Farm Camp!

I found something exciting while driving down the 10 freeway. A billboard for Farm Camp in Cherry Valley! This week-long camp runs from the end of June and into July. There are day camp weeks and overnight weeks available.

The cost is $375 for the day camp and $550 for the overnight one. Wait! Before you balk at the price, remember what you are getting. A whole week of things to do that your child will never forget and such a great experience too, living and working on an organic farm! That’s $110 a day and it includes meals (that you won’t have to buy or make). We can easily spend that at an amusement park, water park, or the mall. And it’s nothing compared to sending your kids to a private school. This is why we work so hard throughout the year saving money by not having to buy school uniforms, expensive curriculum, and participate in school fundraisers. Things like this are worth the money!

If you’re having a hard time coming up with the money for this year, plan ahead for next year! If you set aside $50 a month until next year, it’ll be sitting there waiting for you next summer! Involve the kids that want to attend and show them how a budget works. The intrinsic rewards in that alone are worth the effort. And don’t think of it as an “extra-curricular” activity. For private homeschoolers, it’s all part of a well-rounded education. What better way to explore social studies, science (physical and biology), health education, life skills like cooking and caring for others, and more, than through a weeks’ worth of farm work?

Check out their website for details…FARM CAMP!

If you’re not sure if this is the kind of thing your child will enjoy, there’s an open house in April and May to come check out to the place and talk to the instructors! Click HERE for details.

Unconventional Education

Almost every town has a Parks & Recreation department, right? And there are city and community events planned as well, like summer concerts and holiday celebrations. This stuff is a gold mine for private homeschoolers!

I recently picked up Yucca Valley’s Activity and Events Guide while I was at the library. It made me wish my kids were little again! You can find it online by clicking HERE or drop by the Library or Community Center to pick up a printed one.

When I opened it up I thought of all the subjects the events listed inside would cover, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Private homeschooling in California can be cheap if you don’t buy a pre-made curriculum. Classes and events like these are a great way to offer the same subjects the public school’s offer but in a different way.

The Summer Music Festival is the first event I saw. Free live music all summer. Can you think of a better way to introduce your kids to some performing arts? Different styles of music. Live performance etiquette. They may find an instrument they’d like to learn to play or a new genre they love. When we’d go to concerts like this, I’d be looking up the music, where and when it came from, who was playing, etc. If they liked it, we’d usually find a CD for our collection. And there’s more music at “Chamber Music at the Museum” in June! This event does cost some money to attend, but you don’t hear classical music live much anymore. Pay up and support these folks! This could cover the subjects of music, performing arts, history, social studies, and math (music is totally math).

Earth Day celebration? Not much needs to be said about that! Science, social studies, a little history, all rolled into one day.

The Hi-Desert Nature Museum has an exhibit all about toys all summer. Yes, toys are education too! There’s some serious exploring to be done there! That’d be science, history, and even some language arts if you decide to write about it or read many of the signs and displays.

Dance classes, karate, yoga, there’s a ton of stuff to do that would cover P.E.

Did you know Yucca Valley has a Youth Commission? That sounds like a great way for a homeschooled kid to get involved in the town they live in. You may be raising the next mayor! Civics, economics, language arts…and social skills!

If you’re a little new to this homeschool idea you’re probably wondering how in the world do you document this type of learning, right? In the elementary years especially, tracking can be as easy as keeping a student calendar or a journal. At the end of the day, write about what you did that day. Take pictures and make a scrap book, blog, or just post it to Facebook. I urge you to write about daily activities even if you think you could never forget that glorious day. I’m looking back at my blog posts about my son’s activities from ten years ago wishing I had written more details! And many times I’ve looked back on the last weeks activities and thought it felt like we were laying around in the yard more than we really were. A look at my student calendar (the big notebook ones you find at Walmart or Target in September) showed that we were incredibly active after all!

One more thing, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or what time of year. And it doesn’t matter what grade your child is in. Like I’ve said before, institutions need grade levels, homeschoolers don’t. If a California history event comes up when your child is 6 or 12, go experience it and then maybe experience it again in a couple years! If it’s Saturday morning when you head to the science center or go hiking in the national park, it’s still education for a homeschooler! That’s what makes it so great. That’s what makes it ok if you spent a week vegging in front of movies with a bucket of popcorn. We are educating our kids year-round, 24/7…but that’s another post!

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

“The Secret Garden” at Theatre 29!

A performance of “The Secret Garden” runs through September 24 at Theatre 29 in Twentynine Palms. This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid! Besides the obvious “performing arts” subject you’d find here, you could also tie this whole month into the performance. History, Language Arts, Art, Science, Social Studies, you name it! Here are some links to a few great lists of things related to “The Secret Garden”. I didn’t even know there was a movie!

Activities for The Secret Garden from The Chaos and The Clutter

For $4 you can buy a Lapbook printables set and unit study from Confessions of a Homeschooler

Of course, you’ll need to get the book somewhere! You can buy the book just about anywhere for under $5 and I highly suggest you have the book in your library instead of borrowing it. It’s one of those books you read over and over again!

 

Riley’s Farm Homeschool Days!

Here is a great “Not Back to School” activity for the whole family! Young kids, older kids? First year? Preschool aged kids and just considering homeschooling? This might be just the kind of event that can show you (and your kids) how much more fun homeschooling can be!

Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen has it’s annual homeschool days ready for sign up on their website! Scroll down a bit on their main page for dates and an online reservation form. Click HERE for information about what the “tour” entails.

Report Cards & Transcripts

There are a lot of good websites out there with instructions about how to create your own school report cards and transcripts. I thought I’d add to that with what I did for my school!

Here’s a picture of our elementary school report card.

Report Card Photo

For elementary school, we were always listed as an “ungraded elementary school”. So I didn’t have a 1st grader and a 3rd grader. My oldest was in “Year 3” and the youngest was in “Year 1” at our school. We also didn’t do letter grades, which I believe a lot of public elementary schools are also doing. We used the following scale.

4 = The student has demonstrated excellent achievement of grade level expectations.
3 = The student has demonstrated good achievement of grade level expectations.
2 = The student has demonstrated basic achievement of grade level expectations.
1 = The student is not meeting grade level expectations.

I chose the grade according to how I actually felt they were doing. Our school’s “grade level expectations” were our own and most likely not the same as other schools. That is true for all schools. Grades are very subjective! And generally they were always “meeting expectations”. When I ask them a question from what we are reading and they can answer, they are meeting the grade level expectations of English. If my little guy can play with an orange as he takes it apart and counts the sections, I may jump in and tell him he’s eating 1/8th of that orange. He’s meeting expectations. Their whole elementary career worked that way. There were no tests to grade.

I also left a comment for each child each semester. This is the part that I really put a lot of thought into. I kept a calendar of all the things we were doing and reading each day and a journal where I’d make a note about things I found awesome about them, things that worried me, things I thought they should probably work on. No one saw it but me, but at the end of each quarter I’d sit with that journal and calendar and think of a positive to write for each child. I’d write things like “Jake is an amazing reader and really loves to tell stories with his pictures.” and “Tom’s handwriting ability is really improving.” That was the end of the report cards.

Transcripts for high school I thought would be a bit tougher and at first they were. We still don’t do tests but my kids are always learning and they are learning quite a bit. My secondary school is “unaccredited” and I know that means that my grades won’t be taken for face value by a big university, but they are still real grades and they do count for things like “Good Driver Discounts” for car insurance and entry into community college. They will most likely have to take placement tests for some college classes and that’s fine. If, when the time comes, they are interested in applying to a school that needs a stronger presence, the transcripts will only be the background of an awesome portfolio that doesn’t include tests and averages.

If you are using some sort of curriculum for your home school, you can use the grades and evaluations from that. I recently read a very encouraging article on “The Home Scholar” called “How to Assign Grades without Grading”. I suggest you check it out for your elementary and secondary students!

Here’s a picture of the template I’m using for my sons’ high school template.

HS Transcript with Grades PhotoYou would include each “class” they took. We don’t use a curriculum, but we are taking “Language Arts 1” in Year 9. I see them reading great books, discussing movies and plays, learning new words, writing letters, blog posts, and comments to friends, so they received an A for that class. If one of my kids was very into writing stories and plays, I would call it “Language Arts – Creative Writing.”

I hope this helps ease your mind and give you some ideas about report cards. If you’d like the use this file at your own school, you are welcome to email me at info@californiadeserthomeschoolers.com and I’ll send it out to you!

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!

Whitewater Preserve

Here’s something fun to do before the weather really warms up!  The Wildlands Conservatory, Whitewater Preserve.

It’s a great place to take a hike, have a picnic, or go bird watching. I was amazed the first time I took my boys there. It was like finding a whole other world tucked away in a canyon in the desert. It looks like there are interesting group programs to attend at certain times of the year. I’ll be adding that to my list of field trip ideas for sure!

Places like this are wonderful for homeschoolers. You can print out one of the animal or plant checklists and spend the day looking for creatures, bring a big picnic, lay in the shade of the giant cottonwoods and read out loud, do some outdoor science experiments like tracking the sun with a small sundial made of sticks and rocks, or bring some paper and make paper boats to float down the river. The possibilities are endless!

This kind of thing isn’t something you and your family can do if you finish your regular school work. It’s the kind of thing that IS school work for homeschoolers. Just remember not to make it a chore with too much academics and explaining. Bring a bag of supplies like magnifying glasses, notebooks, pencils, a nature guide, string, little containers or plastic bags, and give the kids plenty of time to explore this microworld in the desert!

San Diego Scottish Highland Games – Vista

It’s a bit of a drive to Vista from our lovely desert but close enough for a day trip to our family, especially to see some Scottish Games! Pipes and drums, dancing, sheep herding dogs, story time, and much, much more. Festivals like these are a great way to introduce world history and culture to kids (and adults) of all ages.

Go visit the San Diego Scottish Highland Games in Vista on June 25 and 26, 2016!

Medieval Times!

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament!

History, performing arts, science & technology, health & nutrition, and more all rolled into one entertaining afternoon show!

Check out the details here!