One Thing That Worked in My Homeschool This Week (Sept. 22-26)

My good friend, Tiffany, also happens to write my favorite food blog, which is Eat At Home Cooks. (Check it out here.) She recently started a series titled “Three Things That Worked in the Kitchen This Week,” which I think is an awesome idea.

So I stole it.

Today, I offer you my first installment of “One Thing That Worked in My Homeschool This Week,” which will be a series of posts about one single, usually simple, thing that happened in the past week that could be categorized as “a success.” Notice I’m not quite as ambitious as Tiffany in coming up with three successes. But I figure if I can come up with just one success worth sharing with others, I’ve probably had a good week.

This week I’ve realized that my unique choice for a science “curriculum” is working quite well. This past summer I purchased one of those big, learning workbooks you can find at Sam’s Club and other big box stores. This one was titled “Science Essentials.”

Most homeschool moms don’t purchase these kinds of workbooks to teach their children because they aren’t considered “real” or “full” curriculums. So that fact alone makes my choice of “curriculums” just a little odd.

However, what’s truly unique about my choice is the suggested grade level of the workbook. This workbook is suggested for Grades 5-6. My girls are in Grades 8 and 10.

What?

Yes, my girls are working in a science book 4 to 6 grades under their own grade level. And I’m glad. Because it’s working.

Here’s the trap a lot of teachers fall into. Either by mandate or choice, we do not match the learning experience to the child. We simply assume what a child needs to know (based on what we have been told) and what a child can do (based on age and/or grade level). Rarely do these two things match up.

Having taught hundreds of children over the years, I know most children are operating in content areas way over their heads. As they get older, the problem escalates quickly. Children often “succeed” because they resort to coping strategies (memorization, “work arounds,” even cheating). But, often they have no idea what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how to apply anything they have learned.

What I’m talking about are kids who are trying to write research papers when they can barely write a good sentence. Or kids who tackle long division who don’t know their math facts. Or high school students who do complicated advanced science subjects and they still don’t know how a cloud is formed. Or how a lever works. Or how the Earth’s movement affects our days and seasons.

So, when I chose a science “curriculum” for our homeschool this year, I tried to choose books and activities that teach only what my kids need to know and do it is a simple, systematic way that leads to at least some retention of the material.

This fall my children have been reading and learning basic scientific principles and having fun doing it. They are learning, but not struggling. I’m quite sure they are getting down many of the fundamentals of science and maybe learning some interesting science facts along the way.

With my older children we tried many middle school and high school science texts. But we didn’t like or finish even one, not even the homeschooler’s favorite—Apologia. Parts were interesting and informative, but there was simply way too much work involved, the applications were too complicated, and there was too much information presented to be retained going forward.

Most teachers continue to push through these kinds of curriculums because they think their children must know these things for the ACT/SAT college entrance exams and for college science classes.

But this is so not true.

College science courses do not require prior knowledge and science sections of college entrance exams only require common sensical application of very fundamental principles. The worst thing teachers can do to prepare their children for what lies ahead is overwhelm them with so many scientific details and theories that they never learn the needed basics.

That’s why I plan to stick to my simple, little science workbooks. And, lest you think I’m crazy, consider this:

With my three oldest children, we never completed a “real” high school science biology course. We never studied chemistry or physics at all. However, all three made A’s and B’s in their college science classes and did very well on the science section of the college entrance exams.

My children are no geniuses. But our approach to science turned out to be pretty smart.

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Here’s to the Troublemakers…

I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for children who break the rules. I’m not talking about defiant kids. Or ones that just want to call attention to themselves. Or ones that break the rules simply because they can.

I have an affinity for children who break the rules because they simply have something much more interesting and important they want to do than what they have been told to do.

These are hard kids to raise and hard kids to teach. But, oftentimes, they turn into very successful adults.

Did you hear about the five-year-old Kentucky girl who walked away from her kindergarten class on the first day of school this year? She was found more than a mile away from her school, strolling down the sidewalk in front of the Wayne County Courthouse. When a police officer asked the child why she left school, she said, “because I was bored.”

This child wasn’t trying to make a statement, defy her teacher or parents, or scare an entire county. She simply wasn’t interested in wasting her day. This kind of thinking reminds me of a little girl who lived in our old neighborhood. For the first two weeks of kindergarten she snuck into the school cafeteria so she could eat with the low-income children receiving free breakfast. When her mother asked her why she did it, she said “because I was hungry.”

Last year I was teaching a line dance class at our homeschool co-op and noticed a boy I didn’t recognize dancing in the back row. I asked him what class he was supposed to be in, and he told me he was enrolled in a science class. When I asked him why he was in my class that day instead of science, he said, “because I like dancing a lot more than I like science.”

On the one hand you want to strangle these kinds of kids. But, on the other hand, there’s something about their initiative, cleverness, and good sense that’s impressive. These kids march to their own drummers, manage their own lives, and find the world around them so immensely interesting a set of rules couldn’t possibly contain them.

Now, I fully understand that children need to learn to follow rules and do things they don’t always want to do. I get that. But it bears pointing out that rule breakers sometimes have more “going on” that compliant children who never challenge or question the status quo.

Penelope Trunk, an unschooling mom who writes a popular education blog, makes a good point about following rules. She says: “When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like. Here’s what I think: How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”

I think Penelope has a point. Our world has lots of compliant people who sleepwalk through life. It’s like they’ve been conditioned (probably at school and at home) to be content doing things they don’t like or enjoy. They never make a bold move. They never do anything truly wonderful. They don’t even do the things they really want to do.

Because I have two internationally- adopted children I often have people say this to me: “I always wanted to adopt, but I never did.”

Because I homeschool I also have people say to me, “I admire you for homeschooling. I wish I could do it.”

My husband and sons recently took a week to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I always wanted to do that, but never did.”

These kinds of responses make me want to scream out: “YOU CAN! YOU CAN! YOU CAN!”

I think people get so comfortable with the routine and used to the mundane that they work harder to find happiness within their mediocre circumstances than to actually change the circumstances. Just as the little girl in Wayne County took a look around her kindergarten class and said “there’s got to be something better than this,” we need to look around our own lives and wonder the same thing. The spirit it takes to make a change and forge a new path needs to be encouraged and embraced in both children and adults.

Schools are the worst place to foster a spirit of independence and urgency in children. Because they are institutions serving large numbers of people, they must be rule-laden and rule-enforced. Children who think for themselves need not apply.

For the past 10 years I’ve been part of the leadership of a large homeschool group for high school students. This experience has given me some perspective beyond my own children.

Here’s what I see: The children who give us the most trouble as high school students are often the most impressive as they grow older. These “troublemakers” are not defiant students (we rarely have those), or mean students (we never have those) or lazy students (OK, we probably have a few of those), but I’m talking about students who politely decline to follow the rules because there is something much more interesting to do than what someone else has planned for that moment.

I’m thinking about the students who spend more time talking to their neighbors than listening to their teachers. Or the ones who are late to class because they can’t pull themselves away from their friends. Or the ones who skip out because they missed lunch and McDonalds is just down the road. I’m even thinking about the student who lit a fire in his desk (and all the boys who egged him on) because watching a fire burn seemed more fun than participating in a class discussion. These kids must be addressed and disciplined, but they should be treated with respect. Because this year’s fire starter is next year’s Bill Gates (he was once arrested), or Ted Turner (he was expelled), or Steve Jobs (who occupied himself in school by getting in trouble.)

“I was kind of bored for the first few years (in school), so I occupied myself by getting into trouble.” Jobs once said. “They (school leaders) really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”

In the past decade, there have been a multitude of studies done on successful entrepreneurs, those people who earn at least 70 percent more than the average worker. Three different studies (from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research.) found four commonalities among successful entrepreneurs. The first three were not surprising. Successful entrepreneurs are 1) smart, 2) confident, and 3) have been raised in middle-upper class, two-parent homes.

Guess what the fourth commonality is? Successful entrepreneurs tend to engage in aggressive, illicit, and/or risky behaviors when they are young.

So the next time you catch your child breaking a rule or causing trouble, don’t be alarmed. Ruminate on this quote from Steve Jobs instead:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Stephen Jobs

Until next time…Be fearless.