Here we are in the middle of May. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?
For those of us who homeschool in states that require some sort of end-of-the-year reporting to our school districts, right about now is when we start scampering around collecting work samples, finishing up portfolios, and having our kids interviewed by our homeschool evaluators.
Worried about your qualifications as a homeschool, or future homeschool, parent? Join me as I discuss the characteristics of great homeschool parents!
Two years ago when my daughter was seeking a scholarship for a local art school, I had a somewhat uncomfortable conversation. In the midst of the interview, the subject of homeschooling came up. The registrar looked at me quizzingly and asked, “Do you have an education degree?” I replied that I did not; they aren’t necessary for homeschooling in PA. She grew completely perplexed and replied, “But how do you teach things you don’t know?”
This question caught me rather off-guard for two reasons:
I had honestly never even thought about it, and
Does having a degree automatically mean you know how to do everything?
The registrar is not alone in asking this question. In fact, the idea of a parent not being qualified to teach his or her children has crossed the minds of many would-be homeschoolers and scared them away from ever going through with their dreams of homeschooling.
Realistically, however, most homeschool routines don’t even remotely resemble a typical school day, so the qualifications needed in a traditional classroom are somewhat different than those necessary in an at-home setting.
My hope here is to encourage those of you who are doubting your ability to homeschool by listing the characteristics of a successful homeschool parent because, as you will see, they are probably nothing at all like the typical idea of what an average teacher looks like.
1.Receive questions with open arms. Unlike traditional school teachers who must often stick to a script, homeschoolers have the freedom of drifting away from a discussion or lesson if more intriguing ponderings arise. Just today I was reading Madelinewith my younger children. A book that would normally take five minutes turned into a twenty minute discussion about Paris, old telephones, appendixes, scars, nuns, steamboats, and- my children’s favorite- retellings of their own experiences with hospital visits. A discussion like this would most likely not have happened within a school setting because of, among other things, time constraints, but at home we have the freedom to explore ideas with our kids as they arise. Questions are a blessing. Delight in inquisitiveness!
2.Encourage their children to learn how to discover answers for themselves. While it is, of course, necessary to help your children when the need arises, it is also so important to help children learn where and how to find resources for themselves. Although my children and I visit the library regularly, the other week I took them there for the main purpose of explaining the Dewey Decimal System to them and taking them on a tour of where to find specific types of books. Giving them opportunities to research online is also something that is necessary in this day and age. I know that many parents have mixed feelings about Google, but I consider it to be hugely beneficial to our learning endeavors.
3.Give their children plenty of time for exploring interests. Some of the most crucial and most important learning does not come from books, but from life. Learn to see the world through your children’s eyes, instead of through the schoolish lenses most of us possess, and you will find value in just about everything your children do. Keep in mind that the hobbies of your children now may well be training for their future. Kids who like to play school may become teachers, and those who insist on taking everything apart to see how it works are likely to be budding engineers. If your children are actively exploring life, there is no such thing as wasted time.
4.Have a plan for those occasions when they don’t know how to help with a certain subject. As the saying goes, the world is our oyster when it comes to information and resources in this day and age. The most common piece of advice for situations like this is to hire a tutor, but many one-income (and some two-income families!) simply cannot afford it. Thankfully, there are plenty of other options for getting help with those difficult areas. A short sampling would be:
The options are really endless. Just keep an open mind about how learning happens, and you’d be amazed where the help can come from!
5.Let their children have a say in what they’re learning about. Think about it. Can you concentrate on something you have no interest in and no need for? Me neither. My older children all give input on what their learning plan will consist of. My oldest daughter loves psychology and will be taking it for a third time next year (her senior year). This could never have happened at our public high school, as they only offer one half-year course on it. Why force her to take a Social Studies credit that she’s never going to need in real life? It just doesn’t make sense. I guarantee your kids will put more effort into work they consider to be useful and interesting.
6.Know when something isn’t working and be willing to change it. Sometimes a particular curriculum may look phenomenal to us parents, but when our children set out to doing it, they don’t feel the same way. If your child is struggling to the point of tears or complete apathy, it’s time to ditch the book and move on. This is one of those other areas that homeschoolers have the advantage. Since public schools have limited budgets and slews of students to purchase textbooks for, they don’t have the option of doing this. While I certainly do remember trudging through those dry textbooks in high school, I don’t remember one important thing out of any of them. I know sometimes it may seem like a waste to discontinue something you paid for, but it is so much more important that your children can learn well. Unused curriculum can easily be saved for younger siblings (maybe they’ll like it!), sold to other homeschoolers, or even given away for free to a family with a limited income.
7.Drop everything they know about “school” and design a plan that works for their family.I want you to close your eyes and remember what your school days were like. Crowded hallways. Cramped desks. Bathroom passes. Ringing bells. Do you have a clear picture? Now, push that picture out of your head because homeschooling does not have to be like that. Observe your children. Take notice to how they do things and what they spend the most time on. Only you can decide what is right for your family. And I’m here to tell you that you may not get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the third. 🙂 All kidding aside, you will figure it out, and your children will thank you for it.
I was going to title this post “What Makes a Great Homeschool Teacher” but decided against it because, to many of us, homeschooling doesn’t feel like teaching. It feels like life. It feels like family. It feels like love. That is what it takes to make a great homeschool parent. Are you qualified?
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Learning is not one-size-fits all, so why should your child’s education be?
In last week’s post I addressed the issue of safety in public schools. Today I’m moving on from there to examine the importance of personalized learning as a means to a successful education.
Personalized learning isn’t something one usually thinks of when thinking about public school. In fact, as I searched for stock images to use for the photo here today, I simply typed in the word “learning” and found that almost all of the pictures that came up had something to do with desks, books, and classrooms.
Why is that? I’m going to venture a guess that when many of us set out to learn something on our own, we are not going to run to our desk, shut the door, and plop open a huge textbook. Yet that is the accepted image of what learning looks like because that is how it is done in school.
But what if learning doesn’t look like that for you? What if it doesn’t look like that for your child? Chances are, if they are in school, they are going to be singled out as “special education” students. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you might say; and for those students who truly do have learning disabilities, it surely is not such a bad thing. But what about those students who are simply wired differently?
Mounds of evidence have recently been produced detailing the complex differences in how people are wired and how they learn. Indeed, there are people who thrive in a school setting- I was one of them- but to assume that all people should be able to do so does a great injustice to the millions upon millions of intelligent people who would greatly benefit from a different approach to education.
For those unlucky students who are singled out as “special education,” the harm done outweighs any good that may be done through the schools, no matter what the school’s intentions.
During my children’s time in public school, one of my sons was recognized (labeled) as being delayed in reading comprehension when he was in 4th grade. Naively, I assumed that the teachers knew what they were doing and agreed to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to help him with this. The help that he received was minimal, and the only input I received from one of his aides was that, “He understands better if it’s about something he’s interested in.” Well, duh. He needed an IEP to find this out? How many adults have a hard time reading about things they have no interest in, let alone a 9-year-old?
After about a year, I was informed that he no longer required assistance, but that they recommended that we keep his IEP in place, just in case. Again, I trusted that they knew best, so I signed another one. The following year I withdrew my children to homeschool them, and I received a letter from the school district stating that I needed to have a Special Education teacher approve his homeschooling objectives because of his IEP. (This is in the PA Homeschool Law.) I called the district and explained that, while the IEP was still in place, he hadn’t actually been receiving any special instruction because he no longer needed it. Since he still technically was listed as Special Ed., however, I did have to comply.
After about a year of homeschooling him, we moved, and he asked if he could try school again because he wanted to see what middle school was all about. I reluctantly agreed. The new school took notice of his former IEP and decided to start putting him in special classes again. I told them that this wasn’t necessary, but they said they would just try it for a while. A few months in, I noticed that he was bringing home reading homework that was equivalent to what I was teaching his 3rd grade sister who was four grades behind him. I resolved then and there to take him back out and homeschool all of my children through graduation.
I called the Special Education Department of our school district and told them I wanted his IEP removed. A few days later I received a phone call from his learning support teacher telling me that he wasn’t ready to have his IEP removed. I immediately informed her that he had received straight A’s, and I was confident he would do just fine. I also explained that he wouldn’t be coming back in the fall anyway because I was planning on homeschooling him again. She reluctantly agreed. (I’d like to add that she had to because the law says that an IEP must be withdrawn if a parent requests it.)
Shortly afterward I discussed this ordeal with a friend of mine who is a retired teacher from that district, and she told me to never allow the schools to label any of my children because once they are labeled, they are always labeled. This is obviously bad for the students but lucrative for the schools who receive federal funding for these programs. The more students with IEP’s, the more money.
The ill effects of our experience with the Special Education label have not ended. Years later, my son still considers himself to be unintelligent and slow because that is exactly what was ground into him during that period of his life. I am not saying this was intentional, but that is exactly what happened, nonetheless.
The stigma of school-sponsored labels has no place in a home learning environment. One of the most awesome things about homeschooling is the fact that we, as parents, have the autonomy to educate our children in the way that we see fit. If they do well with textbooks, then that’s what we can do. If they need to move around quite a bit, we can offer lots of hands-on activities with shorter stints of written work. If our children love to read, what better way to learn than by reading a good historical fiction or any other books written by people with a passion for the subject? As a matter of fact, children who love to read can easily be the least expensive children to educate because the library is free!
Understandably, schools cannot and will not tailor their curriculum to meet the needs of each individual student. It would either require far more resources than schools could ever have, or it would necessitate a complete overhaul of the entire government school system, and I think we all know the likelihood of that ever happening.
So as it stands, parents of children who are not flourishing in the school environment simply because of learning styles have two options. We can either go with the status quo and agree to have our children labeled for life, or we can bring them home and design a method of learning that will work best for them, no matter what that method may be.
Now tell me, which sounds like the better option to you?
Join me next week as I address the issue of including our own values in our children’s education!
(Image courtesy of panuruangjan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Google “homeschooling in PA” and you’re likely to come across a myriad of articles and blogs lamenting the fact that it’s one of the strictest states regarding homeschool law. I myself am guilty of having written a rather lengthy diatribe about the injustices of what Pennsylvanians have to endure compared to other less-regulated states.
Since the end of the year is looming and evaluations are creeping up on us, I felt that now was the time to clarify that homeschooling in PA is not so bad after all. As of October 31, 2014, some changes were made to this law that make our situation much more palatable than it once was. Here is a quick overview of the changes, but I do encourage anyone with questions to visit askpauline.com for a more detailed description of what is expected of homeschool facilitators.
Portfolios and standardized test scores are no longer to be turned into the school district. Present them only to your evaluator. All that is now required to give to the school district is the evaluation letter you receive from your evaluator. That’s it. If your school district asks for anything else, inform them that you are in compliance with the law.
2. Evaluator-signed high school diplomas are now given equal weight with accredited diplomas. There is no longer any need to go through a third party for your child’s diploma if you do not wish to.
Beyond these changes, there are also a few things I learned about the existing law that I either misinterpreted or was misinterpreted for me. Since my former evaluator was a bit strict, I always believed that the required log was to include a short description of what was accomplished each day, or at the very least, some check marks to show which subjects were covered. This is not the case. The log is merely supposed to be a book log. That’s it. Some people write the dates they use each book and include any websites, DVDs, or documentaries used. I do not even do that.
I spent years writing down what my kids did for “school” every.single.night. This is not easy when you have a large number of kids to do this for. It would sometimes take me a good hour or more just to do this. When I discovered that this wasn’t necessary, I just about (or maybe did…) break out into the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I wish someone had told me that years ago. I could have saved so much time.
As for documenting the 180 day “school year,” this can be done several ways. If you enjoy writing out a detailed log, you can easily number the days. Otherwise, you can simply mark off 180 days on a printable calendar. My own evaluator only asks for a written statement that we homeschooled for 180 days because she, like most homeschoolers, believes that requirement is silly since our kids are certainly home and learning every single day, since living and learning can’t really be separated.
So, if you’re new to homeschooling and are more than a little anxious about PA homeschool law, I’m telling you now… it’s a piece of cake.
Early this week, I realized just how close standardized testing and evaluations are, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Remember that panic I went through a couple months ago? Well, I had a slight relapse. Homeschooling in Pennsylvania can be a bit stressful because of all the requirements we have to deal with, but being an unschooler here is new to me, and I started freaking out with worry over how we’re going to comply with these rigid laws. Our state requires us to keep portfolios with work samples, and since my kids are more hands-on, I became quite fretful.
I even went against every instinct I have about learning and started having the kids do an activity with me everyday, just so I’d have some sort of work samples. They really didn’t mind it, as we just incorporated a lot of what we learned from our nature walk on Saturday and went from there. On Monday, we examined, drew, and labelled a wild onion that Arianna brought home. We also studied some moss that Bailey brought home and discovered that moss does not have actual roots but little root-like structures called rhizoids. Arianna actually got really into it and went on to dissect a pine cone, a nut, and a wild potato from our outing. We never even knew that wild potatoes existed before this. I mentioned to her that the root of a yellow flower she was looking at looked like a little potato. She cut it in half, and we smelled it…definitely a potato. Google confirmed our suspicions.
The kids also painted little wooden butterfly cutouts.
On Tuesday, we discussed the differences between plants and animals, and the kids each drew their own version of a plant/animal hybrid. Dillon and Devin have been playing WOW often, and Arianna is still into her theatrical makeup. We made fruit salad for dinner that day, so the kids had a great time helping me cut fruit. (Actually, I didn’t have to cut any of it- they did it all!)
Wednesday we watched a cute YouTube video of a photosynthesis rap song. Afterwards, we discussed the root words of photosynthesis and chlorophyll, and the kids made word scrambles using plant vocabulary words. The kids enjoyed watching a documentary about insects on Netflix called “Microcosmos.” We’ve also been reading Farmer Boy and have been discussing the many responsibilities of pioneer children. I’m hoping this will help to curtail their whining over their chores…
Wednesday night some of the kids went to Kingdom Builders, and Arianna went to youth group. I had nursery duty, so I stayed in there with Kenzie.
On Wednesday evening, I got some exciting news…I found an evaluator who also has ten kids and is an unschooler. It was like a big weight lifted off of my shoulders. Part of the reason I’ve been so nervous about work samples is because of evaluations. I’ve always turned in extremely thick portfolios before, and I wasn’t sure how my evaluator would react to a much thinner binder. This new evaluator is much more relaxed, and since she is also of the mindset that children are always learning, the amount of samples makes no difference to her. Hallelujah. Big exhale.
On Thursday, I informed the kids that they no longer have to do activity time with me, unless they want to. They all said that they actually thought it was fun and will probably continue to do things with me sometimes. That made me happy because I really did enjoy it; I just didn’t enjoy feeling compelled to do it to please the bureaucracy. Learning should not be forced. Period. Ireland was the only one who opted to work with me today, so she made a plant lapbook, and we talked about why plants are important. Speaking of learning by choice, today was my third day of learning German through Mango Languages. I was able to start at Chapter 6; I took a placement test because I did take six years of German in school. I’m having a lot of fun with that. The younger kids have been on coolmathgames.com and Khan Academy brushing up on their math and logic skills. Ireland has been requesting math “schoolwork” quite a bit, so I’ve been printing a lot of Pre-K worksheets for her. Arianna still likes to cook, so after baking a cake, she helped me make stuffed peppers for supper. Yum.
Kenzie has started pushing her little stroller around the house. She’s not going to be a baby much longer. Sniff.
Friday will probably be a low-key day. Saturday, Devin has drawing and painting class, and Sunday is her art show. And Caollin and London will finally be getting baptized on Sunday! The water heater for the baptistry had broken, but the replacement was supposed to come in today. They’re so excited.
What have you done this week? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!
(Note- an updated post about PA homeschool law can be found here.)
As the end of the “school year” looms closer and evaluations near, I find myself obsessing over the injustice of PA homeschool regulations. I understand accountability- I really do, but from what I’ve read about other states in the US, PA has gone way overboard with its requirements for homeschoolers. While other states can choose between portfolios or standardized testing and others don’t need to do much more than notify the school district of intent, we have it much more difficult here in good ol’ PA. Homeschoolers here must keep a portfolio with work samples, a daily log recording learning and books used, and are also required to take standardized tests in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade. We must then have these items evaluated by a licensed teacher or psychologist who will decide whether or not adequate progress was made. I honestly don’t even understand why we have to waste our time and money for this evaluation because we must still submit the evaluation letter and our portfolios for them to be examined again by the superintendent. Overkill much?
This has always bothered me quite a bit, especially seeing how easy some other states have it, but I’ve never felt the sting this much until I’ve started unschooling. Since unschooling is self-directed learning, there really aren’t that many work samples in our house. Sure, I take pictures galore, but I have the feeling that the powers-that-be are looking for actual samples- not a photo album. This will be extremely difficult for us, as most of the learning done at our house is through hands-on projects that the kids initiate themselves. Are they learning? Absolutely, but it’s not through textbooks, worksheets, or reports, so I’m getting a little worked up over this.
I do keep extremely detailed records of what we do, while other people just check off a subject if it’s done for the day, but since I’ve always turned in portfolios the size of phone books before, I don’t know what the reaction will be.
This week I’ve found myself going against every instinct I have about learning, and I’ve been making my kids do an activity with me everyday for the sole purpose of having work samples. This seems so unnatural now and so pointless. My children’s learning flows beautifully throughout the day without any help from me, but here I am now throwing a wrench into the system to please, well… the system. It angers me, and it frustrates me.
Natural learning does not fit neatly into a little box where your children complete A, B, and C, and then put them in a little folder. It’s life learning, and it’s done through exploring the world around them and interacting with it. It’s done through creating and enjoying things like Minecraft towns, clay villages, homemade makeup, and beloved readalouds. The beauty is in the simplicity, and I resent the fact that I feel like I may have to dampen their passions by requiring them to do more “schoolish” projects, so that those neat little file folders in their portfolios are filled with things that, ultimately, will mean nothing to my children. Have you ever noticed what happens when you, as a parent, start showing too much interest in what your children are doing to the point of offering suggestions as to how to make it more “educational”? The light in their eyes disappears, and that passion starts to wither away. I don’t want this to happen because of a legality. Their education means more to me than that, and I wish those in charge could see that.
If you are an unschooler and have a portfolio requirement, I would love to hear how you do it.