I’m culling my bookshelves. I’m sorting out the materials we used and the ones we never used. The weeks and months of searching endlessly for the right curriculum has made me a creature who hoards educational materials, like a dragon hoarding gold.
We go to great lengths to create a school-at-home environment. It’s an addictive habit that rewards us when our school rooms look shiny and well put together. As if to say, “See? I’ve got this homeschooling stuff figured out.” It’s deceptive because a well-used shelf or bookcase would be endlessly messy. A weekly if not daily chore. My shelves look anything but orderly right now. I am staring at the behemoth that it is-knowing I don’t need everything I once convinced myself I could not live without. Storing things I just knew the kids would need someday. Only when the day arrived I forgot it existed and got on without it. It was exactly what I did not need. Is this collection all for looks? Did I really need this stuff?
How important is it to have this stuff, really?
If I were being honest with myself, I could say my hoarding is a sign of an emotional investment… Why do we give so much value to things that we hear others rave about? Why do we hold onto it long after trial and error proves they actually didn’t work for us?
The thing is when you embrace a more open style of homeschooling-when you reach out and encourage a natural learning environment, you suddenly become aware of the nagging question in the back of your mind.
Why do I still have this?
Like you, I have purged over the years for different reasons. Occasionally weeding out my books or anything I would constitute as learning materials. I’m getting rid of some of our hidden treasure by cleaning out the shelves and boxes. Some of it will find a new home in our local homeschool lending library or our local thrift store. The rest will go to recycling, because it is so old it is obsolete.
This year we have an additional caveat-we are moving. As a military family we have to decide what to taken depending on our spouse’s rank. If you go over the allotted shipping weight limit, you pay the difference and it can end up being expensive. It means when it is time to move, it is time to decide what to keep and what to leave behind. Those appliances whose voltage won’t work at the next duty? The over-sized furniture that probably won’t fit in our next home? What about that couch that is secretly standing on a broken leg?
What can military homeschoolers ship?
The shipping policy does include allowances outside of this limit for professional gear. It is mainly to ship the service member’s uniforms and anything else they need that is determined to be essential to perform their duties. In the past, the shipping policy did include an allowance for the dependent spouse’s professional gear-which many military homeschoolers took advantage of.
However, the new housing transportation policy makes it clear that unless you have a position of employment or an official support position in the community you are moving to, you are no longer allowed to take this allowance. If you can clear that hurdle than you must take note: all furniture (school or office desks and bookcases), personal computers, memorabilia (pictures, awards, trophies, gifts), sports equipment, or any material that would be available at the next duty station; must be included with the regular household shipping weight limit.
Professional gear is considered as reference materials, equipment to support members of the technical and mechanical professions, and specialized clothing. For example: diving suit, flying suits, helmets, and unusual uniforms need to support the community. That’s it. None of our homeschooling materials can count as professional gear. Then again, neither will our next-door neighbors’ kids get a special allowance for sports gear or band instruments!
It means as military homeschoolers we have something new to consider when moving. And this year our number is up. Suddenly books, bookshelves, computers, school desks, and science kits are all household items that can make or break a move. How long should I keep that bundle of last year’s work again? So, you can see I’m all about that purge right now!
In the midst of all of this, another question comes to mind…
What is the most important homeschooling resource I have?
Is it books we are currently using? Is it our magnetic board? Is it our laptops and the software we use? What do we keep?
In one hand, I’m holding a compilation of five well known Mark Twain novels. My other hand pauses over the three volumes of literature books I have collected. I realize the most important resource I have is not something that bores my children to tears. Remembering that my interests are not necessarily my children’s interests, I discard two out of the three textbooks on literature. Crossing my fingers, I reshelve the Mark Twain novels.
As I go through our reference materials, I keep the Big Fat Notebooks and our small collection of Horrible Histories in the reading corner. For resource materials to hold any long-term value for us, they should be engaging and relevant. Sorting through piles of discarded art and different stages of abandoned origami, I decide it is important for us to keep materials that allow the kids to be inspired to learn through creativity.
Then I turn and see the kids with a game I brought home from the thrift store. They didn’t wait for an adult to read the rules. They figured the rules out and started playing… The Allowance Game. I stopped and watched them amazed. Teaching money concepts has been a difficult topic over the last couple of years. There are certain ideas they can grasp, like saving up for a certain amount to get something on their wish list. The rest of the time it went over their heads, like understanding 2 quarters is fifty cents and 4 quarters equals a dollar. Finally, I had to put it aside to revisit later, because the drilling practice wasn’t helping. Today it dawns on me; all my previous attempts didn’t hold any relevancy for them! And now here they are exchanging money like pros because they wanted to!
Those money math workbooks can go! Next time we go shopping the kids can help me pay for the groceries… because the most important resource I have is when learning happens to be fun!
At this point, I’m simply open to anything that encourages them to learn and grow on their own terms. What works today is a game. Tomorrow it could be those Mark Twain novels! Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it surprising and delighting the kids and me.
What about you?
What was the most important resource in your homeschool today?
About 11 o’clock Friday night February 3, I got the call every parent with a teen aged driver dreads. My 17-year-old son had been in a car accident, and they were taking him to the hospital. He will be okay. He had part of his small intestine removed and a tear in his colon sewn up. As I sat in his hospital room, I reflected on our homeschooling journey and homeschooling in general. This might seem like a strange thing to be thinking about; perhaps it was because the weekend was supposed to be a work weekend focusing on finishing this newsletter. Instead I sat in a hospital room watching my child breath, listening to the machines attached to his body beep, smelling the mild antiseptic smell that permeates hospitals, and my mind drifted to something that has been a big part of our journey together.
There is an interesting dynamic that homeschooling parents have to deal with. On the one hand, we face the same issues all parents do no matter where our children attend school. On the other hand, as homeschooling parents we have taken sole responsibility for our children’s education. For many of us this can lend a job-like nature to this part of our journey with our children. The reasons for homeschooling are myriad, but for many of us it has to do with a desire to have a deeper more meaningful connection with our children. There is nothing job-like at all about that.
This dual nature of homeschooling, part job-like versus a focus on closer bonding, can be a conundrum for homeschooling parents. Many of the struggles parents and kids have when homeschooling come about when parents get into the job mode with their child’s learning. You know those times when you treat your child’s academics like a to-do list that needs to be checked off or a job that needs to be completed. Part of the problem is kids are not mature enough to be great employees; we are expecting them to function in a way they are not yet ready for. Another part of the problem is that the message of “learning is a joy” is at odds with treating it like a job, even if you really love your job. Children cannot help it; they would rather be nurtured than put to work.
For homeschooling parents it’s a balancing act though. There really are a series of tasks that need to be accomplished to master a subject. Learning is a joy, but sometimes you don’t appreciate it until you have acquired the knowledge and can start applying it. And honestly, how much more nurturing can you be than to dedicate a significant chunk of your life to educating your child.
On Monday, my son asked me nervously what was going to happen with the classes he was missing. I told him it was okay; all the work could be made up. He told me that wasn’t entirely true. He is taking classes through others, taught by people who might give him a few days’ break, but at the end he will have to work to catch up in those classes by a certain deadline, or he will not pass them. I assured him we can make the work up, that it will all be okay.
Did you notice that I said, “We can make the work up?” That is the duality of homeschooling in one pronoun. His education has become a responsibility both of us share. I don’t do his schoolwork for him. If the situation calls for some intensive tutoring however, we will work together to help him catch up. If I could take a can opener, open his head, and pour the knowledge in, I wouldn’t. I am raising a lifelong learner, where the learning is about the journey not a destination.
That’s the real truth about homeschooling. Even when it is at its most job-like, it is nurturing; it is bonding. I came to understand as I watched my child’s chest rise and fall, how hard it is to appreciate the journey when you get off track, when life inserts itself, and there is nothing you can do to control it. The two of us embarked on a journey eleven years ago that along the way has included laughter and joy, fighting and bickering, and everything in between. Along the way, he has taught me just as much as I have taught him. What a pleasure it has been for me to hold this child’s hand as we walk through this part of our journey together.
Oh No! The dreaded “H” word (and I don’t mean handcrafted)! If there is one thing that causes homeschooling parents to panic it is the thought of homeschooling through high school. What if we get it wrong? What if somehow we fail our children, and they cannot … cannot … cannot … wait, cannot what exactly? How is it that we as homeschoolers fall into this trap so common to traditional school parents?!? Why I sometimes wonder, even though I do it myself, did we all drink the Kool-Aid and continue to perpetuate the myth that there is one known path that will guarantee our children’s ability to be successful as adults. We only have to look around us to know that’s not true. We all know people who are very happy and well-adjusted who never spent one day in college. We all know people who are desperately unhappy who have advanced college degrees.
Don’t get me wrong. I value education a lot actually. My husband would tell you I value it more than most people. Learning and working with knowledge are two things that I really enjoy, and I want to pass that passion along to my child. My point is that there is no one path, because every child is an individual; every path is going to be individual. As you will learn, if you follow this blog, my son is on a college-bound path. But my heart would not be broken if he didn’t go to college at all, or waited a few years and went. It’s his life, not mine. I’ll start living his life when I get mine all figured out.
With this in mind, it might seem pointless for me to blog about our journey. Here I am though, blogging about it 🙂
This is the first of a four year series of posts about our handcrafted high school education. It is not meant as a template, and I’m not advocating a path or series of programs, but I thought people might like to see what our journey looks like. I intend to blog over four years, but I can’t make any promises about the frequency of the blog posts. Handcrafting a high school education is time-consuming, and I have other writing obligations. In fact, right now, Astronomy and Earth Science 2 (as I now call the second book in the middle school series) is not being written because I am writing this blog post instead.
Before I Begin
Most people reading this blog only know me through my writing. I want to make sure that you know I understand each path really is uniquely different. As an example, I am going to give you the 30 second rundown of my own journey. I was a good student and my parents expected me to go to college. In my junior year of high school my mother passed away, and I didn’t cope with it well. I started under-performing in school and skipping school. My father was not a lot of help dealing with this emotional time. Now as an adult I understand he was going through his own stuff, obviously. But it wasn’t so obvious then. I did not graduate from high school. I am not a high school graduate. I never went back to pick up that degree. I supported myself as a waitress and bartender in the intervening years, until I was 27, when I started at community college. In California, you don’t need a high school degree to get into community college. You need to take a series of placement tests. I spent two years at community college and then transferred to UCSD. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCSD with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a bachelor’s in chemistry after three years and a quarter there. I was accepted to graduate school at UCSD with the intention of getting a PhD in environmental chemistry through the physical chemistry department. I did not like the nuts and bolts of daily lab work, but I did love teaching chemistry. (Graduate students in the chemistry department at UCSD are required to do some teaching.) I let go of my dreams of a PhD, graduated with a Masters, and got a job teaching at community college. I loved teaching chemistry and biology at community college! If you ever want to know the story in more detail, stop by when you’re in town. I will make a pot of tea or pour a glass of wine and we can talk about it. I am the social type, and trust me when I tell you that I want to hear your story too!
How We Came to Be Homeschooling High School
We actually debated about whether to homeschool through high school or not. We visited two very nice schools in the fall of 2014. If you’re wondering why we visited schools, one of the schools was a Creative and Performing Arts School in San Diego that, although public, has kids go through an application process. They do not accept all the kids who apply. Sean was thinking of applying to their creative writing program.
I believe there are pluses and minuses to every choice. So, after visiting those schools, we sat down and made a list of the pluses and minuses for each of those schools and continuing homeschooling for high school. My husband, who is the one member of our family not intimately involved in homeschooling, came out early in favor of continuing homeschooling. He felt strongly that Sean’s education through homeschooling was superior. I don’t mean superlative. By this, I don’t mean he is getting an education in every subject that would rival any school. My husband’s reasoning was that the unique handcrafted education Sean is getting is special in a way no school could match for just one student.
I gave us until November 1, 2014 to decide. All three of us decided to continue homeschooling through high school. It turned out to be a very easy decision with all of us agreeing completely with no doubt about it. We are four months into it, and we don’t regret the decision at all. I feel done right a homeschooled high school education can be superior because I believe in handcrafting an education. It is a lot of work though… Really a LOT of work!
A Few Things Up Front
I am into a breadth of knowledge over a wide range of topics and issues. As my child’s primary teacher, a broad knowledge base is where we start our academic planning. My ultimate purpose and goal for my child’s education is that, at the end of it, he is well-educated. The caveat is my son and I are defining what well-educated means for him. The recipe for Sean’s handcrafted education is being designed for his strengths, weaknesses, and passions, as well as the passions and interests of his family.
I look at an education as the gateway to options. The more options the better. Even when Sean is passionately focused on an area, I make sure there is time for other areas. Maybe not that particular day or week, but we do get to a range of subjects in a meaningful way over the course of a school year. I want him to have as many options as possible later in life. After all, we do spend most of our lives as adults. With homeschooling I am trying to find a balance between making sure his childhood gives him plenty of time and space to know the joys of childhood, while at the same time, making sure he has lots of options when he enters adulthood and beyond.
I am not trying to recreate a public school education, but I do use the bits from public school that work for us. In fact, I incorporate every teaching methodology in some form into how we approach our academics. Each methodology has strengths and weaknesses. What they are depends on the student and the subject matter.
Some of the issues I write about will relate specifically to homeschooling in California, my home state. We use a private school affidavit. We do not use a charter school or receive any support from our state. In California, if you homeschool through a state run charter school they will help pay for your child’s educational expenses. I do not use a charter school because:
We did not start homeschooling in California, we started in Nevada, and I got used to doing my own thing as is done in Nevada.
When we started homeschooling all the materials available were religious oriented or public school materials. I only want religion taught to my son as a part of philosophy class, history class, or in church. I am not a fan of most public school texts. I won’t go into it in detail other than to say I do not find most of them accessible for students or their teachers unless the teacher is an expert in that subject. Because I wasn’t interested in getting materials from them, there didn’t seem a compelling reason to participate in them. I will go into the materials we use for each course as I write about them.
As California did begin to have more and more homeschool charter schools, they did not at first hire people with homeschooling experience to work for them. This bothered me because it felt disingenuous that they were really trying to help homeschoolers negotiate the ins and outs of homeschooling. I felt that without hiring people who understood the specific issues homeschoolers face, these charters could not give new homeschoolers the support they needed. Even though we were not new to homeschooling this bugged me too much to want to participate in the system. I have been told this reason makes me sound a bit kooky, but this is my blog and my particular kook will shine through every once in a while. 😉
In California, the charters want students to take standardized tests. I am not a big fan of these tests. I watched a couple of homeschooling friends whose kids were in charters put everything aside the month before the test to teach to the test! It was not until last year that Sean started working on test taking skills as a lead up to his taking the SAT/ACT.
But the main reason: I love doing my own thing. One of the mottos I live my life by is that, “Time is the money of life.” If I am going to put all this time, the money of my life, into educating my child, I want to get as much joy as possible out of it. I am a very creative person, and I get joy out of creating unique things.
What you will read about next are the specifics of how I am handcrafting an education for my son. It is a recipe that is working very well for us. If you have any thoughts or questions just ask. Share the love and trust me, I WANT TO hear from you! I loved teaching college in part because I love discussing academic issues with other adults!
Check out our post on a fun game in honor of banned book week here.
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By Blair Lee, A Voice from the Middle
There is a revolution going on right now in education. It’s called homeschooling. I am part of a fringe group in this revolution. You don’t hear a lot from us, but there is a group of homeschoolers who consider our style to be secular eclectic academic homeschooling. You don’t hear from us because on the one hand we are the unloved mongrels of the homeschooling community so we keep a low profile, and on the other hand we are too busy figuring out how to best facilitate our children’s education. We spend too much time on academics and have too much structure to be considered unschoolers or child-led learners, and too little time on traditional academics or have too little structure to be considered classical homeschoolers.
Many secular eclectic academic homeschoolers pull their children out of traditional school or never have them attend it because, although like traditional schools we believe in the importance of academics, we do not believe in the way the academic subjects are being taught, the testing culture, and/or we disagree with the subjects that are being taught. For example, I believe there are certain subjects that should be taught less so that there is time to teach subjects such as computer science. (And I am not talking about less time for science or history when I say this!) I think that subjects such as math and some writing could be incorporated into history and science so that there would be more time for these two very important subjects and so that writing and math could be taught in a way that makes them more relevant.
America is a funny country when it comes to academics. We want to be at the top academically when it comes to things like beating Singapore’s test scores in math or scoring as well on standardized tests as Finland does, but we don’t have a lot of appreciation for academics in most of our communities.
There is a focus on winning and having the top scores on tests, but there is a lack of focus on the sheer beauty of learning. I think the disconnect between school and the inherent beauty of learning comes about because of the misguided focus on “winning” (AKA having the highest test scores) versus getting a good education so you can be intellectually engaged. As I have said before, I am sympathetic to the constraints placed on schools. Schools have to have performance mandates because they are using tax payer dollars, and tax payers want to know that their dollars are being well spent. So… testing happens. That is how schools show they are performing well. Most eclectic, academic homeschoolers think there should be less focus on testing and more focus on having intellectual discussions about issues both big and small. Not because they will solve any problems (or maybe they will), but just because they are interesting to engage in. Interesting people have interests; it is that simple.
The academic benefits of homeschooling when there has been a focus on academics are impressive. I am blown away by the wealth and richness of my son’s education, and how it has led to an intellectual engagement with his academics and his passionate love of learning. He still thinks I am smarter than him, and he is right about some subjects like chemistry, but in other areas he has surpassed me. He has been given the time and resources to delve into his passions. He doesn’t appreciate it yet, but I think he is already standing on my shoulders. By the way, if you think that my son is a gifted student, he’s not. He is a pretty average, typical 15-year-old who happens to be growing up in a family that places a lot of value on the love of learning.
The homeschool community is not necessarily warm and accepting of secular eclectic academics. I have been accused of being a “Teachey teach to the textbook type” and a “school at homer”, both of which are derogatory phrases in the homeschool community. Neither is accurate, but even if they were, big deal. My child is happy and well-adjusted. We all like the way education works in our house. I don’t know why anyone else would care. On the other side of it, I have been asked by classical educators if I wasn’t worried about Sean being able to get into college. The answer to that question is, “No.” My purpose with my son’s education has never been so that he could get into a good college. That will be a natural outcome, but it is not the purpose and that gives me much more flexibility with his education. I started as a student at a community college, and it is a perfectly good path to getting a college degree. College is not the focus or the end-goal for my child. We focus on academics because I want my child to be well educated. That to me is the purpose of an education. And then there is the issue with being secular. Does that mean we are anti-faith? The answer to that is no. It means the materials used for learning present the facts, theories, principles, and models as recommended by a majority of experts in the field being studied. Unless the subject is philosophy, secular academic materials do not take an individual’s philosophy into account. It is not anti-faith. It is pro-learning with minimal bias from the author’s worldview.
The lack of acceptance does not bother me, as you probably guess, since I blog about being an eclectic and academic homeschooler, and I am a scientist who writes secular academic science books. Actually that’s why I decided to write about homeschooling high school. I wanted to help my fellow homeschoolers who are trying like I am to negotiate the path for providing a unique academic education for their kids, while making sure that they have plenty of time for socialization, video games, and all the rest of the things teens are into these days.
I write for the fringe group of us in the middle, who believes there is real value in academics, but who are looking for something more innovative and individual than what is being done in traditional schools. Those of us in the middle think one of the main purposes of an education is that at the end of it a person is well-educated, with the caveat that we define what well-educated means in our house. We also think an education should lead to a person who loves learning and who understands how to learn. We are trying to figure all of this out organically using innovative and eclectic approaches.
(4/2015) Until a couple of days ago, I thought there were only a few of us. I was feeling lonely. I wanted a community of people to brainstorm with, so I put a message out on two Facebook Groups. I was hoping to find the 10 other (or maybe there were even fewer, I worried) secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers out there. The response to my post has been overwhelming. There are quite a few more than 10 of us, and we need each other.
There are two main reasons we need each other. The first is so we can have a community of like-minded people. Homeschooling is done at home with just your family, so it can be isolating, especially if you don’t have a group that you identify with like unschoolers and classical homeschoolers do. The other reason we need to form a group is ironic. We are academic homeschoolers, but we want to be innovative and eclectic with our academic homeschooling. Because of this there is no book or set of guidelines we can refer to. We are just winging it most of the time. We need to form a group for the same reason that teachers in traditional schools need to get together and talk about what’s going on in their classrooms. We need others to strategize with. We need a forum where we can discuss what’s working and get help on what’s not. We need a place where we can find others to form online co-ops with. Basically we need a group where it feels safe and comfortable to discuss academic issues as they relate to our situation. We need other people who feel the way we do about academic homeschooling to use as a sounding board when we’re figuring things out. We also need a place to be able to come to so we can tell others when we figured it out and it really worked. This helps others, but it’s also nice just to be able to say, “Guess what wonderful thing my child achieved academically,” and know that these other people are going to be proud of the academic achievements of your child, because like you, they care passionately about academics.
This group is going to be about educating and about innovative academics. The emphasis with it is not going to be about how to get your child into college. Getting into college will be a result of this process, but for the purpose of this group it’s not the purpose of the process. I know a bit (but just a bit) about this, because a very well-regarded university reached out to my son in January asking him to apply to their summer program. We did not solicit the application. They solicited our participation. When it comes to college, I am beginning to feel like Kevin Costner standing in a field, “Build it. They will come.” (It being my eclectically educated son.)There will be colleges that don’t agree with me on this. That’s okay. Not every college is right for every person. Eclectic, academic kids should probably seek out eclectic, academic colleges. (Now if we can just get those same colleges to waive standardized test results as part of our child’s college application, Hmmnn…… The way I see it, schools looking to attract homeschool students should rely mainly on portfolios of work from a homeschooled student when deciding if they want to admit the student.) Maybe when Sean goes to college I should work on that instead of joining the Peace Corps. Yes that is one of the things my husband and I are thinking of doing, the Peace Corps I mean, when Sean goes to college.
If this post resonates with you, look for the Facebook Group “Secular, Eclectic, Academic, Homeschoolers,” Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers closed group. It is open to any homeschooler or educator who considers themselves a secular eclectic academic, who appreciates the value of an academically-rich education that is innovative, and who wants to promote that within our homeschool community. There will be no selling on this group. That is not its purpose. This will be a positive force, and only those people who want to have a constructive discussion should sign up for it. The group is open to people of any faith, or lack thereof, but we will not allow any proselytizing. The academics we will be discussing in this group will be secular academics. That does not mean people cannot discuss religion within education, but it has to be from the perspective of academics, and all science discussions will be strictly secular. I look forward to meeting my fellow secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers!
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From the time I was pregnant with my son Sean until he was a toddler, if you had asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up, I would have told you I wanted him to be a Renaissance man. To me, the term Renaissance man means a person (male or female) who has a deep and nuanced knowledge over a broad range of fields. It refers to a person who is literate and can express oneself through writing, speaking, or both; a person who is a creative thinker; someone who is not necessarily an athlete but who is comfortable with his own physicality. And I expected him to be social, it never even occurred to me my child would not be the extreme extrovert I am. It was the dreamy sort of fantasy a mom with her first (and it turned out only) child has.
The dream didn’t survive toddlerhood. It was during toddlerhood that I realized Sean had his own dreams and personality, and it was those that needed to guide his path. The first time I realized my child was not an extrovert, he was a slightly, shy introvert, I panicked. I am not kidding. I had absolutely no idea how to parent him when it came to social situations. I thought things like (but never said), “How could anyone prefer standing and observing over jumping in and doing?!?” “Why would you want to hang out with me alone, when you have others who want to play with you?!?” I dealt with it by letting him hold on when he needed to, and helping him have wings when he felt comfortable flying.
Early on, I chose to honor who he was, even when it took work to figure out how to do it, instead of pushing an agenda I had for him. I do not believe in pushing your child to be what you want him to be. I think it is more important to ensure he has the skills and tools he needs, and then to work with him so that he is a critical thinker who can figure out for himself what he wants to be. So that was what I focused on.
When I realized the small rural school he was in during kindergarten couldn’t give him the skills and tools he needed, with the advice of his teacher, I chose to homeschool him. Sean and I spent some time using different educational approaches until settling on secular, eclectic, academic homeschooling. He is too artistic, and I appreciate academics too much for any one methodology to completely suit both of us. So, instead of choosing one, I gifted him with a handcrafted education.
Handcrafted educations like those found in the secular homeschool community are not new. During Renaissance times, people would have considered secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers like us to be humanists, educating their children from a humanist perspective. For us, humanist has nothing to do with or without issues of faith. It refers to the use of secular academic materials, those that present facts, theories, and models as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in a field of study. This type of education, tailored to the strengths, weaknesses, and passions of an individual and their family is the type of education that Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, and Thomas Jefferson received.
It was only recently that I realized my dream for my son came true. came true. In fact there is a whole group of homeschooled kids growing up to be Renaissance men and women. The secular homeschooling component is important to the recipe. With a Renaissance style education you can introduce material to someone, but they must choose to explore it deeply. This deep exploration requires time without a timeline. Renaissance educations have at their center a core base of knowledge, of course. But that core does not come from a checklist of facts to be memorized and prescribed skills to be mastered, as happens with a traditional education. There is more individuality and ownership with a handcrafted, Renaissance education. When it comes to learning things in a deep and nuanced way, ownership is a critical component. You can bring someone to the table of knowledge, but you cannot make them consume it. There is a reason we are experiencing a renaissance of a handcrafted education. It is because this type of education leads to a person who knows how to learn and understands the value and joy of learning. More than any other element, this is the one that makes someone a Renaissance man or a Renaissance woman.
These days, Sean is 18 and beginning to assert himself and his own independence. It is an exciting time for all of us, but often there is nothing very romantic about it. I homeschooled my son, so my fingerprints are all over his education and learning. Lately though, as he has begun to assert himself, showing signs of the man he is growing into, and making his knowledge and learning his own, his fingerprints are beginning to obscure mine. It is during these moments when I realize, with no planning to make it happen, this secular, eclectic, academic path we chose together resulted in his growing to become a Renaissance man.
Blair Lee M.S. is the homeschooling mother of a 15-year-old and a world traveler. Blair loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic HomeschoolersSEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series,RSO, as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her atblairleeblog, Twitter, Facebook, andKatch.
Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Custer State Park
I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend time outside looking at the subject of your studies, so we did. I did not keep a daily journal, because I had writer’s block. Something I had never experienced before. It gave me insight into what happens for kids who have good ideas but can’t get them onto a page. My writer’s block made me feel like my brain was constipated. I had so many ideas running around in my head I had trouble getting anything out at all. It made me scattered and feel a little crazy. By the time I would get to my computer to write something down, I would forget it in the jumbled, spaghetti noodle, chaotic manner that sometimes has plagued Sean’s writing. This led to a light bulb as I realized what part of Sean’s problem was. The other problem with writing all this down was that National and State Parks, for the most part, had terrible cell service and internet.
86 miles from Pine Ridge nestled in the heart of the Black Hills sits the absolutely beautiful state park, Custer State Park. Both the name of the park and the beauty of it are hard to stomach, especially when you realize the Supreme Court has agreed the Black Hills, including the land this park is on, was illegally taken from the Sioux, but they cannot have it back. Talk about historical trauma! The two photos are symbolic of this. The sign is in protest of the uranium mine built just outside the reservation that is polluting their water. In the park is the residence where Calvin Coolidge spent 3 months during one of the summers he was President, Summer White House in South Dakota. The water at it is not being polluted with radioactive waste.
8/21-22: Custer, SD
We went into the town of Custer, South Dakota to wash clothes, do a little shopping, and stock up on groceries. The people were lovely. We wondered though, how it would be if Sean and Sophia looked like a Native Americans. We had read about and heard so many stories about racist actions toward the Sioux in South Dakota, and they made us recognize and acknowledge the white privilege conferred on us. The kids began to think of stereotyping as a dangerous thing to do, even though Sean told us everybody does it, and you have to think about it not to do it.
This Park is has great wildlife viewing in it.
The next day we drove around the wildlife loop and to an area just outside the park where someone told me about a large prairie dog town.
Just outside Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is huge. In fact it is so huge that wind occurs at its natural opening. Whether the wind blows into or out of this opening depends on the atmospheric pressure outside of the cave. When the pressure is high, wind blows into the cave, and when it is low, it blows out of the cave. Wind Cave has over 100 miles of passageways. As you can see from the yellow tape our guide is holding, the pressure on this day was higher outside the cave than inside it, which is why the yellow tape is being sucked into the opening.
Native Americans consider(ed) Wind Cave a sacred place.Caves are fascinating examples of the geologic forces that shape Earth. The original cave began forming about 320 million years ago in a fresh/salt water zone. About 470,000 years ago the cave started draining, Wind Cave geology and more Wind Cave geology.
These boxwork formations are rare in caves, boxwork . Boxwork remains after the rest of the cave has dissolved away because of differences in solubility of the mineral calcite, which is what boxwork form from, and the minerals that surrounded them.
After two days at Custer we headed toward Jackson Hole, home to an old family friend of mine. There had been some discussion about seeing Mount Rushmore, and I said, “No Way!” I just couldn’t. The man who originally carved Mount Rushmore was in the KKK, Mount Rushmore, the KKK, and sanitized American history. After learning this, it was unanimous. We stopped outside of the Crazy Horse Monument, but we didn’t pay to visit there either. It didn’t look to me like that monument benefited the Native Peoples in South Dakota, and we were all done with supporting businesses in South Dakota that did not give back to the Native Community.
Check out our previous homeschooling high school post here.
The first month of tenth grade might have been the best month we ever spent homeschooling. You might be thinking, “Well, Yeah! You were traveling and hanging out. How could that not be great?” 🙂 That is true, of course, but it was more than that. The planning and intent for this trip focused on enriched learning. The choices for where we stayed and what we did were planned with the intent that what we studied on the road would enrich our understanding of a situation in science, culture, and/or history. We were not disappointed.
I am behind in my writing so I can tell you from perspective, that this year is the best example of what I mean by the statement that for our homeschool the method we use is the one that works. The factors that go into deciding the method or mix of them are
what my son is studying: different subjects require different methodologies.
the best materials and/or programs I can find for the course. Even for subjects I know well, I like to find materials to reference.
how he accesses information while studying the materials for that course of study. This is a mixed bag for him. Sean is a very creative person, and subject areas he considers creative he treats differently than those subjects, like math, that he does not consider creative endeavors.
how I am best able to present that material, in other words, “the best way for me to teach it.” You have probably noticed I usually talk about learning, but I am Sean’s primary teacher, chooser of materials, and chooser of core courses. So, the materials and courses have to work for me too.
and what comes along to be added in while we are engaged in the subject. This is the reason this blog post is late. Really cool opportunities keep coming up.
Each course of study gets its own special treatment. If my son and I think something is important enough to include in his academic journey, then I will work to figure out the best course of study for him for this subject. Sometimes this “best method” is universal for most students, sometimes it is specific to my son or people who access information similar to him, and sometimes what looks like the “best” on the outside does not end up being the best after we get started with it. If what we do sounds good to you I think there are two things to recognize. 1. It is a lot of work to give someone a handcrafted education, and 2. the results are so worth it! Over the years it has been hard to judge this from time to time, but now in tenth grade I am able to see I mostly got it just right.
There is also a big difference between mostly right and all right, when it comes to my relationship with my son’s journey through learning. I think a lot of problems can occur when homeschooling parents assume they have figured out a course that is all right. It is too easy to become attached to paths when that happens. Because I assume with a lot of work, the best I will ever attain is mostly right, I keep working hard to figure out what best is and what it looks like. This results in us adding and discarding parts without getting too attached to them as I continually work to get the journey mostly right. This work is where and when the magic happens.
Because we have already incorporated so many methods into this year’s homeschool journey, I will try to discuss them as I go along. My goal with my 10th grade blog articles will be to focus more on the process we use. I get a lot of people asking me for more information about that aspect of our handcrafted education.
A year or two ago I decided to start tenth grade with a service project, followed by a driving tour studying local history, conservation, and geology, especially geology. Plate tectonics is a core concept of geology, but tectonic plates are so big, it is hard to see how slow moving rocks can lead to the formation of something massive like the Himalayas. I wanted to follow the Pacific Ring of Fire down the West Coast of the U.S. so that Sean could get an idea how large tectonic plates are. Besides, I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend a lot of time outside looking at the subject of your studies. This illustrates the most common learning strategy I use. I will ask Sean to study the basics of a core concept, like plate tectonics, just the basics at this point, nothing intense. Next we learn about those basics in a practical manner, as we did with our driving tour. At that point he is fairly literate about this core concept. Then we will return to our course of study, in this case geology, with an understanding of this core concept. This gives you a place to bring everything together and take learning to a new level. It turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. You might be thinking, but how can I do that. There is no way I can spend 5 weeks on the road. Just remember field trips will work too. 🙂
I am going to write this using photos and short blurbs about where we were and why. I did write a few blog pieces focused on location. I will include those links.
Getting to the Service Project
8/11/2015: We packed up and got ready.
Five of us left together on our grand adventure. In addition to me, there was my son Sean, his best friend Sophia, my husband Jim, and our good friend Michelle. I love to pack for our adventures. We planned on spending 5 weeks on the road, most of that sleeping in our pop-up trailer. We would sleep in the dorms and eat in the communal dining hall at Re-member, but the rest of the time we would sleep and eat primarily from food we cooked in the pop-up. This would save us a lot of money, but it also made it easier because of the 5 of us, 2 are vegan, 2 are vegetarian, and Michelle, the only meat eater of the bunch, was leaving us after Re-member. Getting vegan food on the road in the U.S. is not easy. It is so much easier to do in other countries!
8/12 near Great Basin National Park, Nevada
We started in Bridgeport, California at 5 in the morning. We packed up the night before so we could start early. We wanted to get on the road early, so we could find ourselves in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours before dark. We planned on waking up at 2 in the morning on 8/13 to watch the Perseid meteor shower, http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2015/11aug_perseids/. It was a long hot drive and everyone was a bit crispy by the time we got to a spot we liked, but it was well worth it. The Perseids did not disappoint.
A good place to watch a meteor shower, away from any light pollution.
Sean complains, but I still make him go to guided talks with us. Jim complains too sometimes, but they humor me! I tell Sean he may not thank me as a teenager, but he will thank me when he is 30!
Look at the uplift! This area might be quiet now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
There is evidence that these organisms once swam where we are standing now. Inland seas, dinosaurs, volcanic activity, uplift, and now us standing on the ever-changing Earth!
We saw petroglyphs too! Jim, my husband, and I love to hike and hunt out evidence of ancient civilizations. I was glad to see these on our way to Re-member. Too often the history of the North American continent is taught as if it started when Columbus “discovered” America. I wanted there to be a focus throughout this month on how history is interpreted and often distorted.
We went to check out an old homestead before heading back to our campsite. My family is all from Colorado. Many of the summers of my childhood were spent in the town of Eagle, Colorado. This homestead made me nostalgic for those days.
Working on kendama tricks was a major theme of the trip!
Cleaning the dust off in the Green River.
You might be curious about the planning for all this. If it looks like I have everything planned down to the nth, you might be surprised. Most of this is done haphazardly. My son will tell you I am the free-spirited type and often when we travel, figuring things out on the fly, on the road is best. Plans like the when and where for our service project, are figured out well ahead of time, but the rest is not. For example, the plan to go to Dinosaur National Monument Park was figured out two days before we left. I happened to read about it somewhere, none of us had heard of it before, and away we went.
Check out our post on an eclectic and effective approach to foreign language studies here.
We school year round with lots of breaks. That doesn’t matter to a planner like me though. Every year I have a start date and an end date. The year-end date for this year was the day we picked Sean up from Stanford. Our life was a whirlwind during the time leading up to that. Talk about eclectic! And academic! And we always keep it secular! Science is not a small part of our life!
Planning for next year
The previous month I had Sean work on some short nonfiction essays. As he was working on these I realized the structuring of his ideas was chaotic. What he had to say was good, but often it felt like he had dumped all of his ideas on a plate in a way that reminded me of cooked spaghetti noodles. This is something we will focus on next year. One of the most important things I do during the last scheduled month of our school year is assess where Sean is in the core subjects, and what specific things he needs to work on the following year. From this standpoint my scheduling makes sense. Maybe I should think of it as an assessment period instead of an endpoint. Especially since I change, tweak, and update the plan regularly.
Assessment is an important part of the teaching and learning process. It’s gotten a bad name in recent years because of the testing culture at traditional schools, but it is critical to evaluate someone’s progress when you are teaching them, especially if you are an eclectic, academic homeschooler. You can trust your child is at grade level if you use a good, solid textbook or course that is at grade level, but you’re still going to need to assess them to make sure they have learned the material. We like to mix it up as you know if you’ve been reading about our handcrafted education this year. Some of Sean’s best and most meaningful work is done without any outside guidance. The problem with evaluating that work is there is nowhere for me to go to get a feel for where Sean’s work is as far as “grade” level.
Evaluating Sean’s progress isn’t as difficult as it could be, because I’m not holding Sean to a standard designed by someone who does not know him. I let the evaluation and the plan for next year reflect Sean’s academic strengths and weaknesses. I find challenging material for him in those areas where he is strong and I am thoughtful and careful when choosing material for the areas where he struggles.
The most intense planning is for subjects I think people should just know. In eighth and ninth grade it was computer programming. In tenth grade it will be American government and politics. The longer I homeschool the more comfortable I am when I design a course that is most likely different from any other student is studying. I no longer worry if colleges will like the courses. It just isn’t about colleges’ approval for us. I am guided instead by what I consider essential knowledge in today’s world. These courses often include knowledge of topics where I think high schools are dropping the ball by not teaching them in a meaningful way. The low-level to non-existent computer programming skills being taught is one example. Another example is that kids are getting out of high school, at an age when they can vote, without an understanding of key issues in the political science of today. Issues being decided that, because of the difference in age, will affect them much more than the people deciding them. Because these are unique classes they take a lot of planning, and it is important to me that they be academic in addition to being enriching, which takes even more planning. If possible I weave necessary skill-building lessons into these areas, which takes even more planning.
May 1 to May 26, 2015
We had three chapters of algebra to get through to be finished for the year. Math was a big part of this month. Algebra this year has been very interesting. My grandmother said to me once, “In our family math is either so easy you can work through it as easily as you can fall into a pool or you have to work at it.” Until this year Sean had to work at it. Something clicked this year. Math is still his least favorite subject, but he now thinks it is his easiest. If you think I am lucky because of this, I would agree with you, but you have no idea how much drama and angst there has been about math over the years.
Early this month Sean said to me, “I would like to write an article about programs teaching computer coding to help others who want their kids to learn to code. I have been so fortunate with the programs you have found for me, I want to give something back,” How to Get Started with Coding, Sean Lee. Sometimes there are glimmers of the adult he’s going to be, and then there’s the rest of the time. 😉
The rest of the writing for the month focused on politics, Spain, and the volunteer trip we would be taking in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Because Sean needed to work on structuring, I sent him a nonfiction article daily. I had him start his day reading this article. I would discuss the topic of the article with him, and the structuring the author used for the article.
I like to use other people’s writing when discussing Sean’s writing. We do not use these writings for copy work however. Sean has never enjoyed copy work. I am not a fan of it either. We both consider copy work drudgery. I understand that you can learn techniques from copying the work of others. Sean and I choose to learn those techniques in ways that do not include copy work though. I think of writing as a creative process. To me it is an art form. When you write something that comes from you, it is original. It is unique. It is something you created from your mind. I think creating your own original work is meaningful and special. I come from a family of visual artists and designers. I am the only member of my family who uses words to create their art. I am terrible at creating visual art. I do like to design things though. I want Sean to experience the beauty others use with the artistry of their words. I look for him to use some of the techniques he observes while he crafts his own writing instead of by copying those techniques directly.
Other writing techniques we will focus on in tenth grade are transitions between paragraphs, comma splicing, and concluding paragraphs.
Sean did not finish either of the Coursera courses he started. We ran out of time. Instead he spent his time reviewing the programs in his portfolio so he would be up to speed on these skills when he went to Stanford.
What a wonderful time to be studying astronomy. There are so many new discoveries in this field of science being made every day it is hard to keep up with all of them. We gave it a good try though. Sean took topics out of my book and learned more about them. It was exciting to hear what he was learning. He also used Khan Academy focusing on the math used by astronomers.
This was a busy month of rowing. There were away races and practices were mandatory. Sean has loved this sport. It is much nicer living within biking distance too. Sean hops on his bike, rides to and from, and rows in the middle of his ride.
Eclectic, Academic World-Schooling: Spain
Raising our child to be a global citizen is one of the things my husband and I think is essential knowledge for today’s world. We mainly use travel to make this happen. I cannot lie and say the travel is just for him. I am a vagabond at heart. I absolutely love to see people’s differences. Travel lets us see how those differences are reflected in different cultures. Because of rowing, our trips this year were during the summer, rowing’s off-season.
Our reason for choosing Spain was more eclectic than academic, not that this affected the things I dragged everyone to. My husband has always wanted to go to Spain, and the exchange rate this summer favored the dollar. Spain was fantastic. It was my husband, Jim’s, favorite place we’ve ever travel to. It was one of Sean’s favorites. My favorite is still India. I love Spain, but there is something about India and the people of India that resonates with me like nowhere else I have ever been. You can read about our trip to Spain here, our stay in Spain and India here, our stay in India.
HSC Campout, June 20 to 26
One of the homeschool groups in California, HSC, has weeklong campouts throughout the year. These are so much fun to attend. One of these campouts started a couple of days before we got home from Spain. Sean begged us to let him go. I was receiving emails from friends asking me to go as well. There was no way I was going to get home from Spain and immediately camp for a week. Sean on the other hand had someone pick him up the day he got back from Spain so he could go camping. I might just be raising a vagabond! Camping with HSC
The CHN Conference, June 27 to 28
I picked Sean up on the way to a homeschool conference where I was speaking. One of the perks of having a mother who speaks at homeschool conferences is that you get to attend them. I had heard from other homeschoolers over the years that one of the highlights of their year was attending an annual homeschool conference. I did not take that very seriously until we had attended our first. They are a blast for kids and their parents. In addition to being fun to attend, conferences are a great place for homeschoolers to meet other homeschoolers, make friends, and share ideas. Homeschoolers are a spread out bunch. It is rare to find a group of us together at the same time. I think conferences are important for homeschoolers with a homeschool related business or endeavor for networking. I also think the talks geared toward parents are a sort of academic enrichment. Of course you have to find talks on topics that bring something to your homeschool. If you can find those, you can learn new techniques and tips and gain insight into issues affecting your homeschool situation.
This conference I had a big surprise coming. In the middle of April, I started the Facebook Group Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I did not realize how many people were going to want to talk to me about the group and the content in the article I wrote that led to the formation the group. I brought 50 copies of the article, just in case someone wanted to read it. The copies were gone in a couple of hours. Honestly I was so busy at this conference I barely had time to go to or eat.
The attention I was getting did not go unnoticed by the conference organizers. They asked if I would help them arrange and find speakers for an academic track for their 2016 conference! How exciting! They are looking for talks about Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Computer Science and other STEM areas, History, and Language Arts. The talks should offer practical information such as curriculum recommendations, online or outside resources (i.e. museums), why it is important to learn certain subjects and where this knowledge can take your child.
There will also be a Curriculum Library in the room where the Homeschooling 101 sessions will be held. I am a big fan of looking over materials before buying them. This is a great idea. I will make sure they have a full complement of Pandia Press’ products. If there are materials you would particularly like to look over contact Diane or Martin Forte, CHN curriculum library.
Stanford Pre-Collegiate Computer Simulations and Artificial Intelligence Program, AKA Where Sean Learned to Dance!
Yes you read that correctly! About 4 years into our homeschool journey, my husband remarked that, “One of the major benefits of homeschooling is kids grow up following their own interests. They do not have peer pressure, telling them something is or is not cool.” Sean has grown up being taught if you are interested in something, you should investigate and learn more about it. We believe the places your mind takes you are more than just your idiosyncrasies; they are part of the core essence that makes you unique. My one caveat to this is that Sean has to stick with something he has invested time in even when it gets difficult and complicated, as happened during this school year with computer programming.
I believe Stanford feels the same. When we took Sean to drop him off we attended a welcome dinner. At the dinner one of the speakers said this to the students, “There are no grades, so there should be no fear of failure. Dare to take risks. These three weeks are about exploring ideas and intellectually challenging yourself.” Which is just what Sean did, but not in the way I expected him to do it.
I do not believe language arts and math should be the only important criteria for measuring intelligence, as is often the case in schools today. For that reason Sean has not been raised to only value them. Many years ago I read about the theory of multiple intelligences, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Wikipedia. I have a degree in evolutionary biology, and from the standpoint of evolution and natural selection this theory makes sense. From the standpoint of both a parent and an educator, this theory is observable. Sean has been raised with the understanding that bodily kinesthetic is a type of intelligence and should be treated and valued as such, which is probably why he did not think it would be an issue with his parents when he spent more time at Stanford learning to dance than he did working on computer programming. He was right too. Sean had never, and I mean never, ever! including dancing at teen dances, shown any interest in dancing, despite my love of dancing. I do so love to dance. Nothing structured, but when the music and mood strike, I can dance all night.
Sean had only been at Stanford a couple of days when he texted me telling me he had a new passion, dance. I was beyond surprised, and began peppering him with worried questions asking about the program, and whether he was studying computer programming. He was. It was just that he had a new interest, oh and by the way, he wasn’t going to do crew in the coming year, and I had to find hip hop dance lessons for him. LOL, Jim and I had a harder time digesting that then we did about him not focusing the bulk of his learning at Stanford on computer programming. It would not be until sometime in October that we got over him wanting to dance instead of row. He definitely dared to take a risk, did not fear failure, explored new ideas, and intellectually and physically challenged himself! I was very proud of him! That did not keep me from joking, though, that I sent Sean to Stanford to learn computer programming and he learned to dance instead. I hope Sean never stops dancing to his own drummer!
Check out last months post from handcrafting high school here.
The Home School History Project: American Government
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
I interpret this quote to mean that through studying history people are less likely to repeat past mistakes. I think this is an important reason for studying history. In the United States the best way to accomplish this is by participating in the election process and at least voting. It disturbs me that young people, those who are likely to live the longest and therefore be affected the most by voting decisions made now, are not voting. It seems to me, they are not ensuring that the world they’re going to get is the one they want to live in.
Kids who attend traditional schools have a hefty history requirement, but if you look at the statistics of how likely they are to vote, this doesn’t translate into them helping ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. I wonder if the reason for the disconnect between studying history and working to affect change through the simple act of voting is because of the focus on studying past events without applying the knowledge in a meaningful way to their own life.
These numbers were even worse for the last election in 2014. That got me thinking about learning history and applying what has been learned in a meaningful way. This is how I believe science should be taught. Why not history?
I was thinking along these lines when I came up with the idea for The Homeschool History Project. Sean has spent many years studying history. He has studied American History and World History. We seek out historical sites and living history museums when we travel. This year he is going to apply what he has learned about the past to the world of today. He will actively engage in the history of now.
Two of the basic premises for history this year are:
Large scale changes in history often occur through government action. This is not the only way historical change occurs, but it is what we are focusing on this year.
The best way to learn how government works is by participating in it.
How does a high school student participate in government in a meaningful way? The truth is there aren’t many avenues open to them. Working for a political campaign is one of the few. By working for a political campaign, Sean will gain a better understanding of the issues important to government and the electorate. He will gain a practical working understanding of how elections work and why it is important to vote. Perhaps even more importantly, by investigating and researching candidates, issues, and political parties, he will learn what is most important to him with respect to the issues he will vote on in the future.
What Students Will Be Doing in This Course: A Tentative Schedule
This is not a final schedule. Nothing is set in stone. I expect there to be revisions over the next year.
As candidates enter the primary, listen to the speech where they declare their candidacy and fill out the form at the end of this post.
Months 1 and 2:
Thinkwell American Government
Choose a candidate. If the candidate does not make it out of the primary, Sean will have to switch candidates. He will sign up for a campaign during the first two months with an understanding that he will start working in earnest on the campaign in December. Volunteering will be in addition to the assigned written work.
Months 3 through one month after the election
Each month, look at a specific issue or set of related issues. For example, the different parties’ platforms on scientific issues. Issues like stem cell research and climate change. On week one of the month, fill out a questionnaire looking at the issues. On week two look at how each candidate aligns with their party’s platform. On week three, look at the facts, without the politics, of these issues. On week four, write or discuss orally our opinions about these issues. We will also look at unions, lobbying, healthcare, the financial system, the ongoing wars, money in politics, foreign policy, and any other issues that are important to the electorate. The goal is to have some understanding of these issues by the end of this process.
Write a monthly blog piece about the candidates, issues, and our volunteer experiences.
Watch and discuss orally all the debates. Focus on the discussions with Sean being cogent, while adequately supporting opinions about the debate and the candidate’s positions. Use social media such as Facebook and twitter to comment on the debates. Read factcheck.org after the debates to see who was the most honest about their positions and their opponents’ positions on issues.
Create a photo journal for the final month of the election. Sean will be working hard enough on the campaign this month and won’t have time for much more than photo journaling.
In case you are wondering, I am not an expert on American politics or American government. I know more than Sean, but for most of this we will learn together. I think this adds strength to this course of study. We will use the Thinkwell course to come to an academic understanding of American government. In addition, I want Sean to see my opinions and positions grow and evolve as I come to a deeper understanding of issues, and as I watch the candidates in the debates and read what is written about them. I plan on exploring issues with him and discussing and taking positions as to which we each care most about. I will not be looking for Sean to mirror my positions. I want him to come to an understanding of what matters most to him. I have been careful to this point not to favor any candidate. Does it mean no bias has crept in? No, that is inevitable. Both my husband and I have similar views on most issues, and we often discuss our views.
When I first came up with this idea I thought I would put together a group to do this. We will be doing this with or without a group. One other homeschooling mom is going to do this with us. If anyone else wants to participate in this, great, but it will definitely be a group effort. Frankly, I am too busy for it to be anything else. Here are the guidelines that must be met for participation with the group.
If you want to participate in this with us:
All political and religious affiliations are welcome. However, every person will have to sign a statement at the beginning of this course that they will be respectful of other’s differences. No flaming or bullying will be tolerated. We will leave that for political attack ads. If we can’t celebrate each other’s differences, we will need to at least respect them.
There will be some requirements for the parents of each student. Do not sign up for this unless you, the parent, are willing to do some of the teaching of this course. You will also have to commit to either working on the campaign with your student, or at a minimum, making sure they get to their commitments over the course of the year. It is also expected that you make sure your student is doing the work. It is up to the parent, not me or the other students to make sure your student is doing the work.
Even though I am the person starting this group, I am not in charge of this group.
You do not need to know me personally to be considered for this group.
It is a requirement for this course that all adults the student lives with commit to voting in the 2016 election. Because this course is about American government and how it functions, it is critical that you as a parent set a positive example for your student.
Students can choose any candidate they want, with the exception of candidates who support voter suppression of any kind. Voter suppression disillusions and disenfranchises young people. The purpose of this project is to empower young people not the opposite.
It feels a little funny to openly discuss our political preferences, but Sean doesn’t share my reservations.
If James, Sean’s 30 year old brother, gets his campaign finance reform NGO started, volunteer once a week for him.
Big History with online group – https://www.bighistoryproject.com/home – Sean will be doing a lot of history this year. I probably wouldn’t have him also do this, but both of us think he will enjoy and get a lot out of working with a group of homeschooled kids. So it is just a year with a lot of history!
I let Sean choose between designing a website by himself that will be live by the end of the school year, 2016, or take a series of three courses at UCSD Extension focusing on learning to program in HTML and CSS. He chose designing a website. He already has put in some time on The Homeschool History Project website, and he is enjoying the project. It was getting to be too much to do everything and something had to give. He wants to focus on politics and crew this year, and I can’t blame him. I do to, at least the politics part.
These will be in addition to the book club books. These are not in the order that they will be read. Before I tell you what the list is, I thought you might be interested in the process I use to decide what books are going to read over the course of a year. I look for books with content that is relevant to what we are studying. I narrow these down based on the quality of the writing, and how likely someone of Sean’s age is to get through the material.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy – http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Meridian-Evening-Redness-International-ebook/dp/B003XT60E0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432508385&sr=1-1&keywords=blood+meridian – We are also going to look at how badly Native Americans were treated. I understand that some of the themes running through Beloved and Blood Meridian are for a mature audience. I decided with the first two books on this list that we would deal with the disturbing content when it comes up. They are a part of our history. One of the things we will study while we are reading these books is how government policies enacted at the beginning of our democracy and throughout the subsequent years that were designed to be discriminatory have continued to have negative impacts to the affected people and our country as a whole.
How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C Foster, http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Literature-Like-Professor/dp/0062301675/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435938339&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+read+literature+like+a+professor. Early in the year we will read this book so that Sean can benefit from it as we read the other books. I think this book should be essential reading for teens who might take the SAT or ACT. I do not think that is the only reason to read it though. It is in interesting insight into the techniques and tropes used in literature.
We will be using my text along with a text I found that uses data analysis for situations in geology. The book has students work through and interpret the data. This logical analysis of science data will be a great compliment to what we are doing in politics.
Sean will be scripting, producing, and directing 10 min. videos of me going over the more difficult topics from each chapter.
Sean will be editing my final draft of Astronomy and Earth Science 2 as he works through it.
There are four academic pursuits that will be woven throughout all of the above
Analyzing written material and pulling meaning from it
Being able to formulate an opinion and state that opinion clearly while using supporting statements
Work on the skill of logically analyzing written and oral arguments where someone is trying to convince you of something. Try to ferret out when someone states an opinion as if it is a fact. Pay attention to the logical process used to form the opinion and how well the facts support the opinion. Study the quality of the sources used to support the argument.
I am not sure exactly what, but something with Thom Jones at Crime Scene Camps, http://www.crimescenecamps.com/onlineclasses.html. I promise you, I am not getting free classes or materials from Thom. His classes are that good!
FYI, Homeschooling High School Rocks!
Check out this Real Science Odyssey Lab Photo Journal here.
What a crazy month April was. We moved for the third time since the summer of 2012, and we aren’t in the military. First we moved from the mountains to San Diego where there is a larger homeschool community. That house was too far inland, so we moved closer to the coast. That house was too far from rowing and our adult kids, so we moved closer to both. As you can imagine our friends and family think we’re crazy, or that we really like to move. I feel the feather in Forrest Gump. In addition to moving, we spent time on the road at away races. We have a new granddaughter/niece (depending on who you’re talking to.) I wrote a blog article that led to the formation of a new group, Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers, which has kept me busy. I have also been working on instructions for the illustrator for Astronomy and Earth Science, and anytime I read over my work I edit it. It’s enough to keep even an energizer bunny like me busy!
Last month Sean began writing the code to design a website. He continued working on and enjoying that project. He also signed himself up for the Coursera Course: Malicious Software and Its Underground Economy: Two Sides to Every Story, https://www.coursera.org/course/malsoftware. The professor teaching it, Dr. Lorenzo Cavallero, assigns technical academic reading from peer-reviewed journals each week of the six-week class. This gave me the opportunity to work with Sean on how to read technical academic writing. I had several professors in college assign scientific papers to be read and disseminated. It is a skilled type of reading that most people outside of scientific communities don’t have much experience with. That’s too bad, because many issues we make decisions about in our personal life are based on the findings of scientists. If you aren’t able to understand what scientists are talking about in their writings, then you have to rely on others to interpret those writings for you. That said, I’m a scientist, and it didn’t occur to me until this week that I should start working with Sean so that he has experience with this type of skilled reading. If you’re wondering what he thinks of the readings, he finds them dry, very dry. Sean is slogging through them though. When he finishes an article, I have him explain to me what the authors’ points are and what the focus of their study is. I was very pleased with his answers. (Even though, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. Seriously, botnets?!?) Here is a link to an article someone sent me about how to read scientific papers. I didn’t use it, because I had already finished tutoring Sean on how to do it, but I read it and thought it was good. http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/08/25/how-to-read-and-understand-a-scientific-paper-2/.
This year math has clicked for Sean. He calls it his easy subject. It began when he started using a calculator for simple calculations. Once those sort of simple calculations were out of the way, Sean gained more confidence, because he could see he was good at the more difficult steps. It has been frustrating over the years to deal with this. I have told him for years he is better at math than he thinks he is. He saw that he got the problem incorrect without recognizing he did everything correct except calculate 5*7 correctly. (For some reason 5*7 is often a problem for him.) So he thought he was bad at math. The complicated, multi-stepped problems that he knows he has to pay attention to, he does well at. The problems that focused on simple calculations, he would often get wrong.
It took me a while, but I have come to be much more accepting of computerized systems in our homeschool. Why not use Dragon software for dictation if you struggle with handwriting, a calculator if you struggle with simple calculations, spell check or grammar check if those are weak areas for you? I’m not suggesting people don’t learn basic math, spelling, or grammar. I’m suggesting that if a student is struggling with a subject there is an argument to be made for eliminating the specific area they’re struggling with to focus on the larger picture. Students can continue to work on the areas they’re struggling with separately. Although you know if you follow this blog, I told Sean that unless he took the time on his own he was never going to have his multiplication tables mastered, and we left those behind. At some point, life is too short.
This was an interesting month in science for us. Last month we decided to spend the rest of this school year studying astronomy. At the beginning of this month I gave Sean a list of astronomy questions to answer. These were in areas he expressed interest in previously. He researched the answer to each question and then worked on writing strong paragraphs with good topic sentences to answer them.
While Sean worked on this, I looked over the text I am writing to make sure it was realistic to use it as a high school level course. As I have said before, astronomy, cosmology, and earth science could easily be called applied physics and chemistry. By including more applied math, and some more technical modeling exercises it was surprisingly easy to bring Astronomy and Earth Science 2 to a high school level. Interestingly, I found myself in conversation with someone who was a very well regarded high school physics and chemistry teacher. She is now running the science department for a private school in California. When I told her what I had been working on her response was, “That makes sense. There isn’t much difference between high school and middle school labs. If you included more math and focused on modeling and data analysis, you could definitely use a middle school course for high school.” It is interesting how often these sort of coincidences happen in life, isn’t it 😉
Sean spent the last part of the month reviewing the early chapters in astronomy, but this time with more math, focused modeling and data analysis, and with research questions woven through. We were both happy with the results.
The focus of language arts this month was on nonfiction writing and reading. Most of Sean’s language arts has not focused on nonfiction writing, because he prefers fiction. I warned him the focus on nonfiction writing and reading would be the situation through most of 10th grade. As usual when asked to do something that is not his ideal choice, he grumbled a bit and then with his characteristic good humor got on with the task at hand. It helped that I had him focus on 3 areas that interest him.
Astronomy: He researched and wrote about parallel universes, dark matter, and black holes.
Volunteer/Travel: He spent time learning more about the Oglala Lakota tribe and the situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is an interesting but depressing topic.
Politics: As with science, I gave him a series of questions to research and write about. Here is a list of the questions. I told him that if he had any problems filling these out, he should call the local Democratic or Republican headquarters and they would be able to help him answer the questions. (I am sorry to share these and not the astronomy questions, but I keep all my original work very close to my chest until it is published.)
What are the names of all the political parties who ran a candidate in the 2012 presidential election?
How many of these parties already have a declared candidate as of 4\16\2015?
What are the names of the candidates who have already declared their candidacy?
What is the procedure for declaring your candidacy for president?
Are there differences for declaring your candidacy depending on your party affiliation?
Are there differences for declaring your candidacy depending on the state you are from?
Does it cost money to declare your candidacy? If yes how much? If yes, what do you think about this policy? If no, do you think there should be a fee? We will be discussing your answer to this. I will be taking the opposite position, so be prepared to defend and discuss your position.
What does the term platform mean when referring to politics?
A lot of strategizing goes into how a candidate runs their campaign. What do you think the thinking is for someone who declares their candidacy early, or first?
Some candidates are predicted right away to have a good shot at winning, and others are predicted to have no shot at winning. It costs a lot of money, both your own and donated, to run for president. Why would anyone donate money to someone who is not predicted to win? (Hint: think about platform issues.)
This sort of spin happens to all candidates. What do you think the effect of misleading or untrue spin is on people’s attitudes toward the political process as a whole?
Sean also signed up for the Coursera Course Online Gamers: Literature, The New Media, and Narrative. He really wanted to take this. This course requires Sean to read Lord of the Rings, play the online game called LOTRO, and possibly do some writing. I’m not completely sure about that. This course started at the very end of the month. We will see how it goes. As long as he can get to all his other subjects, he can keep on doing this one, https://www.coursera.org/course/onlinegames. It’s a good course, but I think Sean might have signed up for it so he has an academic excuse to play video games 😉
History, Law, and Unsolved Crimes
We continued to work on and review Pandia’s Level 3 American History course. We should have been done with it, but Sean got sidetracked studying about the plight of Native Americans. We are taking this area of study slow; because the injustices done to them make him so angry, it can sidetrack the day.
Sean started a new course through Crime Scene Camps. We are going to be sorry when Sean has taken all of Thom’s courses. They are so good, and Thom is a master at focusing in and digging deeper. We use the courses for discussion purposes. I haven’t had Sean do anything beyond reading and discussing them with Thom and me. Sean has learned so much through them. The new course is Unsolved Crimes. So far Sean has learned about Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. This class is fun! I am reading along with him!
Here is the description of the course from Thom’s website.
Unsolved Crimes: Update–In my work on the Zodiac case, I have uncovered new clues that have never been discussed previously. The first place I shared this information was with my current homeschool session of this course. This course is a homeschool version of one of my most popular college courses. We will look at iconic unsolved crimes and apply modern techniques to our analysis of each case. Each week, we will read about one of the cases, do our own research, and then discuss various hypotheses. The cases covered will include Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, The Black Dahlia, The Zodiac, the Lindbergh Kidnapping, and others. While some of these cases have a high level of violence, I tone it down, even in my college classes. I am more interested in solving the forensic puzzle.
Jim and I chaperoned one of the away races this month. It was a blast. I rode on the girls’ bus and Jim rode up on the boys’ bus. We left the clubhouse at 4 a.m. I sat right behind the driver. I should tell you that I am an early riser. I am also the type of person to ask about and honestly want to hear the story of someone’s life. While every other person on the bus tried to sleep, I learned about the driver’s interesting and inspiring life. He had been violent in his youth and had been in and out of prison because of it. Somewhere along the line he turned his life around. He has done a good job of raising his children and the children of his various girlfriends and wives. He is still close to all of the children even the ones that are not his. He helped any of them who wanted to go to college to do so. One of the times when he was in prison, one of his ex-girlfriend had twins without letting him know. When the twins were 3, he was contacted by the state of California to pay child support for them. At that time the twins were homeless. This was the first he knew about them. He fought for and was granted custody of them. Even as I realized that his voice was very loud, and that there was grumbling on the bus all around me, I did not stop him in his story. It really was that interesting, and I am not good at stopping people when they are on a roll. I lost my privilege of riding behind the bus driver forever! LOL‼
For the first time since he joined the team, Sean experienced burnout. It lasted about a week. The week before he loved crew and wanted to go to a college with a crew team. The following week he was done with crew and didn’t want to ever row again. The next week he loved crew and wanted to go to a college with the crew team. This used to happen toward the end of the ski season too. Crew has a nine month season. It is probably lucky that April was month eight of the season.
We have 4 weeks of school before we leave for Spain. Beginning on the 27th of May we leave for Spain. I will be blogging every day about our travels.
The next three weeks Sean worked on narrowing the focus of his writing. I like to call writing with a narrow focus “tight writing”. This skill is particularly important in non-fiction writing. Writing that is too loose plagues even experienced adult writers 😉 Sometimes when I am having trouble with a chapter I have to vomit everything I know about the topic onto the page. It is as if I cannot focus down without getting it all out. Even when it is clear and cohesive though, it doesn’t make for good writing. There is too much information. It is the same problem kids have, except without my skill with the delete button. (I have many, many times erased pages worth of writing.) Kids come to understand that it is good and important to acquire large amounts of knowledge. It makes complete sense that they want to demonstrate how much knowledge they have acquired when they write. The only problem with that is it makes it hard to write a focused piece, and most writing is best when it is focused.
In case you are beginning to wonder, there wasn’t much writing being done this first month. I think it is a better approach to take some of the important writing strategies and focus on them separately. It emphasizes the importance of thinking about the strategies when writing and helps minimize distractions away from learning about these strategies. In addition, Sean worked on writing strong sentences. I didn’t call them topic sentences at the time, but that’s what they would have been in a larger piece of writing.
There were a couple of times during the month when I wasn’t sure about this approach where we looked at letters, and then discussed words, and then discussed how you take those words to build one strong sentence. It didn’t feel like there was enough writing going on, and it felt like I was dumbing down the class. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but I thought I should tell you in case you’re reading this and thinking that this approach is more appropriate for let’s say a second grader. The irony of me putting together this series is that Sean and I are going to spend the last part of this year, 2015, revisiting what we did in fourth grade writing. It is going to be more advanced, and more on his level, but after reading my last blog piece, Sean thought it would be fun to go back and re-look at this.
Month 1: Week 2: The forest and the tree
Day 1: Keeping in line with the artistic approach to language arts, the week started with me asking Sean to draw or paint a forest. I gave him no more information than that. I gave him an hour or so to do it. I painted along with him. In fact this month, I did the same exercises I was asking him to do. I did that so I could think through the process I was using and discuss the process with him. I also did it in case the lesson wasn’t hitting the mark I hoped it would when I thought it up. That way if I needed to explain it more or differently as he went along I would know right away to do that. After he painted the forest I asked him to write 1 strong sentence describing the forest, with 3 facts in it. As I said, we worked on this together with both of us creating our own sentence.
Day 2: We drew or painted one of the trees in the forest. Then I asked him to write 1 strong sentence describing the tree with 3 facts in it. It was easier to draw 1 tree versus a forest, and much easier to come up with a strong sentence describing the tree. That was the point of the exercise. I wasn’t sure if he would understand that from this. If he didn’t, I was planning on drawing a leaf the next day.
Day 3: We lived in a remote area, so we had to do this online. Otherwise we would have gone to a museum. We looked at a series of artwork. We discussed the techniques used by visual artists to bring focus to specific points on their canvases. Sean wrote a topic sentence that went similar to, “Artists focus attention by” (and then he listed 3 strategies he observed).
Day 4: We went to the library and looked online to study how diaspora in history have affected families. Sean got into it and spent several hours studying this. I asked him to write one strong sentence with three pieces of information in it about the effects of diaspora on families. He couldn’t. He had too many things running through his mind to narrow it down, so the two of us wrote a sentence together. We spent a lot of time discussing what to include and what to leave out. Then we finished the week by watching Fiddler on the Roof. (Were you wondering why I chose diaspora?) I love musicals. That one has been one of my favorites since I was a little girl and saw it on Broadway. In case you aren’t familiar with Fiddler on the Roof, one of the central events in the play is a pogrom, and I treated the pogrom as a mini-diaspora. After that we both wrote a strong sentence with no problem about the effects of diaspora on families. We discussed how much easier it was to understand and communicate something when you focused and limited the amount of information. We also discussed the choice the playwright made when taking serious subjects such as diaspora, anti-Semitism, and depriving people of their liberty and property and making a musical instead of a drama. When teaching writing I think it is important to take a step back from time to time and discuss the decision the author made for the type of writing used to portray their message. We spent a lot of time reading Shel Silverstein during fourth grade as well. He often takes serious subjects to write about in his poetry.
Month 1: Week 3
Now that I had made my point about the importance of narrowing your focus when you write, it was time to help Sean learn strategies for how to do that. The strategy we worked on this week was narrowing the focus of writing with descriptive language.
Day 1: I used trains from the Thomas the Tank Engine set we still had lying around. You could use My Little Ponies or all sorts of things, but your child needs to know a lot about what you chose. You need three things that are the same (i.e. ponies or trains), with each having a different appearance. Sean and I each wrote yet another sentence, this time about the trains (but not a train) in the Thomas the Tank series. Then I put the 3 trains on the table and we discussed visual differences between them. I wrote the descriptive differences down for Sean on the white board and left them there. We discussed how differences in color and shape made one train appear happy and another grumpy. We discussed how word choices in a story determine the personality you think a character has. Next we read a story in the Thomas series discussing what noticed. Then we watched a cartoon with Thomas. In addition to appearance we discussed how speed and movement was depicted differently to create mood and indicate a specific focus for a character. I explained to him how much thought goes into these types of descriptive choices when designing products such as toys.
Day 2: I told Sean that we were going to pretend that we had both been hired to design a new train for the Thomas the Tank Engine series. We were given complete artistic control about the mood and personality of the train. Each of us needed to write down three characteristics describing the mood and personality of the train we were going to design. We did not share the descriptions with each other. These were just simple notes; no sentences needed, and the spelling did not need to be perfect. We each needed to create with clay the prototype for the train as we had described it on our paper. The reason for having him make it with clay was that I wanted to give Sean the opportunity to use a different artistic medium, one that required more tactile manipulation. We discussed that we made one general structure for the train and then we began adding details to make it specific. As we were working we talked about how much more interesting the train we were creating became as we added more specific information to it, i.e. doing little things to it to help create the mood or personality we wanted to convey. Next we shared our representations with each other. Based on the prototype we each wrote one strong sentence telling three things that we guessed about the mood and personality of our character. Then we shared what our original intent was for the mood and personality for our train.
Neither of us got it exactly correct for what the other was trying to represent. We discussed how there is interpretation both with words and other forms of art. Then we discussed ways that we could revise our trains to make it more specific so that the artist’s vision for what the train would look like would be more specific and therefore easier for others to figure out.
Day 3: I started by looking up the word dragon in the dictionary. We discussed, yet again, how this sort of bland definition was boring. It’s boring to read, and it’s boring to write. I turned to one of my favorite authors when it comes to tight descriptive writing, someone who is never boring to read, J. K. Rowling. I used her descriptions of the four dragons from the first challenge of the Tri-Wizards Tournament from the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, pp 325 with the word Dragons through the next 2 pages, pp 326 and 327, of the hardcover book. We discussed how tight, well-described passages are much more interesting. We also discussed that dictionaries should have the more generalized albeit less-interesting description in them 😉
Then we each wrote a descriptive paragraph of a dragon we each invented. The paragraph was a rough draft. We discussed word choices for making our writing tight, and descriptions specific.
Day 4: We edited our paragraphs so that the topic sentences were strong, and the writing was tight. We did not edit our writing for other errors, and I made sure to keep my writing at a similar level to Sean’s. It wasn’t hard because we brainstormed together, and I asked Sean for his advice a couple of times. I also asked him for help on specific word choices, such as, “Do you think it sounds scarier if I say the teeth were “like sharp needles that could pierce armor” or “pointed and dripping green blood”?”
In case you are wondering we were using Sequential Spelling for spelling, and using the occasional grammar worksheet to keep those lessons learned. We used Word Roots for vocabulary.
Month 1: Week 4
We spent this week using facts to focus writing. We also looked at how much easier it is to write about a topic the more specific the topic is. Over the four days of writing we used the table below. (I did use my book, RSO Chemistry 1 for this for Sean, but you could use something else. For myself, I substituted the words 1. vehicle, 2. car, 3. Ford, and 4. Mustang because I know very little about cars.) We both started each day writing the sentence on the left without reading anything. Then we read a passage and wrote a sentence using specific facts from the passage.
Day 1: The topic was chemistry.
Day 2: The topic was matter.
Day 3: The topic was atoms.
Day 4: The topic was hydrogen atom.
Write a sentence about chemistry
Now read the assigned passage and use facts you learned to write a sentence about chemistry
Write a sentence about matter
Now read the assigned passage and use facts you learned to write a sentence about matter
Write a sentence about atoms
Now read the assigned passage and use facts you learned to write a sentence about atoms
Write a sentence about hydrogen atom
Now read the assigned passage and use facts you learned to write a sentence about hydrogen atom
The posts in this series are from my notes when I thought all this up 5 1/2 years ago.
Some months a handcrafted education looks like a carefully detailed pattern has been followed as if I bought something from Butterwick, cut it out carefully, pinned everything meticulously, and sewed all the pieces exactly to Butterwick’s specifications. Other times a handcrafted education looks like a crazy quilt. It has a little of this and a little of that. It looks like I ran out of the fabric that I was planning on using and began to wildly improvise. This month looked and felt like a crazy quilt. It was productive, satisfying, and dizzying. We crammed in everything that we could, with some left over spilling out into the future. (There’s always the summer months, LOL!) But hey, that’s homeschooling! I worked hard with scheduling this month so that between academics and rowing Sean could still have time with his friends. Rowing is a big time commitment, in part because we live an hour away from where he rows. In fact, in April we are moving 55 minutes closer to rowing. We love the house we live in now. It is nicer than the one were moving to, but to cut 1 hour and 50 minutes of driving time out of our day 5 to 6 days a week is big. I can’t wait!
Part of the crazy schedule was because my husband, Jim, went to the Women’s Conference at the United Nations in New York City in March. Jim usually does most of the driving, taking Sean where he needs to go. Jim was at the Woman’s Conference because he believes that gender equality and women’s rights are critical issues that need to be addressed to solve many of the problems in the world today. He wanted to learn more about what women from different countries felt were the key issues faced by women. He thought this would be a good place to get a feel for that. Jim has been working on his Masters for a few years now. He is getting close to the end. His Masters is in International Relations. It may seem hokey but in our house we spend time talking about things like how to make your life matter and making the world a better place for our kids and grandkids (and yours too). My husband hopes to use his Masters as a way of doing that. I don’t know what we will do when Sean goes away to college. One of the things we’ve talked about is joining the Peace Corps.
Sean finished the second quarter of computer programming with C/C++. The first two weeks of March were the last two weeks of the class. The amount of work assigned for those two weeks was intense. There really was no way to get ahead in this class, because each week there were 2 to 4 programs to write and an open book quiz that was really hard. So each week you were writing programs for that week’s assignment. Sean put in 12 to 14 hour days 6 days a week for the last two weeks. I insisted that he take 1 day off each week. At one point we debated about having him take the next quarter of the series, and then decided we were being ridiculous about it. He needed to have time for his other subjects, and he was getting burnt out about computer programming.
I asked Sean to think of a project that he would like to work on in computer science to finish out the academic school year; something that he thought would be fun. He told me he wanted to design a website for a history project that we are going to do for the next school year. It is an idea that I came up with and when I originally suggested he design a website for it, it was as an academic exercise for him so that he could apply what he has been learning. (A Wordpress blog would suffice for the project, but I would have set that up not Sean.) I think the application of knowledge is an important step in the learning process and one that is often overlooked as we cram subjects with information that is supposed to be memorized without applying it. Sean told me he needed one solid day to work on the website every week. I am glad he picked this project, because the last half of March saw him becoming enthused about computer science once again. Yay, his passion became a passion again! As far as all the hard work and cramming, wow, does he know a lot more about computer programming! As he has been applying what he learned over the last year, I have been seriously impressed. Even though I have no idea what he’s doing most of the time.
When Sean and I realized the amount of time computer science was going to take we took a break from the rest of his core academic subjects. Sean continued taking Law and History in Context. The other two “non-play” related things he continued to do were rowing and working every other weekend teaching kids computer programming.
Both Sean and I had a big surprise when he picked his math text back up. For the first time in Sean’s life math poured out of him like water out of a pitcher. My grandmother once told me that in our family math either poured out of you like water from a pitcher it was so easy, or you had to work at it. Math has always poured out of me, and my grandmother and mother, like water out of a picture. Interestingly enough that is not the case for my sister, but it is the case for my nephew, her son. For Sean, he had to work at it just like my sister did. Not anymore, though. Now he can sit down and do what used to be two days’ worth of math in half the time it took him to do one day. Math is now Sean’s easiest subject!
I am so lucky that Sean did high school level biology in eighth grade. Because try as we might I cannot see how we are going to finish the entire astronomy and earth science course this year. Part of that is because Sean has become entranced with astronomy. The course opens as an astronomy and cosmology course and then moves on to become an earth science course. Whereas it is easy to move through math more quickly, it doesn’t make sense to do that with science when someone becomes interested in an area and wants to investigate further. Sean has gotten to the point where he is asking questions about parallel universes that I don’t know the answers to. He has taken all the knowledge I have about the subject, learned more, and is accessing what scientists know or think they know about parallel universes at a level beyond where I am on the subject. It is everything that a teacher could hope for. When Sean was little he used to tell me that I was so smart he was never going to be that smart. I used to tell him that I hoped that he would learn everything I knew and be smarter.
Writing this year is pushing my panic buttons. I need to go hang out with my dear unschooling friends more. Sean is a very good writer. His main problem with his writing is that he likes to take every writing project and turn it into a big project. Big writing projects take time, lots and lots of time. Something we have not had a lot of this year. Even when he stays within the confines of a five paragraph essay, he tries to cram in as much information as possible, spending hours and days researching the topic. Then me he works for hours trying to get as much of this information into his paper as possible. The problem with that is, the writing isn’t tight. It makes his papers feel like they are not cohesive. The way he puts words together is excellent. As a reader though, you start to lose focus because there is just so much there. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem does it. To become a better writer the formula is very simple level though; you need to write. That is the entire formula. It makes me nervous when we are spending all our time on computer programming and not taking time for writing. I bought the IEW writing program, and it was really simple for Sean. At the end of the day, I do not think it is the best program for someone who already is a good writer and just needs to work on some of the stylistic issues. Some of the stylistic issues Sean needs to work on are big though. Sean does not write a good concluding paragraph. His transitions going from one body paragraph to the next are nonexistent. And he is not careful about making sure that his introductory paragraph has a lead in to each of his body paragraphs. Just as I was starting to worry, along came something very serendipitous. This type of serendipity is actually been the hallmark of this year.
One of the only perks I have ever gotten from all my writing came along this month 😉 I had the opportunity to preview a section of the High School American History Course that my publisher Pandia Press is working on right now. It was not until we had been working with this course for a week that I realized in addition to teaching history the author of the course is attempting something ambitious. She is completely successful in her attempt too. In addition to teaching American history, the author weaves study techniques and the skill of writing nonfiction essays throughout the course. If you take the time to use the techniques she is presenting to students in the student guide and the teaching techniques she gives you in the teacher’s guide, the course can be used as a history course and the bulk of a writing course. The benefits to integrating writing with another academic discipline are similar to what I was talking about when I said it was important for Sean to apply the computer programming skills he learned. I think that to take interesting topics or even just those that are assigned and apply writing skills in a meaningful way is the best way to learn writing. It also makes the academics more integrated, which both Sean and I prefer. I also have Sean write lab reports, and take some notes in science. Sean really likes to write fiction, so I give him time each year to work on his fiction writing too.
2014 was the first year in a long time that we did not travel anywhere. We had planned on traveling in the fall of 2014, but rowing got in the way. One of the things we did this month was to figure out where we are going to go this summer. Rowing is a nine month a year commitment. And Sean wants to stay committed to it next year. So we have to do our travel during the summer when there is a break from rowing.
On May 27, we leave for Spain for three weeks. I will be blogging every day as we travel. There will be a couple of posts before we leave. We are also going to take the month of August and take a driving trip through the northern part of the United States. We will be stopping at some of the national parks along the way such as Yellowstone. We will be at the Oglala Lakota reservation called Pine Ridge in South Dakota in the middle of August where we will volunteer for a week helping to build houses for the residents there, http://www.re-member.org/. I will also be blogging every day of that trip.
Check out our post on teaching high school and middle school physics here.
Oh my goodness! What a busy month February was for both Sean and me. There were times this month when I felt like I barely had time to breathe. I actually realized TWICE! that I had showered and forgotten to shave. I remember being super busy close to the end with biology too. There is a point when writing a book where I can see the finish line, and I am ready to be there, so I work as hard as I can even at night. I did not finish it this month, in case you are wondering. (The book has yet to be illustrated or edited by anyone but my husband Jim, Sean, and me. So do not start looking for it soon.)
The photos are a series of memes I found on my computer this month. Put there I am sure because of a back and forth Sean and I have going on, “Is it meant to represent a prism separating light into its individual wavelengths, or Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side of the Moon?” This all started when I bought a pair of pajama bottoms for Sean, because I thought it was cool Target was selling scientifically themed clothes. When Jim and Sean saw them, they immediately said, “Dark Side of the Moon, cool!” I disagreed! Unfortunately they were correct about Target’s intent, but I didn’t give up right away. So… memes and a bit of teasing.
Sometimes this year the academics have come together and Sean has seemed to just “get” it. That was what it was like with computer programming and math in February. Everything just jelled. This was good because Sean needed lots of sleep this month. There have been many days when he was tired all day, ravenously hungry, and extremely grumpy. TEENS! He must be growing again.
On every level, I was happy with our handcrafted homeschooled education this month. I think of the process I use with Sean as similar to how I would create a recipe. I love to create recipes by the way. I almost went into chef school instead of becoming a chemist. There are a lot of parallels between cooking and chemistry. I cannot tell you how many times my family has told me that they love something I made, and I have said, “Hmmn, I’m not sure if I can re-create this recipe. I changed so much, and I didn’t write down the specific amounts for what I used.”
Computer programming is a good example of this. Sean was going to take 3 quarters of programming this school year. Last month I told you he was going to take a break, and not take a class in Spring Quarter. Then he changed his mind, and decided to take the class. Because he has been so grumpy this month, I sat him down and asked what was going on. (Besides the obvious, which is puberty.) It turns out, it was because he really didn’t want to take the class. He has a friend taking the class with him, which makes him want to take it. He thought I wanted him to take it, which made him want to take it. I told him I only wanted him to take the class if he wanted to, but I did want him to do something computer related. The upshot is, he will not be taking the class. He will be designing a website. It was time to tweak that ingredient, exchanging it for something else.
Sean has continued to enjoy the law class and the history class. For one of the classes, Thom, who teaches both, asked Sean to choose a historical event that interested him and learn more about it. From there they talked about the different ways that historical event is portrayed and perceived. It was a great lesson, made even more meaningful because Sean chose the event they focused on. He devoted a couple of days learning about the Watts riots. It is wonderful when Sean becomes captivated with an area of study, coming to me to tell me about what he has learned.
Sean suffered from migraines several days this month. It has been a couple of years since he has had so many in one month. We are lucky we homeschool. It must be difficult for kids who suffer from migraines, who have to attend regular school. One day Sean could not get out of bed. He wanted to lay there curled in the fetal position, sleep, and listen to a book on tape. So he did. On other days when he suffered from migraines that were not as bad we went geocaching or he read. He went to rowing all but one of the days. Rowing helps with the migraines. At first they were a trigger, but after a while they helped alleviate the symptoms and cut down on the incidence of the migraines. His doctor told us this would be the case, so we toughed it out for the period early on when they triggered the migraines.
We heard back from Stanford. Sean was accepted into their pre-collegiate summer session. He will spend three weeks studying Computer Simulations and Interactive Media. I’ll be honest and tell you, I’m excited for him. I’m not excited because I think this means he’s going to end up getting to go to college at Stanford. (Sean has no idea where he wants to apply to college, other than he wants to go somewhere with a crew team.) I am excited because of something I was told once about Stanford.
The daughter of a friend attended Stanford’s Online High School. They were not homeschoolers. Her daughter had always done very well in school. She was on the ski team, and wanted to have more time for skiing. She also wanted to challenge herself academically. Stanford’s online school gave her the flexibility to ski more, coupled with rigorous academics. I asked her what the teaching was like for the on-line classes. She told me that the teachers she was working with were the best teachers she had ever had. She said they made her think of things and look at topics in new ways. She told me that these teachers had opened her eyes to new perspectives. This is why I am excited for Sean. I hope he has a similar experience. I think it likely, given that Stanford cannot tell you exactly what your child will be working on, because they put together a planned project based on who attends. They look over the strengths and passions of the kids who will be in a session and plan what the project will be based on those students. It sounds like the homeschool version of learning, doesn’t it?
As I mentioned last month there were several essays as a part of the application. We went about this part of the application informally at first. Sean and I started conversationally without any paper or computer in front of us. I would ask Sean one of the questions he needed an essay for, and he would answer orally before writing them down. I used this approach because I wanted the real essence of him to come through. When Sean answered the questions on the application I did not want the focus to be on what he needed to write to get into the summer program. When Stanford sent us the invitation to apply, the only thing they knew about Sean was that he was a high school aged kid who had done well in a couple of computer science classes. They did not know one other thing about him. It’s possible that their summer program wouldn’t be a good fit for him. And if it wasn’t a good fit for him, it wouldn’t be worth taking three weeks out of the summer to go to it. I was completely surprised by some of his answers. I got to know him better through this process. There was no right or wrong answer, and I did my best not to steer him in any direction. If he was stumped on an answer I would say, “This is what I think they’re asking.” Then I would rephrase the question, but not in a way that introduced my bias. Again it was important to me to make sure Stanford was a good fit for him. If they didn’t want him because of something he answered in his essay, that would be okay. Whether a program or a college is a good fit works both ways, and not every place or every program is going to be a good fit for Sean or anyone else for that matter. I don’t care what the name is on the logo, if it isn’t a good fit it’s not worth spending the time, the money of life, participating in it.
Here are some excerpts from his essays. These are not all from the same essay, or for the same questions.
I thought this was a clever perspective
“When I was little, I loved building with Legos. Using algorithms and data structures is like building with Legos where you take one piece, add another in just the right place, and you keep adding pieces until you have built something from them. With programming it is even better than with Legos, because you take 2-dimensional characters on a screen, adding them to each other and putting them in just the right place, to build something important people can use.”
I was totally surprised by this one.
“In many ways I am your typical straight A student…” How would he know what a typical straight A student is like?
This is my favorite passage, and it blew me away. I flat out had no idea why Sean was always dragging us into art galleries. In case you are wondering, neither my husband nor I on our own visit art galleries or museums. Sean has always enjoyed visiting them, so we do. For a long time he mispronounced museum, musaam. He was constantly asking to visit “musaams”. One of the things my husband Jim values most about homeschooling is how homeschooled kids seem so much more comfortable exploring their passions and differences. Jim thinks this is because they do not have a peer group telling them something is uncool. How many 15 year old boys would admit to wanting to travel the world visiting art galleries and museums. I can think of some besides Sean, and they are all homeschooled!
“These are only a few of the things I have learned and seen while traveling. Every time I see or learn about something new, the world gets both bigger and smaller at the same time.
It is the same thing when I go to art galleries. In every country and town we go to, I visit art galleries, large and small. When I visit art galleries, I do not look at each piece for its beauty. I look at them to try to understand what the artist’s intent was. This is what traveling does for me. It is almost spiritual as it opens me up to the intent of other peoples, cultures, and times. To me the world is a rich tapestry that I am fortunate enough to be traveling through.”
I wanted to celebrate Sean’s acceptance. So we took a day to visit The Art Museums in Balboa Park, near where we live. On the way there we walked by an artists village. Sean wanted to stop there first to check out the living artists. We never made it to one museum. We spent the day wandering through the village, talking to artists, and watching demonstrations. Glass blowing looks fun!
I was too busy to read much this month that wasn’t research for earth science.
Both Sean and I read:
This is the second book in the Red Rising trilogy. It is even better than Red Rising. I can’t wait for the next book to come out!
Will Shortz Presents Challenging KenKen
I love KenKen when I am really busy. I like to read or work these sorts of puzzles to unwind. KenKen is better than reading if I have things to do in the morning, because I do not get sucked into them, staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. to finish them.
Crew: Once There Were Vikings, and that Is the Last Time Any of Sean’s Relatives Rowed!
Rowing, or crew as I am just beginning to call it, has been the surprise favorite this year. My husband’s grandparents emigrated from Norway, but they were farmers there and in North Dakota where they ended up. The last relatives in our family that we know of who rowed were Vikings. In fact, everything I know about this sport I have learned from watching my son compete and reading the book The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, which is a good read. Honestly I don’t even know the prow from the stern (I think I got those terms right). 😉
Crew is a physically intense, demanding sport, something we have learned Sean likes very much. The harder the coaches push him, and the tougher they are with the workouts, the happier Sean is. Sean likes everything about rowing. He likes the camaraderie with the other kids. He likes how it is a team sport but that it asks a lot from each individual in the boat. He likes his coaches. He likes the venue in Mission Bay. And he likes the club, The San Diego Rowing Club, SDRC, http://www.sdrcjrs.com/. He has even come to like the nickname his teammates gave him, Broccoli, because of his curly hair.
Rowing was not a planned class. Another homeschooling parent posted that there were free rowing tryouts for 1 week to see if kids liked the sport. I had been trying to get Sean interested in something athletic for the better part of a year, ever since he got healthy again after breaking his ankle. Sean is a person whose mental psyche benefits greatly from regular exercise. I know everybody benefits, but with him it is immediately noticeable, and he’s an awful grump when he is not regularly exercising. He told me he would try rowing, but then changed his mind. Luckily, I forced the issue.
Since the beginning of September, rowing has become a part of our life. Most of the kids who do what is called crew, not rowing, are not homeschooled. Crew practice is from 4 to 6:30ish every weeknight, with an optional practice from 8:30 to 11 most Saturdays. Several of the Sundays have races on them. Sean is on the Novice Men’s Team. It is a team of boys who are high school freshman or who are in later grades in high school but have never rowed before. Next year Sean will automatically graduate to the Varsity Team.
My husband and I took him to the first tryout. We sat in the car and watched this crazy, intense, challenging workout. About halfway through, the two of us looked at each other and said, “Oh, he must be hating this. We should make him stick with it for the first week just to see if he likes it though, okay.” When Sean got in the car the first thing out of his mouth was, “Best sport ever!”
It might surprise you to find out that athletics is a reason we are lucky that we are homeschoolers, but not for the reason most people mean when they say that. For many years, Sean was on a competitive ski team. He was on the race team, then after much begging on his part he moved over to the Freeride team, what a lot of people call the trick team. Sean was very injury prone. Sean has broken his nose, his ankle, both his heels, and the pinky fingers on both hands. More significantly, Sean has also had two complex concussions. You might think from reading this that we are negligent parents who just kept throwing him back out there, but some of these injuries are from things like hopping across a creek while playing tag with friends.
The first complex concussion he suffered was in an event where he was jumping and he over rotated on the jump. He landed on his nose, breaking it, and suffering a complex concussion. It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The second complex concussion was a freak accident where he turned out of the way to avoid a snowboarder and into a tree. Once you have one complex concussion you are much more susceptible to others and you get them from a much lower force of impact. I won’t go into the details of what it was like having a child with a complex concussion. (It was a dark time for us, though. I could relive it in talking if it helped someone, but not in writing.)
When Sean went to the concussion specialist, the doctor asked me how good Sean was at school. I replied that he was a good student. The doctor told me that was good because Sean needed to take the rest of the school year off. Sean injured himself in the first week of February. Your child can’t do any academics if you want his or her brain to heal completely. Sean wasn’t allowed to read. He couldn’t exercise. He was unable to do simple math tasks. He couldn’t even play video games. According to the doctor, all Sean could do if we wanted his brain to heal completely was watch TV, and only if he was watching shows that didn’t require any mental focus. If Sean went to traditional school he would have missed so much school, he would be a grade below the rest of his same age classmates. Between the two complex concussions, Sean took almost a year off school. The only left over effect from Sean’s concussions is trauma induced migraines. That and he cannot participate in any sport where there is a risk of getting another concussion.
It’s hard to imagine how you could get a concussion participating in crew. (Now I am imagining how a boat could fall on his head while carrying it to the water!) I have been skiing since I was two years old. Sean also started skiing when he was two. Sean, my husband, and I really, really love to ski. I was lucky enough with my skiing that I never seriously injured myself. My son wasn’t so lucky. Sean’s mental health is linked to his participation in intense physical activities. When he is not participating in them, he gets very down. When he is participating in them, he is sunny, joyful, and very humorous. If you have a kid who needs this sort of physical activity then you know what I mean. It is like turning a light switch on and off. Crew is the first sport he has tried since skiing that he loved enough to want to participate in on a regular basis. We are lucky to have found it.
Read about handcrafting high school language art here, and about learning science here.