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!

Unschooling History/Social Studies/Current Events Etc.

Even if you’re not totally on board with unschooling in the broader sense, an easy way to look into it and see how it works could be by starting with history. History, Social Studies, Government, Economics, and Current Events are covered in our home school by following trails. Those trails start everywhere you look! I’ll give you an example that came up today.

My oldest son has been fascinated by the 90’s show “X Files” for the last several months. He found out that they are on Netflix now, so he’s been watching them in order while he eats his breakfast. This morning there was an episode with a character that had spent time at a camp for Haitian Refugees. The camp looked a lot like a prison and there was some discussion about it. I wasn’t watching so I’m not sure about what was going on in the show, but my son came and asked me if I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t remember anything about it so he went to the internet and searched. At first, he searched “1992” because that is when the show was released. I told him to broaden it a bit and search for “1990’s” and “Haitian Refugees”. There was a Wikipedia article about a camp in Guantanamo that shed some light on the subject and one about a coup d’etat at the time. I won’t get into all the details. He came back and told me a bit about it. The article reminded me that I had heard about “boat people” from Haiti when I was in high school. We talked about why people would leave, why the government wouldn’t want them here, how they could be held against their will, court cases about it, what’s going on now in Europe, Syrian Refugees, etc. The conversation went on for about 45 minutes before he went back and watched the rest of the show.

Another piece of the history puzzle has been added. Our history lessons don’t come on a packaged and nice looking timeline. They come as we need them and when we are interested in learning more, little bites at a time. Some day we’ll find out more about that time period and what was going on in Haiti, how it was related to something else at the time, and other people that were affected. It will probably come from another tv show, a movie, a game, an article, a book, or a conversation. And it will tie in with the world around us. It will be relevant to our own time and it will be remembered in a deeper way than any pre-written history course.

A Blog and Facebook Group

One of my favorite blogs to follow is Sue Patterson’s! She has a wealth of information to share about getting started and keeping up with homeschooling regardless of your style.

And a new group has appeared on Facebook with thousands of members all sharing information and support about “unschooling”. It’s called Unschooling Mom2Mom and I’ve found some great questions and answers there lately!

The internet has made sharing information so much easier. If you’re having trouble or unsure about something, get on a large message board of some kind and ask questions. The answers are out there waiting for you to find them.

“Alternatives to School” Website

Alternatives to School has some wonderful articles to help you out of our current model of education in America and wrap your mind around this joyful concept of natural learning and where it can take you. It’s a good place to start looking into the ideas behind why people may want to leave the “school” model behind.

Today’s post, “Learning. It’s Not About Education.” by Laura Grace Weldon is one of those great pieces that can start people down this path of self-education. It’s also a good one to share with family members who may be very curious about why you’re not sending your kids to school. Here’s a quote from it to pique your interest!

“Children often ignore what they aren’t ready to learn only to return to the same concept later, comprehending it with ease and pleasure.  What they do is intrinsically tied to why they do it, because they know learning is purposeful. They are curious, motivated, and always pushing in the direction of mastery.”

 

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.

Kindergarten

Here’s a wonderfully written article from the blog “From Law School to Homeschool” called Homeschooling Kindergarten.

It’s a great read for new parents considering homeschooling their kids. This was our “kindergarten” experience which has since grown into elementary school, jr high, and now high school experience. It doesn’t have to, though. This is what all early learning should be, a fun exploration of the world around them which leads into a strong, intelligent young human ready to move into academics.

 

CHSPE – California High School Proficiency Exam Deadlines

For those with high school age students who wish to be done with high school early, one option is to take the CHSPE, the California High School Proficiency Exam. This is not the “High School Exit Exam” that public school students need to pass, or a GED. It’s the legal equivalent of a high school diploma. Check their website for details! – CHSPE

From their site announcements:
“Registration for the June 18, 2016 administration of the CHSPE is now open. The regular registration deadline for the June administration is May 20, 2016. Registration materials including the Registration Form, proof of eligibility, and appropriate payment, must be received in the CHSPE office by 5 p.m. on that date to avoid late registration fees.”

There is a great guide and practice test available on Amazon called “CHSPE Exam Study Guide”!

The Homeschool Fair!

The Homeschool Fair in Ontario is an annual event put on by volunteers. It’s held at Ontario Christian High School on Memorial Day. Our family has gone for several years in a row and it’s always a lot of fun.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

A Chance to Make Some Pottery!

There are games to play, sights to see, and competitions to enter just like the big state fairs but smaller! Any homeschoolers can enter the fair. Check their website for details. The last day to register your project is APRIL 22!

Go check it out! The Homeschool Fair Registration

 

CHN’s Family Expo in June!

California Homeschool Network’s “Family Expo” is being held in June in Pomona this year! This is a homeschool conference my family has been going to for years. This year we can’t attend due to a schedule conflict, but I want to be sure everyone knows about it.

The first year I went alone. I paid for the weekend and only went one day, Saturday. It was so worth it to see so many families in different stages, doing the same thing I was thinking about doing. Homeschooling was completely foreign to me and this conference made it feel like was joining a special community of amazing people. The following year I took my husband with me. Again we only went the one day since we didn’t have the money to stay in the hotel over the weekend, but it was still very much worth registration fee just for that one day. For years after that, we went as a family and stayed the weekend. I volunteered to help in places and my kids loved staying at the hotel, being a part of this wonderful group of people. My parents and grandparents have visited while we were there. It really brought our family together and set our hearts and minds at ease when we were first starting out.

It’s more than just speakers and a vendor hall, this conference is more like community and support building on a grand scale. It’s put on by one of our statewide non-profits and completely done by volunteers. I highly recommend attending, especially if you are new to homeschooling!