A Step Off the Bow, by Briana Elizabeth

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A few years ago, I dropped history as the spine of our homeschool.

I know, I know, this is a controversial thing to do amongst classical homeschoolers. If you would permit me to explain why….

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It started as most life-changing things do, as a trickle. There was a huge thread on a classical homeschooling board about philosophy, literature, history, and homeschooling. Then there was the book I was reading, The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft. And, finally, there was a catechism class I was teaching, and that is where all the pieces started to come together.

It was a class of about sixteen eighth graders. All public school children, stuck with me, the homeschooling mom. They were a rowdy bunch, but my way of teaching is to have discussions with them, and for the most part, they were happy with that. As discussions go, there were rabbit trails, and personal anecdotes, and the volley back and forth of ideas. Of course as a teacher, I bring in references to other things: science, literature, history–whatever would elucidate my point, and to make an abstract more concrete for my students. At that time, the CCD class was in the medieval ages, exploring the idea of social justice, and I threw out a reference to Robin Hood. In return, I got a blank stare. Hmmm. I asked if they’d seen the Disney movie, and sang a bit of the Chanticleer’s song. Nothing. “Stealing from the rich to give to the poor?” I asked. A few eyes lit up; okay, we might be getting somewhere.

That whole discussion eventually set me on another path of discussion and into a thunderstorm of thought. Did they know fairy tales? I asked what fairy tales they knew. Not many. From there, I started asking about books, and apart from new modern hits, they had read almost none. This is why teaching them was so hard. I would bring up a well-known reference, one that should be a culturally understood reference, and they didn’t know it. It had been happening often enough to be noteworthy, and I wasn’t making the connections of why, but as I kept asking, the whole of it was becoming overwhelming. It would be no exaggeration to say that they had to start with nursery rhymes to backfill why they didn’t know.

I actually went home after that class and drank. I had just spent an hour with children who had no literature in their lives, no connection to the inheritance of Western Civilization they were a part of, no idea who we were as a people, and no poetic imagination.

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I started asking my children, do you know Little Red Riding Hood? Pinocchio? The Steadfast Tin Soldier?

Their answers weren’t much better. But why? I mean, I’m a homeschooler. How did we end up with this huge, gaping hole? Shame on me. Then I realized, we had ended up here because historical literature had always been a priority, pushing out classic literature. At one point, I had five children under five, plus the older two whom I had pulled out to homeschool were in older grades, so that when we ‘started’ schooling we jumped in at fourth grade and seventh with nary a nursery rhyme to be found. Then, when I was done with their schooling for the day, and taking care of the littles, you can imagine what extra reading got done. “None” would be the right guess. I had left that portion of the older children’s education up to the public school.

So, out of my reaction, we dropped history.

For us, it was the right thing to do. I am only one mom, their only teacher, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and I need to sleep. So did they. I couldn’t have five separate read-alouds for five different grades. Because I wanted what we read to matter, it couldn’t be swept away in an ocean of three hours of daily reading; it would all get mushed. So something had to be prioritized, and literature was what I chose. Why? What I was reading gave me the answers.

“Philosophy makes literature clear, literature makes philosophy real. Philosophy shows essences, literature shows existence. Philosophy shows meaning, literature shows life.” Peter Kreeft, p22 The Philosophy of Tolkien.

And, a few paragraphs later he says, “Literature incarnates philosophy. You can actually see hate when you read Oedipus Rex. You actually hear nihilism when you read Waiting for Godot. As the acts of the body are the acts of the person, as a smile does not merely express happiness (the nine-letter word does that) but actually contains it, so literature actually contains or incarnates philosophical truths (or falsehoods).”

“All literature incarnates some philosophy. All literature teaches. In allegory, the philosophy is taught by the conscious and calculating part of the mind, while in great literate it is done by the unconscious and contemplative part of the mind, which is deeper and wiser and has more power to persuade and move the reader. Allegory engages only the mind while great literature the person, for allegory comes from the mind, while great literature comes from the whole person.”

“Literature not only incarnates philosophy: it also tests it by verifying it or falsifying it. One way literature tests philosophies is by putting philosophies into the laboratory of life, incarnating them into different characters and then seeing what happens. Life does exactly the same thing. Literature also tests philosophy in a more fundamental way. It can be expressed by this rule: a philosophy that cannot be translated into a good story cannot be good philosophy. “

Peter Kreeft, pg 22-23, The Philosophy of Tolkien, emphasis  mine.

Can’t historical literature do that? Yes, it can. But choices had to be made. Caddie Woodlawn or Narnia? Guns for General Washington or Pinocchio? Toliver’s Secret or Little Women?

All of them are good, but what is best? Choices had to be made.

Did I want them to learn history through historical fiction books, or did I want them to learn everlasting truths through literature? Could the historical fiction do both? Yes, it can, but it doesn’t always, and those classic children’s books were classics for a reason: they embodied human nature, they fed the moral imagination, and they nurtured poetic knowledge.

Most classically home schooled children will pick up Robin Hood when they study the medieval ages, so again, why was I bothering to drop history as our spine? For me, it was where the emphasis was put. And, I have to say that as they enter the middle grades and high school, literature and history re-intwine, but in a different way.

Then I started learning about Humane Letters. My intuitive decision to drop history as our spine was right. As I learned later, it was right because I needed to replace it with Humane Letters. Humane Letters is the study of philosophy, history, theology, and literature.

“Truth is symphonic.” said Hans Urs von Bathazaar.  The symphony is the whole of Humane Letters; philosophy, history, theology, and literature.

At this point, though I know there is a difference between the Humane Letters and the Liberal Arts, within the classical homeschooling community (outside of Norms and Nobility) I’ve rarely heard either of those terms differentiated. I would love to hear a discussion on the terms and their implementation with emphasis on curriculum choices in the classical homeschooling community, but that’s a discussion for another day.

With a liberal arts emphasis you also eventually hear of Adler’s great books or Dr. Senior’s ‘good books’. From reading his books, I don’t think Dr. Senior would recommend Adler’s idea that the Great Books be read apart from instruction or in a vacuum. He was much more of a Christian humanist.

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In his article The Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom, Frederick Wilhelmsen brings a strong argument against the Great Books and, in turn, against some of the neoclassical homeschool curriculum.

“But behind these pious intentions [the Great Books]–as good as they might be– repose three presuppositions, sometimes not expressed formally, but always exercised in the classroom: (1) disengaging the meaning of a text equalizes philosophizing; (2) the teacher is little more than a midwife whose role consists in leading the student to read texts and who is supposed to disappear, so to speak, behind the texts; (3) these books speak to the reader across the centuries altogether without any need to locate them within their historical contexts. Wisdom is not in the professor and wisdom is not in the tradition; wisdom is in the Books.

Let me attack these presuppositions in turn:

(1) Intellectual delicacy is needed to understand that the first prejudice is a fallacy. The understanding of the meaning of a text is not equivalent to the exercise of what Dr. Joseph Pieper felicitously called “The Philosophical Act.” Quite evidently, no one can become a professional philosopher who has not mastered the skills involved in reading a text. But a scholar who is not a professional philosopher–for instance, an intellectual historian–can do this very well without his being able to affirm the truth or detect flaws in a philosophical argument. Philosophical reasoning, on the contrary, consists in forming presuppositions into premises yielding conclusions. This habit is by no means reducible to the first set of skills. The philosophical act, therefore, can be exercised upon a text, but it does not have to be: it might be exercised on the report of a text, on a problem presented in isolation from texts, or on any issue which demands philosophical penetration.  The explication des texts hunts for “meaning” not “truth.” “[snip] The great books approach tends inevitably towards producing the skill needed to read intelligently a philosophical work, but it does not, of itself, help turn a man into an incipient philosopher.”

(2) Weighing the second prejudice, we must note that the very location of philosophy as a discipline shifts from the personal nourishment of habits of thinking about the real mastery of a number of philosophical classics. Concerning this latter, little need be said; Bergson once wrote that it takes a lifetime to master as many as two great philosophers and the very best we can do with the rest is to gain a gentleman’s awareness of their role and importance within the development of Western intellectuality. It were better to know one of them thoroughly than to know all of them superficially. No deep principal guides this observation: it is based simply on the economy of time given an undergraduate in a handful of courses dedicated, in a hurry, to his philosophical education.  [Multum non multa?]
[snip]

St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of a kind of sin – probably a minor sin – which is “curiosity,” wanting to know what may be worth knowing in itself but which is foreign to the destiny a man has given his own life. He was thinking of the cleric who ignores the things of God and busies himself with “pure” philosophy. But long before Aquinas, Plato pointed out that a mark of the philodaster, the false philosopher, was his knowing “many things” but knowing none of them in depth.”

[snip]

(3) Weighing the third of these prejudices–the conviction that books make sense to students without being located within the historical context that gave them birth and in abstraction from the living tradition in which they play their part–we must note that a kind of philosophical fundamentalism asking to its religious counterpart has insinuated itself into many departments of philosophy given over to Great Bookism. Yet very few, if any, philosophical masterpieces speak by themselves to the contemporary student. This is specially true when they are read, as they are, in translation.” pg 328

Please, go read the whole paper. I have brought out what is relevant to this article, but the whole is full of gems.

I must admit that when I read this, I had three reactions. The first was great sadness–where do we go to receive this education for either our children or ourselves? Secondly, I rolled my eyes. How does Wilhelmsen propose we begin to rebuild this lost education? Who are the rebuilders? How do you rebuild the educational system of an entire country? And thirdly, I was angry because it seemed he would have us burn all of the good for the pure. Nevertheless, I agreed with his diagnosis.

So, how do I apply what I’ve learned?

I adopted the curriculum put forth in David Hick’s Norms and Nobility. A friend who read it, and who classically homeschools, described it as elegant. It is.

I will write about the practical changes I made in my next blog post.

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Why I Homeschool, by Jen W.

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My eldest daughter, Emily, was a very easy, compliant, bright child as a toddler and preschooler. We moved to Germany when she was two, then to a very tiny post in the midst of the beautiful vineyards of the Rhine. I ordered books on keeping preschoolers busy from a fledgling internet company called Amazon. They sent company post-its and once even an Amazon commuter mug in my orders.

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I kept my daughter and her sister busy with Montessori-style activities. They washed their doll clothes on a washboard and hung them to dry with tiny clothespins on the balcony outside our apartment. Maria Montessori would be able to carefully explain to you how these types of activities help develop the fine and gross motor skills that children need in order to eventually use their fingers to move a pencil in just the right way. But of course, in the minds of my two little girls, it was just something fun to do.

Now four years old, Emily loved to stand near me as I cooked their meals. She would remove the alphabet magnets from the refrigerator one by one as I worked: “What sound does this letter make? How about this one?” I taught her the sounds of the letters rather than the letter names, as suggested in one or more of many books. Soon enough, she was putting the letters together to make words. Since her birthday is in December, I went to the school liaison on post that summer and asked about starting her in school in the fall. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense system was insistent that she be five in order to start school. The fact that she was already reading independently was irrelevant.

The following summer, I spoke to the liaison once again, asking if Emily could start in first grade. She was reading Stuart Little and Little House in the Big Woods. Due to the small size of the post, there was only one kindergarten class and they spent the first month of school learning the alphabet. The school system was insistent once again. Students must start in kindergarten. By some strange fluke, the class Emily would have been in had more than 20 boys and only 3 girls (including Emily). I was afraid she would be at once bored and lost in the shuffle of the kindergarten teacher managing that many children.

I talked to the chaplain’s wife who lived downstairs from me. She had five kids, and she homeschooled them. I decided, “How badly could I screw up kindergarten when she is already reading?” The first day of school was at once freeing and nerve wracking. Luckily, I chanced upon The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer, a mother-daughter pair of homeschoolers promoting neo-classical homeschooling. It appealed to me as a lover of history and literature. I carefully laid out my curriculum by following most of the recommendations in the book.

I didn’t necessarily intend to continue homeschooling forever. I thought it might work for a year or two or until we left Germany. But that year was 2001, the year of 9/11, the year that everything changed for military personnel. We moved back to the US in early 2002. But we left knowing my husband would soon be being deployed to Afghanistan. Moving, plus Dad being deployed seemed like a lot in one year. So, we continued to homeschool. It allowed me the freedom to go home when things got hard. It allowed us to take a month off to spend with my husband once he finally came home toward the end of the school year.

We strongly considered putting the kids in school the following year. But never knowing if and when we would move or when my husband might be deployed or when we might need to go home because a family member needed us…it seemed so much harder to arrange around school schedules, so we kept going.

This year Emily is a senior in high school. She moved just before ninth grade, in between tenth and eleventh grades, and just before her senior year. Moving schools would have been tough. She would have had to re-do state history, at a minimum. She would not have maintained the same friends or activities throughout her high school years. Homeschooling lent continuity to the curriculum, at least. It hasn’t always been perfect. We’ve had hard days, hard weeks, even hard years. But no situation is perfect. There are things I will do differently with my younger children. There are things I would have done differently, if our situation had been different.

Homeschooling has allowed us a tremendous amount of freedom and allowed the kids to participate in activities that would have taken too much time away from school in a traditional school setting. The freedom of time has allowed us to take advantage of activities peculiar to our many homes, such as taking sailing lessons in Hawaii. It has allowed me to give my kids the freedom of following their interests in areas where they excel and are strong. It has allowed me to provide extra support and guidance in areas where they are weak. It allows them to take a break to run around when they get extra wiggly. It allows teens to get the extra sleep that even science says they need.

Ultimately, both the strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages, are too numerous to list each. I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with my kids for anything. I wouldn’t trade the freedom of our family for anything. I would not recommend homeschooling to everyone in every situation, but it is an option to consider when circumstances warrant it.

  

Jen Wjen_w.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn, by Kiki Lynn

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When my oldest child was small, she was a bright little girl. She learned quickly and seemed to soak up everything that was presented to her. At three, she was reading Level One readers and adding multi-digit math problems. By kindergarten, she was reading chapter books. As much as it saddened me to see her leave th13298850254_0418eb5758e Montessori preschool that we had both grown to love, I was thrilled to see what kindergarten and “real school” held for her. I was sure she was going to grow, thrive, and love every minute of it.

The day came for us to meet her teacher, tour the classroom, and see what kindergarten was all about. I think I might have been more excited than she was. We entered the classroom, and there were colorful posters everywhere and more manipulatives than I had ever seen in one place. And books, so many books! I briefly spoke with the teacher about my daughter. I was curious what they planned to do with a child who was already reading chapter books. The teacher told me that they worked with each child at their level and not to worry. Perfect! This was exactly what I was hoping for. Kindergarten was going to be awesome!

Mere months later, my bright, intelligent little girl was still coloring pages with letters on them while learning little songs about the sounds the letters made. She was bored stiff, and it was starting to show. Her behavior was less than ideal; she was talking instead of working and not completing her worksheets. I suggested that maybe she was just bored, but that was quickly discounted by the staff. By March, the teachers were finally ready to listen and admitted that maybe she was bored after all. At this point, we agreed that it would be best to test her for acceleration (skipping a grade).

The testing process was quite involved. They not only assessed her academic skills, but also her maturity and emotional levels. It was important to not only know if she had the academic skills needed for acceleration, but also if she could handle it emotionally. At the end of the process, we had a meeting with her teacher, the principal and one of the 2nd grade teachers. We were told that after all of the testing, they found that she was a good candidate for acceleration; however they felt that if she couldn’t complete her work in the kindergarten classroom, she would not be able to in a 2nd grade classroom either. I urged them again that maybe she wasn’t completing them because she was bored. She knew her letter sounds and didn’t find coloring enjoyable. This was quickly met with the statement that “gifted children usually accelerate themselves.”

I remember walking out of that meeting feeling like they had done everything in a manner which left me nothing to argue, and yet I was not satisfied. In the end, we agreed not to accelerate her but to give her an IEP for first grade which would ensure she’d be challenged.

First grade went all right. It wasn’t quite the enriching experience that I had hoped for, but it hadn’t gone near as badly as I felt kindergarten had. The following year was amazing. Her second grade teacher was new to teaching and had a passion like none other. My daughter no longer had an IEP, but she didn’t need it. This teacher understood my daughter and knew just how/when to redirect her. He saw through her struggles and took the time to see the beautiful, intelligent child buried under all the difficulties. She felt cared about, and was learning and beginning to love school again. Life was good.

The next year, I made the mistake of filling her teacher in on what we had been through – chalk it up to being new as the mom of a school-aged child. I shared with her the testing, the IEP, and some of the behaviors to watch out for. This teacher took that as a challenge. She went on a mission to prove that my daughter was not as smart as I thought she was. It was almost a personal vendetta. My daughter was scrutinized at every level. It felt as though she could do nothing right.

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Now, my daughter is not one to take guff from anyone. She was only nine years old but easily sensed her teacher’s dislike for her. She became revengeful. It wasn’t right, but she was a child. With every push, the teacher pushed back harder. We were constantly working with our daughter, teaching her that her behavior was inappropriate and that she needed to treat her teachers with respect. We had meetings with the teacher and the principal. We were assured many times that she was simply not adjusting well to 3rd grade. I asked for a classroom change as there was clearly a conflict of personalities and was refused with the reasoning that the placements of each child were made with great consideration for what was best for the child.

To this day, I’m still unsure how we made it through that year. My daughter was being hounded with negative feedback from every angle (including home). While her behavior was less than stellar, she was still a child and needed someone who understood her; who cared about her and saw her not as a problem, but as a person. We were not able to get the school to work with us. Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to stand myself knowing that I was sending her back to that place every day, but at the time it was the only option. School was just something you had to do. It wasn’t optional.

Fast forward to the following year – I had a ten-year-old child who was miserable. She had begun talking about how our lives might be better off without her. She heard nothing but negativity everywhere she turned. We, too, were guilty at home, but we had the school calling us on a regular basis. They had basically thrown their hands in the air and said that they no longer knew what to do with her. We had stooped to begging her to just behave. We assured her that we were trying to work with the school, but that she had to help us out and comply.

Everything finally came to a head when my daughter began stabbing herself with pencils and punching herself in the face. She felt worthless. My world was crumbling around me. How could I have let things get this bad? I could no longer sit back and say that we were working on things. I spent many, many nights in tears. I didn’t know how to help my daughter. I felt like her little life was slipping through my fingers and that one day soon I would wake up to find her in an alley on drugs. Dramatic? Yes, but that’s really where I saw her life heading. The path she was taking surely would not end well.

My husband and I began to look into private schools. The cost was far more than we could afford. I felt helpless. My ten-year-old was miserable, suicidal, and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. The only option left was homeschooling. But weren’t homeschoolers strange? Would we be the weirdos? What option did I have though? I had to get her out of that place. I needed to protect my daughter.

I proposed the idea to my husband. After many, many long discussions, we agreed to a one-year trial. By that time she would be ready for middle school, and we hoped that we could spend the year resetting her behaviors and that the change in schools would be enough to break the cycle. I had no idea how much I’d love homeschooling or just how incredible it would be for my daughter.

Fast forward four years: she’ll be a freshman next year. Bringing my daughter home was the single best decision I’ve ever made.

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My daughter still struggles with responding appropriately to situations, especially those that are less than ideal, but the strides she’s made are nothing short of a miracle. Because she is home with me, we are able to regularly have in-depth conversations and discuss situations as they arise. She has grown to be a mature and beautiful young woman. Her manners, thoughtfulness, and mature thought processes never cease to amaze me. I’m so fortunate to have this time with my daughter…the child I was so certain would end up on drugs or in trouble with the law.

I recently asked her where she thought she would be today if we hadn’t brought her home. Her answer was quick. She confidently told me that she had no doubt she would be hanging out with the wrong people and doing the wrong things. Validation. It is so very sweet.

 

Kiki Lynn is a homeschooling mother raising four children in eastern Iowa. Her homeschool journey began four years ago when her oldest child with anxiety, ADD, and likely Aspergers didn’t fit the mold at the local public school. She has since fallen in love with the tremendous benefits of having her children home with her each day and looks forward to being an integral part of their growth and learning. “Crunchy” and more introverted than she ever realized, Kiki Lynn enjoys dance, gymnastics (as a coach), and crafting.

Review: Spelling Scholar, by Kiki Lynn

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I was recently given the privilege of trying out and reviewing Spelling Scholar. Spelling Scholar is a word study based program. That was probably my favorite part of this program. Word study means that my child was not simply memorizing random lists of words, but actually understanding how words are built through the study of families of similar words. This method helps to solidify phonics skills while building spelling ability.

 

I found this program to be quite thorough including worksheets, games, lists for additional resources, as well as detailed teacher guides.

The things I liked the most about this program were:

  • Word sorts: This allowed me to have my child attempt to group the families of words together on her own. I found this a great way to analyze if she truly understood the concepts and was able to apply them on her own.
  • Personal words: This area allowed me to specify specific words that my particular child had problems with and include them in her learning.
  • Document format: Both the student pages and tests are available in pdf and word formats allowing me to modify them if needed.
  • “Launch Pad” section of the teacher’s page: This section is a wonderful resource which includes games and websites that I can use to reinforce the concepts taught in the lesson.
  • Staff: The staff was incredibly helpful in making sure I placed my child in the appropriate level as well as being readily available to answer any questions I had.
  • Dictionary skills: I loved that this program had the addition of dictionary skills as well as word etymology.

I did have a little difficulty deciding on placement for my daughter, but I blame that primarily on the fact that she was already fairly far into another phonics/word study based program when we began using Spelling Scholar. As I mentioned above, the staff was very helpful in walking me through this process and provided suggestions as to how to still implement the program while possibly even using multiple levels at once.

I also found that for me this program was a bit overwhelming. However, my threshold for information overload is really quite low, so this was likely just a personal issue for me, but I do think it is important to note that there is significant setup and planning involved. If you are one that prefers a more “open and go” approach, this program is probably not for you.

Overall, I found this to be an incredibly thorough program that (most importantly) works. I was very surprised at the amount of information presented to not only the student, but the teacher as well. I think the word study format is a wonderful approach that creates a strong foundation built upon phonics principles. I would encourage anyone considering this approach to give Spelling Scholar a try.

Kiki Lynn is a homeschooling mother raising four children in eastern Iowa. Her homeschool journey began four years ago when her oldest child with anxiety, ADD, and likely Aspergers didn’t fit the mold at the local public school. She has since fallen in love with the tremendous benefits of having her children home with her each day and looks forward to being an integral part of their growth and learning. “Crunchy” and more introverted than she ever realized, Kiki Lynn enjoys dance, gymnastics (as a coach), and crafting.

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Homeschooling: A Love Story, by Genevieve

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I was eight years old the first time she visited my daydreams. I gave her a name that day in my little yellow bedroom, a name which means ‘tower of strength.’ I dreamt of her again in my twenties. She reached out her arms to me, across the darkness, across the stillness, across the middle of the night.

When the doctor told us we might never have children, I hung on to the vision. I had seen her. I had named her and she was going to be mine. One beautiful August day she was. Within moments of her birth, I could hear the delivery room nurses saying, “Huh, I’ve never seen a baby do that before.” With practically her first breath she proclaimed that she was different.

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I had it all planned out. She would stay home with me until she started public kindergarten. Then I would be a room mother and bake cupcakes and plan parties. I might even be president of the PTA. By the time she was two, I realized that my plan was going to need a little revision. She wasn’t natural and comfortable in her interactions with other children. I decided that she might benefit from Mother’s Day Out two days a week.

I found a wonderful program where I could keep her new little brother in his sling while I taught next door to her classroom. She had a chance to learn new things from new people but I was right around the corner if she needed me. Seeing her in a class full of two-year-olds made it even more clear how different she was. By this age, she was reading over fifty words and yet she had difficulty with some of the simplest classroom routines. I decided that she needed a program more tailored to her special needs, so I started my own preschool.

I was both headmistress and lead teacher. My church donated the building and the utilities. My husband donated our supplies and materials. Without those expenses, I was able to keep a ratio of five children for every teacher. We were also able to provide scholarship slots for children living in low-income housing. It proved to be an ideal environment for my daughter. Even though she continued to lose control in certain situations, I still planned for her to start public kindergarten right on schedule. I still saw PTA President in my future.

That summer, we moved to another state that is not known for its public school system. Fortunately, we found the private school of my dreams. Every child in this school was in two plays each year. Every child learned to swim and how to ride a horse. The third graders each had a garden plot. The teachers truly valued diversity. The curriculum was a year advanced in each grade level. Every student, including incoming Kindergarteners, had to pass an entrance exam. Despite her August birthday, she passed with flying colors. In fact, they later told me that she was able to read the teacher’s manual. She thrived in such a challenging but supportive environment.

Unfortunately, when she was halfway through first grade, we were transferred back to Texas. I met with the principal of our award winning local school. Based on test scores, my daughter was immediately put into the gifted program. She had problems from the very first day. She was different. For six years, she had been taught that its okay to be different. No, it is actually pretty awesome to be different. She was in a situation where she was expected to conform and to crank out a vast quantity of mediocre work. She absolutely would not comply with those expectations. I don’t blame the school. I don’t blame the teacher. In a classroom setting, how could anyone meet the needs of a kid who was years above the program academically, but years behind in maturity?

I began to understand that I would never become president of the PTA. I’d be up at the school every day instead, advocating for my daughter’s needs. If her education was going to be my new full time job, I might as well teach her at home and give the poor public school a break. We tried out homeschooling over spring break. After that one week, she was hooked. This kid was made to homeschool. She loved every minute of it. Once, a relative teased that she was going to be so mad when she found out that she had never had a summer vacation. She replied, “That’s just stupid, who would ever want to go months without learning?”

There were days I wondered if I was failing her. There were days that I wondered if I was going insane, and days when I felt ready to give up. I didn’t give up because my love for her has always been stronger than my plan of living a tidy, ordered life. I came to homeschooling so reluctantly. I was driven to it by a child who was absolutely, fundamentally not going to to succeed in public school, but I survived and I do not regret one moment of the journey.

She is an adult now, a thriving college student, a small business owner, a devoted sister, a loyal friend, a happy, happy human being…and my tower of strength.

Our Path to Homeschooling, by Emma

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When our oldest was born, we swore we would never homeschool him (or have a homebirth, or let him sleep with us, et cetera.). Homeschooling was fine, for other people. It just wasn’t for us. I didn’t know ANYONE who homeschooled, growing up. My husband knew one child who was homeschooled.

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Fast forward a couple of years, and many new friendships later, and a whole new world started opening up to us. After our son was born, we found ourselves re-evaluating most of our previous beliefs. Almost everything we had said we would never do, we now were seriously considering. Including homeschooling. My husband was still sort of on the fence. I was quickly warming up to the idea. We decided to put our two-year-old in preschool for a year and see how it went. Well, it was…fine. Not good, not bad, it just was. The teachers asked if he spoke much at home because he was so quiet at school. That shocked us because at home? He never stopped talking! So we questioned if it was the best environment for him. I started researching homeschooling, talking to other moms and trying to figure out exactly what homeschooling would look like. As our baby became a preschooler and then turned five, we decided to give it one year. One year to see whether it worked for our family. It only took a few months before we were convinced this was the right path for us.

Homeschooling has allowed our children the freedom to be kids. To play, to use their imagination, to be free to live outside the box. In our home, a school uniform can range from pajamas and a funny hat for our son, to a princess costume or a bathing suit for our daughter. Homeschooling has allowed us to spend more time together as a family. My husband works odd hours, so homeschooling gives them time to spend together when he is home. It has given us the freedom to travel as needed or desired. It’s been a blessing during times of family difficulties.

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I don’t know if we will homeschool through high school. We still take it year by year. Given how well it suits our children, though, I’d be surprised if we didn’t just continue down this path. I always said I wouldn’t be a life-long homeschooler, but I was wrong about everything else, so why not this?

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Emmemmaa–Emma has been married for seven years, and is mom of two, plus one once-crazy dog. She’s been homeschooling for three years now in NC. In addition to being a wife, mom and educator, she is also a Graphic Designer.

 

 

Arts and Crafts Explained: Clay! by Apryl

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If, as a homeschool mom, you have ever considered going beyond Play-Doh for teaching your kids a little about sculpting,  you may have noticed that there are a lot of choices out there for clay.

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The type and brand of clay you choose ultimately depends on the desired end product. If you just want to sculpt some objects and let them dry on their own, then you will do best with an air dry clay. If you want hard, cured sculptures but don’t want the hassle of using a kiln, then polymer clay may be what you are looking for. If you want to go all out, buy a kiln and fire your work, then natural clay is where it’s at. This post is going to explain in a little more detail the differences between these types of clay and even mention a few of the best brands.

Air Dry: 

There are a wide range of possibilities in air dry clays. Many of them aren’t even technically clay at all.

As a first step beyond Play-Doh, I would recommend Crayola Model Magic Modeling Compound. Model Magic is a fun starter sculpting medium for kids. It is easily mold-able and quickly air dries. The finished sculptures are extremely lightweight and feel kind of like Styrofoam.  It is paintable, and we have also had success coloring the clay using markers.

Not to be confused with Model Magic, Crayola Air Dry Clay is another option. It is a bit more dense than model magic, and will take longer to dry. It is closer in texture to traditional clay. After drying it can be somewhat brittle and is prone to cracking. This medium can also be painted.

AMACO Air Dry Clay is a natural clay that can be air dried or kiln fired. If left to air dry, the pieces will be very fragile. There is the tendency to shrink and crack when air dried, as well. This clay can be used for pottery or for sculpting and handles just like any other natural clay. This can be a good transition for working with kiln fired sculptures.

Polymer clay:

Polymer clay is a plastic based product that is heat cured. This clay will stay pliable until it is baked. Since it is a PVC product, it is recommended that you use a dedicated toaster oven to cure the projects in. Undesirable fumes can linger in your oven after baking and can permeate any food cooked in it afterwards. You can usually pick up a used toaster oven for a few dollars at a your local thrift store or garage sale.

I recommend using the Sculpey III Polymer Clay brand if possible, as it is the easiest to work with. Other brands will take more conditioning before use. (Conditioning is the act of rolling out and gradually warming the clay to make it more pliable.) A quick way to condition polymer clay is by using a pasta rolling machine. Again, use one that is dedicated to use with clay and will not be used for food again. Craft stores also sell them as clay conditioning machines, but they are really the same thing.

Polymer clay can be painted, and it also comes in a wide variety of colors.  (Paint AFTER heat curing!)

Natural Clay:

There are many brands and varieties of natural clays, but they all require kiln firing which is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to work with kiln fired clay, try looking for pottery classes in your community.

Tools:

To begin sculpting, all you really need is some clay and your hands. However, there are many tools available that can add to your enjoyment of the process.

A starter set like this is a good place to begin: Sculpt Pro 11 Piece Pottery and Sculpting Art Tool Set. These tools allow you to easily cut away, smooth, pierce and shape your sculpting projects.

The best way to get started is to choose your desired type of clay and just begin to play.  Practice making balls, ropes (or snakes), coils, and other shapes. Use old cookie cutters or press things into the clay to make different textures. Aluminum foil, floral wire and other objects can make great armatures (foundations) to build your sculptures on. Be sure to use non-flammable/non-melting armatures for any clay that will be heat cured.

Most importantly, have fun!

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Why I Homeschool, by Cheryl

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My husband and his siblings were homeschooled, while I went to public and private school. I always wanted kids, but I also always planned to send my kids to school because that is what I did. I knew nothing about homeschooling. A few months after we were married we made friends with a family at our church; they homeschooled their three children. They were our best friends, and I spent a great deal of time with their family, even living with them for a week when a giant ice storm knocked out our power! It was watching this family that helped me gain the initial confidence that I could actually homeschool.

If we had stayed in Missouri, we were going to homeschool to allow flexibility to visit family in Oklahoma. When we moved home to Oklahoma, we researched districts and schools and bought a house in a highly ranked district with a great neighborhood elementary school! Then I called to enroll our oldest in kindergarten.

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Why we started:

Aidan had learned to read very easily at four years old. He loved to sit and do workbook pages. He could sit for an hour at a time and do thirty or more pages in a sitting. I let him. He learned addition and subtraction. He could do two-digit problems in his head, quickly. He could count to 100. His handwriting was better than most adults’ writing. He was more than ready for kindergarten; in fact, in most subjects, he tested at a second grade level.

We missed the cut-off date for kindergarten by three weeks, so he would have been in preschool where he would be “taught” his letters and numbers. There are no exceptions, no testing, just preschool. I checked with public and private school. I called the district office and talked to a woman who said, “We would hope that his teacher could keep him busy with work on his level.” Hope! Hope that a teacher with a class full of students could keep one kid busy with harder work. We decided that preschool was not the place for our son.

One private school said that if we homeschooled kindergarten, they could test him for first grade the next year but he did need one year of school before they could test him. (It is a blended school: two days at school and three at home.) That became our plan. Homeschool kindergarten, test into first grade at the private school; or if I really messed up kindergarten, enroll him in kindergarten at the public school and call our year at home a very rigorous preschool year. 

Kindergarten went very well. We loved every minute of our “school time,” and our son excelled. By the end of kindergarten, it was obvious that a brick and mortar school would not serve his needs. I don’t know if he is gifted, as we haven’t tested him, but he is smart and he is quick. He needed to move at his own pace.

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Once we moved on to first grade we discovered that homeschooling just worked better for our family for a variety of reasons.

Why we continue:

1. We keep a crazy schedule with our performing arts academy. If the kids were in school, most days I would only see them an hour, if that.

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2. When we have musicals, we are at the theatre until all hours of the night. I can let them sleep in during those weeks. We can even take the week off from school if we want.

3. We love the extra family time we get. Being a fully self-employed family, we are together more than we are apart. My kids don’t know how blessed they are to have as much time with their dad as they get.

4. All that togetherness means that my kids are each other’s best friends. Do they fight? Yes. But they get along really well most of the time.

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5. I can pick what they learn and when they learn it. I can tailor our school plans to my children’s needs and interests. We have had fun making up our own science this year. I have also thrown in some extra history when I have books and videos that line up with our curriculum. I also know everything they are learning. I am even learning many things with them.

6. My kids are still young. In three hours we are done with school. We can go to the zoo, the pool, the park, the science museum. We can do a puzzle, have creative play time, or just be lazy and watch TV. My kids get a lot of free-play time.

The longer we homeschool, the more I realize that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I cannot imagine my life if my kids were at school all day. My house might be cleaner and I would have fewer books (but who says that is a good thing!), but I would be bored. My kids keep me entertained and on my toes. I have not questioned for even one day whether we made the right decision for our kids and our family.

 

Chercherylyl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

 

Understood Betsy and Me: Why I Homeschool, by Caitilin Fiona

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Understood Betsy is one of those books. Those books are the ones that help to form and inform your life in some serious way. In my case, Betsy has informed both my parenting and my homeschooling, which is a bit odd, now that I think about it: there’re no parents and definitely no homeschooling in it at all! What is central to the book, though, is self-knowledge and strength: that is, the strength of character that self-knowledge brings with it. It is a very dated novel, to be sure; it is highly moralizing, and the author constantly intrudes upon the story, just to be completely sure you’re not missing the point she’s making. But in spite of these flaws, or perhaps, strangely, even because of them, it has been for me an effective philosophical treatise on the goals of child-rearing.

The first and central truth Betsy teaches is the vital place of unconditional love in the soul of a child. Betsy is first loved unconditionally by her Putney cousins, for though Aunt Frances, her first primary caregiver, loves her, it is as an extension of herself, not as the separate and whole person that is Betsy. It is from the deep, strong, solid but unspoken love of Ann, Abigail, and Henry that Betsy draws her strength. This is the parental love I’ve striven to give to my own children, and to share with my students. I believe in them, and as I do, they’ve not disappointed me.

My believing in my children and in my students is manifested in the fact that I see them and, consequently, treat them as real people. By this I mean that I try not to talk down to them, and that I try to engage them as much as I can on an equal footing, just as Abigail and Henry do when they teach Betsy how to make butter. They teach her by showing her how it is done, and then by letting her do it herself, because they believe that she is capable of it. I never assume that something is beyond them, and they, like Betsy, rise to meet the challenge.

In contrast to Abigail and Henry’s sensible and loving attitude, Aunt Frances has always tried to prevent Betsy from doing anything for herself, preferring instead to cultivate in her the permanent feeling of fearful helplessness which mirrors Frances’ own experience of the world. She is the ultimate in helicopter parenting: nothing, from food to dreams, from school to music, is Betsy allowed to experience unmediated. In Frances we are shown what Betsy herself would have become if she had never met her Putney cousins and the freedom they share with her.

Betsy is able to receive this freedom from her new family because they get out of the way, out of the way of her learning and experiencing the world on its, and her, own terms. This is something for which I reach in my parenting and in my homeschooling. When I get out of the way, I give my five year-old the space to investigate how shadows work by lying in the sun, moving a Playmobil figure into different attitudes; I give my teenagers the space to explore and develop their relationship with God and toward faith. Home education is at least as much about what is not said as what is.

The deepest lesson I’ve learned from Understood Betsy, though, has to do with self-reliance. From Cousin Ann, Betsy has learned the great lesson of how to face trouble straight on. She saved Molly from the Wolf Pit, because she was able to think critically, and rely on her own judgment. She was able to get herself and Molly home from the fair when they’d been left behind because she used what modern educators like to call problem solving skills and creativity, and relied on herself. Finally, she has learned to rely on herself in that most complex and hard-to-navigate strait–human relationships–when she saves herself and Aunt Frances from the struggle that would have been their reunited lives, and she does so with kindness and love. This development and use of one’s own good judgment is what I pray for and work toward with my own children. It is the final and most important lesson that Betsy shares with us.

In my view, self-reliance is what makes us homeschoolers, and good ones. Homeschooling is being “in no grade at all!” all the time, but as we travel down our paths toward the goal of well-educated children, we, like Betsy, come to see that the names of grades, levels, styles, and curricula don’t matter. What does matter is the progress we have made and continue to make toward the goal, relying on our children, ourselves, and their and our own good sense. We can–in fact, we should, we must!–learn from our foremothers, and from our fellow travelers. But in the end, we all must “walk that lonesome valley…nobody else can walk it for [us], [we] got to walk it [for ourselves].” For though the valley can sometimes be lonesome, it is ours, and we should walk through it smiling and confident.

Ask Caitilin: Finding a Homeschool Support Group

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Question:

Where and how do I find a homeschool group? What is a co-op and why would I want to join one?

Answer:

Homeschool Support Groups

You can find a homeschool group in several ways. (I found mine by accident, but I don’t recommend that as a search strategy!) The first question is, do you know any homeschoolers, even if only tenuously? If you do, ask them. They may not be your “type” of homeschooler, but chances are good that they know at least the names of other homeschool groups in your area, and often can direct you to a knowledgeable person in one those groups.

The second thing to try is to get on the Google and search “homeschool group, Your City.” You may not have success if homeschooling is still relatively small and/or new in your community, or if no one locally has the skill or inclination to have set up a website, but this is a good second bet. Another possibility is meetup.com, where people can create their own groups for any purpose imaginable, including homeschooling. Also, check Facebook! With the advent of Facebook groups, this has become a popular and effective way for like-minded people to find one another.

My last suggestion is to ask around in your community. If you belong to a religious community, ask there. Check with the children’s librarians at your local library–it’s very likely they see any homeschoolers there are! Try the community center(s) in the area, or any other place open to the public with space available for group use. Basically, ask around!

Co-ops

Co-ops are cooperative endeavors of parents who jointly provide educational and enrichment activities for their children in a group learning environment. The reasons for joining a co-op are that some activities work better–or in some cases only–in a group context; that a parent may feel ill-equipped to provide instruction in a particular area, such as art or music or science; that it provides to students, and often to parents, a social outlet with people who share a large common value.

You might want to join a co-op if your children are feeling isolated, or if you wish they could participate in, say, choral music. You might want to join one if you feel as if you never see an adult from one week’s end to the next. You might want to participate in a strong academic co-op with teachers hired to teach classes in their areas of expertise.

One caveat: sometimes co-ops sound better than they actually end up being. If you try one, but soon find yourself wishing you you’d never heard of the dratted thing, then quit! It’s not worth it to devote your time and energy to something that isn’t working for you. Homeschooling can look many different ways, and because Co-op ABC makes your friends happy and successful homeschoolers doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. Know yourself, and join or don’t join accordingly.

Homeschool groups and co-ops can be a real safety net of sanity for homeschoolers, mothers and children alike, especially in the first years, when so much is new and uncharted. If you can, I would encourage you to join a group, just to plug in to the the assets available to homeschoolers in your community. From there, you might like to join a co-op, and take advantage of the opportunities for group studies and activities. If nothing else, it may be worthwhile to find an online community to go to for support, as occasionally classical homeschoolers find themselves in the minority in their local homeschool communities. But whatever you decide, choose the right fit for your own family and homeschool, and be at peace.

Caitilcaitlin_fionain Fiona–Caitilin is the mother of six children, ranging from high school down to early elementary, all of whom she has homeschooled from the beginning. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include languages, literature, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.