The Venerable “College Search”

As students enter their junior and senior years of high school, one of the things parents start talking about is the venerable “college search.” That’s when parents, homeschool parents included, pack their high school-aged kids in a car and start driving them around the country, trying to find the perfect fit of student and school.

And that’s when I ask, “What in the world are you searching for?”

I don’t really ask it out loud, I just wonder it inside my head. But, I’ll ask it now: Why do homeschool parents who embrace the value of a close-knit family work so hard to send their kids away to college?

Our modern society is so mixed-up. Somehow we’ve gotten in our heads that parents raise children and, if they do it well, children leave the nest and become totally independent creatures. They go away to college, establish a great career, make a lot of money, and start a brand new family. The more independent and separated the child is from the parents, the more well-adjusted, or so society seems to think.

I think differently.

The family structure is the most practical and powerful structure in which a person can and should build his life. It is the place where people love you the most. It is the place where people understand and can relate to you the most. It is the place where people can normally and easily find common ground on which to live, work and carry out the functions of daily life. Practically speaking, family members can help each other with housing, child care, financial concerns, educational and spiritual needs. and much more. Many work together or establish businesses together. And, in modern society, where people struggle to find the time to establish good friendships, strong family relationships provide needed systems of support across all areas of life, including recreation and leisure.

Sending your children away to college is the first step of breaking down a strong, practical family structure. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about a lack of love. Families that live and work apart from each other love each other as much as those that live close. But the physical separation denies family members many of the practical benefits of a close-knit family.

I didn’t really understand the impact of having family close until my older children made the decision to attend a college just 15 minutes from our home. After a few years, it became immediately apparent that this had been a good choice. Here’s the advantages of choosing a college close to home:

Relationships with family, both immediate and extended, remain close and can be strengthened during the college years.

Relationships with high school friends can remain in tact.

Church relationships with peers and pastor remain uninterrupted.

Children can partner with family members for work projects or work in the family business while in college.

Relationships made in college (through school or work) have a greater likelihood of continuing beyond college graduation.

Career and work placements after college will more likely be in the area in which your family lives.

The likelihood of meeting and marrying a person who lives near your family increases greatly.

During college, all three of our older children worked in our family business, participated in a variety of work and civic projects with us, continued to go to our church, and took part in extended family dinners on a regular basis. Their younger siblings got to attend their college soccer games, celebrate holidays and personal achievements at their sides, stay overnight in their dorm rooms, and meet and get-to-know college friends when they stopped by our house for food or a dip in the pool.

Our two oldest children settled in our town after graduation (our third is still in college), enabling our daughter to meet, marry, and settle down with a man who is also from our town. Our oldest son is a full-time employee in our primary family business, our college-aged son works part-time for us while in college, and all three of our adult children are partners with us in secondary family-owned businesses. I’ve simply never understood why families who get along well are so anxious to get away from each other during the college years when there is so much to be gained by staying together.

Although my oldest son, Zac, lived on his own for a short time after college, he soon found he could save money and prepare better for his future by moving back home. This worked (and continues to work well) on our end too because we often need an extra set of hands with our younger children. We also need someone to watch the house and take care of our animals when we travel.

In fact, we have so appreciated Zac’s help at home, this last year we remodeled two rooms over our garage into an apartment in hopes of keeping the mutually-beneficial living arrangement going for as long as possible. The world may think this is a weird scenario, but only because it is blinded by current societal norms and can’t relate to multi-generational families who actually get along well enough to live under the same roof as adults. Only mature, well-adjusted people who are respectful of others can share homes. And, in the current economy and with our busy lifestyles, people who can share the expenses and responsibilities of a home are truly blessed.

Our daughter, Kelsey, lived at home after she graduated from college until she married our son-in-law, Michael. What was one of Mike’s biggest selling points as a potential son-in-law to me? At 28 years old, Mike still lived at home with his parents. As did his 23-year-old twin siblings. I knew that close-knit families beget close-knit families and that’s what I wanted for my daughter.

Mike and Kelsey have been married for a year now. They live just 10 minutes from our home and we see them often. As you might expect, they are also close to Mike’s parents, who live just five minutes away from their home. In fact, both sets of parents have become good friends, as well as both sets of siblings, and we’ve established an even larger family network among us.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good reasons to go away college. But those reasons must be balanced with the understanding that many of the positive benefits of family relationships are being put at risk if children locate away from the family home base.

It seems like a lot of parents, even homeschooling parents, fall victim to “the college search” as a rite of passage and don’t consider the consequences adequately, even when the sobering facts about the benefits (or lack of) of a college degree are called into question. Consider these staggering facts about college:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 27 percent of college graduates are working in a career field related to their college major.

Of those workers employed in their chosen career fields, a Harris survey conducted for the University of Phoenix showed that more than half wanted to change their careers. 

Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost half of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that don’t even require a four-year degree. 

While a college degree may still be worth something in our society, seeking out the perfect school with the perfect program has little long-term value anymore. Perhaps students should focus less on finding the perfect college and commit to something of far more lasting value, which is continuing to build a beneficial and unshakable family support system during their college years. That’s something worth searching for.

Until next time…Be fearless.

Homeschooling: My (Not So) Epic Failures

People always say you can learn a lot from mistakes. So, today, I give you some of my biggest homeschooling failures.

Arguing With My Children Over Schoolwork

There are lots of good reasons to argue with your children. If they are mean or disrespectful to others. If they are sneaky or disobedient. If they don’t do their chores. Arguing over school work is not a good reason. Learning should be fun and interesting. I wish I had been less critical of my children as learners and more critical about what I was expecting them to learn.

Pushing My Children to Read Before They Were Ready

There is a lot of misinformation and unrealistic expectations floating around the homeschooling community about how and when to teach a child to read. I knew better because, as a trained teacher, I was armed with the facts. I knew children would read when they were ready. But I set the facts aside and still forced every one of my children to try to learn to read before they were ready. How foolish of me!

Not Reading Aloud More to My Children

As my older children aged, we stopped doing so much reading aloud together. I regret that. Fondly referred to as “couch time,” we would settle in for long periods of reading great books together. These were sweet times and I feel the discussion that accompanied the reading was as instructive in its own way as the book itself. Today, we still have what we call “couch time” in our homeschool, but we use it as a means to an end, not the destination itself. It primarily consists of a quick devotional/Bible reading. I’ve often wondered if my younger children would have loved reading more if we had more read-aloud time together.

Participating in Too Many Co-op Classes When My Children Were Young

Young children do not need to be involved in co-op classes. Most have no academic needs that can’t be met by mom and dad and most have no social needs that can’t be met by family, neighbors, and church friends. Co-ops can be difficult places with expectations not your own. They can unnecessarily clutter your life. They have many of the negative qualities of traditional schools because they are full of immature people (children) trying to find their own place in a big group. I wish I had avoided co-ops with my children until they were at least in middle school, and maybe older.

Not Enforcing More Order and Discipline in our Home

As my children got older and my family larger, I relaxed expectations related to order and discipline in our home. That was a mistake. Children need order in their lives and they need to have personal disciplines. It’s our job as parents to help them understand, employ, and appreciate these life skills. I should have focused less on academics and more on building personal disciplines.

Expecting Curriculum to Make a Difference

I spent way too much time pouring over curriculum and trying to pick the best one for my children. I know now that there is very little difference from one curriculum to the next and most of it is to be avoided anyway.

Not Traveling More

Our family traveled more than most, but I wish we had done far more. Traveling to a new place, meeting new people, and trying new things are the best learning experiences a person can have. But, even more than that, traveling bonds families. If you ask my older children what they remember and love most about their childhoods, all of them will say travel. Our younger children don’t like travel as much as our older children, but I’m determined to try to instill more of that sense of wonder and excitement over travel in them in the next few years.

Not Going on More Fields Trips

Local field trips don’t pack quite the same punch as travel, but they are still far better learning experiences than textbook learning. Museums are great, but “real world” field trips are even better. Visiting work places are super learning experiences. And we have loved anything “experiential,” like trekking across local pastures for a picnic with llamas carrying our gear. We also like to try local favorite foods when we travel to another town. These are great times, but our lives get busy and I get lazy. It takes work to plan field trips and sometimes it’s just easier to stay home. I really want to do more field trips and travel this year.

Starting Formal Academics Too Early

You can’t have read my blog of late and not seen this one coming. None of my kids did long days of formal school lessons even whey they were high school students, but the older ones still did far too much at too early an age. I tried to limit formal school lessons to the practical, but I misjudged how early my kids would need to learn certain things. Children do not need to do 12 years of math to get ready for the college entrance exam and the one math class they will have to take in college. They do not need to do 12 years of grammar/English mechanics to learn to remember to put a period at the end of a sentence when they are 18 years old. Most of the years we spent focused on these kinds of things were a colossal waste of time.

Having said all of this, it’s amazing how great my kids turned out and how special I still feel our homeschool is. But that’s the nature of homeschooling: No matter how much you mess it up, children still learn — if they are living and learning in warm, loving, safe environments. Their brains continue to function, their minds still work, and their inspiration and confidence levels are rarely affected. Homeschool families can put bad days behind them and move on to better days with barely a blink of the eye.

Until Next Time…Be Fearless.

 

 

Coffee Chat: Walt Disney World

(*Note: From time to time, I deviate from education and homeschooling topics on this blog and write about other subjects that interest me. These blogs are titled “Coffee Chat.”)

My family recently ventured to Orlando, Florida for a Walt Disney World vacation. Even though we have visited quite often, I still took the time to study the Disney web sites and pick the brains of my friends in order to better prepare for our trip.

Upon returning, I thought it would be fun to write my own advice column on how to visit Disney. I’m not much of an expert and I don’t have any underground information to share, but it’s always helpful to gain another person’s opinion on how to visit Walt Disney World. Here’s my tips:

Visit Disney World during low crowd periods…or don’t go at all.

Did you know the crowds at Disney can double from one day to the next and quadruple from one month to another? Large crowds will seriously devalue your tickets and possibly destroy your Disney experience. Find a way to go at the right time.

Everything you need to know about when to visit Disney World and which days to visit which parks is readily available on the Internet. Only veteran Disney guests should ever consider visiting Disney during the summer months or on peak weekends…and only under duress (if it’s the only time that works for your family).

The best month to visit Disney World for low crowds is September. The weather is still a bit hot, but you will enjoy moving around the parks at your own speed and visiting your favorite attractions as many times as you want. Due to sports’ schedules, our family can no longer visit Disney in September so we chose May this year. May is a low month at Disney, but September is still far better.

Set the alarm and get to the parks WAY before the gates open.

This is another piece of advice that most people know, but don’t take seriously enough. Visitors need to be standing in line waiting to walk through the entry gate 20-30 minutes ahead of the park opening. When the gates open, take off for the most popular attraction first. All the early risers are heading for the same attraction, but most will be about 10-20 minutes behind you because they weren’t at the front of the entry line. They will continue to be 10-20 minutes behind as you visit the second and third most popular attractions. If you follow this plan, you can visit all the big attractions during the first 2-3 hours the parks are open. After this, you should be able to relax and enjoy the rest of your day at the parks with very few lines to contend with.

Take every advantage of all the planning and execution tools available to you.

I already mentioned all the Disney planning websites available to you. These are golden. They will tell you what week to visit, which days to visit which parks, which ones to avoid when it rains, best places to eat, every detail you could possibly need to know.

In addition, you need to download the Disney application, “My Disney Experience,” to your cell phone. There are many things you can do with this official Disney application, but we used it primarily to see wait times at rides and attractions (it refreshes itself instantly) and to reserve Fastpasses.

The system of Fastpasses is something you need to familiarize yourself with PRIOR to your vacation as it can help neutralize the negative effects of the large crowds. Generally, you can select three Fastpasses per day. Sometimes you can select additional Fastpasses once you finish your first three, if there are still reservations available.

If you are visiting Disney during medium or peak months, you should select your Fastpasses WEEKS ahead of time. If you do not, the most popular reservation times for each ride will be taken and it will affect your ability to plan your day the way you want. If you visit when there are fewer crowds, you can generally reserve your Fastpasses the week of your trip, although reservations for newly-opened attractions can still fill up fast.

There are any number of strategies that can be used to make best use of the Fastpass system. For our family, we like to reserve Fastpasses for the most popular rides during the peak afternoon hours. That way we can hit these rides first thing in the morning without Fastpasses and then return for a second visit in the afternoon.

If the budget allows, stay on Disney property and reserve a premium Disney dining experience.

Staying on Disney property will improve your Disney experience significantly, but it’s expensive and, therefore, may not make sense for your family. We have done it both ways and, if the budget allows, I would pick staying on site. In addition to having free transportation to every place you want to go on Disney property and having extended hours to visit the attractions, you can also go back and forth between the parks and your accommodations during the day. You can also do this if you are staying near the parks, but it’s going to take you much more time and also cost you $17 every time you want to park your car at Disney.

If you visit Disney during low-crowd seasons, you will finish visiting the ride attractions by the end of the afternoon or early evening each day. But spectacular evening shows await. If you stay on Disney property, you can return to your accommodations for dinner and then make a second visit to the parks in the evening.

Keep in mind, the “value” accommodations at Disney World are more like Motel 6 than they are like Holiday Inn. They are clean and themed, but are bare-boned and flooded with people. If you desire more and the budget allows, you might want to consider “moderate” or “deluxe” accommodations.

     Disney resort dining is also something I recommend should you have a budget that allows it. The experience is costly, but memorable, and can be a highlight of your vacation. Do your research on this one too. The best restaurants are not located within the parks, but at the Disney resorts. Check out the many Disney web sites for tips on how to choose a restaurant based on your food tastes and the kind of dining experience you are seeking.

If you dine at a resort on the lagoon, make sure you head to the water at dusk to watch the Disney Light Parade. Boats parade by with their thousands of twinkling lights set to music. It’s a dose of Disney magic, for sure.

If you’ve “been there, done that” at Disney, check out Sea World and Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure on your next visit to Orlando.

Disney lovers can completely miss the fact there are two other wonderful parks in Orlando – Universal Studios (and its’ sister park—Islands of Adventure) and Sea World. While not quite as magical as Disney, the attractions at Universal Studios are more state-of-the-art and impressive, and there are far more thrills at Islands of Adventure. Although I enjoy Universal Studios more than Islands of Adventure, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Islands of Adventure is a marvel and not to be missed. Nothing at Disney can rival it.

For those who appreciate a much slower pace, Sea World is a good choice. And, with a handful of thrill rides included, Sea World has enough fun and excitement to keep the teens happy too.

Until next time…Be fearless.

Why I Homeschool My Children Through High School

For the past 13 years, I’ve been homeschooling one of my children through their high school years. I’ve also taught hundreds of other homeschooled high school students in co-op settings. I’m convinced high school homeschooling is far superior to sending children to public or private high schools. Here’s why I homeschool my children through high school:

I homeschool my children through high school for the same reasons I homeschooled my children prior to high school. Because it works.

I have never understood why some homeschooling parents quit at 9th grade and send their children to traditional schools. Do the benefits of homeschooling suddenly disappear at Grade 9? Do schools and schoolteachers suddenly get better? Do parents no longer need to mentor their children? Is the home no longer superior to an institution as a place to raise and educate children? The truth is, nothing changes when children reach 9th grade. Homeschooling still works best.

I homeschool my children through high school because high school homeschoolers have swag.

As one of the lead administrators of a high school homeschooling group, I get to work with lots of high school homeschoolers. No doubt about it, these are confident, functional, well-adjusted kids. Compared to other teens, they have a deep sense of who they are, less concern about who they are not, and a desire to share themselves with others. Compared to other children, homeschooled high schoolers are more independent and confident and open to new ideas and activities. They are fun and interesting people to be around. These are the kind of people I want my children to be.

I homeschool my children through high school because I want my husband and I to continue to be major influences in the lives of our children as they deepen and broaden their world view and consider their futures beyond our home.

The high school years are the time when parents can have the most impact on the lives of their children. Up to age 10, the parents’ role is primarily to love their children and keep them safe. That parental role expands greatly as children mature. Parents become mentors for their older children. They advise and provide wise counsel. Homeschooling through high school gives parents and children much more time to grow and learn together.

I homeschool my children through high school because I want other homeschoolers to be my children’s primary social group.

Homeschooled children are kind to each other and they know how to have fun. They tend to be members of functional, in tact families and it shows in their maturity. As a group, homeschool children go to church more than they go to movies or parties, they delay dating, and their parents strictly monitor their social lives. These are the kinds of kids I want my children to hang out with.

I homeschool my children through high school because I don’t want my children’s values and religious beliefs to be tested before they are ready.

It always makes me cringe when homeschool parents say they are sending their children to traditional high school because they are sure their children will be able to stand on their own values and beliefs. Or, even worse, they are expecting their children to change the culture around them, either by being a superior role model or by being an evangelist for their faith. I think it’s dangerous to send children into an environment like high school before they are mature, tested, and prepared. The consequences can be truly dangerous. High schoolers are still children and it’s better to keep them safe and in a positive environment for as long as you possibly can. They will have plenty of time to tackle the world and prove their substance when they are adults.

I homeschool my children through high school because I don’t want my children to miss the college and career opportunities available only to homeschoolers.

If I homeschool my high school children, they can take many of their classes at area universities and rack up high school and college credit at the same time. They have the time to focus on academic preparations for college classes and college entrance exams, to get jobs in order to save money for college, and/or to get apprenticeships or internships in order to explore potential career choices.

I homeschool my children through high school to give my children the time to pursue extra-curricular interests.

It’s great if high schools offer lots of sports, theater, and club activities, but what difference does it make if the demands on students’ time takes up all their daylight and evening hours? If you live in or near a city, it’s likely these same opportunities are available to homeschoolers, just in a slightly different format. Are you an accomplished musician? Consider a community band, orchestra or philharmonic. A sports enthusiast? Find a recreational or club athletic team to play on. Interested in ROTC? Try the Civil Air Patrol or other quasi-military community group. Speech and debate? Join 4-H. Theater? Try community theater. Service clubs? The sky’s the limit on this one! Church youth groups, Boy and Girl scout programs, and oodles of community service programs abound.

Slate magazine recently published an article by Laurence Steinberg, a professor at Temple University, sub-titled “American High Schools are a Disaster.” He referenced the dismal academic progress that has been made with high schools, saying, “It’s not just No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top that have failed our adolescents, it’s every single thing we have tried.” He also wrote about the horrible social environment of American high schools, where students “socialize, show off their clothes, use their phones and, oh yeah…go to class.”

Why would I want to send my high school children to a place like that when there’s a place like home?

Until next time…be fearless.