9.01.2014

I'm in Breitbart!

Dr. Susan Berry, who writes for Breitbart, recently contacted me after coming across The Homeschool Resource Roadmap. And Dr. Berry's article about the database - Mom's Curriculum "Roadmap" Helps Homeschoolers Choose Non-Common Core-Aligned Publishers - was published today. Praying that the publicity helps spread the word so that even more homeschoolers can make informed decisions about the curriculum and resources they use!


Photo Credit: homeschool-reuters

7.20.2014

Homeschool through High School? Absolutely!

Why do people (i.e., those who don't homeschool) think it's so impossible to home-educate through high school?

Even when my children were little, I heard the question on a fairly regular basis: "Are you really going to homeschool them all the way through?" And, despite more than 40 years' worth of evidence from the modern homeschooling era (not to mention the long history of parent-led, home-based education that was the norm for most of human history), it seems that every homeschooler hears the same mantra (almost as regularly as we get the "socialization" canard) - "How can you possibly teach them everything they'll need to know in high school?"

Setting aside for a moment the offensive nature of the questions (i.e., why does anyone who is not a child's parent assume a right to ask about the child's education?), they actually make me laugh. For one thing, why should public/government schooling be seen as the default at any age? Just because all American parents were duped for about 100 years - before the rebirth of the homeschool movement in the 1970s - into believing their kids had to be educated in factory-model institutions, and despite the fact that the vast majority still choose (usually without much forethought at all) to continue using the "free" system doesn't make it ideal for any child, let alone all children. Thus, to suggest that a family committed to home education should abandon that calling simply because a child has reached adolescence is just...well, laughable. In fact, it brings to mind the old "if-all-your-friends-were-going-to-jump-off-a-bridge" challenge.

Additionally, is a typical high school curriculum really too hard for a parent to manage? After all, if the public schools are really as good as their proponents assert, anyone who has graduated from one should have the knowledge and skills necessary to guide another through high school material - because graduation is a stamp of approval that implies mastery. But if that's not true - if high school material is really beyond the grasp of a high school graduate who is now a homeschooling parent (to say nothing of the many college-educated homeschoolers) - what does that say about public high school? Honestly, if having gone through it did not make me "smart" enough (even without one hour of college) to guide someone else through the material, that doesn't bode well for the "testimony" of the public schools. And if they really don't work, why then would I want to subject my child to them for any length of time?

Of course, the reality is that possession of a high school diploma doesn't actually guarantee that the one who holds it truly mastered the content of the courses listed on her transcript. We all know that the system employs far too many incompetent, far-from-"expert" teachers; that in far too many cases, material is merely "covered," not mastered; and that schools pass the "good kids" all the way through high school graduation even if they haven't met actual high school level expectations. In fact, schools also pass and graduate "troublemakers" just to get rid of them. Additionally, even at the high school level, most kids focus on areas of interest and expertise as much as possible, meeting only basic requirements in most subject areas while (understandably) choosing to hone in on their passions. Thus, how could someone who took only the two-year science minimum requirement and spent the majority of her time taking advanced English classes possibly homeschool a daughter geared toward engineering or medicine? Or how could a "math nerd" properly educate her history-buff son?

Well, homeschoolers have thought about and worked through all of that - because knowing that the responsibility for our kids' education does fall to us means we have considered, pondered, prayed, and even worried about it far more than any backseat driver who thinks he should yank the wheel from our hands. And we have answers that work.

For starters, if a parent can read and do research and simply has a will to help her child, answers and tools can easily be found. And then we can learn right along with our children that which the schools should have taught us but didn't.

For example, I learned virtually nothing of history during my entire K-12 public school education even though I took all the requisite "social studies" classes. I recall a little early Mesopotamian history, though the entire history of the nation of Israel was completely ignored, as was any history of Africa or Asia. Beyond that and a vague recollection of once studying the medieval feudal system, the only history I was made to study (over and over) was early American, from colonization to the Civil War, presented every time (I now see in hindsight) with a liberal/progressive bias. But now as a homeschooling parent, I have learned more about (complete and accurate) history than I ever dreamed possible right along with my kids. We're not limited to the one textbook assigned by a school board, so my kids' learning is deep and broad and rich. And that journey will continue (for them and for me) as they enter their high school years because I have a desire and an ability to discover a broad array of exceptional educational resources for them.

Of course, that truth reveals the second: So many wonderful resources exist for us as home-educating families that if/when we hit a topic beyond our own personal expertise, we have myriad alternatives. 

With a bit of time and effort, I can find several dozen books, websites, and videos about any given topic my kids may want to study. In fact, in the last year as I've done research into the common core standards, I've developed a list of over 2,000 resource providers readily available to homeschoolers - and that only scratches the surface. I can also enlist the help of my husband, who has knowledge and skills that complement my own very nicely. Alternately, I can partner with another homeschooling parent to create a mini co-op (i.e., I'll supervise biology dissection for the kids in both families and my friend can handle statistics) or join a larger, multi-family co-op such as the one I helped with several years ago when I taught King Lear to the secondary-level students. I might also take advantage of community resources, use selected distance-learning opportunities, or hire a private tutor in either a small group or one-on-one setting. All viable options entirely independent of a public/government school.

But the most powerful answer lies in the very nature of home education - namely, that we consciously work over the years toward enabling our children to become self-motivated, self-directed learners.

Thus, a child with a special interest or a unique ability - such as the son of a friend who taught himself calculus "on the side" at age 15 because that was an area of personal gifting or the daughter of another friend who became a consummate photographer through self-study - needn't be held back in the least. Instead, while parents help to facilitate the process as described above for some areas of study, homeschooled teens who have embraced self-directed learning very capably take the reins of their own educational experiences - no parental (or other adult) help needed. And though that may sound strange to those who've bought into the lie that learning can only occur when an "expert" presents a lecture to a group of dependent students, it really does work. In fact, it's actually the ideal in higher education and in life. Colleges recruit homeschooled kids in part because they are auto-didactic before they ever set foot on campus. And business owners expect employees to be motivated self-starters. Thus, the homeschooling "method" of empowering kids to be independent learners helps them in high school and beyond.

Homeschooling has been around forever - literally. And it returned to the contemporary radar screen several decades ago. It's not radical; in fact, group institutional schooling is the social experiment in the grand scheme of history. We home-educating parents love our kids intensely - we wouldn't devote every hour of several years of our lives to them if we didn't - and we aren't stupid. We choose to homeschool through high school because we've done our homework. We know the system can't do better for our kids than we can. We are aware of the tools at our disposal. And we know from the testimony of many who've gone before us what to do and how to do it. Thus, even if the concept of homeschooling through high school still seems foreign in many social circles, we'd appreciate a little benefit of the doubt.

Thus, next time you want to ask, "Can you really homeschool through high school?" please reconsider. Instead, decide to trust the intelligence and good will of the homeschooler with whom you're speaking - do you have any valid reason not to? - and choose to think outside the public-school-only box. Choose to avoid the demeaning, accusatory questions. Decide instead to put your preconceived notions and your personal agenda aside - after all, the children in question are not your own so you don't have a right to an opinion in the first place. And choose to respect the homeschooling parent even if you don't really understand. 

Generally speaking, we homeschoolers enjoy talking about our kids and our home learning experiences. It's fun to provide information and examples to those who ask out of genuine curiosity and goodwill. In fact, I may be apt to talk your ear off if you say, "Wow, that's different but interesting. How do you think you'll do high school for the girls?" But if, instead, you say, "Homeschool through high school? How's that gonna work?" don't be at all surprised if I offer you a wan smile and then simply turn around and walk away. I don't have time for ill-informed critics; I've got research to do and plans to make.


Photo Credit: Jimmie

7.17.2014

Wisconsin Daily Independent Profile

I was recently interviewed for a feature that ran earlier this week in the Wisconsin Daily Independent online newspaper. The profile's focus was on my database and related homeschool support group. It also highlighted the database's inclusion in Glenn Beck's We Will Not Conform event on July 22.

I really appreciated the opportunity to give a substantive interview on an exceedingly important topic. The reporter did not misrepresent me at all and did a great job of organizing our far-ranging interview into a cohesive article.

The piece is available here for any interested parties.

7.12.2014

If I Could Turn Back Time

I have very few regrets about any aspect of our homeschooling journey.

Early on, I made one very big mistake - but, thankfully, God snapped me out of it before too long and prevented any long-term damage that could have resulted from my foolishness. And I do wish I hadn't gotten sucked into an "alternative" math program for three years when I now know that a good, old-fashioned approach works much more effectively for my kids. But at least I eventually came to my senses, and we've since changed to a curriculum that has filled in the gaps the girls acquired during their time in "weird method land" while also enabling them to make continued steady progress.

And other than those two big missteps, I think back over the last 13 years - because, of course, I've been homeschooling in one way or another since the day my older daughter was born - with a boatload of satisfaction and fond memories.

Of course, that isn't to say I'd do all the same things, academically speaking, if I could turn back time. The girls learned a ton through the wide variety of resources with which I experimented in the early years, as well as with the materials I've settled on in the past few years. So I don't feel bad about the fact that I wouldn't use some of it again. But as I've learned more about my children and about the resources available to us - and especially since I started my research project into where homeschool materials stand on the common core - I've thought quite a bit about what I'd utilize if I had a do-over on our years to this point.

With as many things as are available to homeschoolers - 2,000+ possible resources on my database alone, not counting myriad other possibilities of which I'm not even aware - I surely haven't fully vetted every option in every subject area. But knowing what I know right now, I do have ideas about what I know I like.

In my state, the homeschool law requires me to somehow "cover" six areas - reading, language arts, math, science, "social studies," and "health" - each year. So, though I despise the term "social studies" - which has its roots in the promotion of socialism - and find the "health" label superfluous since I meet my kids' health needs simply by virtue of being their mom (without need for formal curriculum), I've used that as my framework. I'm also free to include anything else beyond those six areas, and I've listed my preferences for additional studies in the Other category.

Of course, gleaning from what I learned after my big mistake, I would no longer start any child on formal "kindergarten" academics just because she'd turned five (in fact, I'm not a fan of the artificial construct we call "grade level" to begin with). Instead, I'd watch and wait for true readiness and make the academic schedule as well as the materials serve the child, not the other way around. Thus, my listing here of grade levels and ages is merely meant as a rough frame of reference, not a hard-and-fast proscription.

I would also never overload a very young child with formal academics because I know that an hour or two - spread throughout the day in between plenty of playtime - would more than meet a five- or six-year old's academic needs. And I'd focus our time and energy on Christian discipleship, learning to read, penmanship, math, and read-aloud time from quality children's books (using Honey for a Child's Heart  by Gladys Hunt as one treasure trove of source material). I'd include other content areas regularly (though not daily), but I now understand that discipleship and "the 3R's" ought to be a child's academic meat and potatoes in the primary years, with other "subject areas" serving as side dishes and dessert.

Year 1 / Kindergarten (Age 5-6)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts Pentime 1, Book 1 (Rod & Staff)
Math
Science 106 Days of Creation Studies (Simply Charlotte Mason) Days 1-53
Social Studies History Stories for Children (Christian Liberty Press)
Read-Alouds from Biblical History & American History
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions (Egermeier's Bible Story Book)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Worship Songs, Folk Songs, Patriotic Music
(Cedarmont Kids, etc.)
Life Skills (Little Keepers at Home)





One of the best pieces of advice I heard when I was starting to explore curriculum came from speaker and consultant Carole Joy Seid, who strongly recommended focusing on American history (and geography) in the primary years rather than attempting to launch immediately into a chronological study of world history from the beginning. For one thing, she said, it's easier for young children to understand history about places relatively close to home than to grasp stories about people and locations as far away in time and space as is ancient history. For another, it's confusing - and spiritually risky - to introduce young children to the concept of multiple gods and goddesses inherent in the study of ancient history before they are rather grounded in their understanding of the one true God, the God of the Bible.

Year 2 / 1st Grade (Age 6-7)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 1, Book 2 (Rod & Staff)
Math
Science 106 Days of Creation Studies (Simply Charlotte Mason) – Days 54-106
Social Studies Finding a New Land (Christian Liberty Press)
Stories of the Pilgrims (Christian Liberty Press)
America's Pioneers and Patriots (Christian Liberty Press)
50 States and Where to Find Them (Barefoot Ragamuffin)
Little Passports: USA Edition
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions (Egermeier's Bible Story Book)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Worship Songs, Folk Songs, Patriotic Music
(Cedarmont Kids, etc.)
Life Skills (Little Keepers at Home)





Year 3 / 2nd Grade (Age 7-8)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 2 (Rod & Staff)
All About Spelling, Level 2
Queen Language Lessons for the Very Young, Vol. 1
Math
Science Considering God's Creation (Eagle's Wings) - 1st half
Social Studies A Child's Story of America (Christian Liberty Press)
State History from a Christian Perspective
50 States and Where to Find Them (Barefoot Ragamuffin)
Little Passports: USA Edition
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions (Egermeier's Bible Story Book)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Worship Songs, Folk Songs, Patriotic Music
(Cedarmont Kids, etc.)
Life Skills (Little Keepers at Home)
Piano Lessons



Just as I appreciated Carole Joy Seid's wisdom, I also resonated with an idea put forth by David and Marie Hazell, the publishers of My Father's World, who recommend taking a year to study world geography before getting into world history.

In terms of math for third grade, I would make a choice based on a child's needs and abilities about whether to finish out the Miquon series or begin Teaching Textbooks. Perhaps some of both would be helpful during a transition time to the more independent work required by Teaching Textbooks.

Year 4 / 3rd Grade (Age 8-9)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 3 (Rod & Staff)
All About Spelling, Level 3
Queen Language Lessons for the Very Young, Vol. 2
Math
OR
Teaching Textbooks Math 3
Science Considering God's Creation (Eagle's Wings) 2nd half
Social Studies How to Study the World (4 Little Penguins)
Little Passports: World Edition
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos)
Artistic Pursuits
Various Arts & Crafts (Seasonal, etc.)
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)





For fourth through seventh grade, I list two possible options for science. I have used Answers in Genesis and really enjoyed it; I feel it's a very good elementary-level overview that contains an appropriate amount of depth without going overboard. However, Jay Wile has recently begun to publish his Berean Builders elementary science series and, because we use and value his secondary series, I am drawn to the new books. I think my kids would get a great foundation using either program; it would just be a matter of studying the contents of both and deciding on the better overall fit. But I'm convinced I couldn't really go wrong with either one.

The Answers series is designed to take about four years, so it's easy to map out for fourth through seventh grade. On the other hand, Berean Builders will be a five-book series when it's complete. However, since each book only has 90 lessons, it's not an unreasonable stretch to manage all five books over the course of four academic years. Plus, it would be wise to do Dr. Wile's General Science no later than 8th grade, but I wouldn't want to start the Berean Builders series earlier than 4th because starting then would tie it nicely to the beginning of a comprehensive study of world history.

In terms of world history, The Mystery of History is a four-book series that I would spread out over five years' time. It's do-able in four, but I would feel too rushed. It also makes sense to me to wrap things up at the end of eighth grade to facilitate the switch to high school level coursework after that.

Year 5 / 4th Grade (Age 9-10)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 4 (Rod & Staff)
Queen Lang. Lessons for the Elementary Child, Vol. 1
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for Life
OR
Berean Builders: Science in the Beginning
(Lessons 1-90) and Science in the Ancient World (Lessons 1-15)
Social Studies Volume 1 (Weeks 1-25)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)





I felt my girls gained a great deal of understanding about writing quality paragraphs by using The Institute for Excellence in Writing's Student Writing Intensive, so I've decided I would do that program again, in about 5th grade. And IEW has a comprehensive program that can carry a student through high school graduation. However, I've recently realized - in large measure through the insightful musings of my younger daughter - that I actually resonate more with the notion of making composition a more holistic, natural activity. And so for that reason, I'll be making a switch to Brave Writer with my girls when we start back to lessons in August and if I could go back, I'd launch Brave Writer after the one-year IEW Student Writing Intensive.

Year 6 / 5th Grade (Age 10-11)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts Pentime 5 (Rod & Staff)
Queen Lang. Lessons for the Elementary Child, Vol. 2
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for Heaven & Earth
OR
Berean Builders: Science in the Ancient World (Lessons 16-90) and The Scientific Revolution (Lessons 1-30)
Social Studies
Volume 1 (Weeks 26-36) through Volume 2
(Weeks 1-15)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)





Based on my personal convictions, I've made a choice to eschew resources with connections to common core, and I'm grateful that most of the things I've used and would continue using have chosen to remain independent of that initiative. I had to make a hard choice to replace the grammar I'd come to enjoy with Winston Grammar - starting in sixth grade here - but I believe that standing on principle is the right decision, and I don't regret my choice even though we'll miss the old program.

Year 7 / 6th Grade (Age 11-12)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts Pentime 6 (Rod & Staff)
Rummy Roots
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for Chemistry & Ecology
OR
Berean Builders: The Scientific Revolution (Lessons 31-90) and Science in the 18th Century (Lessons 1-60)
Social Studies
Volume 2 (Weeks 16-28) through Volume 3
(Weeks 1-13)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(Write Upon My Heart Character Series)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)




Year 8 / 7th Grade (Age 12-13)
Reading Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Pentime 7 (Rod & Staff)
Rummy Roots
Math
Science Answers in Genesis: God's Design for the Physical World
OR
Berean Builders: Science in the 18th Century (Lessons 61-90) and Science in the 19th Century (Lessons 1-90)
Social Studies
Volume 3 (Weeks 14-28) through Volume 4
(Weeks 1-11)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(Write Upon My Heart Character Series)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)
Keyboarding



Given our January-through-December year-round schedule, we are actually in the middle of "7th grade" right now. But I've included below my ideas for 8th grade to help round out my summary of a solid middle school program.

My plan right now is to use The Reader's Odyssey and Brave Writer (doing one more year of The Writer's Jungle before launching into Help for High School in ninth grade), referencing Grading with a Purple Crayon and Honey for a Teen's Heart, to create engaging, personalized high school-level reading/language arts courses for my daughters from eighth grade through twelfth grade. In fact, I firmly believe in the philosophy promoted by Dena Luchsinger, the author of The Reader's Odyssey and Grading with a Purple Crayon, who postulates that allowing teens a great deal of choice about what to read and write greatly enhances both their motivation and their overall learning.

However, if I were giving advice to a homeschooling parent who felt intimidated by the idea of designing an individualized program, I'd direct her to Excellence in Literature, a five-year program that combines the reading of a great deal of exceptional literature with college-prep writing instruction. And it's possible - though not probable - that I'll end up going that route myself.

Year 9 / 8th Grade (Age 13-14)
Reading
OR Reader's Workshop (The Reader's Odyssey)

Daily Literature Read-Alouds
Language Arts
Composition: Excellence in Literature connection

Pentime 8 (Rod & Staff)
Rummy Roots
Math
Science Apologia General Science
Social Studies Volume 4 (Weeks 12-36)
Health Fitness Activities
Read-Alouds, Discussion, Activities in Health, Safety, Character
Other Bible Study/Devotions
(Write Upon My Heart Character Series)
Artistic Pursuits
Piano Lessons
Life Skills (Keepers of the Faith)
Keyboarding



I have ideas for high school and have begun to map them out. For starters - given the goals my husband and I have for our daughters along with what we've seen in terms of how the Lord has wired them - we know we'll require four years of study in language arts, history/geography, and math and at least three in science. We'll also include four years of elective credit in Christian discipleship, some foreign language, and continued music study (piano for one daughter and piano and voice for the other). And I think I have a handle on many of the resources I'll use for those courses. But since we're not quite there yet and because quite a few elective possibilities remain in flux, I'm still leaving my options open at this point and, thus, won't post my tentative plans just yet.

It also bears repeating that what I've laid out above is what resonates with me for my kids. And what works for one family may be an abysmal failure for another. So I'm not suggesting that anyone else needs to follow my plan in whole or in part; instead, each homeschooling parent should walk through a rather detailed process to determine good fits for her own kids, regardless of what anyone else might favor or suggest. After all, meeting the real needs of each of our uniquely-created kids is one of the extraordinary beauties of homeschooling, and we need to remember to hold tightly to our privilege and responsibility to do so.

Photo Credit: Patrick Down

TRACKING MY OBEDIENCE