One Thing That Worked in My Homeschool This Week (Inspiring Children to Become “People Who Matter”)

For the past three months, my husband and I have been leading a large group, high school seminar class at our local homeschool cooperative called “People Who Matter.” During that one hour every Thursday afternoon, we have an invited guest share an important story. Most of our guests are very prominent, while others are regular citizens who share personal experiences that will have a special impact on our students.

For three months, I’ve sat riveted to my chair as truly outstanding individuals share motivating messages. From professional athletes to U.S. Congressmen, each guest has shared inspiring stories of dedication, work ethic, and sacrifice. henry

This past Thursday, Heather French Henry, a former Miss America and the current Kentucky Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, shared how she worked for half a decade to become Miss America (she won after five tries at Miss Kentucky) and then worked for 15 straight years to implement her platform on behalf of homeless veterans. That’s Commissioner Henry in the photo at right, placing her Miss America crown on my head!

Commissioner Henry’s story is just one of many inspiring stories we have heard this semester. We listened to Doug Flynn explain how he attended a professional baseball tryout on a dare from friends and ended up with a long, award-winning career playing for the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Mets. We heard former Lexington, KY Police Chief (and mayoral candidate) Anthany Beauty tell what it was like to be the first African-American student in a white middle school following court-ordered desegregation in the 60’s And what he would do if he was the police chief of Ferguson, Missouri. Also on tap: University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, U.S. Congressman Andy Barr, megachurch pastor Jon Weece, and more.

The opportunity for our students to hear and rub shoulders with such accomplished and inspiring people in a classroom setting is a rare opportunity. Traditional schools do not have the will or a structure in place to do it. The ability to think outside the educational box and craft lessons that truly inspire and teach children are a unique advantage of homeschooling.

As my children age I become more and more convinced that traditional means of education and content-laden school lessons bear little fruit for children. What comes shining through in the end as three of the most important byproducts of homeschooling are older teens and young adults who exhibit motivation, perspiration, and dedication. These are the x-factors that will drive people to do well in college, work, and life. Without them, most efforts fall short.

That’s why on Thursday afternoons I make sure my daughters are in attendance to hear the guests in the “People Who Matter” class. While other students float in and out with sporadic attendance and questionable interest, I make sure my girls are sitting front and center. Their attendance is not contingent on whether they have finished their other school work for the day. Or completed their chores. Or whether they feel tip-top. Or have a full afternoon and evening of other activities. My commitment to getting my children to that class is a window into what I believe is important in education.

For me, homeschooling isn’t a regimented schedule or list of assignments. I don’t begin the year with a check off list of lessons and curriculum and then strive for the moment when I can place all the checks in their appropriate boxes. Math? Check. History? Check. Science? Check.

Instead, I search for life-changing experiences and teachable moments. That’s why I like sports more than science, travel and field trips more than social studies, and the “People Who Matter” class more than math. Rather than taking responsibility for teaching my children everything they need to know, I’m trying to lead them to a point where they can and will take responsibility for teaching themselves. When I let their hands go, I want my children to have the character and desire in place to keep on learning for a lifetime and being “people who matter” to the people around them.

Until next time…Be fearless.

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The Day My Town Discovered Homeschooling

Something funny happened in my town this winter. In the midst of one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record in Kentucky, my town discovered homeschooling.

Called “e-learning days,” the local school system found that, in inclement weather, students can stay home and still accomplish a day of school. Students simply log onto their computers in the morning to get their assignments. Teachers, also working from home, remain available throughout the day to answer student questions online. It’s a win-win for everyone. Days are not wasted, money is saved, and students do not need to attend school way into the summer months.

This idea of e-learning days is being tested in thousands of school districts across the country. Each district handles the details a little differently, but the bottom line remains the same: At a time in history when people can and do almost anything via the Internet, homeschooling works.

Public school e-learning days are teaching everyone a lesson about homeschooling. Students and parents who find they enjoy e-leaning days are more likely to consider homeschooling as a viable option in the future. On the other side of the coin, school districts who find they can save time and money through home-based, online learning may determine they are not so raptly opposed to homeschooling after all.

Therefore, I see changes on the horizon.

Here’s what I think is going to happen: As the extent and quality of online education at an affordable price continues to increase, families and school districts alike are going to take advantage of it.

Families who have always wanted to homeschool, but didn’t think they could, either because of cost or ability, now have expanded options. All kinds of online education programs are available, from those that offer minimal online assistance to extensive programs that hold the hands of students at every turn. Homeschooling has never been easier.

But the greatest sea change of thought and practice will probably occur inside traditional schools, where a hybrid of traditional schooling and homeschooling will likely take place. It may not happen tomorrow, next week, or even next year. But it’s coming sooner than you think. And it will be a good thing.

The likelihood of hybrid schooling where teacher-directed learning and parent-directed learning mix together is due to a number of concerns bearing down on local school systems right now. They are:

1. Cost
Schools need money and they need lots of it. The biggest outlay of money is for teachers. When online classes are offered, more students can be placed in each class. This saves school systems money in labor costs. If students also periodically work from home, there are also reductions in the cost of facility, furniture, utilities, transportation, support personnel, and more.
2. Choice
No one can deny that parents want “choice” when it comes to education. The proliferation of online programming gives school systems the option of providing choice. More than one online learning program could be offered in schools, depending on students’ learning styles or interests. A variety of teachers could be offered. Students could also have the choice of learning from school or home, or switching between the two based on the needs of the moment. If school systems would honor the need and desire of parents to have choice, they would make it difficult for families to leave the system.

3. Relevance
Most American work is now done online. Most American colleges have acknowledged this and have made changes, albeit slowly. When public school systems follow suit, more parents will be impressed with the attempt to make schools more relevant to students.

4. Excellence
The beauty of online programs and teachers is that they must compete with each other to capture the time and money of families. While classroom teachers have a captive audience and not much incentive to get better at what they do, online teachers must prove themselves to be better than all the many other online options. A dynamic teacher and a great program will survive. All others will fade away, as they well should. School systems can and should take advantage of this online dynamic, or families will proceed in that direction on their own.

The hybrid homeschool/traditional school offers options similar to those available in modern supermarkets. Some people still like the personal service of the conventional checkout lane, where checking out groceries is so easy customers can read their email on their cell phones while they wait. Others like the self-checkout lanes, where it can take more time and attention to check out groceries, but shoppers have more control over the process and can keep a closer eye on what is going on. However, the vast majority of customers like to switch between the two options. They like the flexibility and customization of the self-serve registers at some times, and the speed and personal assistance of conventional registers at others.

The same is true in education. There will always be public school parents who want schools to do it all for them. And there will always be homeschool parents who don’t want the schools to be involved at all. But the majority of parents want something in the middle, choices they can make for the betterment of their children and their families, based on their needs and desires at that moment in time.

Hopefully, the current experimentation being done with e-learning days will demonstrate to school districts they can offer more choice, relevance, and excellence to students, and also save money at the same time. If so, a hybrid of homeschooling and conventional schooling could be here soon.

Until next time…Be fearless.

Building a Better Brain With Video Games

Parents and teachers have been bemoaning the ill-effects of video games for decades. Now we know they were wrong all along.

If you haven’t read the emerging research, you might want to take a look. Dr., Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, wrote about it last week in a great article in Psychology Today. Popular business and education blogger Penelope Trunk has discussed it often.  A google search of “positive effects of video games” turns up numerous articles written in reputable publications, such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Scientific American, and a host of other news magazines, education periodicals, and psychology journals.

None of this surprises me. My kids play video games so I know what they are. I blog about education so I know how children learn. There’s a direct correlation between the two.

In all fairness, it’s been only recently that neuroscience has delivered proof about how the brain learns. Instead of conjecture, sophisticated imaging techniques now show how the brain changes and grows when learning occurs. Scientists can physically observe and measure neural pathways expanding as people learn new things.

Still, could parents and teachers not have figured this out for themselves? When children enter the video game world they are involved in and interacting with quickly changing parameters and dynamics. They must assess situations, make quick decisions, use a variety of senses, and constantly be forming and testing new ideas and strategies.

Why is anyone surprised that all the current research—almost every shred of it—shows the affects of video games to be almost entirely positive?

Please allow me to take a crack at that answer. For the past 100 years, we’ve allowed traditional educators and the politicians who support them to control the discussion about learning. Even educational studies and research have been set up to try to validate a certain style of instruction. It’s a type of rationalization that cognitive scientists call “motivated reasoning.” The purpose is to legitimize an educational system that can be easily administered by the 3+ million people who make a living off of it.

Parents and the general public have been hoodwinked, but it happened with our eyes wide open. We (parents) have applied our own style of “motivated reasoning” to feel good about sending our children off to school for 12 years of their lives, which provides us with an easy and relatively cheap way of raising and teaching our kids. We try not to think too much about how horribly ineffective schools are as a place for proper living and learning. If we don’t think about it, or read about it, or study it, or listen to people who know what they are talking about, then we don’t have to embrace what we all know to be true: Formal education yields way too little results for such a big investment of time, while real-time learning with purpose is not only efficient in the moment, but effective in the long-term.

Last year, my 16-year-old daughter, Roxanna, hit a wall in her studies and in her personal life. She was taking a couple of academic classes outside the home, as well as trying to keep up with a busy activity schedule.

She needed to take a step back. So we cut out some activities and dropped the classes. In fact, for a couple of months, she just relaxed.

During that time, Roxanna took up Minecraft. She played it every day, sometimes for hours on end. I didn’t know that much about it, so I started watching her. Here’s what I learned:

Kids don’t just play Minecraft. They create it. And then they manipulate it. Decision making, problem solving, strategy forming—it’s all there. And it’s individualized to skills and interests and even customizable for parents and teachers should they want to jump in the fray. You can read about the benefits or Minecraft here and here and here and here. And all over the Internet, if you care to look.

As I sat watching my daughter play Minecraft, it occurred to me that she was involved in far more real and lasting learning than what she had given up by dropping her academic classes. She may not be able to define certain words or describe certain processes — things that would probably be long forgotten before she was ever asked to regurgitate the information— but her brain was growing and her “executive function” (the management and execution of cognitive processes) along with it. Score one for the video game revolution!

As video game research becomes more prominent and indisputable, look for schools to jump on the bandwagon and begin to employ video games to teach in the classroom. But don’t be fooled yet again. If schools use video games simply to teach the same old formal school lessons and deliver on the same old content-laden, scholastic goals (as demanded by Common Core and the other political educational directives of the moment), all the intrinsic value of video gaming will be lost. If the emphasis is simply on content delivery, video games will be no more effective than a glossy textbook or an educational board game.

Video games are best when they are open ended, player directed, and focused on stimulating thought and creativity. This is the stuff from which brains are built. Narrowing the scope or defining the mission destroys the intellectual benefit.

So, tomorrow, when your homeschooled kids roll out of bed and tackle a new day of life and learning, turn on the television and set up the game console. Effective brain building and learning awaits!

Until next time…Be fearless.

Replacing a Teacher’s Need to Teach With a Child’s Desire to Learn

I’ve always been a planner and a bit of a control freak. I like to figure things out and then analyze what I’ve done. I then like to tweak my original plan and do something better than what I’ve done before. This process turns me on. I’m pretty good at it.

As a school teacher, I always enjoyed developing the lesson plans more than executing them. As a homeschool teacher, I disliked textbooks and full curriculums because they robbed me of the opportunity to be creative and in control of my child’s learning.

That’s why it hasn’t been easy for me to set aside everything I know and love about teaching in order to establish a more natural learning environment for my children.

In fact, it took me more than 20 years to figure it out: Creating a successful and happy learning environment in my home is not about what I do, but what I don’t do. It involves stripping away pre-determined expectations and setting aside pre-conceived notions. It’s about replacing my need to teach in favor of letting my children learn. I have to trust the process and I have to trust my children.

Let me clarify. When I speak of trusting children to learn, I’m not referring to their ability to follow directions, complete every assignment, or pass every test. But, what I do trust is that children of average ability can and will learn almost anything, if they have the desire and the will to do it. They may not want to learn exactly what I want them to learn and they may not want to learn it according to my timetable. But the natural learning and maturation process enables almost every child to turn their attention to the right things at the right time in order to achieve personal success. Research and history prove it. And our own common sense knows it.

The folly of our current system of education is there is zero trust in children to take responsibility for learning at the needed time and place. We decide we can’t trust a student to learn how to write a research paper in college so we begin teaching him how to write one in elementary school. Because we don’t trust our children to be able to figure out math “in the real world,” we start subjecting them to difficult mathematical word and story problems when they are barely out of kindergarten.

The 12-year process of preparing children for any academic eventuality so we don’t need to trust them to properly navigate college and career later on is insane. Science, history, social studies, geography, and math lessons are introduced, re-introduced, repeated, reiterated, and re-enforced year after year. Reading and writing is deconstructed and then taught in isolated, bite-sized parts we can begin pounding into the minds of young children, even though they won’t have any real interest in writing stories or reading books until much later on. We prepare kindergartners so they can do well in elementary school, so they can do well in middle school, so they can do well in high school, so they can do well in college, so they can do well in career.
It’s an absurd process predicated on the belief that people can’t handle an academic or career challenge unless they have been armed ahead of time with a deep well of knowledge to draw upon. It presumes that people will wilt under the pressure of having to find solutions and it assumes they have no means by which to do so.
All the while, informed people who know what they are talking about—people who research and study learning, people like educational psychologists and neuroscientists—tell us without reservation or exception that the human brain has almost unlimited capacity to learn new things when a need or desire is present. And little capacity to store (and then retrieve) information when that need or desire is missing.

In other words, we spend 12 years forcing an ineffective system of information recall on school children when creating a natural learning environment that produces interested and motivated learners is far more effective.

The day I set my own preconceived (and ill-conceived) notions about teaching aside in favor of the truth about how children really learn is the day our homeschool took an 180-degree turn for the better. It hasn’t been easy to be patient and trust my children and the process. But it gets easier every day.

Because it has become increasingly obvious to me that natural learning works. While teaching — at least in the traditional sense — doesn’t.

Until next time…Be fearless.

 

Caring for Children In Our Nation’s Schools Is About A Lot More Than Just Proper Socialization And Test Scores

Recently I was at a small holiday party when a longtime friend of mine, a teacher at a public high school, made a statement that turned every head in the room.

Towards me.

My friend said, “I really feel no child should be homeschooled in high school. All kids should go to high school because all kids need to get used to being around different kinds of people.”

Since everyone in the room knew I homeschool my children through their high school years, they all looked at me to see what my response would be. I guess they thought there might be an argument.

There wasn’t.

I simply said we would agree to disagree. And the holiday festivities continued.

But, of course, I have not forgotten the remark. It rankled. And not just because it seemed to be an attack on the choices I’ve made. The remark illustrated much of what is wrong with traditional schools. That is:

Schools and teachers are often driven by sweeping gestures and grand statements that have no relevance to the needs of individual children and families. They place academic, cultural, and behavioral ultimatums on every student, no matter how unnecessary or inappropriate for any specific child at any given time.

Indeed, the situation that precipitated my friend’s negative remark about high school homeschooling was just the sort of thing that should never be addressed strictly by one single idea, rule or school policy.  You see, my school teacher friend had a student in her high school class whose mother was thinking about homeschooling her. The 16-year-old student, a quiet and diligent student who had never caused the school one moment of trouble, had recently been expelled for bringing a knife to school. Because she was suicidal. Because she was being bullied. Rather than have the child face placement in an alternative school with an ugly reputation, the mom was considering the homeschooling option.

THIS was the scenario that caused my friend, a public high school teacher for 25+ years, to slam homeschooling for all high school students under all circumstances. Even when a child is being bullied. Even when a child is suicidal. Even when a child is facing the probability of placement in an alternative school filled with chronic rule-breakers and troublemakers.

In that moment, the schism between private parent and professional teacher never seemed wider to me. Parents could care less about the school’s idea of “proper socialization” when their children are sad and suffering at school. Parents prioritize concerns and they put their children’s safety and well-being at the top of the list. They are sad when their children are sad and alarmed when they are bullied and threatening suicide.

Is it really too much to ask that school teachers—the people who care for our children the majority of their days—spare us the platitudes and set aside their politically-correct agendas when a child’s health and welfare are at stake? If they can’t, the crisis in America’s schools is a lot worse than just a bunch of bored and unmotivated kids and a string of declining test scores.

Until next time…Be fearless.

 

The American Right to Homeschool and Raise Children is Something Worth Being Thankful For

One of the tragedies of modern American culture is parents have no idea they have the right to be in full control of their children’s lives and education. When children reach five years old, without thought, parents walk their very young children to the bus stop and send them off to a local institution to be raised and educated — five days a week, 180 days a year. Many great parents hate this moment and know there’s something inherently wrong with it. But the routine is so ingrained in the psyche of our culture that we do it “no questions asked.”

I did the same thing. I told myself that kindergarten would be fun. I told myself that my son would enjoy the bus ride, the fun school activities, and the wonderful teacher. I told myself these things because I never considered the options.

As it turned out, my son was bullied on the bus, he hated the kindergarten activities, and the wonderful teacher was powerless to turn things around for him. It was only this sad turn of events that inspired me to consider alternatives.
As the daughter and granddaughter of public school teachers, as well as a former public school teacher myself, perhaps I was more clueless than most. But, as I started researching the options for my son, I was stunned by the possibilities. Parental freedoms are alive and well in America and available to all.

Here’s the bottom-line: The right of American parents to educate and raise their children as they see fit is astoundingly broad and absolute. Yes, there are a few restrictions, boundaries, and “guidelines” as set forth in court cases that have framed parent and homeschool freedoms. But, generally speaking, parents have the right to teach their children what they want, when they want, how they want, where they want, etc. The state supreme courts of our land have agreed that parents don’t even have to homeschool well, lest states would rush in trying to measure and evaluate children based on the state’s values, rather than the values of parents.

My oldest son suffered in school. Struggling with illness and anxiety, he hated every minute of it. The moment when I realized we could dump the whole thing and start something new was a precious one. I remember when I told my son:

“You mean I really don’t have to go there (school) anymore?” my son asked me in wonder and disbelief, the stress literally rolling away as the happy realization settled in.

I was relieved and happy, too. I was happy for my son, but even happier for my family. All the sudden, a new world opened up to us. We could frame our family life around our loves, our desires, our values, and our faith. We could establish life-long bonds and create something truly precious apart from the constant intrusions of other peoples’ expectations. We could decide and fully manage our time, our schedule, our lifestyle, our friends, and our activities. Our lives became our own again.

In America, the rights and freedoms our ancestors fought for and our brilliant forefathers insisted on sometimes get lost in the routines and expectations of daily life. But today, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful and thinking about how wonderfully different the life of our family has been because we stumbled across an educational “alternative” and family-centered lifestyle called “homeschooling.”

Until next time…Be fearless.

Avoiding American Education’s Spectrum of “Normal”

Jerry Seinfield caused quite a stir last week when he publicly stated his belief he operates on the autism spectrum. I’m glad he “came out.” I hope it starts a discussion about what’s really “normal” in regards to human behavior.

In education, we have children functioning on lots of different “spectrums.” We have spectrums for autism, Asperger’s syndrome, hyperactivity, attention deficit, learning disabled (LD), behavior disabled (BD), and many more. We fuss over these kids, worry incessantly about them, accommodate them, and spend millions of dollars trying to help them. But there’s a larger, much more important question that looms:

What in the world are we going to do with all the millions of kids who function on the “normal” spectrum?

Because THESE are the kids we should be worrying about.

I’m talking about the kids who spend six hours sitting in desks at schools every day and never lose focus or feel hyperactive. Kids who love coloring in lines and filling in tiny boxes…and don’t mind it. The kids who do everything schools tell them to do and never ask questions. I’m talking about the kids who never try to beat the system. Or avoid it. Or change it.

These kids worry me.

Our version of “normal” behavior is based on the 20th century view of what it takes to be a good student in a formal, academic setting. We desire and reward children who can march in lockstep to the school drummer and we label and medicate children who can’t. Or won’t.

This all worked out very nicely in past generations because our world economies demanded workers who could follow directions and find meaning in carrying out low-level, very-defined tasks. These people served as the “cogs” and “”circuits” of work now completed by sophisticated machines and computers. Schools prepared children very nicely for that world.

But, in the 21st century, advanced robotics and computer applications have replaced human cogs and circuits. Now the world needs innovators and thinkers, brilliant dreamers who can create new ways of living and working in the world and astute and clever leaders who can sort though and apply all the ideas the creators generate.

“Proficiency” and “excellence,” qualities that schools love and reward, need to be replaced by “imagination” and “genius,” qualities that schools see as abnormal, the byproducts of people who are either very gifted or very “different.” The truth is, ingenuity and brilliance are very normal qualities of people who have been created in the perfect image of a masterful and incomparable God. These qualities are on the “God spectrum.”

What a shame we spend 12 years of a child’s life renaming and redefining “normal” within the context of facilitating an organized and orderly school environment. I’m not worried about all the abnormal kids in this environment. I’m worried about the “normal” ones.

Until next time…Be fearless.