklet felt like busy work and my son did it for the sake of doing it.  That was the first and last book activity we did.  Now we just read and enjoy books without adding cutesy, tedious projects to them.  I realize that there are homeschool moms who thrive on these kinds of activities and that is super – but for me, I tend to be more plain, practical and straightforward: read the book, reflect on it, talk about it – done.  No tape, glue or paint necessary, but I’m always up for a museum visit or a movie expanding on the subject. 

I don’t frequent educational supply stores much anymore.  I have learned about what my kids use and what they don’t use, what is productive and what is just fluff (mostly expensive fluff).  It could be said that, I thought of something I hadn’t before, what if education doesn’t come from a store.  What if education means a little bit more.   Gosh, I love Dr. Suess and I’ve never even made a cake in the shape of his hat, or a life size, paper mache cat… what do you think of that?  (I just couldn’t resist)

Posted April 13, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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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 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.

Growing up without grades   Leave a comment

I remember watching a news story about a teen who was in trouble with the law.  The parents were being interviewed and made comments about how they couldn’t believe their son was involved in this crime – emphasizing that he was an A student after all. Their implication being that the morals of an A student must be higher than that of a C student.  Grades have become more than just a reflection of a student’s work, it has become something that defines and labels a student.

A few years ago, my older three kids were in Tae Kwan Do where my two boys earned their first degree black belts.  Their instructor was a wonderful man that we respected very much, but I could not agree with him about the emphasis he put on grades.  He regularly told the kids that they needed to get A’s to be successful in life and had a sign in the studio that read, “The A students of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” I understood where he was coming from and that he just wanted the kids to do well in school – but there is an underlying belief in our culture that a kid’s future success hangs in the balance and it is determined by their grades.  Mainstream thought pushes the ‘get good grades’ mantra from earliest elementary school.  School, for kids then, becomes a place in which to perform.  Children see that ‘A’ students are treated differently than ‘C’ students – they may even see that in their own families between siblings. They learn very early on that grades matter in how they are viewed and treated by others, and even how they view themselves.  

The intense stress placed on earning A’s from the time a child is five years old until they graduate can take the joy of learning out of school.  Learning is not done for the sake of learning, it’s done to be able to receive an extrinsic reward at the end of a class with a grade that will determine how others view you.  School becomes a place that does not really encourage a love of learning.  Studying is done because one wants to be able to receive a grade needed to keep up a desired grade point average or for elementary school age kids – to avoid negative feedback from disappointed parents. Children enter school with great expectations, but as the years go by, many become disenchanted and burned out, but often have no other choice than to keep plodding through.  It’s a game – play it right, especially in high school with all the activities that are crammed in to look good on a college application – and they will have a ticket to ‘success.’

Success depends on how one defines it.  Our culture says in order to succeed a child must get A’s in school, so then they can get into the right university – because after all, one doesn’t want to end up going to a technical school.  That will determine the kind of good paying job that is landed – because, of course, all successful people need to live in the right house in the right part of town, drive the right car and vacation in all the right destinations.  There you have it;  success.  Really?  It actually seems kind of empty and I think many people who have driven themselves hard down this road since their schooling days eventually come to question this definition of success. 

Our homeschooling environment does not include grades.  I never thought about it actually.  I can see the need for a teacher to have graded tests so she can track the progress of an entire class, but that isn’t necessary in a homeschooling setting.  I can see whether or not my children understand and are learning.  If they do not understand something or made errors on some work, then they go over it again and fix it.  I find no need to place a grade on learning.  We learn because it’s interesting and even if they don’t find something particularly interesting like say, grammar – I try to help them understand the need to learn it as a part of becoming an educated, well rounded person. 

For us, pursuing knowledge is not done to be rewarded with a grade, but to understand the value of educating yourself throughout a lifetime – not just equating education with formal schooling.  They are free to learn without being labeled because of the grades they earn.

Posted February 27, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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Homeschooling History… forget the dates and tell me a great story   1 comment

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  This is a cute little ditty many kids have memorized to help them remember this date in history.  But the purpose of remembering it isn’t to really learn something interesting about history – but to be able spit it out for a test.  I think this is why many kids over the years have disliked learning history – it’s presented as a list of dry dates and facts about wars, presidential terms and discoveries. 

History, in our 15 years of homeschooling has been learned mostly through books – real books, not textbooks – that tell the stories of people’s experiences throughout history.  I don’t require memorizing dates – if they need to know the date of the Boston Massacre they can look it up.  But they can learn about what it might have been like growing up in Boston during its occupation of British troops, by seeing it through the eyes of a young boy who must get through the mobs on the streets to bring help to his aunt who is enduring a difficult labor.  Now that’s history.  Instead of learning dates and the sequences of invasions during WWII, we’ve read great stories and watched excellent movies about the people who lived through it.  The Endless Steppe – about a family exiled to Siberia, Number the Stars – about a Danish family in 1943, Return to Auschwitz tells of the experiences of a girl and her mother who survived Auschwitz – these are just a few of the many books we’ve enjoyed.  We’ve supplemented our learning with great movies such as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which have given us great insight to that time in history. 

I can’t tell you the exact date of the Louisiana Purchase, I do know the time frame is the very earliest years of the 1800’s – and I don’t require my kids to know it either.  To be honest, unless you’re going to be a history professor or write a book about it, who cares.  But watching Lewis and Clark by Ken Burns on PBS a few years ago, brought their amazing journey through this newly bought land to life.  We learned about whom these people really were, clues to their personalities, what their journey meant to America and Native Americans alike.

We may not know the dates of presidential terms – heck – I’d have to think a second to remember when Obama became president much less try to remember when Benjamin Harrison was president.  But I do know that Benjamin Harrison was in office when the White House was wired for electricity – so that must put his term somewhere in the later 1800’s.  Good enough.  A fun tidbit is that he and his wife were so afraid of getting shocked by the light switches that they continued to use gas lanterns.   Reading that Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons – but that three of their sons died at the ages of 3, 11 and 18 years, brings to life his humanness and that he was more than just a great president, but a father who lived with great loss.   That’s what brings presidential history to life, learning what made them real people, not just the formal events that are recorded in textbooks.  

What is history after all, but people’s perception of what was experienced.  Learning American history is more complete if you read it from the viewpoint of white settlers and Native Americans.  The World War II experience on the American home front is very different viewed from the eyes of a Japanese American in an internment camp compared to the experience of a mid western housewife heading to work in the factories after being inspired by ‘Rosie the Riveter’ propaganda posters.  A greater understanding is gained when we see history through the eyes of more than one type of people. 

In homeschooling history, we may not be able to tell you many dates – but we can sure tell you some great stories about some great people, some not so great people, some everyday people – rich and poor and how they experienced the world and the events of their time.

Posted February 19, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in education, homeschooling

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