Archive | May 2015

A Final Word About the 2015 WPA Homeschool Conference

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 curricular
materials should include philosophy, goals and objectives, instructional activities to
be used in attempting to attain the identified goals and objectives of the respective
subject 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 daily
schedule for each subject and copies of written curriculums for subjects including
art, music, and physical education. The letter also asked the family to explain the
parents’ work hours and relate these to the homeschool calendar and schedule.
The family had to show that their homeschool program would be “substantially
equivalent to that of public or private schools in the area of residence.” This letter
was just one in a series of DPI requests.

More Notes from the 2015 WPA Homeschool Conference

I would like to share with you some additional information and suggestions from the Wisconsin Parents Association Homeschool Conference that I attended earlier this month.

I recently read an article in which the author inadvertently referred to unschooling as unlearning, as if schooling and learning are synonymous and interchangeable, or, worse, suggesting that the author believes you are not learning unless you are in school!  (Just for the record, if you unlearn something, that means you learn it and then forget or discard it.)  Clearly that was written by someone who does not unschool, but there is certainly a misperception among some people that all unschooling looks the same and is totally hands off.  It is not.  Unschooling does not mean that our kids run the show and make all the decisions about their living and learning. It simply means that there is an emphasis on learning in ways that are different from school-type learning.  Along those lines, Erich, in his WPA talk How to Unschool the ‘Right’ Way, reminded us that our kids need us to help them make good decisions while at the same time we show them respect for their their needs and wants, and their fears and differences.  He stated that, as parents, “we can see farther down the road than our kids.”  To help us understand how this applies to learning, I like to give analogies that are fundamental to basic parenting as I see unschooling as being very much about parenting.  For example, most of us would not ordinarily let our child stay up half the night just because they are engrossed in a book.  We enforce bedtimes because we want our kids to learn good habits and feel good the next day.  Providing guidance in our children’s learning is really no different.  Our kids tend to function very much in the present moment; we as adults need to help them to also consider the future.

Another thing Erich suggested is that we can help our kids stay on track with their learning goals by asking them “Do you want me to help you stay focused?”  I really like that suggestion.  After we got back from the conference, my son asked me to help him keep up with his math.  He had come in to the final few minutes of Erich’s discussion and so I immediately thought he had heard Erich’s suggestion.  But when I asked my son, he said no, he had not, but that he had thought of that on his own.  Since he has asked me to help him stay on top of his math, I feel like less of a nag when I nudge him to finish up a lesson.  I think both of my kids have found that it is sometimes too easy to get off track when they do not have an outside person to answer to or a deadline to meet.  As much as we enjoy learning, it is sometimes too easy to let all the little distractions that life throws us get in the way of keeping up consistently with difficult things.  I like the idea of asking my kids if they want my help as it shows them they have ownership over their own learning.

Erich also mentioned that homeschoolers are significantly less likely to drop out of college than students who have attended public or private schools.  Why is that?  He suggested that perhaps it is because homeschoolers know themselves and they know how to learn.  (It may also be because homeschoolers arrive at college with far less baggage about learning than their schooled counterparts.)  This idea was reiterated in another session I attended, Emily Gilbert’s Following Your Passion.  Emily is a grown unschooled homeschooler who discussed her own passion, author Jane Austen, and where that passion has led her.  She was so right when she said, “When something is interesting, everything related to it is interesting.”  She said that in her home, there were no restrictions on what she could learn or what she could read.  She told us, “Unschooling helped me learn who I am.”  Personally, I found her words distilled perfectly much of what I am striving for with my own children.

These speakers, all volunteers, helped me find clarity in my homeschooling and in my relationship with my children.  I am passing on some of their thoughts and suggestions because I find them to be very insightful, helpful and practical.  As always, I would love to hear your comments!


Unschooling: A State of Mind

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.

The Chicks Hatched!

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!










How Do You Define a Successful Unschool? (Or, What Kim is Thinking About After Attending the WPA Homeschool Conference)

Last weekend my kids and I attended the Wisconsin Parents Association Homeschool Conference in OshKosh, WI, where I had the pleasure of attending Erich Moraine’s talk How to Unschool the ‘Right’ Way. Erich is Calm and Centered (with capital C’s!) He is also a well-prepared and very good speaker who made everyone feel safe to express opinions and ask questions. His talk helped me explore the following questions:

· What is the definition of unschooling?
· How do you know if your homeschool is successful?

Before you can define a successful unschool, you have to define what unschooling is. Unschooling is such a frustrating word, isn’t it? It means different things to different people. And understandably so; as Erich pointed out, the term ‘unschooling’ is an attempt to define something by what it isn’t, and you can’t really define something by what it is not. So what is unschooling?

I found these definitions on the Growing Without Schooling website:

· Unschooling is learning that doesn’t look like school. It does not have to happen at home— it is an effective way to work with, not on, young children and teenagers to help them learn.
· When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.
· …unschooling does not resemble school learning….. parents and children can learn and grow cooperatively…

Unschooling is learning through living, the way we all learned, naturally and organically, before we entered institutional schools. AND, it is doing what works in each individual family’s home. Let me say that more clearly. The ‘right’ definition of unschooling is what works in your home.

I think I’ll explore unschooling and learning more in a later post. For now, I want to move on to the second question because it helps answer the first.

What makes a successful homeschool in a home driven by an unschooling philosophy? Erich asked volunteers from the audience to share what they thought of when they pictured a successful homeschool. Here are their answers:

· You live in an atmosphere of peace and harmony instead of stress.
· Your child loves learning and does not see learning as a chore.
· Your child feels safe communicating with you.
· Your child can learn on their own and is learning how to learn.
· Your child feels satisfied, confident, competent, and secure.
· Your child has spark – curiosity, drive and passion.
· Your child is willing to try difficult things and can learn through failure.
· Your child is tenacious and patient.
· Your child is a balanced human being who knows him or herself and who knows he or she can learn. (Erich’s own answer)

These are all things you cannot measure or test for. They do not show up on transcripts (although you may keep them in mind for mention in a narrative portfolio).

When I came home I looked up ‘success’ in the dictionary and found these definitions:

· the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
· the correct or desired result of an attempt.

To me, that points to the importance of defining what you want your homeschool to look like; what you want it to be about. Why are you doing this? What do you want to accomplish? You won’t know if your homeschool is successful unless you put some thought into what defines success for your family. And as Erich reminded us, your homeschooling may keep changing. It’s fluid, because the goal just might keep changing. And that’s okay. Unschooling is a process, not a product.

You and your family have the freedom to define success in your own terms. AND, you can redefine success at anytime to reflect your own growth as you get to know your children and as you settle on what is important in your lives.

Isn’t that liberating??? You and your family get to set your own standard; you don’t have to live up (or down) to someone else’s idea of success. You don’t have to define success with tests and grades, GPAs and credits, or with class ranking and awards for achievements in sports. What does any of that have to do with learning, anyway???

I would love to hear your comments – how do you define success for your homeschool?

Book Review Part II: Agnes Leistico’s Books

In my last post, I reviewed two books by Agnes Leistico, I Learn Better By Teaching Myself and Still Teaching Ourselves. I would like to share with you some of my favorite passages from these books.

On education:

“I fight a losing battle when I try to force my children to learn something that has no immediacy or meaning to their lives. I am still having to struggle with this, as the “teacher” and “mother” in me says that I know what is best for them. Yet every time I allow them to choose their own course of learning I am amazed at how well they have chosen for themselves. I do not necessarily know what or how my children should learn something unless I make the time and effort to listen to what they are saying by word and action.” (ILBBTM p. 49)

“The teacher-student relationship is vital to the educational experience. The active and responsible agents in education must be the students…. nothing worth learning can be taught. “Students must themselves come to grips with major texts and with the difficult tasks of thinking and composing and articulating ideas into language.”” (ILBBTM p. 50)

“I came to view education as a life experience that cannot be confined by time or textbook.” (ILBBTM p. 23)

And this: “My youngsters want me to be a facilitator, not a dictator.” (ILBBTM p. 129)

On trust:

“I personally fought the idea of homeschooling because I could not imagine children learning any other way than within public or private schools. But my youngsters taught me a marvelous lesson. This is my story about my struggle to learn to trust my youngsters to make wise educational choices. I learned that it is possible to educate children without following strict schedules or guidelines. As a parent I am in the ideal position to fit the learning experience to each child as an individual student.” (STO p. 11)

“Trusting our children to lead the way depends greatly upon recognition of two basic principles. The first one is that the amount a person can learn at a given moment depends on how she feels about her ability to do the work. The second one is that interest initiated learning allows the student to utilize her abilities in the optimal manner. The old saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,’ expresses the futility of forcing a student to learn something when she does not think she can succeed and / or she is just not interested in the topic.” (ILBBTM p. 77))

“When we are relaxed, learning abounds; but when I am anxious about progress very little is accomplished. The biggest lesson has been to accept each child for who she is and myself as I am. Trust is not static. It changes with circumstances so I must also change and allow my students to change. What worked yesterday will not necessarily work today.” (p. 89 ILBBTM)

On grades:

“Seeing no educational value in giving grades on work accomplished, I do not grade my youngsters. They and I know without any doubt how they are performing. When they experience a problem we work it out… I am not placed in the position of a judge and they are not being judged by anyone other than themselves.” (ILBBTM p. 91)

On relationships:

“The first truth about homeschooling is that it’s based on relationship. Relationship is the curriculum upon which everything else is based. Relationship is a day-to-day awareness, an honest looking at oneself and others and an honest dealing with oneself and others.
Successful education, including home education, is based on reason, not absurdity. That sounds obvious, but much conventional school is unreasonable. Random facts are taught to cover state mandated curriculum requirements.
The mind needs a reason to learn. When it doesn’t have one, learning becomes divorced from life and thought and is therefore absurd. The parent who wants a child to learn something may have some very good reasons for thinking the child should learn it, but the child needs to be infected with those reasons – and reason needs to be expected if learning is to occur.
Education that empowers children, gives them a life long skill or strengthens the mind has its own reasons for compelling a child to learn. Interest-initiated learning is particularly successful because the reasons are built into the process by the child.
Another principle of education is that it starts and ends with the child. It’s individual. Every child has his or her own particular time table and special qualities. The mind of a child, or anyone else, cannot be controlled. The mind can’t even be taught, really. Not in any significant way. But it can learn. That’s where relationship and reasoning play their part.
These all – relationship, reason, individuality – require an atmosphere of freedom to thrive. Freedom is a necessary requirement for the development of an active, intelligent mind. This isn’t the freedom to do whatever you want, to pursue any whim, but freedom based on reason, good relationships, and individuality.
Education isn’t so much about the superficial things we remember from our school days, math problems or text books, as it is about these essentials. Focus on the essentials and find the peripherals that align with them. This focus might lead to some of the traditional things of school, a good text book or math problems. But it will be in a way that works for you and your child, and for reasons that fit.” (STO pp. 48-49)

Wow.  Imagine – relationship, reason, and individuality, all thriving in an atmosphere of freedom.  What more could any homeschooled kid ask for???  Why can’t all children be raised and educated with such thoughtfulness, dignity and respect?