Most Science Curricula Is Quite Useless

Most Science Curricula is Quite Useless
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Next to math, science is one of those things parents worry about teaching the most. I will admit to some trepidation myself. It seems like such a vast, broad field after all.

But here’s the thing to remember: as with history, most science curricula you purchase (if you purchase one at all – we do and we love it) is quite useless. When you know this and accept it, teaching science becomes much, much easier.

Let me explain.

Science is about Inquiry

The basic tenet of science, if you will, is the same as a Google search: “Let’s find out.” We frame the question, get information, see if it fits, reframe the question with new and old available information and reach a potential answer.

Unfortunately, with science curricula, we sometimes get the idea that there is a specific body of facts we have to know and if we don’t know that (or don’t agree with it), we don’t know science. The corollary is that if we know that specific body of facts and accept them as complete truth, we are somehow now wedded to science and everything we say about it is, in fact, absolute truth.

Neither one of these perspectives is true.

How to Teach Science

While we love our curriculum, we don’t mistake it for fact. As someone who has spent hours researching the data on food in general and carbohydrates in particular, the idea of “settled science” does not appeal to me. (Read about Ancel Keys and Gary Taubes for a taste, pun intended.)

And while it is important to know some facts just as with history, it is even more important in science to be able to put them in perspective and think through them logically.

Also, consider that SATs and ACTs do not actually ask for science “facts” but only that the student can think like a scientist.

So you see there’s nothing to fear. As long as you’re willing to make mistakes and let your children be willing to make mistakes, experiment and find out, as long as you’re willing to research and abandon ideas that don’t logically follow, knowing that there is a long line of people who have done exactly the same thing before you, you’re good to go.

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“Why Do I Need to Study History?”

Why Do I Need to Study History?
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My daughter may have learned more from me than I thought I was teaching. The other day, hands on her hips, she asks me, “But why do I need to know history at all?”

Oh boy.

Arguments of American students in general do not know history were not going to work. There had to be a reason for it – a good one. Because that’s how we structure our homeschool. We remove anything that we don’t like that is unnecessary.

But as I explained to my daughter, we can’t lump history into that unnecessary pile.

But why?

I find it slightly ironic that someone who likes to ask the question “why?” so much didn’t see the necessity of this point. History answers a lot of the why questions about people and places. It explains some of the more current concerns and problems we might be dealing with.

It could potentially help you figure out how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work with just teaching a few people history.

“You’re going to vote in a few years!” I told her. “And I wouldn’t be a good parent if I didn’t teach you at least some basic facts about what went before you so you can make good decisions.”

That didn’t seem to convince her. Or perhaps it did because that conversation ended there.

Truth and Perspective

But I think my daughter did hit on something quite important. History is one of my favorite subjects to teach and we love it so much, our entire curriculum is fairly history-centric – even Science.

But by history, I don’t mean we engage in hero worship. We memorize facts and don’t shy away from discussing current events with the children. Our written curriculum often remains just the tip of the iceberg because we bring everything into conversation – even so-called “fake news.”

And while that doesn’t sound like much, let me mention that in the last month, I spoke to two very well meaning, wonderful people who had no historical perspective. One held the official view of history through her public school textbooks (and by extension television) and the other told me with a straight face that he got his history and current affairs education through pop singers and their music. (No, I’m not making this up.)

So here’s maybe the straight answer. We study history to understand that truth exists, but we have to often search for it. It is important to get perspectives, read source documents. We have to think.

We cannot depend on half bites of information, masticated and manipulated by others for our consumption.

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Do Nothing (For a While)

Do Nothing (For a While)
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Perhaps the best piece of advice I have received (and the hardest to keep) is to do nothing. Doing nothing (for a while) every day is the best way to release creativity and motivation for the other times. You know, those times when we work.

Doing Nothing in a Homeschool Setting

Some people like going on walks to clear their mind. Some others swear that playing a musical instrument and letting their mind wander does the trick. Whatever it is that you like to do, make sure you leave time for it in the day.

And leave time for it for your children as well. Do not fill up every minute of the day with something to do. Boredom is good and healthy for everyone.

You might have to work out the how of it for your particular family, but for mine, I’ve got ignoring my children down to an art form. Seriously, why not pursue something you’d like to do for a while? After the first few years, parenting doesn’t need to be hands on.

It’s not Worthless

Doing nothing isn’t time wasted.

It’s easy to think that time spent doing nothing is worthless, but a simple experiment will prove otherwise. Try it.

If you are concerned with doing nothing, stick this Aqua Notes waterproof notepad in your shower. Trust me on this one. Don’t try to come up with something to write on it, don’t try too hard. Just leave it there. You might even forget about it. Then go about your day.

As you forget that it’s there and go about your day (and your shower) you will notice that while you’re doing nothing and letting your mind wander in the shower, you will have ideas. These thoughts might need jotting down.

I do some of my best thinking in the shower. While I’m doing nothing. And I’ve found that those twenty minutes tend to enliven the rest of my day.

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Using Momentum for Scheduling Your Homeschool

Using Momentum for Scheduling Your Homeschool
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If you’ve been following my previous blog posts, you know I write a lot about scheduling. I like my checklists, for one. I like the sense of control having a good chart gives me.

But as I mentioned in my second book, I also am keenly aware that different personality types benefit from doing different things.

One size does not fit all. Or why homeschool at all?

Enter Momentum

I recently came across this article about how resolutions should take a back seat to momentum. It resonated with me.

I already tackle to my to-do list with this in mind. I make a list of everything I want to do in a set period of time. Then, instead of “eating the frog,” I attempt what seems easiest and the most fun first and begin there.

Pretty soon, I’ve gathered enough momentum and everything is checked off.

Why not apply that to our homeschool schedule, I thought. I decided to try it. If you’re considering the same, give it a try with me.

Here’s How

Make a list of all that needs to get done that week. With the exception of outside classes, everything can be done with momentum.

Don’t try to schedule anything yet. Just make a list of everything. Write down the total number of pages, chapters, goals, and so forth. Then, instead of separating out the days and scheduling each day, just leave it up.

Watch what happens. You might be surprised!

I suspect that if your children are anything like mine, they might just jump on the first thing that grabs their interest and begin it. They might tear through it and decide on the next best thing. Pretty soon, they’ve gathered momentum. It might keep them going.

Be warned, however: this could mean some uneven days. It could even mean that “school work” gets done before half the week is over.

Why not let it?

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Two Organizational Skills Homeschoolers Need

As I write this, we are living in an apartment half the size of our previous home. Our homeschooling is going without a hitch through this transition. And yet, something is missing.

That something is not just the fact that we have less space. As I have written before, homeschooling can be done with much less room than we think.

What’s currently missing is knowing where to find something.

Although we live by the “a place for everything and everything in its place” rule, moving has a way of disrupting that stolid approach to life. Suddenly, there is thinking involved in reaching for a spoon, a knife, a book.

This leads me to think of all the new homeschoolers out there and offer up some of my advice to add to this collection of the best advice to new homeschoolers.

New Homeschoolers Need A Place For Everything

New homeschoolers think they need a curriculum, a schedule, a way to get information into their children’s heads. That may well be true. But more than anything else, new homeschoolers need a place for everything.

When you organize your homeschooling material, ensure you have a place for everything before you buy it. This is not limited to physical space, mind you. Mental space and temporal space also matter. Consider that it will take some time.

New Homeschoolers Need to Know Where to Go

In addition to having a place for everything, new homeschoolers need to know where to find things they need.

Online groups are indispensable in this regard. A homeschooling friend or two, a community, someone who has been there before you, someone who is homeschooling right alongside you – these are people to keep close. You will find what you’re looking for.

Remember these two things when you organize homeschooling material and you will do just fine.

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About Those Gaps in Learning…

About Those Gaps in Learning
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Each time I attend a homeschooling conference, there is an inevitable question that gets asked by new homeschoolers.

“But what about the gaps in learning?”

It’s a normal concern, I suppose. And anything is better than the socialization question that plagues new homeschoolers, but the gaps question is also an age old one and needs to be addressed.

My Gaps in Learning

I was recently watching Penny Dreadful with my husband. And I realized that I had never read Frankenstein. Not a big deal, I know.

But I am a literature major. And a writing major. How was it that I had made it through college and written so much about it and yet never read it? I had to fix the problem immediately, I decided. I downloaded my free copy and began reading it on my Kindle immediately.

It’s a small example, I know. But a significant one. Sometimes, information seems to permeate around us so much, we know enough about it but don’t know it.

For a related post, read my lament about not knowing the classics and how I began to fix that.

Everyone Has Gaps!

The fear most would be homeschoolers have when they begin is that they will somehow leave out something important. They are afraid of failing their children. And noble as this concern is, it is unfounded.

There is no mastermind in public schools that ensures there will not be gaps.
Everyone has gaps – this is the nature of education. Especially self directed education.

Think about all the things you looked up this week – recipes, lyrics of songs, instructions on how to put something together, plans, meanings of words, maps, even perhaps names of people you thought you knew. These were gaps in your learning. And you knew how to fix them.

If the Age of Information has taught us anything, it is this: gaps are inevitable. And that’s another nail in the coffin of public school. And for that, I welcome the realization.

A sacrosanct tome of information downloaded into your brain has always been a myth, but it was at no time more obvious than today.

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Homeschooling Isn’t For the Kids

Homeschooling Isn't For the Kids
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There is a going joke in our family that homeschooling isn’t for the kids.

“I didn’t choose homeschooling for you!” I will quip. They will laugh because they know what’s coming.

I mean, of course we all know how I feel about homeschooling and how much I believe it’s the best way to educate a child. But here’s what I believe just as strongly: we chose homeschooling for us as much as for them.

Homeschooling is for the Adults

There’s an adage in the business world that the best thing in life when you’re working hard to make money is not what you get, it’s what you become. This is true of homeschooling as well.

While you are teaching, spending time, researching and learning together, you become something you could never have had you simply carted the children off to school.

If parenting is a second chance at childhood, homeschooling is your second chance at getting a real education.

As your children are learning, you will catch a spark and should you choose to pursue it, you will learn more than you ever did in your years at school. I would know – I have spent 22 years in classrooms. It’s one of the reasons I hate them so much.

Enthusiasm Restored

I wrote a little while ago about how I realized we were not on the right track when I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm over “school.”

In a desperate desire to “stay on track,” I had let our education become limited to completing worksheets. I had forgotten the rabbit trails, searching the internet to answer random questions. I had forgotten the power of conversation.

Remembering my own enthusiasm changed everything.

It wasn’t that I removed my children from the equation; it was that I allowed them to learn as they learn best – from little pieces of knowledge gleaned from here and there woven together through conversation as I went about my day.

I let them learn as they asked questions, developed curiosity, interest and desire. Basic worksheets took less and less time in our day.

This happened because I reminded myself of a basic truth: homeschooling isn’t for the kids; it’s for the adults.

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How We Teach Math in the Elementary Ages

There’s been a lot of talk about math anxiety lately. Apparently, parents have it and the fear is that we pass it on to our children. So say the Common Core pushers, anyway.

I found the opposite in a small but significant survey of my readers.

How I Started

I was one of those homeschooling moms who started too early. I remember poring over early curricula and then getting one for my daughter who was two at the time. Yes, two. Go ahead, add me to the homeschooling hall of shame.

I will readily admit now that it was a mistake. It was also incredibly frustrating. Even today, I find those counting bears in the couch cushions. And, no, they didn’t help at all.

Our System of Teaching Math – What It Was

When I finally gave up decided to wait a while, I decided to go with a curriculum. It was fine at first and my daughter liked worksheets so it worked for a while.

The problem came when the curriculum required things to be done a certain way and that way only. And transitions from one kind of calculation to another, from addition to subtraction, for instance, had its own logic. Also, there was an attempt at moving toward algebra – algebra! – early.

Even if understood the logic behind it, the children found math confusing and confusion was the last thing I wanted my children to get from the learning of math.

Our System of Teaching Math – What It Became

Even then, I tried to make it work. I rearranged the curriculum worksheets so they were more intuitive.

Eventually, however, I gave up trying.

I tried some alternatives. We used Khan Academy for a while, but I was bothered by the lack of rigor in their early years and the push to read graphs. The children did fine with those but stumbled over basic math facts.

So we entered a time when we would do math without a curriculum. I thought I would be scared. Instead, I felt an immense sense of freedom.

Finally, I was able to transition the children from addition to subtraction to multiplication to division in a way that was more intuitive to them. When I needed worksheets, I printed them out online for free. There were even a few websites I could have them practice math facts online.

I made my own flashcards. I put real world problems to them in a meaningful way. And it worked! It still works!

There is a logic – a flow if you will – to math. It builds on itself from simple to complex. You already know this. If your curriculum doesn’t seem to follow it, you’re better off without it.

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That Socialization Question (Again)

I have to consider myself a lucky homeschooler. I’ve never been asked the dreaded socialization question.

Perhaps it’s just as well, because I wouldn’t know where to begin my answer. Shocked by the ignorance and sheer arrogance of such an interrogation, I would just lose my mind.

However, I did share such an article about socialization on my Facebook page to give homeschoolers a chance to respond.

And respond they did.

The writer’s premise was that homeschoolers score higher in tests, but that they are not properly socialized to be able to deal “with people who have a different opinion and challenging preconceived notions.”

“It’s about having to do a group project with people who don’t necessarily work the same way as you do, to collaborate on ideas and grow as a thinker.”

These were some of the best responses:

“I was a public school teacher. Group work is rarely managed well, and is mostly used as a way to get a larger group busy. I also disagree, that in general, in the workplace, IF required to work in teams, the dynamic is different than in school. People are united because they have the same goal and most likely CHOSE that job and profession, and are motivated by interest and pay. The author also fails to bring up private school, where the population is generally more homogeneous than public. Parents invest a lot of money in a private education, and according to this article, fail to provide the socialization necessary to be employed well.” – Rebekah S.

“So my question for the author is … is socialization when kids “consistently work with people they’re not used to working with”, or when they are working with “consistent peers ” “day in and day out”… these are contradicting statements of what she says they need to be properly socialized .” – Amy R.

“I have 4 young adults in the work force. And an 18yo who just started his first full time job. None of them have had trouble working with others, doing group projects, etc.

“Here’s an important part: none of them have had trouble working independently, either. They know how to work without someone constantly having to tell them what to do all the time. That’s something employers have all commented on in a positive way about my kids.

“In our family, we have a large variety of personalities, some not as easy to deal with as others. So my kids get plenty of practice dealing with people with different opinions, and learn to get along with others. Seriously, if you can deal with a sibling who is in your face and in your space every single day, you can get along with just about anyone. ” – Sandie G.

Also, consider that children do indeed learn to get along with others on the playground. This happens in free play – not organized sports where adults are telling them what to do. Peter Gray writes extensively about it.

All the writer in the article was arguing for was socialization her way. I find this typical of people who bring up that old socialization topic.

It’s a dead horse, teachers. Homeschoolers have already proven that point. Beating it won’t do anything. Let it go.

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Why We Begin Our School Year in January

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

January can be a rough month. It’s cold and rainy or snowy; children are typically inside. The Christmas festivities have come and gone and there are resolutions to make. Family has usually come and gone and there’s cleaning to do.

In the middle of this, picking ourselves up by our snow-soggy bootstraps is just not fun. Who wants to homeschool when the end of the school year is so far away and the beginning was so long ago?

But this is exactly why we begin our year in January.

Along with the rest of the world, we make our resolutions. We just have the smell of new books to go along with them.

You see, continuing something is incredibly difficult this time of year, but starting something new is just plain fun.

We’re Motivated in January

There’s something about the prospect of no-holidays-no-disruptions in the air this time of year. I love it. It helps us settle into a good, strong routine.

As I’ve already mentioned, the weather creates a insular environment. We are looking for things to do at home.

This doesn’t mean we can’t play. Creating a new curriculum, picking new books to read, learning new things can include the element of play – inside – that often seems to be missing when back-to-school routines are mentioned in September.

We Have Children with Fall Birthdays

I have children with birthdays in the latter half of the year: August, September and December. It makes little sense to us to follow the established school year.

For the most part, I stay apace of their development and their interests anyway, but even with my eclectic style, I like to know which grade they are most likely to fall into – if only to know when to stop pushing. The problem with eclectic schooling is that it is easy to push the children with extra work just because they can do it.

It makes far more sense to me to begin in January and sometimes (often!) be done by Thanksgiving.

Record Keeping and Other Concerns

Sometimes, I think that homeschoolers forget how much freedom we have. With the lack of boundaries and laws and rules, we tend to cling to what we have learned or what we see around us.

A question I often get when I mention we begin in January is how do we keep records?

My answer is always the same way. 

I simply write what we intend to do in the year – any year – and file the necessary paperwork. Even though we file when the state requires us to do so (October, in our case) it makes no difference to our curriculum or our homeschool.

Have you found a way to beat the January doldrums? When do you begin your school year?

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