Archive for the ‘Self Education’ Category

New Resources to Geek Out Your Homeschooling

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The very first worldwide virtual Homeschool Conference was a success!  With 8 great keynote addresses, 48 presentations, and 1600 registrants, you wouldn’t believe the amount of information and inspiration that was traded this past weekend! The co-chairs for this conference, Steve Hargadon and Pat Farenga, hope to make this an annual event, with the next one penciled in for January 2014.

The great thing is it’s ALL FREE, including the recordings of every presentation. You’ll find the recording of my presentation on “Self-Directed Learning and the Roots of Success” here. This is also a great way to see  an overview of the material covered in my book.

I will be listening to various presentations I missed in the weeks ahead, but there are a few resources I learned about that I want to bring to your attention:

The first is a site for K-12 educators called EdK12.com. It’s still in the beta stages, and not specifically for homeschoolers, but it’s a great place to ask questions, participate in discussions, and share resources. They have also compiled an amazing, growing database of learning websites that you can search by grade, subject and category. So, if you are looking for ideas or help with something specific, say Middle School Math, you can search their library and find all kinds of websites pre-screened for relevance (not just a Google search which may lean heavily towards commercial sites).

 EDK12 Library

A similar resource, provided by a nonprofit organization that includes such heavyweight backers as Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is Goorulearning. This site provides search engine capability for standards-aligned learning resources, along with a nifty way to organize your favorite sites into “Playlists” and create a virtual classroom for your students. This site is also in the beta stage, and only has search features for grades 5-12, but K-4 is in the works.

Another site you might find useful is virtualhomeschool.com. Have you ever wanted to participate in homeschool co-op classes but didn’t have enough homeschooling families living nearby? Or maybe you couldn’t find enough families interested in learning the same topic/s? Now there is a VIRTUAL co-op, run entirely by homeschool volunteers, using online classrooms and tools to work together. You can even create your own course to share with others.

Virtual Homeschool Group

If you attended the conference, or have a similar site to share, please let me know in the comments!

What the World’s Best Basketball Coach Can Teach You About How to Homeschool

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John WoodenThe late John Wooden was a highly esteemed coach who built up the UCLA Bruins into a powerhouse team with 10 National Championships. The Sporting News named him “The Greatest Coach of All Time” in 2009, and he wrote several books about his principles of coaching, success and leadership. There is a lot we could learn from him, but the wisdom I’d like to borrow from him today is about the way he taught athletes during practice.

He used what is known as the whole-part-whole framework: first introduce the big concept, then break it down into smaller parts, then put the parts back together after they are mastered. Wooden carefully planned all of his practices, using 3X5 cards to keep his drills and teaching points in order. He was adamant about the fundamentals of ball handling, and took the time to teach his players exactly how to do each move, routinely demonstrating first the right way, then the wrong way, then the right way again. His feedback to the players was short, concise, and packed with useful information related to the task at hand.

He also kept his practices moving along, keeping the players focused and alert, with the first half devoted to new material and the second half devoted to repetition of previously learned skills. He believed that his players must be able to perform the fundamentals so well that they don’t need to think about them. Then, during games, their attention could be focused on the dynamics of the court.

John Wooden’s methods worked spectacularly well in basketball, and I think they could work equally well in any teaching environment. But the thing to remember is that he didn’t teach his skill drills in isolation. He taught them within the context of something the players cared about – basketball.

A lot of the skills that students are expected to learn in school, such as reading, writing and multiplication, are indeed fundamental and require lots of practice. However, teaching them in isolation, with one workbook for every subject is hardly ideal. Teachers are then forced to find some external motivation such as bribes, praise, or punishment  to keep the kids’ attention.

The better way is to teach basic skills within the context of something your kids already care about or have an interest in learning. This is really pretty easy when kids are little. Have you ever used the “Five in a Row” curriculum series developed by Jane Claire Lambert? They are an excellent example of using something a child cares about, in this case a wonderful storybook, as a starting point to teach various skills or concepts. My family LOVED using these books, and I was sad when we outgrew them.

Another thing we used were certain Scholastic math skills books because my kids thought they were fun. They loved outlandish word problems, riddles, and games. Educational software games were a hit too.

It gets harder to do this as kids get older because you probably won’t find prepared lesson plans full of advanced skill-builders in the topics that your kids most want to learn about. In this case, you might have to come up with your own 3X5 cards with ideas for practicing the fundamentals – this is the virtue of “Unit Studies.” You might be able to find pre-packaged unit studies that suit your student, but be wary. I’ve seen a lot of dull stuff out there, clearly written by people who don’t have a passion for the topic.

Better yet is to work with your student to craft your own unit study. Take whatever they are passionate about, say fashion, and brainstorm ways your child could practice some of the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. Along the way, there will undoubtedly be a smattering of history, geography, sociology, critical thinking about media and pop culture, and who knows what else.

John Wooden was able to keep the same stack of 3X5 cards and use them over and over again because he always had students who were interested in the same thing: becoming better basketball players. You will not be able to do that because your kids will all be motivated by something different. But you can use the same framework of whole-part-whole.

Can you think of ways to teach skills within the context of something your child is already interested in learning?

Path from “What do you want to be?” to Reality

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By John Kolko at MyEdu Corporation

By John Kolko at MyEdu Corporation

An online educational service called MyEdu recently published a study called “The Academic Journey,” which neatly summarizes their research, based on surveys of 300,000 college students, on the decision making process students use to finally settle on a career after graduation.

I found this very interesting, because the study highlights how stressful it is for students to choose a major, and then possibly change their major. A lot of kids just don’t know what they want to do. They’ve spent their high school years just trying to get in to college, and once they get there, the choices can be overwhelming. It seems that liberal arts colleges are well aware of this though, and try not to force a decision until just before a student’s Junior year. Until then, students concentrate on their General Education credits, taking classes in a variety of basic subject areas. But even then, how is a person supposed to know the best fit for them if they have only taken courses such as English, College Algebra, and Psychology?

I understand why liberal arts schools do this, because it helps to create reasonably well-informed citizens with higher level thinking and communication skills. But it takes time and a LOT of money to reach that graduation platform . . . then what?  Get a job? Go to graduate school? What if that new graduate still doesn’t know what he or she wants to do?

The problem is that our public school system works hard to get kids through the conveyor belt to a productive career. There are classes that must be taken, grades that must be earned, tests that must be passed, and extracurricular activities that must be done to prove one’s worth. It is a system that takes a lot of time, and ironically, the kids who do it well may be the ones who are most lost at the end. These kids worked so hard to please everyone else that they may have forgotten what it feels like to follow their own instincts.

Just look at all of the books and programs available to help us figure out what our talents or interests are. It’s kind of weird if you think about it. Why should any of us need help to figure out what would interest us? Yet we do need help, because we have forgotten. And all of those programs attempt to return our thoughts to a time before we cared what other people thought of us, before we were conditioned to follow the system.

I wonder how things would change if every kid had 3 more hours a day and the freedom to pursue their own interests? One of the findings of MyEdu’s study was that the students who had the opportunity to partake in a “Non-Traditional Academic Experience” seemed to find it very helpful. Here’s what they said:

“Some students described a non-traditional experience that dramatically changed their outlook on life and their academic trajectory. This experience – an internship, or a semester learning abroad in another country –seemed to either reinforce a good decision to change majors, or prompt a fresh set of introspection.”

This is the sort of thing that helps kids step outside the system, even for a short period of time, and experience real life. This is the sort of thing you can do anytime. Homeschooling, if led by the child’s interests, gives kids so much more time to be themselves. The system will still be there, and you should be aware of it, but live outside it. I mean really live – go places, meet people, read books, work, volunteer, take long walks, make things – and let your kids tell you who they are before anyone else tells them who they should be.

I’m not guaranteeing that self-directed learning will help every kid choose the right life path from the beginning. Sometimes kids will have to choose between several good options, or maybe they just need more time or experience, but at least they’ll have a head start.

What About Gaps?

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Crossing the Gap

Have you ever felt that surge of alarming doubt when your homeschooling friend talks about her ten-year-old’s rigorous curriculum, complete with 3-page written reports, Latin flash cards, accelerated math program, and violin lessons? Or how about when your neighbor gushes praise for the new local school science program or marching band?

Does it make you reassess your decision to let your daughter play “Sims,” draw horses, and read fantasy novels all day every day?

You would have to have nerves of Zen not to let this bother you. It may be true that your daughter will miss out on the benefits of Latin, violin, marching band, and all the rest. But it is also true that those other children will miss out on the benefits of “Sims” and unlimited hours of free reading. Is it an equal trade-off? That’s the big question. Students who receive a rigorous academic education may indeed be better prepared for further academic studies at college or university, particularly when compared with an average U.S. school experience. But if you know any teachers, or spend time reading the forums that teachers frequent, you’ll hear that two of the biggest indicators for student success are having parents that care and students that care.

Students that Care

It doesn’t matter how rigorous the curriculum is if the student doesn’t want to do the work. Teachers, or parents, might be able to convince or coerce a student to complete an assignment, but that doesn’t mean the student will retain the information. There will always be those achievement-oriented students, especially with helpful parents, who work hard to earn top grades and extracurricular attainments in order to impress college admissions offices, but how much are they really learning? And what about the rest of the students who are bored, or confused, or just getting along until graduation sets them free?

This is where the true benefit of self-directed education comes in. When children (or adults for that matter) have ownership over their own education, they will care more. They will pursue subjects that are interesting to them . . . or necessary in the pursuit of something else.

When Teddy Roosevelt was a boy, he was passionately interested in the outdoors, birds, animals, taxidermy, adventure stories, and naval history. His aunt, who taught Teddy at home, required a few other subjects, such as letter writing and French, but he was “behind” other boys of his age in mathematics. It wasn’t until he was fifteen, and eager to get into Harvard, that his father hired a tutor to help him prepare. He worked so hard (6-8 hrs a day) that he was able to do three years of mathematics in only two years.

Kids probably will not pursue subjects that you wish they would.

An 8-year-old would never say, “I want to learn more about language arts.” But they might pick up a book beyond their present reading ability and read it anyway. Or they might enjoy making up stories to play with their friends. Kids want to find answers to their own questions (“What does a leech look like?” or “Where would I look for a Sasquatch?”), and explore their favorite subjects in exhaustive detail. I had one son who was obsessed with deadly snakes (non-deadly snakes were of no interest), and he wanted to read every book we could find on the subject until his interest shifted to Aliens (deadly ones). Later, he moved through a procession of interests, including Greek Mythology, Yu-gi-oh cards, Tin Tin comics, fantasy novels, Shakespeare, weight-lifting, acting and singing. Along the way, he also learned how to read well, spell, write amazing prose, conquer math tests, memorize long poems, and identify logical fallacies.

Younger kids prefer concrete over abstract learning. They would rather build perfect squares out of Legos than learn how to square a number on a workbook page. This doesn’t mean they will never learn about square roots or grammar or the scientific method; it just means that they will learn it when they are ready for it. When they are ready for abstract concepts, it’s much easier for them to dive in and cover more material.

There will ALWAYS be Gaps

Even if your child went to the best college-prep school in the country, there would be “gaps” in the curriculum. There is no possible way we could teach children everything there is to know in a dozen years of school. There is no possible way any of us could learn everything there is to know in a dozen lifetimes. The thing to ask yourself is this: “Since we can’t learn everything, what are the most important things to learn?”

If your child doesn’t get to have a say in this, then she must decide . . . either to do as she is told or to rebel. With the first option, it’s hard to say how much the child is truly learning and she may forget what it feels like to be truly interested or curious. With the second option, the child might just reject any and all adult help, which will make independent learning very difficult.

If your child does get to have a say in what is most important to learn, and their opinions are truly honored, then a balance can be reached. Both parents and children will care. Children will feel a sense of ownership, but also know that they have their parents’ support and help whenever it is needed. It’s good to research college and/or job requirements together, but remember that sometimes a student’s true zest for learning can lead to places that neither one of you might expect.

Following along with someone else’s curriculum is like following along someone else’s trail. It may be a fine trail, but you will always end up where the other trailblazer meant it to go. Take the chance to go off trail and explore a little – or a lot. Teddy Roosevelt would approve.

How do your children feel about their curriculum? Did they help to choose it? Why? If it’s boring, do they understand or agree with the reason to stay with it?

The Easiest Way to Find Free Online Classes

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One of the key elements of a self-directed eduction, particularly for older kids and adults, is the ability to choose what, how, and when to learn something.

This is becoming easier every day, thanks to the proliferation of online tutorials, courses, and schools. Over the next few weeks, I plan to research these options to learn which ones might be the most useful for homeschooling families. In the meantime though, here’s a MASSIVE repository of links for free online courses that was brought to my attention:

Open Education Database

Open Education Database  This site compiles searchable links to over 4300 free courses in Arts, Business, Education, Engineering & Computers, Liberal Arts, Math, Medicine and Science offered by educational institutions all over the world. The other very nice thing about this site is that they provide reviews, rankings, and listings of online colleges and degree programs to help you find the right program for you. I did not find any courses targeted at kids; the level of difficulty ranges from high school to graduate level.

The people behind oedb definitely put a lot of work in to compiling this reference – they are the librarians of virtual education. You’ve heard of MIT OpenCourseware, Khan Academy, University of Reddit, and all the other biggies (here’s the post I wrote earlier about Stanford). But instead of searching through all those sites to find what you want, oedb has compiled it for you. It’s worth checking out!

Creative Rebellion

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I love serendipity! I’ve been thinking about this blog post for some time now, and just came across this video in my Facebook feed:

This video captures so well what I found in my research of famous homeschoolers. All of the people I studied had an independent streak, even as children. Some of the adults around them, particularly teachers, called them trouble-makers, or doubted that those “difficult” children would ever amount to anything. This is what happened to Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Mary Leakey, Quentin Tarantino, Walt Whitman, Ansel Adams, and countless others.

It can be very hard for some adults, set in their ways and opinions, to see the value in eccentricity, especially when all they see is boredom, inattention, and disruption. Teaching a classroom full of children is a TOUGH job. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it, especially when someone else is telling you when, what, and how to teach.

The thing is, kids shouldn’t have to be troublemakers or rebels. We are the ones who make them so, by attempting to force them into a one-size-fits-all system. Our current educational system virtually guarantees that only the most independent, feisty, and stubborn children will make it through with their original creative instincts intact. The rest of us, the more timid and obedient ones, are easier to mold into what society expects from us.

But what if we had an educational system that honored each child’s unique interests and learning style, with no pressure to become something they are not? There would be no reason to rebel.

It would be hard for public schools to do this because they have so much pressure to be accountable, and not enough money to hire the teachers that would be needed. But private schools and home schools can do it!

I am assuming, since you are reading this post, that you are either homeschooling your kids or thinking about homeschooling. If I had just one message for you it would be this: don’t try to re-create public school at home.

New homeschooling parents are understandably worried, and not sure what to do, so they fall back on their own school days as a model to follow. Public schools have become so much a part of our common culture, everyone just assumes that school is the best place for learning to happen, or that the way schools teach is the only way for students to learn. But from the examples shown in the video above and from the famous homeschoolers I studied, it’s clear that the greatest creative breakthroughs occurred when people busted out of the societal box that held them in.

Creativity requires a certain amount of freedom to thrive. If that freedom is taken away, the feistiest among us will rebel to get it back. Even homeschooling kids will rebel if home is just like school. Maintaining good order and discipline for behavior, chores, manners, etc. is a great thing for parents to do, but learning and creativity are very personal endeavors. No two kids will have exactly the same interests or learning styles, so trying to follow a prescribed curriculum will be hit-or-miss. The best thing to do is create a “curriculum” largely dependent on each child’s inclinations.

There will be gaps in what your child learns, but there are also gaps in what a public school child learns. There are always gaps, because none of us knows everything there is to know, and we never will. Learning is a lifelong pursuit. That’s why the best thing we can do for our kids is keep their learning instincts alive, show them how to find what they need, and not squash their natural creative spirit. Let them choose what, when, and how to learn; follow their interests; and solve their own problems. You’ll still keep plenty busy helping them find the right resources and mentors, taking them places, listening, reading aloud, playing with them, answering questions, and otherwise guiding them along their way to adulthood. But you don’t have to be the mean ol’ schoolmarm.

You will be amazed at what they do, even without grading or coercion. Give freedom a chance!

How can “Unschoolers” Plan Ahead?

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Summer, for many homeschooling families, is the time to plan for the school year ahead. Tis the season for dog-eared and highlighted homeschool catalogs, used curriculum swaps, and agonizing decisions over which methods to use. It’s kind of fun actually.

But what should you do if you’re more of an unschooler – someone who doesn’t believe in coercing kids to learn stuff?  All those lovely curriculum plans, with daily to-do lists, learning objectives, and directions to read aloud don’t really work for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Unschooling doesn’t mean that everything has to be spontaneous. It just means that the child should be given the freedom to direct how, what, and when they learn.

We as parents help make that happen by providing our time, resources, experience, and attention. Some people might be fine with winging it everyday, but for the rest of us (kids included), it’s nice to have a little structure. It’s also nice to have time to get things ready. If your child really wants to take up rocketry, its not something you can just pull out of the closet the very day he mentions it. He needs to research what is involved and what equipment is needed beforehand.

So, don’t be afraid to plan ahead. Just because your child is in charge of their own learning doesn’t mean your days must wait on their whims. Of course, the process of planning will be different depending on the age of your kids, but here’s what I recommend:

For Younger Kids

Structure their days but let the year evolve with their interests. Younger children seem to benefit from a regular schedule, even if the blocks of time are understood to be free play. Set up times for meals, chores, reading aloud, outside time, free play, art (this is when the messy supplies come out), naps, games, errands, play dates, field trips, outside classes and anything else you normally do. Some of this time involves you, some of it doesn’t. Let them choose the books to read and games to play, but feel free to suggest something you think they will like. Their interests may swing wildly over the course of a year but you can accomodate them with trips to the library or making/borrowing materials as needed.

If you are really ambitious, you might consider making ahead some hands-on Montessori type materials to have ready for your kids to work with if they are interested. Kids are usually so eager to learn and try new things that they will gobble up whatever you give them. I’ve always thought that this would be a good project for a homeschool group: have each family make one or two quality Montessori type items, then everyone regularly swap materials.

The key with scheduling your days is to leave plenty of time for outdoors and free play. Don’t over-schedule outside activities or you’ll spend all your time in the car, and everyone gets grouchy.

For Older Kids

Help set goals for their year but let them structure their days. Once kids are old enough to start planning ahead (you’ll know when because they’ll start doing it), make a list together of all the things they would like to learn or do. Don’t judge or worry about how to do all of it in one year, just brainstorm. If they have trouble getting started, you can remind them of the things they are already interested in. You can even suggest things you think they will like. If there is a class at the Nature Center or upcoming exhibit at the Museum, throw it out there. If your child likes making things, let them peruse books of projects and put sticky notes on the things they want to make. Write down the books they want to read. If they don’t want to commit to anything or have only three items on the list, that’s OK.

Then, once you have the master list, you can either work with your child to prioritize and plan it out, or do it by yourself. In my experience, kids really aren’t interested in this level of planning and would just as soon have you do it. My caution here is DON’T OVERDO it. Just because they made the list doesn’t mean you can go crazy with it. It just means you can start researching and collecting the best books and materials within your budget, and block out times when you can go through items on your child’s list.

One of my sons wanted to make cheese from scratch when he was around 8 years old. I had no idea how to do this but found a cheese-making kit online, and set aside a day to do this with him. It wasn’t something he could have done alone because it required a huge pan of milk on the stove and keeping track of lots of steps. In fact, it wasn’t something I could have done alone, but together we had a great time.

The point is that making cheese was on my son’s list, but I had to plan ahead and purchase a few supplies to make it happen. You know best when you will have time to spend the whole day making cheese, or driving to the beach, or building a tree house. I usually started with a yearly grid of 6 boxes per page labeled with each month. I penciled in certain projects to go with the month that made the most sense. I tried to group things together, including books to read, making our own loose unit studies. Once the big things were on my yearly grid, I planned out more details a month or two in advance. This gave me time to find, borrow or buy things we would need.

As for structuring our days, I still had meals at the same time, and I spent the morning doing things with them, but after that it varied from day to day depending on what my kids were up to. Sometimes they needed my help, sometimes they didn’t. Some days we were gone all day on a field trip or other outside activities.

For Teens

Teens have to start looking even farther into the future, particularly if they might want to go to college. Here is where you shift into “Academic Advisor” mode to help them plan out studies that would satisfy college admissions offices. For more information on this, please click here. But if they are not at all interested in college prep, don’t push it. There are lots of other wonderful things they can be doing with their time. Get them out of the house meeting people and doing worthwhile things as much as possible.

Enjoy your summer, play with your kids, and don’t feel guilty about planning out your unschooled school year.

 

Homeschool Graduation?

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It's hard to believe this little guy is all grown up . . .

Today is the day I picked for my son’s official high school graduation date. It was an arbitrary decision, made last Fall, and based on the graduation date for our local high school. But it doesn’t really seem to have any significance because nothing has changed. He hasn’t dropped all his books and exclaimed, “I’m done!” A lot of the things he was doing yesterday, he will be doing again tomorrow.

He finished Physics and Calculus a month ago, but he still subscribes to the math and science channels of Reddit because he likes that stuff. He’s also finished with his official English class at community college but he still reads books all the time and writes daily in his journal and customer support emails. I put “Computer Science” down as one of his high school courses this Spring, but he will still be doing that for years to come because things are always changing and there is always more he wants to learn.

With our self-directed homeschooling style, learning is so much a part of living that there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two. There is no “graduation.” There is no ending.

So, while everyone around us is buying decorated sheet cakes and planning “Safe and Sober” grad night parties, we feel somewhat at a loss. Should we be doing something? Everyone likes to be appreciated, and fussed over, but I think we’ll wait until he turns 18 in August. The transition from “child” to legal adult is an undeniable milestone. On that day, he will be able to sign all of his official paperwork, vote, keep his bank account private, enter legally binding contracts, and be drafted (oh joy). Who wouldn’t want to celebrate all of that? :)

An even bigger transition will happen when he leaves home this September to go to University of Washington. On my part, it will be an occasion for mourning. But he is excited, and I’m sure that after I get over the initial shock, I’ll enjoy watching him create his new independent life.

With that in mind, does anyone have any ideas for appreciating and fussing over  a soon-to-be 18 year old?

Should you homeschool your kids?

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How to Homeschool

Over the years, I’ve heard a variety of responses when people find out about my homeschooling, but they are surprisingly similar: “Oh- I so admire you for that – I don’t know how you do it,” or “Good for you! I could never homeschool though, I’m just not patient enough,” or “How can you stand it? My kids would drive me crazy!”

I think that many of them are just being polite though, and they really have no interest in homeschooling. That’s OK. I’m not one who believes that every child should be homeschooled. Public and private schools can be a wonderful resource (although I would always support smaller class sizes and more individualized curriculum).

My concern is for the parents who I sense really do want to homeschool, or are at least curious, but think they cannot. So, it made me think, “Under what circumstances is homeschooling not a good idea?” I came up with reasons in five categories: Interest level, Ability, Patience, Motivation and Circumstances.

Interest Level

If the parent who would be doing most of the homeschooling is not interested in homeschooling, that’s really not going to work.  Likewise, if one parent is interested in homeschooling but the other is firmly opposed, that won’t work either. Kids shouldn’t be placed in a tug-of-war between parents; perhaps a trial period or other compromise can be found.

If the child is not interested in being homeschooled, you may suggest a trial period, but don’t push it. I firmly believe that children ought to be given the freedom to direct their own education, even if that means attending traditional school. An obvious exception to this would be if you are concerned for your child’s safety or well-being.

Ability

I don’t believe a college degree or even a high school diploma is a necessary to help your own children learn. But without those things, I do believe that the homeschooling parent should be literate and self-educated to some extent. Parents should know enough to know what they don’t know, so that they can find the appropriate resources for help. For instance, if a homeschooling mom knows that her math skills are weak, she can pick a program that gives step-by-step solutions or one-on-one tutoring if necessary.  Parents do not have to teach everything!!!If a parent is particularly worried about their own academic weaknesses, they might feel more comfortable using an all-in-one curriculum that gives step-by-step instructions and phone support.

Patience

Parents envision the headaches they will have getting their kids to sit down and finish their work, and they are right. That’s one good reason not to do it that way. Homeschooling is not the same thing as school at home. Many parents do choose to have a fairly formal schedule and curriculum, but that is NOT necessary. Children who are given free rein over their own education will learn amazing things, and there is no need to force it. Please see my book or this post for more information.

You will still need patience however, because you will still be a parent, and there will still be sibling squabbles, temper tantrums, chore avoidance, dawdling, and disobedience. But you may find that spending more time with your children, during the better part of the day, will bring you all closer together. By doing fun things together, talking, listening, and working side-by-side, your rhythms will start to mesh. The tensions of rushing around before and after school or work will be gone. The kids will get more sleep, be more comfortable, and have more time to play. You may find that you get along better with your children than you ever thought possible – as long as you don’t try to be the mean ol’ schoolmaster.

Motivation

Some critics point out that parents should not be allowed to homeschool because they only wish to indoctrinate/brainwash their kids. I imagine there are indeed parents like that, although I hope not many. My answer to that is we all unintentionally brainwash our kids anyway. We can’t help it. Even when we are trying to present other viewpoints, it is very difficult to hide our own. Even schools wish to indoctrinate children in the values and beliefs considered important to society. All kids, schooled or not, are going to absorb the belief systems of their families and teachers, though they may later choose to reject those beliefs. Also, it’s pretty hard to shelter kids these days from every opposing viewpoint. So, while I hope that parents have nobler motivations to homeschool their children, I don’t think the threat of brainwashing is bad enough to say they shouldn’t homeschool.

Circumstances

If there is no way for one parent or adult family member to stay home with young kids, then homeschooling really isn’t an option. Although I have known parents who worked at alternative private schools like Montessori or Waldorf and were able to enroll their kids for free or reduced tuition. Also consider alternative working arrangements like both parents working different part-time shifts, working from home and hiring a helper, or down-sizing to live off of one income.

For responsible teenagers, I think it is possible for them to be home alone during the day as long as someone is available later to help answer questions, find resources, etc. I know of a single mom who pulled her teenaged son out of high school because he was being bullied. While she went to work everyday, he worked on his online curriculum, practiced his cello, took cooking lessons (within walking distance) and worked as an apprentice at a local guitar repair shop. He later joined a Celtic Bluegrass band and now makes his living as a professional musician traveling all around the country.

If there is a stay-at-home parent, but he or she is overwhelmed with smaller children or other responsibilities, it may be too difficult to give the older children the attention they need. But it IS possible – especially if that parent is organized and has a great sense of humor. There are a number of great homeschooling books that address this very subject, so I would recommend reading up on what other families have done before deciding one way or the other.

Another part of circumstances is financial resources. It’s nice to have the money to buy all the cool homeschool curriculum available these days, but it is not necessary. You can get all sorts of great resources for free or very cheaply. The homeschooler’s greatest friend is the public library. I also bought some of my favorite learning materials at garage sales and used curriculum swaps. So, the main concern for financial resources is the ability to live off of one income, and homeschoolers have become masters of household frugality (this gives me an idea for a future post).

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If you are interested in homeschooling, but still not sure, I would recommend searching for homeschool groups in your local area. Find out when they are meeting and ask to come see what it is all about. Homeschoolers love to talk about homeschooling, and they will be able to answer a lot of your questions. You can also read up online or in your local library, but there is no substitute for meeting real homeschooling families.

 

10 Inspiring Websites for Learning Science

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Science and math don’t just exist in textbooks – in fact, the best part of these fields DON’T exist at all in textbooks. The curiosity, wonder, and magic must come first. Only then are we motivated to find out the details of how it all works. But sometimes it’s hard to show this to kids, especially if we never discovered an interest in these things ourselves.

As I wrote in my last post, it’s great if you can find a passionate, knowledgeable teacher or other mentor to lead a class, workshop, field trip, or other experience for your homeschool group. But if you can’t find teachers like that in your local area, the next best thing is to find the books they have written, or the websites they have put together. When I evaluate websites, I am really interested in the knowledge and interest level of the creator/s, along with the caliber of content provided. Some sites have a lot of commercial backing and glitzy features but they seem too cartoonish or dumbed-down for my taste. I’m also instantly turned off by images of red apples and chalkboards, just so you know. I’m OK with advertising, because I know that it takes effort to put forth great content, as long as the information or activities are provided are truly useful, fun, and/or inspiring.

1. My first pick is the now famous Khan Academy site. The creator of the site, Sal Kahn, is both knowledgeable (with three degrees from MIT and one from Harvard) and passionate about helping people learn. His site is a goldmine of free videos demonstrating every possible math concept you can think of, as well as a generous smattering of economics, science, history and SAT prep.

2. Vi Hart Mathmusian’s Youtube Channel: Fibonacci numbers, spirals, fractals, doodles – all about math combined with art.

3. Vi Hart’s personal web site: Besides her Youtube channel, Vi has another site showcasing her math, art, and music related projects.

Vi Hart

Paper mobius strip music box by Vi Hart

4. National Geographic is always an intriguing resource, but they have a few educational projects that look really promising, such as “Population 7 Billion” which involves mapping, human migration, population density and climate change issues. Learning science starts with a reason to learn. Projects like this help make science relevant.

Image from National Geographic

5. The Jason Project is a collaborative effort with The Sea Research Foundation, National Geographic and other organizations to connect students with real scientists and researchers out in the field. There are free downloadable curriculum units on forces & motion, energy, geology, ecology and weather.  There are also digital labs and games to play. My kids and I did this years ago with our homeschool group when the Jason Project team was headed to Antarctica. We did science experiments and other activities related to ice, the ocean, hypothermia, animals, weather, and other Antarctic related topics. It was cool to watch video updates of the research team’s travels and work. The format seems to have changed since then, but it still seems like fun.

JASON Science

6. The Exploratorium is an amazing science museum in San Francisco. My family has visited science museums across the country, but this is our favorite by far. If you are ever in the Bay Area with your kids, this is well worth a visit, and you will want to stay ALL DAY (trust me). But if you can’t make it in person, their website is fun to explore too. There are all sorts of videos, games and activities related to building, sound, colors, geometry, other planets, Polynesian navigation, the ocean, human body, patterns, and general science. All kinds of stuff!

Exploratorium

Image from http://www.exploratorium.edu

7. Want more games? Try this one: www.tryengineering.org  This site compiles engineering games from around the web, including bridge design, building roller coasters, space walks, solar car racing, MRI Design, destroying castle walls, and others.

Try Engineering

Image from http://www.tryengineering.org

8. Want more sleuthing? Try Science Mysteries. Here you’ll find a variety of free mysteries with science-based clues to download and solve, such as “Arctica,” “Strange Dead Bird,” “Poison Dart Frog,” “The Blackout Syndrome,” and “Angry Red Planet.”

Science Mystery

Image from http://www.sciencemystery.com

9. Wondering about STEM career fields? The Science Buddies site has a VERY comprehensive listing of possible careers – some you may have never thought of, like photonics engineer or sustainability specialist. This site is also a great resource for possible science fair projects and topic ideas.

STEM Careers

Image from http://www.sciencebuddies.org

10. For older kids and teenagers, I have to include TED on this list. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is an ambitious initiative to spread good ideas around the world. Each year the organizers attract scientists, engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and other presenters with great ideas to come speak at two sold-out conferences every year. These short presentations are not designed for children, but that is what’s so great about them. Kids will see that these are real people with real ideas that they are working on right now. It’s not has-been science or lecturing. These little videos on everything from “Animations of Unseeable Biology” to “The Magnificence of Spider Silk” to “Distant Time and the Hint of a Multiverse” are what is happening right now and in the future. They are relevant to any kid (or adult) who wonders about the world.  Check it out!

 

Bonus: Do you have a child interested in computer programming? Here’s a list of recommended sites by my tech-obsessed son:

Code Year - If you know someone who wants to learn programming, here’s a way to start from ground zero.

Stack Overflow – Already know some programming but need help? This is the place to go.

Tutsplus – Lots of tutorials here for learning web development.

Hacker News – For the seriously addicted, a place to find out about the latest happenings in computer technology, etc.

 

Also, here’s one last website with a list of good open education resources you may not have heard of. Do you have any other favorite sites to share? Please leave a comment below.