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!