Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Homeschooling Promotes Health

"Scientific studies conducted by Dr. Leonard Sagan, a medical epidemiologist, ... show that social class, education, life skills, and cohesiveness of family and community are key factors in determining life expectancy. Of all these factors, however, education has shown to be the most important. ...Hope, self-esteem, and education are the most important factors in creating daily health, no matter what our background or the state of our health in the past." Christiane Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom p 27 (emphasis in original)

Since homeschoolers tend to get a really good education, grow up feeling confident in their skin, and are often a part of a dynamic, diverse, and tight community, by homeschooling, you are benefiting your children's health and life expectancy.

On self-esteem: "In addition, several studies have been done to measure homeschoolers’ 'self-concept,' which is the key objective indicator for establishing a child’s self-esteem. A child’s degree of self-esteem is one of the best measurements of his ability to successfully interact on a social level. One such study was conducted by John Wesley Taylor, using the Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale to evaluate 224 home-schooled children. They study found that 50 percent of the children scored above the 90th percentile, and only 10.3 percent scored below the national average." -HSLDA

The article from HSLDA goes into socialization and connection with peers as well.

So there you go. Homeschooling promotes healthy kids. Obviously there are many factors involved here, and a family can homeschool and be totally abusive or isolated or not do a good job educating their kids, but for the most part, homeschooling families are connected, dedicated to education, and homeschool because they want their kids to grow up strong and healthy.

Keep up the good work!

The De-Schooling Process (for Mom) is a Long One

My kids have never gone to regular school. My daughter spent three miserable days in a preschool till I said "Enough" and never went back. That's it. She's nine now, and her brother is five. Mostly we unschool. But I still find myself needing to shift my thinking away from the schooling mentality.

I am getting my teaching license, but through an alternative program so I can teach for a homeschool enrichment program that my kids attend weekly and is offered through the public schools. As most homeschooling moms, I have looked at the local schools' websites to see where my kids might just fit in. I feel that professionally and as a member of society I always have one foot in the schooling door. However, any time I think about teaching full-time in a regular school, or enrolling my kids in school, I quickly come to the same conclusion: Nope. I am fully committed to homeschooling. I love the freedom my kids have to become themselves. I love that more than half of their education is internally motivated. I love that they are comfortable in their skins. Those are more important to me than feeling normal, though sometimes the desire to feel normal and have a normal life is very tempting.

I've never been a particularly normal person. I'm really okay with that. But sometimes the safety a "normal" life pretends to offer is really tempting. Because of that, I find it hard to completely divorce myself from the normal world of American public schooling.

Yesterday on the way to the library we drove past one of the schools I could imagine teaching at and sending my kids to. It's a public magnet arts school for grades 6-12. Many of the homeschoolers we know who decided to go to school at age 11 or so went there. Then down the road a ways we passed the public magnet science school. I inevitably imagine teaching there and sending my kids there. What would that life me like? I wonder. The order of school entices me. It's one thing I loved about school: new pencils, papers formatted just so, a regular and predictable schedule that is mandated by someone else.

But into my mind flashed a moment of homeschooling grace: Stop comparing your life to that life. This homeschooling life is not just an alternative to schooling. It is a whole different way of life that most people can't even imagine. The kids and I are a team. We do things together. Almost everything. Rather than measure that against the mainstream idea that I need a break from my kids every day all day, let that be a joyful gift. Simultaneously I need to be aware of and arrange time to myself and self care, but those are not mutually exclusive. Maybe the reason parents are so afraid of spending all their time with their kids and never getting a break is that they don't know how to ask for their own needs. Since the schooling world is all about being told what to do, where people are sometimes (frequently) not allowed to ask to go to the bathroom unless it is an emergency, we grow up being afraid to ask for what we need. We have to create emergencies to do so.

When I step totally out of that mentality, we work as a team to get everyone's needs met. Whining happens, for sure, but all of us, kids and parents, are learning how to identify and ask for what we need and want. When I frame our life this way, I no longer always compare the homeschooling life against what I might be missing (or might lose) by buying in to schooling. I just honor and appreciate where we are now, journeying together as a family.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wanting to Throw in the Towel: When Homeschooling Gets Rough

We started the day in good spirits. While I took care of some housekeeping the kids began some simple workbook exercises. My son completed his kindergarten pages quickly, easily, and with good cheer. My daughter, who had nine math problems to complete, ended up curled in a tight ball, grunting and screaming at me.

Half way through I asked her to go do some jump rope and come back when she was ready to work with me.

Then I needed a break.

Then I pulled the classic if-you-don't-work-with-me-you-have-to-go-to-school line. I've said it before. But this time, I meant it. I am totally fed up with her melt downs and I am ready to have someone else deal with her. In school she would struggle with anxiety, but she would never behave this way with a teacher. I said - and she heard me - that this was her last chance. I am tired of fighting her about math, writing, goal-setting, and every other little bit. While most of our homeschooling is life learning, reading books, and playing, a small part of it has always been and will always be some of the nitty gritty, like math computation and handwriting.

She sort of pulled herself together. We identified that the problem isn't that she doesn't know how to do the math, it's that her lack of neatness (and her insistence on doing huge problems in her head) gets the problem all jumbled up, and then she get's the answer incorrect, and then she says she's stupid and it's impossible and then it's a self fulfilling prophecy, and she can't do the problems.

So we have to work on neatness. Writing fives the correct direction and lining up place values, for instance. Getting over doing it all in your head. We have to work on following mom's directions even when we want something to be easy without them.

And honestly, I don't want to do this with her, because I know it's going to be an anxiety-ridden fight every single freakin' time. And I am over it.

We finished the problems. We talked about goals for neatness. We high-fived. I gave her some 5-htp for her mood. She went off to play with the chickens, grumpy, but not curled up in a screaming ball. Progress?

I sat on the floor, where we do our math, and prayed. Please, God, show me the way. If I put her in school, her anxiety will be a problem, but she will have friends around her every day and a teacher will work with her. This is ridiculous. Please show me what to do. I realize it is late July and I may have trouble finding a space, but I am tired of wrestling with her about every little thing. Please help me, God.

A gentle image came into my heart. Think long term, it said. Don't worry about computation. Focus on neatness, fine-motor skills, and confidence. Those will build a foundation for later. Don't compound the external work - spelling and computation - with the neatness and patience. Separate them. Stick with this, and think long term. That is not something she will get in school. It is a gift only you can give her. It is not easy, but it is a gift that will serve her in all areas of her life.

I can't say I liked the answer but it resonates deeply. I feel supported, and understood. That will keep me going.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Keeping the Home in Homeschool

People who don't homeschool often don't realize there is often very little "home" in homeschooling. We spend a lot of time going and doing. This week we've explored a wetland, gone to see a play, spent hours at gymnastics, gone to a history museum, gone to the library twice, and run to a kid's consignment store to clear out toys. Then when we are home, much of the time is spent on the computer, viewing and interacting with the world. With all that going and doing, plus the high energy of sun and heat, and the lack of our during-the-school-year weekly enrichment program, my kids are actually suffering. They are having trouble sleeping and getting sick. I gave them supplements, rubbed my anxious gymnast's shoulders nightly, instituted nightly epsom salt baths (it does help), and talked about feelings.

But it hit me today: the problem is all the going. We've forgotten to ground in home. Grounding in home makes us feel safe, and it's one of the gifts of homeschooling. But we moms have to remember to keep the home in homeschooling.

So today we actually sat down at the kitchen table and did workbooks.

This is not a homeschooling activity I do very often, despite the stereotype. School-at-home as it's often referred to isn't really how we roll. I'm not interested in coercing my kids into activities they hate. I realized, however, that regular activities that center in the home - cleaning, family prayer, meals, and, yes, school work - help center and ground my family.

My oldest didn't like it. She pouted the whole time she did some fraction review, just as she had while she vacuumed immediately before sitting down with the workbook and a sharp pencil. My younger child was happier - he got to clean the sliding glass door, which means manning the spray bottle, and his "school" work involved cute pictures of animals. But today I didn't worry about the resistance. I just held in my heart the reason we were doing this, to ground and center at home. I even told my daughter this, and figured it was something she'd get later, much later. She will benefit from it now.

I'm not saying that workbooks ground you, mind. It's what was easily and instantly available to me, the stuff I keep around to make sure we cover all our bases whilst we gallivant about the countryside and spend hours watching and playing Pokemon and My Little Pony. The intention can be carried out in many ways. How do you ground in home?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What My Son Learns from Pokemon

My nearly-five-year-old son is really, really into Pokemon. He's the kind of learner who goes deeply into something for a long time. When he was a baby, he loved bears. And bugs. As a toddler he discovered trains, and we learned a lot about Thomas' world and real trains. Then it was super heroes, and the world of good and bad, helping people, and team work. His latest obsession is Pokemon. As an eclectic homeschooling mom, I am fascinated to discover what he learns about the world through Pokemon. Lots of online sources will tell you how Pokemon the card game teaches statistics and algebra, but my son is just learning to read, so that level of the Pocket Monster world is not part of ours yet. But by engaging with and encouraging his interest, I see myriad layers of learning going on.


Pokemon creatures are often combinations of real life creatures, like Bulbasaur, who is a cartoon dinosaur with a bulb on his back. As he evolves, the bulb sprouts into a bud and then an open flower that looks a lot like a raflesia. This guy <-- is its middle evolution, Ivysaur. In math this is called a chimera, a combination of two or more factors. This thinking lays the foundation for understanding factors and multiplication, as well as much higher math.

One of the aspects of Pokemon is that the little creatures evolve. They start out as cute little baby evolutions and change into higher levels. Most of them have three evolutions, though some have two and some don't evolve at all. Some of them can evolve into different possible evolutions, called branching evolutions. Branching, changing, layers, and growing complexity are underlying themes in math and of course science.


Yesterday my son and I went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where we enjoyed a visit to Prehistoric Journey, which takes a person visually through the beginnings of the earth, the genesis of life, the evolution and extinction of dinosaurs, mammoths and mastodons (including real bones being processed from the Snowmass site) and then a little bit on early homo sapiens. A volunteer (pretty sure he was a retired scientist) shared with us some fossilized ammonites. That evening, my son discovered Omonyte, a prehistoric Pokemon. It's obviously based directly on ammonites. Because this Pokemon is in a show, and a cute little animated creature, he will always remember about ammonites and the scientist who showed us those fossils. The guy was even a little scary until I whispered to my son that the guy seemed like a Pokemon professor. He grinned and relaxed. The known and comfortable bridges the unknown, and we learn.

When my son discovers an animal or plant in the real world that a Pokemon is based on, he gets all fired up and tells me all about this Pokemon's abilities, type, and attributes. Like this orchid he will remember for a long time, which reminds him of Zapdos. Making connections among different categories, like stories, art, and nature, is one of the foundations of both scientific thinking and art-making.

Reading and Writing and Art

My son is reading at a first grade level, sounding out simple short-vowel words. But he pours over the Pokemon websites, peers at the small collection of cards he has, and flips through the easy-reader Pokemon books. Exposure to print is basically the number one way to learn to read. Since he's motivated to want to read these words, he will learn to read at a very advanced level at his own pace - but probably very quickly. He also likes to copy the names onto his drawings, practicing his letters and spelling. 

Media and Theater Arts

My son has perfected his computer skills by poking around the online Pokedex, playing games on the Pokemon website, and using Google to search for images of Pokemon and pokeballs. He also enjoys watching the anime show, which he then shares scenes from with me. His acting skills and comedic timing are hilarious and quite skilled. While these are not part of the common core (ha) they are obviously important skills for social interaction and possible hobby or career in theater, film, computer media, and more. 

Social Studies

The world of Pokemon includes different regions, history, and politics, all tied to the goings-on of the Pokemon creatures. By reading the stories and watching the show, my son learns about a fictional world that is based on our real world. These lay the foundation for understanding politics and geography in our world. Someday he will read about regions of the US, Japan, or Russia, and have the simpler framework build by poring over Pokemon on which to build the more complex real world, perhaps helping him to categorize in ways he wouldn't otherwise do. 

Pokemon was created by a Japanese father who enjoyed collecting insects as a child. It originated as a Nintendo game where the character, Red, tries to capture, categorize, and train as many Pokemon as he can. Much of the anime world is Japanese, which has lead to the beginnings of interest in Japanese culture. Even if this doesn't lead to learning Japanese or a similar pursuit, it teaches my son about another culture in a respectful and meaningful way.

Integrated Learning

Any subject our children go into deeply will spur learning on multiple levels. Much of it we never see. But some of it we do, and we homeschoolers can step back and let the learning happen. Not all kids learn this way, but all humans learn through things we love and are interested in. And therein lies one of the may beauties of homeschooling. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Multimedia Meet the Orchestra Lesson Plan

To introduce your kids to the instruments of the orchestra, here's a simple, multimedia lesson plan that could be used at home or in the classroom. We read Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes, Illustrated by Karmen Thompson, aloud, and at each section I played the following links.

Play at the beginning: Orchestra tuning up:

As you read each section (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, play each) play families: 
Leave this window open.

As you read each page, play sound clips of each instrument (also leave this window open):

The following are not in the above link, so play these as you come to each instrument.
                Bass clarinet:

Then at the end, when the whole orchestra plays, here are two cool clips of orchestras play music from Star Wars.

I also got out some reeds and an old clarinet for the kids to touch. 

And finally, a game to play to test their ears:

Edited to Add: Don't know how long this link will be live, but it's more really cool stuff, including riddles and cut-and-paste, from the Arapahoe Philharmonic.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Early Spring Trip to Bluff Lake

One thing I love about living in Colorado is that while "real" spring is far from here, we can go play outside on the scattered nice, warm days in February and March. On a whim the kids and I went to Bluff Lake Nature Center. I planned to collect some water if there was any in the wetland, and to start a project of taking a picture in one spot over time to see the changes. Here are some photos from our trip.

Our chosen spot to document over the seasons

Take a picture of me!

We found a tuft of bunny fur and an owl pellet (at least I *think* that's what it is!)

We collected a vial of water to look at under the microscope. Tons of raccoon prints down by the water! We watched a DVD yesterday about water ecosystems, so some microscope viewing of our local winter water is in order.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gardening Book: A Gardener's Alphabet

What a gorgeous, simple, and life-affirming book! Highly recommended.

A Gardener's Alphabet by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

This would be a great companion to any gardening unit, or an inspiration for wood block printing and learning the read or learning letters.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Healers Need to Support, Not Judge

You know what really irks me? Healers like my acupuncturist and chiropractor telling me that I just need to put my kids in school already. I get that parents who send their kids to school just don't understand what my life is like. I get they think it's a little crazy. But they do not need to tell me every single time I go get a treatment that I need to change this part of my life. It's not helpful.

I'm working on the courage to say to them next time it comes up: "I'm not going to send my kids to school, so it's not really helpful to keep telling me to do so."

That is all.