Thursday, July 31, 2014

The 10th CAP is Up!

Please check out the blog Carnival of Atheist Parenting!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Strategies for Your Homeschool

secular parenting humanist homeschool blog raising atheist skeptical freethinking humanist atheist
Are you thinking about homeschooling this fall?
This is the time of year when many families begin thinking about whether they want to reenter the local elementary school and get a bit skeptical about all that goes on there.

Anyone who thinks that the homeschool lifestyle is just too much hasn't really looked at their relationship with their child's school! PTA, teacher meetings, conferences, bake sales, bussing, packing lunches, purchasing supplies, checking homework, struggling with lessons at night, forgotten things at home, school events, etc...  Having your child attend a public school is just as much of a commitment as homeschooling is. And visa versa.

That's not the point of my post and I'm still not removing it. 

For those families who are considering homeschool or who have decided to take the plunge, I have a few pointers for you. I am here to share that journey that our family has taken and to encourage you on the one that you are about to embark on with your own group.

Getting to be a great homeschooling parent takes time.  During that first year of homeschooling be prepared to go to bed each night with some fear in your heart.  Fear of messing up the very kids you are trying to free. Fear of failing your most beloved children. Fear of being inadequate. Fear of forgetting things. I remember feeling anxious much of the time those first twelve months of homeschooling.

It took me about a full year before I realized something comforting... we were homeschooling.  We were doing it!  (We had been doing it all along!)  Feeling confident and strong in homeschooling comes with time. I promise!

As much as you wish that there was, there is no silver bullet for homeschooling a child.  An important part of parents choosing to homeschool our kids is often knowing that each child is unique and wanting to preserve and celebrate that uniqueness.  So why do we think there should be a known, prescribed way to teach our children?!!!      
(good point, eh?)
One of the best things we can do, as parents, is recognize, support, and love the uniqueness of our children.  In homeschool or not.

  • Don't pay huge sums of money on materials. Unless you feel it necessary, the first year use your library, your community, your computer. The world is a wonderful place.
  • Pay attention to their current interests.  Use their areas of interest as jumping off points for lessons.  For example, when my son is very involved with Minecraft (and if your child is not involved with Minecraft, please tell me your secret!  LOL) I have used Minecraft examples in math, language, art, and science.  One example is how we made pixilated images for an art project.  He couldn't get enough of creating pixilated worlds.  Another example is drama.  Both of the kids are into drama, especially Lizzie.  For her literature we have read many plays, monologues, and one acts.  From those readings we have learned history, language, geography, etc in context.  Starting some topics "early" with your child, especially when they are already interested in a subject, gives them a greater ability to understand higher levels of work later. 
  • Which brings me to a simple concept. Start topics "early". Don't wait to introduce your child to subject matter that interests them simply because some chart somewhere recommends it for some later age! If your child is interested in the upcoming eclipse, explain the mechanics and physics of that event using correct terminology.  Nothing like giving them "advanced" knowledge in context. NOT living within the context of someone else's schedule is what gives homeschooling it's advantages. Your children are very capable of understanding advanced chemistry if they are interested in it. They will find a way to learn it!
  • Give them independence.  The other day I gave the kids a topic (anthropology) and had them go off and create a project with it.  I heard lots of noise and activity for a couple of hours.  When they came back they had created a video of an interview with Java Man.  Had it been on my head, I would never have thought of that idea!  It was only by giving them an idea and letting them run with it that such a project was possible!  And they enjoyed the freedom to do it as they wanted.  They needed to do extra research, write a script, get make up and props, and rehearse.  It was amazing and they felt great for having used their own talents and imagination to create such a project.  Your child might create a piece of art, design a board game, make something in the kitchen, or write their own short story.  Whatever they do, you will be surprised with their ingenuity!  In my case, it was great having them work together.
  • Say "Yes".  While we are working on lessons together, if (WHEN) John John has a ridiculous suggestion for an activity to supplement what we are learning about, I say "YES".  The other day they wrote and performed a song and dance about Bribie Island.  It was silly, it took awhile to get back to lessons, and I had to have the patience of ...well, a MOTHER, but it was a time they will always remember fondly.  Also, they still break into Bribie Island song.  LOL
  • Move to another location.  This may sound like an awful lot of work, but try picking up and driving to the library or the local park.  There are far more distractions in alternative locations, but there are also more opportunity for exploring something new in a new way. Don't be afraid to put down the book and look closely at something in the moment. In fact, embrace it! For example, yesterday we were at a local park. While looking at an amazing 500 year old tree we saw, at its base, a collection of tiny mushrooms and an ant colony. Just imagine the length of time these life forms have lived together in harmony.  And, while at the library take a chance, reach behind you, grab a book completely unfamiliar. Send your kids out to choose a book on a subject completely foreign to all of you. You never know, that book on clothing from the 1700's might just surprise all of you! You don't always have to have a plan!
  • When in doubt, start with reading aloud together.  Maybe the poetry is absolutely dull.  Maybe the history is Too Long Ago.  Maybe the mollusks are simply too familiar. Reading the material aloud, even in English accents, is STILL reading the material. I know this one first hand. We enjoy reading poetry aloud.  Please use silly voices. My kids remember lots of memorized verse simply because we treated it in this manner. I am certain that had we been serious about it, well, let's just say they wouldn't have it in their heads right now.
  • Flexibility is more than just timing.  It also refers to approaches, materials, teaching styles.  If you find yourself pulling teeth to get your children engaged, perhaps it's time to switch to something else for awhile. You can always come back to Marcus Aurelius. After a quick segue into writing and singing a rap song about him.  Or creating some excellent Greek skirmishes in Lego.  Or try going the Greco-Roman shuffle...  My point is that, for most kids, sitting and studying is tantamount to nap time.  That is normal, truly. Surely you remember being that zoned-out kid... When you see the zoned-out eyes and the somnambulist appearance, switch gears enough to get some cranial fluid moving.  Teachers do it!  Get physical.  I have been known to move the kids from the table to their laptops where they took notes on a Word document.  The important point here, flexibility is a must.  We parents who were "schooled" often struggle to look outside-of-the-box for our approaches and our expectations for our kids.  Also, when materials aren't working, don't grind it!  Get rid of them and find something more interactive and engaging.
  • Getting together with friends for projects is always a winner.  I remember when a friend and I got together and did an earth timeline on toilet paper. Together the kids counted out 35 squares for the Precambrian age all the way down to a tenth of a square for the Industrial Revolution. The comments and light bulb moments with all of the kids' involvement is priceless. Don't forget the idea of co op class! Offering classes to other homeschoolers is always a GREAT idea to get kids involved in something complex or less engaging in an imaginative way.
  • Keep materials in one organized and handy location.  Do you have a dresser?  How about some crates? It isn't necessary to have a homeschool room or shelf as long as there is a single place to return all materials to at the end of the day. We functioned out of milk crates for a long time! There is nothing more frustrating than starting work again and again because you can no longer find pages and books.
  • Let your kids know what work is expected during a given day and let them figure out how to get it done. Time management and approaches might change from day to day, but the lessons involved in figuring logistics out are innumerable. My kids have been known to bring books and materials and keep working even while on field trips or in the car simply because they want to have their work completed quickly. I use a page that I made where I write down work expected for a given day and the kids use that page to refer to in order to get all of their lessons done independently.
  • If you haven't spent any time figuring out your child's preferred learning style, do so.  This is one of the best parts of homeschooling, tailoring lessons to your child, and showing them how to tailor materials themselves. What are their strengths and weaknesses?  Skills and growth areas? I found some free online tests for figuring out learning style.  
  • Additionally, figure out your own biases.  Do you think children should sit and study quietly?  Do you prefer to be outdoors?  Do you enjoy learning games online?  Do you want to read in circle time and then do projects?  Do you find it difficult to do lessons after lunch?  Have you thought about researching these things and then talking about it with the kids???  How informed they will be when they understand their own "preferred" learning methods! Now that's self knowledge! If you are coming from a traditional school setting you will have lots of personal biases to contend with.
  • Use the computer.  Having a computer-literate child is essential in the world today.  Use youtube, pinterest, edlearner, TEDtalks, News Sources, Project Free TV, Khan Academy, Google Earth, Online magazines, online games, wikipedia, and the millions of other resources on the net to keep your children up-to-date on current things.  Learn Power Point, word processing, Google+, typing, CAD, film editing, researching, photo editing, online courses and lectures...  The list is nearly endless.  There is no excuse to not use the computer daily.  It is such a cornucopia of information...I am overwhelmed with it's abundance.  Keep Current!
  • Model a world view.  Pay attention to what is going on in the world and keep a global paradigm going with topics.  Walk a mile in the shoes of people from other times and places.  What better way to learn respect for all people.
  • Forget grade levels.  If you are homeschooling more than one child, chances are you have been or are overwhelmed with trying to do everything for everyone.  I humbly suggest my approach for your consideration.  There is absolutely no reason to "dumb down" materials for a younger child.  We have all seen our children grasp concepts that we have thought them too young to understand.  Let's not underestimate their abilities!  Teach your children as a group.  I bring together my two kids and work on the same material at the same time.  My younger son is almost always able to reach up and grasp the concepts we are working on. If necessary we can go back and bring him up to speed.  For the most part, I have found it very rewarding to introduce "upper level" concepts early.  Some homeschooling parents find this counterproductive.  Try it.  Use it when it works and don't use it when it doesn't.  Simplify, streamline, and encourage discussion!
  • Recognize the need for down times.  Notice when your child is engaged and can put in some extra time.  Also notice when your child needs to quit.  These times may not be optimal times in your estimation, but they are optimal in your child's!
  • Live and Learn.  Don't be afraid to change!
If you are homeschooling, remember, it's not the same as School At Home.  It isn't necessary to be School At Home.  Embrace the freedom and opportunity to celebrate your child and to focus on his or her needs specifically.  And don't forget, we're all in this together!  You have plenty of time to raise these kids.  
Relax and enjoy the ride!

You may also like this post:
Homeschool Strategies   (I think I need some new titles!)

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Little Teen Reading

teen reading groups, homeschool teens
Do you have teens who are readers?
Are you unimpressed with
Divergent, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and other post-apocalyptic drivel for teens?  Sorry, but I just don't care for these titles. The unrealistic storylines are blubbering mediocrity to me and I'm a bit tired of the money-making fandom that the books have spawned. Besides, there isn't much to them.
Are you looking for stories with some depth, humor, and insight? 
Read some John Green!
I am a huge reader and have been all of my life. I wish the kids were as much of a reader as I am, but alas. John has been reading quite a bit lately, though! This week he finished one book and began another! All without my asking him to read.  *grin* 
But I'm reading and I'm thinking about those adults who might be considering starting a reading group for and with teens. I think that John Green is the man to be reading right now. His books are so funny and deep that anyone can relate to them...the teen angst is standard-issue, as is the nerdy, struggling, extra-smart protagonist. The girls are generally sparkly, impossibly cool, and highly likable. And the author-cunningly-hidden-as-a-struggling-teenage boy on a personal odyssey brings such depth and humor, it's as though he is describing our own adolescence with the sharpest pen in the can.

His words have the power to change a person. 
At the very least, he will make you think.

John Green is, currently, the coolest guy on the planet for so many reasons. Have you seen his Crash Courses on Youtube?  You will love them!
A few months ago I read my first book by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. Can I say read the book first? I know that everyone is crying at the movie theater, but the book is so remarkable... Any teen, cancer-free or not, will love the subtle themes and the not-so-subtle themes running through this book. Even the love story is palatable for male readers. I can't say that the dialogue is the greatest in this book; I think homeschoolers might relate to the conversations, but the awkwardness of adolescents is missing for the most part in the conversations of characters. BUT, it's a great read nonetheless. I was honestly drawn to the journey of each and every character in the book. Green has a fabulous way of making every character familiar, interesting, bright.
Next I read Looking for Alaska. This is when I started getting the idea that maybe John Green is trying to replace Holden Caulfield as the gawky and angsty teen-of-choice in teen fiction. Holden, in my opinion, was so numb and flat that I found the entire book by J.D. Salinger A Catcher in the Rye lacking in substance. I think that John Green might be giving the classic a run for its money with Pudge and Alaska. Alaska is that shinier-than-possible star that Pudge can only dream of until their relationship blossoms and forces Pudge to learn a bit about the reality of people who shine brightly.  Green has a magic way with words...he uses them like a paintbrush.
Paper Towns also kept me interested in this author. Again the main character, the relationship between smart, gracelsss, and angsty Q and his super-cool next door neighbor crush was a DELIGHT. I loved Q and how his road trip and super-sleuthing truly brings about a change, a crystal moment, an enriching journey. If a teen reader of this book would follow their interest and move onto some Walt Whitman, I think that John Green's goals would be fulfilled; Leaves of Green features prominently in this book and in Q's quest for the neighbor girl that he hero worships. It's not every day you can honestly see change happen in a major character like this. And it's not every author who can sketch out such interesting secondary characters! 

Now I am immersed in Green's An Abundance of Katherines. Colin, the staple super-nerd depressed dork of John Green's stories, has his unique problems with being a childhood genius and his struggles become a tad obsessive. Can I help it if I love these nerdy guys? Green draws them with some aplomb, one can't help but wonder how much of his writing is autobiographical. Green's road trip theme continues in this book as Colin and his bestie hit the road to relieve some of Colin's fixation on an ex.  So far, this book has the least SEX in it of all of the other Green books I have read and it might be the best fit for a less-liberal group read. But, of course, the books ARE about TEENS who are, in general, quite interested in the S word.
As for the existence of sex and language in these books - you can do it! You can get past the sex and the language because they are real, they are truly what is on the minds of some teens. I promise, no teen will be shocked; they might even be relieved to have all honestly out there. The characters are highly-relatable. I might be fangirling a bit, but I'm so grateful for fresh writing that really sings.
So, there you go. My brief recommendations for an All-John-Green Read Fest! I am enjoying the books tremendously and I think that your mature and interested reading-teens will dig them too.
Will I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Maybe! As long as the main character is not Holden Caulfield...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Homeschooling on a Single Income

On a previous post called Homeschoolers Discuss Socialization, Steffany left this comment with a question. Can you help with an answer?

Q:  Great post! Exactly how I feel and I'm a public school teacher. I see the effects of this so-called necessary socialization. I want to HS and I have a few years to figure it out, but I'm stuck at how I earn a living if I'm at home. Currently we are a one-income home and I'm afraid that if we decide to HS, I will not have a steady income, health insurance, etc. I currently work for a school district that is convenient for health insurance, retirement, income... I'd like to know how you and other parents figure that part out? 

A: Steffany, I am FAR TOO SPOILED to answer this question. I am in the position where my husband's single income supports us quite adequately.

But I can put the question out there and see what others have to say. :)


Dear Readers, Dear Single Parents who Homeschool, 
Dear Parents who Homeschool and who 
Live in a Single Income Household,
Please come clean!
How do you figure out the income part of your homeschool lifestyle?


And, Steffany, I hope you make it back here to read this.

I have gotten several comments on other venues that post my blog posts.
Here are a few of them:

Melinda said:  We've been mostly single income since Madeline was born and I quit my job to be a sahm. My husband is a public school teacher and thankfully has job security. I do work part time in the evenings to supplement a little and we've made choices to make our lifestyle work. but I wonder if this mom is a single mom? If that us the case any advice I could give is not helpful.

Jamie said:  Don't have any advice except the obvious - cut as many corners as possible, look for deals/freebies, and only purchase what you need

Sarah said:  I never know what people want to hear. We choose near poverty and total lack of benefits in order to have the lifestyle we want. Either you are willing to make that choice or not. With one income you will often qualify for subsidized or free health care, we always have. ( for the children, not the grownups in the family). There isn't some magic formula for getting all you want living on a single income. It's a sacrifice that we've always felt was worth it.  We cut back and lived on the verge for years, at first. Then my parents retired and we all decided to form a multi-generational household, with my parents in an apartment on our property. There are occasional conflicts, of course, but it's definitely helped us all financially, and I can not imagine a better situation for a homeschooled kid. My parents have a lot of knowledge and many skills, and they love to share it all with my youngest and his friends.

I know hundreds of homeschooling families and the answers are as varied for each family as you see here. In my opinion, it all boils down to choosing a lifestyle that means something to you and living it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are You a Good Homeschooling Parent?

I am Still Homeschool Atheist Momma!

Heck, am I???
I was having a conversation with my daughter this week where we were thinking about things I wanted to write about on this blog, when she and I got into a really nice conversation about what it is like to be a homeschooling parent. She had some great thoughts on the matter so I thought I'd share them here with you.

Being a good homeschool parent, being a good parent, in Elizabeth's opinion, requires a few important qualities, beginning with flexibility. She acknowledges that having children can make days, weeks, months a bit...unpredictable. Being able to Go With the Flow, to change plans, and to switch directions on the fly can make life a bit less chaotic.  Have you had any weeks like that??? Seems like many of our weeks are like that.  lol

Elizabeth also thinks that a good parent should be a person who continues to learn throughout their lifetime. Reading, studying, researching. All of these things, according to my daughter, teach children to value education and, equally as important, keep a parent vital, informed, and improving.  I thought she was pretty smart to include this one on her list.  Maybe it's the pile of books beside me that make me say that...    *wink* 

Next on my daughter's list of qualities for a good homeschooling parent is the ability of the parent to adjust approaches to material. In our years of homeschooling we have switched up many times. From one book to another. From one approach to another. From one level to another. Heck, switching approaches is my specialty. But, seriously, between you and I, how did this kid come up with this one.  LOL

High on her list is respecting individuality; who didn't see that one coming? Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that this is, in fact, one of those things that I work on diligently and regularly with my daughter. It is wonderful to know that she sees that, acknowledges that, and recognizes it. I have learned so much by being the parent to this child. I am so touched by the fact that she recognizes it.

According to my oldest kid, a good homeschool parent should be encouraging. Kids, she says, especially teens, can get very bogged down in self-doubt. Parents with the ability to support honest effort can make a real difference in the ability of a child to really see themselves in a positive light. Elizabeth was quite adamant about this one.

And finally on the list, she reports that a homeschooling parent, any parent, should be gentle and fun. These qualities, according to Lizzie, make a parent who is wonderful to be around. Our family is quite dedicated to gentleness, bullying and sarcasm are quite frowned upon, but understood and treated with compassion...

Listen, I'm not saying that she would always admit that her own mom is mighty, mighty. But yesterday, at the end of another long and busy day, she was relaxed and happy and willing to help me out. And I don't claim perfection as a parent, far from it! But I am here to share the imperfect journey that our family has taken and to encourage you on your unique journey.

 THANK YOU, Shooshy!   
 You are amazing!