Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The best thing

I've been asked twice recently what the best thing about homeschooling my kids has been. In both cases, these women were looking for outcomes. They wanted to hear about a positive result while they are in the thick of multiple little kids, picking curriculum, managing household routines, trying to overcome family objections, and all the rest that can go along with homeschooling your children.

I always start to answer this question and then switch answers midway through. Often more than once. Because there isn't any one best thing. There are lots of elements that are all tied in together, but they are different things.

The best things now are different than the best things ten years ago. Ten years ago, when my kids were 7, 9, 12, and 16 the best thing was probably how much fun we were all having together. Five years ago, when my kids were 12, 14, 17, and 21 the best thing was probably that homeschooling--and foregoing most attempts at recreating the kind of "socialization" that kids get in school--meant that the teen years were far less stressful than I had expected. My kids still liked me most of the time. I still liked them most of the time. I wasn't having to deal with most of the attitude problems that I had seen and heard about others dealing with. My 17 year old saw my twelve year old as a buddy, not as a pest.

There were times when the best thing--honestly--was not needing to get them up and out the door to the bus. Pack lunches. Find homework.

Today the best thing is the people that I see my kids becoming. They are each themselves--and know something of who that is--in a way that I never achieved until I was about 40. They have a better sense of their strengths and a better understanding of their weaknesses. I love their closeness. I love to wake up in the morning to hear my two college students cracking up together before they leave for class. I love the way all three "boys" can't get to the page fast enough when there's a new picture of their niece on Facebook, and the sounds they make when they see it.

The best things have never had to do with academic outcomes, although there are positives there. The bests are about life, family, faith, relationships. Maybe this is because for us homeschooling quickly became less a way to "school" than a way to live.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Making sure that they learn everything, or not

So back to the topic of my last post, kind of.

I needed to address the email that asked me "how, as an unschooler, I made sure that my kids learned everything they were supposed to learn."

The answer, while multi-faceted, is simple.

I didn't.

Oh, I worried about it. I had folders of scope and sequences, lists of must-read books, and pages of state standards. Every once in a while I would panic and consider ordering a school-in-a-box so that my kids would know what they were supposed to know.

Then, over time, I became more secure in the knowledge that while they may not know what some educrat deemed that they should know, they would most certainly know what they needed to know. And if they didn't they would know how to find it out. And that they were learning so many things that were beyond the scope and sequences or beyond the wildest dreams of the standards writers. (I've gotta admit, sending that first unschooled kid to college, on a full merit scholarship, and watching her excel academically did a lot to boost the confidence for the rest of the journey!)

Yes. There will be holes in their knowledge. But EVERYONE has those. I don't care where you went to school, how many books you've read, or how many degrees you have, there is something that I know that you don't. There are things that my 17 year old knows that college grads don't. There are things that my husband the engineer knows that I have no desire to know.


There are things that they might have learned if we had followed curriculum "A." There are things that they might have learned if they'd gone to school. But there are also, undoubtedly, things that they have learned that they might not have in those situations.

Embrace the education choices you've made, whatever they are, unless they aren't working for you. If that's the case, make adjustments. But don't make changes to answer someone else's expectations. That's the way to crazy.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The choices we make

I was sure that I had written this post, or something like it, before. An email conversation and a Facebook discussion came together in my mind to create this topic, but I was certain that elements of it had been written before. I spent a long time looking through two of my blogs. Then I realized. I didn't write about it; I spoke about it. (Back to that in a minute.)

I got an email last night that is like others that I've gotten in the past. The mom who wrote it had been reading my blog and wanted to know if it was okay to ask a few questions. (The answer to that is yes. I like dialogues far better than monologues.) The main thing that she wanted to know was how, as an unschooler, I made sure that my kids learned everything they were supposed to learn.

At the same time there was a conversation on my Facebook wall about potential negative effects from a widely used medication. There were those who were giving it to their children, for a specific reason, and while they were--of course--concerned about potential side effects, they also had other concerns if it wasn't used.

These may seem completely unrelated, but I think that they have something in common. We are constantly making choices about every aspect of our children's lives. Each choice that we make has potentially good and bad outcomes. Each choice makes other options impossible. Choosing to give one medication for a condition means that others aren't used. It means hoping for the good that is supposed to come from the medication and being aware of potential dangers.

In the same way, when we choose to educate our children in a certain manner, we may close some doors. We choose based on the positives that we hope for and, at the same time, are aware of the potential negatives and paths not taken. One example that always comes to my mind is that by continuing to homeschool through high school we lost the opportunity to continue to participate in team sports. But the kids decided that it was worth it.

So we make choices. We do what we think is best. We pray for good outcomes. We evaluate as we go along.

And sometimes we decide that a post is really two posts. And that we will write the post that we thought we already wrote, and answer the email question tomorrow.


Monday, January 28, 2013

About that whole socialization thing

This post is several years old. I posted it on my regular blog. But I felt the need to revisit it here. Additions will be made in color.

The company you keep

This post has been rattling around in my brain for months. It was finally shaken loose by some things Gatto said about school and family, and some conversations with friends.

First: My kids are far from perfect. Those of us who are Lutherans understand this, but I felt like it was a necessary disclaimer given what is coming. This post is a response. It is a response to questions I have been asked many times, by different people. (And continue to be asked; thus the revisiting.) It is difficult to write, because I know the imperfections of my kids and our family. I don't have all of the answers. But these are the answers I have.

The question has been some variation of,"Your kids are so nice/helpful/polite/well-spoken. You all get along so well. They all get along so well. They read all kinds of good books. How have you done it?" (My kids are also opinionated and argumentative. Stubborn. And sometimes lazy. So there.)

My first answer is, I've had a lot of help. In fact, in many ways that is my answer. (YES!) The other is that I have resisted two urges that I have seen in the homeschool community, both of which are--in a way--reactions to the larger society. The first of these is the urge to control. The second is the urge to mimic school socialization.

The urge to control comes out most frequently as limits on time spent doing various activities: Watching TV, playing with toys, playing with video games or on the computer, reading for pleasure, playing musical instruments, or just laying in the back yard daydreaming. The other form is limitation of content. We did this to a very, very small extent, mostly vetoing kids TV shows full of snotty attitudes. (Can I just reiterate how glad I am we did this?)

The urge to control comes in large part from the checklist idea of education as tasks to be completed. It places higher value on some activities than others in a way that is often arbitrary, based on some outside idea of worthwhile activity.

My kids didn't have time limits. So one day they might have done nothing but play legos while watching musicals. On Monday Bethany might have reread Anne of Green Gables for the 15th time and played the piano for four hours. On Tuesday she might have spent all day playing Zoombinis and playing in the back yard. There were days on end where none of us left the Oregon Trail. In later years the boys might have spent six hours playing Age of Empires and then turned on the news. This post isn't about what they've managed to learn. That one is still to come. This is about why I believe they've become who they are. (And it really was like that. Exactly.)

But, here is, I believe, a huge part of the key. We didn't "do" "socialization." The s-word is the big bugaboo in the homeschool community. Everyone knows that homeschooled kids overall do well on tests, etc., but "WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?!" We've all heard it. Generally the answer is, "We have groups. We get together. Etc., etc., etc."

We didn't. We didn't do homeschool groups. Or scouts. Or 4-H. Patrick's sensory issues made large groups of kids torture. Part of the time we lived where there were no groups that we were compatible with, when there were groups at all.

Of course the kids have had friends. They played one-on-one with neighbor kids, were on soccer teams, and made friends at church. As they've gotten older they've developed friendships with other homeschoolers, often those who live elsewhere that they met through Higher Things or other church-related functions. But the social activities that they've been a part of have been family-oriented. They have been socialized by our family and friends. They have been socialized by adults who we like and admire and have chosen to spend time with. I firmly believe that one of the worst aspects of conventional schooling is the division by age and the imposition of barriers between child and family.

This part is important: As a result of our not being group-oriented, I think we have missed out on some of the attitudes and behaviors that come from kids socializing each other. They grew up socializing freely with those older and younger than them. They didn't learn that their parents are uncool know-nothings and that younger siblings were pests to be avoided.





(Andrew has had more group time with other kids than the others combined. He's taken more group classes. And his extroversion demands people time. But there have been times that we have needed to pull back from certain activities or relationships because we could see negative effects. It has been hard, but it has proven to be for the best.)

As I said above, we've had help. Our older kids have helped socialize the younger ones. I love seeing Patrick's civilizing influence on his younger brothers. Their grandparents and other relatives have had their parts. The hours that the kids have spent in the company of various pastors, both formally and informally, has had a tremendous influence on their thinking. Being a part of the life of the church, trained and useful, as acolytes has helped the boys to deal with the forced uselessness of that time that society calls adolescence. The women who are my friends have had a profound impact on my kids. I love it when I see a glimpse of Susan, or Lora, or Lori, or Jacqui--and these are just the glimpses I see the most--in something one of the kids says.

So that's my answer, I'm not saying other choices are wrong, but I've been asked what we've done. And this is it.

Addendum: One could get the idea from part of this that I was a permissive parent. Not really. I've always been pretty much of the "you behave or else" school of parenting. My kids had chores and did them. They learned that there are places where you need to sit still and be quiet, like church and the symphony. They learned that restaurants are awesome places to get yummy food, but you have to sit in your chair and behave like a big boy if you want to stay and eat the yummy food. Freedom to make many choices didn't mean freedom to be selfish pigs. As Patrick points out, I taught them to make wise decisions.
 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It really was like that


Over the last several years I have found myself becoming a bit of an unschooling advocate. There have been lots of, "What did a day look like at your house?" emails and conversations on email lists. There are been young moms on the verge of how-can-I-do-all-this despair.  There have been evenings with glasses of wine and questions, evenings when I found myself being quizzed by a circle of moms and wondered, "Why on earth are they asking ME?!"

(Of course, I do know why they are asking me. I have grown and almost grown kids who seem to have turned out okay. They are finding success in college and life beyond. They can use an alarm clock. They have reasonable standards of personal hygiene.)

I have often feared, when I have heard myself cited by someone else, that I didn't paint an accurate picture of our lives. That I made it sound looser than it was. Easier. Better.

It has been reassuring for me to talk to my kids about it. To hear their accounts of their childhoods. To hear them explain to others what it was like being unschooled. (Yes. In hindsight, I can admit that aside from a few panic-stricken moments, we have been pretty darn complete unschoolers.)

I wasn't exaggerating.

It has always made me nervous, this dispensing of homeschooling advice. I have always tried to emphasize--as anyone who has heard me speak formally, or heard me talk about homeschooling more than once can attest--that homeschooling, like parenting, is an individual thing. What works for each kid and each family may be different. And yet, when it comes right down to it, I do think that for many people, in many situations, unschooling is best. So when I am asked my opinion, that is the direction I tend to lead.

Unschooling has not been the whole story of our parenting and our family life, but it has shaped it. It has influenced the way I deal with my kids. It made me evaluate what was really important and taught me to value their input into those decisions. It made me look differently at the whole concept of what it means to be a success. It taught me to treat my kids as full-fledged people whose opinions about their own lives matter far sooner I would have otherwise.

It gave me lots of years to enjoy life with my kids, on our own agenda. And it really was like that.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

SAT Rant

My 17 year old took the SAT today. He's planning to take Latin at the local university this summer and during his senior year next year, so it was time for the test.

He prepped a little. He practiced some essays and reviewed a bit of math. The multiple choice English wasn't a worry. But the essay. Oh, the essay.

Bethany, our oldest was lucky. She took the SAT before the addition of the very subjective, all-too-often-PC essay. Our second, Patrick, had to write it. His handwriting may have been his downfall, but he scored a three out of six, predicting the mediocrity of his college writing. Those who know Patrick are laughing now. He is an excellent writer. He has style. And he knows his stuff. But that doesn't necessarily translate well into a five paragraph formulaic essay on the social value of reality TV.

Jonathan did a little better. And he's writing well in college. But was there really any value in his essay score? Or in the pile of practice essays he wrote expounding on one fluffy topic after another? I doubt it.

Andrew wrote his today. He is sworn to secrecy by the college board on what the topic was, but every single past question has required the student to take a position on some inane question. It wants the student to write a very specific kind of essay of a sort that only a few people are really good at, without extensive coaching. And what is the point of that? What does it demonstrate?

Of course, I have issues with the value of standardized testing anyway. But this one element, graded by some teacher who never will meet these students, evaluating answers to some boring question, written to try only to fill a template, seems to me the least valuable of all. Writing isn't something that should fit in a box. The best writing has style and personality. It is built on knowledge or on having something to say.

We'll know in a few weeks how Andrew's writing stacked up. But, frankly, I don't really care what some anonymous grader thinks. I already know Andrew's strengths and weaknesses. I know that he is perfectly capable of writing a readable piece that gets his point across. We've jumped through the hoops. Now back to spending his time in a worthwhile manner.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

One more unschooling post

"Is it really possible for kids to grow up to be doctors or lawyers or brain  surgeons if they do not learn in scheduled/controlled ways?"

This is a question lifted from a Facebook conversation. I decided that the answer needed to be a blog post, because it was getting too long. Besides, Facebook conversations are fleeting things, and this question is not unusual.

The short answer is yes. If that is what they want to do.

I have four kids, 14-23. When my kids were younger, I used to worry about things like this. I used to worry that they wouldn't get up to an alarm. That they wouldn't be able to function in class. (I'm not going to rehash our unschooling style in this post. There are some glimpses in the past four posts. Or here on my homeschooling blog.)

My first reassurances came in the forms of my friend Susan's kids. A few years older than my oldest, they had been unschooled and were doing well in the world of work and college. That helped. As my own kids got older, I saw them each developing interests, devouring books, getting out of bed early on cold mornings for choirs, classes, and other commitments.

When Bethany could see the SAT looming, she buckled down and did two years of math in a few months. She got awesome SAT scores and a full academic scholarship. She went to classes, worked hard, had a part-time job, sang in a couple of choirs, taught piano, and graduated with a 3.98 GPA with a major in history and a minor in English. This is a girl who was unschooled from fourth grade on. She devoured books, played with her brothers, watched movies, and played piano. That was pretty much her life for nine years. After graduation she was debating grad school options, but really wanted a break. Because of her writing skills, the history department let her know about a paralegal job that was available, which she applied for, and got.

She could easily choose to become a lawyer. Her grades, skills, and work ethic would get her there, no problem. She's not likely to choose that path, however, because what she really wants is a nice Lutheran husband and family. :)

Oldest son, about whom you can read in my old blog posts was our second graduate. He was our reason for homeschooling. He was a delayed reader and has sensory integration issues. He is now a college freshman majoring in history, pre-law, with a 4.0 thus far.

Both of them are FAR more disciplined in their studies than I was my first time in college. I left high school having graduated 10th out of something in the vicinity of 400, with all of the requisite activities and honors. I had spent my entire school life succeeding in the system, and yet I crashed and burned fairly spectacularly in my first shot at college.

Our 16 yo--who has never known anything but unschooling--gets himself up every Sunday at 6:30 so that he can go acolyte at our early service. This has never been required of him. He chooses it. He sings with the Bach Collegium, just finished 10 weeks rehearsing for 3-4 hours a night and performing Joseph with the Fort Wayne Civic Theater, and this week winds up 12 weeks rehearsing for The Sound of Music with a local high school. He will graduate from high school knowing as much or more Biblical Greek as students at the seminary, and because we haven't been hung up on a school schedule he has attended many theological conferences with our pastor or at our church. Next year as a senior he plans to take a college class or two, just to get used to it and because they can also count on his high school transcript. He plans to become a pastor.

Our 14 yo may just become a doctor. Or he may be an entrepreneur. Or a professor. He really isn't sure yet. He had no interest in anything even resembling academics until he was 12. He didn't even like to read. The rest of my kids have been readers, so that worried me. I needn't have worried. He reads like crazy now and doesn't like to leave the house without a book, his Latin or his Greek, and his algebra. He probably spent more hours watching musicals and playing with legos than any child in history. He will probably start college classes his junior or senior year of high school, but that will be up to him.

I have normal kids. They are all definitely smart, but they aren't prodigies. They are just as stubborn and lazy as any kids on the planet. They did spend most of their childhoods doing pretty much what they wanted, except when I would make them help clean. But unschooling hasn't kept any of them from achieving anything, and I believe that it has helped them by allowing them to develop their strengths and interests and learn self-motivation.

More from the questioner: "
I want my children to be driven,  motivated, curious, and smart. I want them to be able to argue, debate,  and win!"

You just described my kids. :) Seriously, much of that is parenting, no matter how you choose to school them. I believe that unschooling is more likely to produce curious, motivated kids if that is what the kids see in their parent's lives. Our kids have been surrounded by books and ideas. Our life is often one protracted discussion. I always made an effort to make connections between things--history, literature, current events, movies--so that the kids would grow up looking for connections. The kids used to watch me talk back to the TV, arguing with the news people or questioning the commercials. Now they do it, too.