Community Homeschooling – Messy but Whole

This is a guest post by Waetie Sanaa Kumahia who is a homeschooler, freelance writer and founder and director of the Randolph Community Homeschooling Co-op in Massachusetts. 

When speaking with other working class people about launching the Randolph Community Homeschooling Co-op, one of first concerns I often confront is the misconception that one must have a lot of money to pursue this option.

I can fully see why so many people make this assumption. After all, you have to have confidence in your own thinking, belief that what you as a parent have to offer your child is sufficient or more than enough than what can be gained in a school setting, and, finally, you need to have the time and energy to engage in aspirational thinking about your and your children’s future as opposed to only focusing on keeping food on the table and a roof over one’s head.

So, yes, to some degree, the choice to homeschool can be indicative of possessing a certain level of privilege and comfort with one’s abilities and options that many people in poor, multilingual, and under-resourced communities fear they simply don’t have.

Because of all of these real or perceived barriers, my goal in offering a cooperative model is to highlight all the ways parents and community members can embrace their role as our children’s first teachers.

My belief and experience is that it is these very stories of resilience, resourcefulness, innovative thinking, and community mindedness that characterize many members within the communities of fewer financial resources are exactly the ones our children most need.

My awareness of these concerns, and knowing the real constraints that many working families—including myself– are under, I am making an explicit effort to launch a home schooling model that adapts and focuses on the needs of this specific community, one which has been designated as the most diverse suburban area in the entire state of Massachusetts. 

This means that there is no competition to be had between our local school systems, whether public, private, or charter, and the home schooling model. Each model is inherently different and has different learning opportunities to offer.

I would argue that while any school can try their very best to meet your child’s needs, once the school doors close, homeschooling is that special sauce that is essential to ensure that your child’s specific strengths can be acknowledged and highlighted while more one on one focus can be given to any deficits.

This is where community homeschooling comes in.

By hosting the majority of our events on the weekends, or evenings, my hope is that families come to see that home schooling is not limited to the day time hours or to stay at home parents. What counts is the quality of the time spent, not the schedule.

By utilizing all the strengths and learning from the local community, whether that be entrepreneurs, community leaders, or single moms, we will have ample assurance that no one needs to home school alone.

It is our knowledge and experience as a community that we must lean on and that ultimately will teach our children where they have come from and reveal how much farther they can go!

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The Real Reason School Teachers Don’t Like Homeschoolers (and Why You Shouldn’t Care)

I have begun to realize that school teachers – as a general rule – don’t like homeschoolers. Now, please… if you’re a teacher, don’t freak out. I have lots of friends who are teachers who love homeschooling parents and the feeling is mutual – these are wonderful women whom I love, whose friendship I cherish and about whom would never say a bad thing.

My problem is not with the teachers anyway; it’s the entire educational system I don’t like.

My point is that as a general rule, school teachers have a deep distrust of homeschoolers. My point is also that it shouldn’t bother you or make you defensive as a homeschooler.

Their discomfort about homeschooling families is not about job security or anything like that. It has more to do with anecdotal evidence. The same anecdotal knowledge that we all value higher than any factual evidence.

“The plural of anecdote is not data.” – author unknown.

So you could go blue in the face telling them about how homeschooling offers the best advantages, how well your children are doing and how much time they have to focus on things that interest them, but they won’t listen to you and in the end their distrust will remain.

Why is this?

For the simple reason that their introduction – especially in the younger grades – to homeschoolers is via the failures.

Middle grade teachers, elementary grade teachers and high school teachers meet the children of parents who didn’t (for whatever reason) succeed in homeschooling, gave up and put them in public school.

The opposite happens as the grades get higher. Ask a college professor what he thinks about homeschooled students and the answer will likely be the opposite of that of a school teacher.

Dr. Jay Wile is a prime example of this change of perspective. He said he began researching homeschoolers because the brightest students in his class said they were homeschooled. He had no idea such a thing even existed! As a result of what he observed, the only condition he put on his adopted daughter was that she had to agree to be homeschooled. 

I used to want to silence the teachers who gave me advice. I used to argue. I used to debate them. I used to take it personally. I don’t any more.

Time, as they say, will tell. You don’t need to say a word.

You only have to educate your children. And let the chips fall where they may.

Interested in creating your own custom homeschooling curriculum? Pre-order Create Your Own Homeschooling Curriculum: A Step by Step Guide today!

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Why Educating My Children Does Not Scare Me

A long, long time ago, back when I used to watch TV, there was a woman on one of the (very tame) reality shows of the time who had said that having lots of children did not bother her because she ran her household like a business. 

It was powerful to hear that said. It stuck with me.

Homeschooling is a lot like running a business, too. And that’s why it does not scare me.

David Allen, productivity consultant and author of Getting Things Done writes

You don’t actually do projects. You only complete the actions related to them.

Educating my children is just one of the projects I do. Just like making dinner, keeping a home running smoothly, writing this blog, writing a book.

Whether we realize or acknowledge it to be so or not, we are constantly making choices about what we consider to be the best use of our time on a daily basis. Sometimes, what we do is not so obvious, sometimes because we can break it down into smaller actionable steps in our heads, it is.

Think about it this way: you don’t actually have to educate your children, you just have to read to them, discuss important subjects with them, provide opportunities to learn, and help them be diligent with practicing. In other words, you have to complete some actions on a consistent basis.

If you have a reasonable sense of control, organization and time management skills and are good at communicating with a normal human being, you can educate your children.

I think a lot of fear comes in when people think of homeschooling because they’re seeing the entire “project” in their head and thinking, I could never do that. 

But you don’t have to.

You don’t actually do projects. You only complete the actions related to them.

See how simple that all makes it seem?

I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m saying it’s simple.

I recently came under fire on Reddit for saying that teaching was not much harder than opening a book and following instructions. I stand by my statement. It’s not much more complicated than that, even though we like to overcomplicate matters.

Of course educating my children is a huge task! It’s a project, a big one. But don’t look at the end result. Consider that is consists of small, daily actions.

If you focus on doing the actions that lead to the end result, it’s doable, and dare I say, simple?

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To Teach Boys to Read, Give Them A Reason

“Is that a book about Minecraft?” someone recently asked my son, incredulous.

“Yup,” my son said.

He had studied the book cover to cover, ignoring everything else the day before but he still wasn’t done enjoying it thoroughly. If it wasn’t required that we sit down together at dinner every day in our home, he would have skipped eating.

From time to time, he would come to me excitedly telling me something new he had discovered. Sometimes, he would stop me to explain a new word he had read.

“Mom, what does ‘deadly’ mean?”

Suddenly, he was reading at a much higher level than I had gauged. He has never been a bad reader, but his reading took on a new seriousness. He was engaged on a level I had never seen, okay, maybe I had – I see it in my husband when he’s learning a new program – the singular attention that blocks out everything else, but I had never seen it in my son.

It looked very different from the times when I had taught him to read with the phonics based hundred easy lessons.

Something inside me thrilled. This was it. I knew it. This, right here, was how I needed to engage him.

Boys Need a Reason Why

I know this because I have potty trained them as well as my daughter, who is markedly different. It isn’t enough to tell boys to do something. They need a compelling reason why.

Now before the internet pounces on me, let me add that this does not mean that I only require my son to read Minecraft books. I will however remind him that one of the reasons he should learn to read is so that he can then pick out any book he wants and have no problem understanding it.

The line between why he is learning what he is learning and how it will help him in the future – or even today – must be drawn clearly if we want boys actively interested in their education.

I have a friend who, when her son was not interested in writing, asked him to tell her a story. She began typing what he was telling her and then reading it back to him. She said he had the most wonderful imagination and when he saw that he could tell good stories, he became interested in writing.

Sometimes, all it takes is a compelling reason – the lines drawn closer, subjects integrated. Give him the why. He’ll figure out the way.

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Why We Pay Our Kids to Keep Their Room Clean (and Do Other Basic Chores)

Every single time Dave Ramsey (the financial guru who has built his career out of telling people to get out of debt) mentions paying children a commission for work done and not an allowance, the internet loses its mind.

“Some things are done just because they’re part of a family!” is the line repeated most often.

“I do tons of chores around here for which I don’t get paid!” is the second most repeated line.

I get what they’re saying. Indeed, some of my closest friends subscribe to this thinking. However, we still pay our kids for their chores. Let me tell you why.

It ties money to work and value firmly in their minds from a very young age

I think I was 28 when I asked the most important economic question in the world: Where does money come from? And I didn’t mean a mint. When I was a child, I had made the connection between my father going to work and getting paid, but I still thought money was something given for time and not for the value one brought to the economy.

I know what you’re thinking – what child understands value? Well, I would argue that when they are paid according to the chores they can do, we get them started thinking in that direction.

For instance, my daughter who is seven, can do more important chores than my youngest son, who is three and they don’t get paid according to their need but according to the value they bring to the table.

Interpretation is important to a child, not just observation, but setting up opportunities that invite dialogue and discussion are just as precious. That’s what my husband and I aim to do.

It helps them apply their math skills

My children are paid every Friday. Then they get to choose to spend some of it, save some of it and give some of it to our church. We have minimum requirements for saving and giving and they get to buy either candy or a toy with the rest. Of course, we reserve the right to veto any purchase.

Because they spend so much time counting money and considering how much they’re going to be paid and how to spend it, save it and tithe it, basic money calculations become pretty easy for them.

We recently bought a Kumon workbook so they could practice their money counting skills but they had the hardest time. I was wondering why until I noticed that the coins were not to scale. Of course! I thought.

It gives a tangible count of wins and losses

I was listening to a podcast recently by Andrew Pudewa about motivating students and he made a very important point about winning and losing.

Pudewa said that motivation is either intrinsic (something children are naturally interested in), extrinsic (made into a game of sorts) or forced (also called the “or else” motivator.)

I find that paying for chores covers all three of these bases.

Megan McArdle in The Up Side of Down mentions briefly that punishment is most effective when it is consistent and quickly meted out, but more importantly, when recovery from it and rehabilitation is swift. This is easily done with commissions.

When the children don’t do their chores and payment is withheld, (we don’t do this often, but it has been done) they learn that it is not a devastating blow – that there will be another opportunity next week, another chance to win. This is incredibly motivating and teaches them an important life lesson – not to be crushed by failure, to look for the next opportunity; it’s just around the corner.

It gamifies their lives

My children love video games and I whole-heartedly support their passion. Recently, I watched Jane McGonigal talk about gamifying one’s life and how it can help even adults do better at difficult things. I know I perform better with the family budget, for example, if I can turn it into a game.

I love that the children get to experience the same excitement about their chores, that they don’t see work as work but as a fun exercise to create value.

Paying them for their chores gets them thinking in this direction.

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Homeschooling Moms Are Happier

…. and if they aren’t, they haven’t quite figured out that homeschooling is not the same as school at home.

I received a brave but terrified email the other day from a fellow mom who was drawn to homeschooling her children, but wanted to know how such a thing could possibly work for her family because, she said, she is also a writer.

Wouldn’t homeschooling take away from such a pursuit, she wondered. How much time did homeschooling take? When would she find time to write? And how in the world would she explain to her kids why they didn’t go to school?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was facing the same dilemma. It wasn’t that long ago that I was completely disillusioned at the fact that while all the other moms were rejoicing that their kids were (finally, finally!) back in school, it was life as usual for us year round.

It was the oddest thing, I realized, as I wrote back to her: there has been no other time in my entire life that I have been more fulfilled – as a person, as a woman, a wife, a mother, and – yes – as a writer.

Homeschooling gives you what other careers can only dream of – the ability to have fun while you work, the potential to see your hard work pay off right in front of your eyes, to see a specific project to the end, to pour the best of your intellect, creativity and every aspect of your personality into your own children.

Homeschooling is also the only career in the world that gives you the freedom to use the raw material of your experience however you would like and not a few writers have made it the springboard for their books, their small businesses and their side jobs.

There is a myth – partially created by the teaching community and partially by older homeschooling moms (who followed school curricula because they taught their children at home at a time when they couldn’t buy curricula unless they were a traditional school), I think – that teaching is hard.

It’s not.

What’s hard about opening a book and reading it to your child? What’s hard about following written instructions? Children are curious, they ask lots of questions, they learn some stuff along the way. That’s not hard. What’s hard is discipline.

What’s hard is trying to keep everyone in lock-step with their public schooled peers.

Conformity is hard, not homeschooling.

The real concern I had when I began, the concern my friend who wrote to me now has, the real concern of all homeschooling moms when they begin – whether they realize it or not – is conformity. It’s all those little what-ifs that constantly claw at us. What if I fail my child? What if he’s old enough to go to college and can’t add 2 + 2? What if she has no friends? What if he turns out, you know, weird?

But if you’re a writer, aren’t you already a non-conformist to some degree? You see things others don’t. Take heart, fellow mom. You’re on the right track.

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Difficulty for Difficulty’s Sake is a Terrible Teaching Guide

Just because something is difficult, it does not follow that is good or even desirable as a goal. Just because a story, a book or a poem is hard to read, a game tough to play, a skill particularly hard to acquire, it does not then mean that it should be on a teaching curriculum.

There seems to be a bias in learning. The more difficult a challenge is, the more it finds its way into school planners.

In graduate school the hardest books are the ones with the most bragging rights. Finnegan’s Wake, anyone? The harder it is, the more it entices us.

Why this preference for what is arduous, for what constantly calls on us to reach inside for Herculean strength?

The things that make people successful on a daily basis are not onerous.

In fact, everyday life – at least modern life – is easy if incredibly tedious. Answering emails, fixing broken things, solving problems, paying bills, sweeping, doing dishes, even homeschooling. This is not hard.

Showing up is half the battle. Following through is the other half. Somewhere in the middle, the magic happens – work gets done. A life is lived, the day is won.

Knowing this then why do we say to our kids that they should constantly be doing what is demanding? Why the preference for the most challenging curriculum? Why the bias against what they can enjoy as they learn? Why shun graphic novels? Why not work to their strengths instead of constantly probe their weaknesses?

Why, oh why, does everything have to be a challenge?

Do we live like that? I can tell you that the hardest thing I do lately is read all I can about running a website and history – two of my favorite subjects. I’m not jumping over hurdles to read books about math – a subject that I appreciate, but not one that interests me as something I would like to pursue.

Sure, the occasional challenges are good.

I make time to work out because I know it’s important, but exercise gets relegated into the realm of habit. I do it quickly enough to avoid it becoming a real trial. I try to make it as pleasant as possible, as easy to get done as I can. I listen to podcasts that I find interesting or music to keep me going.

Why then when it comes to the children do we place innumerable rules on them, most of which are designed to do nothing but challenge them at every turn? The marshmallow challenge anyone?

What are we hoping to prove? That they can rise to every difficulty life will throw their way? That the world is cruel and they had better learn now how to constantly tell themselves no?

Willpower is like a muscle. It’s not a bad idea to train it, but when every task – academic or otherwise – is chosen only for its difficulty factor, we can hardly blame children for giving up and hating to learn. This post explains quite well the options we have when it comes to training and educating children as well as ourselves.

Simple things motivate us, if only for their simplicity. Habits guide us, automating behavior. Occasional challenges are fun, even desirable, but we’re not – by any means – raising Spartans.

Toughness is overrated.

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Conversations = Education

The kids are fighting about who gets in the van first. Scrambling, pushing and shoving ensues. Someone gets hurt. "What…

Posted by The Classical Unschooler on Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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The Uses of Memorization

I just finished listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss about memorization with Ed Cooke, Grandmaster of Memory. You can find it here if you’re interested in listening to it.

I have written about memorization work in the past on this blog.

My children love memorizing and I have found that I often  have to provide no incentive for them to do so. They just like it in itself.

Memorization, I have noticed, might be the one thing that divides the classical homeschoolers from the unschoolers more than their politics. (And I say this knowing this to be an election year.) If you speak to a classical homeschooling mom, chances are her children are memorizing everything from Latin words that make no sense to them to American Presidents. They are also quite well versed in uses of mnemonics and can recite a breathtaking array of poetry complete with actions and articulations that make you think you are watching a play on Broadway.

Unschoolers, on the other hand, typically shun memorization. This was incidentally the breaking point for me when I mentioned to a friend and fellow homeschooler that I was having the children memorize poetry. She claimed that no self-respecting unschooler would do such a thing.

So while listening to the above post, I began to wonder if there was any use to memorizing at all or was I interested in watching people like Ed Cooke simply because he was an oddity in the way people read about the amazing feats of, say Guiness World Record holders?

Was there any intrinsic benefit to memorizing information, I wondered, beyond just being able to regurgitate it on to your tests?

It is an important question. Anyone, given time and practice can get better at memorizing with some techniques, some of which are discussed in this Ted Talk. But the question is, as effective as these techniques are, what is the point? What are we going to do with all this information? 

More importantly, in an age where information is available to us with simple voice commands, where encyclopedia are soon going to be as ubiquitous as putting on a pair of Google glasses, should we even be memorizing?

Doesn’t the opportunity cost almost beg us to use our time elsewhere? Memorizing takes a fair amount of time and effort; aren’t we better off using that time elsewhere?

Thankfully for me, the question was asked. And answered.

And I am happy to say that I believe memorization still has a place in a person’s life.

As a classical unschooler, I am more interested in giving my children the tools of learning (and making sure they use them often) than in covering any given curriculum. And I’m beginning to think that memorization is one of those most important tools. Yes, even with Google and Siri and whats-her-name.

Memorizing something, even a deck of cards, or a random list of numbers, according to Cooke, forces one to learn different ways of looking at things.

It forces you to categorize things differently in your brain. For instance, it makes you think of cards as people or of numbers as letters. This drawing together of disparate objects and putting them together in a different category than you would usually has a very practical application, even a personal one.

I think it is one I use almost instinctually and one that I usually get into trouble for. Maybe you do it, too.

Have you ever been doing something highly technical and then turned then inanimate thing you are working with into an anthropomorphous being in your head, maybe even someone you know? What did you do the next minute? You probably removed it from your mind! But that is exactly the kind of learning (because that really was a form of learning) you need to memorize and to have a rich inner life.

For that dear blog reader is where all this memorization work is taking you and your children.

Memorization isn’t just about growing your brain, although it does that, it isn’t about keeping your brain active into its older years, although it does that as well, memorization really is about making life more enjoyable, about making you more fun to yourself, a better person, a bigger person in your own being. Isn’t that what we all want anyway?

Because memorization forces you to learn to categorize, organize and remember information by changing its form, those skills can then be applied to things that are personal. How would you like to remember – in vivid detail a Christmas dinner you had with your first daughter from years ago? And wouldn’t you like to have the perfect memory of your first date with your husband? Taking the kids to Disneyland? Memorization can do that for you. This isn’t about history timelines or dead presidents.

This is about learning skills and tools that can then be used to give yourself and your children a richer life, no matter what they do. Tools that Google Glasses cannot ever hope to provide.

It’s something worth working toward.

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Reading Challenges For 2016 From Around the Web

One of the better things I have started doing toward the tail end of this year is keeping a journal.

It’s been a habit I’ve been quite enjoying and it’s a habit that helps me. It bookends my day and makes it easier for me to stay focused on what’s important as well as what I should be grateful for. It keeps my goals for the day, the week and the year in front of my eyes at all times.

My favorite goal (we can have favorites, right?) is to read 100 books this year.

In 2015 I read about 60 and in 2014 I read 51.

But lately everywhere I go online it seems reading challenges are popping up. So here’s a post about the various challenges. Pick one and get to reading! Join your local library. It’s free.

The Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge

Arguably my favorite and least fussy challenge. It asks you to pick a number of books and log them as you read them, mark them as done and review them for your friends. It doesn’t tell you what genre or what length. I like Goodreads as a place to log what I’m reading and get recommendations based on what I like. Plus, if I want to get really nerdy, there are discussion groups of every kind.

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

A friend introduced me to this one. It has a list with 24 tasks and a completed list qualifies you for a discount at the Book Riot store that sells some pretty great stuff for readers. I like it because it forces me to read books I wouldn’t usually read.

The Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge

If you’re more theologically minded and interested in a reading challenge, this one fits the bill. It gives you four different levels of commitment. You can pick between light, avid, committed and obsessed. Head on over and download the list!

The Redeemed Reader’s Reading Challenge for Kids

Loosely based on Tim Challies’ reading challenge, The Redeemed Reader has put together a challenge for the children. Find the list (in Google Docs format) here.

Hey, wait a minute… is there only ONE for kids? Unfortunately so. There are various local ones put together by public libraries, so be sure to check with your own. Summer seems to be the time when these challenges are presented to children because the majority of people still believe that children are too busy during the year to read.

So you know what? I made one.

The Classical Unschooler’s 2016 Reading Challenge for Kids of All Ages

Save the list, print it and stick it up on your fridge – one for each person who is participating. The next time you’re wondering what to read next, pick a category that looks good, find a book that fits and read it!

When you finish, check off the task and write the title of the book and its author in the blank. Finish the 12 tasks and email me the completed list!

Now, go read a good book!


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