Sunday, December 20, 2009

Things I've Learned From My Son

Some people might think that homeschoolers teach their kids at home, and that's why we keep them here. Well, that's not entirely true. Sure, I might teach my son how to do math, or how to find out more info about his favorite planet, or we might read stories together. But truly, the learning goes both ways. Take this, for example:

My son has discovered video games. The only thing we have is the original Play Station game, and a few disks, including his favorite, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage. The other day, I sat on the couch and was watching him play. Every two seconds, I was cringing and saying, "Be careful! No, don't do that, you're going to die!" And, "You'd better get more butterflies so you can earn more lives..." There was this big monster, and he was shooting fireballs, and the little dragon couldn't move fast enough... and... and... and... DOH sure enough, Spyro bit it. Not only that, but it was his last life, and the screen was filled with the message "GAME OVER."

Then I looked at my son. He LAUGHED! And then he just pushed a button and started the game all over again, and continued on as happily as ever. All I could think of were all those times I had played that same game, and all the times I died and became so frustrated and stressed out. And yes, I knew how silly it was to get so frustrated over a game, something that didn't really exist, but there it was. I admired my son for his good attitude, and for keeping the good spirit of the game.

Fast forward to the other morning. I've been working on a present for my mom, a homemade something. And I was pulling my hair out and cursing at my sewing machine, and announced that the thing was just physically impossible. I threw in the towel, tossed the thing on the ironing board and sat down to watch Little House on the Prairie. On which, might I add, I saw the very item I was attempting to make and said to myself, "Look at that, Ma could make it, and she didn't even have a sewing machine!!"

Then I remembered... The Chief, who is SEVEN, who has the attention span of an ant, who should be the one to get frustrated by things, just accepted the fact that he had to start over again at his game. It was just the nature of the beast. He wasn't good at it, he didn't get it right, so he just kept on trying until he DID get it right. He was so Zen about the whole thing. I suddenly felt kind of foolish. This was the last gift I had to make, and I still had several days to do it. I had nothing really better to do (I got a head start this year on Christmas, yay!). Why was I getting so frustrated? Furthermore, what sort of example was I setting for the Chief? That you just quit when something gets too hard? No way. So I picked that thing up, and just picked it apart and started over. I tried things a few different ways, and gosh darn it, I did it! It's not perfect, by all means, but it was the first thing of that sort I had ever tried to sew, and I did better than other people might have. I did a lot better than if I had just decided to quit!

So thanks, Chief, for that lesson.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I lied...

OK, so this post is NOT going to be about local resources... I've been procrastinating about that post so much that I've just avoided this blog like the plague! Argh!

A couple weekends ago we went to the Southwick's Zoo in Mendon, MA. It was raining while we were there, and so we were literally the only people there. It was GREAT! Almost all the animals were out, and in fact we had the best viewing of the lions and the tigers we have ever had (and we go every year, so that is saying a lot!). What beautiful animals. The male lion was roaring, and wow! I have never heard such a sound. It was so loud, loud in a real, natural way that I can't really describe. The tigers were walking right on the other side of the fence from us, and were making kitty sounds. There was also a beautiful leopard having some lunch in a perch. The Chief got a plush lemur as a souvenir, that he is pretty inseparable from.

We also went apple picking at Brookfield Orchards, where we picked a very large bag of apples for pies and other baked goods, as well as for tasty snacks in themselves. There were tons of HUGE apples this year! A very nice crop. We went on a Saturday this year, and it was a bit crowded but not unpleasantly so. As home schoolers, we have the luxury of going during the week, though, and I think that is what we will do next time! When there are too many people, the Chief can get a bit overwhelmed. He loves to talk to people and play with the kids, and it is much easier for him to do that when he can focus on who to talk to when.

A couple of kids from the neighborhood come over to play a couple times a week, and we are enjoying that. Last week we all went horse chestnut hunting, and collected quite a few off the hill next to our house.

We are planning a trip to the Ecotarium in Worcester sometime in the next couple weeks, before it gets too cold. We also need to get to the pumpkin patch!! Though our own pumpkin that came up next to the compost pile this year is doing well. We have one pumpkin on there that is about a foot in diameter or so. It is slowly ripening, hopefully this rain won't make it rot!

Happy Fall!!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Resources in my 'hood, pt. 1

I've been getting several emails asking me about some home schooling resources that are local to central Massachusetts. There are many, but you have to do a little hunting. Massachusetts seems to be a bit different from other places, in that we have a very loose system of home schoolers. In other states, it seems like everyone belongs to some co-op or other (or several!). Here, there are various activities that home schoolers are involved with, some with other home schoolers, and some with the "general public." I think this is a good thing, since one of the reasons many people home school is to make sure their kids can relate to everyone they come into contact with, not just a classroom of their peers. It's easy to be tempted into filling your schedule so full of home schooling activities that there is no room for interacting with your community as a whole, and I think this is a mistake.

The first part of this list is going to be home schooling-only resources. Many of them are online, which in turn lead to face-to-face opportunities. In the Worcester area, where I live, there is not a face-to-face meeting group. But there are a couple of online groups, and if you are willing to drive a bit, there are some co-ops as well. Here we go:

1. Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc. or AHEM: This is a Massachusetts-wide website that is where every home schooling parent in MA should start. It has everything you need to get started, and can answer many, many questions a new home schooling parent might have specific to MA. They have a newsletter you can get by email, they have a list of homeschooling organizations, they list the laws in MA as well as articles about writing letters of intent and progress reports, etc.

2. Worcester Home Educators Network or WorcesterHEN: This is a Yahoo Group for home schoolers in Worcester. You can go on here and ask questions, or look for families with whom to get together, invite people to park days. There are announcements about activities, and a file where you can find Worcester's policies on home schooling.

3. LEAF Home Learners Network: This is another Yahoo Group, for southern central MA and northern CT and RI. This is a larger group than WorcesterHEN, and has many activities posted on it.

4. ALOHA: This is a group that is a little far for me to travel to, and I can't seem to find their website, but I think they are still active. I also think that this is something you might have to pay a fee for, maybe they have a co-op sort of thing going on. If you inquire at the LEAF group you might find some more info. They were located in Princeton, MA the last I heard.

5. Voyagers, Inc.: This is a group that is also a bit far from me. It's a co-op (involves fees, there is a scholarship program to help those who can't afford them), and has teen activities which seem to be popular. They are located in Acton, MA.

6. Think Tank Worcester: This is an organization that teaches classes about various topics, like astronomy, medieval history, botany, math. It seems to be for older kids, and some find their fees to be "limiting." It seems to be an excellent program, however, if you can afford it.

There are more, many more, but I think this list can get people started. I think even just going to the AHEM website can help open doors to other sources that can be helpful.

In my next post, I will discuss resources that are NOT home schooling specific, like area museums and farms, etc, that we have enjoyed through the years.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Good intentions...

I've been full of good intentions lately. I think many of us are. We all intend to eat healthier, read/learn more, get our degrees, exercise, write that memoir, do that charity work... In my case, it was write at least two articles for this blog every week.


Well, life just takes over sometimes. And I think that is especially important to remember when home schooling. It's so easy to get overwhelmed and overcome by negativity. Just because you weren't able to do something or something didn't go as planned does not mean you are a failure. It simply means that something else happened instead. So you have a choice: you can accept what happened and work with it, or you can not accept it and work against it.

Acceptance: We can't control everything that happens in our lives, we might as well accept that. Once you come to peace with that fact, things begin to look much brighter. We can't control things, but we can prepare for the bad things when they come. For example, I know a woman who insists on writing her lesson plans in ink. Very non erasable, permanent ink. Not only thins, but she writes her plans for months in advance! When she is done, she feels a sense of relief. "Look at that, it's all black and white, perfect." But life is not perfect; not by most of our definitions, anyhow. Inevitably, strep throat strikes, or the flu, or an ice storm that leaves them powerless for a week. And then, the best laid plans... well, you know what happens to them. What does one do?

Well, for one, how about writing your plans in pencil? Or doing them on the computer so you can simply cut and paste and move things around. There are a few computer programs out there specifically for homeschoolers to plan their years, and they make it very easy to account for unexpected absences/delays. Then, just move on from where you stopped. Or, you can redo some things, cut a few things out of your year so that you can still finish when you had planned. At the Heart of the Matter Homeschooling Conference a couple weeks ago, Linda Hobar spoke about a "dateless planner" she used so that when things got messy in her year, it wasn't a problem. They just moved on. You can make plans per week rather than per day, and concentrate on getting a list of assignments done over the week rather than over one day. This way, if one day gets hairy, you still have the rest of the week to do that work. It takes the pressure off. And that's the problem most of the time. Pressure. The natural disaster is bad enough, but then you have to worry, are my kids learning enough?? Well, if worse comes to worse, think of it this way. What learning experiences can be derived from what is happening to you? How can it tie into your lesson plan?

When one child is sick, it can be a very valuable experience for your other kids. Accept your child's sickness and use it to teach your other kids about compassion. How can they make life easier for their suffering sibling? Maybe they can research how their brother might have gotten sick, or how he might have avoided getting sick. How can they avoid getting sick from him? You can get a whole year of science just from this, including nutrition, human body, weather, germs, etc.

Our other option is to not accept the fact that life is organic, that it is constantly changing and growing, and as such, is unpredictable. We can write out our plans in ink, and then... bang our heads against the wall a few times a year. We can pretend to be surprised at illnesses, at accidents and natural disasters. But really, is it worth fooling yourself?

So I went a few weeks without being able to post. Well, let's think about this. Why couldn't I post? I was outside playing with my son. I was making plans for my schoolyear. I was watching movies with my husband. When you look at the things that you DID vs. the things you planned to do, life takes a different perspective. What I see is that my family takes precedent over my blog. Which, to me, is just fine.

The next time your kids get sick, think about this--you are homeschooling! You could make them do school when they are sick, they are at home not at risk of infecting others, right? Does that sound crazy? Why? Oh, is it because your kids' comfort and happiness is more important to you than a paper plan? Instead of feeling discouraged by the delay in your plans, feel joyous at the fact that you have such a caring family, who care more about feelings and happiness than events that happened five hundred years ago.

You have 18 years to homeschool. You have only one chance at making TODAY happy for your child.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"The Name is not the Way"

The wise teacher does not choose to give a particular name to her or his style of educating children. All named teaching practices have political implications, and political movements become parts of the pendulum course that education has followed throughout history. Names are limiting, for other people's definitions are attached to the names. A name can evoke unnecessary, unwarranted reactions to implied meanings that are not true of you at all... Do not follow the dictates of any one group; follow the dictates of your own, carefully developed, philosophy.
-- Greta Nagel, Ph.D, The Tao of Teaching, 1994.
Names have associations, no matter how objective we try to be. Say, "rose," a certain smell comes to mind. But roses also have thorns. Say, "spaghetti;" some will think of warm dinners at Nona's, others will think of the times they were too poor to eat anything but pasta and canned sauce.

When I say "unschooling," do you think of kids and moms experiencing the joy of discovery in everyday life; learning to love experiencing things firsthand; knowing they can stop what they are doing and look up that bug that just crawled across their book? Or do you think of lazy moms, lazy kids, panicking when test time comes, wanting what they want at that moment, instant gratification? When you think of classical education, do you think of a wealth of knowledge, eloquence, self-discipline? Or do you think of mom being a slave driver; memorization; joyless learning? How about Charlotte Mason? Is it gentle learning with nature and living books? Or is it raising weaklings, not tough enough to "cope" with the ruthlessness of today's workplace? Only hippies unschool, right? And fascists classically school. Victorian wanna-be's do Charlotte Mason.

I know these statements are not true. I've witnessed quite disciplined "unschools," very gentle classical schools, and very modern Charlotte Mason followers. Maybe you have, too, but I'll bet there are plenty who have not; they have only seen what their experience has shown them. Even when you choose a method to use in your own home school, you may make assumptions and generalizations which may not go along with everyone else's concept of that method. So when you name yourself as an "unschooler," for example, expect that someone else will make some generalizations about you which may or may not be accurate.

When I first started home schooling, it seemed like everyone wanted to know, "What method are you following?" Every book I read seemed to be telling me, "You need to find a method or you will be lost forever." So after doing tons of research, I chose one and used it for six months. We were having problems, but tweaking seemed so wrong. It was a method, wasn't it? Tried and true. If I tweaked it, it wouldn't still be THAT method, would it? So I tried another method, in all its purity and glory. But there were real problems with that, too, after a while. What was going on? Was I incompetent? Add to this the "Aunt Maybelle voice," and I was a mess, especially since the method I was using said, "If you don't do it this way, you will FAIL."

Wait a minute.

Fail? The Chief is going to be in the "second grade," and is doing everything on a third and fourth grade level, even with all the mess ups and start overs and goings back. How is he failing? That was when I realized, it was not he who would fail, but the method.

I was so busy trying to perfect my use of the method/s that I did not see that I was working too hard for a method that was not working for me.

This is what we are telling ourselves, if not other people, when we say, "Oh, I use the _____ method." We are saying that we are willing to relinquish our control of our families and home schools to this book or person. If it works, the method gets the credit. If it fails, then we take the blame because it's the METHOD. It can't be wrong, can it?

Don't get me wrong. All methods have their pros and cons. You might actually find one that is the perfect fit your you and your family. If so, that is WONDERFUL! I think that happens very, very rarely. If a time does come, however, when you find yourself having doubts, thinking, "why can't my kid do this? All those other kids can narrate stories/write essays/draw like Picasso," maybe it's time to do a little re-evaluating. What drew you to the method in the first place? Go back and answer the ten questions. Instead of asking yourself, "What's wrong with my kid, why can't he do this?" ask, "What's wrong with this method, why isn't it working for us?" Write down what works about the method, use them, and drop the rest and try something else. Is this sacrilege? Are you a slave to your method? What's more important, the method or your family? Think of how it feels to be a child who is asked daily to do something he can't do. How would you feel about yourself?

Think of it this way. A warrior who can only use a bow and arrow would be pretty worthless in close combat. A swordsman is frustrated if his enemy is on the opposite bank of a very wide river. Why not train yourself with multiple weapons so you can overcome many obstacles, whatever comes into your path? And the next time someone asks you, "What method do you follow?" you can answer them with confidence, "The one that works."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Answers to the 10 Questions

1. Why am I home schooling? I have always been interested in home schooling, ever since I learned of it in college. When I was a kid, I loved school. But I think things were a little simpler then, even though it wasn't THAT long ago. I would have to say that I am home schooling because I think that all kids are different and have unique strengths and weaknesses. You can't force everyone to fit into one mould. Square pegs, round holes, all that. At home, I can give my kids an environment where they don't have to be afraid to be who they really are. Plus, I love kids! I don't want to send them away all day. I'd be bored.

2. Why am I home schooling this particular child? My 7 yo, the Chief, is a nonconformist. Seriously, I would pity the poor teacher who tries to get him to do things like everyone else. He has his own ways of doing things, and hey, they work. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! But he doesn't do them the same way as everyone else. Chief also has a hard time focusing on some things, and I think we do a good job here teaching him how he can do that in his own way. He can grow into "conformity" as he matures, instead of being forced into it. It saves a lot of rebellion this way, and plus it preserves some self esteem!

We are in the process of adopting another boy, and I think that home schooling will really help the attachment process.

3. What do I enjoy most about home schooling? Hmm.... Being able to spend lots of time with my kids, learning new things, setting our own pace, and being able to take side roads when we want to.

4. What do I enjoy least about home schooling? Making decisions. The question, "Can I be done now?"

5. What do my kids enjoy most about home schooling? Being able to follow up on things that are interesting, being able to change things that aren't working.

6. What do my kids enjoy the least about home schooling? There is no big yellow bus. Seriously, that is what the Chief just told me.

7. What really works about my home school? A few months ago I started using Sue Patrick's Workbox System. It really made a difference in how we do school. I use it pretty much how she suggests in her manual. I like it because we can put fun things in with school things. It helps keep me more organized.

8. What definitely does not work at all? When I lose sight of why I home school, and when I can't see the big picture, it all starts going bad. When I start comparing with other families, and when I forget what is good for MY family, things don't work. My son needs a bit of structure, too. If I am too lenient, things get chaotic and he just loses it.

9. Imagining the perfect home schooling scene: What are my kids doing? Where are they? What am I doing? In my perfect home school, my kids could be doing anything, as long as they are fascinated and have a sense of awe about it. They are saying, "Wow!" And me, I'm standing there watching. I'm NOT making the experience happen. I'm letting it. I'm able to let go enough to let the kids learn the wonders of the world for themselves, without a filter.

10. What are my biggest fears about home schooling? Aunt Maybelle. I am afraid about messing my kids up for life, and I'm afraid that my kids will resent me for it. But my fears are unfounded for the most part. I see what my nephew goes through in public school. It would not be any different, in fact, it would be worse, for my son. I see the light in my son's eyes when he is learning, and in public school, all too often boys like him have that light flicker out. No, I am afraid, but it's a healthy fear. Enough to keep me honest ;). Enough to keep me thinking and not just going through the process like a sheep.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Don't Panic

Sometimes a line from a great book can be translated into very sound advice.

Take this blog, for instance. I came up with the idea for it about two years ago. I actually created the thing two months ago. When it came time to write a real post, however, I froze. Every time I thought to myself, "That would make a great blog entry!" or "Hey, lady, what about that blog you were working on..." my web-voice would shrivel and die. Why, you ask? Because I knew that no matter what I wrote, it would never be good enough.


August is only days away. I hear kids begging their mom's to take them school shopping, and to call the school to make sure they weren't put into that mean teacher's class. Excitement and trepidation oozes from these children, as they start to get bored at home, tired of camp, and miss their friends. Moms get excited too, as they think to themselves, "YES! I get my life back!"

At least, some moms do.

For home schooling moms, August can mean something more. It means there is only one more month to plan, one more month to collect materials, one more month to change things. One more month to wonder if Aunt Maybelle was right when she said, "You're going to mess up those kids forever..."

Now, I don't know if your Aunt Maybelle is a real person or just that nagging voice in your head, but I do know that most of us home schooling moms hear her every once in a while. Not all of us; there are some who say, "There is no wrong way to home school!" and "Well, you can't do worse than the public school system!" We've all heard those lines at one point or another. I'm betting, however, that the people who say those things (the ones with four kids in Harvard, who are going of their fifth sea voyage around the world to experience Magellan's voyage first hand, pausing at the island of Cyptocn to learn the lost language of Mskvgpk from the last living person who speaks it) still bite their nails from time to time and suffer from the "grass is greener" syndrome while the rest of us want to know what teaching/learning method they follow.

Should we be more strict? Should we be more lenient? Structured? Unstructured? Should I teach my boy to read at 5 or wait until he decides he wants to learn on his own? Dried beans or Saxon Math? Hirsch, Jr. or John Holt or Charlotte Mason?

A mere twenty years ago, home schooling was considered difficult for many people because of a lack of resources to those slightly less than innovative. Nowadays, well, just Google "home school." You get the picture. If a lack of resources made home schooling difficult, then the plethora we have now should make it easy, right?


Instead of hearing people complain about a lack of resources, now I hear the complete opposite. "There is just so much to choose from! Where do I begin?" Or, more to the point of this article, "How do I know that what I'm doing isn't messing up my kid for life? Maybe if I used ____, things could be better." "What if my kid isn't learning enough?" "What if my kid is going to get burned out?" "What if...."

Don't panic.

This happens to, if not all home schoolers, a large majority. We all have our doubts from time to time. A few of us might even wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat screaming, "I can't do this!"

But, you know, you can. You just need to pour yourself a nice cup of herbal tea and reassess a few things. Bring yourself back to the basics, and think about the following questions to see if what you are doing/planning to do aligns with your answers:

1. Why am I home schooling? Political reasons? Religious? Personal? There are as many answers as there are home schools.

2. Why am I home schooling this particular child? Answer this for each of your children. And don't lie to yourself. No one else has to know your answer. If it is because you couldn't bear to be away from him for all those hours of the day, then so be it! Or maybe it's because you are afraid of the influences at school, etc. Again, the answer is personal and does not have to meet other people's expectations.

3. What do I enjoy the most about home schooling? Extra hugs during the day? Not getting phone calls from teachers all day?

4. What do I enjoy the least about home schooling? Lack of peace quiet? No time for yourself? Constant arguments about penmanship? Answer this question, and you'll know what you might be able to work on in order to make your experience more pleasant.

5. What do my kids enjoy most about home schooling? Kids are people, too. You're still the mom, and get the final say, but wouldn't it be so much nicer if the kids were happy with what you were doing?

6. What do my kids enjoy the least about home schooling? Ask them; I'm sure they will let you know. If it is something that you can change, maybe it can make life better for everyone. Or maybe you can bribe them with more of what they like to offset what they don't like if the point is non-negotiable. But try to find some nice middle ground. If you force your kids to do something they hate for 12 years, no matter who the boss is, they will resent it. Yes, they have to do math, but do they have to use THAT particular package?

7. What really works about my home school? Find ways of adapting that to other areas of your home school.

8. What definitely does not work at all? You might be surprised at your answers. Sometimes people just repeat behaviors that aren't beneficial at all out of ignorance, or because they simply never thought of what didn't work, they just knew that things were a mess. And just because something works for the Joneses does not mean it has to work for you. Aren't you so much cooler than the Joneses anyway?

9. Imagining the perfect home schooling scene: What are my kids doing? Where are they? What am I doing? I'm not saying that your home school will be perfect. But sometimes we lose sight of our dreams. Imagine perfection, and then take baby steps toward it. You might never get there, but you'll always get closer if you have a goal in mind.

10. What are my biggest fears about home schooling? Are your kids never going to read? Are they going to hate you for keeping them out of school? Are they going to be social misfits? I'm not going to patronize you and tell you, "Oh, don't worry about it, they'll be fine..." You need to know your fear so you can face it. Once you know what you are afraid of you can overcome it; you can take control of the situation. You can ask others for help about it. When you face your fear, your confidence skyrockets.

Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect home school, or a perfect curriculum. We as individual people are great just as ourselves; celebrate your differences instead of trying to fit into a mould of someone else. How boring would life be if everyone was the same, learned the same, taught the same? The only perfect curriculum is the one that fits your family, not the one that you have to force your family into.

And with that prepositional no-no, I remain,