Choose Conversation – Not Curriculum

The best thing about homeschooling is not being around my children all day, although that’s one of the very good things. The best thing about homeschooling is the conversation – the unique perspective I get from them and what I’m able to give them.

Homeschooling is nothing if not conversations.

A Random Important Conversation

Consider this. We were riding along one day headed to the grocery store when my son piped up from the back of our minivan:

“Mom, money comes from the President.”

“No, that’s not true,” I replied. “Can you think of how money is created?”

“In the mint?”

We had a fairly long conversation about money and value and how it’s created after that. After all, one of the things we try to do often is to connect money, value and work for the children from a very young age.

I knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Inviting Conversation

We leave room in our planning for conversation. Part of our car schooling strategy is to get out of the house once a week. When we are in the car, all we do is memorize. And leave a blank slate for conversations.

The most interesting questions come up.

“If the President changes, do all the laws change?”

“What are taxes?”

“How much money do we have?”

“What is a budget?”

“If we make something and sell it, the cheaper we make it, the more people buy it, right? That’s the way to make a lot of money.”

Start early

Of course economics, politics and civics are not the only conversations we have in the car but I am surprised by how often they do think about such things. These are the very things we seem to relegate to a much later age for teaching and I’ve often wondered why.

While I’m not a fan of preschool and early education, I absolutely think that even elementary aged kids can and should be taught basic economics, history and civics.

You don’t need a curriculum; all you need is conversation.

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Teaching Art at Home: 3 Resources for the Budding Artist

My daughter is a bit of a natural artist. While I like to write for entertainment, she likes to paint. The nice thing about homeschooling is that we have plenty of time to devote to honing such a craft.

If you have an artist at home, here are some resources to help him or her.

YouTube

Okay, so this one is pretty obvious. But what you may not have realized is how much YouTube has to offer. A cursory check on it reveals videos that teach cartooning as well as more advanced training for someone who might be interested in comics.

My daughter will sometimes just browse and search for various cat cartoons and draw them. Hey, whatever inspires her!

I urge you to go search through the millions of videos on YouTube for whatever would inspire your child. Create a “playlist” and use it as an art curriculum.

Anna Nilsen

If you want to introduce your children to great works of art and teach them to develop an eye for them, do not miss Anna Nilsen’s books. Art Fraud Detective is a fun introduction to the great works.

The objective is to identify the real paintings and distinguish them from the fake ones. Throughout the book, art history is introduced along with the paintings.

If you love Art Fraud Detective, you can also check out The Great Art Scandal and Art Auction Mystery also by Anna Nilsen.


Museums & Others

While exposing your budding artist to great works of art in books, graphic novels and YouTube, make the time to attend workshops and other art fun organized by local museums as well.

I believe quite strongly that to get better at art, all you really need to do is create lots of it, but I also think that some outside inspiration can be the impetus to get going. So be sure to visit some free or inexpensive art classes and lessons organized by local museums every once in a while.

Have fun teaching art!

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Survey Time!

Happy Friday, homeschoolers!

I have created a quick survey for you fill out. Since the classical homeschooling community seems to be growing, I figured it would be a good idea to do one. I’m curious what you like, what you would like to see more of and what common interests we share.

It’s short and sweet – just three questions.

(Well… and a fourth option to add anything I haven’t covered.)

Help a lady out! Take the survey!

Create your own user feedback survey

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How to Teach Reading (and When)

There is a new game that’s being played at my house – the rhyming game. The children, it seems, are currently obsessed with finding words that rhyme with each other.

And it’s not connected with reading exercises or anything. The kids do it as fun.

I don’t know when this trend started but it’s recent. I have to laugh at that because I distinctly remember rhyming as something that was always a struggle for both my older children. And here they are now. Not only explaining it to my (as yet) illiterate four year old but making a raucous game of it all!

How My Children Learned to Read

When my oldest daughter was five, we started slow. We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. As I said, we started very slowly. If we had problems blending sounds, we put the book away for a week or two and then came back. I did not push.

It was the same with my son. We did not do the writing part of the exercises. If you’ve seen Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonsyou know what I’m talking about. (Highly recommended, by the way. It’s simple, straightforward and short. But feel free to customize it.)

But the rhyming! Oh, the rhyming!

It was a struggle, to put it mildly. And they didn’t get it. So we decided to skip that as well. I checked a few lessons down the road and was happy to discover the book dropped the rhyming exercises, so I didn’t worry about it.

Teaching Reading Need Not Be Scary

Reading is one of the first things most homeschooling parents teach and I think this is where we either develop our deep confidence or think maybe we’re not cut out to homeschool after all. In other words, teaching reading can make or break your homeschool.

Reading is also something children can and have picked up themselves.

So which is it? Is reading difficult or not?

Yes and no. If you start before the child is ready, it will be torture. A very wise homeschooling mom once told me to wait until they were ready. I am so glad I decided to take her advice.

She also told me not to rush after letter recognition, to start teaching reading only after the child was able to blend letters.


Are they ready? Here’s the exercise to be able to tell

The best advice I received was to wait until my child was ready. But what’s readiness? This is. Do this exercise.

After and only after the child is proficient at sounding out letters, offer a two letter word like “at” and see if the child can sound out the “a” and the “t” and blend them. If and only if he is able to do that, introduce a letter before the “at” to make words like cat, rat, etc.

If the child successfully blends these, congratulations, your child is reading and you can now proceed – gently – with other lessons.

What to do while waiting

The hard part, of course, is waiting. There is a push for children to learn to read earlier and it’s easy to get caught up in that. But try to ignore that. While waiting, reading to them will be the most important thing.

If you have the need to introduce something reading-wise, I highly recommend The Letter Factory by Leapfrog. My kids watched this all the time and learned letter sounds very easily with it.


Good luck! And happy teaching!

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8 Skills All High School Students Should Know

This is a guest post by Scott Groza. You can find out more about Groza Learning Center here.

While most people consider high school students to be allowed ample room to become adults in the years to come, the truth is there are many important things that high school students should know that they often are not properly taught. These are a set of life skills they will need as they begin to look to the future of their lives and prepare for adulthood. While many high schools help their students with some outside life skills, few of them work on helping their students master some of the most important life skills they will need as they grow into adulthood.

As an example of some of the deficits, high school teachers often spend a great amount of time teaching children facts and improving some of their basic skills of cognoscente learning. However, one of the greatest areas that high school education can fail students is in teaching student’s comprehension skills. Certainly, life is more than facts. It is not just important for a child to memorize information or learn by watching or inputting data. Teenage kids need to learn how to assimilate the things they are reading and learning in the classroom with the world. Thus, making their newfound knowledge applicable to their life is a critical life skill. Taking in information is only as valuable as knowing what to do with the information to enhance a person’s life once it is learned. This can be vital to allowing information to be put to practical use across all scopes of their education. As an example, math can be used in shopping and cooking and sociology can be used in enhancing personal understanding and societal integration.

The second foremost life skill for teens is learning about history of the world and American history has real uses in life. So often students can live in a cloistered view that the world is simply here and now and nothing else matters. While many students think that learning American History or World History serves no important purpose for their life, being able to take the lessons from history and appreciate the many gifts that so many others have contributed to the world allows a student to learn how they too may be able to make a difference in the future of the world. Additionally, everything that is today can be placed in the context of how far we have evolved as human beings once history is learned. As an example, we know in the realm of political and public policy landscape as well as in enhancing the students’ knowledge of civic participation such as voting, knowing history is often vital to making important decisions for the future of communities, states and nations as an adult.

Another important piece of knowledge that teens need to have is practical knowledge for preparing for life on their own. These include learning about balancing a checkbook, eating nutritious foods, cooking and budgeting. When it comes to finances, oftentimes banks set up special accounts with teenagers that are known as student bank accounts that allow high school students a place to open an account without fees, and learn how to properly use a debit card and use check registers for recording transactions.

The fourth most important acquired knowledge for high school students is teaching students how to plan for their future. While many teens can think that they will have plenty of time to figure out their future, the truth is many high school students go on to be college students who drop out of because their school choice or career choice ends up being too much for them to handle or ends up being of little interest to them once they delve in further. Many high schools fall short of gearing students minds towards building their skills and gifts in ways that allow their mind to explore and define their life and career goals.

Another important life skill is building the student’s overall knowledge of life’s many cultures. In this very diverse world of people this is an essential aspect of becoming an adult. One of the reasons that being cultured is so very important is because it broadens the mind scope and a person’s coping skills when encountering the world at large. Being cultured elevates the person’s self-respect and their respect for others. When it comes to learning more about appreciation for culture, students can become much more well-rounded and interested in developing their own cultural gifts when they see how enhanced life is through the cultures of the world. In addition, helping teenage students learn about culture and the arts teaches teens about global appreciation, diversity and enhances their ability to find good in the world through being creative and appreciating the creativity of others.

The last set of skills are three skill sets in one category. While each is a distinct skill in and of themselves they fall into one category. Of all the levels of knowledge that students obtain in school, this set of skills is the most imperative skill set for students to acquire to keep them mentally
healthy throughout their lives.

These skills fall under the category known as emotional quotient or EQ skills. These are the skills of self-control, self-awareness, self-growth. The skill of self-control teaches students how to build their stamina in the realm of emotional situations. This includes work relations, personal relations and in dealing with the public at large. The skill of self-awareness is a skill that keeps the student aware of their own emotions, thoughts and feelings and teaches them how to process experiences to grow and learn and become a better person.

Lastly, is the skill of self-growth enhancement. As a student becomes an adult there is a whole series of responsibilities that they must be able to handle as an adult that they never needed to worry as much about in their youth. But as they become more adept and mature they too must be prepared to cope with the world in a greater spectrum. This is done by learning to handle rejection and loss in healthy ways so that the person can move beyond their difficulties and seek solutions to their everyday problems and life circumstances.

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Against Overcomplication: Keep Teaching Simple

We have an awkwardly designed kitchen from the 50s. At least, that’s how it seems to us who live in the 21st century. I have to turn around 180 degrees to go from the stove to the counter.

There is very little that is streamlined. Often, my husband will watch my awkward attempts at serving dinner and bring the pot of food to the counter to fix things.

Against Overcomplication

Why do I mention my kitchen habits? For the simple reason that my clumsy cooking habits, no doubt created by my kitchen, often find an echo in some odd teaching habits I see around me.

I have already written about how some will pick a curriculum just because it’s difficult. But here I want to write about  we tend to overcomplicate teaching some things when the truth is we need to keep it simple.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Simplification is the essence of teaching. Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The problem is sometimes we do – we do understand it. But we want to explain it four different ways to make sure they understand it.

I suggest we stop. Pick one way that you think is easiest and explain it. If, and only if, it doesn’t make sense that way, try another.

This is especially true in math. But it is equally true in history.

In our Common Core culture, we rush to give multiple ways of solving math problems, multiple narratives of history and a thousand perspectives on what happened, depending on where you were standing.

This is often unnecessary and complicates things.

Keep it Simple

Especially in the younger years, when we’re dealing with the grammar stage, keep it simple. The time for nuance and multiple perspectives will come with the logic and especially in the rhetoric stage.

Just stick with the facts for now, and keep it simple. If something can be learned through play or simple concepts, don’t rush to make it academic.

In other words, if it works, leave it alone. Keep teaching as simple as it can be and no simpler.

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Rituals and Habits in Homeschooling

How you drink your tea or coffee in the morning might tell you more about your homeschooling habits than you think.

What are your habits?

I ask that as a genuine question, not to be flippant. A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to give up drinking coffee. We were trying to solve some inflammation issues and thought we’d see if giving up coffee resolved them. (As an aside, they didn’t and we were miserable, so we’re back on our favorite bitter beverage.)

While we were experimenting with tea, however, I noticed two things about us. These two things were central to how we functioned as a family and so they directed everything including our homeschooling, especially our homeschooling.

Habits Shape your Homeschool

… or they should anyway. In my new, upcoming book Create Your Own CurriculumI mention how it is very important to consider the little rituals, daily habits and personality of your family. This is because homeschooling is extremely personal and unique to every family

Standardized education in public schools has led people to think that they can replicate and copy systems, structures and methods of teaching. We can not. It is our personalities that are the most important thing in our homeschool.

What our Family Does Might Not Work For You

So how do you drink your morning beverage? This is a ritual for many, including me.  Zak Slayback has a very interesting article about how and why he likes to spend ten minutes every morning making coffee. Now that would never be me. I don’t like spending much time on it. I like the taste of it but I don’t care for the ceremony of it.

It’s the same with tea. I have friends who love the ceremony of it. They adore the tea infusers and store ten different kinds of tea in glass jars. They use tea kettles. I use tea bags and heat my water in the microwave oven.

It’s the same with our homeschooling for the most part. I don’t stand on ceremony. I take a pretty practical approach to it. As I have written before, as long as the children are learning, I don’t care how they learn. I don’t care about the ceremony of schooling if they’re getting an education.

So spend some time thinking about your homeschooling habits and those of your family. You might find that they give you clues to how best structure your efforts at education.

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The Real Tragedy of Education Today

I recently discovered I was ignorant. Ignorance is not a bad thing if you ask me, especially if, firstly, you admit it frankly and secondly, if you know how to cure it. And I realized I was ignorant in the classics.

Well, I thought. I can’t possibly be a classical unschooler and be ignorant in the classics, so away I went to the bookstore to fix that. My plan was – is – to read the great works of literature, philosophy and history chronologically.

Where are the greats?

Imagine my surprise then when I had trouble finding the first writers of great Western literature – the Greeks – at a bookstore that seemed otherwise overflowing with books! What? No greats of Western culture? How could this be?

And yes, I found Homer, thank goodness, but no Herodotus, no Aeschylus, no Hesiod, no Quintus, no Thucydides. And just a smattering of Plato and Aristotle in the middle of a large area of philosophy replete with existentialism and nihilism.

And I haven’t even started with the Romans.

I’m not blaming the bookstore, mind you. They stock what they can and what sells. They have to work within their space constraints and make a profit. I get it. I’m as capitalist as they come.

What bothered me was that if the bookstore wasn’t stocking Greek and Roman classics, it meant that no one was buying them, which meant that no one was reading them. 

What are colleges really reading?

Clearly, there’s a disconnect somewhere. Fareed Zakaria, in his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education claims that a common base of culture and knowledge is important for people to form a common identity. People get along better when they have it. E. D. Hirsch says the same thing. Lists like these confirm the idea that books which matter to western culture are alive and well read.

And yet, here’s a better list – a dynamic list – of what colleges are really reading.

This second list matched my experience at the store. Yes, of course there are people other than college students buying books. However, it seemed to me that when it comes to reading what is referred to as “good literature,” the pool that people choose from stops more often than not in the Modern age. And even that is now being scrubbed clean.

We love Shakespeare, but…

… we don’t read those who influenced him enough. I was dismayed when I saw so many copies of Ibsen’s A Doll House on the shelves and not enough copies of Greek drama.

It reminded me of my own education which followed a chronological order that was all wrong.

We do a disservice to our children (and ourselves) if we only throw in a smattering of Greek & Roman mythology in their childhood because they are fun and then leave it out completely when we enter the middle grades and high school.

We do a serious disservice to our children if by the time they enter the Rhetoric stage, all we present to them are Modern writers and philosophies of nihilism and existentialism.

I know because I’ve been there.

Speaking anecdotally, I can tell you that I adopted existentialism as a personal philosophy because it seemed “cool.” There was very little thought that went into it.

I received a good education. Having read Greek and Roman mythology in the elementary years to Medieval writing (in simplified English) in middle school, we were reading Shakespeare in high school. Unfortunately, we went from that to Moderns, Moderns and more Moderns in college. We also threw in a generous helping of Post Modern literature until we all concluded that hell was other people.

My worldview – along with my education – was apparently complete.

Structure Your Curriculum Differently

In my book The Classical UnschoolerI mention how to structure every subject so that the student can pass through the three levels of learning – the grammar, the logic (or dialectic) and the rhetoric – for each subject individually.

I also mention that the rhetoric stage can be the most fun stage because at this stage the student already has a grasp of the basic knowledge each subject requires, has tested what is true and what isn’t and is at the point where he can make arguments for and against a specific topic.

It is precisely at this stage – the rhetoric stage – that we want to reintroduce him to the classics. The rhetoric stage is when we want to challenge the mind with new ideas, to grapple with them, to find the beauty, the poetry and the pathos in them. Sure, if you so wish, throw in some Postmodern ideas in there, too, but make sure they are questioned, not just imbibed.

This the tragedy of education today. Don’t let it happen to you and yours.

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How to Homeschool in a Small House

Before we started homeschooling, I made the mistake of wandering innocently onto some Pinterest boards for ideas. I say “mistake” because what I saw was immediately overwhelming. I saw dedicated school rooms! Imagine that … and keep imagining it, because for our little 1000 square foot house, it was just not going to happen. How in the world was I going to homeschool in our small house?

We have three bedrooms – the boys’ room, the girl’s room and our bedroom. Beyond that, there’s bathroom (a small one) and a dining area and living room.

Where in the world was my dedicated school room going to be with the pretty lettering on the walls? And the maps? And the kids’ art work?

I was saddened. Perhaps you are, too. So in this post, I’m going to talk about what you do not need and what you do need when it comes to being able to homeschool in a small house.

You do not need a chalkboard

The oddest thing about making the decision to homeschool is that most people think they need a chalkboard. Or a dry erase board. I did, too. I think the idea of school that looks like a classroom is something so deeply ingrained in our minds that we can’t conceive of another way. So here it is: you don’t need one. Use paper. 

The advantage of homeschooling after all, is that you will be working one on one with your children. Use a pad of paper to explain a problem. Alternatively, if you really like dry erase boards, you can get a small one to hold.

I still much prefer paper.

You do not need a dedicated school room

If you have one, great, but you don’t need one. There is absolutely no need for a school room or a play room for your children.

Yes, it’s nice to be able to put all the “school work” in one room and yes it’s fantastic to be able to get all the toys put away out of sight in the evenings, but no, you don’t need a separate room for that.

“School” tends to spill out into real life anyway, especially if you’re a classical unschooler. So why bother trying to contain it in one room?

Writing? Use the dining table. Reading? Use the couch. Memorizing? Use the backyard or patio. Or the car.

Things You Do Need

A dining table that is clear of things

Most people have a dining table with things on it. At least a table cloth. It’s a good idea to take some time to clear clutter before you begin homeschooling because it tends to collect.

Keeping a small house clear of clutter is the single best thing you can do for your homeschooling success.

Alternatively, a desk and a chair in the kids’ rooms where they can sit and write, read or do Lego projects could work as well.

A dedicated space or closet to store school supplies and books

We have a closet that my husband has built shelves in. In a small house, shelves are a life saver.

In the closet however, we keep only school-related things. Nothing else. It is accessible to the children and it is cleared out regularly. Anything that we are done using gets sold or given away or even thrown away. We do not store more than necessary.

A closet also serves us better than say, shelves, because at the end of the day I can put things away and shut the door. Because I am here all day long, in the middle of the toys and books, it’s nice to be able to close it when I stop working.

A couch

Most of our sit down work happens at the dining table, but we do the occasional read aloud on the couch. (I’ve been reading aloud after lunch, so we like to just hang out at the table and listen.)

Most of the children’s reading is also done on the couch and in their own beds. All this to say that if you are in love with reading nooks and can afford to have them in your home, that’s great. But if you can not, you’re not robbing your kids of a lifetime of reading. If my children can read hanging upside down from two chairs, they can read in a brightly lit open living room.

Don’t stress it.

So don’t let the size of your home stop you from taking on the adventure of a lifetime and giving your family the gift of homeschooling. We have a small house and we do just fine.

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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude

I recently quoted Nancy Pearcey on my Facebook wall. The quote went something like this.

Homeschoolers are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. They are self-motivated and self-directed, independent-minded and creative. They are not content to turn their education of their children over to the government.

One of my readers who also happened to be an old friend mentioned under it that she also saw homeschoolers as incredibly driven because this is no small enterprise we undertake. Another friend objected. Not necessarily, she wisely pointed out, adding in her characteristic way, You can be lame and still homeschool and you’d still do better than sending your kids to the government run mills.

In my mind, they were both right. I have seen homeschoolers who are organized, driven and make teaching their children their job, one that takes up all their time and attention and one they do exceptionally well.

On the other hand, I have also met homeschooling parents who are more hands off, but take their children with them, teach them whatever they know, believe simply in being involved in their lives.

Both kinds of homeschoolers do just fine. And yes, both are better than assembly line government run public schools.

An Assembly Line

I recently went to get a new car key made for our family van we bought last year. I couldn’t help but notice how unable or unwilling the people who worked at the dealership were to do things differently.

Would I like a free car inspection?

No, thank you, I’m just here for a new key.

Well, we do have to check tires. It’s the law.

Fine, but nothing else. I’m just here for the key. I have other things to do as well.

And even after all that, the car somehow ended up at the vacuuming and cleaning place. After waiting for over an hour, I inquired, complained and finally was able to leave. Not before paying for the key and upsetting the people working there.

Why were they upset, you ask. They were angry because I refused to be part of their assembly line. Because I wouldn’t passively accept what they thought they needed to do to my car.

Because, as the customer, silly me, I thought I was supposed to be in the driver’s seat.

Customization is Key

What is true of good customer service is true of education.

Your children are not supposed to be carbon copies of another. They are not to move from station to station, getting inspections along the way; they are not supposed to walk lock step with their peers.

They are unique people. They are to be the best and fullest version of themselves.

Unfortunately, the only way to get that education in a system that is developed for an assembly line is to anger people who are part of it.

Or you can choose not to be part of it.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude

I was reading The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon written by Brad Stone and came across a part of the book that illustrates this perfectly. When Steve Jobs created the iPod, the writer says, Amazon’s music sales suffered. It no longer made the profits it used to by selling CDs. Music became digitalized and sales drifted to iTunes.

Did Jeff Bezos decide to then produce a cheap imitation of the iPod? Thank goodness, no.

He didn’t make another iPod because he couldn’t. Doing so would be a poor imitation of something that was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. Instead, he took an e-reader that had failed in the past, rejected by most and came up with the Kindle.

The difference in the two giants here – Bezos and Jobs – who in many ways have similar life stories – was not just in the products in they created. The difference was in their personalities that were the reason behind the products they created.

You see, Bezos loves words and arguments in the form of a narrative. He made his employees write essays instead of create PowerPoint presentations. He had this to say about why.

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.

Jobs on the other hand loved music. There is no way he could have created the Kindle. That would also have been a cheap imitation.

Homeschooling is about Customization

Homeschooling then is the ultimate education and life hack. It shuns imitation. It allows families to be who they truly are, it lets children blossom and become who they are meant to be. It lets inventors tinker in their garages, readers read.

It doesn’t seek to stuff individuals into molds and send them off to the next station waiting to be vacuumed and polished and made perfect.

Even if it ruffles a few feathers along the way, homeschooling is well worth it.

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