I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Amy Tudor. You can follow her homeschooling adventures on Instagram at amy.tudor and find her articles in Taproot magazine. We’re thrilled to have her share her homeschooling story.

Homeschooling never appealed to me. We live in a remote Vermont forest with very few other children nearby. My oldest spent her early years surrounded by grown-ups and I was looking forward to her having regular contact with other children.  But when we started her in preschool, her interest tapered off within the first few months. We repeated this the next year and the next for kindergarten.

As social creatures we humans often employ tactics, communications and power struggles in an attempt to have our needs met.  Unhealthy dynamics never, ever, escaped the notice of my oldest. Somewhere between three and five, she outlawed sarcasm, seeing the anger and cruelty it masks.  At eight, she cut the word weird from the family vocabulary, observing how people used it to isolate one person from a group. I can still picture her in the car, shrugging her shoulders to her friend in the backseat and offering a “well, everybody is different” reply after hearing a story about a ‘weird’ child.  Because of her sensitive nature, groups of people are very challenging for her to be part of.

Our homeschooling journey began with confusion and fear (on my part). There was so much to learn and even the process of registering in Vermont was overwhelmingly confusing. The home study office at the Department of Education confused me the most telling me to be much more thorough than I had to be. Experienced families offered nuggets of wisdom through various homeschooling Facebook groups. Because once you see the relief and joy on your child’s face, the struggles in your own heart quiet down.

The first technique we tried (that didn’t work) was school-at-home, that is, following the traditional school model of doing certain things at certain times, whether or not the children are interested in it.  I see new families quit at this point in the process because they can’t get their children to ‘do school.’ This frustration always makes me think of us grown-ups preparing our taxes. How many of us enjoy following such mind-numbing directions from the powerful Internal Revenue Service like “Add line 41 to 13.  If this number is less than $24,000 then skip to line 300“ and so on. Demanding that my child read chapter three and master skip counting on a set date feels like the same sort of external motivation that I don’t want to pass on to my children.

Many experienced homeschooling families will advise beginning with a few months (or more) of deschooling, especially if your child has been in traditional school for more than a few years.  Deschooling is the process of letting your children get back in touch with their own natural daily rhythms and rediscovering what sparks their own curiosity. If you didn’t have to be at school at a certain time, what time would your children naturally wake? When are they most hungry? When is their mind most active? What time of the day do they need to recharge?

Our night owl goes to bed at the same time every night, but can wake anywhere from 7 am to 9:30 am.   Teaching our children to place rest high on the priority list was lost in traditional school. When an idea sparks, she can work on self-directed projects on her own timeline. One day she spent seven hours setting-up and photographing the life stories of her doll families.  If one must break real life down into measurable learning, I observed art (photography, setting the scenes), social studies (adoption and family dynamics), storytelling (suspense, proper order of events), health (babies being born, arm injuries, physical activities), and science (tsunamis, blizzards, air temperatures) all rolled into one. In traditional kindergarten, the activities moved along so fast, it was common to hear her describe her school projects by saying “and I didn’t have time to finish that.”

Packaged curricula can be a good place to start for new families, because so many families are frightened that their children will miss some crucial benchmark and will never succeed.  Start there if you must but then try to remember that other people set those benchmarks (and then let them go, if you can). Children are individuals and learn different skills when they’re ready.  One of the things I now love most about homeschooling is the freedom.

Once your home environment is relaxed enough, you’ll know what to ‘teach’ your child because they will ask you questions about what they don’t understand.  In our house, if we parents don’t know, we write it on the chalkboard and our ‘schooling’ is usually researching it together at the library or by asking someone who knows.  Right now, we’re trying to figure out exactly how oysters filter water.

This year, our child-led model has resulted in knowing that cavemen ate nettles and other greens (because the children doubted that greens are really necessary in their diets). We studied how the Eiffel tower was built and what rare fish lived in the lakes of Tanzania. Our forestry studies have touched upon beech blight and the emerald ash borer.  And so much more. This learning-style is such a way-of-life for us that our youngest has picked up the habit. When big sister decided to make a lapbook on porcupines, our youngest was three. Without prompting, little sister decided to check out library books on bobcats for her first lapbook. Typical subjects like reading and writing are a by-product of their own curiosity.

I recently remembered that I had ordered the preschool books from Oak Meadow when my oldest was two years old.  The Heart of Learning remains one of the most influential parenting books I have ever read as it presents a way of guiding children that resonated very deeply.

I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first, but now that we’re over the beginning stages, it turns out my learning was just as important as theirs. And seeing their parents adapt to the unexpected teaches them to do the same. I am so glad we took the leap of faith and are pursuing an unconventional education for our children.

 

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

bluebell field in England

Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)

Happy March Equinox Everyone!

Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions.  It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!

Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator. 

During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”

Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight

So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

My Dictionary is My Best Friend!

dictionary, collegiate, college, book

A classic dictionary, photo via Wikimedia Commons

“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
https://www.brainyquote.com

For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!

With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.

Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!

While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:

Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder. 

Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.

Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.

Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!

Enjoy learning new words~

 

 

The Plagiarism Sea!

http://www.clipartpal.com

This blog post is brought to you by our Oak Meadow teacher, Michelle Menegaz. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Hello Middle Schoolers!

This is a very important alert about the shark-infested waters of the Plagiarism Sea into which many middle school students dive at one time or another. It always starts out as a search for treasure…the quick path to a wonderfully phrased and well-edited essay or report, but quite soon, the unsuspecting student becomes tangled in strands of broken copyright seaweed and the sharks begin to circle!

From Smithsonian Magazine

As an Oak Meadow teacher, I often notice that some of a student’s writing is almost word for word the same as parts of material in the sources used. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons for including citations for all sources. If no sources are cited, I can not be sure the work is original.) It’s really important that you always write in your own words and not copy sentences or paragraphs from other sources. Copying from other sources is considered cheating, and is taken very seriously at Oak Meadow. The first time it happens teachers give a warning, and if it happens again, it will more seriously affect grades.

Please take time to read more in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook in the section called “Original Work Guidelines.” This can go a long way towards ensuring that you avoid the weeds and sharks on the way to the true treasure…an original, well-crafted piece of writing or research. I can also recommend the Purdue OWL website. It has some very good content that you could use.

Plagiarism is a very tricky thing to define at times, since excessive paraphrasing can also be considered copying of a sort. There is definitely a learning curve about plagiarism in all its forms, especially with use of the internet. There are many reasons that students plagiarize their work. Using three reliable sources at all times and taking very brief notes from these sources can be enormously helpful. Another possible path to try would be to do the work in your own handwriting, in your own words of course, so there are not cut and paste errors.

It is extremely time consuming for an Oak meadow teacher to verify plagiarized work. Once the first warning is given, any further work that is plagiarized will need to receive a failing grade. Let’s avoid this!

In summary, here is what to do:

*Review the Original Work Guidelines in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook

*Read the bibliography piece called Citing Your Sources

*Discuss with your parents how to use your own words

Warmly,

Michelle Menegaz, Oak Meadow teacher

 

Ready for Learning

Dictionary

Dictionary

Welcoming a new school year is exciting! Here in New England I think I can actually feel the excitement in the cooling air of autumn. Getting ready for a new school year can mean finding the best spot for studying, getting your supplies in order, and setting up your desk space. Setting up your own “work space” allows for you to separate work from play. Look for a quiet, comfortable space with few distractions, and good lighting. Looking ahead in the curriculum to see what supplies you may need is a great way to set yourself up for successful learning. Get out your favorite pencils, pens, crayons, and notebooks!

For those of you in the middle grades (ages 11-14), if you don’t yet have your very own dictionary and thesaurus, now is the time to find them! Both will become your best friends as you go through the year. Printed book versions are great to just have next to you as you read and write. With a book at hand you won’t be distracted by your device (computer, kindle, phone, ipad) and you can mark up the pages any way that you like! You can often find used ones at second hand book stores. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years, look for Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent additions.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus.

Also really useful is a good atlas for discovering new places in the world and helping you illustrate maps. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!

Have a wonderful beginning!

9 Questions to Ask Yourself As You Consider Homeschooling

Photo Credit: Robyn Groth Oak Meadow Archives

  1. Why does homeschooling feel like a good idea? What needs are not being met well in other ways, and how might homeschooling help best meet those needs?
  2. What is my child expecting homeschooling to be like? What am I expecting homeschooling to be like? How do those two things line up?
  3. What areas of learning are easiest for my child? What areas are most challenging?
  4. What are my child’s passions and interests? How will they fit into our plan for homeschooling?
  5. What are my biggest worries about homeschooling? What are some strategies I could use to work through those things if they happen?
  6. What struggles do I predict we might have as we add homeschooling to our parent-child dynamic, and how can I anticipate and prevent them?
  7. How will I meet my own need for self-care so that I am able to give all that my child needs?
  8. What will I say to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers who are skeptical about our decision to homeschool? How will I prepare myself for such questions?
  9. Who are my homeschooling support buddies? Do I have friends, neighbors, or relatives who homeschool? If not, do I know where to find local and/ or distant homeschoolers to share experiences and ideas with?

The Late-Awakened Heart

So I’m reading The Heart of Learning and love it, but I’m also left with a feeling of failure. I feel like I failed my 9 and 5 year olds. My 1.5 year old, too, but I still have time with her. Anyone ever feel like this?

Can you relate?

On your way to a heart-centered approach to learning, has the journey has been long and complicated? Have you have spent years trying different approaches to parenting and/or education before finding one that really feels right? Have the many twists and turns left you, and perhaps your children, feeling frustrated and exhausted?

Photo Credit: Yoko Hirano
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Start by giving yourself credit for where you are and how you’ve gotten there! You’ve worked hard to navigate the complicated path of parenting. You’ve followed your heart to the place where you are now. Your children benefit from your courage when you open your family to new possibilities. You are not failing — you are succeeding!

It’s never too late to adapt your parenting style in response to new ideas and inspiration. Even partway through childhood, your child continues to benefit from your growing confidence and experience. Parenting skills evolve over time. When your first child arrived, you had no choice but to learn on your feet. Maybe later you had other children whose needs were nothing like your first, which meant you needed to develop new tools.

You tried whatever came to you along the way. Perhaps you followed the model of other parents, the suggestions of relatives, or the advice of professionals. Or maybe you stayed with what felt familiar and made choices similar to those your own parents made. You made use of the resources you had and made the most of whatever was available at the time.

Photo Credit: Lacey Grim
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Maybe those approaches worked, at least for awhile, or maybe they taught you that your child needed something else. Or maybe your instincts were tugging at you to take a different path from the start. Every parent has had the experiences of making a choice that turned out to be less than perfect. Every child is unique, and it can take several tries to figure out how best to meet a particular child’s needs during a particular phase or circumstance.

Even when you’ve discovered an approach that feels like the perfect fit, you may have mixed feelings about switching gears – and your child might, too. Here are some suggestions for navigating this transition:

Explain the changes. One of the most valuable things we can do for our children is to model what it means to be a lifelong learner. If you are making a change that your child will notice and wonder about, affirm their experience and share your reasons for moving in a new direction. If you feel regret that your older children did not benefit sooner from such a shift, acknowledge this, but also make sure they know you tried your best given the information and support you had at the time. Let them know that everyone can learn from their experiences.

Include your child in the process. If a big change is in the works, such as a switch from public school to home learning, ask your children what matters to them. Give their input careful consideration and let them know that their opinions and insights are important to you. Do your best to foster and maintain connection with your children, especially if your earlier approach was less connection-oriented.

Photo Credit: Litteken Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Take good care of yourself and one another. Remember that significant transitions can be stressful even when the result will be positive and healthy. Find ways to create and maintain balance for yourself and your children. Spending time in nature can be restorative and healing for the whole family. Finding and following a rhythm in your days and weeks can help keep everyone grounded, especially when new adventures are beginning. Stay present with your child; you are on this journey together.

Take time to feel. If you need to grieve the way things might have been, give yourself (and your child) space for that important process. Be gentle with yourself and allow the transformation in your life the time it deserves.

Acknowledge growth. Your journey will not be like anyone else’s – embrace its unique lessons and gifts.

Remember that the heart is at the center of the parenting journey. It awakens to new ideas in its own time. You can trust that your heart is leading you well. You can do this!

 

You’re the Expert!

Have you ever wondered how homeschooling works for ordinary parents? It’s true: Most of us do not have advanced degrees in education or child development. Most of us are just ordinary people who went to school like every other kid we knew and never imagined we’d be homeschooling our own children someday. How can an ordinary parent possibly be qualified to be a home teacher?

Photo Credit: Nevada Wolfe
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Good news! You certainly can successfully teach your children at home. You are already doing it. Home teaching is a natural extension of parenting. You’ve been a teacher since the moment your children arrived to join your family. You’ve simply followed your instincts to figure out what they need and figure out how to best meet those needs, whether the solution is something you do on your own or seek outside help with. This is what teaching is all about.

As you go about your daily life, you teach through example and by explaining what you are doing and why. You answer questions and challenge your children to come up with some of the answers themselves, sometimes, too. You pay close attention to them as you explain many things and support them as they try things on their own. You bolster their courage as they grow in new ways. You know more about them than anyone else in the world!

Photo Credit: Neil Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Although you may not have an advanced degree in education, you do know how to tell when your children are open to learning something new and when they are not ready. You know when they are feeling confident and when they need extra support. You know how to tell when something really isn’t working for them, and you know just when to switch gears when that happens. You can read their signals better than anyone else can. And using a packaged curriculum can give you the peace of mind that, pedagogically, you are offering an optimal learning experience.

Photo Credit: Kelly Weiss
(Oak Meadow Archives)

As a homeschooling parent, you are an educational coordinator, especially if your family takes advantage of teaching resources such as in-home tutors or classes outside the home. If you don’t feel capable of teaching French or Calculus because you never learned it yourself, you can engage a local or distance learning teacher to handle that subject with your children. If you are afraid your lack of confidence with math will interfere with their ability to develop a love for it, don’t worry – just get some help from someone who really does enjoy teaching math. If your children are learning primarily at home, even if they are also taking classes or lessons here and there, you’re their home teacher – and in the best position to support their learning.

Photo Credit: Szmodis Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

For a homeschooling parent, sometimes a little boost of confidence can go a long way. Seeking outside help when you need it is important. If you would like to learn more about tools and techniques that can help you be more confident as a home teacher, Oak Meadow’s Foundations in Independent Learning course is a great place to begin. One or more homeschool support sessions or the ongoing support of an accredited distance learning program can also be a great help. Most homeschooling parents do not have a teaching certificate or an education degree, and yet most homeschooled students learn what they need to learn and grow into capable adults.

Consulting outside experts who might be helpful to you doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to be a home teacher, but that you are capable of being a very effective home teacher. And as the home teacher, you are the one who most aware of what your children needs. You are the primary expert on your own children, and you are capable of homeschooling them!

10 Things Parents Give Up When They Homeschool

1. quiet days, whether at home or at the office

Photo Credit: Barker Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

2. packing brown bag lunches or scrambling for lunch money every morning

3. the morning ritual of making sure nobody goes back to sleep after their alarm sounds

4. sending your child out running to catch the bus (and driving them to school when they miss it)

5. parent/teacher conferences (unless you count walking around and muttering to yourself as a teacher conference!)

6. all-school concerts and other mandatory evening events

7. providing a doctor’s note when your child misses school due to illness

8. mandatory parent-teacher commitments and fundraisers

9. the evening homework saga

10. before- and after-school transitions (in which you’re sure your child’s best behavior is being saved for their teacher)

Photo Credit: Vannucci Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What others can you add to this list?

 

Decluttering the Homeschool House

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Charles A. Goodrich

Homeschoolers usually spend a significant portion of their days at home. The many hours of projects, crafts, meals, experiments, and exuberant learning that happen every day in a homeschooling house can add up to a significant amount of clutter and chaos. What are some ways to keep your home and your family from getting overwhelmed by this?

Photo Credit: Sarah Justice
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Consider the favorite spaces that your family uses for various activities. Set things up so it is easy to clean up and start over when space is needed for another project. Make sure there is a storage area nearby for works in progress and a safe spot for anything that might need to air-dry.

Observe the patterns in your house. How are family members using the space? Where do piles of things usually grow? One of the biggest challenges in any house is keeping things up off the floor. Where do things most often get dropped? If you have a perpetual pile that grows unbidden in a particular place, it’s a sure sign that those items need a permanent home nearby. Put baskets for hats/mittens near where coats are hung. Unfinished works of art may need a shelf near the crafts area.

Who is responsible for tidying up and when? Setting aside regular time once or twice each day for routine clean-up can help keep the clutter from growing. You may find it helpful to assign a container to each family member – a basket, bin, or box – where anyone can deposit items belonging to the owner. Put trash/recycling containers in every room where trash is generated.

Photo Credit: Sky Hawk
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Make it a habit to weed out and discard unwanted items on an ongoing basis. Things that are broken should be fixed or discarded. Papers can often be recycled. If you feel overwhelmed, just deal with the pile or item that you bump into first — then repeat, repeat, repeat.

If your children have a hard time decluttering, play a fun family game of “Keep or Don’t Keep?” See how fast you can sort through a pile together. Start with two containers for sorting things into – one “keep” bin and one “toss” bin. Hold up each item in turn and ask dramatically, “Keep? Or don’t keep?” Encourage your child to respond as quickly as possible for each item. Time yourselves if it adds to the excitement. When the pile is gone, you can whisk the “toss” pile out of sight to quietly dispose of later.

Here are some things to consider adding to your home in areas where clutter collects:

  • Hooks to hang things on
  • Shelves to put things on
  • Bins and drawers to put things in
  • Baskets, containers, crates to organize things
  • Furniture with doors and drawers to help to keep clutter hidden

Make sure that storage is at the right height for the people who will use it. If you have young children, store off-limits items on the highest shelves or behind cabinet doors and “help-yourself” items, such as toys and basic drawing supplies, within easy reach. Storage that is too difficult to access will not be used; same for storage that is not in the area where its items are most likely to be abandoned. Try to make it as convenient as possible.

Photo Credit: Lugo Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Consider turning a closet or cabinet into a storage space for art/craft supplies and other homeschooling materials. Sort by category and assign one bin or box to each category (crayons, ribbons/string, paint, knitting, etc.). Label everything clearly so that everyone can see what to store in each bin without having to open it to check. Use pictures or symbols if you have family members who are very visual or not yet reading.

Cozy nooks for reading and relaxing are important but can invite a state of ongoing disarray. What are your nooks like? Are there pillows? Soft blankets? How do you want things arranged when not in use? What does that look like? Show your children how to stack pillows, fold blankets, and leave things tidy for the next person.

With a proactive approach and some practice, managing clutter can become a regular part of your family’s homeschooling routine. Involve everyone in the family in the process and the results will be worth the effort as you enjoy a calmer, less cluttered home.