What Does Your Kindergartner Need to Know?

I recently picked up a school prep book on a whim. I know what you’re thinking. So let me say this – it was my kindergartner – um, preschooler… well, whatever he is at this point. He picked it up and begged me to buy it. So I did.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I’m not a fan of formal preschool and kindergarten. Really, we’re not into grade levels at all, but even less so for the youngest ones. (I don’t mind some worksheets, especially for older children.) So imagine my surprise when for first grade readiness, this workbook was teaching double digit addition! 

Let me say that again so you understand my horror: double digit addition! Before entering first grade! To be fair, it was at the end of the book, so it was perhaps one of those “not necessary, but good to know” things. And yet, here’s the thing: the emphasis on formal learning at younger and younger years is disturbing.

And it doesn’t ease up. The push to get ready for the next year and the next is relentless. And by the time first-graders are planning for college, we have to admit this is all a little ridiculous.

So what does your kindergartner need to know?

If you’re just starting out homeschooling and your child is under seven, the biggest thing he needs to know is that you love him and he is free to experiment and learn. Read to him. If he’s interested in learning to read, by all means go ahead and teach him. He will naturally be interested in things like counting and sorting. There’s no need to push colors and numbers on him, but if you feel like you must do something, that’s probably all you need to do – letters, numbers, counting. That’s it.

Let me repeat: that’s it. 

Most of the kindergarten time should be spent in playing and exploring, not learning to run on an endless academic treadmill. In the words of a very wise man, It’s your child, not a gerbil.

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What Does a Classical Unschooling Day Look Like? [Update]

Yes, I have written before on classical unschooling and what our day looks like. I mean, I did write a whole book about our style and method!

But since that post is over a year old, I thought it would be a good idea to update it.

A Typical Classical Unschooling Morning Begins at Night

My children prefer to do their work at night, or rather, in the evening. I have a board on which they have various tasks assigned to them – or to us, really – and they finish the ones they can do on their own before bedtime. As you can see from the earlier post, it didn’t always used to be like this.

With the basics covered – typically they do math and language arts kind of work at night – they have the morning free to play. I do not assign anything at this point, but they do enjoy playing on various apps on their Kindle Fire. To see some of my favorite apps, go here.

By 9 or 10 a.m., they have made their breakfast, cleaned up and I am ready to work with them. I look over their work, help them with whatever problems they might have. Now that I have a four year old getting ready to read, I take some time working with him before moving on to either science or history, depending on our schedule.

Free Afternoons!

Because I wake up early in the morning to write this blog (about 5 am on average) I take the afternoon to read or nap. During this time, the children play video games. Yes, we are one of those families very comfortable with kids and screen time and see no need to change that.

After my nap, it’s time to start dinner. About three times a week, my husband and I work out in our garage where we have weights set up. During this time, the children either play in the back yard or ride their bicycles or do whatever children do.

After dinner, the whole cycle starts over again. And there you have it! This is our current classical unschooling day. Not every day is the same, of course. We school year-round so we take breaks when we want. And there are of course field trips, library days and grocery shopping days. On those, we listen to audio books or timelines in the car or simply have amazing conversations.

And that’s our day!

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Homeschooling as Art: Don’t Explain Yourself

I often face a dilemma when it comes to writing. Whether it is fiction or a memoir or this blog, I find myself feeling the need to explain it.

When I share a blog post on Facebook or elsewhere, I feel an overwhelming urge to discuss my motivation behind writing it. Worse, sometimes, I want to explain what I meant to say when I wrote it.

As if the piece itself wasn’t there. As if the work couldn’t speak for itself.

If you’ve ever been in a homeschooling group – virtual or otherwise – you know this desire to explain is deep-seated.

If you’re an unschooler, you want to explain why you do what you do. Or if you follow the Charlotte Mason style, you feel the need to show that it works. If you tend to lean toward the Classical style, you want to show the benefits of that.

I’m not talking here about answering questions to newbie homeschoolers. That is one of the nicest things the homeschooling community does. I’m referring to the desire to prove that one’s style of teaching one’s own child is valid and that it “works” – whatever that means.

Tied in with that desire to convince someone else that your style works for your family is an inherent lack of self confidence.

By attempting to explain what you do and insisting that your children are “on track,” you are inadvertently giving a nod to the factory model of education. You are essentially saying, Look, I made this at home, but it’s just as good as what comes off the conveyor belt.

But let me show you a better way.

Don’t. Just don’t explain. Let the work you have done in your children speak for itself – even if it is years from now. Let your legacy tell the truth of your family and the work you have done. Let your homeschool be your masterpiece – one of a kind.

Don’t ruin it by explaining it.

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Skimming to the Test

I’m afraid I have a seven and half year old speed reader on my hands. In fact, I think he might be worse than a speed reader: he might be a skimmer.

You know the kind – the kind like me. The ones that read the questions first and the comprehension passage later. The ones that instinctively skim the passage because they know all they have to do is answer the questions anyway. No sense getting attached to the characters in the story.

But, Wait…

Is that necessarily a bad thing?

When I noticed my son was doing this with his reader, I was troubled. He wasn’t doing a careful reading of the passage, I instinctively thought. He needed to read it, understand it and then answer the questions.

He wasn’t paying attention the way he was supposed to. He wasn’t doing what the workbook was designed for.

But wait, I said. What if he was doing just that – differently?

Kids Know How to Hack Learning

And they know it almost as well as we do, perhaps better. Allow me to explain. Think back to the last time you wanted to learn something – say it was a research study on how something affects your body. What did you do?

Did you read the entire study carefully from beginning to end, word by word, or did you quickly look up the one very specific thing you were looking for? Didn’t you go back over it only if you needed to? If something didn’t make sense or if something seemed odd?

Weren’t you then just skimming too?

What I’m trying to get to is that skimming too is a form of reading. It’s a form of learning. Not all books need a close, word by word reading. Skimming or speed reading is not something to worry too much about.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. – Francis Bacon

Some Books Just Need to be Tasted

If you are concerned about the reading habits of your child or want him to read deeper, here’s a trick: instead of answering the comprehension questions at the bottom of the passage, have him narrate what he just read to you.

But do remember that you might not want to teach skimming out of the child completely. It’s a habit that will likely come in handy as he grows.

Skimming is a skill, after all, in focusing on what is most important, ignoring what’s not and eliminating distractions.

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Why Homeschoolers Say “No, Thank You!” to Homeschooling Credits

Last week, I shared a news story on the Facebook page for The Classical Unschooler that got much attention. A bill, introduced by an Assemblywoman in New Jersey, would give homeschoolers a tax credit between $1000 and $3000.

“If parents decide that the home is the best learning environment for their children, a tax credit can help offset the cost of the many expensive yet fundamental educational resources they will need.” – McKnight.

When the story broke, most homeschoolers wrote, “No, thank you.” I was – still am – in that camp. Others however wondered why.

After all, a tax credit isn’t like a voucher. The government cannot regulate what you spent the money on – simply that you homeschool. Also, considering that you are paying taxes, this credit isn’t “their” money, it’s your money that would come back to you.

These are valid points, I will admit.

A tax credit isn’t a voucher; it is self-reported just like mortgage interest, employee and medical expenses – for which we get credits or deductions. It also is a completely different from enrolling in a charter school that assigns an education specialist to oversee curricula, progress, grade levels and pays the “homeschooling” parent for expenses.

I’m not a fan of either, by the way, but that’s a blog post for another time. Here, I want to address why homeschoolers are so vehemently opposed to any kind of government programs for us.

The answer is simple: we don’t like the idea of a homeschooling credit because it draws the attention of the government. It attracts regulation.

via GIPHY

Homeschoolers like to be left alone. Only in being completely free of the state do we have freedom. Yes, it costs a little more – sometimes a lot more, but we see that as a necessary price. As homeschoolers, we do our best to hide.

Some of my readers argued that we use other tax credits legally. Yes, we all use whatever tax deductions that are available to us when it comes to mortgage interest, medical expenses and employee expenses. But consider how very regulated all those other things are. Housing? Regulated. Employment? Regulated. Medical expenses? Do we even need to ask?

While none of these expenses might be regulated on a micro or individual level, they are under heavy state control on a macro level.

That is exactly the situation homeschoolers want to avoid. And while I know the slippery slope argument gets overused, in this case it’s a valid one to consider.

Homeschoolers are perfectly willing to pay for freedom. Let’s keep it that way.

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Possibilities and Homeschooling

I’ve been planning to create a blog post as an introduction to Economics in the same vein as my post on Philosophy. Unfortunately, all I’ve been finding are exceptionally bad books on economics.

There was one recent exception, though. It was Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Serendipitously, the next book I read was Why Haven’t You Read This Book? edited by Isaac Morehouse.

… and, of course, those two books reminded me of homeschooling.

Let me explain. Both the books mentioned dealt with something that has not come into existence yet. Both books argued not just for possibilities but against the loss of that elusive opportunity cost

How often – the two books argued – do we spend time thinking “what if?” How many times do we consider possibilities?

As regards homeschooling, how often do we plan curricula, play dates, reading material, field trips? So often it boggles the mind! I mean, homeschooling sometimes seems like nothing if not an endless succession of planning.

And yet, how many times do we stop to think about opportunity cost?

How often do we stop and consider the possibilities we might be giving up if we don’t (or do!) follow this specific path, go on this field trip, pick this curriculum, this class, this way of teaching?

In Economics in One LessonHazlitt says that people only see what’s in front of their eyes. Bad monetary policies are implemented because people see the immediate effects of said implementation. What is much harder to gauge are the ripple effects of these laws. What is even harder to perceive is the possibility that same money would have had if it had not been funneled in a certain direction. The effect of an entire community getting poorer is not always obvious.

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” – Hazlitt

Why Haven’t You Read This Book also takes the reader on a similar trajectory when it comes to considering possibilities. The book has multiple authors who have argued “Why not?” and written their experiences with conquering that question. Why not travel the world? one asks. Why not audition for American Idol? asks another. And why not drop out of school?

The opportunities we are presented with when homeschooling are our biggest strengths. But we have to be willing to look at them critically in the light of all they represent.

When we shift to auto-pilot, we lose the freedom we so desperately craved before we became homeschoolers.

We have to be willing to trace the consequences of what we undertake, see the opportunity costs and the possibilities as well as what’s staring us in the face.

We have to be willing to ask ourselves, “Why not?”
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Don’t Judge Homeschooling By Summer Break

It’s that time of year again. Summer break is here.

As of now, if you’re a public school parent, you are looking forward to spending more time with your children, finishing up the last of the work for the school year and packing for or planning getaways.

That won’t be the case in another two to three weeks.

First you will groan about how the kids want to play on their electronic devices all day. Then there will be attempts to get around that. Then there will be some complaining on social media that the kids are bored. Then, that you are tired. Finally, there will be an all out countdown to the beginning of the school year.

And based on this, there will that inevitable question voiced thus:

How in the world do you homeschool and have your kids at home ALL DAY EVERY DAY? I was ready for them to go back to school in less than a month! I could NEVER homeschool my kids!” 

But, but, wait… hold your horses! Homeschooling is nothing – nothing at all – like summer break.

Let me explain why you shouldn’t judge your ability to homeschool based on your summer break or the way your child behaves during this time.  

Summer Break is not Representative

Here’s the thing to remember most: summer break is artificial. It is an interruption. Whether it began as a time for people to be able to work on their farms or as a reason for people to leave town is immaterial to today’s world. Today, it is mainly a pause, a time to relax, have some downtime, recover and get ready to get back to school.

Many homeschoolers do not take summers off. They take breaks around their schedule, when they take vacations, when they get sick, or when they need to. But we do not have a designated twelve weeks off because, frankly, that’s too long.

Twelve weeks are too long to learn nothing, do nothing and think you’re going to be sane. I don’t care how hard you’ve worked or how much you think you need a vacation – human beings are simply not made to be idle for so long.

So instead of summer breaks, homeschoolers tend to incorporate learning year round. As a result our learning is much more relaxed throughout. There is no need to rush and get it all done in nine months when there are twelve in the calendar year.

Too Much, Too Much

There is far too much going on in the summers. Think about it. You have a vacation planned, there are probably cousins coming from somewhere. There are weddings planned and camping trips and swimming lessons and dance classes and oh-goodness-knows-what-else.

With a packed calendar, there is hardly any time to relax! Add to that the fact that everyone is clearly expected to be having fun, fun, fun all the time. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

Homeschoolers often insist that children be bored sometimes. Entertainment need not be offered; it can be created. But organic play of the sort I’m talking about does not come about by packing calendars full. It comes from being left alone. This sort of “boredom” is inevitable when homeschooling is done right.

Yes, Our Kids Annoy Us Too

Children are annoying. Yes, they’re difficult. They can make you want to tear your hair out even when you love them and would lay down your life for them. Homeschoolers are not saints, in the common use of the term.

We get tired, too. We get angry. But here’s the thing: we recognize that the solution is not packing them off to a place where there is no autonomy for them and no authority for us.

Instead, homeschooling allows us to find ways to remain parents and find ways to give our children the tools to become adults at their pace in an environment that supports both without being overwhelming. We consider our flaws, our strengths, their flaws and strengths and work together.

Are there hiccups? Sure. Do we fail? Of course.

But without an entire bloated administrative system watching our every move, confusing matters with unnecessary studies and tests and failed ideologies, our failures are small and quick and can be worked through swiftly.

Homeschooling, in other words, is the complete antithesis of summer break.

So if you’re considering homeschooling this coming year, don’t just “try it out” this summer break and keep all other things equal. Truly consider forging your own path. Do your research – here’s an entire summer’s worth of reading for you, spend time deschooling yourself and your children, talk to other homeschoolers, browse this blog.

And above all, remember that summer break tells you absolutely nothing about what homeschooling is really like.

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Teaching Children to Think

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooleror if you simply follow the classical system, you know about the logic stage.

The Logic Stage

The logic stage typically comes after the grammar stage. We spend much time in the grammar stage. We memorize facts and details, partially because my kids love to do so. They ask lots of questions and they love learning what I would call trivia.

In the grammar stage, they set about learning a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but there is no coherent whole. They are not putting their world together yet. For the unschoolers here, strewing as a strategy works extremely well in the grammar stage.

The logic stage is reached when the children are ready to put things together and their questions increasingly revolve around why or how instead of what. (I should note that this can happen at different times in different areas and reaching the logic stage in one area doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for it in another as is usually done in grade schools.)

The Frustration with the Logic Stage

Sometimes, I get frustrated while I wait for the logic stage. Isn’t there a way I can speed things along, I ask myself. Well, no, unfortunately. However, there are things I can do to make my time waiting for them to get to it more productive.

Here are three easy to do, practical suggestions:

If-then thinking

If-then thinking is an excellent way to hone thinking skills in general. We use this technique quite a bit with my middle son. Of the three children, my middle one is the most distractable. He learns easily and is math-minded, if you will, but he is prone to dropping a lot of things and generally making bigger messes than the other children.

My daughter – just a year older than him is the tidy one. Because she is so eager to please, her mind seems naturally bent to if-then thinking, even if the ultimate aim of it might not be what we want to encourage.

However, we have started to ask the middle kid to think through his actions. They can be simple like, “What would happen if I place the glass of milk here near my elbow as opposed to over there?”

It can take a while, but if-then thinking is a good place to start.

Humor

Laughing at a joke that is not slapstick requires much brain activity and it does require the putting together of two disparate things, seeing what does not logically follow and then laughing at it. It is a higher order of thinking.

So while you might find those knock-knock jokes annoying, there is a good reason to let your kids read them and share them. Riddles do the same thing. We have many books of riddles in the car for reading and sharing during drives. The kids love them.

Reading aloud

It is quite well known that reading aloud is great for language development so we tend to fixate on books with good language. Many even exclude modern books and pick up classics. And while there’s clearly nothing wrong with this approach, we tend to miss out on one thing: logic.

If you pick a book with great plot lines, it is fascinating to sit back back and watch the children put them together. It’s like being able to get a glimpse of their neurons firing in their brains. We have been reading the Harry Potter series and J.K.Rowling is a master plotter. It has been a lot of fun following the various threads being pulled together in the books. And I love it when the children see something coming that I don’t.

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The 3 Biggest Myths of Homeschooling

There are some homeschooling myths out there that won’t go away no matter how many times they are refuted. These myths are not, mind you, as simple as the socialization myth. Much has already been said and written about that one already – perhaps enough to make naysayers think at least a little before mentioning it.

No, these more subtle, insidious myths have more to do with the parents than the children. They are about the burden, the difficulty, rather, the impracticality of educating one’s own children.

These three myths speak to the fear, if you will, of “striking out on one’s own” as an homeschooler.

The Myth of Being Driven

I have mentioned before that when I tell someone we’re homeschooling, I receive either incredulity or outright admiration.

“You must be incredibly driven! And organized!” I’ve heard more than once as I’m propped up on a pedestal. I will admit to being more organized than most, but that is not a prerequisite for homeschooling.

However, I am not incredibly driven. I do not wake up every morning and repeat affirmations about memory work in front of my mirror. I am not determined to raise rock stars of math, spelling and grammar. There are days when I get bored, days that are frustrating, days that we literally dump the books. There are as many tears as there are smiles.

But you know what? That’s the nature of life!

I cook dinner every night, too. If I burn it one night, I don’t go running into the arms of the state to give my family food. We make do. It’s the same with homeschooling as it is with the rest of life – you do what you can with what you have where you are. And that’s it.

The Myth of Being a Recluse

People like to believe that homeschooling students are this little odd group that stays home and memorizes Bible verses everyday.

And the homeschooling mom, oh, don’t get me started on the mom. She must be this larger than life figure that has it all under control, right? The Homeschooling Mom attends homeschooling conventions, puts together a curriculum, makes her list, checks it twice, ensures the kids are doing the work they’re supposed to every single day, keeps the home running smoothly at all times.

She must have two heads, right? And ten arms? Or, at the very least, she must be waking up at 4 in the morning and going to bed past midnight. She must be burnt out.

Um, wait a sec. You just described Elon Musk. (Without the two heads and ten arms part. As far as I know.) And none of the homeschooling moms I know – not one – fits this description.

As far as me? I spend one – count it – one hour ensuring my children are doing what I’ve asked them to do. I do put together our own curriculum but that’s because I enjoy it. It’s not work for me, it’s play. There’s no rule in the world that says you have to do it this way. In fact, the best thing about homeschooling (or unschooling) today is that you can make up your own rules as you go!

Homeschoolers truly are not alone. The majority are not reclusive.

While I firmly believe families should be left alone to make decisions for themselves, this does not bar them from getting together with other families who believe what they do in order to get a fuller, richer experience. This includes forming co-ops, homeschool associations, meet up groups, play groups, various classes, the list goes on. So while you make the decision alone – as you should – you do not take the journey alone.

The idea that you have to choose between being reclusive or associating with an agent of the state who will wrest control from your hands from over your own children is ludicrous enough to be laughable.

The Myth of Having to Know it All to Teach

Also, here’s another news flash, which is not news to most homeschoolers, I assure you. Your children are learning anyway. It is in their very nature to learn. How they learn is not as important as what they learn.

You do not need to imitate public schools, not in their nature, their teaching methods, their times, their agendas or even their curriculum. Oh, and you don’t need their help. You don’t need them to give you a time table on which you can proceed to “let” your child grow.

Are you really that concerned with when exactly the child needs to learn about the continents and the second law of thermodynamics and figure out what x and y stand for that you’re willing to be dictated to by an agent of the state in your own home? Really?

Because, you know what, my four year old can put all fifty states in their proper places on a map of the United States. He can’t name them all perfectly, but he knows where they go. How is this? He learned it with an app! My seven year old knows the laws of thermodynamics. He perhaps can’t apply them yet, because he’s still in the grammar stage of learning, but he knows them. How is this possible when the state isn’t supervising our every move telling us when to do what? How? Is it possible that *gasp* children learn and thrive under that one word we seem to have forgotten – freedom? 

Children need a guide, not a funnel.

You do not need to become the repository of all knowledge. You do not need to have any esoteric understanding of how it is all put together.

Let me be the first to break it to you: there is no grand plan that public schools work toward.

There is nothing esoteric about what they do, nothing you are missing out on, nothing, in fact, that they can help you with. The moment you ask them for “help” in educating your children, you put yourself on an unequal footing. They have far more power in the relationship, even if they wield it behind a smiling face. And before anyone accuses me of fear, let me say that this isn’t about fear – it is about a healthy caution.

Clearly, I need another blog post about state agencies, but for now, to wrap it up, I’m just going to say this: if you’re considering homeschooling, think long and hard about what you believe about it, be brutal in tearing down any myths you might have inadvertently bought into and be assured that you – yes, you – can do this.

You can do this.

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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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