Category Archives: education

Homeschool Dropouts

It’s not been all lapbooks and readalouds in the old home-schoolhouse these last few months. Well, really, it’s never been lapbooks, because although the pictures I’ve seen look cool I’ve never quite understood what they are or why you do them.

In any case, the road to homeschooling high school has been bumpy, and we need to get out of some bad habits now. As of tomorrow, Violet, the 13yo, is cutting back her formal learning activities (classes or curriculum) to just a few: chemistry, an online current events class, and a literature class at co-op. I guess officially we should also count Shakespeare Youth Theater and maybe piano in the “formal” realm. And that’s it for a while.

Victoria, the 9yo, also has the option to cut back, but for now she is really happy with the progress she has been making in math and French and she wants to keep with what we’ve been doing. And history is reading, and who doesn’t love reading?

It should be noted that Violet has big plans for writing, and for reading more and more about linguistics, and doing lots of art, and opening an etsy shop for selling art, and getting her Chinese writing and reading caught up with her conversation skills. I’m forgetting a bunch of other stuff she has written in a notebook. Tomorrow she’ll be catching up on chemistry after a vacation with Mimi and Papa while her dad and I were abroad and after a leisurely Thanksgiving weekend. She’s decided to extend her upcoming current events presentation to include something called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. She already had some kind of mind-reading story lined up, so now she’ll have a broader theme of “Ethics of Brain Science,” or something like that. Or that’s the plan for now.

Also, she’d like to do more baking.

It makes me a little nervous, nudging our family further along the “relaxed” spectrum of relaxed homeschoolers. I have many good qualities, I like to think, but “relaxed” is not one of them. But it also makes me nervous to wonder what the consequences of the insane schedule and the frequent arguments over things neither of us really care about might be.

Violet baked two pies this week, and I think the consequences of that were excellent.

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Filed under education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school

Rethinking Talent Development

I did mean to write about my 9yo’s schedule, but all I really have to say is that I can’t wait til she can have the routine she craves. It’s been lacking since mid-August, as she’s been sick with whooping cough (and this past week a cold on top of it). Ever heard whooping cough called the 100-Day Cough? Well, there’s a reason for it.

Anyway.

If you aren’t part of the GT education community, you might wonder why a totally benign, focus-grouped phrase like “talent development” has come to be a flashpoint.

My friend Stacia, who has been an advocate for gifted children for many years, put her finger on one part of the “talent development” movement that has always irked me. Talent development tends to mean STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) development, but not all students who have talents to develop want to develop in that direction.

Our society has also begun to send a second message,”Artists and philosophers are not as important to society as scientists and mathematicians.” I beg to differ. There is balance in all things. The great minds of science and mathematics were often also philosophers and artists. We can’t separate out talents like we are separating the wheat from the chaff because art and philosophy are not chaff. They are wheat just like science and mathematics.

It’s not hard to observe this in any circle: the “geniuses” are the ones who go far and fast in math and science. Sometimes I wonder if this is just because so many adults have mediocre math and science educations that they are impressed by what seems impossible to understand — and sometimes I wonder if it’s because they’ve had even worse educations in language and the arts, to the extent that they don’t even know the difference between adequate and excellent.

Anyway.

As homeschoolers we try to have a balance: keeping open as many doors as we can by having a broad-based education, not completely ignoring the necessity of earning a living, and making note of every person we know who earns a living being creative or finds a way to maintain creative pursuits in a busy life. What I’ve observed so far is that telling the wheat from the chaff is a lot harder than you’d think.

And on the other hand, sometimes we watch way too many episodes of My Little Pony while we wait for good health to return.

Truly, Friendship is Magic

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A Misleading Guide to This Year’s Resources, Part One

It’s mid-September, and I’d like to do what some other homeschool bloggers have done and post my kids’ rough schedules. I’d like to, but that could be hard. I haven’t even ordered the books for all of them yet. I figure summer isn’t officially over for a few more days yet anyway, so how behind am I really?

How can anyone concentrate on ordering books when there are hummingbirds everywhere just begging to be photographed?

Still, in the interest of sharing information, here’s what my 13yo is doing as of now:

AP American Government via Thinkwell
DD13 is really enjoying this. She took a great American Government class with Online G3 this year and enjoyed it so much that I thought she might as well continue with the subject. The Thinkwell class has some review, but it’s enough material for a whole year – and supposedly the AP exam – so I believe she’ll still get a lot of new stuff out of it. So far, she likes the format and the lecturers, and I think she’s getting some good note-taking practice. Besides, this is a great year to be studying American Government. Speaking of which . . .

Current Events via Online G3
I admit that this class was initially an afterthought. I wanted DD to keep in contact with Headmistress Guinevere and her longtime G3 classmates, but this was the only class that fit our needs at all. Wow, has it been great! I love turning on NPR and having her say “Yeah! We talked about that in class!” and then share more about what she knows. I’m so happy that she is part of the class.

Geometry via Life of Fred
DD did took a chemistry class and a physics class last year, so at some point we completely abandoned math as a formal subject. There was plenty of applied math—and brain overload—happening as it was. We also skipped ahead to trigonometry for a while so she’d be ready for vectors in physics. So there’s some geometry still to do before moving on to what we had actually planned for this year, which is:

Precalculus via Thinkwell
We’ve really liked Life of Fred. DD seems to have a math talent without having a strong math interested, and this has suited her well. But I think we need to move beyond the totally self-taught approach at this point. Once geometry is done she’ll start this up.

Dystopian Literature via co-op
This is a co-op class I proposed to the retired teacher who’s taught several literature classes for our group. It’s kind of a “What to read after The Hunger Games and City of Ember,” including 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, and Gulliver’s Travels, among other things.

Japanese via VHSG
This is DD’s first time take a class through this group. So far so good! Community college was just not in the budget this fall, but this still allows some exposure.

Chinese via Chinese Pod
DD has been working through Chinese Pod for some time. While it doesn’t really force her to develop her reading skills as much as she’ll need to eventually, she has a great ear and is pretty fluent in conversation with her teacher, so I’m satisfied with the time and money spent here.

Chemistry via SSE
This is a 2-year chemistry class billed as Honors Chemistry. Several of the students will be studying for AP Chemistry, DD among them, though she may do the SAT Chem test instead/also. I can’t say enough about the great instructor for this class. He does not know how to worry and takes each student as he (or she, but really almost entirely he) comes. He does offer online classes, but we’re lucky to have access to the in-person version.

Fire Good!

Still to come:

Korean via Rosetta Stone
DD was doing this over the summer but has dropped it over the last few weeks to start Japanese. She would like to pick it up again, but we’ll see.

Linguistics via MITOpenCourse
I really need to get the darn book so she can start this!

Writing via Mom
It could be that I am putting this off.

Oil Painting via art teacher
I have been talking to one of Violet’s former art teachers for almost 6 months about getting this on the calendar. Ugh! But since one of her co-op classes was cancelled at least I have the money set aside to get her started. I will do it — I will!

Of course typing it out like this makes it all look so formal and organized. Don’t be fooled! No, we will never be mistaken for radical unschoolers, but we do aim for as much self-direction and freedom as possible.

It’s just that the self-direction and freedom can’t be typed up as neatly as the official-sounding resources we use. There is no official “tumblr creation” time or songwriting time or obsessive drawing time, and yet these take up at least as much of the day. Not to mention bike-riding time and skyping time and novel-writing time and lying-on-the-sofa-reading time. Oh, and piano. Always lots of piano.

Staring-at-stream time is also very important.

Typing it all out may also make it seem like we are more test-oriented than I think we are. We are, to some extent, following the advice of Blake Boles, who suggests in College Without High School that a few College Board-y test scores will make it easier to have an unconventional adolescence and still go to college, if that’s the desire. I’ve also seen plenty PG kids at this point who reach mid-teens and say, “forget it, I’m ready for college NOW.” That’s not the road we’re on today, but it’s happened enough that I think we’ll just take a few precautions. Besides, this particular child doesn’t mind taking tests. When the other daughter reaches this age, I feel pretty sure a different path will be laid out before us.

Speaking of which, I’ll lay out the 9yo’s current resources in an upcoming post.

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Not-Back-to-School, Year 7; or, 7 Things We’re Getting Right

After five years of homeschooling, on my old homeschooling blog Red Sea School, I had to admit that I had made mistakes. You know those mistakes that veteran homeschoolers tell you about but you brush them off because, whatever, you’ll figure it out? Yeah, we made them. We made them good.

I made a list, one for newbies to ignore and wizened old experts to laugh at. (Of course laughing openly means you have to own being wizened and old, so laugh at your own peril.) It’s actually a pretty good list — check it out.

I meant to get around to listing 5 good things too, but life happened. As we kick off a seventh year of not going back to school in the fall, though, it seems like a good time to list 7 things I think we’ve done OK with, in no particular order.

1. Staying Close
When we started homeschooling, people who asked why we did it were in for an earful. Luckily someone in our first year modeled for us the brilliantly simple answer, “Because we like it.” And we do. We like being together, especially if being together means bumping into each other between reading books, listening to music, taking an online class, or playing at the park.

I realize now that in another five years Violet will likely be off to college — maybe even sooner. Before that she could be spending a year abroad. Yes, time with your babies is precious. Time with teens may make you question your decision to ever become a parent, but it is equally amazing and irreplaceable. Yes, you can spend time with teens without homeschooling, but doing it this way is still pretty damn cool.

2. Staying Loose
You just don’t know how the day is going to go until you get there. You don’t know if the math curriculum you bought is going to be terrible, or the schedule unworkable, or the book irresistible. I do like making a plan, but I like it because I feel it frees me up. When I see all the little blocks of activity that need to be accomplished, all mapped out, its so much easier for me to move them around in my head or even delete them when needed.

Just this morning I got up early to shepherd the girls through a more structured day of “doing school stuff.” When I came down the stairs ready to start, an eerie sound greeted me, and we spent the next half hour doing this instead:

3. Staying Young
Not me, sadly. But my kids. When my homeschooled niece, now a PhD student, was about the age of Victoria, I remember thinking that she was oddly mature and immature at the same time. Except by immature what I really meant was unsophisticated, in a good way.

As Violet begins the teen years, it makes me happy to see that she’s as good at making up pretend games and playing them as she ever was. Of course sometimes she is too cool for school, and of course she rolls her eyes at my pathetic ignorance about popular culture now and then. But by and large she finds most of pop culture “gross,” she is genuinely puzzled by the clothes sold to her age group, and she has little interest in a “boyfriend,” something kids start in 4th-5th grade around here.

No doubt this puts us in danger of wearing the socially stunted homeschooler label, but as I look at young adults like my niece and nephew, now grown up, witty, and surrounded with friends, I don’t worry.

4.Sticking Our Necks Out
Just making the choice to homeschool sometimes feels like you’ve started waving a big red flag at the Running of the Bulls. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion, and it’s hard to know just how much to share about your own views without alienating people you care about, let alone nosy strangers. Too often people think your enthusiasm for what you’re learning or doing is somehow an implicit critique. We started homeschooling after realizing that our older daughter would need to skip several grades to make traditional school palatable, or even tolerable, for her and that was something she didn’t want to do.

We needed the support of others in the same situation, but there was no way of finding those people if we stayed in our comfort zone. We don’t have to answer nearly as many questions these days, and I’ve learned when to stick to my knitting, but I’ve also tried not to be too shy about our interest homeschooling specifically as an option for profoundly gifted kids. It’s helped me meet a lot of great people and find very cool opportunities, and it’s given me the satisfaction of helping other parents and kids many times over.

5. Sticking With It
“Yes, we’re still homeschooling” is the e-mail user name of someone on a local homeschool list. There are days when I hear that question — “Still homeschooling?” — like someone else might hear, “still married?” Why wouldn’t we be? And there are days when I want to set my children on the curb for the next passing yellow bus. Sticking with it is hard. But it’s the only way to get it done. And though I have blown it and threatened the end of homeschooling a time or two, by and large I think our six-year-and-still-going commitment has made the girls feel more confident about being homeschoolers, too.

6. Playing Hooky
We are really, really good at this. I am a master of “just 15 more minutes” when there’s a juicy conversation happening at the park, assuming “master” means able to stretch 15 minutes into another 60. I love a good play at the Children’s Theatre, or a week’s vacation in the early fall, or a midday concert, or a stay-in-your-pajamas-and-make-cookies day. Homeschooling can be intense, in the way that everything in our house can be intense. Some days you need to show that schedule, and yourself, who’s really in charge.

7. Taking It One Day at a Time
Much as we love homeschooling, we never say never. There’s an arts high school in our area for just 11th and 12th grade — could that be an option for Violet? My girls are so different from each other, and from who they were last year, and last week. Beyond that, education is so different from what it was last year: who knew everyone would be talking Coursera and Udacity just 12 months ago? Where was Khan Academy when we started? We deal with what works now and trust that we can handle tomorrow when it comes.

One day at a time also means that when one day goes bad, homeschooling isn’t a failure. I admit, I could do better. But so far bad days — really, usually a bad couple of hours at most — haven’t scared us totally off. Days will try to run together, but starting fresh when the sun comes up is pretty much a requirement. Today is when we officially celebrated our “first day” of homeschool for the year, which means trying to get up a little earlier and getting some stuff done before meeting friends for an ice cream social/not-back-to-school party. But really, it’s just another day of learning and hanging out with friends — just stickier.

I also found that blogging was thing we did right in the early days, and as I said the other day, I’m hoping it will be a help again. So what surprising serendipity to see the first homeschool high school blog carnival today. It was especially fun to see some familiar names on the roster, from the years when I was so much more active in the homeschool blogging world. I’m hoping for some more good conversations to launch on the next six (or more or fewer) years.

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Tales of a Fourth-Grade Compulsive List Maker, Parts One and Two

I used to be a planner.

An only child with a genius complex and a flair for solitude, I spent the time normal children used for things like fun and play filling notebooks with schemes for clubs, small businesses, and theatrical presentations that were fully realized only in my mind. One of my most detailed plans was a step-by-step DIY manual for becoming popular in 8th grade. Only now is the irony of feverishly writing in notebooks as a springboard to the homecoming court clear to me.

Of course the joke was on those fun-havers when my incredible devotion to organizing the future led to academic awards, PhDs, and any number of leadership posts for groups and institutions who seemed to share the secret motto: “Blah Blah Blah, is it time for donuts yet?”

No matter—efficiency and a smug sense of superiority are their own rewards.

Doing it all with my trusty Franklin Planner, 2 coffee mugs, a diet coke, and lots of post-it notes.

I dare say I was at the height of my powers when we decided to homeschool. Leading a large urban parish through a strategic planning process, managing the publication of several reference volumes each year, coordinating multiple subcontractors, and planning fundraisers were all tasks easily managed with a toddler on my knee and a 1st grader off to school. My trusty Franklin Planner and I could do it all.

The year was 2006 when that started to change. “How do you do it all?” people asked. “I don’t,” I would say. “I am dropping balls left and right.” Slowly I extricated myself from my many posts and activities. The homeschool world, naturally, gave me plenty of volunteer and leadership roles to substitute for my former life, but over the years I let those go as well.

This has caused me great consternation over the last several years. “When will I get it together? Where did that planner-toting powerhouse go and when will she come back?” I can only hope, at this point, that she’s gone on to a better place.

The truth is, she wouldn’t help us much now. My girls are 13 and 9, and after almost 7 years of homeschooling I can verify: you can plan your curriculum, but you can’t plan learning, and you really can’t plan life. When children are 7 and 3, every outing to the beach is a grand adventure and every sprinkle of the glitter jar is an expression of creativity. My 13 year old, however, has been doing high school work for almost 4 years now. The fairies she’s been drawing over the last 10 years have evolved: sometimes they are busty creatures with embarrassingly short skirts, other times they look like they’ve just stepped out of a bar brawl.

Just a few years ago I would have been allowed to share a fairy drawing here.

This was not my plan, and increasingly it’s not my life. I can’t organize her into a notebook any more than I could scribble my way to a prom date.

If I hadn’t learned this lesson, our attempts to “start school” this fall really drove it through my head. Violet is on track to take 2 AP exams and possibly a SAT subject test this spring—because she’s done high school work so young I feel we need some external credentials— so we needed to get started early so she’d be ready in May. Victoria has been eagerly anticipating starting an Online G3 class since last spring. But there were the houseguests to play with. And a trip to the state fair. And a lot of Doctor Who to catch up on before the season premiere. And suddenly now there is a Japanese class online. Oh, and someone, maybe several someones, turned out to have whooping cough. By the time we got to that last wrinkle, I was starting to feel a lot less irresponsible for not having the year planned. Having dinner planned was victory enough for one day.

When Homeschooling Was Adorable

As a writer I’ve never planned. When outlines were assigned I did them after the paper was finished, and no teacher was the wiser. (Actually, that was a great learning process for me and I still recommend it.) I think I’ll be approaching the second half of our homeschooling years the same way. We’ll do it, and then I’ll write it down. I’ve been inspired by semi-recent discussion of the dearth of homeschooling-high-school blogs to get back to blogging—it was a great way to connect with kindred spirits in the beginning, and though so much as has changed it may still be a good way to encourage each other to the finish line, whatever that may be.

Because so much has changed, I’m in the process of changing blogs. Which is probably a terrible mistake, but being a “successful” blogger has never been a big goal of mine. Red Sea School was so much about starting the adventure of homeschooling, finding our feet in the PG world, and raising two little girls. I don’t feel I can wrestle it into where we are now. I named the new blog “What Real World?” because it’s a question that has come up regularly in our lives: “What use is art/music/literature in the real world?” “When will you go back to work and join the real world?” “Why do you prefer a god-in-the-clouds to the real world?” and of course “How will your homeschooled children ever adjust to living in the real world?”

The Inescapable Reality of the Now

To that last question: I honestly don’t know. But I’ll try to write bits of it down as we find out.

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Real Work

Beatles, Ponies, and the Doctor keep watch
My daughter can draw. I mean, she can really draw. We can imagine all kinds of cool things in her future: graphic novels, comic books, video game art, illustration.

But we all know what happens to kids who grow up doodling in their chemistry notebooks and dreaming of being an artist — life happens. The day job becomes the career, and art becomes a hobby or maybe just a spectator sport. While the high school football player sits on the sofa with nachos and ESPN, the high school artist goes to museums and browses the art supply store. I know how I’d rather spend the afternoon, and I can’t even draw, but still . . .

This was the story I heard, anyway, and I’m sure there is a lot of truth in it. But I also know that when you put all your energy into weaving the safety net and writing Plan B, Plan A withers a little.

So while Violet was gone we set her up a little drawing space. Apart from the practical considerations of stopping her contorting her body in weird ways to draw in really uncomfortable places, I hope it tells her that someone takes her art seriously, and that she can take it seriously too. I hope it’s one more concrete way we let her know that in this house we value creativity, art, and the love of making stuff at least as much as we value AP and SAT II exams.

Are we preparing her for the real world? In twenty years, no one will even know where to find her SAT II scores — and between us, no, she won’t remember calculus — but what she does at that table will still be with her.

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What becomes a legend most?

After spending the morning thinking about what kind of impact I — homeschooling mother, writer of obscure things — might have on the world, if any, I found in my Facebook feed a tribute to someone who made an enormous difference for so many people.

Todd Kolod was an early childhood educator: he taught preschool, and he taught parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers about surviving and thriving in those first five years of parenting and beyond.

The article describes him as a legend. How does someone go from preschool teacher to legend? Or rather, how does someone stay at preschool teacher and still become a legend? I can’t imagine it happens often.

Growing up as a strong student, ambitious and motivated, and now being part of an education community, I know that growing up to have a career in preschool education isn’t legendary. Smart kids who become successful adults are professors, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs; girls who want to be mothers become preschool teachers.

Many of the families in Todd’s classes were successful in just that way. And then again, many of them weren’t: the Rondo site where Todd taught drew from St. Paul’s poorest neighborhood and its richest. Parenting is a great leveler: no matter where you came from, you were there because you needed those other parents, and Todd made that kind of intentional community happen.

He did it over 30 years, which means he must have reached thousands of families. Some children who by now are having children of their own.

I loved finding this story, because it reminded me of those sweet years when my own children were in ECFE. They were too young to remember Todd now, but I remember those days, even though they seem far far away. And it’s a great story of someone who could have been an unsung hero.

When I think about people who’ve done “great things” with their lives, or just people who have done well-known things for which they are paid large sums of money, I’m not inspired to do great things myself. I’m inspired to get on Facebook and give up on great things, because it’s too late, or I’m not important enough, or I lack the skills.

When I remember Teacher Todd, though, there’s something about the humility and the calm he brought to every encounter, with every parent and every child, that makes me want to try harder and do better with what I’ve got.

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