I can’t even believe that I am writing this. My oldest, LBB (which stands for LittleBoyBlue; called so because when the kids were little, my sisters and I frequently kept each others’ kids, and to tell cups apart, we color-coded all of them – his favorite color was/is blue, so the name stuck) turned 14 in December, which means that as of June 17 (when we ended our school year) he’s officially a high school freshman. How did this happen? Where did the time go?
Our homeschool group is putting together a yearbook for this past school year, so I’ve been looking back through old pictures quite a bit. I came across the pictures from our first forays into the homeschool world back in 2010, and it does not seem like it was that long ago. But here we are – we started when LBB was mid-second grade and PeaGreen was mid-first-grade… now LBB starts 9th and PG starts 8th in less than 2 months. I’m losing my damn mind!
As much as I absolutely love homeschooling, it’s Truth Time: I’m wavering between feeling like I can do totally this and having a total and complete melt-down freak-out because the thoughts of failing at this point is just so, SO overwhelming. I know, I know – it’s not that hard. For one thing, I was homeschooled, and I turned out okay. I understand the mechanics of what he needs to cover to complete a course of study comparable to the Texas Board of Education’s required program for public school, and how to help him choose courses for electives that will be useful and helpful in future career choices. I also understand the hows of dual credit and CLEP’ing – it’s not that part that I’m freaking out about… honestly, I can’t pinpoint exactly what part of this is causing the most anxiety because of my wavering evaluation of personal competency.
Luckily, I have tools – thank goodness for TOOLS!! For one thing, our homeschool group is literally the best one out there. We have an amazing group of moms who are so supportive and knowledgeable and willing to share both tips of the trade and general support when things start feeling overwhelming. We’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and there are some areas of homeschooling that I feel like I’m pretty good at helping with, but others are totally new to me. On the one hand, I now that high school will be like any other school day when it comes to the day-to-day operation. Even the things we study will, for the most part, be similar to what we’ve done previously. But still, anxiety persists.
Another amazing tool I have at my disposal this year is our group’s high school cooperative. We planned starting in January-ish, and finalized the co-op plans at the beginning of the summer. We’re only a few weeks away from starting classes and I am so excited – maybe even more than the kids are. One of the things I have had a hard time adding to my kids’ schedule is music. I took band in school, and played flute one year and clarinet the next. I am hopeless at flute, but decent on the clarinet – but not enough to teach. We have a mom in our group who IS able to teach, and willing to do so. She offered the kids the option of band (brass/woodwinds) or orchestra (strings) and strings got the vote, so not only do the boys get to have this amazing opportunity to learn an instrument, but I get to learn as well. We’re ordering instruments soon, and I can’t wait!
In another attempt to alleviate my anxiety, I have been reading homeschool/high school blogs voraciously. Annie and Everything’s 12 Reassuring Facts You Should Know About Homeschooling High School reiterates a lot of points that I have made to myself and others. Another blog post of hers (seriously – she’s golden. If you’re not regularly reading there then bookmark it now!!) talks about What to do When Your Homeschool High School Student is Behind – because, let’s face it – we have all had that thought at least once a week (day?!?). She also has posts on planning high school, from electives to economics, and more if you dig! Another great tool is the It’s Not That Hard to Homeschool High School Facebook group. With moms of kids all ages, it’s so nice to see that I am not the only one who feels like this (and even nicer to be able to reply on a post where someone has a situation that I can confidently comment on!).
But even with these amazing tools, I can feel the anxiety poking at the nice calm borders of my self-confidence and sanity every now and then, so I go back and read them again. And then I stop planning and stop reading and go do something fun with my kids, because no matter how much time I spend planning or stressing out, the harsh reality is that in five short years, both of my kids will be done with school. I know better than anyone how quickly the hours slip away, and when you’re on the other side, being well-prepared (though important) isn’t the biggest priority. I want their high school years to count for more than just a record of academic excellence. Aside from the fact that what is ‘excellent’ to me may be vastly different than what is ‘excellent’ for someone else, my goal is to raise happy, productive people. So if you’re freaking out, like me, then here’s the advice I give to myself:
“Slow down. It will be fine. You’re a good mom. The outcome is no longer only in your hands; the kids play a huge role in that as well, and they’re smart, motivated young men. You’re doing just what they need you to do. Keep it up!”
Hopefully one day it will sink in 😉
I will be updating my ‘curriculum’ page soon with this year’s materials, but if you’re curious about our homeschool style, there’s a lot I’m interested in that influences our direction on my Homeschool: High School Pinterest board. If you have any questions, as always, feel free to comment and ask!
Hope your ‘back to school’ shopping is going well!
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.
We follow a non-traditional school year. When I originally withdrew my boys from public school, it was just after the winter break. They were mid-semester, so we finished out that 6-week grading period, and then started homeschooling. Ever since then, we’ve started our ‘year’ in January.
Way back when I was a newbie homeschooler, I was anxious to get started. I knew what I wanted, and I was ready to go after it. We jumped in, both feet first and never looked back. The older, wiser, more experienced homeschooling mom in me now looks back on that eager, idealistic mom and thinks, ‘Aww… you sweet, summer child.’ As with so many, many things, I wish I’d known then even half of what I know now. All in all, I don’t think we had that bad of a start. There are things I’d do differently; de-schooling for a while, for one thing, but we didn’t hit the books hard and heavy right off the bat; we got started soon, but we did take it easy, so I don’t have too many regrets. But the pressure I put on myself was enormous. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed or started treatment for anxiety disorder, and looking back I know that my internal stress-o-rama was partially due to that. Even so, I had no direction, no real clue as to what I really needed to do, so I did all the things. I’d never planned for homeschooling before, so I was making it up as I went along, and like many newbies, got way to ambitious and idealistic. Luckily, I had some really kind and caring guides along the way who helped me reign in my tendencies. Even though some of them no longer blog, Jana, Julie, SmrtMama, Farrar, and many other helped me find my way.
Now, I know better, but still browse homeschooling blogs to make sure I’m not missing out on anything I haven’t seen before. I do still plan the year, and I do still usually start in January. We take the month of December off – at least we try to. There’s almost always something that interferes with the plan (this year, it was illness) that forces us to play catch-up, but that’s okay – that’s partly why I plan that break. The time off gives me a couple of weeks to catch up anything we were lagging behind on, consider what’s working, what needs to change and come up with a new plan or figure out new material to replace it. I know that we’ll complete this ‘grade’ in the spring/summer and start the next ‘grade’ in the fall, so I plan to do another planning session in the fall, to refine and add new materials I come across during the course of the next six months. There are always new materials coming out, which makes planning difficult sometimes. Throughout the year, I keep notes and use Pinterest to keep track of things I want to look into later in the year. If you use it that way, don’t forget to go back through it and pull resources from your boards when you’re planning!
I usually have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do for the year before I start, but I’ve also learned to value flexibility. If something isn’t working, I don’t waste time trying to force it. There are always other materials out there.
This year, we’re starting the One Year Adventure Novel for grammar. We’re doing other things as well, but that’s a new addition. Most of our plans from the fall remain the same, which is nice. Back when we started, I had grand ideas that didn’t work in our life, so things got switched up a lot. I don’t regret it, exactly; it was a huge learning curve and part of the journey that I think helped make this part run more smoothly. It also let me accept that flexibility is okay, and normal, and probably for the best, considering the many options and changes that happen during the year.
When I start planning, I look at several things. Take history, for example. This year, we need to work through the last half of Story of the World IV. We’re on schedule; my plan was to finish that in May-ish, and we’ll make that target. After that, we’ll be either between books, or can start with SOTW I again immediately. At this point, I think I want to take a couple of months and focus on geography, but I know that will play more of a role in our overall journey through the SOTW books this go-round, so we’ll have to see what happens when the time comes. In addition to the regular curriculum, we keep track of a timeline, we have our homeschool group’s social studies club each month, and will hopefully be adding actual travel to the kids’ experiences this coming year. Even though I can’t put those things on the books in exact dates, I know that’s what I want to accomplish this coming year.
I treat the other subjects similarly; I know if we’ve started, where we’re at and what needs to be done. If it’s new, and we’re starting in January, then we have the year to divide the lessons up. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum is designed to be completed in 9 months, so by the time we break for the year at the end of November, we should be done. That’s about right, counting the various breaks we take through the year.
That brings me to another point – planning the actual school dates. I usually plan for 6 weeks of school, then a one-week break. That’s what we did originally, when we started, but it didn’t work. The kids were too young, I think, and I was too new and stressed. We amended it to 4 weeks of school and one week off, and that worked a lot better. As we’ve progressed, we’ve gone longer and had fewer breaks (or took 2 instead of one week)… depending on what we needed at the time. Regardless of how the actual breakdown of the year happens, I still always plan for a block of school, followed by a mini-break. This year, we’re on a 6-week on, one week off schedule. I also planned for a 2-week break in July, and for school to ‘end’ December 2, 2016. That’s roughly 190 days of school, not accounting for birthdays (which are holidays) or sick days (which we rarely have). That’s comparable to our local ISD’s school calendar, just spread a little differently.
The last part of my planning regimen is my planner, itself. You might say that’s the first part, even. I usually start working on designing my new planning ion November and try to have it completed and printed by mid-December at the latest. Because I also plan events for our homeschool group, I need to be able to see what’s going on months ahead of time. I also get the luxury of planning my kids’ lessons around whatever we have scheduled for the group, if I want to. For comparison sake, I took a couple of pictures of 2015’s planner (end of year) and 2016’s planner (brand new and *so* crisp!!):
I’ve made changes to my planner every year; last year, I discovered Passion Planner and so I added a page to every week. My weekly layout is 4 pages and I love it! I also added a pocket folder and tabs for the months so I can quickly and easily find my current week. I use both the monthly layout and the weekly/daily formats; this really is the center of my world. Whereas I used to keep my personal planner and my lesson planner separate, I’ve since learned the value in integrating them – everything is in one place and it’s lovely. I have blank, printable versions of my current planner, and every previous version of it, available for free, here. There are also a few other printable pages, including a student planner I designed, but the kids don’t use right now. Every year, I find little tweaks and things that work better, and that’s pretty neat to see. I keep all of my old planners, and it’s fun to look back through them.
If you’re at a loss, even a calendar from the dollar store can be effective; I found a video that a woman with small kiddos did on how she plans – not for homeschooling, but the idea was the same. With only a few supplies, she created a color-coded layout that worked for her family. Whatever you use, even a plain spiral notebook, can work! I know a few homeschooling families who don’t pre-plan; instead they write down what they accomplished at the end of the day or week.
Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I’d share a progress picture – this was our first day of homeschooling way back in 2010, and a shot from this week:
How do you plan?
I question I am seeing a lot of lately is along the lines of, ‘If there’s no regulatory body for homeschooling in Texas, then who makes sure that you’re doing it/that the kids are being properly educated?’.
For one thing, the question implies that there should be some sort of regulation. I understand where that particular flaw in logic comes from; after all, we’re used to our lives being ‘regulated’, even for the most trivial things. Most of us rely more on what we’ve been told than on what we inherently know (or could know). For example, we’re told what we should eat, and how often, rather than told to listen to our bodies. I’m not immune to that pressure; to this day I don’t know if eggs are good for me or bad for me, or if I can eat a whole one or only the whites (or yolks)… There are other examples, but the point is the same; without being told when or how much, we’ll learn through trial and error to listen to our bodies and figure out what the appropriate course of action is. The problem is that we’re comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. We don’t even think about how many of our choices and decisions we routinely turn over to ‘the Experts’ and just have faith that ‘they know best‘.
We’re also very used to the traditional model of school, to the point that we (as a culture) honestly don’t even comprehend why or how going outside of that model is even possible, let alone desirable. The familiar model, which is to cover material, test for understanding, move on, rinse, repeat for 13+ years, must have some sort of regulatory process. For a state-funded, or even privately funded organization, effectiveness is a key component to sustainability, and so there must be some sort of regulation to facilitate that process. I don’t dispute that, and I am not fighting to change that model (today). But when you take what is familiar away, we basically have no idea what education would look like. We’ve eroded our instinct and confidence to educate our children in even rudimentary skills (like reading and writing and basic arithmetic) to the point that our default position is to look outside for instruction.
Another facet to the issue of regulation is the idea that without it, parents won’t teach their children, or they won’t teach them the Right Things, or the kids won’t be motivated to learn. This assumes that, one: parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart; two: that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught; and three: that children are not instinctively inquisitive and eager to learn. Those are all incorrect assumptions.
If there is anything that parents are invested in, it’s their kids’ education and general well-being. In most cases, parents will work harder and more tirelessly on behalf of their children than anyone on the planet. For most of us in the working class our future relies, to some degree, on our kids ‘making it’ in life/ the real world because they’re going to have to take care of us one day! If that’s not incentive enough, then I don’t know what is. I jest… but truly, you don’t have to convince or coerce or bully or supervise parents making sure that their children are prepared for life. It’s innate, this desire to create successful offspring.
The second point is the idea that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught. Just… no. There are MANY ways to go about education. There are many models, many philosophies, concepts – you can make yourself go completely bananas trying to learn about every method, ever. For the parent trying to find The Right Way, or even the Best Way for Our Family, this process is one of the hardest steps in preparing to homeschool. There are so many options that it’s overwhelming and easy to get frustrated and lost. Clearly, with the varying requirements of different public education systems, even their experts and advisers can’t agree on what ‘should’ be taught and when. So what usually ends up happening is that the parents draw upon their own education as a guide. They pick things out that have been most helpful to them in the course of their life, or that they wish they’d understood better and make sure their kids are taught those things. They’ll cross-reference what they think is important with any number of resources, including the TEA’s scope and sequence (for Texas parents), to come up with a comprehensive educational plan for their kids – because they are invested. Add to that basic internet access, and a local support group and they’re pretty darn set.
Then there’s the bit about the kids. Honestly, when I hear things like that, the mental image I get is of a crotchety old man, griping about how ‘kids these days’ blah, blah, blah. I was one of those kids who liked school so much that I would play ‘school’ when I got home. But not all kids – most kids, I’d bet, hate the way school makes you learn. It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact few children learn best the way that most public schools teach. Even the way we think of as ‘normal’ has become less and less so over the years. Where children once had hours of free play and recess and PE built into the day, our children have restrictions, hours of homework and structured playdates on weekends. Play is a child’s work, and they need that activity – it’s how they learn. Even older kids, when deprived of screen time, will figure out things to do and learn the whole time they’re doing it. We go screen-free for several weeks during the summer, and as an experiment, we’ve given the boys Snap Circuits, The Dangerous Book for Boys (The Daring Book for Girls), The Boys Survival Book, and several versions of the Cub Scouts Handbooks, along with sheets, rope, pulleys, carabiner clips, and other assorted supplies’ and told them not to come home until sunset. They inevitably come home with tales of their adventures and newly acquired skills (involving math, science, reading comprehension, and good ol’ common sense). Given the option, I’d MUCH rather learn about physics and math by building a playhouse or erecting a tent than reading a textbook. So would they.
Rather than relying on external regulation to enforce education, it makes infinitely more sense to first of all have faith in parents and children, but also to leave education to the individual parent, who has been teaching their particular child(ren) since the day they were born. Most parents, with children in the public education sector and private/homeschooled/alternative schooling, do honestly and genuinely want what’s best for their kids, and they’ll work hard to make sure their kids get it. But if you want to educate your kids outside of the traditional model, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be told by the government, or state, or local school system, or experts how/when/how much/what to teach. Yes, really.
To answer the questions I know are coming:
- Yes, some parents will be lazy.
- Yes, there are some fundamentally crazy parents who will selectively educate their kids in religious nonsense to their detriment.
- Yes, there will be some students who ‘graduate’ homeschool without fully mastering even basic concepts like arithmetic or reading.
But if you think that this never happens in mass education, then you’re either naive, or hopelessly under-educated on the subject (in which case, your opinion is less than invalid on this issue). Even within the public education system, you will have bad parents. In this equation, it’s not education that is at fault, it’s the parents. Period. You can’t take those few examples and blame homeschooling when the parents are at fault, because those children would be neglected and abused no matter where or how they were educated – because they have shitty parents.
So where does the idea that regulation is required come from? I’m sure it comes from many different places, but I think that some of it is based in personal bias. Maybe the person whoclaims that there ‘should be’ regulation either doesn’t have kids and is parroting what they’re familiar with, or maybe they do have children and have never stepped out side of the box. Maybe they have children, and can’t imagine taking on the additional task of homeschooling (or don’t want to) and honestly don’t see or understand why anyone would want to take on the burden of educating at home when there’s a perfectly adequate (and free) system set up to do that for you. Maybe the person you’re talking to lives in a state or area where the school system is beyond excellent (I know they exist; I’ve heard tales!!) and has no concept of how truly deplorable the public education system is where you live (*cough*BISD*cough*). Maybe the person is a teacher or college professor, and since academia is their bread and water, they truly feel that only someone as similarly educated as his or her august self is capable of imparting knowledge to the youth of the nation. Maybe the only ‘examples’ of homeschooling they’ve seen are sensationalized news stories about horrible parents that happened to ‘homeschool’ (but, of course, that was the click-bait), or the only children they’d come into contact with who were homeschooled were ‘under-educated’ according to the school’s intake testing (which is, by the way, not necessarily demonstrative of the child’s education – maybe they hadn’t covered fractions yet, but the child had an in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt and can play 2 instruments. Just sayin’.) Who knows why people think the funny things they do. If you have time to address their particular bias, feel free; otherwise just smile and nod and do your own thing.
What I am saying is that the entire idea that there should be regulation for homeschoolers is generally flawed, and even more-so when we consider the very individualized approach to education that homeschooling celebrates. On a small scale, education is truly mastery-focused. Where a child excels, progress is rapid. Where a student struggles, progress is slower, but thorough. In the end, the student’s education is more completely assimilated, and there is less of the ‘retain for test, then forget it’ model that is often found in mass education. Is there a place for testing and regulation in homeschool? Maybe. For re-entry into a traditional school, or entry into college, it may be necessary, though more and more colleges are allowing homeschoolers to be assessed differently than traditionally educated students. For specific career goals, testing may be necessary, to assure a good foundation for cumulative lessons, or review might be required to reaffirm foundation concepts. But even that is more for older kids, not pre-schoolers and elementary aged kids. If a parent isn’t capable of educating, without input from outside sources, a child through elementary school, then that’s not a good testimonial for the traditional model.
What do you think?