Farm CAMP?!

I found out about this from my “Mary Janes Farm” magazine today! Exciting! My boys aren’t interested because it has nothing to with dirt bikes, engines, or other physics-related activities, but I sure wish they had a day camp for Moms!

It’s located in Cherry Valley at the Highland Springs Resort – Home of the Lavender Festival! It’s called 123 Farm. Check their website for lots of details and plenty of beautiful pictures that make you want to throw your money down.

It’s a “camp”, meaning the kids spend the week there and it’s a bit pricey. How does a homeschooler work up that kind of money for an experience? You could use a site like “GoFundMe” to raise money from friends and family in the form of monetary gifts, or maybe have a bake sale for friends and family! Get the kids involved in a brain storming meeting about whether or not they’d like to go to a camp like this and how the family can raise money, budget, and plan for it together. There’s a plethora of learning right there before you even sign up to go!

Faculty List & Enrollment Forms

Welcome to the next post in my “Private School Paperwork” series!

This one is kind of boring but, like I said, I like forms and creating them. You can easily make your own, but if you don’t want to or like to, you are welcome to use mine! All you need to do is email me at info@californiadeserthomeschoolers.com and I’ll send you the file.

Here’s a picture of the “Faculty List & Qualifications” form I made for my school. It’s one of the forms every private school needs to keep in its files.

Educator Enrollment PhotoIn the state of California, private school teachers must be “capable of teaching”. What qualifies one to teach is determined by each school individually. A larger “for-profit” or church school may require a teaching credential or degree, but they are not required to do so by law. Your school can set its own qualifications for its teachers as well. So, did you finish high school? Go to college? Some college? Run a business, work a job, volunteer somewhere? Think about your own resume. What do you think makes you a person qualified to pass along information to your own children? You can put as little or as much information as you please on this form, but I consider it a good exercise to build up our confidence, especially when we are first getting started. Also, it isn’t required that your teachers be finger-printed or have a background check since the only students at the school are related to the teacher.

Once your new private school has a name and you’ve “hired” a teacher, you’re ready to enroll a student! Private schools in California are required to keep certain information about each student at their school. When you enroll in any school, that school creates a file and collects that data for their records. When you transfer from one school to another, that file is requested by the new school and kept with any new records from that school. Elementary school records don’t have much in them when you’re homeschooling privately. Mine have the enrollment form and related documents, attendance records, a list of subjects studied each year, and any report cards I may have generated. If you’re pulling your child out of another school and enrolling him in yours, you’ll be asking for that file and it will be interesting to see what the school kept on file for your child. When I pulled my son from 1st grade after Kinder, there was little there, of course.

The documents that must be on file (Cummulative File) with a student at his school are the following:

-Enrollment form including the legal name of student, date of birth, sex of pupil, and name and address of the parents.
-Copy of birth certificate.
-Entering and leaving date of each school year. This can be on the “report card”.
-Subjects taken during each year. This can be in the form of a “report card”.
-Marks, grades or credits if given. Marks or credits toward high school graduation.
-Date of high school graduation or CHSPE, GED equivalent.
-Health and Immunization Records.
-Attendance Records, indicating every absence of a half day or more.

Here is a picture of my Enrollment Form. Again, you’re welcome to use it if you like, just shoot me an email.

Enrollment Form Photo

Attendance Record

This may seem strange but one of the documents every Private School in California must keep is an attendance record. Even days where your kids are sick in bed can count as “present” if you are homeschooling. You may not get anything checked off your curriculum checklist, but they are learning. Most likely they laid on the couch and watched a movie, you read a book aloud, or they played a game with their siblings. So there will be few “absent” marks on your attendance record. I bet your kids may even get a “Perfect Attendance Award” every year!

But, since we are homeschooling under the same laws that big private schools use, we are required to have in our files an attendance record. I have always printed out a two sheet one from Donna Young’s site for the current year and kept it in my school folder with my calendar/planner. Every morning I check off the day for each of my students and take a look at the “Course of Study” over my cup of coffee and on my way to read my favorite blogs. Some people add to the bottom of the attendance record “Absences Marked With an X” and then leave it blank for the year. That will work as well. I’m kind of a paperwork nut, so I like checking the boxes Monday through Friday, even though we are learning 24/7.

I have used Donna Young’s attendance record in the past. You can download and print several for free. Take a look and find one that suits your personal style.

Here is a picture of mine. I’d be happy to send it to you if you’d like the file. Just email me at info@californiadeserthomeschoolers.com!

Attendance Photo

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!

Field Trip Ideas

I’ve been contemplating putting together a few field trips for my local group. At first I was excited about it. Remember when we were kids and got to go to the zoo or the post office? But then I thought maybe it wasn’t a good idea because I did remember going and it wasn’t very fun. We just had to stand there and listen to what the docent or worker was telling us. And then they asked if we had questions and I was too shy to ask in front of all those people. Maybe it would be better if homeschooling families just assumed everything was a field trip. Going to the post office for stamps? Kids wonder where the mail goes? Ask! Grocery store? Lot’s of stuff to explore there. We can go to the zoo all day and stay the whole time in front of the zebras watching and asking questions. If we can’t find a docent, my smart phone may have the answer.

Our family has taken advantage of group discounts with other homeschoolers many times over the years. Whale watching on a weekday morning, the zoo, the science center’s new exhibit and IMAX movie, lots of stuff that we might not have done otherwise, we have done because someone has organized a group trip. Many of them have been amazing experiences.

But what about the little field trips like when we were in elementary school? The post office, the pizza place, the grocery store, etc. Could we somehow do these kinds of group activities in a way that would benefit us? I think we can! I was talking to a local pizza shop owner the other day and asked about doing a homeschool field trip. He asked what we would want to know. I mean, any of us can make a pizza, right? He could show us how they do it with their big oven. Then I thought of something. What might our kids want to know? Why did they decide to open a pizza place? What kind of experience did they have? Did they go to college? Was it hard to do? Our older kids might ask questions that us parents might ask. Did they have to take out a loan to start up? Have they started a business before? Bottom line for me would be “What’s your personal story? Why are you here doing this?” He was excited about that! And we’re totally booking the tour.

What other places can we explore? How about the Chinese Restaurant, the health food store, the rock climbing adventure place, the little book store, the local realtor, or the sheriff’s office? All these little places in our town have interesting people and stories. We want to know about them. And I bet we’ll be doing a little homeschooling outreach as well. Some of these people probably don’t know any homeschoolers and I bet they’d be pretty impressed to meet our crazy bunch of kids. I can’t wait to get started!

Field Trips & Group Tickets

Homeschoolers are notorious for two things: being late and backing out. It can be incredibly frustrating for people that attempt to organize a group tour or field trip. I think there are two things we can do to minimize the effects.

The first one is for the organizers themselves. We need to understand that a few of the reasons most people decide not to send their kids to school are because they are fairly independent people and they desire more flexibility with their schedule. An even bigger reason is that they hope to focus on their child’s individual needs instead of the groups. We need to remember that when we schedule an event and people sign up. Things we can do are:

  1. Be sure to let people know as far in advance as possible. The farther out we plan, the more likely they are to have time for it. And send reminders as the event gets closer; i.e. one month out, two weeks out, one week out.
  2. Give them an excess of information about the event. When? Where? How much per person? Do parents need to pay too, or just students? Do we need to stay together as a group when we get there, or can we enter together and go at our own pace? Do we need to pay in advance or have cash on hand when we get there? Can younger or older siblings come?
  3. Know that some will back out and plan accordingly. If you need a minimum group size, be sure you have more than enough. If there will be no refunds after a certain date, be sure to say so right up front.

The second one is for those that sign up for these events. We need to remember that in homeschooling groups, it is typically another parent setting up a field trip, not a paid professional. Typically, a parent finds something interesting they’d like their children to attend, so they voluntarily take time and energy away from their own families to set up and organize a trip for a whole group. They are just as busy as you are and just as dedicated to homeschooling their own kids. They are not professionals. They have the same faults that you have. They may not be as organized and communicative as they hoped they would be. So we all need to be a little understanding when things don’t get done perfectly.

Here are some things to think about it before we sign up in the first place.

  1. Is this going to be something my kids actually want to do? You may be interested in the tour of a nice art museum, but your toddler and six year old may not be. Interest is so important in successful homeschooling. Uninterested kids can be terribly distracting to others who might be very interested in the topic. We need to be respectful of other families attending.
  2. Is this something my family can do on our own? I love live shows, art and history museums, and parks but sometimes my sons are interested in other things. I want them to experience other cultures, different kinds of art, live performances, etc. These things can sometimes be experienced much cheaper if we are able to get a group/school ticket and we have to take advantage of that. But sometimes it’s only a few dollars more to experience things on our own. It may be worth that extra money to be on our own time table. Check the website of the event you’re thinking of attending and see if you can’t swing going on your own as a family instead of a group.
  3. Where is it? Will it be worth the drive? Is this event too early/late in the day for my family’s lifestyle? I’ve done this a thousand times. I get invited to an event, see that it starts at 9am, decide it’s no problem for us, and sign up. Then I see that it is over two hours away with traffic making it sometimes three hours. We’ll need to be up by 5am, dress and eat, and be in the car by 6am to get there in time. Be sure to look at how far away the event is and what time it starts. And don’t forget to schedule in “getting moving” time, especially for the little ones. One of my sons has no problem waking up and getting in the car to go somewhere, but the other one needs at least an hour to wake up before he can even think of getting ready to go. That’s one of the best parts of homeschooling, the fact that we can cater to our own styles. We use these “school age” years to help our children learn their needs and get them met on their own, conforming to what everyone else is doing only when we feel it’s something very worth while.
  4. Remember when we sign up that we are making a “commitment”. It’s understandable when life gets in the way and we can’t make it to something we signed up for. Kids get sick, cars break down; that’s just life. The fact that you just don’t feel like getting the kids together and moving around that day isn’t an excuse to back out. The rest of the group may be counting on getting that minimum number of people to get their group discount.

Above all we all need to be extra polite, kind, and communicative when we plan and when we attend field trips with our homeschool friends. We are all working outside the box and could probably use some kind words of support even when things aren’t going as smoothly as we had hoped. If you have to cancel, let the organizer know as soon as humanly possible and be understanding when you don’t get a refund. They probably have no control over that and if they did refund you, it might have to come from their own pocket. If you’re organizing and attendees are backing out more than you figured they would, try to be kind and compassionate about their reasons. They may not be good reasons to you, but they are to them.

Group tickets, field trips, tours, and other events are a big part of what makes homeschooling so much fun. Let’s try to keep it friendly. The more fun it seems, the more people will want to plan more of them and that is great for ALL of us!

Scholastic Printables

Do you remember Scholastic Book Fairs at school when you were a kid? I looked forward to browsing through the books and picking my favorites. When my boys were little we went to their big warehouse sales in Anaheim and found loads of treasures.

Today when I was searching for ideas about how to experiment with topology, I came across Scholastic Printables! You can pay them by the month or by the year and print all you like. They have very nice printable pages to give your kids all kinds of ideas and inspiration in all subjects.

In fact, I’m pretty sure you could create enough lesson plans to cover most of the required subjects for the entire year from their Teacher Resource page!

Calendars!

Calendars are awesome! As a private school, you need to mark attendance each day (I know!) and a printable calendar is great for that. I have one from Donna Young that has the whole year on two sheets of paper. I print it at the beginning of our school year and it sits in a bright pink folder on my desk next to my computer along with my course of study. Each morning as I check my email and Facebook excitement, I put an X on the day if it’s a weekday. Legal requirement = complete. Some people print a page like this and write “Absences Marked With an X” at the top. Since our kids are not absent from our houses at any time there are no X’s, but attendance is taken none the less. Both ways are sufficient to be in compliance with the legal requirements.

I also have a student planner from Walmart sitting on my desk. I like it because there is plenty of room to write down the plan both for the month and the week. I don’t plan a lot in advance, but all our appointments, field trips, and events are on the monthly part. As we go through the week, the daily part has notes and checklists about what we did that day. Things like “boy was working on his website most the day”, “dad read to us from his book after dinner”, and “boy started reading ‘Lord of the Rings'” cover those pages. If you have a more set schedule, you can write it out there and check things off as you do them. Planners are great to look back on when you’re trying to remember what went on last week. As unschoolers, the days seem to run together at times and having the written planner really helps me get a handle on who’s been doing what and when. I’m certain someone, some day, will come across my planners and journals and be amazed…I just know it!

Did you know there are cool learning calendars out there as well? These ones are great for inspiring ideas and finding things you didn’t even know existed in a fun and spontaneous way. It’s also a great way for YOU to continue your own life long learning journey and share it with your kids. There are history, science, literature, and art calendars. There’s even one for preschool ideas! You don’t need to buy them every year either. You won’t get to everything every day, so keep them around for inspiration year after year, just ignore the day of the week!

Here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Universal Preschool’s “Preschool Learning Calendar”

Thomas Jefferson Education’s “This Week In History”

Today in Science History

Theorem of the Day

“The Mathematics Calendar” by Theoni Pappas

And a whole wall of calendars you can find at this site, from Word of the Day and Word Origins to Pets and Flowers!
http://www.calendars.com/Literature/cat00136/

Homeschool P.E. & Health

One of the subjects all schools need to offer each year is Physical Education and Health. We all remember these classes when we were in school, right? Did you have P.E. in elementary school? I remember a time of day we used to play some kind of team sport like volley ball or four square. Pretty much everyone has nightmares about picking teams. I remember having to dress in a uniform when I started Jr. High., which was pretty much the worst part of the new school. From then on it was “dressing out”, stretching and running, and some kind of team sport for fifty minutes a day. Health was similar. Videos and workbooks about things that were so obvious, boring, or embarrassing to discuss in room full of peers.

I realize I have an unhealthy relationship with my school days. Is there anyone that looked forward to those classes or at least had a good time while there? Did anyone leave school with a healthy attitude toward daily exercise and nutrition due to the influence of those twelve years of classes? My guess is probably not.

So how do we, as homeschoolers, “offer” this subject in a better way? That’s the real point of homeschooling isn’t it, to make a more personalized and productive education option for our kids?

I’d like to write about what we’ve done through the years out as an example, not of what you should do with your kids, but of an alternative to the classes we took at school.

For elementary school aged kids, getting out to the park regularly, going for walks, jumping rope, hiking the hills, running games, etc., are all acceptable forms of P.E. And you need to “offer it”, not force them to play. I’m not an active person naturally. I’ve never been enthusiastic about any sport. I’ve never felt the need to exercise on a daily basis or workout at the gym. But I do love the outdoors and I realize my kids are way more active being kids than I am. We always had jump ropes, hoops, balls, bikes, etc. in the yard. I put it on my planner to ask the boys if they’d like to learn a game I used to play when I was a kid, like jump rope, hopscotch, or hand ball. They usually very excited about that and if they weren’t we did something else. I wrote it down on my planner, “played jump rope – 30 minutes”. P.E. DONE

Your local parks and recreation department can be really helpful as your kids get older and want to try new things. Karate, Soccer, Baseball, even Yoga can be pretty cheap to start out. And if someone is interested in learning more or going beyond what the class offers, you can look around the neighborhood for regular classes. Write that down in the planner and P.E. is done. It doesn’t need to be 45 minutes daily. Regular, one, two, three days a week is fine.

Jr. High and High School are different. Your kids are really coming into their own. They know what they like and don’t like. Team sports or solitary pursuits. If you have a teen that really isn’t into the idea of getting regular exercise or sports, you’re not alone. This is where we need to get creative. The state says our school needs to “offer” physical education. So we offer it, that doesn’t mean he has to learn it. I know that sounds crazy. But there are lots of ways to offer a subject that gets them learning without the sweat. Yes, you could force him to take karate or baseball but is that really going to build him into a better person? Will he come away from your school with a life skill that takes him into adulthood?

The better option in my opinion is to start doing more active things yourself and asking your teens to come along. Go for a daily walk around the neighborhood, take a hike, practice yoga, etc. Ask them if they’d like to join you. They might not the first fifty times. But they do see that you think the exercise is important and they may follow suit. But they may not. It’s really up to them. As in all education, it’s the example you set not the curriculum you use that is most important.

“Health” can be done in a similar way. At any age, planning meals and going to the grocery store is a great way to learn about nutrition. Watching tv shows, YouTube videos, and reading books about how your body works and how you can stay healthy are free. A regular check up at the doctor or dentist can be a learning adventure. When one of my sons cut his arm in a tree, the subject of blood and why you have it came up. We went to the library that day and found some cute books about blood and watched a “Magic School Bus” that afternoon. They were interested, so it just flowed. The same thing happened when one of our friends had a bad cold and couldn’t come to play. We just had to learn about how germs work and how best to defend ourselves.

There are great books and videos online that teach adolescents about the changes their bodies are going through without the embarrassing public class. If you can’t find them, go on one of the bigger statewide chat groups online and ask what other people have used. You can review them before you offer them to your kids to be sure they are appropriate for your family. If it was a video or website, I’d leave it open in my browser and tell the boys there was an interesting article there, or share it with them in an email. If I bought a book or borrowed it from the library, I’d leave it on the coffee table for them to check out if they were interested. Being open to talk about things like this as they grow up helps as well. Young kids that have been told the real answers to their questions as they’ve asked them, without silly euphemisms or awkward “you’ll find out when you’re older” dismissals, tend to be more relaxed teenagers.

Write these things down in your planner as they come up through the weeks and years. The details don’t need to be planned out in advance. According to California’s education code, private schools only need to offer all the subjects that the public schools offer. Big schools need to plan ahead with so many students in each class, but as a small private school with only a couple students we don’t need that much planning. Also, we don’t need to do something different for each of our kids depending on their grade. If you have a 6, 9, and 11 year old at your school, PE and Health can be the same for all of them. They are all going to explore to their own individual needs. You just need to be there to encourage and support them.

My sons took up motocross a few years ago. At first it was just riding dirt bikes but then they wanted to race. They started watching their favorite motocross racers on TV and online videos. I got them magazine subscriptions. After a while they started asking for a mountain bike to ride daily and imposed on themselves a regular workout routine they found in one of their magazines. They also started going to the grocery store with me and asking that I make certain high protein and low sugar foods to help build muscles. They are almost adults and do things the same way an adult would. They find an interest, look into it, research, discover, work. It goes round and round until they feel they have done enough, or move on to another goal.

What are you doing to encourage physical education and health this year?