The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Homeschooling

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!

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?

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 GirlAll 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 ChildWe 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 HERELast Child in the Woods

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…

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!

“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 Eckhart. (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 schoolyear.) 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!)

Fun in the Forest…

Walking in the woods is wonderful. But eventually, it can get boring–putting one foot in front of the other, slogging up a mountain or down the other side. What is a teen to do when she wants a little fun?

Daughter has a new appreciation for critters. It can be entertaining to add “words” to the bird sounds we hear. And hopping toads are fun to watch. Even insects (the most common critters we see) can be intriguing to watch as they wander through our camp or across our path. Spiderweb spotting is another favorite pastime for daughter.

We brought a few art supplies and we sing many songs together. We read bits of poetry out loud from our kindle. A favorite right now is “Song of the Yukon” by Robert Service. (You can read it HERE.) These final lines are quite applicable to our journey:

It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Whenever we have extra time at a shelter (by hiking quickly or covering a shorter distance), daughter practices her favorite activity: SWORD-FIGHTING! Yep, her hiking staff becomes a lethal sword and she is the (s)hero of the hour.

Sword play 1

Sword play 2

Sword play 3

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