Friday, November 25, 2011

A Homeschool Perk for which I am Thankful

Seeing how the holidays are times for families to get together, that also means an unexpected bonus -- grandparents who are willing and eager to babysit.  So my husband and I have had a rare gift of quiet time for just the two of us. While the kids dragged their grandparents off to a jumpy place, we spent some time having a few of those conversations that never seem to occur when children are present.  It is often difficult to discuss real world matters (or even household matters) while enduring the constant barrage of "Mommy, Mommy... Daddy, Daddy" followed by a need for assistance, arbitration or refereeing.    This was followed by a delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant with white tablecloths and excellent service.  It is amazing the dining experience one can have when there is not a french fry or chicken nugget to be had on the menu... but alas that is a topic for another blog entry.

Now we are indulging in the luxury of relaxing in a quiet, local coffee shop. This may very well be bliss.  I understand that Black Friday to many means elbowing through the masses at unholy, early hours fighting for a great deal. Personally, I would rather have every strand of hair on my head pulled out one by one until I was bald.  There is nothing that I either wanted or needed so badly that would justify getting up at "O' Dark Early" and standing in a line waiting for a store to open.  Give me a laptop and an Amazon Lightning Deal any day, if I need to feel a part of the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

So while I am lounging on a comfy sofa, sipping a Salted Carmel Mocha Latte, I got a little contemplative.  Ahh, this is the life.  We have so very much to be thankful for and are truly blessed.  But those of you who have been following my blog, know better than to expect a list of true, actual blessings.  There has to be some sarcasm or something less "touchy-feely" somewhere, right?

Well, thanks for your indulgence.  I do have a "lesser" blessing which is a real perk of homeschooling to be thankful for this season.  One of the most spectacularly wonderful perks of homeschooling is not being intimately tied to an alarm clock.  Having most days begun by the horrendous screech of an alarm clock since I was about eleven years old, this is pretty revolutionary. We still have alarm clocks and I even use them (especially for early morning basketball games), but my life does not revolve around the alarm clock. Hallelujah!

If we are up late for a good reason, for no reason or for any reason at all, we simply start our school day when we wake up.  Georgia does not have a homeschool police that will haul you off to the local public school if you don't start your school work by 8:00 a.m..  You've gotta love that!

Tuesday, my daughter was taking a children's cooking class on pies and pastries at Whole Foods.  This did necessitate the use of an alarm clock to ensure that we were there by 9:15.  We passed by the kids' old private school on the way to Whole Foods.  We could see all the extra cars in the parking lot for Grandparents' Day.  While it is a lovely tradition, I always resented having to get the kids up at 6:30 to be at school for such a short day.  We were usually in the car on our way home by 10:00 a.m. from the early dismissal. It hardly seemed worth the gas and fighting Atlanta traffic to get there before 8:00.  Well, not this year!

Another euphoric moment surrounding not being tied to the alarm clock occurs every week at my seven year old's basketball practice.  His practice starts at 7:30.  After practice, we walk in the door just a little before 9:00 p.m. with a dirty, sweaty, little boy who is wound-up, hungry (again) and in need of a bath.  If he had to be up the next morning by 6:30, I would be a stressed, frantic mom, foaming at the mouth while screaming, "Get to bed!" about every twelve seconds.  Not this year!  I don't resent the program or coach, I don't complain to everyone within ear shot that this is simply too late for little kids on a school night.  My son gets to bed when he gets to bed -- clean and fed (yet again).  I just let him sleep until he wakes up the next morning.

This is a revolutionary lifestyle for me!  Homeschoolers, by the very nature of what they are doing are bucking "the system."  They are stepping outside the norm and doing things in a whole new way.  But little did I know that homeschooling was going to be such a radical change of the way we had always lived our lives up til now.  I am truly grateful to step away from the necessity of a daily alarm clock.

Be honest, how many of your children are grumpy and miserable when they have to be awoken by an alarm clock???  We made jokes all last year about how my daughter could appear on a new Nick show called "iSnarly" because she was so very grumpy in the mornings after the alarm when off.  Last year, she left for school grumpy and returned home exhausted.  It is a true perk to see my child at times when she is not tired and grumpy.

I am only sorry that my husband is still forced to begin the majority of his days with an alarm clock.  The good news is that it does go off later now than when we had to get the kids to school.  But sadly, he still has to use it.  I feel guilty when he is forced to get up and hop in the shower while I am still dozing or giving our dog the attention she constantly craves while I am still warm and snug under the covers.  I genuinely feel guilty, but not so guilty as to set my own alarm clock.  After all, having been raised Catholic, I can live with some guilt.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Myth of Socialization

Before committing to homeschooling my children, I thoroughly researched both the pros and cons of homeschooling.  While there were various "cons" mentioned throughout my research, there was one overriding concern expressed by those who were opposed to homeschooling... (prior to reading the word, I do so hope that you have the proper mental picture and actually hear the sound effects of dun, dun, dun, duh from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in your mind) "SOCIALIZATION."

For those who are convinced that "socialization" is the preeminent goal and achievement of brick and mortar schooling, nothing will ever sway them from their position.  Which is fine, to each their own.  For me, however, education is my predominant concern and focus.  Actual understanding, obtaining knowledge and truly learning is my uppermost priority.  Socialization is an important part of development, but I do not believe that it is the "end all, be all," nor is there is only one "proper" method to obtain said "socialization."

It is my opinion that homeschooling is as unique to each individual family as our own homes are to each of us.  Who has ever walked into someone's home and found it decorated exactly the same as your own?  What kind of a crazy experience would that be?  Every sofa, throw-pillow, drape, picture, and chotchkies all identical??? It would be very creepy.  What about our individual taste and style?  I could never move into a house completely decorated by someone else and feel as if I was "at home."

So why is it that we not only accept, but expect total conformity and uniformity in education?

"Socialization" is a myth when it comes to homeschooling.  Homeschooling is not an "institution" that can be pegged into neat little categories.  Homeschooling is a choice made by individual parents to treat the education of their own children individually.

Will some people choose in their individualized education plans for their own unique family to isolate their children?  Perhaps.  Might some people choose to overcompensate out of a fear of a lack of socialization and over-schedule their children?  Maybe.  In life, people choose all sorts of different things. How many times have we wandered into the mall or Wal-Mart and wondered how on Earth someone could ever choose to wear that?   Your choice does not have to be mine, or vice versa.  Thank goodness!

I don't worry about socialization.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, "socialization" is the ability to mix socially with others or to behave in a way that is acceptable to their society.  My children are "socialized."  They are not isolated.  They are respectively a Girl Scout and Boy Scout in troops/dens comprised of children who are in traditional schools.  They both play sports.  They are also in a homeschool co-op group.  They play outside with the kids in the neighborhood.  They go to birthday parties and spend the night with friends.  They laugh.  They cry.  They skin their knees.  I would never allow them to become isolated.  It is not my style.  I am personally way too social for that.

The New York Times ran an article the other day inviting kids to comment on whether or not they would want to be homeschooled.  The comments are extremely interesting.  Many children were adamantly opposed to the idea of homeschool for socialization issues and rarely cited any educational concerns.  There were stark contrasts between the writing skills between traditionally schooled children and homeschooled children.  I found them fascinating.  Brick and mortar schools did not fare well when one looked at the child's ability to write a cohesive, grammatically correct comment.

"I think homeschooling is dumb. I think homeschooling doesn’t prepare kids for the real world. they don’t learn how to socialize with other people. Some parents may sugar code the kids. So they might not know everything there suppose to know. no i do not agree."— Leslie R
"Being homeschooled you can miss out on makeing friends and you might not have that well of an education. you would be missing out on alot. you need to be socaila and confident about talking in front of peopl and being around everyone and when your homeschooled it doesnt prepare you for that."
— Chelsea 

I think I will continue to "sugar code" my kids and I won't worry about their being "socaila."  I will, however, continue to worry about the state of education in our country.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is Homeschooling Working?

I haven't had a chance to post a new blog in quite a while.  Some of my friends have been very delicately asking, "So is everything still going okay?"  Since they haven't seen any of my ramblings or tirades posted, they are getting a bit worried.  Have no fear!  We are just busy... really, really busy.

Academically, things are rocking along.  Science and history are the kids' favorite subjects.  They love it and more importantly, they actually understand what they are learning!  Our experience at a STEM exposition which we attended at the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology several weeks ago illustrates this understanding.

One of the instructors gave my youngest a one-on-one demonstration of a scientific principle in which a fluorescent lightbulb lit up without actually be connected to a power source.  Here is a recap of their conversation.  It did not go the way the instructor expected.  I believe she was expecting a comment from him along the lines of, "Cool!" or "Neat!"  That is not quite what she got.  Of course, I will be unable to refrain from little editorial comments here and there.  Sorry!

After watching the light bulb light up:
My Son:  "It is kind of  like a covalent bond, they are sharing electrons, right?"

Instructor: (flabbergasted) "Uhh, (large pause) yes!  How old are you?" [Apparently she is thinking he is must be extremely short.]

My Son: "Seven."

Instructor: (completely shocked look) "Where do you go to school?"

My Son: "I don't."

[This worries me a bit when I first hear his answer. No school?  Are you kidding me?  What about all that work we do?  Remember math, language arts, spelling, science, history etc.???  We "do school!" Hmm, perhaps I am getting a tad defensive here.  Might he mean something else?  Duh! He is quite concrete and very literal.  He does not, in fact, "go" to a "school." Note to self:  Switch to decaf.]

Instructor looks at me a bit bewildered at this point.  I explain to her that we have just begun homeschooling and in all fairness, we are studying chemistry.

Instructor:  "Well it is certainly working."

Yes, yes it is!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

What am I missing here?  We have been officially homeschooling for 30 "school" days now.  Family, friends and random folks are politely asking, "So, how's it going?"  It isn't quite the rhetorical question of, "How are you?" to which no one is actually looking for a truthful answer.  The "How's it going?" comes after the "Hey" and "How are you?" conversational starters.  The "it" in the "So, how's it going?" question, is always referring to homeschooling.  So I take a deep breath and think before I answer.  How is it going?

The answer is, "Shockingly well."  "Really well."  Hmm.  

I must admit that I am quite surprised by this.  I was expecting to be going a bit crazy by now.  Stir crazy or even a bit "postal" even were some possibilities I wondered about.  I think my husband is still holding his breath before he walks into the house each evening.  What will he find?  Has his family imploded or are we still doing okay?  Check!  We are all okay.  No one is going crazy.  The kids are not at each other's throats. In fact, they have never gotten along this well.  Hmm.

Am I missing something?  I am starting to wonder if I am delusional.  Could this really be working out so well?  Uh, yes.  Are the kids actually learning? Hmm.  Maybe that should be the new area of concern.  Are they learning? How would I know?

Yes, they are learning.  I have math tests that came with each child's math program.   They are doing extremely well on the tests.   They are reading books. They are writing and creating.  They are applying what they learn. (This isn't too hard to check up on because as their teacher, I know exactly what we have covered.  So I can tell when they have made a connection to new information.)  They are actually retaining the information that we have covered! 

For example, after studying Ancient Egypt, we had a field trip to the Carlos Museum.  While examining a coffin, the kids started identifying all the gods in the hieroglyphics.  They did an amazing job of making connections while examining the various artifacts throughout the museum.

Holy Cow!  This homeschool thing seems to be working!  Man, when the other shoe drops, it is going to really stink.  Because to be honest, right now this is really fun!  It is a lot of work, but truly rewarding to watch your kids thrive.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Survival of the Nitty Gritty

If you have read my prior blog posts, then you know I have tried some pretty fun things to ease my children into the homeschool lifestyle.  However, as we all know, field trips alone will not adequately educate a child for today's world. As boring as it is, we all need to know how to spell and use punctuation. Like it or not, no one will make it in this world without math.  So, it was time to buckle down to the "Nitty Gritty" studies that my kids were dreading.

Good News!!!  We have made it through over a week of all subject homeschooling without anyone dead, maimed or bleeding.  I call that a success!  I would be lying if I said that the kids did not complain or have some meltdowns. They were to be expected.  I also anticipated testing of boundaries and comments about missing school friends.  I was not disappointed there either. Check those of the list, boundaries were most certainly tested! However, I met the challenges without loosing my cool and turning into a screaming banshee.  Success again!

For all of you who think that not turning into a screaming banshee is a poor definition of success, then you must have something that I lack, namely... PATIENCE.  Patience is a virtue that I simply do not have.  I think that when St. Peter was distributing patience in heaven, the line must have been too long so I probably just left.  For those of you whose kids are still in brick and mortar schools, search your conscience.  Weren't you just a little relieved when school started back up this year?  Any thoughts of, "Phew, we made it through summer"?  I think you see where I am going.

I have noticed that homeschooling has a double-edged sword of time with your children.  24/7... no breaks.  It is a lovely thing and it can also be extremely annoying.  I can tell that we are going to have to figure in some mental health breaks for Mommy.  Or as an alternative, my husband can go ahead and reserve a room for me now in the psych ward.

So did either child have any interesting moments during this past week of nitty gritty work?  Yes, for both of them.  My 2nd grade son has issues retaining rote facts. If it is not interesting, forget it!  Challenge him, and he is all over it.  He had no problems keeping up with his 5th grade sister in science and history.  But, math facts???  He can't be bothered.  He did have a lightbulb moment when something finally clicked.  We were listening to counting songs in an attempt to get the information to go in a different way. He asked about the lyrics where 9 would "slurp" (sound effects included in the song) one of the number it was adding.   The idea is that 9 is stealing one to make 10 and then leaving the rest.  Eureka!  He laughed and shockingly-- remembered!  The "slurping" noise got his attention long enough to let the concept sink in.  Then it was a simple jump to see that 8 steals 2 from the number you are adding it with to make 10 and 7 steals 3.

How exciting to see a lightbulb moment!  You mean to tell me that I have been letting his teachers have all of these???  Shame on me!  I'm glad I didn't miss his first steps.  This feels about as exciting as some of the baby milestones. Why would his intellectual milestones be any less important than his physical ones? I believe I have found the Holy Grail "PERK" of homeschooling.  This must be why so many families have chosen this path.

Did my daughter have any revelations this week?  Why yes she did, thanks for asking.  Hers also came during math.  She has always gotten math concepts extremely quickly.  So quickly that she has developed a nasty habit of not being required to think.  She is used to things being so easy, that she tends to freak over small challenges.  Her knee jerk reaction is to think that she can't do it if the solution isn't readily apparent to her.  This is one of the main reasons we wanted to homeschool her.  She has a beautiful mind that needs to be challenged.  Her first mental challenge came this week when she was required to combine factoring, algebraic thinking and mental math all together.  It was quite a shock!  It even caused to her to roll on the floor in tears crying, "I can't do this."  But with a little encouragement and showing her just how much she did in fact know, she attempted it.

It took real effort and (gasp) "thought" to find the solution.  I explained to her that she could do it, but it would take a genuine thought process to find the answers.  It was a challenge.  Her response was, "I like easy better."  But we stuck with it for about thirty minutes and then she conquered it.  Her smile when she realized that she could do it lit up the room.  Genuine accomplishment of a challenge!!!

Once again, I had a fantastic feeling that I had helped guide her.  No wonder teachers put up with poor pay and unruly classrooms.  The "Ah-Ha" moments of children must be addictive. Greedy me, I get to keep all of my children's "Ah-Ha" moments for myself.

The nitty gritty of homeschooling is going to be a bumpy, exasperating road.  I have glimpsed some of the perks, however and I think the journey will be worth it.  Educating my children is not going to be a sprint, but rather a marathon.  I hope I have the endurance for the challenge.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sneaky Education

I believe that any parent knows just how difficult it is to get a stubborn child to voluntarily eat vegetables.  You might find it easier to grow wings and then fly away to the moon.  For many families, this analogy would hold true for education.  Not too many children are going to eagerly climb onto the sofa next to you and say, "Oh please Mommy, may we learn grammar, spelling and math now?  Please, PLLEASSSEEE!" So like hiding vegetables in purees of pasta sauce, I would like to be diabolical and trick my kids into learning when they least expect it.  Perhaps I need to glue on a pencil mustache and start wearing a black cape as I eerily chuckle "Wa Ha Ha."

As a homeschooling family, my husband and I are now solely responsible for taking knowledge and somehow cramming it into our childrens' heads in such a way that it won't leak out their ears and be lost forever.  Ideally (Please laugh at the word "ideally," we all know how best laid plans have a way of working out.) knowledge would be acquired as a symbiotic part of their lifestyle-- simply, easily, seamlessly, painlessly etc.  Activities that are a normal part of daily life would provide countless teaching moments that the children would eagerly absorb like little sponges.  Ahh, can't you just hear the angels singing?  (I also have a unique opportunity to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, feel free to inquire through the Comment section.)

Since I am not normally completely delusional, I wouldn't expect things to be quite so simple or work so smoothly.  But after our Florida vacation, I guess the joke is on me.  Who knew that the spark of curiosity could so easily return to my children?  But it did...

Our beach vacations have always involved getting out and seeing what the area has to offer.  We love trying to find educational things to do rather than just pure "tourist trap schlock."  This year we made a special point to go to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium so the kids could meet Winter the tailless dolphin who is starring in her own movie this year, Dolphin Tale.

They had a blast, despite the sweltering heat.  Although a bit shy at first, they began to ask the volunteers more and more questions.  We expected a semi-quick visit to the Aquarium and instead stayed for over five hours.  It was amazing to watch as they would listen to an answer, think about it for a minute or two and then come up with another question that was an extension of the first.

Would they remember? Would it sink in?  Oh my, but yes!  My son became intrigued by the horseshoe crab.  After a few minutes, his sister, who was not quite so enthralled with the horseshoe crab went off with her father to learn about something else. Forty-five minutes later, they came back surprised to see that we were in the exact same spot, studying the exact same thing. How often do seven year old boys focus on something for that long?  He excitedly dragged his sister over and began to explain to her everything he had learned about the horseshoe crab.

For us as parents, this is what "Homeschooling" is all about-- learning as part of our lifestyle.  Following up on the interests of our children and taking the time to allow them to learn.  Perhaps we need to re-name "Homeschooling." Maybe we should start a campaign to call it, "Stopping to Smell (and Learn About) the Roses.  I am hoping that "learning" won't be quite as difficult as getting my kids to consume vegetables.  Maybe I won't need a diabolical plan after all...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

First Day of Homeschooling

Monday, August 1st was our first day of homeschooling.  Nobody (neither the kids nor myself) had any idea what this was going to be like, but we had to start sometime.  Since we don't live in Utopia and I am not June Cleaver, I knew that we were going to have "issues."  Okay, okay, I know that we are going to have knock down, drag out, explosive, screaming hissy fit kind of days.  Days were I will want to pull out the checkbook to write a check to their old private school or walk down to our neighborhood public school (which is less than a mile from our house) and throw them in.  Luckily, our first day wasn't one of those.  Phew!!!

Since I have been doing a lot of research on homeschooling before jumping off the "brick and mortar" ship of schooling, I knew we were in for "adjustment issues."  Since I like to pretend that my mother did not raise a fool (on most days)-- although we probably shouldn't ask her what she thinks about that one-- I knew I needed a plan.  Hmm... kids will feel very weird when all of their friends return to school.  What can we do?  Bribery!  Yet in an educational kind of way...  I love it when a diabolical plan comes together.

We have begun homeschooling with a unit study on Roller Coasters.  I have timed it so that our field trip to Six Flags will be next Monday when most all of the public and private schools have their First Day of School.  Every now and then I have sparks of true genius!  What kid can feel sorry for him or herself when screaming their lungs out while racing along a white-knuckle grip roller coaster?

Are they actually learning "real" stuff?  Yes.  They now know, understand and can explain Newton's Laws of Motion.  In two days, they have done experiments which illustrate the principles involved in each of Newton's laws.  I even snuck a little math in on my daughter when she had to calculate how many people rode the Switchback Railway on Coney Island when the fare was a nickel and the creator LaMarcus Adna Thompson recouped his $1600 investment in just three weeks.   Shh, don't tell her.
I did get a spontaneous hug and a "I love homeschooling," from my daughter on Day 1.  I need to take a mental picture of that incident, because it may be a long time before I ever have another one.  Was it all smooth sailing?  No.  The same darling daughter had a meltdown when I asked her to write-up Thompson and his life.  But it was resolved without Mommy freaking out, she did it and even apologized.  Apparently prayer works!  

Why should my kids love homeschooling?  Because I have set them up!  First we study roller coasters and have hands on "experimentation" at an amusement park.  Second we will be completing a unit study on Chocolate.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Boy the sacrifices I make for my children!  The taste testing for this study will be traumatic, but somehow I will manage.  Third we will be taking a vacation to the beach while everyone else is in school.  Only then, when the kids kind of like the idea of Mom as the teacher, will we begin the nitty gritty of math, spelling etc.

Who knows, maybe, just maybe I won't wind up in a padded room of a psych ward until after Christmas.  A truly crazy thought, maybe this will be the best thing we have ever done...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer of Forts

There are a couple of things that always let me know that summer is here: oppressive heat (after all they don't call it Hot-lanta for nothing), miraculous popsicles that can produce a smile, no matter what the circumstances, injury or indignity and forts.  Fort building is a cherished pastime by my children.

Every summer, king-sized bedsheets are pulled out of the linen closet and every binder clip in the house is commandeered for fort building.  No more mere draping a sheet over a chair and crawling under.  No, we create tent cities that last for weeks.  My son especially likes to sleep in his fort creations. Last summer he slept on the floor of his room in his fort for over a month.

As the school year ended this year, things were in turmoil.  After all, we were embarking on a whole new endeavor...homeschooling.  Would we ever see these school friends again?  How were things going to work?  What is it going to be like to have Mom for a teacher?  (The kids seemed to be filled with equal parts of trepidation and excitement on that one.)

The moment school let out, I was in a frenzy trying to get all the kids uniforms cleaned and tagged for the school's Used Uniform Sale.  Camps started for the kids.  Everyone was up late.  "Ahh Mom, who needs a bedtime when it is summer?"  Things were starting out kind of chaotically, but in a good way.

The other morning, I was checking my email when my seven year old son came in and gathered all the pillows off my bed.  It is quite an amusing sight since a king-sized pillow is just about as big as he is.  My curiosity was piqued. "Where are you going with all our pillows?"  Silly me, I should have known the response.  "I'm building a fort in the living room Mommy."  Oh my, how could I have forgotten the siren call of fort building?

I ventured downstairs and found the living room completely blocked off by all of the dining room chairs.  He had dragged in barstools from the kitchen. Pillows were strewn about the whole room.  In each nook and cranny a stuffed animal could be found.  There were Gronkels, Deadly Nadders and of course a Night Fury lounging by the fireplace on those aforementioned pillows dragged from my bed.  (For those of you who missed How to Train Your Dragon, those are dragon stuffies from the movie.)  There were pillows, a sleeping bag, flashlight and the specially beloved stuffies laid out ready for sleeping.  There was a DS corner for electronics accompanied by stuffed chaperones. Everywhere you looked he had put one of his stuffed friends.

That night as I tucked him in downstairs in his entire living room fort, he decided it might be a bit too scary to sleep all alone with no one else on the ground floor.  So we moved him back upstairs with a few key stuffed friends and put him in his own bed with promises to make a fort in his room the next day.

So it is officially summer.  My living room is a fort and my son is sleeping on the floor of his room in another fort.  I think my heart will break a little when my little man is too old for forts.  Even though it is a little difficult (both physically and to one's personal dignity) to crawl in and out of the forts for goodnight kisses, there really isn't anything sweeter than to tuck him into his sleeping bag surrounded by a stuffy army.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Attacks on Georgia Charter Schools

Shocking Newsflash:  Our school systems nationwide need help.  Oh wait, that is not news.  There are many people trying to affect positive change in education.  We personally have decided to homeschool our children in our own particular attempt to address our children's individual educational needs. We are not alone by any stretch of the imagination.  Millions are taking the ultimate responsibility for their own children's education.  Others are attempting to affect positive change within the existing framework of schools. Charter schools have been popping up all over the country in the last two decades.

According to the US Charter Schools website,

"Nearly 3,000 new schools have been launched since state legislatures began passing charter legistlation in the 1990s.  Chartering is a radical educational innovation that is moving states beyond reforming existing schools to creating something entirely new.  Chartering is at the center of a growing movement to challenge traditional notions of what public education means."

According to the State of Georgia's Department of Education, there are 109 charter schools in Georgia. (The statistic does not include schools within a charter system.  Georgia has 8 charter systems comprised of 61 schools.) Georgia's charter schools are public schools of choice that operate under the terms of a contract. They receive public funding, cannot charge tuition, must be secular and are required to serve all student populations.  They have produced results-- real, measurable improvements over their traditional public school counterparts.

So when you have something that is new, different and actually working, what should you do?  Why attack it, of course!  Not only were they attacked in Georgia, but the statutes which authorized their creation have been declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL by the Georgia Supreme Court in  Gwinnett County School Dist. v. Cox.  On May 16, 2011, the majority issued a  twenty-four page opinion outlining why the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act is  "clearly and palpably unconstitutional."  While the Court acknowledges in their own words that:

"the schools established thereunder represent the efforts of well-intentioned people, motivated by their genuine concern over the current condition of this State's general K-12 public education, to provide the children of this State with an alternative and, in some cases, a superior educational opportunity.  In holding the Act unconstitutional under the unique provisions of this State's Constitution, we do not in any manner denigrate the goals and aspirations that these efforts reflect.  The goals are laudable." (pp. 23-24.)

While the majority may not want to denigrate any goals or aspirations, they have instead, utterly destroyed the efforts, achievements and hopes of Georgia's charter schools.  While reading the majority's opinion, I did not find their reasoning to result in a "clear and palpable" understanding of the Act's unconstitutionality.  In fact, the majority appears to go to great lengths to distort the meanings of a "special school" in order to achieve the result of unconstitutionality.  Hmm...

A cynic (oh goody, I am one) might think that there is something else afoot here.  Charter schools are different from traditional public schools here in Georgia in that they have autonomy and flexibility.  They are not governed by a local board of education, but by an autonomous non-profit board of directors.  Might this have a bit more to do with money???  Money that the local school boards don't get to control.  Money that the local school boards lose when each child who attends a charter school is not registered in one of their own schools... Hmm...

Since the Georgia Charter Schools Commission Act is "clearly and palpably unconstitutional," the majority's logic and arguments must be irrefutable if their finding is so "palpable."  NOT!!!  Actually the more clear and compelling arguments are found in the dissenting opinions.  In Justice Melton's dissent, he concludes that there is something more here than a simple constitutional analysis:

"The Legislature, whom we must presume intended to act in a constitutional manner, created a law to provide for special charter schools to enhance our educational system, and it included evidence on the face of the statute supporting such a constitutional intent.  Nevertheless, the majority looks beyond this basic principle to reach a result that simply cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts." (p. 3 of Melton's dissent)

If the majority's reasoning "cannot be explained in the context of the applicable law and the undisputed facts," then what is the majority doing?  A cynic might suggest that they are playing politics which is clearly outside of their purview.  Ah yes, I am a cynic indeed!  For I believe that the majority was in fact playing at politics.  Justice Nahmias has quite a bit to say about why the majority is wrong in its conclusion.  His 75 page dissent is joined by Presiding Justice Carley and Justice Melton.  Perhaps things aren't as "clear and palpable" as the majority would like for us to believe.

"But the policy debate and the political process no longer matter.  The majority of this Court has announced the new policy and removed the issue from the political process, unless the General Assembly and the people of our State bear the delay and enormous burden required to correct the Court's error through a constitutional amendment."  (p. 74 of Nahmias' dissent)

Is it any wonder that the homeschool movement is growing at an exponential rate?  When people try to change the system from within,  Georgia has a very chilling message for them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Alice Cooper and Homeschooling?!?!?

It is official.  School is out.  My children are no longer enrolled in an accredited school, nor are they going to be.  We are now on our own.

As you can imagine, the final day of school was quite emotional.  My daughter had been at her private school for five years.  She said on the way home this afternoon that her whole life is changing.  It is true.  No wonder she has such mixed feelings and is emotional.  It is a huge upheaval.  Then out of the mouth of babes... "It's no big deal for you Mom, you're not going anywhere new."  My calm response was a shouted, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  (Deep Breath-- followed by a much calmer response) I may not be "going" anywhere, but I am taking on a HUGE new responsibility.  There is nothing more important to your Daddy and I than your education."

[Gulp!]  At least my brain filter was working well enough not to speak my next thoughts aloud... "Oh *#@&, what have I gotten my self into now?"  Just about every parent at the class parties asked if I was ready for my "new adventure." My joking response was that I should have stopped by the liquor store yesterday and stocked up before the kids got out of school.  We all laughed at the idea of homeschooling via Margaritaville.

I can honestly say that the parents of my children's classmates, their teachers and the principal have been remarkably supportive and encouraging.  I do, however, feel quite confident in my telepathic abilities on reading quite a few of the parents.  Their thoughts came through loud and clear... "Better you than me, Sister!" Maybe so...

What kid hasn't sung "No more pencils, No more books, No more teacher's dirty looks" on the last day of school?  It is a ritual to mark the end of each school year. This year, however, Alice Cooper and I have a bit more in common with homeschooling in our future.  That is about as frightening as a picture of Alice Cooper! Brrr!  Never thought I would have much in common with Alice Cooper...  (In all honesty, I probably still don't but the lyrics of the song "School's Out" are quite telling.)

School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

Indeed our family might not go back at all... Who knows what homeschooling will be like for us?  Hopefully it will not be a Grand Failed Experiment.  Only time will tell.

But when my daughter also asked in the car this afternoon, "Mommy can we make a baking soda volcano this summer?"  You must know what my answer was, "You Bet!"  I will just need to do some research so that I can learn how to build a baking soda volcano.  This might be our first homeschooling project.  We can all learn together.  God Bless the internet because I would be lost without it. This homeschooling thing might turn out to be a lot of fun.  If I don't wind up in the psych ward first that is...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Culturally Insensitive Rant RE: Pants

Okay, I feel compelled to warn you that if you have no sense of humor, read no further.  If you forgot your common sense or left it at home, stop reading now.  This blog post will in no way be politically correct, nor will it be "culturally sensitive."  Not that I care!  My high horse is in the corral and I have dusted off my soap box.  Here we go...

As part of the getting ready to homeschool process, I have been reading a number of blogs and posts regarding the subject.  I have picked up some great advice here and there too.  But last night, I came across a phenomena that I knew just had to be a joke.  Unfortunately, it is not.  Apparently there is a movement of some sort out there in cyberspace encouraging American women in the year 2011 to switch to wearing skirts exclusively.  Are you kidding me??? No Pants????  PLEASE (with great sarcasm) !!!!!

First of all, let me state that if a woman wants to wear skirts, so be it.  I couldn't care less.  It is a personal choice (in my opinion) and in a free country, let her wear what she pleases.  I personally loathe skirts.  Always have, always will.  Wore them to Catholic school because I had to do so, but hated them.  Wore suits (with skirts, exclusively) when I was in court with heels and hose as a practicing attorney. Hated the skirts, hated the heels and especially hated the hose.  I am not a skirt kind of women.  I can think of 3 dresses that I have truly liked: 1) Raggedy Ann dress with apron and doll on front with a little zipper on the doll which when opened said "I love You."  I believe I was 3 or 4.  My mother should be smiling at that one.  2) Red Sheath linen dress that was strapless with a bolero jacket which I wore to my rehearsal dinner.   It was so cute that I didn't mind that it was a dress.  3) My wedding dress.  The material was so soft that I told my mom that it was like wearing sweatpants.  It was the highest compliment for comfort that I could utter.  It was really pretty too.  Needless to say, I virtually never wear a skirt-- not even to church.  I will pull them out for special occasions only:  Weddings, Baptisms, First Communions and funerals.  I will begrudgingly put them on with the dreaded heels.  I try to dodge the "hose bullet" if I can. Yuk!

Clearly I am not going to be "converted" to the "All skirt, All the Time" movement.  As if I should be!  I read with fascination as people discussed why they would or wouldn't wear skirts full time and what their husbands think about this topic.  [Thread on Covering & Skirts]  My husband would never dream of telling me what to wear (at least not and live to tell the tale).  If he was looking for a meek, submissive wife then "he choose poorly" (to quote the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  He definitely choose of his own free will, a much more loud, in your face kind of wife.  We are not the Costanza's from Seinfeld, nor or we Ward and June Cleaver.  We have been married (continuously and to the same person) for over 15 years.  However, you will not see us gracing the cover of "Marital Bliss and Harmony" magazine as the year's poster couple. Guess that might make us pretty "normal," if there is such a thing.

But what really caused me to pull out my soap box was a July article from a Catholic website that got quoted in the above-mentioned thread. [Anti Pants Link] I looked, I read, I seethed. Fourteen reasons why we frail and humble creatures should not wear pants ever again.  We certainly wouldn't want to tempt men into sin and lust.  GIVE ME A BREAK!  It almost makes me want to convert to anything else.  I might have to go buy a crystal so I can hug some trees and get away from the anti-pants nuts. (Told you I was going to be culturally insensitive.)

If only every woman would return to a skirt, all of the woes of the world would be resolved--no hunger, no diseases, no war, no child abuse, no drug abuse, no alcoholism.  If only we rid the world of the pestilence of pant wearing women, the world would be in perfect harmony.  Human rights around the globe would be respected and cats and dogs would live together in a peaceful coexistence.  NOT!!!!

# 4 on the list is: "Sadly, and we understand you may not be aware of this, but almost every style of pants reveals private information about your figure (by way of contour) what only your husband (and if not him, no man, including your sons, if you have sons) should perceive."

So I believe this image should satisfy the writer of the blog.  We wouldn't want to convey any private information.  I genuinely think that burqas would be the logical "next step" if the anti-pants movement were to become the norm. But wait, aren't there numerous international organizations fighting right now for women's basic human rights?  Aren't burqas pervasively found in those societies which offer women the fewest human rights under the guise of protecting them from the harmful lust of men?

Gentlemen, (and I use that term oh so loosely) if your lust is so out of control, the problem is NOT with the woman you are ogling and what she is wearing. It is your own pathetic lack of self-control.  You are not a toddler, we don't have to lock up all the cabinets (or women) to keep you safe from yourself.  It is time to find some personal responsibility and deal with your own problems and issues.  Keep your condescending platitudes to yourself and go practice some deep breathing techniques! Sorry to say that in this country, the "No Pants Brigade" won't be allowed to stone me for disagreeing.

I am putting my soap box away now.  Phew!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Success, Lies & Statistics

I am busy trying to get all organized for the homeschool process-- gathering curricula and resources, thinking about how we will cover certain subjects and record keeping.  I began to think that it might be a good idea to keep some sort of a log of successful days.  That would be nice.  It would allow me  to look back and see actual progress when we hit the inevitable snags and plateaus during our homeschooling.  [INSERT "harumph" and snort here.]

How would I even begin to define a "successful day?"  Being a lawyer, I am quite familiar with the concept of "defining one's terms."  Lawyers and politicians alike are experts at splitting hairs while defining a topic so that they can bring about the desired result rather than any actual truth or fact.  I am sure that everyone is familiar with the old quote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."  I guess I will need to be very careful about my tracking of "success."

To define my term: "Success will occur during those golden moments when my child's eyes light up, he or she turns to me and says, "I get it now Mommy.  I get it!  I love you!  I am so glad you are homeschooling me. (Hug ensues.) May I go clean my room now?"  If I am dreaming, why not dream big?  The scene of a "successful day" will also encompass a clean house, a gourmet meal ready for dinner, I am thin and in shape (with no wrinkles nor gray hair) and the dog does not shed.  And oh yeah... we just won the lottery too!

Hmm, perhaps I should come up with a few alternative definitions of "success" which are a might more realistic...  "Worked on schoolwork for 4 1/2 hours today."  The lawyer in me can already see the problem with that definition.  It does not take into account whether or not any actual learning took place.  "Did not yell, scream, cry or roll eyes while homeschooling today." Problems with that definition should be pretty self-explanatory.  How about just looking at the kids' point of view?  "The kids did not yell, scream, cry or roll eyes at me while homeschooling today." Ditto again on the problem with that definition.  "Kids completed all assigned work."  That looks promising.  Wonder if complete drudgery and misery could still count as a successful day?  Maybe that one is not so good either.

Let's just hope that in reality, I don't define "success" as: "No one dead, maimed or bleeding."  You know, now that I think about it... I really am going to be so busy homeschooling with the kids, maybe I don't really need to add the extra task of keeping track of our "successful days."  Yes, I am quite certain I will be too busy to chart out our successes.  That's it!  That's the ticket!  "Denial," it's not just a river in Egypt.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Final Countdown

We are in the final countdown until the end of the school year.  Each day drags us kicking and screaming (quite literally) a little closer to the end of formal schooling and to the beginning of homeschooling.  I am starting to empathize with Sisyphus a bit more.

Each morning my husband and I cajole, beg, plead and physically drag our daughter out of bed.  "I don't want to go to school!!!!  Can't we start homeschooling now?  Why can't we just quit school?"  Our loving and sympathetic response, you ask?  "Get out of bed!  You are GOING!  Get dressed!"  Normally the final push to the end of the school year is not a pretty process for anyone, but it is especially ugly for us this year.

After school, homework which is always a pleasant process (NOT!)  has gotten especially disagreeable.  Our son, who never cheerfully does his homework is especially vocal about "Stupid Homework!"  "Stupid school!"  "Why do we have to do stupid homework for stupid school?"  Obviously "stupid" (which is a "no-no" word that he is not allowed to say) is the most reprehensible word he can come up with in his seven year old vocabulary.

If I had a nickel for each "AHHHH" or "GRRRR" being uttered by these two children during these last few weeks, their college funds would be completely funded for Harvard (forget about actually getting in, but at least we could pay for it).

I on the other hand am panicking about just how few days are left.  I need them to stay in school for several more weeks.  I need more time!!!  I have curricula to select.  I have resources to find.  How am I going to create worksheets for the kids?  (Phew, found a few free worksheet makers online last night.)  How am I going to teach literature?  What about poetry for the kids? I have to teach them to enjoy all types of literature?  Where am I going to find great poetry that is not mind-numbingly boring and drool inducing (like I had to read in school) when I am not an English teacher? We can't just read Shel Silverstein forever.  (Phew, found several cool poetry authors for children online this morning after a couple of hours).

I NEED MORE TIME!!!  I AM NOT READY FOR THEM TO BE OUT OF SCHOOL.  I am panicking at the thought of opening the doors of our homeschool at noon on June 3rd when the kids are officially out of school. For every resource I find, I think of two more that would be great to have.  For every book or subject I think I have covered, a new fear crops up.  How will I teach my son who loathes the very thought of picking up a pencil to be a good writer?  Well-meaning moms at the kids' school are asking if I am ready.  They tell me I am so brave, they could never homeschool.  I must be so patient.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  PATIENT???  Patience is a virtue I simply don't have.

However, deep down there is a little voice that is growing louder.  I am ready. I can do this.  I have found great resources.  I will be able to tackle challenges as they arise.  The skeletal outline of what I would need that I made early in our decision process has been filled in and fleshed out.   I know where to look for new ideas and resources.

I have one of the most important things I will need:  I only want what is best for these children and am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they succeed.  I love these children like no one else.  I am way too stubborn to not find a way for this to work.

I guess unlike Sisyphus, even though I am rolling the boulder up the hill, once summer arrives, the boulder will roll down the far side of the hill.  We will hold on tight.  It is going to be a bumpy ride! Hopefully it will be like a roller coaster.  I have always loved roller coasters.  This ride will make us scream for sure, but with any luck, we will never want to get off.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hot Dogs During Lent or Second Guessing as an Art Form

Quite a bizarre title, huh?  What in the world could eating hot dogs have to due with an education/homeschooling blog?  Funny you should wonder... take a journey into the scary world of my guilt ridden conscience.

I started thinking about the old joke about eating a hot dog at a ballgame on a Friday during Lent.  My friends and I always enjoyed joking about the number of sins you could tally up on this event.  Here is the scenario:  You purchase a hot dog at a ballgame on a Friday during Lent.  As you are about to take the first bite... you remember that no meat is allowed on Fridays during Lent. Thus the sin tally total begins... To even think about eating a hot dog on a Friday during Lent was one.  You forgot it was Lent, ignoring God, Jesus's suffering etc. was a staggering number of sins that became difficult to count. If you throw away the hot dog, you are wasting food while there are starving people in the world... SIN.  If you figure that you have already amassed so many sins, you might as well just eat it, SIN.  If you eat it anyhow, SIN.  Who knew that you would be burning in hell for all eaternity (little pun for you) just from one hot dog?

So where does the hot dog melodrama fit in to my life?  I am racked with the same guilt over homeschooling.  Each day that passes brings the school year closer to an end, thereby producing more panic.  Just as Lent is the countdown until Easter.  The school year countdown brings me closer to the ultimate responsibility for my children's education.  YIKES!!!

I have amassed quite a collection of educational materials, blogs to read, websites to peruse etc. to try and become prepared for the homeschooling adventure.  There is such a abundance of information out there that one could literally spend every moment of every day and never finish it all.  So I have stopped the frantic approach of spending all my time reading about homeschooling.  Ahh, so nice when I attempt to be rational.  Except for... the GUILT!  What if I am not ready?  What if I miss a key piece of information that will make everything run smoothly?  If I had only read the mysterious, miraculous Article "X," I would have all the tools to ensure that I will have the abundance of patience I will need to homeschool my children.  [For those of you who know me well, please go find a tissue to wipe the tears of laughter that are now pouring down your cheeks.  Me?  Patient???  I know, it really is funny.]

When the Borders by us was going out of business, we hit the final day perfectly.  All books were 90% off and if you bought 4, you got 2 free.  Doesn't get any better than that!  Yes, they were all picked over and there wasn't much left.  But at $0.80 a book or so, who cares what drivel you bought?  I did buy a lot of drivel--historical fiction, cheesy romance and other drek.  I have been enjoying reading my drivel.

Gasp!  I have been reading drivel instead of educational stuff.  I have been hiding like an ostrich burying its head in the sand to avoid the reality of the ever-looming homeschooling.  Do I feel guilty?  Is the Pope Catholic?  You bet I do!  Frantic, panic-ridden, heart-pounding terror, etc. would also be apt descriptions.

I am taking second guessing to an art form.  Is this the right decision?  Am I prepared?  How will it work?  What if they don't learn?  What if I can't teach them?  Who am I kidding, I can't do this?  Yes I can!  No I can't!  I believe you see the pattern.

Breathe.  Inhale.  Exhale.  (Now please envision Kevin Bacon screaming during the parade scene during the movie Animal House.)  "Remain Calm.  All is well.  ALL IS WELLLLLLL!!!!"

To get back to the hot dog analogy, if the whole point of Easter is the redemption of the world.  I guess I should try to remember that He will pick me up during my inevitable falls.  The trick will be to remember that during the key moments.  I will need to remember His promise of forgiveness and I will need to remember most especially, to ask the forgiveness of my children for when I loose it completely.  'Cause I know it is going to happen...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Educational Paradigms & Experts

Getting back to the YouTube video by RSA Animate on Changing Educational Paradigms that I mentioned in yesterday's post...  [You Should REALLY Watch This]  RSA Animate has animated a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson on today's efforts to reform the public educational system.  The video is fascinating as you watch the artist draw as Sir Ken Robinson is speaking.  The animation is very clever and really illustrates the points that Sir Ken Robinson is making.  It made me think about my own views of the goals of public education, the roles standardized testing plays and medicating children for ADHD. 

While doing so, I rediscovered something that I have always known, but have pretty much ignored.  Introspection is important.  (Gasp, choke!  I know of one friend in particular who is probably actually screaming "Alleluia! She has seen the light." as she reads that part.)  We all need to take a look at things that matter to us and our families.  We need to confront our assumptions and beliefs.  I am not saying that we need to change them, but rather just examine them from time to time and make sure that they still hold true for us personally.

I have previously been guilty of inertia.  I never bothered much to re-examine things.  Socrates would be most disappointed in me regarding my "unexamined life." (I don't even want to contemplate that I might have something in common with Paris Hilton-- it is just too frightening!)

In today's world there is an expert out there on each and every topic imaginable.  The mere fact that someone is labeled as an "expert" should not cause us to take their opinion, adopt it and discard our own.  Experts offer us an opportunity to look at things in a new light or in a way we may not have previously considered.  They give us a chance to reexamine our own views and possibly reconfirm them through thought and contemplation rather than mere inertia.

However, being addicted to expert opinions can be problematic.  Adopting the "THEY said" attitude endangers us of delegating our own thoughts and opinions to the "experts."  Without ever examining the credentials of the mysterious "THEY," do we inadvertently also absolve ourselves of the responsibility of thinking for ourselves?  "They said this..." or "They said that..." The infamous "THEY" who says coffee is good for you one day and bad the next.  (See, I knew that my "no introspection" could come in handy.  I have always stuck with my six cups of coffee a day, rode the wave and now it is practically healthy for me.)

Homeschooling will be an adventure into the unknown for us.  Inertia will not work for me any longer.  I will need to question my own views as I respond to the curiosity of my children.  Who knows what I will find?

Don't forget to question your own views, especially on something as important as educating your children.  Don't be complacent or let inertia carry you along.  Rest assured, if you think even a little bit about education today it wasn't because of a "They said" (or even a "she said").  There is no way I could ever be possibly construed as an "expert" by myself or anyone else!  I hope you watch the video link above.  Not because I recommend it, but rather because you are curious.  I hope it makes you think something-- good, bad or indifferent.  I'd like to think (pun intended) that I am not the only one jumping off the inertia truck and giving introspection a try.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finding Creativity

I have never been one to peruse YouTube.  I know that there are some really funny videos, cute animals and great educational stuff on it, but it has never been my thing.  The times that people have emailed me links to certain videos, they almost always make me laugh.  I have often wondered about some of the people who post these videos.  What would possess some of these Darwin Award Winners to post videos of themselves throwing rocks at a hornets nest.   Did they really think it would turn out well?

However, as a homeschooling family I will need to peruse the educational materials available on YouTube.  I know that there will be great resources, I will just need to take the time to find them.  Walla!  I have found a funny, intriguing video that makes me think. [Animation of talk by Sir Ken Robinson] (I know, I know--Introspection makes me shudder. I covered that in my last post.)  Sir Ken Robinson is the PHD guru of creativity.  He travels all over the world speaking to governments and Fortune 500 companies about creativity, education and innovation.  [Who he is & his qualifications.] He talks about the roles and importance of intelligence (of which I have always, not so humbly, considered myself to be) and creativity (of which I have never considered myself to be). Intelligence and creativity are not separate and distinct but integrally linked and essential. (Not liking the way your talks are headed Sir Ken.  It does not bode well for me.)

One of my greatest fears for becoming a homeschooling family is my lack of creativity.  What parent of a traditionally schooled child has not had their child come home excited about the way they learned a certain topic at school and thought, "I wonder where the teacher got that idea?  I never would have thought of that!"  Great teachers have really creative ideas for conveying lessons to children.  I am going to be the teacher next year.  Eee Gads! The one responsible for coming up with the "great ideas" and it terrifies me.

I have Carol Barnier's book, The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles.  [Link to her book.]  In it she describes a lesson on the Circulatory System in which she used masking tape to create the four chambers of the heart on the floor and had her kids "be the blood."  They moved through the heart chambers, got oxygenated, etc.  What a great idea!  I would have never, ever thought of it in a million years.  Where do people get these ideas?

I will resort to flattery!  In the sense of, "Imitation is the sincerest of flattery." sort of way.  In today's technological world, I will have a plethora of creative ideas at my fingertips.  Gotta love GOOGLE!

I will just have to take the time to find them.  I will usurp the creativity of others.  Must remember to take a deep breath.  All is well (as long as the internet does not go down).  If all else fails, I can always buy Sir Ken Robinson's book [One of his books.] and re-discover my own creativity. Perhaps just merely dusting off my own creativity will help me find some more.  If you have any creative suggestions, I'm certainly open.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ways in Which Apple Co-Founder, Steve Wozniak and I Think Alike

I have never personally been very big on introspection.  I don't spend a lot of time pondering my own thoughts or philosophies.  This can especially be quite irksome to my husband when he would like for me to change a particular behavior or philosophy.  But so be it, he was actually warned before he married me.  Guess that is a "Buyer Beware" lesson that he has to live with on a regular basis.

The whole process of choosing to make a radical shift in our "schooling" process has required me to step out of my comfort zone.  I have had to engage in (gasp inserted here) INTROSPECTION.  I have had to think about education, in general as well as specific terms.  I have had to take a look at the goals of institutions as a whole as well as my own personal goals for my children.  What do I actually want them to learn?  What kind of thinkers do I want them to become?  What do I want to encourage?  How?  This is pretty revolutionary thinking for someone who doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about their own thinking. (Based on that previous sentence, I think you can imagine why I avoid it.  I find introspection irritating, especially those times where you don't like what you find.)

I have discovered a few things in this process.  "Out of the Box" thinkers are what I would like to strive for in my children.  I want them to find novel ways of coming to their own conclusions.  I want them to question and create their own solutions.  I want them to be innovative in their education.  I want actual knowledge to be something they seek and crave for the rest of their lives.  I don't want education to be something administered to them.  I would rather they not treat it as a checklist of facts that is completed so that they can then go and do whatever it is they want to do.

My husband shared an article with me over the weekend written by Lucas Mearian, who heard Steve Wozniak speak at a SNW (Storage Networking World) Conference on April 4th.  ( This is something that I would never have looked at on my own or had any interest in reading without him pointing it out to me.  SNW is not my world to say the least!

Steve Wozniak is the "other Steve" co-founder of Apple.  Not being a "Dancing with the Stars" fan, I would not have known who Wozniak is, if my hubby hadn't told me.  Apparently Wozniak appeared on the show.  (Hmm, may not be the "Out of the Box" tone I am striving for necessarily.)  At least I did know who Steve Jobs was without being told.  This multi-millionaire Steve (as opposed to the billionaire Jobs) is obviously a pretty innovative guy and he and I share some of the same philosophies.  Who would've thought that?

The general gist of the comments summarized in the above article was that schools do not enhance innovative thinking.  Innovative thinking is necessary for technological development.  Innovation does not result in an environment where everyone's goal is to get the same answers.  It is not something you read in a book.  It must be created from within you.

Technology development projects reward innovators with a feeling of personal pride of accomplishing something no one else has done before, and "that's the sort of thing that inspires you to believe in yourself as an inventor type, not just an engineer who knows the equation."
I want my children to see themselves as inventors.  I want them to find new ways to expand on their knowledge and the create from there.  Who knows what they will think up?  Hopefully I can find the ways to give them the tools for them to find their own answers and solutions.  Obviously they will have to learn some basic facts along the way.  2+2 must always =4.  They will need to learn about the Civil War and the Thomas Edisons of the world.  But as we study traditional names like Eli Whitney and why they mattered, I want to throw in some others.  Alice Paul, so my daughter will always fight for what she believes is right... and Steve Wozniak, so that my children will strive for the personal pride that comes from creating something new and meaningful.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Many Baby Books Did You Read?

I have been on the internet for countless hours for months now doing research on homeschooling--the pros v. cons, benefits and pitfalls, curricula, resources available, how to teach different learning styles and how to address the dreaded... SOCIALIZATION (insert gasp here).  We are beginning to acquire quite a library covering these very same topics.  At what point does one call it quits?

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down at the computer to compose a list of the different sources that we wanted to use for each subject.  Math and Science were easy.  We found things that we really liked for each child's individual learning style.  But things got quite a bit more dicey once I began to delve a little deeper into the Language Arts/Writing programs.

[For those who are curious, Math U See for our 7 year old son and Singapore Math for our almost 10 year old daughter.  We absolutely love Real Science 4 Kids for both of them.  Imagine teaching chemistry and physics on a level that a 1st grader truly can grasp!  It works, we tried it on both of them on a day that they were home sick.  Gotta love it when the company puts the entire text up on the internet for you to review.]

The number and types of Language Arts curricula out there will blow you away.  Company after company, homeschool mom after homeschool mom (they develop their own curricula to address the shortfalls that they found in the countless corporate approaches.)... everyone has their own approach. Should I feel guilty if I use a commercial approach, after all the shortfalls are so bad that it inspired someone to go out and write their own?  Let's not even get started on the customer reviews that accompany the plethora of these programs.  "It is the best."  "It is the worst."  "My child hated it!"  "My child loved it!"  "It transformed my reluctant writer."  "It made my child hate writing."  Egads!  This is RIDICULOUS!

I started to think about the same paranoid, panicky feelings I had back when I was pregnant with my 1st child.  "I don't know anything about being a parent."  "What if I do it wrong?"  "What do I do?"  Well certainly, the booksellers have figured out how to play into our collective paranoia.  "Buy books," is their answer.  They have books for every possible thing having to do with pregnancy and parenthood.  What pregnant woman did not read What to Expect When You are Expecting?  Even my OB practice gave it out to the new parents-to-be!

At some point, I gave up.  I took the one golden nugget that I had gleaned from most of those books.  Trust my own instincts.  Hmm, it was a novel thought at the time.  But, I got sick of reading books about becoming a parent.  I reached the point of developing a zen-like philosophy of "This will just have to be good enough.  If not, they can put it on their list of things to tell their therapist later in life."  I was not going to rename my approach to parenthood as "paranoia-hood."  Good, bad or indifferent, I was not going to read anymore on the subject. So there!  And you can't make me!

Which brings me to the point of where I am in the homeschooling curricula journey.  ENOUGH!  I am just going to pick something that seems promising. Unlike the school system, I will not be stuck with it.  If it does not seem to be working for one of the kids, then I will pitch it and try something else.  It's not like there won't be other choices!

My husband made an excellent point yesterday (Tell me he won't enjoy reading that little phrase over and over again.  It is almost as good as hearing me say that he was right and that I was wrong.), when we were discussing a writing program for our daughter.  Wordsmith Apprentice seemed like an interesting approach for our budding writer.  She loves to write, but still needs to develop the mechanics of writing.  Might this be a fun way to do so? Here's his excellent point--- It is less than $15.00.  For that price, it is worth giving it a shot, even if we only get a few good ideas out of it.  We would still be getting our money's worth.  Hmm, when you compare it to the private school tuition we have been paying, $15 is nothing.  He is absolutely right.

[Please forgive me, but I think he should be able to see this in writing one more time.  HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  Enjoy honey, who knows when you will ever see that again?]

Okay, so I am going to do the best that I can and just pick something.  Good, bad or indifferent, I am not going to read anymore on the subject.  So there! And you can't make me!  Not once did I diaper the wrong end of my newborn. I never dropped my children on their heads.  We never left the baby carrier on top of the car and drove off.  If I haven't ruined my children yet, how bad could my curricula choice be?  After all, they can always just add their curricula complaints to the list for their therapist for when they are older.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Things A Mother Shouldn't Have to Say

Every mom has those moments when she wonders what in the world she was thinking when she decided she wanted children.  Usually those moments resemble the "Calgon moments" from that old commercial-- doorbell ringing, phone ringing, baby crying, dog barking, smoke coming from the oven and the other kids are fighting.  Crazy times are to be expected.  But what is not to be expected are some of the crazy things we say as mothers.  Things no mother should have to say.

About a year ago I was on the phone with my mother.  The circumstances surrounding the incident have grown fuzzy, but I still remember verbatim what I said and my innocent, sweet child's response.  No mother should have to say, "Get your face out of the toilet!"  To which the reply was, "But Mom, I'm not getting wet."  Are you kidding me?  Apparently, not.

Having thrown up everyday of my pregnancy since the golden moment when morning sickness first arrived (at 5 weeks with this particular child) I have had the opportunity to examine intimately more than my fair share of toilets. The greatest bit of wisdom that I gleaned from this unpleasant experience is simple.  Toilets are disgusting and the last place you want to be putting your face unless you have absolutely no other choice.  Yet here is my mini-Education Explorer trying to discover the fascinating realm of the toilet up close and personal.

What possible relevance does this story have to the whole homeschool adventure that we are getting ready to start?  Well, at the Homeschool Convention we recently attended, my husband and I went to seminar after seminar to try to get a handle on this new life about which we were to embark. One of the sessions was entitled, "Help! How Do I Teach this Highly Distractible Child" by Carol Barnier.  Based on my earlier scenario, you can well imagine that we had no intention of missing this session.  Carol Barnier delightful relayed extremely helpful techniques to use when teaching children who are easily distracted and have minuscule attention spans.  She employs one of my favorite tools for getting through life, an amazing sense of humor. The title of her book should give you a hint of her speaking style, How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and on to Learning   (

Something that particularly resonated with me was her anecdote about a contest that she had on her blog back in September 2010.  She dubbed it, "I Never Thought I Would Say THAT!"  I have included the link so you can see the contest results for yourself.  ( To hear Carol mention some of the hilarious things other parents have had to say was quite reassuring (Like, "Spit your brother's tooth back out and give it back to him.")  I learned that I am not alone living in Bizarro World like I thought.

We had the opportunity to share our, "Get your face out of the toilet!" anecdote with Carol after her session.  She certainly got a good laugh out of it.  If misery loves company, I guess then, "Insanity loves Camaraderie." It is nice to know that I have lots of Mommy Comrades out there too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shocking Discoveries at a Homeschool Convention

I tend to be a bit (ahem, mild understatement to say the least) cynical and jaded.  It probably stems from my training and experience as a lawyer.  In particular, being a former prosecutor causes one to be distrustful and to search out for others’ ulterior motives and bias.   This cynical nature of mine is evident especially when I encounter something that has mass appeal.  Homeschooling doesn’t fall into this category at first blush since they are bucking the system, but when hooking up with thousands of homeschoolers, it does.

So I was prepared for salespeople and others pushing their own agenda when I went to my first homeschool convention.  But what I found instead was shocking to the cynic in me...

Comprehensive, overwhelming support of one another!  What?  From perfect strangers???  Absolutely!  And they weren’t trying to sell me anything either!

Every person I spoke with was extremely encouraging and supportive of our decision to homeschool.  When I mentioned that our kids were still enrolled in private school but they were not re-enrolled for next year, we were (GULP) going to homeschool them, I heard, “Congratulations!” [Emphasis supplied with exuberance by the speakers]  They didn’t ask why or ask if we were sure or had we considered a different school or if we realized how hard it would be.  Not one person mentioned “SOCIALIZATION.”  They all smiled with genuine warmth and enthusiasm and shared that we could do it, challenges and all.

I thought through my life, has there ever been a time when universally people were unquestionably supportive and encouraging???  Not that I could think of off the top of my head.  Maybe kindergarteners walking into school on the first day might get this level of encouragement. 

Why? How could this be?  Why would they care about encouraging me?  (See, I told you that I’m a cynic.)  My husband has a theory.  The group as a whole has made a conscious decision to buck the system and go against the mainstream educational system.  There was a sense of, “We’re all in this together.”  They all could relate to concerns and questions about:  how would it work; would the kids learn enough; would the kids learn the “right” things, etc.?  As such, they were a balm for my fears and concerns.  Their reassurance allowed for the heretofore tiny voice of “this could be amazing for us” to grow a little louder in my head into a feeling of excitement over the possibilities of homeschooling.

Another shocking discovery of mine was the level of trust exhibited by the vendors at the conference in their customers.  Are you kidding me?  Don’t they know what happens when you place your trust in the common man?  They rob you blind!  (Remember, I warned you I was cynical.  You thought I was kidding!)  Apparently I was on the verge of another shocking discovery about homeschoolers.  They are not “the common man.”  How refreshing!  There was more than ample opportunity for a person to walk off with all sorts of curricula and educational materials.  Yet no one did.  After sending felons to prison for years, I found this level of trust personally dumfounding.

By being “uncommon,” apparently it is possible to find those values like honesty, caring and integrity in something other than an old-fashioned movie.  “Pollyana” views of the goodness of others can actually exist in this day and age.   Time to pick my jaw up off the ground and enjoy an exhibition hall full of people who are “uncommon” for some of the best reasons.  I sure hope that as the popularity of homeschooling grows amongst the general population, that this “atmosphere of trust and faith in one another” doesn’t go the way of the Dodo bird.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crossing the Threshold of a Homeschool Convention

We hit a major milestone on this new Homeschool journey by attending our first homeschool conference.  I wasn’t too sure about what to expect...  lots of salesmen pushing their curricula like used car salesmen... boring speakers droning on an on... [Based on my experience as a lawyer attending Continuing Legal Education classes where the lawyers speaking appeared to get paid by the word and made Ben Stein seem as dynamic as Jim Carrey on meth.]  “weird” women who all look like former nuns without make-up, wearing “comfortable shoes” and homemade clothing (they would have spun their own cloth on home looms, of course) toting along their 17 well-behaved children.

I couldn’t have been more wrong on all fronts.  Here I thought I had done all my research, but I hadn’t realized that all the research in the world still hadn’t reached down into the roots of my own bias and preconceived notions.  My knowledge of homeschooling had changed, but some of my initial negative impressions of homeschoolers were still intact. 

Simply walking through the parking lot to get into the conference was an eye-opening experience.  The parking lot was overflowing with cars from all over.  People were hopping curbs and parking in the grass.  I had no idea that there would be so very many people there.  Thousands of families were there!  (Quite literally thousands, over 2,200 families were registered.  I know, because I asked.)

Reading that a certain percentage of Americans homeschool does not mean that I had internalized just how many people that would mean.  We aren’t coming from a social background that involves homeschooling.  We don’t really know any homeschoolers.  We meet them occasionally, but never really knew any personally.

Take a deep breath; it is time for me to walk in to the conference.  It was a bit scary because the act of going in meant that we were becoming “one of them,”  HOMESCHOOLERS... out of the system, set off and apart from the mainstream (which obviously can be both a good and a bad thing).

Surprise!  Or should I say, “Duh!”  What does one find inside a Homeschool Convention?  Why one finds all sorts of people, different sizes and shapes of all different sorts of backgrounds.  They are there for a multitude of different reasons, yet they do have one thing in particular in common...  Every last one of them is trying to do their very best for the children.  Guess you wouldn’t need to work for NASA to have been able to figure that one out.