I’ve written about gaps in education before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d address it again; specifically the idea that public schools (or ‘brick and mortar’ schools, which include any style of schooling that involves a ‘school teacher’) provide a ‘better’ education, or a ‘more complete’ education than homeschooling can.
There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption – first and foremost is the idea that all b&m schools have the same educational goals and model and structure. It’s true that basically all b&m schools function very similarly, in that the children go to school and are taught by someone who (presumably) has extensive education in classroom management and state standards. But as far as the curriculum and even models of teaching and goals… those can be quite different, even within a single city or state. Even if the curriculum itself was standardized, the execution of the material is often left up to the individual teacher. What one teacher may consider ‘core’ might seem frivolous to another, and your opinion on the matter may still be different again. They may skip over things you consider to be vitally important in favor of information that you vaguely remember covering in school but ultimately had no use for at all as an adult and therefore consider useless.
Teachers are human and have their own areas of interest that may bias them; mine, for example, is ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated with the culture and religion of the time and we’ve spent a lot of time studying it! I could do a whole year of history/geography and social studies in Egypt alone. But while it’s extremely interesting (to me), it’s not the most practical thing to have a deep knowledge of unless your plan is to go into Egyptology (which neither of my children have expressed an interest in doing). This bias can play a positive role as well as a negative one. On the plus side, I’d rather my kids spend a year learning about a subject that their teacher is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about than just ‘cover’ a wider range of materials. There’s something engaging about learning from someone who is passionate about their topic that makes you more interested in it, too. And that interest could lead to various science and history related fields of further study…. but I digress.
Secondly is the mistaken idea that students in a b&m school are afforded more opportunities than homeschool students. When struggling with a lack of confidence in our teaching ability, homeschooling parents sometimes forget that a classroom teacher’s ability to teach is very often stifled by classroom management and school/state/federal policies that end up meaning that the lessons are taught to the weakest student’s ability. That means that if your child is among the more advanced in the class, or even if he or she is ‘at grade level’, she is more or less left to her own devices to advance her studies because the teacher is otherwise engaged with students who are struggling to get to ‘grade level’ and can’t work with your student individually. In fact, that’s a huge advantage that homeschooling has over any other type of schooling – personalized attention. If your student is at the other end of the spectrum, then all kinds of other issues start creeping in – from dealing with potential learning disabilities, potential behavioural issues to possible bullying and self-esteem issues. No one is inspired to learn when they ‘feel’ like they’re dumb. This is, in part, one of my major issues with the way schools are structured – students aren’t robots and they don’t all learn in the same way, at the same time or on the same level in each subject. Homeschooling addresses all of those issues, because you’re typically mastery-focused and not dependent on grades to get by.
My oldest starts high school this fall, and I admit I am struggling a bit with the idea. Well, that’s not entirely true; one minute, I struggle with doubt and anxiety, the next I can HOMESCHOOL FOREVER!!! I’m not sure if my wildly fluctuating confidence and lack thereof is a good thing, or a normal thing or what… but there you have it. On one hand, I know it’s a thing I can do. We’re mostly at ‘grade level’ except for spelling, and some things I feel like we’ve covered more than he would have gotten in b&m school. Still other things he’s gotten to do that ‘count’ are opportunities he never could have had stuck behind a desk for 9 months out of the year.
I think that for me, that’s the main goal: give my kids a good foundation and teach them HOW to learn. Teach them that learning is a lifestyle, and that ‘school’ isn’t the only way or place to learn. Another facet of my goal is to expose them to as many things as I can to prod their interest in learning more. They need the basics to understand the world around them and to know how to function within it, but that love of learning and being engaged in finding out more is something that will never be ‘taught’ from a textbook. Hands-on learning, getting out into the world and experiencing how the knowledge affects and enriches their day-to-day life – that’s what I want for them.
If you’re new to homeschooling, and struggling with a lot of these kinds of doubts – can I do this? will it be enough? am I depriving my child of a decent education? can he still go to college? what if this doesn’t work out? – and whatever other questions you have… remember: nothing is permanent. If you try homeschooling (or if you’re a homeschooler considering heading back to b&m school) and it doesn’t fit, you can change it. If you’re worried about doing it all yourself, take heart – you don’t have to! There’s a whole WORLD of support for homeschooling parents out there, from groups and forums online, to local tutors and programs your child can enroll in, homeschool co-ops, online high schools and more. It’s not always ‘all’ up to you.
Whether your child is college bound or not, and there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t depend on a 4 year college program to ‘make it’, if you strive to give your kids a good foundation, you’ll do fine even if there are gaps.
Some years, I wonder where old sayings come from. This is not one of those years! We’ve had SO. MUCH. RAIN. Luckily, we’re not in a low lying area and haven’t been flooded out, but with the incredible rainfall this month I do start to worry anytime the yard starts looking more like a lake.
Despite the rain, homeschooling continues! We’ve been indoors quite a bit, and even some of our homeschool group’s activities have been either cancelled or rescheduled due to the weather. I thought that I would have time to work on planning for next school year (high school for LBB – eek!!), but so far, nada. Work has me completely busy with event planning and organization. That’s good; I like it when work is steady even if I don’t get paid, but the time it takes away from other things is a double-edged sword. On the one had, I love being busy and having lots to do (especially with the slump I’ve been in since my dental surgery – I’ve needed the distraction), but being a busy bee also makes it suuuuper easy to put off things that aren’t as exciting (like math… and history).
So the last week or so has necessitated a lot of soul-searching and figuring out where I need to spend my energy. One thing that helped get me motivated to work on school stuff was the acquisition of a new giant cabinet for the school room. My storage solutions were less than solution-y, so getting rid of the junky looking mess and having a nice, clean, white cabinet to put things into made a world of difference. The taller storage means that I can fit some of the overflow from the other cabinet, too – it’s just a much nicer space now. In addition to ‘surroundings’, I am also working on self-care – things like hydration, making sure I eat when I need to (because I don’t do that), and trying to get up earlier so I can have some time to myself in the mornings. I’m not a ‘morning person’ by nature, but I am giving it a shot. I am a fan of planner stickers (little stickers made specifically to track lifestyle and habits that go into your daily planner/organizer). I make my own either by finding inspiration from things I see elsewhere, or creating my own based on what I want to track. Being able to tie feelings with practical habits is helping me manage my anxiety and depression. Doing the things that I know make me feel better is always difficult; this makes it a tiny bit easier because I refer to my planner so often, and it’s constantly in my face.
It’s helping in our school-ish world, too. One of the things I found when I was cleaning up was an old binder with the kids’ work from a couple of years ago. In it was our daily routine. I’d forgotten about it, because it seems like we went to workboxes or something like that and stopped using that schedule. But I like the concept, so I re-worked it for what we’re doing now, and re-did the boys’ current binders. I love the word ‘accountability’ for the kids (and for myself). I found Thirty Handmade Days’ printable accountability and school binder covers a while back and I LOVE them. I made new covers using her templates and made my own additions and customizations to simple things up a bit – I’m a fan of ‘all in one and done’. They look great, especially when compared to their ragged old ones.
We’ve had a lot going on over the last few weeks – National Siblings Day was April 10th, and we planned a family dinner with my brother and sister and our families. We try to get together every other month or so; this time just happened to fall on NSD.
One of the cool new things we’re doing with our homeschool group is LARP (live action role playing) PE. We have park day once a month, and the kids plan a game/battle scenario to play out while we’re there. To help with that, one of our families hosted a sword-making day and we all brought supplies to make LARP-safe swords from PVC pipe, foam pool noodles, soft-foam (for the sword tips), hot glue, electrical tape and duct tape. The guidelines we used can be found in the NERO Rule Book.
Another project we started with our group is this year’s Triangle Homeschoolers’ Yearbook. At Park Day, we got student pictures of some of the kids, with plans to get pictures of the rest next month, or have their parents send in headshots to be included. We’re using Picaboo online yearbook building, and it’s a REALLY cool program! We’re setting it up so that the kids can edit and create the yearbook, and we’re doing a cover contest as well, so the cover will feature kids’ art – so excited about that!
Here’s a sneak peek – this may change; I was playing around with the program to see how easy it was to use; I have no idea what the final, kid-approved project will look like. Every part of the page is editable, from the backgrounds to the layout and the numbers (which are stickers that can be moved, re-sized, turned – whatever). I can’t wait for the kids to dig into it!
Our activity this week was a STEM Day; we brought craft supplies and had an egg drop challenge. The goal was to create a capsule that would protect an egg from a ten-foot drop. LBB created a very cushioned container with lots of spikes to help diffuse the impact. He put a lot of work into his capsule! PeaGreen made several different style capsules; one with sponges, one with spokes. I made a couple too, just for funsises.
Unfortunately, of the 5 that we made, the only one that protected the egg was the simplest one – I cut an egg carton so that there were 2 sections with 4 cups each. I put the egg in the divot in the center, then put the top on and used masking tape to secure it. It worked! Simple is sometimes better, I guess. We were surprised that PeaGreen’s sponge-capsule didn’t work; you’d think that sponges all around would have protected the egg – too ‘squishy’, maybe? And LBB’s capsule, we think ended up being too dense to disperse the impact. This was a really fun project though!
Every year, I am surprised at how quickly January flies by. Here we are mid-February, and I am still honestly surprised at how quickly this month has flown by. We’ve been slightly busier than usual (and that’s really saying something). Since I last checked in, we’ve managed to wrap up our first 6 weeks of school and are currently enjoying the last few days of our first official break. If you’re new, we follow a 6-on/1-off schedule. It’s true what they say about ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’; the first time I ever heard about this kind of schedule for school was when our local ISD did a trial of it for a single school year. The original idea was that with a year-round schedule, the kids don’t get bored and burned out during the year, and don’t have a months-long break during the summer to lose half of what they’d learning, and the first 6 weeks of the new school year isn’t wasted on catching up. It was a great idea -so much so that it’s stuck with me and I knew that’s what I wanted to try when we started homeschooling. We started out with 6-on/1-off, and have gone through various revisions of it over the years, but we’re back there now and it’s working beautifully.
As I said, this is our off week, and I have to admit that as much as I love the busy schedule we keep, I have absolutely reveled in the last few days of being just home, home, home with few responsibilities (other than the bare minimum required to keep the children alive and basic hygiene requirements met). I even opted out of our homeschool group’s classes this week, which was actually a tiny bit painful, but I really needed the break. Next week, we’ll be back into the swing of things, full stop.
Over the last few weeks, it seems like we’ve been everywhere, seen all the people and done all the things! For the last few months, we’ve been volunteering with our local Atheists Helping the Homeless group, SETX AHH. This month was the largest turnout of volunteers since the group got started back in October 2015, and we were happy to be there to help. My boys, and some of the other kids in our homeschool group manned one of the tables, helping assist mean and women filing up their bags, and directing them to some of the organizers if they had questions the kids couldn’t answer. If your local area has an AHH group, we’ve found our group to be very kid-friendly (with a few FAQs that you might want to consider), and it’s a great opportunity to have the kids involved and actively working with the community.
We try to mix our field trips up each year, and honor local and global culture when possible. Southeast Texas has a thriving Vietnamese community, and Chinese New Year is one of the holidays that the Vietnamese community celebrates each year. We celebrated the Year of the Monkey with a big picnic and craft day, followed by a dragon parade at the Tyrell Park Botanical Gardens.
Afterwards, the boys and I met at the library for the Teen Homeschool Book Club that our amazing librarian, Ms. Robin, hosts each month. The boys read Call of the Wild by Jack London, for this month’s selection. One of the moms is absolutely always on point with refreshments, and brought cupcakes for the kids to decorate, both for Valentine’s Day, and with an eye towards something from their book. LBB’s cupcake is meant to represent Francois from Call of the Wild; PeaGreen seems to have ignored that directive and opted for an inside joke reference with the other kids. I don’t know what the joke is, but they all got a kick out of it.
The boys also got to finish and present their Hawaii projects for our homeschool group’s social studies club. LBB talked about the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, with a drawn and painted diagram, and PG made a model of the Hawaiian Islands, and talked about island formation, and the volcanoes of Hawaii.
In other news, one of the dads in our group offered to host a Dungeons & Dragons Tutorial for the teens in our group, so we spent a Saturday learning how role-playing works. It was really fun, and we’re planning to give it another go soon. I always thought that D&D and other games like that (that were non-electronic and social) were good for developing creativity and I am pleased to see the kids taking an interest. Valentine’s Day was pretty low-key, as usual; we’re not big on a lot of the holidays, other than a nod of acknowledgement, but we did head out to my brother’s for dinner that evening. PeaGreen has spent the last few days there, so LBB and I got to spend some QT together. Today’s festivities included lunch, a coffee date and a long drive to pick up my other kidlet.
How’s your school year going so far?