The Big Epic

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Tag: Homeschooling (page 1 of 2)

Homeschooling by the Numbers

I’m not a math fan or a statistics geek, but I find it interesting to read summaries of topics, broken down by the numbers. In previous posts, I have explained lessons we learned in 28 years of homeschooling. (HERE and HERE) I also asked my grown kids to share their thoughts looking back on their home education experiences. (HERE) I decided to conclude this series by presenting homeschooling by the numbers for the high school years. As you see the many different ways in which we kept seven children motivated and learning (over 32 years of guiding our children’s education), I hope you will be encouraged to creatively pursue the best schooling options for your family and for your individual children. By the way, unlike some families, we never set out to homeschool our children for most of their education. We kept choosing this option year after year when it seemed to be the best fit for the next school year and the next.

With each transcript written and submitted for college applications, I include an up to date “School Profile.” For high school graduation, each child chooses the name of “their” school, to be used on their diploma, their transcript, and their class ring. Our homeschool has been listed as Maple Ridge Academy, Parkdale Academy, and, most recently, Forest Academy. I pulled the following information from the 2020 School Profile for Forest Academy:

homeschool student, international travel, london

EDUCATIONAL MISSION:

Forest Academy has been educating secondary students since 1996 under the home education regulations of the State of Ohio. This school specializes in coordinating interest led programs and international learning experiences. To date, 6 students have graduated with honors, 2 students were enrolled for 1-3 years only, and 1 student is currently enrolled.

This “Vision Statement” for Forest Academy is “to maximize student potential by providing a challenging learning environment which integrates academic coursework with real-world experience to support students in developing their individual interests and abilities.”

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS:

  • English               4 credits*
  • Math                   3 credits
  • History               3 credits
  • Science               3 credits
  • Health/PE         2 credits
  • Foreign Lang   2 credits
  • Electives            5 credits

To graduate from Forest Academy, a minimum of 22 credits must be completed, including at least one semester of concurrent high school/college courses or enrollment in a career program. A Senior Exit Portfolio is also required for graduation. The portfolio includes a resume; strengths assessment; summaries of career and interest explorations; and examples of academic achievement. (*Credits are awarded based on the ‘Carnegie Credit’ system in which approximately 120 hours of work equals one full course on that subject, signified by a “credit.”)

HOMESCHOOLING BY THE NUMBERS:

infographic, homeschooling by the numbers

15 WAYS TO EDUCATE OUR FAMILY:

We used a wide variety of methods to keep our kids motivated and learning year by year. Occasionally, we made changes between semesters if something was not working effectively. At one point we were preparing to move abroad. If we had done so, our children would have attended boarding school. Our schooling styles have included:

  • Homeschooling, structured curriculum
  • Homeschooling, parent led co-op (each teaches the subjects they are best at)
  • Homeschooling, but kids attend classes with certified teachers twice a week
  • Homeschooling, everyone in the house learns the same topics at the same time (Mayan civilization! The Solar System! Geometry!) with activities scaled to different ages
  • Homeschooling, mom gathers resources/writes curriculum
  • Homeschooling, older children write the curriculum
  • Homeschooling, students teach themselves from videos or from the teacher’s book
  • Public schooling, full-time
  • Public schooling, for select classes or extracurriculars
  • Public schooling, in and out based on a child’s disability
  • Public on-line charter schooling
  • Private schooling
  • Schooling on the road, while traveling across the US or backpacking in the woods
  • Schooling around a child’s training for a national sport
  • Early/concurrent enrollment in college classes or career program
passions,  raptor rehab, yorkshire

CLUBS AND EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES:

One reason we continue to homeschool our children is that it gives our family the freedom to blend education with real world experiences. As I have explained in previous posts, individualized learning takes much less time than large group, mass education. This means more time is available in the day for students to participate in many extra-curricular activities.

In the primary grades, we helped each child explore individual interests. By the time they were in their teen years, we facilitated the pursuit of current passions. Forest Academy has offered a wide range of student activities, utilizing student associations, community organizations, and participation in local public-school programs. Each student is required to participate in at least one community volunteer program as well. As you see by the following list, our children have followed many different interests:

  • Backpacking Club
  • Basketball
  • CATCO is Kids (Theater/Acting)
  • Chess Club
  • Christian Youth Groups
  • Community Sports Leagues
  • COSI Museum Docents
  • COSI Science Academy
  • Falconry Club
  • FIRST Robotics Club
  • 4-H Clubs
  • International Culture Club
  • Interscholastic Women’s Basketball
  • Jr Ranger (National Park Service program)
  • Lake Erie Nature & Science Center (Animal Care Volunteer)
  • Latin Club
  • Literary Magazine
  • Music Club
  • Mustang Camp (training wild horses)
  • National Honor Society
  • Ohio Youth Leadership Forum (delegate/peer mentor)
  • Photography Club
  • Rock Climbing Club
  • Shane Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship (rider/volunteer)
  • Ski Club
  • Strongsville Skating Club (USFSA Competitive Figure Skating)
  • Student Council
  • Summer Camps (Jr & Sr Counselors)
  • Tae-Kwon-Do Club
  • Thespian Society
  • Video Club

SUMMARY:

It is important for each family to choose the best schooling options to meet their own values and needs. If your family is more comfortable following the standard education patterns of our society, wonderful! But if you long for other options, I hope you can see from this homeschooling by the numbers post that there is no need to stay trapped in a box of formal, by-the-book education. With the current chaos in our world because of Covid-19, this might be an ideal year to dabble in something different, knowing you can always return to school-as-normal if that turns out to be best for your family. Whatever you choose, know that I am cheering you on!

Feel free to comment below if you have further questions or if you would like to arrange a way to brainstorm together about options which would work for you and your family situation.

For further reading about our homeschooling journey in the past few years, click HERE. Read the story of my friend’s interest-led learning experiences with her oldest daughter HERE. Read  more about recent graduations in our family HERE (Yes, homeschooling is successful for most students…)

Homeschool Reflections

We have been guiding our children’s educational experiences for 32 years. We have been (mostly) homeschooling for the past 28 years. It has been interesting to take time to explore the homeschool reflections for each of us. I know many folks who are considering homeschooling or are in the early years are worried about the long-term impact on their kids. I hope these summaries are of encouragement!

Our eldest daughter CM started me down this road of retrospection with a post she made on Facebook recently. She told the following story, followed by a comment thread discussing her homeschool experiences. She wrote: “I laughed when I read the news today about a kid who finished his remote schooling by 9am, frustrating his working parents. For a while, my brother woke at five, carefully finished all his homeschool readings, writing assignments, and tests, and then sat there calmly eating cereal when I awoke at eight. He grinned at me because *he* was done for the day, and I hadn’t started.”

family history, homeschool reflections

Thoughts from Parents

We never set out to teach our kids at home. Even after starting to homeschool, it has remained a year by year, even semester by semester decision based on what we thought was best for individual children and for the family as a whole. If you had told me that we would still be doing this almost 3 decades later, I would have said you were crazy!

When we were in the middle of this adventure, I was uncertain, frustrated, and overwhelmed at times, just like every mom. As the primary “teacher,” I was sometimes impatient, occasionally demanding, and often too lax, depending on the moment. I regret the times I misunderstood or overlooked struggles and wish I could go back and give each child better life skills to deal with those things. Overall, we hoped our kids would become avid learners, independent thinkers, and successful adults. So far, that has been true for the grown kids, with just one still at home.

From our vantage point today, looking back, we see the benefits of homeschooling. Our kids had longitudinal relationships with their siblings and each one’s learning was influenced by the interests and activities of the others. Freedom was a constant—identifying passions and not accepting “rules” as barriers; allowing flexibility in schedules and choice in activities; and helping each child learn within their strengths and (hopefully) cope with their challenges. For me with my nomadic heart and love of outdoors, homeschooling also allowed our family to wander during less busy, non-traditional-vacation times of the year.

As we talked about our homeschool reflections, my husband noted that the passions each child pursued in middle adolescence can still be seen in the work or hobbies they pursue today. I wonder if this would still be true if our kids had been focused on friends and busy with succeeding at traditional mass education during those formative years.

There are plenty of stories written and shared by parents. What follows is the summarized comments gathered informally in conversation with each of our now grown children. I asked them to share what they remember as being effective, enjoyable, or memorable about their homeschooling journey. I also invited them to share what was difficult. For the most part, the ideas are theirs while the writing style is mine. These snippets were fascinating to me… hopefully they are encouraging to you, as well!

CM – eldest daughter, our “guinea pig”

We started homeschooling when this child was in third grade. In her teen years, CM was interested in research, cultures, and costumes. A summer in Central Asia reinforced these interests. Today she is a University Anthropology Librarian, still fascinated by travel and studying other cultures.

The most memorable [thing] for me was probably in high school when I was challenged to write out a light curriculum — e.g. to research and put together a sequence of learning activities to teach my siblings about Inca, Maya, and Aztec societies. I seem to recall looking at the learning exercises we had for other topics and then researching these settings to see how I could create games and exercises to teach others. It stretched my brain in a new way, which is probably why I still remember it.

I also appreciated homeschool groups where we could learn from different adults, and do presentations / activities with kids in other families. I guess that while on the one hand I was an independent learner who could be impatient with others, looking back I also appreciated seeing how others were doing and how they approached learning.

Both had me reflecting on my own learning in relationship to others, which might have been why they made a more lasting impression than all the other information absorbed / papers written.”

RK – eldest son, 16 mos younger than his sister, a fellow “guinea pig”

We brought this son home from public school the year after his sister. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of teaching him the exact same third grade curriculum CM and I had just finished, that second year of homeschooling I taught fourth grade to both of them while chasing their younger siblings. In teen years, RK was a “Renaissance Guy,” diving deeply into a wide array of passions and activities. RK just completed his PhD and is job hunting—hoping to find a career which allows him to synthesize his many interests under the umbrella of political theory.

RK comments that “self-directed education worked really well for ME, but I wouldn’t recommend it for very many others” who might not get a well-rounded education. He preferred to get up by 6 am when it was quiet so he could do his work away from others. He remembers that every time we went to the library, the kids were urged to choose books that caught their attention. RK says this reinforced and strengthened his innate wide range of interests.

RC – second son, third child, helped “break the mold” for his younger siblings

Of all our kids, RC spent the most time bouncing between homeschool and various types of formal school settings. We weren’t yet comfortable with a significantly alternative, interest-led course of study, so it was hard to meet his needs for action and kinesthetic learning. RC frequently created his own hands-on projects to reinforce what he was learning. In addition, he spent time with mentors to learn auto mechanics, auto body repair, home maintenance, and woodworking while in high school. Today RC has moved into management, doing workforce (data) analytics (a different kind of hands-on work). He has a full woodshop in his garage and enjoys the occasional project as a hobby.

RC points out that a significant benefit of homeschooling is learning in a way that is appropriate for the developmental level of individual students. He gave the example of being allowed to HATE math and quit after he completed Algebra. Because he wasn’t forced to continue, he came back to it when he was ready and now has a heavily math-focused career. At the same time, RC notes that it is important to have rigor in certain subjects. He says that one of the most important things in ANY education curriculum is writing. He points out that getting good at writing allows and prepares you to voice your thoughts and defend your thesis with supporting arguments. Both math and reading are significant for critical thinking.

RC argues that a love of reading is the third pillar of a strong educational foundation. For him, homeschooling allowed the flexibility to fundamentally enjoy reading while absorbing new things. He says reading needs to be both a passion and a tool—neither of which will happen if reading is simply an assignment followed by writing reports or taking tests for no clear reason.

RC also has some helpful observations about the potential risks of homeschooling. He has seen peers who went off the rails when they hit college—having been overly sheltered from both society and relationships while homeschooling. In addition, RC comments that schooling students effectively is hard, trying to find a balance between being too aggressive/pushing too hard for excellence versus being too lax with expectations. This is difficult enough for teachers in schools. For parents, it is even harder trying to find a healthy balance for education while being both parent and teacher. He sees co-operative teaching models for homeschooling as an effective way to make this juggling act more sustainable.

JT – second daughter, fourth child, solidly in the middle of the family

JT attended the local public school for 3rd grade. By the end of that year, she saw reading as a dreaded chore. It took her a few more years before she started reading for pleasure again. Seeing how mass education killed her love of learning reinforced for us the significance of interest led learning in homeschooling.  In her teen years, JT discovered falconry. Over the years, she volunteered for raptor rehab centers in many different locations, including spending time at a falconry centre in England during high school. By the time she was ready to apply for college, we had finally learned to present our homeschooled kids as unique individuals with broad interests rather than cookie-cutter clones of the traditional education system. After college, JT considered becoming an avian veterinarian, but decided to pursue a degree in Pharmacy instead. I suspect birds will again be part of her life as a hobby in the future!

As she shared her homeschool reflections, JT remembers our focus as a family on big over-arching projects with lots of smaller interest-led projects done by individual siblings. She comments that this worked well with how she has learned ever since: as a pattern learner she does best when she can interact with both the big and the small parts of a subject at the same time.

JT points out that she has much more vivid memories of the major projects we did rather than any of the school-type learning she covered. As she says, it was also much more fun showing off these projects to others! Memorable units for her included mapping the Solar System in our street (and eating yummy food at our celebration party!); writing our own Magic School Bus book about the Mayan world, and studying Conquistadors and Explorers during the fall we lived in Florida. She also enjoyed the years that we frequently went to COSI (the local science center) when her older siblings volunteered there each week.

JOE—third son, fifth child, “bridge” between the “big kids” and the “little kids”

Like his eldest brother, JOE tended to dive deeply into interests, then move on to other things. He was a competitive Figure Skater, a year-round sport which consumes many hours per day for practice. Homeschooling was ideal for fitting learning into this demanding schedule. By the time he was doing school, we were fully focused on individual, personalized learning. He spent free time playing an online game and taught himself Spanish so he could play on that server. He refused to do much math, until his mid-teens when he moved through algebra to calculus in just a handful of semesters. Sadly, he died when he was not quite 16 years old.

family portrait

JK – fourth son, sixth child, his role in the family often changed!

Because of the gap between the two groups of siblings, after JOE died, JK took on the role of older brother to his little sister. During his formative years, we were on the road: traveling across the USA and up to Alaska in an RV and living with the Navajo in New Mexico. He spent part of one year living in a remote area and helping to tame/train wild mustangs before we moved back to middle America suburbia.  JK chose to head back west for college. Today he is a technician in a BioRepository (archiving and preparing shipments of tissue samples for research). He is still a sojourner, not yet certain of his place in the world.

JK says that he thinks homeschooling was beneficial and helpful overall. He comments, “I could pursue areas I enjoyed, and it was focused toward my own learning pace.” He remembers so many good, wonderful experiences, including wandering the US and working at Mustang Camp.

JK observes that the homeschooling he experienced was different than that of his older siblings. Looking back, he notes that homeschooling contributed to some of the biggest challenges he has faced in life. He wishes he had learned and practiced stronger writing skills. He points out that “it was great to work within my strengths, but [we] didn’t push as much as I needed where I was weak.” And he found the social aspects to be challenging since we moved so often which meant he had less opportunity to learn and practice social relationships, patterns and skills.

AP – third daughter, seventh child – yep, she’s the “baby” of the family!

AP is 18 years younger than her oldest sibling and was born when both CM and RK were already in college. From a young age, AP has thrived on change and excitement and has enjoyed costumes, acting and roleplaying. She is highly intelligent but struggles with academics because of developmental disabilities. She was just 7 years old when our family began to wander. She prefers to be outdoors, including collecting Jr Ranger badges in National Parks and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. She starts a landscape design program at the local career center this fall, hoping to eventually find an outdoor career in a park department or forest service.

AP explains that all the traveling we did in the RV, in Alaska, and in other countries “made me more interested and curious about history and the environment wherever I go.” She feels like homeschooling was helpful because if she had been in a regular school, we wouldn’t have been able to travel. She notes that the freedom she had with the family to personally wander and explore wouldn’t have been possible on school outings.

AP says sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been in public school for 6th and 7th grades. She hated the drama, bullying, and the resulting trauma she still deals with. But she also notes that this time taught her what school was like and it taught her how to find the good in other people. She summarizes her homeschool experience this way:

“I’m glad you did it! I would be a very different person now if I hadn’t been homeschooled.”

AP, our youngest child

If you identify with this lifestyle, I would love to hear YOUR homeschool reflections about the benefits and challenges of your education. Please share in the comments below…

For other information-based posts about homeschooling, please read 10 Myths of Homeschooling HERE and learn about getting started with homeschooling HERE.

Homeschooling Lessons Learned — Let’s Chat!

Thanks for joining me. I can’t wait to share with you some of the homeschooling lessons I’ve learned over the past 28 years of guiding the (mostly homeschooled) education of my seven children. Bring your favorite drink and a comfy lawn chair and let’s meet at the local park. We can safely social distance there… (Isn’t this a crazy world we are living in right now?!)

So, you are trying to figure out the best school option for your family this year. Maybe you’ve been thinking about trying homeschooling for a while. Or maybe you previously assumed you would always send your kids to public or private schools, but this year’s chaotic plans cause you to consider other options. Here are some things I would say to you over a cup of coffee if we were chatting about whether homeschooling might be a good fit for your family…or not!

Decide what schooling option is best for your family for this year:

First, Identify YOUR family values, schedule availability, passions, interests. Write these down to refer to as you are considering various options.

Next, Decide which type of schooling you prefer this year:

–Obviously, sending your child(ren) to the same setting they were in last year is one option. It will look nothing like “normal” this year, but some districts are offering an in-person track. This might be most attractive for your family, even with the need to adjust to new safety regulations and the risk of sudden changes to school closing and students being back home.

–If you decide the best option for your family is to start the school year with your kids home this year but you still want state certified teachers to be responsible for their education, sign up for an experienced, online charter school rather than local school virtual school. I strongly recommend the k12 experience. We have used them a number of times. They have decades of experience at providing a top-notch online education, rather than expecting individual teachers to throw things together last minute. In addition, k12 provides all the supplies you will need, including a computer and paying for your internet. You can find the national website HERE. From there, you can find links to the k12 public charter school in your state.

–If you want to “do school” at home, purchase a full, traditional curriculum. You can even choose to purchase teacher’s manuals for all subjects, which tell you exactly what to say. I often ordered curriculum resources (of all kinds) from Rainbow Resource. They offer individual books, full curriculums, supplemental materials, and unit studies, usually at a discount. They have excellent customer service, as well. Find them HERE.

family reading, homeschooling lessons learned

–If you want to follow family/individual interests/passions, use unit studies. This style of learning also makes it easier to teach multiple children at the same time. Making prep easier for the teacher (ME!) is a key homeschooling lesson I learned! With unit studies, all your students study the same broad topic, with separate activities chosen based on their current levels and preferred learning styles. Most subjects are included (depending on the unit study curriculum you choose). Generally, you will need separate math books for each child since that is harder to combine different levels at the same time. I bought a unit study curriculum for the first few years we used this approach. Eventually, I realized similar activities were offered for each unit, so I wrote my own curriculum based on our family’s specific interests. (Word to the wise: do NOT try to do all the offered activities for any given unit!! There are usually far more than anyone could fully cover. Pick and choose the ones that will work best for YOUR children.)

To read more about interest focused learning, read about alternatives we have used with our youngest daughter HERE and HERE

For excellent reviews of several Unit Study Curriculums, click HERE.

I hear you. Yes, the idea of homeschooling your kids can be very intimidating. We live in a culture that tells us we need experts to do anything well. But there are thousands of families like ours whose children have gone on to successful college and adulthood.  If homeschooling still sounds like an intriguing option for your family, please check my post about Homeschooling Myths (and misunderstandings) HERE. Take your time… I’ll wait…

Welcome back! Ready to hear a few more tips based on the homeschooling lessons I’ve learned over many years? Let’s go!

Objections/Barriers to Homeschooling

Remember, You know YOUR child(ren) best. You as parents make decisions about food, activities, and health. You know YOUR kids and you consult experts for help in these areas if/when needed. Education is no different! You can provide an education based on your child’s unique strengths and interests. And with individual attention, your child can better learn to overcome challenges.

Past negative experiences helping w homework is NOT the same as homeschooling! Guiding your child’s education at home is SO much easier than dealing with homework! Really! Think about it! Homework assigned by a school teacher means: Your kid is exhausted at end of the day. You have no clue how the teacher presented the material or what they want (and your child often reminds you of this). Finally, most homework is simply busy work!

“I’m not patient enough to homeschool” This is the second most common reason I hear parents give as to why they can’t homeschool. (Questions about socialization come first. See the Homeschooling Myths link above if you didn’t already read that post.) Perhaps one of the following responses will give you a clearer perspective on this objection: Neither is any other parent!! Homeschooling is an opportunity to work on healthier relationships with your kids. And/or, homeschooling becomes a tool for personal growth for you!

Other Barriers that you are worrying about? Add a comment below and I’ll try to answer your concerns, based on my personal experience.

So, you’ve decided to give homeschooling a try. Great! Let me share a few tips to help you RELAX as you start making plans. (Pssst! It’s perfectly normal if you are nervous about taking the leap. Starting new adventures is always a bit scary…)

relax, lounging in chair, reading

Getting Started with Homeschooling…

RELAX! – you can do this!

You got to this point in raising your kids, I’m certain you can do this, too! If you aren’t yet convinced, review the objections and myths discussed above…

RELAX! – academic instruction/learning is not a heavy burden

–Guidelines for instruction time: “recommendations from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards say that elementary students should have 1-2 hours a day of online instruction, middle school students 2-3 hours, and high school students 3-4 hours.” Find an article about this HERE.

–Guidelines for attention spans between active breaks: “Research suggests a simple rule for figuring out how long children can stay focused: Multiply the child’s age by 2-5 minutes. So, if a child is 4 years old, he or she will be able to focus for 8 to 20 minutes, maximum.”

RELAX! – no need to mimic public school!

–Let your students go at the pace and on a schedule that works for them. Pay attention to if they (and the family as a whole) are most effective to do academics in the morning or later in the day. Some prefer to power through all academics, then pursue interests. Others prefer to intersperse fun with study.

–Body position doesn’t really matter. Let your students work in whatever position helps them be most productive. For some, that will be sitting at desks. Others will prefer gathering as a family around a table. And some of our kids will do best being allowed to lounge, even hanging upside down occasionally! (Yes, I really did have one student who preferred to lay upside down from the chair, holding the book in front of her face!)

RELAX! – free time is crucial for actual learning!

  • students need free time to process and practice what they are learning
  • free time promotes personal and educational growth
  • free time allows space for rest, creativity, and experimentation

There are links to two helpful articles about this controversial subject HERE and HERE.

I’m so glad we could take time to chat about the possibility of homeschooling for your family. What’s that? You need more information about the nuts and bolts of getting started? I don’t need to take more of your time sharing my personal experiences to explain that information. I’ll simply put a few links below.

You know, I always like to cheer on other families. I would love to hear your family’s story. Please comment on this post and let me know how you are doing.

For a list of legal requirements related to homeschooling in each State, click HERE:

For how to get started with homeschooling in Ohio, including free printable forms, click HERE. (other states should have similar sites)

Best Wishes as you start your newest adventure!

10 Homeschooling Myths

It is not yet officially fall according to the calendar. But the season is changing. Pumpkin Spice everything is showing up in all the stores. School supplies are purchased and the obligatory back-to-school photos have been posted on social media. I’ve made my lists and done the paperwork. We are starting year 26 of homeschooling for our family. In those decades, we have heard so many homeschooling myths from concerned family and friends:

1—(Public/Private/Home)schooling is the BEST choice: Every family tends to believe that they are making the best decision regarding schooling their kids. Reality is that different children will thrive in different settings. First, don’t make any form of schooling into an “idol.” Second, what’s right for one family really would be wrong for another family. Moms, our job of parenting is hard enough, let’s quit arguing and build each other up!

2—Whatever you decide, you are stuck forever with that type of schooling: There is certainly something to be said for consistency and perseverance. However, it is important to choose what is best for each child (and for your family as a whole) each year. Every one of our kids spent some time in both private and public schools, even though we homeschooled for most grades. (True confessions, sometimes we even switched directions in mid-year!)

(My kids getting on the bus for 1st & 3rd grades. Homeschooling Myth: must only choose 1 type of schooling ever!)

3—“But what about Socialization?” This is one of the most commonly heard homeschooling myths. Many people assume the Public/Private school pattern of segregating children by age is important. However, experience shows that this age stratification often leads to damaging peer pressure and bullying. Research shows that multi-age relationships are healthier for children and better model adult life. In reality, there are actually too many opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time with other children—in classes, co-ops, clubs, and community activities. If we pursued all of these options, we would have no time for academic work! Instead our family chooses to join one or two groups each year. We also love to meet regularly with another homeschooling family for fun and learning.

(homeschooling myth buster--daughter meets regularly with friends to complete academic work...and have FUN!)

4—Homeschooling will fix everything: This is one of the homeschooling myths which masquerades as strong motivation for avid homeschoolers. The corollary from proponents of public/private school is that homeschooling is to blame for every dysfunctional adult who was kept out of school. Yes, an individualized setting can help children thrive, especially when they have life challenges (learning disabilities, mental health issues, social anxiety, etc)…BUT, these issues MUST be directly addressed during school years for students to be able to function in the world as an adult. NO form of schooling alone can “fix” our kids! (Read about how I advocate for my daughter HERE)

5—“I would go crazy if I was stuck at home all day”: Some families do spend most days at home. Others experience life in their local community. And the entire world could have the perfect destination for amazing field-trips to solidify what is being learned! (True confessions: Most of us also enjoy the benefits of off-season travel and vacations…) (Read about our travels to National Parks to collect Junior Ranger Badges HERE. Read about our Little School in the Woods HERE)

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: if we are stuck at home to homeschool then I'm a failure!)

6—Worksheets and homework are necessary for effective learning: If a student understands what is being taught, more time spent doing homework will not improve learning. If a student is lost in that subject, homework can leave them more confused. It is a public/private-schooling myth that worksheets, books reports and tests are the best ways to measure learning—they are fine methods for some students. But more commonly, these paper-assignments are a method of crowd control in the classroom and make grading easier for teachers. With homeschooling there is greater scope for individualized education, active learning and creative final projects.

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: hands on projects and field trips are far more effective than worksheets and tests.)

7—“I could NEVER teach high school…” That’s okay. I can’t teach every subject either! But my six older kids successfully completed high school at home. By teen years, students have (hopefully) developed skills to be self-learners. In addition, families join co-ops for shared teaching, find mentors to pursue student passions, and use community and college classes for more difficult subjects. It is always possible to find others who have the training and experience to provide what our kids need.

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: If mom had to teach robotics, it would never happen!)

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: Good thing grandpa knows how to rebuild cars. Mom certainly couldn't teach this!)

8—Homeschoolers can’t get into college: WRONG! This is another one of the common homeschooling myths. Many top universities actively recruit students with alternative educations who bring diversity to the campus. Homeschooled students often have strong independent study skills and a determination to pursue passions. And yes, many homeschooled students receive academic scholarships. Having solid standardized test scores and providing a (self-written) high school transcript helps with the college application process. (Read about our family’s recent graduates HERE)

9—Values are taught: This is another of the homeschooling myths that cause some families to bring their students home to “make sure” their kids follow family values. No matter how much we explicitly teach values and share interests with our children, deeper values are actually “caught” by seeing what the parents do. (This applies to all families, regardless of which type of schooling they choose.) Most homeschooling parents are “out of the box thinkers” to persist in going against mainstream culture to school their children. These same parents are often shocked when their children grow up to be independent thinkers themselves. In our family, we wandered to follow new opportunities…and now our grown kids are scattered across the country—pursuing their dreams. These particular values were caught not taught!

(Values Caught Not Taught, Kids don't stay home when parents model wandering!)

10—Homeschooling Guarantees Harmony at Home: Oh, if only this were true! Homeschooling builds many shared memories. But siblings will still fight and children will still argue with both their mother and their teacher (made worse when that is the same person.) (True confessions: sometimes our kids fought terribly. But occasionally they could be seen enjoying each other’s company in public…) Like all parents, we hope our family remains close when the nest is someday empty!

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: sometimes siblings fight, sometimes there is harmony)

The new school year has started. Let’s applaud the students … and let’s encourage fellow parents, no matter which method of schooling they choose for their families!

I would love to encourage YOU. Please share your family’s chosen schooling path in the comments below.

Junior Ranger Challenge

Hop in the car and head to the nearest National Park. Sounds like a good vacation outing to me. But far too often, this simple activity is met by complaining from the back seats: “Do we HAVE to…?” “This will be BOring…” Turn down the whines and help your kids look forward to what they can “Explore, Learn and Protect!” by getting involved in the Junior Ranger program at more than 400 National Park sites.

Our family discovered this fabulous hands-on challenge when we wandered the western USA in an RV nine years ago. Daughter completed the information scavenger hunt, earned her first badge and was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Arches National Park when she was just seven years old. (As a paparazzi extraordinaire, I must confess that somehow I have no photos of this momentous occasion. In my defense, I had no idea that this would be more than a one-time entertainment.)

nps, hiking, southwest USA

The quest for ever more badges has continued. Wherever we go, we look for National Park sites along the way for daughter to add to her collection. She started adding the replica badges to a lanyard. Then we bought her a vest to show off her collection. Eventually, she had so many badges that she made a wall hanging to display all of them. This past weekend, she earned badge #100 at the Statue of Liberty! Woohoo! Way to Go, Andowen!

earn badges, nps

nps, statue of liberty, collection

Originally this program was targeted to children ages 7-13 years old. There has been enough interest that anyone of any age is now allowed to become a Junior Ranger at each location. Let’s walk through the process together:

  • Pick Your Park to Visit—Whenever we drive somewhere, I check the list of parks at nps.gov to see where we could stop along the way.
    nps, travel itinerary
  • Go to the Desk at the Visitor Center and ask for a Junior Ranger Book—Complete the required number of activities. It is perfectly acceptable for family members to help. (In the process, we often learn more than our daughter does!) Because we consider these activities to be part of our homeschooling curriculum, we insist that the entire book must be finished, in the car if not at the park itself. (You can read more HERE about how we include travel activities as part of school.)
    family, homeschoolingearn badges, nps
  • Many Different Activities Help Complete the Booklet—Watch the park movie. Take a tour. Explore the plants and animals outdoors. Write poetry or draw pictures. Go on an information scavenger hunt in the museum. Interview a Ranger.
    National Park Service, Visitor Centernps, explore naturenps, displays, scavenger hunt
  • Take the Booklet Back to a Ranger—At minimum, he will check to see you have fulfilled the requirements. Sometimes, she will discuss what you have written or explore what you have learned. A few of the rangers have taken time to encourage our daughter to imagine how she might get involved with the National Park Service as a career. Junior Ranger, Ft Davis, npsJunior Ranger, nps, valley forge
  • Raise Your Right Hand and Be Sworn in as a Junior Ranger—promising to continue to explore National Parks, do one’s best to protect the parks, and share what is learned with family and friends. Then shake hands with the ranger and accept your new badge. nps, raise your right hand, biscayne bay
  • Add the Badge to Your Collection—In our family, that means adding a few pages to yet another scrapbook as well as pinning the latest badge or patch to the custom wall hanging. nps, junior ranger, collection

BONUS: Here are links to my daughter’s favorite National Park Sites that we have visited (so far).

Read more about Chaco Culture National Historic Site (in New Mexico) HERE. Andowen has many happy memories of this park since we lived near it for three years and visited often. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Craters of the Moon National Monument (in Idaho) HERE. This was one of the most desolate yet fascinating sites we have seen. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Kenai Fjords National Park (in Alaska) HERE. Andowen enjoyed tasting a bit of ice from Exit Glacier. And she was completely WOWED by seeing orcas and a whale fluke on the boat tour! nps, junior ranger, awe, excitement, whale watch

We would love to hear from you—what is YOUR favorite National Park to visit?

(Read about Homeschooling in the Woods HERE!)

Robotics–a Different Kind of Adventure

Daughter Anna just finished a hectic two months of Robotics. There was a steep learning curve; there were tears; there was exhaustion; there was excitement and a cliff-hanger final match at regional competition. But…did this qualify as an “adventure?”

Contrary to common definitions of adventure, joining a robotics team does not involve being outdoors or traveling to exotic locations. It is not particularly physical or hazardous (even when requiring safety glasses). It tends to gather the brainy “nerds” or “geeks”…not super-fit “jocks” or members of the “in-crowd.”

Here on my website I define a “Big Epic” as something larger-than-life that I’m pursuing.  It might be physical but it also includes facing unexpected challenges in life. (Find more explanations and examples HERE) With more research and pondering, I propose the following elements are needed to make an enjoyable activity become an Adventure:

  • Personally stretching
  • Big enough to require planning, finding mentors, and learning
  • Extensive hard work
  • Perseverance (Never Quit on a Bad Day)
  • Uncertain Outcome
  • Makes a good story later!

Let’s take a look at how well participating in Robotics with the local “Red Plague” team fits these criteria:

Personally stretching: Check! Anna had personally never done anything like this before. No one else in our family has any experience with Robotics, so this was uncharted territory for all of us.

Requires planning, mentors, and learning: Check! Everyone one the team was involved in brainstorming designs and planning how to build their robot to be both sturdy and able to complete required tasks. Mentors patiently helped Anna learn the basics of programming the robot. YouTube and I helped her design the team “avatar” (used at the competition and on badges).

Extensive hard work: Check! Anna was at the shop almost every time it was open for work. More than 130 hours were logged by the team during the 6 week build schedule, and the week leading up to regional competition. Anna received a “workhorse” award for jumping in and doing whatever work needed done.

Perseverance: Check! Toward the end of the grueling two months, Anna wanted to quit a number of times. Even at the competition itself (3 long days in a city across the state from home), she wanted to go home a few times. Each time, she and I talked about the lessons she has learned while hiking the AT—choose your attitude, focus on good things not on pain, never quit on a bad day. In addition, she learned the importance of considering what her team needed from her, not just individual desires. (At the competition, Anna was the “Safety Officer” – spending most of her time down in their team “pit,” making sure team members were following safety rules and ready to pull out the safety spill kit or the first aid kit, if needed. This is not a visible glory-job, but is an important team position.)

Uncertain Outcome: Check! There were 61 teams at this regional competition. Many of these teams had far more members and exorbitantly deep-pocketed sponsors. At this first competition of the season, no team had prior experience with the obstacles, equipment, and tasks on the field. Alliances had to be made—guessing which other teams would best complement her team’s strengths and weaknesses. The “Red Plague” participated in 9 matches during the qualifying rounds, reached 4th place overall, and made it to the semi-final round.

Makes a good story later: Check! Ask my daughter about her team’s cliff-hanger final round. It included an alliance robot which wouldn’t run (arghhh!), a time out to try to help fix that robot, a last moment reprieve and being able to run the match with all three alliance robots after all (whew!). Then part way into the round, “Red Plague’s” robot froze (ARRGGGHHH!) The other two teams/robots in the alliance pulled the match to a tie in the preliminary score… (woohoo!) But then they lost by a handful of points in the official scoring. (oh noooooo!) Now THAT’s an emotional finish!

Looks like joining a team for a season of Robotics meets all the criteria for a “Big Epic.” Yes, it IS a different kind of true Adventure!

Outdoor Girl

Please join me in saving our kids. Let’s take them to the woods and let them connect with nature.

Our daughter struggles with severe anxiety issues and other mental health challenges. From a very young age, she was driven to spend extended periods of time outdoors. We have learned that when she gets agitated or argumentative or teary, it’s time to send her outside, no matter what the weather is like. It even helps her think more clearly. Others sometimes question how we could allow our daughter to be outside in pouring rain, or in a snowstorm, or on a crisp, cold night. We know that’s the wrong question. The real question for our family is how could we ever imprison her inside?

Outdoor Girl

All of our children spent the majority of their growing up years being homeschooled. Each one spent some time in public or private school settings, with mixed success. This youngest daughter tried valiantly to survive 6th and 7th grade in the local school. She was even granted an accommodation to be allowed to step outside with an aide or a counselor if she really needed it. But that just wasn’t enough. She melted down numerous times per day, overwhelmed by classroom chaos and expectations, fleeing to the quiet of the office. Obviously, academic progress is difficult when the student is never in class! We brought Daughter back home for school last fall…and she and I spent 6 weeks backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. (I’ve written other posts about homeschooling on the trail HERE and HERE.)

Counter to prevailing wisdom, Daughter and I did not take overnight backpacking trips prior to leaving on our adventure. I was afraid that if she was uncomfortable or became anxious about the trip, she would melt down and refuse to give it a try. It seemed to be a better option for us to do some outdoors walking in local parks, then get to the AT and hike “for real.” I knew hubby would come rescue us if needed, although we didn’t mention that to daughter. She focused on the itinerary for each day and made the decisions of when to stop for snacks and lunch. Having that level of control was helpful for her staying motivated to keep hiking.

After debilitating anxiety attacks 2-3 times per day during the school year, and 2-3 times per week during the freedom of summer, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect while we were backpacking. I was amazed that during our time on the trail, Daughter was generally calm, even-tempered and cheerful. She took pride in being equal to adults in skill, performing camp chores, and taking responsibility for herself. Yes, she had some grumpy, exhausted, teary moments…but so did I! In the 6+ weeks we were hiking, she only had one (count ‘em, ONE) anxiety attack. And after a stop for water, a snack, and belting out a favorite song, she was able to calm herself back down. The only time she struggled with maintaining her composure was when we were in the chaos of towns for resupply.

Outdoor Girl Child

We KNOW time outdoors is both helpful and healing for our daughter. She thinks more clearly and can focus more effectively on current tasks when she is in nature. We joke that we need to find a cabin in the woods to move to…even though that isn’t really feasible right now. So, she and I try to regularly walk in nearby parks, she spends hours on her scooter, and we are starting to count down the time til we head back to the Appalachian Trail for another long distance hike late this spring.

This winter, I was fascinated to discover that there is an entire branch of science focused on this link between nature and human well-being, called “eco-psychology” or “eco-therapy.” Here are a few links to interesting articles about the benefits of hiking, being in nature, and connecting children to nature:

Your Brain When You Walk in the Woods

Hiking Is Good for Your Mental Health

Less Outdoor Play Is Causing More Harm Than Good

Letting My Autistic Son Go Where the Wild Things Are

If you would like to read an entire book on this topic, this one is a classic: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. It is available on Amazon HERE.

Last Child in the Woods

(Doing research about the healing power of connection with nature eventually led me to becoming a certified guide for Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing. Read about my new passion HERE.)

Child in the Woods

“God has given me this child…and she is in God’s hands!”

I have had many folks question how we could consider taking our young teen on a long distance, multi-week backpacking trip. Although I usually just smile and make some inane comment about how much she enjoyed the trip, my thoughts scream out “I had no other choice! This is exactly what she NEEDED!”

We have tended to be “outside-the-box” parents, homeschooling our kids, letting them explore interests, and helping them pursue passions. This one, our youngest, has extra challenges. She is very smart and learns some things quickly. At the same time, most “book-learning” takes extraordinary amounts of work. She craves social contact, but lacks many of the skills needed to be successful in building relationships with peers. She is often at the center of a hurricane of emotions, made more unbearable and unmanageable with extreme anxiety. Life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of appointments with therapists and doctors to find the help she needs to manage daily living. That’s no way to feel strong and successful in life…

child in the woods

Then we decided that she and I would spend a few months backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. As journaled here on this blog, I researched, planned, bought gear, and off we went. Along the way, we discovered that this is exactly what she needs! Being in nature brought anxiety and emotions to manageable levels. We could walk peacefully through most days. She enjoyed the social contacts along the way, with little of the stress that debilitates her in town.

Folks questioned how we could make her take this trip, focused on the physical dangers. We now realize that she and I will take many more adventures along the AT, focused on the personal healing that comes when this child is in the woods…

(Read another post about my Outdoor Girl HERE.)

Art from the Trail

Both of us look for beauty in our surroundings. Even though every ounce adds up on a long-distance backpacking trip, we chose to carry a small camera, sketch paper, and a variety of pencils. Here is some of the art we brought back from our time on the trail. Enjoy!

Daughter spends hours creating imaginary characters. While on this trip, she worked hard at adding action to her drawings.

tree climber

Influenced by spending so much time in the woods, she drew both whimsical and realistic images of things she discovered along the trail. One afternoon she dissected a number of acorns and drew what she found inside the shell.

bug in bed

oak and acorns

acorn dissection

Scenes like this one near the Blackburn Trail Center led to both a drawing and a poem:

gap from blackburn trail center

the gap

Up! Down! Up again!

Steeper up!

When will we be there?

11:00. 11:45. 12:00. 1:00.

Finally!! (Oh,nice view…)

I prefer to use color in my drawings, like this reminder of a rainy day:

dripping leaf

Daughter remembered the day this way:

Storm

Wet, Cold

Pouring, Sloshing, Sliding

Walking in the rain

Drizzle

My heart sings when I see beautiful colors in nature, especially when the color “pops” out from a darker background. When trying to capture those scenes on paper, I love the saturated colors I get from Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils:

bright leaves

fall leaf

butterfly on boot

butterfly

sunset

sunsetFinding beauty and making art on the trail added to our enjoyment of our grand adventure!

(HERE‘s a post with scrapbook pages made after another backpacking adventure…)

“Little School in the Big Woods”

For the past 23 years we have homeschooled our kids. Over the years that often included extended travel. This is the first time, however, that we have tried “Little School in the Big Woods.”

Outdoor education

While our primary focus for the past six weeks has been life skills in the context of daily backpacking, we have included relevant academics as well. Sometimes this was in formal settings such as visiting museums, earning a Jr Ranger badge at a National Park, or attending a historical reenactment event.

Museum

Jr Ranger

Civil War Reenactment

Natural Science is obviously easy to cover.  (See blog post HERE about critters we have seen in the trip.) We also made time for drawing, journal writing, storytelling, and singing.

Journaling

Drawing of Backpack

Schoolwork

Finally, we carried my kindle so we had access to literature about the great outdoors. Most evenings we read out loud: poetry by Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Robert Service, and from Psalms; and historical fiction about early exploration and settlement of the Ohio Valley in “The Frontiersmen” by Allan Eckart. (We would love to hear YOUR favorite literature or poetry about the great outdoors! We want to continue exploring this theme throughout the rest of the school year.) 

Traveling library

Daughter was so enthralled by “The Spell of the Yukon,” a poem by Yukon gold miner Robert Service, that she now has it memorized. She gives dramatic recitations to all who are interested (and even to those who are just being polite!) If you don’t have the chance to hear her in person, you can read the poem HERE.

When we get home, we will continue to explore what we have learned in our outdoor education. Possibilities include making posters and brochures, writing stories or even a children’s book, building a model of an AT shelter, designing quilt squares, and more. We will keep you posted…

(Note: we finished this year’s epic adventure on Oct. 21 but still have plenty of photos and posts to share with you!)

(Read about another key part of Daughter’s homeschooling curriculum HERE — collecting Jr Ranger badges at National Parks)

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