Monday, December 3, 2012

The Educational Headlines Get Scarier

Earlier this week, I was in bed flipping through the few channels we get with our antenna.  When I got to Channel 2, one of the major stories was NY To Add 300 Hours To Public School Year .  The story was about how five states, including New York, are planning to increase the amount of hours that students spend in school.  It is extremely disturbing to me since one of the reasons that I homeschool T & C is that I think that school is already too much of a full-time job for kids. Not only does it rob them of their childhood to benefit adults' work schedules (whose real benefit is the corporations that sell them the vast number of unnecessary items they buy on two incomes or low wages when families can't help but need two incomes for the basics), but nobody is asking the hard questions about the use of time in the schools or what is really necessary for children to learn.

The first question that should be asked is whether or not the time used in school is efficient or effective.  When T used to go to a local school for speech, there were several times, when the speech teacher called to tell me not to bring him since they were engrossed in a testing week.  If 10-20% of the time (from what I can tell) is spent on testing, then valuable class time for learning is being wasted, never mind the time for assemblies, discipline, lining up, etc.  Some things are unavoidable in a school environment because of its model.  Inherently, some time will be spent on making sure everyone is there and waiting for people to calm down.  It is just the drawback of 20-30 kids per one teacher.

What I want to know is how is my son, who hasn't turned six yet, reading at a nearly second grade level while only spending about 2 hours a day, 4 days a week on traditional academics?  How is this possible when he is not a genius and my health means that he learns independently in most cases?  How is it possible when he spends so much more time out in the world and doing random hands-on activities and free play?  I am not sure I can directly answer how its happening except that it is a clear testament to the fact that kids don't need to be couped up six plus hours a day away from their homes.

What about what they learn?  What skills are really necessary for adulthood?  Are kids really going to remember everything?  Is there some way to arm them with the skills for life-long learning instead so they can confidently pick up whatever skills they need when they need them?  It is time to look at the vast amount of knowledge available, the limited capacity of the human brain to master it, and come up with a better way to decide what should be learned.  Does hard core academics for so many hours make sense when there are many more things that adults need to know including things like homemaking which everyone needs to do in some way or minor repair for the large number of people who will own a home?  This is just to name a few.  After all, real learning happens when one chooses to learn and it is relevant.

I am worried for the other kids, honestly, really worried.  They are experiencing child labor masquerading as school and extracurricular activities.  My general observation of conventional school students close to my kids' ages is that they work almost all-day five days a week and sometimes several hours on Saturday.  They are at school about six and a half hours a day with little recess and a twenty-minute lunch break (short even by adult labor standards).  The transportation and waiting for buses adds half an hour to an hour to this.  Then there is afterschool program or extracurricular activities (almost always multiple ones a week) with kids often getting home after five or even six.  Then there is the socially acceptable (and necessary with this schedule) strict 8 pm bed time allowing a short dinner, bath, and homework.  The only difference between the problematic child labor of past years is that children now receive little economic benefit and eventually go into debt for college where the overworked kids of past may have received some compensation even if far too low.  They were also physically active while the kids today are acquiring numerous health conditions due to inactivity.  Yes, in the case of the extracurricular activities, there is some fitness in many of them, and certainly those are less "work" in the sense that presumably the kids chose them (even though parental pressure is pretty high these days so maybe not) rather than being forced into them like school.   I am not trying to romanticize the harsh lives of children in the past, but I think it is helpful to see the parallels including that it is still all for adult benefit.  In the past the adults whom benefited were the owners of family farms in the most benevolent cases and greedy factory owners in the worst cases.  Today, the educational establishment, even though perhaps better intentioned, benefits tremendously.  Parents today, no longer owning farms, benefit by having free child care to chase the rewards society glorifies most, money and status.

It will be interesting to see what the public has to say about the increased hours.  My guess is that most adults will be happy.  Parents will be relieved to have their kids time occupied while they work or run errands.  It is already pretty clear that parents today are comfortable turning their kids over to professionals to raise them rather than doing it themselves.  The educational establishment will respond by chasing more compensation for more hours, and designing new specializations for professionals who work in the schools.  The kids won't know if they are young and the older ones won't find a good mechanism for the outrage they may feel.  I know that I am outraged, but other than writing these sorts of articles, there isn't much of a way to change minds.  I am sure that if I tried to convince kids that they were working too hard, their parents, who already feel threatened by my unconventional choices, would not be pleased with me.  It is bad enough that the decision to homeschool is inherently an indictment of the decision by others to conventionally school even if I don't mean to specifically question the choices of others.  I know that many others, including other bloggers, like to dress their decision up in a sort of diplomatic everyone choosing what is best for their own family type of view, but when you choose something so out of the mainstream (homeschooling is known and growing, but still relatively low numbers) it really does say something about the status quo given that it is socially much easier to do what everyone else does.

What do you think about this news?  It won't be news for long because people will be happy or will more people choose to homeschool because of it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happiness as an Educational Goal

A couple of months ago, I took out Happiness and Education by Nel Noddings from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  I have been meaning to write about it for a while now, but with the difficulty concentrating that I have due to fibro fog, reading takes me a very long time.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and its arguments.  I liked the discussion of happiness as a reasonable goal for education.  There really is quite a bit of support for it when looked at through the eyes of philosophy.

One of the best parts, however, was that it really illuminated how lopsided the conventional education system is towards hard academics and career preparation.  While intuitively, it seems unnecessarily to coop kids up on a nearly full-time basis for academics, I am not sure I thought about how many things that conventional school doesn't cover or cover enough that take up a significant part of life such as home making and interpersonal relationships.  I suppose that most people expect students to learn those things at home, but, of course, with all the time spent in school and on homework, they are not covered well at home either.

The book also touches on the inherent materialism that is the goal in education since everyone expects that if they work hard at school they'll get a good job and be able to buy everything they need.  Education is often cited as a way to promote equality and diminish poverty.  However, someone will always have to do the work that society values with low wages so it illuminates that poverty is a social problem and not an educational one.

These are just some of the things that I gleaned from reading this book.  I recommend it to everyone with kids, but especially homeschool parents.  While I haven't made dramatic changes to our routine because of it, it has helped me put our activities into good perspective.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Worm Farming Adventures

We have had a worm farm in our kitchen since before June 1st.  It has been a great learning experience for T and C.  My main reason for getting it is that I couldn't stand the idea that we put food scraps in the garbage.  Having the scraps be preserved, sort of, in plastic bags in a landfill bothered me.  Since we are in the city and close to large apartment buildings and businesses with dumpsters, a regular outdoor compost pile seemed out of the question since it could attract rats.  Most people compost to have a garden.  Hopefully, we will transform our front yard slowly starting next spring, but we are far from being gardening people.  It wasn't our main reason for getting one anyway, it was the landfill thing.

I waited until now to do a big post on it even though I have mentioned it on my other blog with our homeschool days itemized.  Now seems like an appropriate time since we recently rotated the last tray and found our mostly finished compost.

I say mostly finished because some of the paper wasn't eaten either because we didn't make the pieces small enough or because we had so much in the first tray as bedding.  However, the food was completely gone and we found no worms or cocoons as they had all hatched and migrated to the upper trays for new food.  We decided to put the paper back through one more time.  It was a great experience for the kids to see that the food was gone.  Here is a picture from June from that tray:

The journey was especially fun too.  We got to see the worms mate and we found cocoons.  Now that the population is much bigger, likely doubled, we catch them mating about half of all times we open the bin now. 

In this picture, there is both interlocked clittela between the worms and if you look closely, a nice cocoon near them.  Worms, in this case red wigglers, spend their days eating, crawling, and mating.  They mate weekly, when mature, and don't need to sleep.  They are hermaphrodites, but can't fertilize themselves.  Knowing their activities and optimum conditions is important for trouble shooting problems.  One example of a problem was escaping worms, not loads but too many.  In that case, we had stirred in food too soon that was still too hot and they had no cool place to find refuge.  We discussed chemistry a bit observing heat from the composting food.  It is important to note that microorganisms take care of the food and the worms eat them. 

Observation of worms in a habitat isn't the only positive.  It is also a good experience for the kids to take care of the farm draining the farm and adding food and paper.

It was a great all around project for biology, chemistry, environmentalism, responsibility, and sustainability, never mind the complete circle when we use the compost in our front yard.  The only part we bi-passed was making the farm.  I hit a sale on a tray set up and bought it when I had the chance to do it, but a more complete way to do this is to build your own using some of the videos on you tube as instructions.  In my case, I was concerned about my energy level and didn't want that to hold us back from the rest of the project.

If you have a worm farm, are you enjoying it?

Friday, October 19, 2012

City Living and Physical Education

This morning was a great morning.  First of all, I felt pretty good, not as good as yesterday but a far cry from the several bad fibro days I had earlier in the week.  Second of all, we did several errands this morning to buy supplies for a project we were working on.  One of them involved taking the bus to a big regular grocery store, something we don't do all that frequently. 

During our journey there, I couldn't help but think about the superior physical education that my kids are receiving.  Getting to the store involved quite a bit of walking.  First, we grabbed the bus down two blocks so we could hit the better mail box.  (For some reason, the one at our block has one pick up while the one two blocks down has several pick ups at good times.)  Then when we got off the bus we had to walk about five times as far as someone who would drive to the store and park in the lot.  We also brought our grocery cart which had to be pushed, not just to and from a car, but to and from the bus.  On the way home, knowing that getting the bus there has been unlucky for me without waiting a long time, we decided to walk and turn around each stop to see if it was coming (since the stops are pretty close together).  By the time we saw it, we were less than a mile from home so we just kept walking for a total of about 2 miles.  It was beautiful outside and and invigorating for the soul to be out in the sunshine with all the activity around.

A habit of regular exercise woven into life is what I prescribe as physical education.  This will benefit them far into adulthood.  It doesn't seem strange to them to walk distances to go places or to think about how to get things from one place to another without a car.  Unfortunately, physical education traditionally focuses on sports, specifically team sports.  I am all for sports that can be used regularly into adult life like running or swimming, but how many adults are on teams of the sports they used to play in school?  Relatively few.  Further, I have a serious problem with the message of team sports with the emphasis on competition.  Even when competition is downplayed, there is always a winner and a loser.  Many think competition is fundamental to our society particularly with the vast materialism in the name of the free market.  However, I don't believe it has to be.  It isn't inherent in our human nature.  Real and widespread collaboration would be a better way.  Of course, team sports reinforce competition in an enticing manner along side the conventional education and employment system.  It isn't enough to talk about collaboration while continuing to subscribe to the institutions whose fundamental nature is competition.  Our society would need to function quite a bit differently including rejecting conventional education with its testing, ranking, and sorting.  It would have to be a revolution of sorts since competition is so woven into society.  Almost every news broadcast where politics is discussed has it and walk into any business with a tv on and the vast majority have sports on for their customers (including the cafe at the grocery store this morning).

If T or C asked to join a sport would I let them?  Of course.  After all, we are trying to do our best at child centered learning.  Will they ask?  Probably not.  We have limited the exposure to sports on tv and discussion of team or professional sports as much as we can.  We wouldn't stop them from watching, but we never set an example of watching them ourselves at home.  More importantly, however, our simple urban living, sets the best example of all by using our bodies to carry out daily activities in a physical and more sustainable way.  We are probably in a very small minority.  Many homeschoolers, while rejecting conventional school, have their kids participate in sports as their physical education, never mind the vast majority of the population whose kids are in school with many participating in sports as well.  That is is fine though.  We aren't raising our kids to be like everyone else, but to make thoughtful choices about their activities and, therefore, views and priorities.

But keep checking in with us to see if the kids surprise us and ask to go on a team!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Freedom to Take on Something Bigger

My son's joining the training choir at St. Paul's Cathedral caused me to reflect on the great gift of flexibility that homeschooling provides.  As kids progress in the choir program (an excellent free music education), the commitment can grow from one day a week to several.  Several days a week on one activity is a significant commitment that I am not sure I could have done it when I was a child.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade was horrific for me.  It wasn't the change in the work even though the academics got quite a bit more difficult between the two years, but the big change in schedule.  Kindergarten was was only half-day.  We had a focused three hours of school, reading groups and all.  Then we went home to have lunch and free time.  First grade was the first year of full day school.  Despite being six and a half and having plenty of recess time, I remember crying every afternoon for two weeks at the beginning of the year.  This also happened for one week at the beginning of second grade too.  I don't remember the details as much as would be helpful, but I know that my mother explained that I had to go to school no matter what.  After that, I am pretty sure I did my best to hide the crying as much as I could since I was the compliant type.

I know now from everything I have read on homeschooling why this happened.  It isn't natural to expect kids under 7 or 8 to be away from their parents for such long periods of time, 7 or 8 hours if you include the bus ride.  Now it is worse, of course, since kids go to full-day pre-k even younger and there is less recess time.  Many kids are more resilient than I was and can handle it better than I did, but that shouldn't justify the thinking that such things are normal or healthy.  I am not sure that it is right to blame my mother personally.  Homeschooling was very remote during the 1980s.  I am not sure that the option was even known to her.  If she had known about it, the pressure of doing exactly what she and my grandfather had done may have overridden her decision anyway, nevermind the possible griping by extended family members.  Certainly before the internet, resources weren't as readily available either.  Of course I didn't hate school, just the full day part.  Going half day, even year round probably would have been fine for me.

This difficult adjustment, however, limited the activities I got involved in.  I remember trying to go to brownies in first grade and hating it.  I think it was mainly that it extended the day too much after the long school day.  My mother tried to come with me, but it just didn't work out.  I also didn't like the arts and crafts focus.  One of my issues with first grade was also that you couldn't just circle answers on worksheets, but had to spend the time coloring.  The work was just drawn out.  In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn't necessary to be cooped up for such a long day and I knew it was the source of my misery.

For now, T's involvement in the training choir is only one day, but if it grows, he will have the free time and low stress to be able to tackle it.  It won't be piled on an overscheduled week.  This is good, because he has such an interest in singing.  He walks down the streets of Buffalo singing all the time.  He will really get a chance to do what he loves. I think that the overall social influence will be good too.  The boys in the program, all of which are older than T, went out of their way to welcome him and I overheard them saying that they want to set a good example for the younger kids.  I was impressed by this conscious effort from 8 and 9 year old boys.  The best part was when he came out with a big smile on his face saying that he couldn't wait for next week.

His activities don't need to be limited to choir.  Since academics take up only about an hour and half a day for T, he has plenty of time left for something else if he likes, maybe a sport or dance.  This experience this week reinforces that homeschooling is such a good choice for opening up opportunities.  Have you had a similar experience?  Are your kids able to take on more because they aren't in school?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The First Day of School and Other Missed Milestones

Until my reunion, I checked facebook weekly at most.  It just feels overwhelming.  I am not entirely sure why, but I usually blame it on my fibro since my mother also finds it overwhelming.  However, since I have been spending more time on it, I can't help but notice all the "First Day of School" pictures that people put up.  Should I put up a picture of my kids with a caption "First Day of Not Going to School" or some other like post?  It is very tempting, I can tell you.

Of course what kind of picture would capture the homeschooling spirit the most?  A picture of C sleeping in with Dad after he did a late shift?  The kids playing a board game with Dad in the middle of the day before he heads off to work?  A picture from a day trip (more like half a day, I didn't feel up to a whole day) we took to nature trails earlier in the week?  T reading?  The kids working on their lessons on the computer?  A picture from our play date yesterday?  A picture of us getting on the NFTA bus?  A picture of them with one of their dolls with a homemade paper dress?  What about weighing bulk items to buy at the Lexington Co-op?  Cooking?  Caring for the worm farm?  I suppose I will need to analyze this carefully since there are so many choices.  How about this one - sending Dad off to work while we head out to the playground?

Am I a bad person to say that I find the whole "first day of school" and "back to school" somewhat cheesy, for lack of a better way to put it?  It seems like such a manufactured milestone.  Ending a school year presumably means accomplishing something, but at the beginning of the school year kids haven't done anything yet.  If parents were really interested in learning wouldn't they be more excited about their kid learning to read (or swim or paint or sing) than turning a certain age by a certain deadline to be included in a school class?  Is some of the frenzy that everyone does it and that you have to shop for it?  After all, Americans love comparing themselves to other people and shopping is part of it.  I guess this is it, I am just disturbed by the materialism and pressure to be like everyone else, rather than the pride of other parents.

Am I depriving my kids of the attention that comes with these sorts of milestones?  T didn't have a kindergarten graduation, just a trip out for dessert just the four of us (it was last December, not even when graduations normally are).  Certainly, the grandparents would have gotten excited about a graduation.  I suppose that I could have bragged about it online or at the playground or at church.  How would it have been received if I showed up at church in December and told my friends that T finished kindergarten?  I am not sure it would have been the same.  Regardless, I see it more as he completed the skills that are considered kindergarten in conventional school since my research has yielded the fact that the sequence is somewhat arbitrary.  Also, the completion was just the core curriculum we use, but not the things that the kids come up with that are of interest.  Can I really put a grade level on those things?  The paper Barbie dress, the handmade paper skirt?  The perfect freehand drawing of a princess?  Baking?  Making patterns with coins?  Totaling up scores for board games using different methods?  Learning to ride the NFTA bus?  I think you get the point.

Am I doing my kids a favor by focusing more on the learning than the milestones?  It feels like I am.  Since I was so compliant about school and the whole work-hard-and-get-ahead, I always felt like I was living for the next school break, year completion, or graduation.  There was too much pressure to savor the learning.  I don't recall nurturing my outside interests all that well either.  Research supports that focusing on the learning is better.  If you read anything by Alfie Kohn, you will find this out too.  Focusing on reward or punishment always takes away from the intrinsic value of the learning.

This homeschool year (if you want to call it that, since we don't take summers off) I want to do more unschooling.  I am afraid to give up a structured curriculum completely, but we are going to do less of it.  Time4Learning is already pretty efficient, but we are going to, where appropriate, test first and only do the areas that we don't know to free up time for whatever the kids want to do or read.  We are going to read as many of the classic books as we can without overwhelming the kids.  My health permitting, we are going to do more outings and field trips and play dates.

What about you?  What are you going to do this "homeschool year"?  What do you think about "back to school"?  Am I the only one?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reunions and My Decision to Homeschool: A Reflection

We are coming upon the 20th reunion of my 8th grade class from St. Joan of Arc School in Chicopee, MA.  Since we were a tight small group of under 30 students, it is a reunion I am going to make every effort to make.  Until facebook, I fell out of touch with everyone, partly because I moved to Buffalo in 1997, but mainly because I was the only one from the group who went to my high school.  Recently, I have been excitedly checking my facebook for info on the reunion.  I go on almost daily, up from about weekly.

One of the funny things is that there was talk of who the class couple was.  Despite seeming to be nominated, I don't have much of an opinion on it.  However, I keep getting the funny feeling that if there is a "most changed" or something of that nature, I may be sure to win.

I wouldn't win at first glance, since other than being quite grey on top, I actually look quite a bit like I did twenty years ago.  I don't have too many wrinkles and I am within 15 pounds of my graduation weight.  Of course, in between I was 40 pounds heavier than now, but I had to lose weight to help my sleep to help my fibromyalgia.  Of course, depending on the kind of fibro day I am having at the reunion, I may be hobbling or waddling around especially after the long car trip out there.  We'll have to see about that.  The best part for everyone though will be when I open my mouth and they hear the slight but distinctive western New York accent I acquired.

But what about the more substantive changes?  Is anyone expecting a home schooling, bus riding, urban, Episcopalian, stay at home Mom with no car (I'll rent one to go there), no yard, no makeup and a home hair cut to boot.  Heck, I have a worm farm composter in my kitchen and rarely go to grocery stores.  I get my food from a CSA and a neighborhood food co-op.

I feel like there may be some surprised people whether they say it or not.  When I was at St. Joan of Arc and high school - undergrad too - I was a really hard worker and good at school.  I did every bit of homework, worked ahead, thought about school all the time, felt stressed about it, only read for pleasure during the summer, and had little other interests.  I wouldn't say I was smart for two reasons.  I had to work hard for my grades and I am pretty sure now that I only had (or only developed) the intelligences recognized in school.  School wasn't the only institution I was all about.  I was a Roman Catholic who never thought I would ever be anything else.  My Catholic school teacher mother would never have let me miss church.  I had visions of working super hard in Catholic high school and going to college with the best scholarship I could get.  While I may not have expressed it at the time, I bought into the importance and order of the institutions in my life.  I was going to get a good job, be thoroughly devoted to it, and live the same life as my parents.  I'd live in a similar neighborhood and drive a similar car and have a similar house and go to a similar church even if in a different region of the country.

In some ways, I didn't disappoint.  I graduated high in my high school class, got a full scholarship to college, got a good job, became a CPA, and went to graduate school part-time while I worked.  I kept getting better and better jobs.  My last job involved overseeing 3 departments at a large school district.  These were pretty good accomplishments, if I may say so myself.

As I went along, I became tired, physically and mentally.  Some if it was the fibromyalgia starting slowly and some of it was lack of satisfaction.  Regardless, I gradually started to question the conventional life and institutions to which I had been devoted.  I first realized that I wasn't living my faith, but punching the metaphorical church time clock.  I became Episcopalian because it felt more like who I am.  I got my traditional church service with women priests and openness to views on issues that I had.  Next, I got tired of the mindless (despite NPR), waste of time, environmentally horrifying commute to my cozy condo in one of the two cars we had.  As soon as I got it worked out we moved into the city in walking distance to my new job at the time.  We immediately shed a car and actually started participating in things since we were closer to them again.  Then Tom and I switched places.  I stayed home with the kids to care for my health and he went back to work.  I eventually found out I had fibromyalgia (shed the last car at the same time), something my mother didn't get until she was 50, 20 years later than I got it.  Obviously, the genetics weren't in my favor, but without an traumatic triggering event, I can only surmise that it is the result of the pressure I put on myself to comply and be good at school and career.

This combination of realizing that whole schooling to career to consumption lifestyle was unfulfilling and realizing that all that hard working couldn't safeguard against (and maybe even caused) the onset of a lifelong chronic illness led me to researching homeschooling for my own kids.  I also saw that despite being sold on school and college, that my husband with a masters degree was in and out of low wage collections jobs all the time.  Fortunately, now he is a security guard which is more stable (and he loves it), but is still not in line with what we were told growing up about getting a good education.  With all this, I wanted my kids to have a childhood rather than be cooped up 7 hours a day plus several hours of homework.  I want them to explore all their intelligence types.  I wanted them to have interests other than traditional academics.  At home, academics can be handled in a fraction of the time and at one's own pace leaving time for bigger multifaceted project experiences.  Certainly I put pressure on myself when I was young, but conventional school encourages and rewards this kind of compliance.  It is also a mission with enough flexibility for me now that it looks like I won't be returning to the career I had.

So what am I saying about St. Joan of Arc if I am homeschooling my own kids?  Nothing against it.  If someone is going to sent their child to conventional school, I know of no better place.  I enjoyed great classmates and the best teachers you can find.  Without the great people, I wouldn't be the person I am today.  I received an education from caring people with great values.  I just reject the full time job school is for kids, especially now 20 years later (no more half day kindergarten and pre-k a year earlier). Homeschooling just feels like the right thing to do.  The funny thing is that my kids are healthier than I was as a kid, happier, and further ahead than I was academically to boot.  The other funny thing is that I don't spend any more time on hard core academics than my friends do just getting their kids ready for school and helping with homework.

If you are a homeschool parent, are people from your past surprised?  Are you even a little surprised at yourself?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

There Are No Breaks in Homeschool!

Thanks to the grandparents I got to take the kids on vacation to Maine.  Dad had to stay home, luckily to start a new job, not continue to look for one.  So, did we get a break from homeschool? Not at all!  Yes, I let the kids skip their Time4Learning for the week, but they didn't stop learning.  Besides, what better place to learn than at the beach!  It was unstructured learning though.  I brought along several books from the library on the ocean, Maine, rocks, and seashells.  We looked things up as needed, but made no effort to read anything cover to cover.  The first day, it was raining, but the tide was out at a good time, so we went for a walk and collected rocks and seashells.  Over the next several days we tried to look them up to see what we found.  For the rocks we tried to make an educated guess at igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary based on what we read.

I showed the kids that if you dig, you can reach water.  We even made a little canal and a sort of tide pool.  It wasn't exactly the Erie canal, but I think they got the idea.

They also had a great time playing in the ocean.  C rode some waves with Grandpa and T goofed off in the water.  They wore their long suits and hats to stay out of the UV rays.

Grandpa took T and C candlepin bowling for the first time.  He got them bumpers of course, but, hopefully, it will get them interested in the sport.  Too bad there is only regular bowling in Buffalo.

Don't forget about crafts too.  Mem helped them teach them how to do a type of knitting.  It was fun to watch them since I did that as a kid.

It was a great time.  There was a lot of learning too.  While many homeschool families say that they take the summer off, I doubt they stop learning.  I think when homeschool families say they take a break, they are really taking a break from formal curriculum.  Reading and exploration continues anyway.  This was certainly the case for us.

What about you?  Do you take a "break" from homeschool?  What does taking a break mean to you?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Fashioned Travel for an Old Fashioned Education

If you have been reading my companion blog, you know that on July 6, 2012 we took an unusual trip with the help of the grandparents.  Driving from Buffalo to Chicopee, MA is nothing new for our family, especially me.  I have been making the trip regularly since 1997 when I moved to Buffalo.  We've always taken the NYS Thruway with the most choice being where to stop, like the supply of fast food was a big variety, and whether to stay on the thruway or stay on Interstate 90 when with goes around Albany.  With the kids the trip takes around 7 hours, pretty efficient like most modern travel.  Modern travel with its well placed conveniences and efficiency is centered very much around getting where you are going, and not about the trip.  Interstate highways have taken motorists off of the traditional US highways where people actually work and live.  Worse is the way people fly around place to place without even having to think about the people they pass by or the real distance they are going.

For a long time, I thought about how interesting it would be to travel on the old US highways across the country, like US 20, or up a coast, like US 1.   It reminds me of old movies from the 1930s and 1940s before the interstate system.  It was a time where, if you drove somewhere, you couldn't help but go slower and experience the places you passed through.   I can't see a situation where we will be able to do the whole thing at once, but I thought we may get to do it in increments.  We started on July 6, 2012 by attempting to pick up US 20 as soon as we could outside of Buffalo and take it to Springfield, MA.  Because we ran out of time we picked up the NYS Thruway just outside of Albany.  While we decided to go at the last minute and I didn't have time to review Carschooling, the kids brought maps and followed some of the town names.

The trip was a great time even though it wasn't exactly the way I expected.  First of all, I thought the kids would be into seeing all the farms as we passed, but after the first few, the fascination wore off a bit.  Despite being city kids, I suppose seeing cows from the car is only so interesting.  We did, however, get to stop at lakes, farms, and dairy stands that we hadn't seen before despite frequently driving within a few miles of them.  Here are the highlights:

This kind of travel is like homeschool, where being able to take your time and ignore the conventional ways gives your a more full experience.  I don't remember how many times I have driven from Buffalo to Chicopee, but we won't forget this trip with all the sights and fun stops on the way.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Homeschooling: The Occasional Problem with Self-Paced Learning

This week I couldn't help but think about how nice it is to stop and smell the flowers.  C loves to stop and look at flowers and butterflies and rocks and ants and, well, everything.  It's great to have the freedom to explore what is around us, an amazing amount of nature for our city environment.  I don't remember doing this as much when I was a child.  I probably did when I was four and half, and just don't remember.  However, by the time I was in school full days at six and a half, there just wasn't the time.  We had homework, places to be, and strict bedtimes.  We played in the neighborhood after school with the other kids, but by that time of day, our brains were fried and the energy for natural learning was lower.  It seems we destroyed ant hills more than we watched them.

I am getting better at letting their interests dictate our activities, but I am far from perfect.  When it comes to letting them learn at their own pace with the curriculum we use, however, I always felt like we were on the right track.  First of all, we only spend about an hour a day on it or less.  Second, they can repeat any sections or activities that they have trouble with.  Third, they can work ahead whenever they want.  Finally, my kids happen to be ahead of their peers at this point.  This could always change of course, but it does give me some added comfort right now.

Unfortunately, C is too far ahead in math.  She finished kindergarten, but isn't ready for first grade math at all.  There is a big jump between two levels, at least in math.  You would think that this wouldn't be too much of a problem because we could either take a break or she could repeat some of the kindergarten activities.  However, since I have always let them go ahead when they finish something, she wants to proceed.  We have done the first lesson multiple times, and I added some customized activities with Mom in between.  Over time, the pace will moderate with adding these hands-on activities and slowing down by repeating, but will she get frustrated in the meantime?  Will I get frustrated at designing extra activities that we might not have needed if she tried it older?  Only time will tell. 

Has this happened to you?  How did you handle it?  How did it turn out?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Urban Homeschooling: More Traditional Socialization and Weathering Tough Times

WARNING: this may be considered radical thinking by some! I wrote a couple of months ago thinking I would rework it and post it at some point.  Since Dad is out of work again, it seems like a good time to post. 

This past Easter, since it was just the four of us, I decided to make spaghetti.  At first I guilted myself for not putting the effort into a ham or other traditional meal.  For my parents and grandparents, spaghetti is not what you eat on Easter.  I remembered many years of Easters with ham or some other meat-potato-vegetable type food.  Then I thought about my great-grandparents.  Half of mine and half of my husband’s likely ate spaghetti on at least some Easters.  At that point, I stopped feeling guilty.  By being less traditional we were being more traditional.

For several weeks after that, I contemplated that same concept with our home schooling and urban lifestyle.  Our grandparents pioneered suburban living as they became adults and our parents perfected it.  As generation X kids we had nice childhoods of school and church activities, playing in the yard and, of course, riding everywhere in the comfort of a car.  Certainly we had friends and it was a nice childhood, but I don’t remember being particularly connected to neighbors, or the familiar faces at the library, the bank, or the grocery store.  We didn’t even have that much time to enjoy the yard (except for summer) because of the focus on being outside the home at school and work.  School friends eventually became acquaintances or ended up living far away.

What was tradition for us, was a dramatic departure from the life most of my great-grandparents lived.  They lived in small cities either in two family homes with relatives or with their place of business.  While they didn’t home school, they were in walking distance from the school and my grandparents had the time to come home for lunch if they wanted.  Church and local businesses with people they knew were close by.  My great-aunt talks about going down to the local small grocery to get items and my great-grandfather would settle the account weekly on pay day.  If they weren’t friends with everyone in the neighborhood, they certainly knew everyone by face at the very least.  It wasn’t an easy life, of course.  It was a tremendous amount of work and there were hardships in the forms of illness and increased mortality, but the avoidable stresses created by modern life didn’t exist.  My great-grandmothers did the large amount of work it took to run a house with fewer conveniences, but never worried about day care, if the amount of homework was too great, if they followed the right parenting advice or if their commutes were too long.  If they wanted to pop out to the store, they yelled up the stairs to ask auntie to keep an eye on the kids.  My great-grandfathers worked close by, not wasting time on long commutes and sometimes even making it home for lunch.  They didn’t have much, but they also didn’t take on a lot of debt or manufactured stress either.  There was a simplicity and a connectedness.

Expectations for their kids were different too.  Certainly they were expected to be good citizens and work hard as they grew up, but they weren’t necessary expected to achieve the resource intensive independence of moving away from the family that later became the norm.  It was OK to stay in the home if there was room or move to the other apartment in the same house.  This is very different from the way we grew up.  My parents had specific ideas in mind about my leaving home.  My husband made a hasty decision on a part-time graduate school program (while working) to avoid being required to leave home before he could afford it.  Thank goodness he didn’t go into debt for the degree that turned out to not be much help in the job market.

It is about 80 years after my great-grandparents were our age now and we are moving back toward their lifestyles and away from the ones of our childhood.  For reasons that are a combination of conscious choice, health issues, and economic issues, we live in a thriving urban neighborhood so we can ride the bus, and walk to stores, the bank, playgrounds, and the library.  We live in a two family home with no back yard, no cable, home hair cuts, and mostly home cooked meals.  While we don’t necessarily have the whole neighborhood over for a visit, we know a significant number of people in the neighborhood by name or face.  My kids regularly see and talk to the same kids at the playground, tellers at the bank, librarians at our local branch, and cashiers at the local food co-op.  When I popped into the bank early one morning without the kids, the tellers all asked where the kids were (Dad was home that morning) and were relieved to hear that I was getting a new tenant rather than being paid the rent in installments often times.  Some of the cashiers at our co-op ask about our home school activities that day and how I am feeling and if switching to organic has helped with my fibro.  The librarians are always talking to the kids about their homeschool days and telling them about upcoming library activities.  We even say a polite hello to the street guy who sells hand-made jewelry.  It isn’t exactly the lifestyle of my great-grandparents, but it is as close as is feasible given modern life.

While not as bold as moving across an ocean for a new life, we are demanding a new life for our kids as urban homeschoolers.  We have decided on a lifestyle of learning, conservation, and socialization in our urban environment rather than the stresses of conventional schooling.  Like our Easter, we are living a more traditional life by being less traditional.  Our kids learn from reading, games, and hands-on activities as well as being out in the world in our city neighborhood (with a small amount of structured curriculum).  We also take the bus to the museums and attractions Buffalo has to offer, a pretty large number given the size of our city.

Our expectations for their futures are different too.  College and resource intensive independence at any cost are not what we have in mind.  Certainly, debt will be out of the question since one never knows what will happen with one’s health or place in the job market.  We wouldn’t be surviving with our current problems if we had student loans.  Obviously, we expect some sort of productivity and societal contribution from our kids which will hopefully be natural with the community values we are instilling.  However, there are more options than high stress careers.   There are many types of work, businesses to start, staying at home with kids, and volunteering.  We fully accept the possibility of their remaining home or moving to the upstairs apartment and sharing the lower expenses of a house that will be paid off by then.  With lower expenses, they probably have a better chance of going to college if they choose because they will more likely be able to pay for it as they go even if part-time.  They will have a better chance to stay home or have their spouse stay home with kids since there won’t be the pressure of high expenses.  Rather than the traditional milestones in life, there will be life-long learning and thoughtful family centered choices.  Of course, if they want to pursue what is now the traditional resource intensive life, they are free to, but at least not expected to. 

Of course, if it is the latter they choose, we won’t be much help.  It just won’t be possible for us.  While our parents generously made sure we had at least an undergraduate education (we paid our own graduate school as we worked and went part-time), all we will be able to provide our kids are more choices in the way of less stress, less pressure, and perhaps more of a chance to find their true selves.  I think many generation Xers and Yers are feeling a pull this direction for many similar reasons.  The best thing to do is to embrace these more sustainable and family-centered ways to benefit their family’s health and life.

Speaking of health - what is more of a physical education: team sport skills or establishing a true active lifestyle of moving by walking and working?  Given the less modern healthcare 80 years ago, my great-grandparents lived relatively long lives because of the healthier food and more active life including less reliance on the door to door transportation of a car.  My kids seem much healthier for this type of lifestyle than many supposedly sports involved kids I see.  Just another aspect of urban home schooling to think about!

We believe that life can be more family-centered and less stressful which is becoming more important in light of economic and educational trends today.  I hope you continue to check in with us!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fun Math for Different Learning Styles

We unschool most of the time spending only about an hour or so a day on an online curriculum.  Of course, I have been looking for ways to work on math through everyday life and games.  For T who has more of an interest in the calm of traditional learning, it is just about keeping it fun.  He loves to play Yahtzee.  It is a fun way to work on skills as a family or have Dad take over homeschool after work.

C likes it too, but for her I try to make math more active.  Even though she is only 4 we read the 2 digit measurement numbers on the side of the pool and measure items for baking.

Another fun activity for city dwellers is math in the neighborhood.  When T was learning ones, tens, and hundreds place I had them stomping on the address numbers in the sidewalk:

We also measure food at the Lexington Co-op since they have produce and bulk food bins.  It is hard to get a picture of it though because at their ages it still takes lots of supervision especially when it is busy!  Regardless, the goal is to keep math fun and applicable to their lives.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Homeschooling Failures

The past couple of weeks have been full of hands-on, active learning, a big preference of C.  We have been picking and taking pictures of wildflowers in the neighborhood, gathering rocks, measuring rain, and looking at the effects of UV.

Generally, I suppose it has been successful.  The kids seemed to learn and enjoy our activities, but there were also a couple of failures.  The failures have mainly been mine for poorly understanding an activity we attempted.  One was trying to gather earthworms to compost in the house.  The three worms we found didn't last and very soon we realized we needed more research.  We found out, of course, that you need special red wigglers and you need to be careful about buying or constructing a worm bin.  We are likely going to proceed with getting the right worms since it is a way to compost indoors in the city, but we felt silly for putting time (no money - thank goodness) into something without research.  The other failure, while not much wasted time, made me feel really stupid.  We tried to make a rainbow using the sun, a mirror and water, but failed miserably.  It seemed to be such a basic activity, but we couldn't figure out what we did wrong.  Fortunately we saw a rainbow in the sky a few days later near our house, no need to take the bus to Niagara Falls!

As the teacher of my children, I have spent the past several days back and forth on the implications of some of these failures of activities.  To an extent, I feel that "all's well that ends well" - nothing really bad or really great - end of story - move on.  In other ways, I am very worried that I am setting a poor example for my kids regarding preparedness by not testing the activities before introducing them or not doing enough research before jumping into something.  Still in other ways, I think I may be setting the exactly the right example by showing that science and life is trial and error and that you continue the exploration and pursuit of truth no matter what happens.  I would like to comfort myself that this this precisely the point of homeschooling, but I am not sure when I will stop wrestling with this.  They are 5 and 4 now, won't this dilemma get worse as they get older?  What do you think, success, failure, or no big deal?  Have you had experiences like this? 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When the Annoying Becomes Educational

C is very active and I am beginning to have to make lessons more hands-on and, well, active.  She is a good little girl, but her need for activity can be annoying at times.  A recent example is her obsession with dandelions.  Since we walk all over the neighborhood, this invades most of our outings.  She is constantly bending over to pick them or blow the seeds.  Sometimes this behavior is charming, but if we are in a rush or if the risk of stepping in dog stuff is high (if she ventures onto grass) it can be too much.  She even collects them when there are other activities going on.  On a recent WNY Homeschool co-op day, the other kids were in the playground equipment, trading cards, or playing chess and she was running around collecting dandelions sometimes socializing and sometimes not.

Of course, they are good flowers for learning about how plants reproduce and a broad interest in wild flowers isn't bad.  I decided to try to find books at the library about flowers since they seem to be of such interest to both T and C.  It seems like a good way to reinforce science, reading, and maybe even life skills if we decide to rip out the lawn and put bulbs in during the fall.  I never guessed, though, that I would find a book on dandelions specifically called From Seed to Dandelion.  It seems like a great book for C and even T.  They were very excited to take it out and want Dad to read it ASAP.

Customizing learning to their interests is one of the great things about homeschoooling.  I have tried to do this where possible in a general sense at least.  Now, however, I am beginning to see that sometimes I will need to nurture even the annoying interests since they can lead to more learning.  It will be interesting to see if after reading the book they are satisfied or want to pursue flowers even further.  I guess we will soon see!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Endless Joy for Mom - Continued

Unfortunately, I am afraid to bring my camera near the pool, but we have had a banner set of homeschool days over the past week.  Both C (on Friday) and T (on Monday) have passed their swimming lessons from Mom.  T isn't even 5.5 yet and C isn't 4.5 yet and they can both swim 25 yards doing a combination of doggie paddle and rolling onto their back and floating and kicking.  I feel that they are safe enough in the pool.  There is plenty of time for stroke refinement.  C is a real natural at swimming so it may not be far behind anyway.  I was so thrilled.  Start to finish our lessons took less than 6 weeks (we have been averaging 3 times per week of swimming).  I would love to take credit, but their comfort in the water made it easy.  Still, it makes me feel so good as a Mom!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Homeschooling: Endless Joy for Mom

I am going to break from my normal style with this post.  My posts tend to be factual, explanatory, or even argumentative.  I rarely write the more reflective pieces about the maternal joy that comes from homeschooling or homemaking.  It isn't that I don't feel this joy, it just isn't my writing style.

As I may have mentioned before, my career experience is in accounting and school business administration.  I am a licensed CPA, School Business Administrator (SBA), and School District Administrator (SDA).  As you can imagine, the writing I did during my career was technical.  In some ways, my role as housewife and stay-at-home-mom still feels foreign while other times it feels completely natural.  Many people would believe that I am devastated that I can no longer work.  While there are times when I sadly think about the fact that I put a lot of time and effort into my career only to have it end, the sadness is more than replaced by the very great joy of homeschooling.

This past week has brought great joy at my son's accomplishments.  T had two big breakthroughs.  One break through is in reading.  While he can't pick up any book and start reading, he can read a substantial amount of the words from the kids' books that he picks up from the section of readers at our local library branch.  He is still slowly sounding out words quite a bit, but his success at it and confidence have both taken a recent jump where he wants to pick up books to read a lot more often.  His other break through was in swimming.  He mastered floating for several seconds, a big water adjustment step from Infaquatics: Teaching Kids to Swim.  It is hard to describe, but his comfort level in the water went up dramatically too.

Both of these are big steps for two very important life changing skill sets.  The sense of pride I had was obvious to me.  I felt great.  It was a greater sense of accomplishment than I ever felt for any degree or certification I received.  It wasn't until Tom came home from work and I told him about both, that the privilege I have in seeing and contributing to them was even more apparent.  He was quite pleased at T's increase in skills of course, but I could tell that he didn't feel the same way I did.  He just didn't have the first hand level of joy that I did as the parent who was there.  I suppose the situation was reversed when I worked and he was home.  I don't remember being as excited about T walking or talking as many mothers would be.  I was too busy and too stressed.  Of course, having Tom experience the joy instead would be fair enough, but if the kids were in school we would both be missing out.  Money can't buy the great sense of joy that can be savored almost daily by homeschooling.  Spread the word!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Protecting Our Kids

Generally if you homeschool, it feels safer.  Since your kids are with you most of the time, you can be sure your eyes are at all times.  If my kids are walking with me and fall behind they hear about it - loudly.  I insist they walk with me or somewhat ahead so I can see them.  While others practice serious attachment parenting, we haven't except that our kids are almost always with us.  Rarely do they get watched by friends, babysitters or even relatives and it is never more than a few hours.  It isn't that we don't trust them, but that we predominately feel that kids of younger ages belong with one of their parents (either is fine).

This week I had an interesting conversation with a few mothers who had fears of their kids being kidnapped.  Some even had some close calls.  I think that the fear is natural.  They believed, despite the one having close calls, that their smaller town environment with the large amount of privacy protected them because there were fewer strange people.  My observation is that they are not alone in their view.  If anything that view probably dominates.

I certainly have significantly more strange people in my city neighborhood.  There is no doubt about it.  I think the difference is that at the same time over 90% of the people in my neighborhood are good and providing watchful eyes.  While they thought it scary that my neighbors can see right into my house when the blinds are open and lights on as well as the side door less than ten feet from their windows, I believe that it provides a huge level of protection.  Scream really loud in the yard and for sure someone will be around to hear from a nearby house or business.  The strange people know that if they aren't being watched that they could be.  Out in the country, you could have a run-in with one of the rare strangers without anyone to hear your cry for help or prevent an incident in the first place.

This is a tremendous advantage in more densely populated healthy city neighborhoods that is not perceived accurately in my view.  This idea is not new, but discussed in detail in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  I highly recommend the book for city dwellers or those considering raising kids in an urban environment.

If you are a city dweller, do you feel this way?  What do you think of the dominate view?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Insourcing: Teaching Your Strong Areas Yourself

While it isn't unusual in homeschooling to teach most things, I recently wrote Outsourcing My Teaching Weaknesses.  Unlike many homeschooling parents, I don't do arts and crafts too often relying on the library for this quite a bit.  Other homeschooling parents outsource too, but much of the discussions I have had related to physical education.  They have their kids participate on community sports teams for physical education. 

In this case, I have decided to insource.  While not a trained swim instructor or life guard, I am an avid lap swimmer and used to swim competitively.  Now with my fibro, it is the only exercise I can still do rigorously.  Rather than sign my kids up for a set of nine or ten lessons, I am taking them swimming with me on a pretty regular basis.  I do my laps while they count down for me (a good math lesson), then they come in to play and work on skills.  I am following Infaquatics: Teaching Kids to Swim.  It is quite an old book, but the step by step method seems like it will be successful.  We just started and T and C are already pretty comfortable holding their breath and going underwater.  Now we are working on the next step: floating.

Since I have to go to the pool anyway (I will stiffen up if I don't swim and stretch), it isn't adding too much time to bring them with me when I go.  For most people who are avid swimmers, this can be done with no problem.  With the significant amount of rest I need, I did need to make some sleep schedule changes to not get too tired at the wrong time of day, but it is still far easier than dragging them team to team or lesson to lesson or having to do it at the end of the day after school.

Tell me about unusual areas that you insource.  I would love to hear about all the different approaches!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Homeschooling for Different Learning Styles

While I am very proud of the fact that by homeschooling I allow my children to learn at their own pace, I don't spend a whole lot of time contemplating their learning styles.  The unschooling portion of our homeschooling seems to meet their needs since they are learning more than enough and are happy most of the time.  I still am not sure which style I would assign them to or how to use it to consciously customize our program.

I first started to notice differences when T practiced reading from some of the level 1 readers we get at the library.  He meticulously sounds out phonetically each word.  It is obvious that he really has a handle on phonics, but sometimes longer words or words that don't follow the rules trip him up.  C, on the other hand, sometimes guesses the word before him out of context even though she doesn't have all the phonics tools yet.  I am not sure what this means.  Perhaps one is more visual and one is more auditory.  Both are certainly hands-on learners.  I think most kids are.

As far as hands-on projects go, one of the most interesting examples of learning differences happened this past Saturday.  We went to the Crane Branch library , they had a great flag making program where they drew a design on Styrofoam to make a stamp for paint onto the flags.  It was fascinating to see how each one handled the project.  They were given six flags to put designs on and string together.  C was the only one at the class who completed all six and strung them together.  However, the creativity level was low compared to the others.  The teacher demonstrated a simple red flower.  C made five simple red flower flags and one basic red heart one, but again was the only one to complete the whole project:

T, on the other hand, made a painstaking picture of a princess to stamp onto his flag (blue to be my favorite color).  For the next ones he began an elaborate picture on the Styrofoam of a laptop computer with pictures of princesses on it.  Because he ran out of time and the fact that he became enamored with keeping the Styrofoam itself, he left with only one flag on a string (and his beloved Styrofoam computer):

For several days now, I have been wondering what this says about their learning styles and personalities.  I wonder if I could find some books to help me sort this out.  Is it important to know?  Would the information help me customize their learning better?

Have you experienced these phenomenons with your kids, homeschooled or otherwise?  What advice would you give me?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Urban Homeschooling: A time for activism?

In light of some of the very recent developments regarding Buffalo Public Schools, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the recent posts at City Kids Homeschooling regarding Kerry McDonald's interview with Huffington Post.  Kerry McDonald is a very eloquent and informative advocate for urban homeschooling.  Overall, I am extremely pleased that articles are being done on the topic by the media and that she is a resource.  When her first post on it hit, I laughed at myself and told my husband that it is better that she was interviewed than me since I would not have been so diplomatic.  Apparently since then, as per her second post on the topic, some people feel she was too diplomatic.  I have mixed feelings on this.

When it comes to individuals, diplomacy is more than warranted.  With the current societal structure, some people simply can't homeschool.  There are too many pressures many of which are outside of one's control.  Further, no matter how well you know someone and think you know what options they have, it is often impossible to know what their pressures are.  It would be wrong to look at an individual and judge them for not homeschooling.  This happens to me all the time with my fibromyalgia since it often limits my activities.  People judge me all the time about what they think is really wrong with me or what they think I should be able to do.  When I was first getting it, many thought I was just lazy or distracted by my young children or had depression or whatever.  It is amazing the ideas that some people have about other people about all kinds of things.

When it comes to looking at society and education as a whole, however, I am much less diplomatic and more cynical about the choices that people make.  First off, homeschooling has been legal for quite a while now and data has been accumulated on its effectiveness.  The fact that 5% or less of students are home educated despite the compelling evidence tells me that parents generally care too much about being like everyone else to even research it.  They either don't want to be thought of as different or care too much about what the second family income can buy.  For many, it is a lack of confidence after being told that only professionals should educate.  However, even the confidence issue could be remedied by reading a few books on homeschooling.  After all, what could be more important than the right educational choice for your kids!  I know that this sounds harsh, but with the current educational crisis, we need to be more willing to try dramatically different approaches, especially homeschooling.

This week in Buffalo, the headline is Parents Vote To Recommend Pulling Students Out of School .  The state education department wants teacher evaluation to include all students, the teachers don't want to be held responsible for the educational results of chronically absent students, and the District can't afford to lose any money needing the teachers to agree to the new evaluation measures.  Parents are naturally appalled by the idea that over $9 million will be taken away instead of used to educate their children.  The problem here is that no one is wrong.  The state education department needs to be interested in all students and not just some students.  The teachers can't teach students who are chronically absent.  The District can't run smoothly when resources are being taken from the schools and students who most need it.  Parents who care about their kids' education have a right to expect the District to obtain all funding to which it is entitled and that if they turn their kids over to professionals on nearly a full-time basis that results will be good.

With all parties being right and the students losing out anyway, it is time to rethink whether the conventional schooling model with its competing interests can work.  Conventional public education has been around long enough with mediocre results that it has been given enough of a chance.  It isn't the fault of teachers, administrators or parents, the model just isn't that great.  Homeschooling could be the answer.  For the chronically absent students, it probably is the answer.  A few parents may be irresponsible, but my guess is that most families of chronically absent students have some challenge in their lives that homeschooling would solve: student chronic illness, parent chronic illness, family members out of state or the country requiring extensive time away, or many other problems.  For the other students, why waste years in a situation that won't be fixed since in the current paradigm it almost can't be.

While I think urban homeschooling advocates could stand a little less diplomacy, I agree with Kerry McDonald that we can do a tremendous amount to help other families by showing the advantages of our homeschooling lifestyle.  She has one of the best urban homeschooling blogs.  I am adding a new blog to document our daily activities to give a real nuts and bolts look at our lifestyle.  These are valuable things to do.  I, like her, didn't seriously consider homeschooling until I had my own children.  I also have graduate degrees in education.  It is interesting that when the chips were down and we made decisions about our own kids we chose homeschooling.

On a personal note to those families who struggle with the current educational system particularly those who have trouble with attendance.  While some people can't homeschool, we almost have to homeschool.  It has been a solution for us.  With my fibromyalgia, it often takes me over an hour to get out of bed in the morning.  I am not sure I could always have T & C ready for a bus.  Further, a great homework burden is placed on parents.  There is no way I could guarantee that my kids homework would be done since I am often quite tired by 3 pm.  My days vary a great deal and I never know exactly how I am going to feel.  With homeschooling, my kids get me at my best in the middle part of the day.  While they work on lessons, I can do a few household chores and then we get our other activities, outings and errands done before I get tired.  If we do a longer day out, we can (sleep in and) follow it with a shorter day the next day.  We can spend time on lessons on the weekend if we want.  I am sure that for a great number of you out there with problems, homeschooling can be a solution too.

I hope policy makers are paying attention to what is happening.  A dramatic overhaul of education funding should be undertaken if results are so important.  School districts receive money to educate students whether the results are good or not.  Some money is taken away, of course, like the $9 million in question in Buffalo, but most of the District's budget will remain intact.  I am getting results in my homeschool and remain unfunded.  Is that fair?  For families that currently can't homeschool due to economics, funding may really make it an option.  Perhaps the future of public education should be large tax credits for families with school age children and some sort of online curriculum bank with tie ins to landmarks and museums.  There are many ways homeschooling could be set up to work for many more people.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Outsourcing My Teaching Weaknesses

A couple Saturdays ago we went to the Dr. Seuss birthday event at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  One reason we went is that I am trying to find new library events for the kids who have outgrown the beloved toddler story hours.  It was getting awkward to bring them on a weekday with the two year olds to our local branch.  Even though C is only 4, she is as big as her brother and they were starting to overpower the group by over-participating and sort of jumping in front of the smaller kids.

The other reason I brought them is that the description of the event mentioned arts and crafts.  This was their favorite element of the story hour and one of their favorite activities.  This of course is a weak area for me.  Partially due to my impatient personality and partially due the fibromyalgia, I lack the energy and patience for this.  Despite being a homeschool mom, I don't think I have organized an art project in almost a year.  I have decided to handle this by attending as many library activities as possible where this is covered.

I have done the same thing with speech.  T was very difficult to understand.  I got him evaluated at Buffalo Public Schools and, despite his pretty high IQ, he was deemed to have a moderate to severe delay in pronunciation.  I was not as intimidated with the speech as I am with art, so at first I tried to find resources to do homeschool speech.  There was some information available, but nothing that I felt confident in using, at least for the articulation part.  I let the CSE place him at a school nearby just for speech.  Despite warnings from other homeschool parents that it would be a waste of time and that he would outgrow the speech delay anyway, the placement seems to have been pretty successful.  T is doing much better with pronunciation thanks to the very good speech teacher.  I am sure that part of the success does have to do with outgrowing it, but not all of it or even most of it.  Additionally, he does get to experience a small bit of conventional schooling allowing him to learn with other kids while not being couped up in the full-time job that school is for conventional students.

This is another advantage of homeschooling.  In public education and government in general, "outsourcing" is a sort of dirty word usually having to do with union contracts.  In homeschooling, though, you can customize and tailor the program to each child.  I am confident in my ability to guide my children in learning their core curriculum, reading, and field trips at their own pace, but for some of the more labor intensive areas or areas where I lack skill, I can turn to better resources.  I hope that understanding this will give more parents the confidence to homeschool.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Urban Survival Skills?

I was perusing some other blogs and noticing how many of the activities were outdoorsy.  I am not just talking about playing in the back yard (which I am not envious of since keeping yards is a lot of work), but learning outdoor skills like gardening or even hunting, gathering, or camping.  These areas are obviously important but given our city lifestyle, including the fact that our being carless is an added obstacle in this area, I feel inadequate when it comes to nature survival skills.  Will my kids be clueless and unable to handle situations that could arise?

We are not completely indoors of course, but our outdoor scenarios are very urban.  Without even a back yard, we spend our outdoor time in parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, walking, or waiting at a bus stop.  Clearly, I am going to need to look into easy-to-get-to and affordable ways to get some nature skills.

But are T & C learning a different kind of survival?   I am starting to think that they are.  Last week we went to two homeschool group activities, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday, both requiring two-legged bus trips.  On our first bus Thursday, T & C chatted away asking why we had to go downtown to get another bus.  I went on to explain that buses come together downtown and at the south campus of UB (where we changed buses on Tuesday) so that people could come from their neighborhood and connect to a bus that would take them to their destination.  They always ask me what bus we will be taking memorizing the ones we take most frequently.  On some occasions, they've wanted to follow the route maps as the bus rides along.

All of this discussion prompted some of the other passengers to remark about how impressed they were about T's & C's level of curiosity and enthusiasm in our transportation and activities.  I thanked them and told them that I homeschool (in my own little attempt to spread the word about how great it is).  Later on, at the homeschool group, where everyone drives to get there except us, someone remarked that they had no idea how to use the NFTA buses.  I was reminded that most people in our area drive everywhere and wouldn't know how to grab a bus without a fair amount of research.  T & C know more about using public transportation in our area than many adults!

While it probably still isn't good that T & C don't know how to properly go to the bathroom in the woods, at least they are learning the general principals of using public transportation systems as well as the related safety and environmental benefits.  Where they don't know how to survive in nature, their conservation is helping nature survive.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Homeschooling for Equality in the City

It was a glorious day of about 50 degrees today, so I took T & C to the nearby playground.  While there, some mothers were talking about what they plan on doing for school for their children for next year.  There are several "options": a handful of public schools and a couple of charter schools.  They were hoping that their kids would "get in" to a good school.  If you live in Buffalo, you probably know the ones that came up in conversation.  "Choosing" a school in Buffalo is complicated.  There are many ways to get into the good schools, either a test, living in a certain area, sibling preference, or lottery.  Many people who do not live in an urban area assume that city schools automatically must be bad, but if you live there you know that the schools in the city districts are a variety.  Buffalo has some of the best public schools in the country, award winning at times, and some of the worst schools, perhaps like those in some sociology textbooks.

T & C are quite bright.  T finished kindergarten in homeschool before age 5.  C is more than halfway done kindergarten despite not being four and a half yet.  This causes many people to wonder why I homeschool.  They tell me that I should take my kids to the tests and get them into the good school since they would make it.  Most likely they are correct about my kids making it.

But what about the kids that don't get into the good school?  Shouldn't all children be entitled to go to a good education or at least one of equal quality?  I am reflecting on this lately because of the recent article where Dana Goldstein of Slate says "Liberals, Don't Homeschool Your Kids".  I had to spend some time contemplating this since I consider myself to be more of a liberal than a conservative.  Two things stand out in my mind.  From a practical standpoint, by homeschooling my kids, two more slots are open at a "good school" so two more city kids can get a better education than they would have.  Contrary to the article's implications, I am helping other city kids.  This is something I can single handedly do rather than when parents "work in the system" to change it which may or may not yield results.

The other aspect of this discussion that comes to mind is what it means to be a liberal.  Liberals get far too enamored with the government running programs.  I would not advocate to take government out of funding or prioritizing education, but I strongly suggest that government is not good at operating education.  Rather than think that the enemy of public education is no education or private education, public education could come to mean something totally different and more effective.  Perhaps liberals should be fighting for government funding of families with school age kids to homeschool since giving up an income to homeschool is costly.  It sounds crazy at first, but public schools generally are not great, and certainly parents have a better incentive to educate their own children than strangers do no matter how well trained or certified.  There could also be a wide array of resources in some sort of online curriculum bank for families to choose with some mild accountability standards.  Strict accountability is not as necessary since parents are more likely to care about quality for their own kids than strangers.

When it comes to education in Buffalo, or any urban area, making homeschooling a real option for people could be a great liberal cause.  If students can be so easily left out of the "good schools", what other avenues do they have for some educational equality?  Working in the system doesn't make sense if the system can't be fixed all that easily or it takes so much time that children are left to fail.  A couple of years at the school age can make or break a kid's future depending on the quality.  Is that really fair?  Fairness is what being liberal is supposed to be about.  Time for liberals to do some soul searching when it comes to education!