There will again be a Christmas Store at St. Louis School, Washburn, and homeschoolers are invited to participate on Thursday, December 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The store is comprised of donated items, and school children are invited to come and shop for their families; the cost is $1 per item. Children are encouraged to bring a list of people/ages that they are shopping for and the folks working at the sale will help them pick out items (parents of homeschoolers can wait elsewhere so the gifts can be a surprise). There will also be a wrapping station.
When I first started homeschooling, I decided I would write monthly progress notes for each of my kids. Wow, was I ambitious! The monthly notes lasted about three months; I switched to quarterly notes. That didn’t last long, either. Nowadays I usually write my kids’ progress notes in the form of a single end-of-year summary for each child, although some years I manage to also write a mid-year progress note.
Just to be complete, I’d like to say that I do write daily notes throughout the school year. While useful, those notes are short and not very descriptive. A daily note might say something like, “Math, Chpt 6 lesson 4; French homework; hammered dulcimer lesson … etc.” In those daily notes, I also write down new tasks learned (recently we butchered some roosters and I taught my daughter how to clean the gizzards – you BET that went down in her daily notes!) and books read, along with other things like nature walks and other outside activities and extracurriculars (we have a LOT of extracurriculars!) I look back at those shorter notes occasionally as they can be useful for various purposes, but I find that my progress notes give me a much better picture of how my children are growing, learning and changing.
Since I am finally writing their progress notes from this past school year and summer, I’ve spent time in the past week looking back over some of my kids’ notes from past years. I love reading them — they bring back so many memories and they show me how far my children have come. Often they are several pages long, and nearly all are hand-written. I write them in the form of a letter to my child, making the notes feel so special and personal. While of course I comment on their progress in various academic pursuits, I also reflect on other things that have happened in their lives. I may write about some of the challenges of the past year and how they have faced those challenges and grown emotionally. I record things about our family life together. I mention their quirks, their interests. Perhaps I might write down something about them that drives me nuts. (Maybe I should let them write progress notes on me! One year my son was frequently feeling frustrated with me and he came up with a graph showing my daily approval rating!) I also always write down some of the special things that I appreciate about each of my kids.
I don’t know what first prompted me to write notes like this, but I do know that I am so grateful to have started. At the end of most days I find myself wondering, “Why do they call it homeschooling? We’re never home!” And I often wonder if my kids are learning anything. But our progress notes help me see the Big Picture. Reading them helps me appreciate not only where we have been (not just geographically but also emotionally) and how much we have accomplished, but I can also see the varied experiences that my kids have had that are helping them grow into confident and capable people.
Even though I have taken on some new responsibilities in my life and am feeling busier than usual, I have been working diligently on this year’s notes. I honestly don’t feel I can go into the new year with a clear head unless I have spent time reflecting and have written certain things down.
I love watching my kids’ expressions as they read their progress notes, and I welcome their input, corrections, and additions. They form the perfect springboard for discussing the new school year to come, giving us a starting point to talk about their short- and long-term goals, and to make decisions together about what they want and need to learn and how to go about learning it. There was one busy year when I had my son write one of his own progress notes (he was in fifth grade). It’s pretty good, and I think having children evaluate their own strengths and progress in a formal manner is a good and useful idea. I might do more of that as my kids get older, but I’m not going to give up my own writing. Why should my kids have all the fun??!
What about you? I would love to hear ideas about this topic from other homeschoolers.
My kids and I returned Sunday evening from the Wisconsin Parents Association 33rd Annual Conference and Resource Fair and all I can say is “Wow! That was amazing!” It will take me weeks to digest all that I learned there. The sense of community that was created was just what we needed to help us continue to feel supported and nurtured in this journey of homeschooling. My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed staying in the dorm where we met and hung out with homeschoolers from all over the state. We made new friends and we can hardly wait to see them again at next year’s conference! For those of you who could not attend or who have never attended a WPA conference, I urge you to consider going next year. You will not be disappointed.
I attended one of Erich Moraine’s talks about unschooling and in it he asked the participants to share how they know when their homeschool is ‘working’. One person spoke up and said she can tell when things are going well because her child is “all lit up!” Well, if “all lit up” is any indication of success, then this conference was a huge success; I saw happy, lit up faces everywhere we went, from Meet & Greet to the halls in the dorms, from shared meals to the various sessions and workshops. The general session speeches were insightful and inspiring and served as a reminder of the hard work families did in the 1980’s to secure my right to homeschool my children; this right is precarious and we all need to continue to work together to safeguard our homeschooling law. We had the privilege of hearing graduation speeches given by seven homeschool graduates and some of their parents. Their words of hope for their future and gratitude for their upbringing were a beautiful inspiration to my own children.
If you are not a member of WPA, please please consider joining. If you are already a member, please encourage other homeschoolers to join and consider volunteering your time – there are many ways to help out. Below are some words from their facebook page (our facebook page – WPA is us):
Many thanks to all who attended, supported and created the 2016 WPA Conference. This year’s theme was “Homeschooling with Integrity.” To have integrity means to be undivided. To have integrity means to act according to strong moral principles. The Wisconsin Parents Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the rights of WI parents to educate their children according to their own principles and beliefs. This year’s conference reaffirmed our commitment to this goal and challenged our members to take this message to their own local areas. If you are homeschooling in WI you are already taking advantage of the work of WPA. Become a member and make us stronger.
WPA provides legislative watch–we’re paying attention to politics every day so you don’t have to. This organization works hard to maintain Wisconsin’s very reasonable homeschooling law that allows each family to educate their children in the way they see fit. What is that worth to you?
Today I found myself repeatedly reminded of why I homeschool. It was a lovely day – sun shining, snow melting, chickens gleefully expanding their foraging into the newly uncovered grass – I have no doubt that, if I had been driving, every traffic light encountered would have been green. Maybe I would even have been driving a new car!! Have you had days that felt like that? It was a day where the path behind me lined up perfectly with the path in front of me, and I was able to see it and marvel at this life.
Apparently my kids had a few discussions over the weekend and decided that they would like to make lunch together once a week. Without me. They informed me of their decision today, their persuasive reasons at the ready if necessary to convince me. It’s not a huge leap — they already help with most meals. They set the table, chop vegetables, warm leftovers, and bake independently. The new thing here is letting them handle raw meat, not an easy thing for me. But they convinced me and immediately set to work (at 10:30 in the morning?!), consulting their Nourishing Traditions Cookbook for Children, taking stock of available ingredients in the fridge and cupboards, consulting with me regarding substitutions. I found myself drawn into helping, so I decided to excuse myself from the room while remaining close enough to listen to their discussions. It was such a joy to see them work together so well. (And the turkey meatballs and homemade guacamole turned out really good, too!)
Later we went to the nursing home to visit our former neighbor, Beverly. The kids got to know her when we lived in town. They had a path through a wooded lot to her house, and, not being in school, could run over to her house at any hour and visit when they saw her outside. Beverly is 95 now. When we entered her room today she looked at me and said, “I don’t know who you are.” But then she saw the children and her eyes sparkled in recognition; she was so pleased to see them. We spent nearly two hours with her, chatting and putting a puzzle together.
Neither of these situations is remarkable, really. And yet I felt a connection to my kids, and watched them connect to one another and to Beverly in ways that did feel remarkable. I wondered, if they went to school all day, would they get along so well and work together so sweetly? Would they have had time to develop such a special relationship with Beverly? I found myself thinking about my first exposure to homeschooling. I was working at a Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Spokane Washington in the early 90’s as a pediatric physical therapist. I met so many wonderful children there, and so many caring parents. But two of the the families that I met there stood out to me, and they were both homeschooling families. I saw in them a relationship that was more connected than most families. There was an ease of being together and an understanding of one another to an extent that I did not observe in other families. They seemed to take such pleasure in being together. I hoped that, should I ever have children, I would have that kind of relationship with them. Today I realized that I do. And while my past self may have thought about my future relationship with my children, I didn’t consider their relationship as siblings. I never imagined the strong bond that my kids would develop with one another. I can’t imagine them apart all day. In fact, I can’t imagine them apart ever. I am forever grateful that I am able to homeschool my children.
I recently picked up a copy of Time magazine in a waiting room and read a story about all this blogging that is going on. The author of the article asserts that “people are being highly selective about what they share” and that “many of them are posting an impossibly pristine, accomplished version of their family lives on the web.” (Time, 10/26/15 p. 39) Well, I don’t want to be guilty of that! I do tend to write when I am in a good mood, but today we had a rough morning and I have decided to do a bit of writing and sharing anyway. It’s good to keep some balance and perspective.
I have written before that my relationship with my children is the foundation of my homeschool. Today was one of those days when I needed to remind myself of that. After a rough patch this morning with my daughter, I had to stop and remind myself of one of my favorite relationship quotes. I’d like to share it with you here:
A real relationship is a dance among willing participants who give what they wish, as they wish, when they wish. It inspires present and future intimacy, present and future understanding of the other and the self. It nourishes those involved. It makes us more of who we are.1
The quote is from Sun Magazine and it is actually about zoos and our (not-so-real) relationships with animals when we visit zoos. But I find it to be relevant to human relationships, also. Perhaps for relationships between people I would change the wording somewhat. People have all kinds of relationships with one another and they are all ‘real’ in their own ways, from superficial acquaintanceships to close friendships to a variety of family relationships. For me, I find that a relationship that makes me more of who I am is a rare gem and is a relationship worth a tremendous amount of my time, thought, and life-energy. My relationship with my children definitely falls into this category.
Now, on to our rough morning, or, “what is Kim getting at here?” One goal that my daughter has set for herself is to improve her spelling. Today I felt bored with our usual spelling and writing activities and I decided (without her input) to write up a short assignment for her. She was to ‘interview’ Destiny, our recently-adopted cat (“What are your favorite foods?”) and one of our chickens, Bertha, (“Where are your favorite places to scratch for bugs?”) and then write out their ‘responses’. I liked my idea; I thought it was fun and would give her a chance to show how creative and funny she can be. My daughter, however, did not like my idea at all! She told me flat out that she did not want to do it, she requested a math assignment instead, and when I wouldn’t give her one she went into her room. Wow, suddenly I was really crabby! I confronted her. I went through the usual “I need to see that you are learning” and “I am your mother and you need to do what I tell you to do” and “You know, I don’t ask that much of you and you sure have a lot of free time”. I told her she could either do the assignment or do the dishes. She did the dishes. This type of exchange went on for a while. Finally, I took a shower and had a cup of coffee and settled down.
What was going on here? I realized that I needed my daughter to do something ‘schoolish’. Why? To assuage my own fears that she might not be learning the right things, fears conditioned by my own years of being schooled. Also, I needed to be the authority figure, to have my daughter unquestioningly do what I told her to do. I suppose I could have used some sort of coercion to force her to do my assignment, like take away a playdate or fun outing if she did not comply. In school, I remember the teachers telling kids that they had better do the assignment or they would “get a big, fat goose egg”. (It took me years to figure out that meant a zero.) But fortunately I remembered something crucial. I remembered that my relationship with my children is the most important thing in my life, and their relationship with me, at least for now, is the most important thing in their lives. And a good relationship, for us anyway, makes us more of who we are. It does not diminish us. It does not pit one will against the other. I talked to my daughter. I apologized. So did she. We spent some time together doing chores outside. I gave up on the writing assignment and made my daughter a math worksheet, like she had requested.
Does this mean that unschooled children do whatever they want to do? No. For me it means that my unschooled kids have input into their learning, a LOT of input and control. And that my need to see them learning needs to be in constant balance with maintaining a positive relationship. Later my daughter and I talked about her spelling/writing goal that she had set for herself; it continues to be a goal for her. She told me that, while I may be bored with her spelling assignments, she is not. So we will keep things the same. We have several activities that we do, but the most typical one is that I come up with three words for her to spell and she writes out a sentence or two using them. She does this whether or not she feels much like writing. She still has some control, though. Tonight she told me, “When I’m in a good writing mood, mom, you can tell because I’ll write more and embellish more. And when I’m not in a writing mood, I just write less.”
1 Thought To Exist In the Wild, by Derrick Jensen, Sun Magazine, November 2007 Issue 383
This is a reminder that if you homeschool in Wisconsin, you are required to file form PI-1206 with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction by October 15 of each year (DPI form here). For families new to homeschooling, you do not need to file this form until the year your child turns 6 on or before Sept. 1. If your child is enrolled in public or conventional private school and you withdraw your child from school, you will need to file the form before you start homeschooling. Please note: if your child is enrolled in a virtual school, your child is not homeschooled and you do not need to file form PI-1206 for that child. Wisconsin Parents Association has accurate information about filing this form here. For parents of younger children, information about the 2010 Kindergarten Law can be found here.
Please remember that the language we use is important and helps us maintain our homeschooling freedoms. By filing this form, we are simply reporting the enrollment of our homeschool. We are not requesting permission to homeschool or registering or enrolling our child in our homeschool. Our child is enrolled in our homeschool when we begin homeschooling – there is no enrollment form or additional form to complete.
How is it that I unschool yet feel comfortable signing a form that reads as follows:
Wisconsin Statute 118.165(1) specifies that a home-based private educational program must provide “… at least 875 hours of instruction each school year.” In addition, the program must provide a “… sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.”
I am perfectly comfortable signing this form because I know that I have the right to raise and educate my children according to my principles and beliefs. Children have learned for thousands of years without the imposition of compulsory schooling; indeed, schools as we know them have only been around for the past 100 years or so. (To learn about the fascinating history of compulsory schooling in the U.S., please read some of John Taylor Gatto’s books.) As homeschoolers, we can use a packaged curriculum, make our own curriculum, unschool, or use any combination of those in whatever way works for our individual children. The Wisconsin statute does not require our children to spend equal amounts of time on reading, math, science, etc., so we can emphasize whatever we choose.
I have no doubt that my children receive well over 875 hours of instruction each year. I know that my children are learning all the time as we talk, explore, and work together as a family. They do not need to be sitting at a desk working through a pre-made curriculum for learning to take place (indeed, the statute simply says “instruction”, not ‘seat-work’ or ‘time at a desk’). When we cook together and I share information with my children about a book that I am reading on the importance of Vitamin K2 and the foods that contain it (like eggs from our foraging chickens), my kids are learning more about healthy eating than they will ever learn from a unit on nutrition in a workbook manufactured by a publishing company. When we spend a fall day hiking at Copper Falls and my children pause to read the signs along the trail about the geology of the area, they are receiving ‘instruction’ in science, no chalkboard, worksheet or test required.
When learning is viewed more broadly than time at a desk is it clear that we are covering all the required subjects and many more and that learning is taking place for far more than 875 hours per year. And the requirement that my children be presented with a “sequentially progressive curriculum…?” My children continue to learn very much as they did when they were young, before the ‘magical’ age of kindergarten. For the first five years of their lives they absorbed vast quantities of information about our language, culture, and environment. They learned things according to their own abilities, taking in what they understood for their level of development and building upon what they already knew; this type of ‘sequential, progressive’ learning continues today. For example, my kids are two years apart and when I read aloud to them, they are each absorbing what they are ready for. When they both read Little Women and Little Men a couple of years ago (and then had cute little book discussions with one another) I have no doubt that because of their age difference they understood and interpreted the books differently but at the level each child was ready for, not at the level that some curriculum publisher chose for them based on their age. Honestly, is there any other way to learn? Isn’t all learning sequential and progressive, even if we start in the middle of something?
Wisconsin has one of the most reasonable homeschooling laws in the country, but you are not legally homeschooling in Wisconsin unless you have filed form PI-1206. Some of the information on the DPI website is not accurate, so if you need further information, please contact WPA. Enjoy this beautiful, colorful fall and the start of this new school year!
Congratulations to Isabella Stone-Dahl on her homeschool graduation! Isabella, who is 18, has always been homeschooled as have her 3 younger siblings. Isabella’s family primarily unschools. What does this look like? Isabella and her mother, April, came up with the following description of her upbringing, lifestyle and education.
When Isabella was younger, she had plenty of time and freedom to do things like play in the woods and natural areas, be around people of all ages in the greater community, and be around and participate in ceremonies. After about the age of 8, sugarbush (making maple syrup with her family) became a major activity and would be for the next 10 years, followed by rice camp (harvesting wild rice), seasonal living and work and finally reading (about age 11) and crafting among other interests. When she was 15, Isabella decided that she might want to pursue college someday and could benefit from more structure. She put together a course of self-directed study for herself primarily through the use of used textbooks and other books and materials that she acquired from book exchanges and other homeschooling families (what a resourceful young lady!) Her studies included basic math, geometry and algebra, etc., real history, geology and other sciences, social studies, language arts and composition, and sailing and navigating, to name just a few. Additionally, from the ages of 15 to 18, Isabella became certified in motor boat handling, CPR, AED (automated external defibrillation) and first aid, and scuba diving while at the same time acquiring employment as a source of monetary savings for herself.
Isabella’s mother, April, describes her unschooled approach to learning as, “When she’s ready to learn something and wants to learn it, then we guide her.” Since learning is endless, April related that she found it difficult to know when to stop homeschooling Isabella. As part of graduation, Isabella, who is a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians, also participated in a tribal ceremony where she, along with other tribal members who were graduating from high school (all public schooled), received a beautiful Honors Quilt, handmade by women from her tribe.
The question for new graduates is always, “What are your plans?” To this question Isabella responded that she does not have specific plans. She is a competent sailor and will be teaching sailing classes to children this summer. She has an interest in doing some traveling and expects to eventually go to college.
There is often some curiosity about homeschooling and how it is that parents have the right to award diplomas to their own children. Homeschools are private schools, and the law gives us the right to award diplomas the same as any other private school. Families decide what requirements must be met for graduation and award a diploma to young people who meet them. Each May at the Wisconsin Parents Association Homeschool Conference, graduating homeschoolers have the option of participating in a formal graduation ceremony. Had Isabella participated in that ceremony, the following statement would have been read, “This is in recognition of Isabella Stone-Dahl’s successful completion of homeschooling through the high school years as attested to by her parents, Isabella herself, and others who have helped and observed her reach this milestone. In honor and confirmation of this important event, her parents acknowledge her achievement before this gathered assembly.”
So, congratulations Isabella on the successful completion of the requirements of your homeschool as attested to by you and your parents!!! We wish you the best of luck!
I’ll leave you with one final issue to consider. At the conference, I learned that there are over 19,000 homeschooled students in Wisconsin alone. Assuming that any given family that homeschools has on average 3 children, that means that there are approximately 6300 homeschooling families in Wisconsin. Of those, only 700 families are members of Wisconsin Parents Association. If you homeschool in Wisconsin, please take the time to educate yourself on the history of homeschooling in Wisconsin. (Brief version here to get you started). You can join WPA for just $35 per year. While I understand that there are some families that are on a very tight budget, most of us can handle spending $35. Join WPA and protect your freedom to have the choice to educate your children in the way that is best for them and for your family, free from unnecessary regulations and useless, hindering oversight*. Seriously, read the history of homeschooling in Wisconsin. Reading about the misuse of power that some families had to suffer through might just make your blood boil.
*The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction would love to regulate homeschoolers. Do you really want the DPI to saddle you with requests like the one below? This is just one small example and comes from an actual letter received by a family prior to the passage of the Wisconsin law that protects our homeschooling freedoms:
The DPI responded to one family’s submission of their curriculum, schedule,lesson plans, etc. with a two-page letter that included this: “The written curricularmaterials should include philosophy, goals and objectives, instructional activities tobe used in attempting to attain the identified goals and objectives of the respectivesubject areas, bibliography of print and non-print materials, and evaluation mea-sures to be used for each subject.” The letter went on to require a detailed dailyschedule for each subject and copies of written curriculums for subjects includingart, music, and physical education. The letter also asked the family to explain theparents’ work hours and relate these to the homeschool calendar and schedule.The family had to show that their homeschool program would be “substantiallyequivalent to that of public or private schools in the area of residence.” This letterwas just one in a series of DPI requests.
I received some helpful comments from reader Roy Underhill regarding my post How Do You Define a Successful Unschool, and I’d like to share them with you here.
Another good post, Kim. I find it interesting that nearly all the comments about what makes unschooling successful speak to attributes or feelings of the child (such as tenacious and patient or satisfied and confident) rather than the content of the child’s mind (such knowing the times table or how to write a book review). Along those lines, I have a few comments.
I sometimes am very annoyed at the term ‘unschooling’. Like Erich points out, it is not really possible to define something negatively. I think that what we call unschooling is really just learning , what I’m tempted to call real learning, as opposed to school-type learning, which is often (and mistakenly) taken as the paradigm of what learning is. The problem is really that the term ‘learning’ has been misused for so long. It now means something like “he passed the test” or “he got a B” instead of its simple, pure meaning, as in “NOW I understand!” or “NOW I can do this!”. I like the phrases ‘child-initiated learning’ or ‘interest-initiated learning’ but again, it seems to me that this is really the only kind of learning there is. Any other kind of ‘learning’ is really something else — a sort of training perhaps, or a form of temporary memorization to please pesky adults. Indeed, children are routinely trained in test taking strategies so that they may perform better on exams, (then we turn around and with a straight face assert that success on this test proves a child has learned).
I think when we talk about unschooling we sometimes don’t make clear whether we are discussing a particular method (letting kids do whatever they want) or a particular kind of environment and set of character traits (an atmosphere of peace and harmony populated by curious, confident and passionate children). And sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that the method of unschooling, if only we can be true to it, will inevitably lead to the results we want. This is a mistake no different, I think, than the schools’ assumption that if only we have enough testing and accountability then kids will learn. Both these attitudes fail to recognize that each child is different, each child is unique, so there is no one method that can universally and truly nurture all children. As your quotations suggest and as you say in your post, what matters is what works. Real learning only takes place when we are interested and positively motivated, so I think of unschooling as the assertion that interest and motivation should be front and center in deciding how to go about this learning process. It is a state of mind, being open to all the ways and places learning can happen, and focusing on creating a nurturing environment which in turn nurtures a confident learner who is capable of teaching herself what is interesting and necessary and beautiful.
The biggest contrast between institutional schooling and unschooling is in their attitude toward coercion. I see three important differences:
First, in a typical school, most of the child’s activity is coerced in one way or another and only a very small part of the day is spent in activities chosen by the child. In unschooling, those ratios are flipped — most of the day’s activities are determined by the child and only a small part is dictated by the parent (including things like brushing one’s teeth).
Second, coercion (by which I mean to include external rewards, comparison, guilt and fear of failure through use of grades, etc.) is typically used in school to force the ‘learning’ of specific content, as in “learn this list of spelling words or you will be embarrassed by a bad grade on the test”. In unschooling, the desire to learn specific content is either already in the child or is nurtured by the parent through exposure to new ideas and activities, gentle invitation to try things, or positive example.
Finally, the use of coercion in school is typically motivated by the need to maintain control, the desire to maintain the hierarchy, and the need for ‘proof’ to assure parents and taxpayers that ‘learning’ really is happening. At home, ideally, any form of coercion is aimed not at maintaining our unquestioned authority or forcing our children to do something that merely assuages our own insecurities, but rather at helping to develop our child’s personality as a free, curious and loving person. So, while we may punish our child for hitting his sister, or take our child out for a treat on completion of an especially challenging task, or require our child to choose an instrument and help them practice every day, or have a nearly inflexible rule that every day at 8:30 a.m. we will all write at least one sentence using a word one of us picked randomly from the dictionary, the apparent coercion is lovingly applied in service of the larger goal of helping and challenging our child’s full character and potential to fully blossom.
At first glance it seems a little off the topic of homeschooling to write about our new baby chicks hatching, but really it isn’t. One of the beauties of homeschooling is our ability to always be present for what is important. Yesterday, 13 baby chicks hatched and my kids were home to watch this wonderful event. Today one last little chick struggled out of its shell while we watched and cheered him (or her) on.
Several weeks ago, Clare Hintz over at Elsewhere Farm was kind enough to share with us two dozen eggs from her Icelandic chickens. We placed half under our broody Australorp hen and half in our incubator. I thought they would never hatch! But a few days ago we started to hear peeping from the eggs in the incubator. Finally, baby chicks! To learn more about this rare breed of chickens, see this article from Mother Earth News. Fourteen chicks… what are the odds that they are all roosters? I think this is a good math problem for my kids!