Saturday, November 11, 2006
Most of the homeschoolers that we have known over the years--numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands, of families--have just wanted to be left alone to educate their children in the way that is best for them. They've banded together with other homeschoolers to create opportunities for group activities and support. They have understood that in leaving school behind they were potentially giving up some benefits.
The new breed that we're seeing likes the idea of homeschooling, but they often want help. Many of them think that they should get money back because they aren't using the schools. Some think that although they have opted out of having the schools teach their children they should be able to take part in the activities that they choose like sports or music groups.
And they don't care if this isn't the best thing for homeschoolers. They don't care if it brings more regulation. They don't care if hard-won freedoms are lost. They just want what they want.
Sometimes we all have to make tough choices. The choice to continue homeschooling through high school has meant fewer opportunities for our oldest son. In an ideal world sports wouldn't be tied to school, but they are, and it's a choice we made. My son having the opportunity to play high school sports--and he is good enough--is not worth chancing a loss of freedom for other Hoosier homeschoolers.
We could all use a little more money. But if it comes at the cost of testing and curriculum requirements then we've lost far more than we've gained.
Friday, November 10, 2006
I had completely stopped doing any homeschool-related blogging because I didn't want to be on homeschoolblogger any more but I just hadn't had time to make the change. I'm looking forward to more homeschool blogging.
Just before my unplanned hiatus I received an email from a homeschool mom who wanted to know how I could square being an unschooler with being a Christian. This isn't the first time I've heard someone question whether the two are compatible, but it is the first time I've tried to come up with an answer.
So what does it mean to be a Christian parent? The simplest way for me to answer is to turn to the Table of Duties in my copy of Luther's Small Catechism. There I find these words:
Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Eph. 6, 4.I fulfill my vocation as a Christian mother in many ways, including but not limited to having our children baptised, regularly attending services, and doing catechesis together. Part of our vocation as parents--whether or not we are Christians--is to see to the education of our children. We have chosen to homeschool, and, in the course of our homeschool journey, to unschool.
I think that some people equate unschooling with having no discipline. They assume that unschooled children are allowed to do as they please in all areas of life. There very likely are unschooling families where this is true. However, I have a number of unschoolers among my acquaintances who--like us--require quite a bit from our kids and are unquestionably in charge.Our unschooling does color the way we live our lives. My children have a great deal of autonomy in choosing what they will read and how they will spend their time. We don't have set times for "english" or "social studies." But there are things that they have to do. They have to bathe & brush teeth daily. They have to do their chores without me nagging. This includes dishes, laundry, bedrooms, their bathroom, and cat care.
They have to take part in family catechesis and attend all church services. (As yet, no one has complained about this.) If they make commitments--to a team, choir, job, etc.--they have to fulfill it.
If I ever see that unschooling is not working for one of my kids, we will do something else. Because I *am* ultimately in charge. Unschooling was my decision not theirs.
So, yes, the short answer is I do think it is compatible with being a Christian.
I've posted before about why we started homeschooling and about some of the difficulties we faced, but the reading issue was a huge problem for us. Patrick couldn't read when he was six. Or seven. Or eight. Or nine.
My oldest child had been reading since she was four. When she was in school she had a hard time getting them to let her check books out of the library that she wanted to read, because the librarians didn't believe she could read them. Then there was the fact that my husband and I both come from families that have a lot of teachers and are very conventional. Kids are supposed to read in first grade. End of story.
So we started trying when he was six. But he absolutely could not read phonetically. He had to learn all words by sight. He woud "learn" a word one day and the next he wouldn't remember it at all. It was frustrating for both of us.
Our family had been dubious about homeschooling anyway, and I think that all of them, except for my mom, were sure that I was in WAY over my head. But I knew that he was going to read and read well. He was a very bright little boy. He was fabulous at math, had a huge vocabulary, and a fantastic memory.
Then I read a book, that led me to another, and another that began to give me hope. There are a lot of kids, especially boys, whose brains are just not ready at the age of six or seven or even nine or ten for the kind of processing that reading requires. I started talking to other moms who had boys with reading difficulties and had overcome them.
I quit trying to teach him to read when he was almost seven. But that doesn't mean we forgot about books. If anything I read to him more. Sometimes he'd sit by me and follow along with a picture book, but more often we read really good interesting books for the whole family and he would just listen. Every once in a while he'd pick up a book and try to read. He also had several books memorzied that he would "read" to his little brothers. He would spend hours poring over the DK Cross Sections Books that he bought with his own money.
At nine-and-a-half he was still barely reading. It was getting harder to convince friends and family that things were okay, but for some reason I still felt confident. Shortly before his tenth birthday, many people in our homeschool group were in an uproar over the first Harry Potter book. A group of them even burned it. Well, that convinced me that I needed to read it. Patrick's best friend read it and Patrick really wanted to read it, too. We bought it and Bethany made short work of it, pronounced it "good" and then passed it on to Patrick. I didn't think a lot about it, but a couple of days later I realized that he was carrying the book around everywhere and was actually making progress. And he finished the book. After that, he just picked up speed.
And now, at 15, he reads whatever he wants with good speed and excellent comprehension and retention.
What worked for him may not work for everyone, but I think it is vital as parents that we trust our instincts. I knew that Patrick was smart, but already in Kg he was being pigeonholed as being behind. It would have only gotten worse. I feel for kids who are in school and labeled. All three of my boys would be wearing a closetful of labels if they were in school. But our goal isn't to keep our kids up to some arbitrary school schedule, it is to produce human beings who love learning. For that we don't need labels.
In those first years of homeschooling, I dreaded those times when out of the blue my husband--who travelled a tremendous amount and commuted three hours a day and was not only uninvolved but largely clueless--would ask one of the kids, "What did you learn in school today?"
THEY knew we didn't "do school" but I had never really explained to him what unschooling was or how it worked. I had made attempts, but he, like most of us, was the product of our educational system, of forced learning. And his mom was a teacher. It made no sense to him that our children would learn anything if they weren't being"assigned" to learn it, made to do "homework", take tests and receive grades.
I tried to distill the reading that I had been doing into brief bits to give him some sense of the fact that not all educational theory supports the way we do school in our culture. I still don't know if any of what I was telling him made sense to him. I bought text books and workbooks, many of which went unused because their presence seemed to comfort him.
As the kids got older and I got more experienced, we became more adept at putting our days' activities into educationese, although by that time Dad had started to see the fruits of what we were doing and was no longer worried about unschooling.
Coming next time (note to self): Patrick and reading
Before I tell you this LONG story I need to give you a picture of my son in the present. Patrick is 15. He is a dream son. He is polite, respectful, smart, funny, helpful, and loving. He is very serious about his faith and loves acolyting at church. He is a voracious reader (currently reading Les Miserables) and loves politics, movies and sports.
I firmly believe that if he had stayed in school, things would be much different.
My daughter was finishing third grade and Patrick was finishing Kg when we began to consider homeschooling. We knew we were leaving the school that the kids were attending, and were looking at other options. Patrick had had a horrible experience in Kg, socially and academically. The happy, bright five-year-old that we had taken to school in September had become moody and withdrawn. He was teased because he sang too well, colored too badly, and couldn't match the sounds with the letters.
We knew that he was smart because of his intuitive grasp of numbers and his incredible vocabulary. But there was no denying that in a school system that decreed that all children would read by the end of first grade he would be in trouble.
I looked at options, and the one that just kept popping back up was homeschooling. I finally decided that I would homeschool him for a year or so, to get him "evened out." Surprise number one: Our daughter--straight-A student and social butterfly--wanted to be homeschooled, too. Since I wasn't thrilled with any of the school options we had, we pulled her out, too.
I've chronicled our bad start in my last post, so I won't repeat that. But that truly was just the beginning. Patrick was angry. He was mad at me for having taken him to school. And the more I heard what that year had been like for both of my kids the more I understood. So I embraced what was for me a brand new concept: We deschooled. We absolutely did nothing that looked like school for over six months. We, of course, kept living, and-- as I've learned--that's how we learn best, but there were no workbooks, math problems, spelling words, or drills. We read lots of books, played games, went to the park, watched videos, and went for lots of walks.
I spent a lot of that time reading about how kids learn. I was especially interested by the differences in boys and girls in learning to read. I went from a reluctant homeschooler to a mom who firmly believed that our education system does many kids--especially boys--a huge disservice by trying to force early reading.
(More to come....)
I am sure that I was not the only homeschool mom asking that question on the first "official" day of homeschooling. Even you parents who have homeschooled from the start have had the moment or moments where you are pulled up short by the realization that you have taken the responsibility for the education of your children into your own hands.
I was not completely unprepared when we began this journey 10 years ago. I had read lots of books. I had heard Raymond Moore on the radio. I had ordered hundreds of dollars worth of the curriculum most frequently recommended in the books and magazines that I had found. But the information was a lot more limited than it is now.
I didn't know any real life homeschoolers. I had never actually met anyone who homeschooled or anyone who knew anyone who homeschooled. I come from a family with lots of teachers. Several of my aunts are teachers and so was my mother-in-law. To say that I felt a lot of pressure would be a big understatement!
So I did what hundreds of thousands of parents have done. We started. We opened the books. We started with lesson one. And within a month I was sure that we'd made the biggest mistake ever!
Remember, I had chosen my curriculum based solely on what was recommended in the most books. I hadn't seen anything. We hated most of it. My daughter hated Saxon math. My son--who is very freaked out by clowns--had clowns all through his BJU Kg curriculum. As a history major I was totaly underwhelmed by the A Beka history book. And there was lots of theology spread throughout the books that was definitely not in line with what I was teaching my kids.
What to do? I had spent hundreds of dollars. I had to have a curriculum didn't I?
While I was struggling with this a miracle happened. : ) I connected to AOL. There was a homeschooling forum with hundreds of other homeschoolers from all over the country. It was like someone had switched on a bright light for me in the middle of a dark night.
I didn't have to use a set curriculum? My son needed to deschool? Unschooling?
Wait, there are other people who hate Saxon?! And Bob Jones! (BTW, this is where I learned about the rascism at BJU. These are the only homeschooling books I ever threw away instead of passing along.)
What I learned was that homeschooling is not a one-size-fits-all kind of endeavor. (Actually, I learned LOTS there, but that was just the most important at that point!) We decided to step back from what we were doing. We put the curriculum on the shelf. I asked my then-nine-year-old daughter what SHE would like to learn about. Boy did she have a list! My son--who was the reason we started homeschooling (that's another post)--was really struggling with wanting to learn anything at all. That struggle didn't magically end when we put those clowns in the trash. But we worked on it. I would like to say he came around quickly, but in truth it took years.
The answer to the "now what?" is that you begin to learn with them. It may go smoothly and within months they're learning Latin, churning butter, sewing their own matching clothes and flying through Saxon math. Or it may be rough. There might be tears. You might buy something that doesn't work. You might have a child who needs to be motivated to want to get out of bed or do anything but play Legos. You might want to pull out your hair. But you just keep going. Tweak what needs tweaking. Or maybe throw it all in a closet and start over.
You can do it.
We get tons of questions over at IHEN and the IndianaHomeschoolers list, and by far the most frequent question is, "How do I start homeschooling?"
Often people really want us to be able to point them to someone who can just tell them what to do. This is the beginning of the paradigm shift. When you are homeschooling, you need to learn to be comfortable with making decisions about your child/rens' education and with being in control.
So the first thing the amazing number of potential new homeschoolers we're hearing from need to do is breathe! We can almost hear some of them holding their breath as we read their emails. There is often fear of the unknown, state authorities,and failure.
In Indiana, if your child is in school all you need to do is write a letter saying that your child will be attending a private school. If your children have never attended school, you just keep doing what you're doing.
Many parents are afraid to pull kids out until they know exactly what they will be using and have purchased curriculum, but there is no need to wait. Children need some time to de-school when they first leave the classroom. And the longer they've been in school the longer they need!
When we began homeschooling ten years ago, we plunged right into a full curriculum right away. It was a big--and costly--mistake. My son, in particular, had had a very negative classroom experience and needed some down time. So we ended up taking the time to deschool later. (Actually, we ended up unschooling, but that's another entry!)
I also suggest people wait to purchase a bunch of books until they have spent some time at home. I spent hundreds of dollars on curriculum that we didn't end up using, because we discovered that it didn't fit our needs or style.
Spend some time reading good books and doing things that interest your child. Get a feel for what kind of homeschool you will have. Do you--and your chid--need fixed structures and timetables? Do you want to be able to delve into subjects in depth one or two at a time? Do you want to just take life as it comes and learn what shows up?
After you've figured it out you can get the books and supplies you need.