Backpacks!

Years ago, at a campground, I made one of the best discoveries. The campground had an interpretive trail like many we’d been to, but this one gave you an “adventure backpack” to take with you for $5 and a $20 deposit. In that backpack was a laminated field guide, binoculars, a handheld microscope, baggies for collecting treasures, a trash bag to help clean up as you visited (clever), and a scavenger hunt page. My sons loved it! And we resolved to get backpacks of our own to have with us wherever we went. These packs were lifesavers on so many occasions. Not only did I not have to carry water and snacks for everyone anymore, but they used them to bring home all sorts of exciting treasures that I didn’t need to clean out of their pockets before I did the laundry!

Here’s a list of what we kept in them in case you’d like ideas to make your own!

A “field guide” of some sort for the area we were in.

  • Binoculars
  • Handheld microscope
  • Baggies for collecting
  • Trash bag for helping clean up where we go. My older son insisted on having rubber gloves for this purpose.
  • Sunscreen and chapstick
  • Bandana
  • Kite string
  • Water bottle and snacks.
  • A hat
  • Geocache trinkets
  • Pens, pencils, and sketch pad
  • A small pocket knife, yes, I let my kids have pocket knives.

I’ll admit, sometimes the bags got a little full and we had to cull thru them from time to time. When they were little the packs were smaller but as they grew they transferred to the regular school backpacks everyone has. I spent about $20 on each backpack that lasted forever since we weren’t lugging around books. And from $10 to $20 on the microscope and binoculars. They don’t need to be fancy, just a little tough, built for kids.

Other things that ended up in the backpack were a fire starting kit, a space blanket, a book we were reading, a pedometer, candy, bird calls, and old wooden games we got at a fair one time. Things were always rotating in and out of there. Sometimes we were hosting “Flat Stanley” characters or a stuffed animal needed to come along.

Every time we went anywhere, from a walk around the neighborhood to hiking in the forest, from the local park to Disneyland, those bags went with us. We’d constantly stop to inspect a bug or plant, identify it, maybe draw a picture of it, or take a picture. We collected interesting leaves and rocks. We built paper boats and floated them down streams. And I took notes to remember an idea they had or something we needed to bring the next time we came.

Speaking of notes, I took pictures or made notes to remember the things we talked about or investigated and translated that to my personal blog the next morning while they watched cartoons. That was my “education tracking” during our elementary age years.

Get out there and have some fun following where your kids lead you on the trail or in the neighborhood!

Backyard Science!

I just received a reminder in my newsfeed about an awesome annual event. The Great Backyard Bird Count from the National Audubon Society! This is a great way to do real science at home with your kids and another great thing about technology in our age. We are all contributing to large-scale data collection that is helping real scientists. In fact, we ARE scientists! And best of all, it’s completely free!

My sons and I participated in this event several years in a row, both in the city and at our new desert home. Oh, who am I kidding? I did this several years in a row and told the boys all about it! They weren’t interested in sitting in the yard with a cup of tea for an hour, noting which birds and how many came by. I was very interested though! I printed off the data collection sheet from the website, grabbed a cup of hot tea and parked myself on the back porch for an hour, several days in a row. The boys would come out and ask me what I was doing, and I proudly told them, showing them the list of birds I had already seen. Sometimes they would sit for a minute and watch with me. They’d point out a bird or two, grow weary and head into the house for video games. Sometimes, I’d have to cut my session short over a battle between them or a request for lunch. If they were interested, I’m sure they would have been right there with me, asking me what bird it was or helping me look them up online. This kind of stuff just wasn’t their thing at the time. Fast forward years into the future, they now take pictures of birds they find where they are and message them to me, so they did get something out of it!

What did they get? Lot’s of things! They saw a small way an individual can participate in a large science endeavor. They learned that bird watching was a sport AND science and that there are people all over the world who are passionate about it. Best of all, they were witness to my real, honest love of learning in action every day.

That’s the best part about home education! It isn’t about following a set curriculum, having a long reading list, perfect penmanship, or great SAT scores. It’s not about keeping “at grade level” in school subjects. It’s about kids living and learning right alongside adults in ways that encourage them to explore the world around them and stay excited about learning new things their whole lives.

Before my sons were around twelve years old, most of the homeschooling at our house was me finding awesome stuff to do around our area and signing up for tours, field trips, and excursions of all kinds. I read up about each event before we went, sharing what I learned and how. I was the one asking questions. My boys were along for the ride. We kept it down to one organized event per week when they were little because it was generally something they weren’t interested in, but I thought they might be. If we got there and they just couldn’t sit still or hang through the whole thing, we’d leave early. That was hard for me sometimes, especially when it was something I really wanted to see or with friends I really liked. I had to remember that we were there for their sake, not mine. As they got older, they were more apt to sit through an art museum tour because I really wanted to see it with the offer of a kind reward for their efforts. As teens, they don’t need that reward anymore.

We also visited a lot of museums, parks, and zoos on our own schedule. We didn’t get the group discount or docent-led tour, but it was usually better for them because they could take their time exploring what they wanted and skip past things that didn’t excite them. It wasn’t the last time we’d be at any of these places, so I didn’t mind if they spent all their time at the playground at the local zoo instead of seeing all the animals. We bought annual passes and memberships to places they expressed real interest in.

Education in the elementary years was always fun, short and sweet. Sometimes it was directed by me and my interests and hopes of expanding their horizons. And sometimes it was directed by them and what they were interested in pursuing. It always focused on them and how they were responding. Getting antsy and a bit loud? They weren’t interested, we needed to leave. Quietly watching, having a great time? We’d stay. One interested, the other distracting people? I’d ask a friend to keep an eye on one, while I let the other find something else to do. It was all about watching them and knowing their limits.

Now that they are in their late teens, I can see the reflection of those early days in the way they pursue their passions and share them with me through texts and social media posts.

Annual Passes Worth Every Cent!

There are two annual passes we have bought every year that I highly recommend, the “Forest Adventure” pass and the “America the Beautiful” pass. You can buy them online at My Scenic Drives.

The “Forest Adventure” pass is $30 and a second is only $5 more, so share with a friend! It allows you to park anywhere in the forest. Yes, there is controversy here. Does the money really go to keeping the trails nice and the bathrooms clean? Who knows?! And do they give tickets for parking without one? Occasionally. And I’ve heard the fine is the same as the pass. But…I’m trying my best to teach civics here as well and the law of the land is to have a parking pass, so we get one and leave it at that.

The “America the Beautiful” pass is $80 and gets you into all the National Parks. Of course, if you don’t plan on leaving the immediate area this year,  you can always get an annual pass for just Joshua Tree National Park for $40, but we’ve found that we usually get up to other parks in California at least once a year, so the $80 one is a deal for that.

When I lived in Orange County as a kid, I rarely went up to the mountains. My parents worked regular, Monday through Friday type, jobs, so we only had weekends and holidays to make the trek. Those are crazy busy times! I just assumed it was always like that, so I didn’t take my kids up there until we moved out to the desert and were looking for fun stuff to do during the week while Dad worked. That’s when I fell in love with Big Bear!

We’ve been making the hour drive up there about once a week for years now. We’ve explored mountain trails, hiked all over, gone fishing (another permit, of course, we ARE in California), looked for geocaches, played in the snow, ate (a lot), mountain biked, gone to the zoo. There’s so much to do up there! And during the week it’s so NOT crowded!

Here are a few links to places we love!

Fishing – Take Me Fishing is a good place to start if you’ve never been before! You can get a license there and look up the myriad of rules. I also love Big Bear Lake Sporting Goods. You can get a license there and everything else you need. Ask all the questions you like, they are nice people!

Mountain Biking – Check out Mountain Bike Big Bear for trails and such. And the best bike shop ever is Chains Required! Great prices, great people, they have everything you need. You can even rent a bike for a day and see if you enjoy the sport!

Hiking – AllTrails can help you find the best trail for you. Add Geocache to your phone and find those on the way!

Big Bear Discovery Center

Big Bear Zoo

And my favorite tip, we always stop at the Village Visitor Center first for a bathroom break and to re-group after the drive. It has saved us many times. I’ll also admit that we stop there before we leave as well. Lunch, ice cream, bookstore. They even have an awesome music store!

What does this have to do with home education? Everything. This IS education. So much science, history, PE, even literature. This isn’t a day off for adventuring. The adventuring IS the education. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and tools we took with us everywhere. We took pictures of things we found, made maps of where we went, looked at things with microscopes and binoculars. We had a notebook to draw in, a nature guide, a bandana (for everything), and a first aid kit. We even brought a book with us and read out loud while we picnicked at the top of the hike, alongside the lake, or in a grassy meadow. Go explore!

Civil War Days at Calico Ghost Town

Here’s a great day trip coming up on February 17-19, 2018!

Calico Ghost Town in Yermo is a great way to live some history! And a Civil War Reenactment only adds to the day! Check out some age-appropriate books, websites, and maybe a movie before you go and then spend the day (or the weekend) in Calico!

Click HERE for the details!

Clarification

This is something I posted to a local Facebook group. It is a subject close to my heart and I want so badly to help people not be afraid, combative, or stressed about homeschooling.
First of all, if you are enrolled in a charter school, you are in the public school system. There are only public and private schools in California, no “homeschoolers.” That’s actually a very good thing and something that advocates of secular and religious homeschooling in the 80’s and 90’s worked hard to keep that way. It’s a way of protecting us from the “tyranny of the majority,” giving ALL public and private schooled “homeschoolers” the same protections as those that enroll in the corner school or pay out of pocket for the church’s private school.
 
Second, I think it might help a lot of people to think of the local school district, the charter school, the church private school, and all the other “school” options as individual businesses trying to get you to buy their services. Walmart doesn’t lose money if you shop at Target, but they do want you to shop at their store and will do what they can to entice you to shop there first. And in meetings, they do say, “We’re losing money to that other company! What can we do to stop them?!” Businesses use all kinds of tactics to get you to buy their products, including advertising, sales, surveys, etc. And (unfortunately) since the government is now involved with more and more every day, they also have government ways to force you to shop there, from stopping other stores from coming in the area to lobbying government to change laws in their favor.
 
Schools are very similar. They want you to buy their product (enroll your child) and they will do what is available to get you do just that. The role of government in our schools has added a bit of fear to all of this because they have the use of force on their side. They made laws (long ago) that will put you in jail if you don’t enroll your child somewhere. Kind of a bit of a monopoly, I’d say.
 
That fear of the use of force is what we are all reacting to, but I’m refusing to do so. We don’t have to worry what the school district is up to. We don’t need to get them to see our side. We can just use other options, ignore what they are doing, and do what’s best for our families right now. I’ve found over the years, while working with the legislation and legal teams at CHN, that interacting directly with the school district as a community only creates stress and solves very little. Bureaucracy is an infuriating slug when your child is growing up so fast! They just want to find ways to “help” and like a vampire you’ve invited into the house, they’ve found a way to get into the homeschool community. Most of us don’t want their help. We just want to be left alone. I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t interact with them, I’m just saying you don’t have to. Sometimes the best way to fix something is to let it sit on its own, walk away, “opt out.”
 
That being said, to stay on top of legal issues, I’d recommend joining and following a statewide advocacy group. CHN, HSC, HSLDA, CHEA of CA, all have people watching the legislation that comes in and out and they warn us when we need to “do something.” I love advocacy groups of all kinds! It lightens my load of citizenship and lets me focus on my family.

I’m Back!

Wow! I didn’t realize I had been gone so long!

I had to take a break from homeschool blogging to focus my energy on my two teens who have decided to take leaps into independence WAY earlier than I had mentally prepared for. It just goes to show that kids will take the reigns when they are ready. We just need to be ready for them to take them. More about THAT journey is coming soon!

I won’t be posting daily. And I’m not sure just yet what I will be posting, but I have felt led to write about my experience in the hopes of encouraging others, so I’m following that with much prayer for guidance.

I hope you’ll join me!

Things you “need” to Homeschool Preschool and Kindergarten

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people promoting the idea of enrolling in a public charter school for Preschool (Transitional Kindergarten) and Kindergarten so that a family can get funds for classes and supplies. But exactly what kind of classes and supplies do you need for kids under “school age”? When we first started homeschooling it was because we wanted to do things differently than the public schools. It wasn’t that I thought I could do school better at home. And we didn’t start off as unschoolers. Especially for Pre-K and K, I thought my sons just weren’t just ready for a classroom situation yet and wanted to hold off on academics. I’d read about delayed academics and thought it was a good fit for my sons. They were active and inquisitive and really didn’t seem to look like they were ready to sit still and learn to read and write yet. I had already started to look into homeschooling and I knew preschool wasn’t required in California. I knew that kids were just as ready for school if they played freely and were read to instead of going to preschool, so we held off on that. Then I found out that Kindergarten is also not mandatory. My sons were perfectly happy not going to school so far. They were reading and writing, playing games, going places and learning every day. Why would I send them away to learn?

So my husband and I decided that we would use Kindergarten as a test kind of year. We would make and keep all the records required of us as a private school, but not file as one since Kindergarten isn’t mandatory. If it was working, then we’d file the following year when our oldest entered first grade.

It worked very well and we’ve continued for the last 11 years!

So what do you need to homeschool Pre-K and Kindergarten? Here’s a list.

  1. A public library.
  2. An internet connection and a way to print things.
  3. A car to get places, or a bus pass and time.
  4. Food. Lots of it.
  5. Happy and loving parents.

You don’t need a curriculum. Everything your child needs to learn in Kindergarten is available online for free. They need to play, explore, create and have a loving parent around to help them find things.

They also don’t need classes. They may want to explore something like scouts, though. And the city’s parks and recreation classes are pretty cheap for experiencing some new thing and socializing with other kids. The park is a great place for finding friends and cooperative play. Local homeschool groups on Facebook are great for finding friends to go to the park with!

If you live near a museum, zoo, or regional/national park, it’s a great investment (if you can) to get a family membership. If you can’t swing the cost, watch Facebook groups for free days and group tickets. Or put together a field trip/tour yourself and invite your local group.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you really don’t want to be distracted by what a third party (school) is going to tell you that you NEED to do to give your child a good start. Take your child’s education into your own hands, especially for Pre-K and Kindergarten. Give it a try on your own first, when your kids really do just want to be with you.

Take this time to learn about education, read books, go to conventions, talk with veteran homeschoolers, follow blogs. There’s so much more out there than the public school route. If you find later on that your kids would like to take outside classes or buy science kits and curriculum you just can’t afford on your own, then by all means, use the public charters! That’s what public education should be, something to boost people up so that all kids can have access to education supplies. But don’t let the system tell you that your 4 or 5 year old needs to be in several classes, learning to read and write formally, and studying math and science through a step by step curriculum to succeed in this world. They don’t. They need you showing them what it means to be a human. They need you to read to them whenever they want and to introduce them to new stories, places, and experiences. They need you to ask them questions and listen to them talk. They need you to answer their questions and show them how you find the answers. They need to see the wonder that you express when you find something interesting. All of that is free and unregulated. Try it!

Deschool Yourself

I just finished listening to an overview of these podcasts and I can’t wait to listen to the next eight! Many of my favorite authors and speakers in one series of awesome talks to get US, the adults, to deschool ourselves, take the responsibility for our own education, and become better people. It’s the path to greater home education!

Deschool Yourself – An Eight Part Audio Production on Healing the Fifteen Thousand Hour Infliction of Public School

Homeschool Day at Riley’s Stone Soup Farm!

Located in Oak Glen, Riley’s Stone Soup Farm is hosting two home school day
programs in the near future and YOU are invited! Programs like these are what made up MOST of my children’s elementary education. There’s so much you can do to prepare before you go and follow up with afterward! For the Farmhand Adventure, find some books set around the 1860’s. What was going on in the United States at that time? Who was the president? How many states did we have? Who was a prominent scientist at the time? What was going on around the rest of the world?

There’s a great site about Little House on the Prairie HERE, that has tons of information from and about the books. Reading one of those books out loud might be a great place to start!

Here’s a great list of books about the time of the Gold Rush in California that was going on around the time that The Stone Soup Farm was being started! They’d be great to look into before the California Pioneer tour. My favorite is “By the Great Horn Spoon”!

The Civil War was also being fought at the time. My favorite books that my boys and I read were “The Red Badge of Courage” and “Rifles For Watie”.

“The Yearling” by Rawlings, would also be a great book to read that would tie into the time period!

The tours coming up next are The California Pioneer Tour on March 29th and The Farmhand Adventure program on June 1st.

Please visit their website for more details. Reservations over the phone are required.

Riley’s Stone Soup Farm & Heritage Orchard
12131 S. Oak Glen Rd.
Oak Glen, Ca 92399