Grade Level?

Whether you use a pre-written, all-in-one curriculum, a pieced together “eclectic” style, or you’re a full-fledged unschooler, you don’t need to think about the dreaded “grade level”. My opinion? Abandon the idea all together. Grade levels were created for institutional schooling. Your child must be able to read by the time they are five years old at school because teaching to so many kids at once requires independent study. Kids need to read to keep up and to test. in the same vein, we don’t want a classroom of thirty kids all studying a different part of history at the same time, so we teach World History one year, American History the next, California History, and so on. So far, it looks like the best way to be sure everyone gets a similar education at the same time. But isn’t that why we are going against the grain and homeschooling? To give our kids a unique personalized education?

We watch kids get left behind at schools, told they are not at grade level and pushed to achieve in all subjects instead of master one. We’ve all seen the school of fish cartoon or the one about judging a fish by it’s ability to climb. Let’s try another approach!

Homeschooled kids learn throughout their lives. And just because they can’t read fluently yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. If they can’t read for themselves, read to them. They’ll catch on in time, especially if they don’t see you hovering over them and giving them the idea that something is wrong with them because they are “late.” Everyone is born with the innate drive to become independent. I’ve personally seen kids that do not know how to write at all, decide they need to or want to, practice for a week, and be right up with their peers. As to science and history, it’s all around us every day and it doesn’t need to be taught in any chronological order. Just dive in where they are interested! You’ll find elementary math and basic algebra all around you too. Counting, roman numerals, addition and subtraction are in all kinds of games. Basic algebra and the dreaded word questions? Go to the toy store and they’ll be working those problems with you pretty quickly. “If I have $5 and each toy is $1, how many can I get?”

Instead of grade level, let’s keep up with interest level. Watch your kid specifically. Do they love to explore? Do they seem interested and excited about the world around them? When they are younger, watch for what lights them up and offer ways to explore that more. Books, movies, websites, museums, parks, etc. When they lose interest and wander off to look at something else, go with them instead of redirecting them to what you brought them there for. Have you ever gone to store for one thing and been distracted by something more intriguing? Kids are the same way! That’s a good thing. It’s how we find our passions!

Are they asking questions and having them answered? When they ask a question about how something works or how to spell something, it’s better to help them to find the answers than to tell them to google it themselves. After a while, you will be too slow for them and they’ll be zipping around the internet themselves!

If you’re using a curriculum, skip around in it and look for what peaks their interest. Or you could go through it chapter by chapter and skip over and come back to things that seem to bore your child or cause them to become antsy, angry, or distracted (those are signs of boredom or a lack of interest). The great thing about pre-written curriculum is that the same things come up over and over again, year after year. The subject will come up again. Don’t worry. Or it won’t and, if your child doesn’t miss it, he doesn’t feel the need or interest to know it, he probably doesn’t need it right now. When she needs it, she’ll learn it! There is no statute of limitations on real learning.

Instead of asking, “Is my child at grade level?” a homeschooling parent needs to ask, “Is my child excited about learning? Is my child exploring his world? Is she asking questions and finding answers?” The only way to know that is to watch and interact with them. A young person’s enthusiasm for learning is contagious. Soon you’ll be the one on the hunt for new and interesting information!

I’ve found a couple other articles about ditching the idea of grade levels on the web. Check them out!

https://www.thehomeschoolmom.com/homeschooling-grade-levels-relax/

http://simplehomeschool.net/stepping-outside-the-grade-level-box/

https://www.theunlikelyhomeschool.com/2017/03/without-grade-levels.html

Our Kindergarten

I’ve been going through some old paperwork and photo files and came across pictures of my kids when we were just getting started with homeschooling. I’ve been thinking a lot about what we used to do for “school” back when my boys were elementary age, so it’s strange that I found those photos. Or is it? I thought I’d post here a bit about what Kinder was like at our house!

We had come across the idea of homeschooling while searching for private preschools. I found the California Homeschool Network and started reading. It just happened to be close to their annual conference, so my Grandpa and I went to check it out. I fell in love with the idea right then! So essentially, the boys have always been homeschooled.

Since Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in California, we decided to not enroll in any school and see how it went. If it went well, we’d continue to file as a private school and keep schooling that way. I’d say that year went pretty well! Do I change things? Yes! Our school always changes according to what is working and what is not. That’s the real beauty of homeschooling in the first place. Each child’s education is tailored to their individual needs. And even though I desperately wanted to play teacher at home, my boys weren’t having it. It wasn’t for them. I had to be honest about my own personality and theirs, and change things up. “School” has evolved over the last eleven years and it still is, but the underlying current is an “unschooling” style that has worked well for the whole family.

Here are some pictures of the first months of “school” at our house so you can get the idea!

When you start homeschooling one child, you start homeschooling the younger kids, too! No one wants to be left out. And you HAVE to have a “First Day of Kindergarten” picture!

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sept-6-034We had a playgroup of kids and Mom’s that came to our house every Monday for the last couple years. It wasn’t a homeschool group, just an evolved Mommy & Me group. Most of us weren’t planning on homeschooling but we didn’t want to send our kids to preschool, so we did this instead. It was wonderful for all of us. Even though only two of us really ended up homeschooling in the later years, we are all still great friends!

sept-6-001We spent a lot of time at the Regional Park in our area. It had a small zoo, loads of trails, a pond, a train, and several playgrounds. Since we lived in the city at the time, it was also a great place to escape the noise of the neighborhood and safely ride bikes!

sept-6-011We took very long walks here, climbed trees and rocks, brought sketchbooks and drew pictures of plants and animals, talked about and explored natural science, not to mention lots of picnics!

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One thing that I’m glad we spent money on was a membership to the big Natural History Museum in LA. It was an hour (sometimes more) drive away but there was so much to do there. Some days we would spend hours in the children’s “hands-on” area. Some days we’d rush through all the mammals and dinosaurs, and then spend an hour looking at the bird exhibits. The best part about it was that the boys came to know that museum, and many others, as a place to play. It wasn’t boring for them. They knew there was a lot of very interesting stuff there and lots of great people that would answer any question they had.

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I remember walking behind them as they came into a giant domed room. My older son stopped in his tracks and was amazed by the ceiling and the sound of the room. They both dropped to the floor to get a better look and made loud and quiet sounds, listening to it echo off the walls and ceiling.

You can’t do this on a school field trip!

They spent several minutes lying there looking at the ceiling and then wanted to draw pictures like it when we got home.

Better than any toys you can purchase and have at home are ones that are available only when you’re at a certain place! The children’s section in museums is worth the cost of an annual membership every time!

sept-6-030So this is how our homeschooling journey began. There was no curriculum, no “school” time, no co-op. There was just me and the boys exploring the world around us while Dad was at work and then sharing it with him at the end of the day. Camping trips on weekends, weekly trips to the library, grocery shopping, amusement parks, stories before naps and bedtime, video games, and movies. That was it. It was a joyous time and a little nerve wracking. We were different. Everyone else was starting school. Kids were being dropped off and crying for Mom. Mom was crying to leave them behind. Kids were coming home with packets of notes and homework. Bedtimes and packed lunches. School clothes and buses. But mine weren’t. We were on, what felt like, a permanent summer vacation. We were happy. They seemed to be learning a lot every day. It was working. Why is everyone not doing this?

 

Self-Directed Education

There’s a new movement out there and my hope is that it grows!

Check out Peter Gray in this video introducing a movement that hopes to liberate children and empower them to take charge of their own education — the way nature intended.

 

Learning Together

Do you do things with your kids or do you take them to do things? I’ve found there is a big difference. As homeschoolers, we have many opportunities to take our children to classes and events that are “good for them” or that we expect them to learn something from. The kids do get something out of those activities but I’ve found that they get so much more out of it when we put aside the ideas of school, put aside the notion of an “educational” activity, and just experience something together.

Take for instance a field trip to the zoo. Which do you think your child will get more out of, an organized field trip with a bunch of children grouped together and led by a docent of the zoo or a spontaneous trip the zoo with the family? I think it’s the latter.

When we attend a “field trip” with a group the parents tend to flock together and chat while someone else leads the group of kids. We can’t help it. Parents want to socialize as much as the children do. We crave it. So when a child needs extra attention, isn’t interested in what the docent is talking about, or just needs to do something else, we don’t notice. We’ve created “school” in a homeschool environment, with the same problems as the local public school.

When we take our kids to the zoo, we are more involved. We can follow our child’s interest, answer their questions (thank God for smart phones), and be there to notice when they’ve found something to pull them into the deeper waters of learning. And the best part is that we are doing it ourselves, right along with them.

We aren’t educators when we homeschool. We are fellow learners with more experience, communications skills, a driver’s license, and some cash. We ask questions. We find new interests and expand our minds. We’re there to show our kids what real life-long learning looks like. It’s so much more than school.

The next time you think about attending a field trip or class, consider attending with your child as if you are the student as well. Show your child through your actions what giving yourself an education looks like. They will be learning so much more than what the tour guide is leading you through.

There Is No “Behind”!

This something that is imperative to wrap our minds around as parents. Homeschoolers are never “behind”. Your children are right where they need to be. We don’t need to compare our kids with others their age. As long as you and your children are happy we are all learning! The goal of education is learning new things, opening our minds to the world around us, not checking off boxes and staying at the level of our peers. We aren’t all on the same path and our education should match our life’s mission. Childhood is for figuring our what that mission is!

Read this and be inspired to change that paradigm! Dear Homeschool Mom Who Worries About Her Child Being Behind

Online Mentoring?!

If you’re just getting started homeschooling this year, or got off to a rocky start last year, and you didn’t get a chance to go to one of the great conferences this summer, Sue Patterson is offering an online 3-month group mentoring program starting August 1st. Check out the link for more details about this awesome opportunity!

“World” Schooling?

I ran across this article over the weekend and saved it to read this morning. Have you ever come across someone’s words and been inspired, not because the concept was so novel but because they spoke words you wish you would have thought of? This was an article like that for me. This young girl is amazing! And we aren’t actually “world” schoolers in the sense that her family is. In my opinion, you don’t need to be. You can live and learn locally in a way that gives you a connection with the wider world. Setting our children aside in schools cuts them off from the bigger world and limits their view.  Having them at our side in our daily lives brings them closer. Spending our days experiencing the world around us brings them out into the world to learn more about it on their own terms.

Check it out and see if this lifestyle can enhance your family life, even if you can’t travel extensively.

“I go to school but it doesn’t have four walls. My school is the world!” by Reka Kaponay

 

Legal Options to Homeschool in CA

To throw a wrench into everyone’s thinking, I’ll start with asking you to wrap your head around the following idea, there is no legal “homeschooling” in California. I know! The term “homeschooling” isn’t in the legal code, so it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t mean that you can’t school at home. The compulsory education law in California states that all children between the ages of 6 and 18 must be enrolled in some kind of full-time day school. To satisfy that law you can enroll your child in a public or private school, or have them tutored. To “homeschool” your children, you will be doing the same thing in a different form. And now there are several forms to choose from. For more details, including the education code, CHN’s Legal Options page is a good place to start. HSC’s Legal page also has great information.

The options you can choose to homeschool are summed up here.

Choose a Private School

 

  • You can create your own private school and enroll only your own children.
  • You can enroll in a private school with a “satellite program.”

Choose a Public School

 

  • You can enroll in a local public school’s independent study program.
  • You can enroll in a public charter school with a home-study or virtual study element.

Credentialed Tutor

  • You can hire a credentialed teacher for the grade your children are in.

There are pro’s and con’s for each option and which one you choose depends on several factors. I’ll get into those in a different post. But first you need to ask yourself things like: What kind of education do we want for our children? How much oversight do we want? What are our teaching and learning styles? I’d recommend looking into different education styles to see what is out there. The neighborhood school is only one way of educating children, a kind of “one-size-fits-all” thing. There’s a nice overview of styles on Homeschool.com about different approaches to homeschooling. Once you have an idea about what kind of homeschooling you’d like to try, you can make a better decision about which legal option to use.

For all the options, except creating your own private school, you’ll be enrolling your kids in a program and that new school will help you get started. The only thing you’ll be responsible for is withdrawing your kids from their current school if they are already going to one. If your kids are not currently enrolled in a school, meaning they are under 5 years old, then there is nothing you need to do at this time.

To withdraw your kids from their current school, you are only changing schools just like if you were moving to a new town. It’s the exact same process. You go to the school office and tell them that you are changing schools and need to formally withdraw from this one so that they aren’t looking for your child when they take attendance. The school is legally required to know what school your children are transferring to. All you need to do is tell them the name and address of the new school. You also may need to tell them the last day your child will be expected at the old school and what day they start at the new school, so have that information ready as well. Even if you’ve chosen to create your own private school, you will go through the same process at this point. You’re done!

If your child has an IEP at their current school, there is a nice article explaining the withdrawal process on HSC’s website.

In the next few posts, I’ll go over the options that are available and link you to some lists of schools that fall under each one.

How do you create a “Course of Study” without the use of curriculum?

One of the requirements for a private school in California is to have a “Course of Study” for each grade offered. If you are just starting out, that doesn’t mean you need to have one for Kinder through the 12th grade. You can create them one at a time for each year you are homeschooling. The first year we homeschooled was for my oldest son in 1st grade. I created a “Course of Study” for the first year of our school and kept it in my school files. The next year, even though I marked “ungraded elementary” on our Private School Affidavit, I created a new “Course of Study” for 2nd grade and called it “2nd Year”. The third year my younger son enrolled in our school for his 1st year and I already had a 1st year course of study. I checked it over and reformatted it a bit and we were done. I only created one course of study each year because the old ones covered our whole school.

Our family has never used a boxed curriculum, except for a couple years that I bought a Bible Study one. I liked the morning reading over breakfast and then the boys liked doing the craft that went along with it. It introduced a bit of regularity to our early homeschool days that I enjoyed and my boys found comforting. It took us about an hour over breakfast to complete. Everything else at our school was found as it came up over the year through videos, websites, outings, and library books. It made our homeschool very relaxed and enjoyable with plenty of routine and time to drop everything to watch a bug or spend hours at a museum with a sketch pad. The only money I spent was on art/science supplies, museum or park memberships, gas, and toys. I’ll show you what I did!

First of all, I went to World Book’s “Typical Course of Study” page and clicked on the grade I was adding that year. Let’s start with 1st grade. The California Department of Education requires that all private schools offer the same basic subjects as the public schools. That would be English, Math, Social Sciences, Science, Fine Arts, Health, and Physical Education for grades 1-6. You can find a list of these at CHN’s page here and on the CDE here. For each grade, World Book has a detailed list labeled as a Curriculum Guide with all those required subjects included, except PE. I copied it and pasted it into a word document with my school’s name at the top. Like this:

Liberty Academy
Course of Study – Year One

For PE, I just listed regular activities we planned on doing. Daily activities like hiking, biking, park days, sports, roller skating, etc, were all included in our PE course of study. I had jump ropes, assorted balls, hula hoops, and other sports equipment always available. We regularly took walks around the neighborhood and I tried to teach them some of the playground games I played as a kid. Your city’s Parks & Recreation Department is also a great resource for PE!

I kept that “Course of Study” in a file folder on my desk along with my “Attendance Record”. Each day I’d get it out, mark off that they were present and look at the Course of Study to give me ideas of what we could be doing that day. Once a week we’d go to the library. The boys would find a few books that they were interested in and I would pick out a book or two for something in each subject. Those books would sit on the coffee table at home and I made a point of reading from one of them out loud while they ate an afternoon snack. Bedtime stories were also a big part of our school day. They each picked one each night and so did I.

I’ll look at math more closely because that’s the one many people get stuck on and really want to buy a curriculum to help them. It really isn’t that hard, though, especially at the elementary level. You just have to trust that you do know elementary math and can pass that along to your kids. I was one of those people that was math phobic (I believe because of the way I was taught math) and I didn’t want to pass that on to my kids, so I decided to rediscover math as if I had never heard of it. I did buy RightStart math games after hearing the author explain it at a homeschool conference. I felt like a veil had been lifted and I could really see it for the first time! I’ve been in love with math ever since, not in the sense that I could be a math major but in that I can see the beauty and utility of it. I wanted my kids to see math that way and decided against using a typical American math curriculum. We went for discovery instead. How do you do that? You look, play, and discover and share with your kids!

The course of study for 1st grade says, “Compare and describe attributes of shapes.” How easy is that?! “Hey, guys! Look at this ball. Is it a circle? Sort of. Here’s a circle on drawn on paper. It looks different. This ball is 3D. It’s a sphere! And I can throw it at you!” Moving on.

“Skip count by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s.” So many board games use this. And we use it when we’re making sure everyone has the same amount of M&M’s out of the bag.

This goes on and on. You just need to be creative. History can come from movies and stories. English can come from a bedtime story or a Mad Libs game. Science can be a TV show like “Mythbusters”, playing with a microscope, or going to a nature center at a park. Art can be making your own, discovering famous artists on a website or museum, or going to the theater or summer concert series in your town.

The thing to remember is that you don’t need to teach each subject every day and not everything on that list needs to be covered. It’s just a guideline. Most of what is on those lists overlap over several years. Over the course of time, you will get around to offering each subject listed. And it doesn’t need to be a formal lesson to be offered. Just going to a movie covers a lot of real education time with a kid.

What education is in the new blockbuster movie? Or even the $2 older movie during the day? Let’s see.

What time does the movie start? How much does it cost? How do we get there? How long will it take? How long is the movie? In minutes? In hours? Do I have enough money for a popcorn or candy? Which costs more? Less? How much for both?

What kind of movie is it? Who are the characters? What happened in it? Is there a book this was based on? Has this movie been done before? Do we recognize the story from some other movie or book? Plot? Effects? What was the cost of making the movie?

Where should we go for lunch afterward? What kind of food? Where did it come from? America. Mexico. China. India. Let’s look up the culture this food came from on my smart phone. Can we make it at home? Let’s pick something that has all the food groups. Ordering the food. Paying for the food.

Can you help me get home? Which way did we come from? Do you know what street we live on? What landmarks let you know we are close to our house?

See?! The list can go on and on. If you are allowed to follow those trails where they lead the education you are giving yourself and helping your kids find can be amazing. The only thing stopping you is your imagination. And if you’ve just paid a lot of money for a boxed curriculum that says you need to fill out this many papers and read about the civil war today, you’ll have missed out on it.

Some days you will feel like you’re doing nothing at all, but that is far from the truth. Kids are always learning something. Go see what they are interested in at the moment and see if you can join in somehow. If they are looking restless, like they can’t find something to get into, head to the kitchen for some cooking science magic, or the grocery store, or the park for a walk and a climb. Change the scenery for them and they’ll lead you to the magic! Education doesn’t come in a predetermined box. It’s out there in the world. Go get it!

Thoughts on an Article About ADHD

“When we can’t say ‘No,’ we become a sponge for the feelings of everyone around us and we eventually become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die. We begin to live our lives according to the forceful should of others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts. We let everyone else tell us what story to live and we cease to be the author of our own lives. We lose our voice — we lose the desire planted in our souls and the very unique way in which we might live out that desire in the world. We get used by the world instead of being useful in the world.” – Dr. Kelly M. Flanagan, a licensed clinical psychologist, Ph.D. in clinical psychology (source)

The article is called “4 Facts About ADHD That Teachers & Doctors Never Tell Parents.”

Please read the article. He isn’t saying ADHD does not exist or that it should be disregarded and neither am I.

It’s all very familiar to veteran homeschooling parents, especially ones that had their kids in the public school system but left because they realized that it didn’t fit for their family. I’ve talked with many families that have found a completely different child once they were removed from school, much like the kid they knew before school or during the summer.

My question is this, why do we treat children so different than adults? I’m not talking about expectations of caring for themselves or taking on the responsibilities of adult like. I’m talking about personal rights. Why do we not respect their “no”? Why do we force them to “share”? How can we expect them to grow and respect others when they themselves are treated as second-class citizens?

If I’m sitting at an Italian opera and I’m yawning, fidgeting, and thinking about what I will do tomorrow or what it would be like to repaint the room, my partner doesn’t think I have a disorder that is obviously impairing my ability to absorb the important art form I’m witnessing. He thinks I’m bored. He believes I’m completely uninterested and decides to take me on a date somewhere else next time, not drug me so that I can better enjoy his interest. Is a child in a classroom any different? Find a new venue, explore other topics, find that child’s spark and build on it! He isn’t like you. He isn’t ready for figures and history. He wants adventure, art, or activity. Why can’t we embrace that and find out what kind of an adult that child becomes instead of forming him by force into the adult we want him to be.