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.

Calling All Charter School Vendors

I like to be completely candid on this blog. I hope many of you can appreciate that. And while this page generally promotes home education through private means, that doesn’t mean I’m unsympathetic to folks that choose the public school options. I have recently talked to a few small business owners that had concerns about being paid as vendors through public charter schools that cater to homeschooling families and decided to take my concerns to social media for answers.

At first, you’re probably thinking, “You’re not a charter school parent. Why do you care?” What business is it of mine what the charter schools are doing? I have several reasons.

First off, I’m a taxpayer and that means that part of my family’s income pays for those public schools even if I don’t utilize them. That makes it important to me and that’s what causes problems with this type of system. That is a whole other topic and blog post, not one I’m going to get into here. Let’s just say that even if you don’t have children or use the public school system at all, you are paying for them and you should be concerned with how they spend your money.

Second, I’m a member of my community and it’s small businesses and those small business owners are generally friends in a small town. The businesses that are becoming vendors aren’t necessarily “school” connected. Many of them don’t really understand what a charter school is or how they work. I’m connected to the homeschool community, so I decided to try and find some answers for them.

For small businesses, if a parent asks you about becoming a vendor for a charter school because there is “free money” involved, I’d suggest doing a search for that school and read up on them. They usually have a public list of current vendors. You could try contacting a random sample of them and asking how it’s going. I’ve also learned that there is a lot of bureaucracy in these schools, paperwork needs to be done a certain way at a certain time. Be proactive about finding out exactly what you need to do to get paid by the charter for your services to the school.

Here are a few articles that might help you understand what a charter school is and how it works.

HSC’s page on Charter Schools – There are links within this article with more information.

Also, there is now a Facebook group especially for vendors of charter schools called Charter Vendor Only Discussion. It was created so that businesses can post their concerns and how they’ve made things easier for their company. It’s brand new so it will take some time to gather members, but once it gets rolling I’m sure it will be a valuable resource.

For parents that utilize these schools, be sure you are getting all the information from your school and holding up your end of the bargain for the company’s that have decided to become vendors for that school. As customers using funds other than our own, we need to be extra vigilant about this. Small businesses typically have a very small profit margin and can’t afford to continue to put out services and not get paid in a timely manner.

There are many groups out there that can help you navigate the waters of charter school rules. The one I’ve found most useful lately is a Facebook group called So Cal Charter School Info. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything helpful outside of Facebook groups. If you are connected to Yahoo Groups, there may be one there. Do a search there for “California charter school support.” The best thing you can do if you are considering using a charter is to talk to other parents about the school they are using, ask a lot of questions, find out what they really require. You should also set up an interview with a person from the charter you are considering and ask a lot of questions about it to see if it is a right fit for your family. You can take the answers to some message boards or groups, even your local park day, and see if other families are experiencing what the charter representative is claiming. Enrolling in a charter school should get the same scrutiny as buying a new car. And just because that car is right for one family, doesn’t mean it will be right for yours. That’s my advice!

I hope you found this information helpful. I’ll keep an eye out for more and pass it along as I find it.

Making it “Count”

I heard someone say that they decided that a homeschool charter program would be better than a traditional public school because then the soccer team that their child was on would “count” as P.E. I’ve heard this a lot among homeschoolers over the years. This kind of learning or that doesn’t “count” for school. But it seems so strange to me. Does it “count” for education? To me, everything counts for education, every moment of my day, even my restful cup of tea and tv show in the afternoon.

When we tell children to read this book instead of doing this thing because it “counts” for school, we are teaching them that they should only do the things that someone else has deemed important. We are teaching them to ignore their inner desires and needs and put an authority’s list first. It translates all over their lives and eventually they will search for doing what counts for something instead of what is right or good for them and their families.

Recently, I saw a cartoon on Facebook of a woman in bed and her husband asking her to go for a morning walk with him. She said she couldn’t because her FitBit was still charging and the steps wouldn’t count. It was supposed to be funny and absurd, but this is exactly what we teach our children through 12 years of schooling, that only counts if an authority sees it and deems it good.

A Highlight

I was at Walmart yesterday buying some things for today’s Drama Club and the man in front of me at the register asked if I was doing an art project. I told him no, the stuff was for a homeschool drama club we started. He smiled and said “That’s something the schools don’t do much of anymore, the arts.” I told him that’s one of the great things about homeschooling, when we want something we just create it. He agreed that was pretty cool.
 
It was refreshing to hear someone’s first response to homeschooling be a positive one. And it made me think . That really is one of the best things about homeschooling. We don’t need to petition anyone or get any bureaucracy to go along with an idea. We don’t need permission at all. We just see what we need and make it happen, either in our own homes, at the park, or wherever!

The Game

Recently, a friend agreed to help my sons get better at motocross. He raced a lot when he was a kid and thought he could help them a bit on the track. Little did he know that he would be helping me as well.

It’s all a mind game.” Racing really is one of those mind game things. One of the biggest things holding you back may not be your skill, but you mindset, your fear; fear of failing, fear of the riders around you or that they are better than you are. Those riders probably think the same thing about you. If you think they are the best, you are probably closer to winning. It sounds so corny, doesn’t it? But it works. Confidence is the key to winning. You can’t go out there thinking you’re just going to finish and not fall and then end up winning no matter how great your skills are. Leave the gate feeling on top of the world and you’re more likely to get to the finish line first. It’s crazy.

As I was sitting under the awning of our RV in the pits, I started thinking to myself that this advice probably applies to me somehow. The thing that puts the most anxiety into our race weekend for me is not whether or not my boys will get hurt. It’s whether or not we should be there at all. Do we belong? Are we in the right place? What do these people think of us? Who’s the authority here? What are my qualifications for being here? What are the rules? This is me, but my sons don’t do this and they are so much happier. They read the website, they get what they need, and they jump in and do what everyone else is doing. This is what home education is all about, putting the “authority” in yourself, not others.

So I decided that day that I would play the “mind game” too. This is where we want to be and if someone has a problem with it they are welcome to say something, until then we will just keep doing what we’re doing. We belong there because we have the desire to race and that’s all the authority and qualification we need.

Once again on the home education journey, I’m taking a page from my sons’ book, I’m following their lead and seeing where it takes us. So far it’s been an amazing journey!

Education vs. Schooling

The difference between home education and home schooling isn’t what system you are using. Education is what you give yourself. Schooling is what someone else imposes on you.

If you are using a private school and you pay another person to pick out the curriculum and assign tasks that you follow, that is schooling. If you pay a private school to help you find resources, gather information, and your family is discovering new ideas and following interests, giving and receiving feedback on what is and isn’t working, that is education.

If you are using a public school charter and they determine what you will be teaching your child and when, you follow the guidelines, check-in, and impose their schedule and curriculum on your children, then you are schooling. If you belong to a public school charter and you tell them what you are looking for in a family education and they help you find the resources to stay on and expand that path, if your family is reading and learning together with the financial help and expertise of the charter, if you are learning to really know your children, that is education.

There are pro’s and con’s in every system and they are relative to each human being and family. What is a pro for me and mine, may be a con for you and yours. The trick is to respect other people’s choices, to understand and support others on their path, and to believe that they are doing what is best for them with the information they have.

There have been times when it may seem to others that I am peeved or disappointed with someone’s choices. Sometimes I am. I am human. I am still learning and growing as well. I’m doing the best I can with what I have at the moment. I think the thing that bothers me most is when I see good, intelligent people (seemingly) not making choices at all or not believing they have a choice. But then that’s not following my own advice, is it?

John Taylor Gatto

I read a lot of John Taylor Gatto when I first started homeschooling ten years ago and more again a few years ago when I found “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. It was one of those turning points in my thinking and love sharing his work with others. If you’re interested in learning more about the education system we have and how we got to this point, I strongly recommend reading any of his work.

There are so many YouTube videos of interviews with him but this one is especially nice.
The Ultimate History Lesson

And his website and blog are wonderful resources. Go check it out but be ready for an emotional ride!

Exploring Unschooling Podcast

Do you listen to podcasts? I’ve only recently discovered them and love them! In the car, while washing dishes, taking a tea and knitting break, I get out my phone and pick a podcast to listen to. Are there times you find that it might be convenient to have something interesting to listen to?

Here’s a new one to feast your ears on. It’s the Exploring Unschooling Podcast by Living Joyfully! From the website:

“Explore unschooling with Pam Laricchia, unschooling mom and author. Enjoy in-depth interviews with veteran unschooling parents sharing their family’s experience, dig into a wide range of unschooling topics with experienced guests, and get answers to listener questions in the Q&A episodes. Choosing to live and learn without school isn’t as intimidating as you might imagine. Children really do love learning when it’s driven by curiosity rather than curriculum, and the strong and trusting relationships that develop in unschooling families are priceless.”

A Thomas Jefferson Education

If you are interested in the ideas of A Thomas Jefferson Education, there is a YouTube video of Shannon Brooks presenting the basics available! It’s not as great as being there and being able to ask questions and discuss the ideas with others, but it is a good start.

Intro to Thomas Jefferson Education Video