Thursday, October 13, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} how to build (+ destroy) a lesson

How to build a lesson/curriculum 

Even if you use a full service curriculum, there are times when you will want to create your own experiences and content. There are 3 things you will need to do this.

1. Pick a subject

Subjects seem to bubble up from life and are usually easy to catch if you are listening.

They might be:

-kid or adult chosen
-based on what is happening in your life (getting stitches, sailing, seeing an inspirational YouTube video)
-based on what is happening in the world (election, local issues, art shows or museum exhibitions)
-based on travel (where you or your friends are going)
-based on something you read
-any other way interest is piqued

2. Start gathering resources, general information, books, documentaries...

This is my favorite part. Your research strengths might determine how you approach this step. I love internet research so my fingers tap their way through dense and winding webs of information and leads. Coming up with unique word combinations to unlock new educational websites or book reviews is thrilling.

You might also:

-cluster map - you
-cluster map - as a family
-order books from the library
-find local experts or resources who can help you
-ask your online groups for suggestions (there is a great FB group called Homeschooling with Netflix)
-research movies and documentaries at PBS and TED talks and Netflix
-check for local museums or art exhibitions that will support your subject (we were recently studying navigation and attended a Maya Lin show that explored artistic ways to depict topographies - talk about interesting connections!)
-pinterest as last effort
- in your research start to ask some bigger "what if" questions and see where that takes you

* A warning based on my own experience, you can cluster map exhaustively and won't actually get do it all. When you are generating ideas, don't limit yourself. Think of the cluster map as a menu (a cluster menu) that you can refer back to as needed. You might even leave a subject area and come back to a year or two later and find ideas worth exploring.

3. Do something with all those resources. 

You want engagement of some sort with the material. You can do worksheets or prescriptive projects you find online, but I have another idea.  Plug different subjects into the area you want to study and see if you come up with any cool ideas.

your area of proposed study + one the subjects below = a new approach 

creative writing, science, craft, food, history, geography, politics, art, poetry,
 personal history, architecture, biology, animals, humor, cartoons ...

What happens when you combine bones and poetry or fish and personal history or architecture and poetry? This is where the fun begins!

How to disrupt a lesson

As important as it is to create or curate lessons, it is also important not to get too attached (it is a hard balance, I tell you). If a subject goes stale, give it a break. Realize that this is not a one time shot, you are planting seeds and everything can be (and will be) circled back to when the time is right. Resistance and frustration end up teaching something very different from the content that you are trying to share. 

This might seem tricky. What about making your kids stick with something. Giving them grit?

Finding the middle ground between forcing a kid to finish something they started and having the autonomy to quit something when it no longer serves them is tough. For us, our learning community (co op) provides one instance where quitting is not really permitted. We know that we are working as a group and when one person does not do their part, the whole experience is compromised. In addition, as my kids are older and are starting to take classes though the online virtual school, they are accountable to a teacher.  These natural opportunities have the benefit of teaching grit in a real way Our children live and work along side of us and we are constantly up against deadlines and problems that require us to dig in and push through. They learn grit by seeing us living grittful (?) lives.

On the other hand, I think it is important for them to have to opportunity to evaluate situations and know when things are not working for them. So, we might set a standard and then give them the choice to continue or quit after the standard is met. For instance, all of my children participated in swim team. There are upfront costs to join the team and buy supplies. I asked them to participate for one full season before giving up (9 months). That gave them time to try the team in all different types of weather and circumstances. When the season was over they decided if they would continue, take a break or stop completely.

We are not opposed to quitting things, but are learning to give them a real chance first. 

Need some ideas to get started? Here a few fun ones:

25 cool topics to explore
girl music groups of the 1960’s 
coal mining
local flora and fauna
the physics and art behind skateboarding
your home town
fashion history
carrier pigeons
simple machines
optical illusions
local agriculture
the history of money
child labor
solar power
human rights

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} process over product

Life is trying things to see if they work.
-Ray Bradbury

One of the hardest things is to move away from the over emphasis on final products. There is a time when it is important to be able to present a polished project for sure, but for much of their education, I try hard to focus on the process of learning and skill acquisition. True mastery and confidence comes from the ability to get deep and dirty with the content. We are always better for trying something and failing and I would go as far as to argue that a finished project does not mean that more was learned - no, it means learning has stopped and been wrapped up. Doors have been closed. And the amazing thing is, when you focus on the process, a lot of shit gets done as a by product. It is inevitable. 

Last fall, we rented a booth in an antique mall. It lasted a few months and we barely made enough money to cover the booth rental. Failure, right? Nope! I knew going in that at best we would break even monetarily. I also knew my kids would learn about contracts and scheduling, and heavy lifting and staging, and pricing and history and how to deal with people... the process taught them (and me) so much that will go into our arsenal of awesome and will inform us when we dream up another commercial venture. 

How to embrace process:

1. Look for it (and write it down) - I have journals filled with observations from when my kids were younger. Every time my confidence would waver, I would write down what we were doing. I journaled details about how they problem solved while digging a mud pit, how they built an argument while asking to make ice cream, how they taught each other skills, how they compromised on projects and how they showed kindness to others. So much of what is really good about homeschooling does not translate into traditional transcripts. So, learn how to make your own, even if it is just to calm your own anxious heart. 

2. Talk about it - Open a dialog about what you and your children are doing while you are doing it. When they are young, you can simply narrate what is happening. As they get older, ask them questions and show that you value the how as much (or more) than the final. Ask about their LEGO building strategies, how they thought up a dessert combination, ask how they do anything. And listen, really listen to their strategies, understand them and reiterate back to them what you hear. Explain how you are solving a problem at work or while fixing something or while dealing with a contentious person. As you recognize the processes of your daily life, reveal and share them with your children.  

3. Talk about your failures - Go beyond extolling the virtue of failure by using inspiring quotes by Thomas Edison. Explain and share the failures that made you who you are. Acknowledge your pain or embarrassment but also stress that failure is just part of the game. It is normal and necessary. Ask your family and friends about they failures and what they learned about them. Make failure-talk a part of day to day life. In recent years my husband  has shared the details of various job interviews he has gone on, where he was stumped, what he excelled on and then examined the corollaries of job offers (there was none!). I have shared and shown them my rejection letters as well as celebrated the successes of sticking with things. It is my hope that they will grow up ready to try hard, take a risk and fail.


How do you encourage process?

What is your family culture on failure? Can you have a failure storytelling night - where you (and others) share their most devastating and embarrassing fails?

Document for an afternoon or an hour, your children engaged in an activity. Work your noticing skills and try to see what is really happening below the surface. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} learning communities

(this post is 1 year old. a lot has changed since i wrote it! we moved far from florida, joined several other learning communities, delved into more online learning, and our long standing florida co op has transformed into a bigger and more community based project. a new post might be in order when i wrap my head around all that has shifted. the take away is that homeschoolers can make anything they want.)

our prehistoric month ended with a cave man party complete with caves to paint, raw meat to eat and costumes

Learning co ops are essential for most homeschooling families. They provide friendships for both kids and adults, create a community of learners and allow for parents and kids to share their expertise. There are different kinds of co ops, and you might need to explore what works best for your family.

Here is what we have in my community:

The big homeschool group Many communities have a huge homeschool group with up to hundreds of families as members. Don't let the size of these scare you! Even if you do not plan to be super involved these are often good groups to join. They are often excellent places to find out what is happening off your radar, to meet new friends and to join in field trips or group rated programs. There might even be several in your area. Give them a try. From these big groups, you can find your tribe and create ---->

The small learning co op This is the most vital part of all our groups. This co op (in its many forms) has been a weekly part of my kids lives for 8 years!

I am going to explain how ours works - the beauty is you can redefine the group as it changes. Kids will get older, people will come and go…

We have 4-6 families. Our group has just organically stayed at this size. We usually have about a dozen kids which makes us compact enough to go places easily as a group. 

We are a learning coop as opposed to a play co op, although there is a lot of play in our meetings
We meet once a week. Wednesdays have always been a good day. We have met in the morning, afternoon and for a while all day. It changes each year as our kids and our meeting places change.
I think this is important to realize. The group will most likely change as the years go on, and sometimes in dramatic ways. That is ok! We have had people come and go in graceful and contentious ways. Recognizing and appreciating the organic nature of the group has been helpful.

learning about arches by some local arches
We use monthly themes. A month seems to be a perfect amount of time to study an idea in depth and we find ourselves incorporating and circling back to content as other areas bump up against its boundaries.

Last year, we emphasized science and it was really successful so this year we are continuing. We used to do more cultural or historical themes but realized that we all study culture easily on our own (based on our interests, travels, books we are reading etc). We decided that science is particularly fun to study together and experiments are MUCH funner. In addition, our kids are all fascinated and knowledgeable about science and we have a great resource in that 2 of the moms in our group have scientific backgrounds.  Each semester we do a month of physical science (engineering and building things), a month of biology (bodies and dissections), a month chemistry (blowing things up) and another area based on interest and local events (astronomy, electricity etc.).

The parents meet every month or so to discuss what is working, what needs to be adjusted and what is coming up. We each take a week to lead but all the weeks are organized together. Each person creates an event for their day in our FB group and then adds links and information to share. 

I love this approach because the women involved are smart and have a varied backgrounds. They all bring something unique to each subject.

We strive to learn about subjects in creative and interdisciplinary ways. Even though we might be learning about the chemistry of the stars, we will also read what poets have to say about the stars and we will write our own constellation myths and listen to heavy metal songs that reference astrology. The planning meetings are where we really plumb the creative depths of how to explore a topic. 

Families study the subject in what ever way makes sense to them through out the month. They might read picture books, watch documentaries, do projects, write etc. The session leader will let families know if there is something in particular they should study, watch or prepare for before the meeting. 

Past investigations have included prehistoric times, bridges, stars, navigation, brains, the periodic table, colonial American culture, molecules, the planets, and more. I would love to talk more about these (as well as your) awesome themes in the FB group.
We have also been a part of many auxiliary groups over the years. These have allowed us to meet new friends and study particular subjects with a focus. They include: scouts, church groups, Roots and Shoots, writing groups, book clubs, and mighty girls camp. We also have organized one time events to gather our people like pop up picnics, art nights, and cooking classes.


Think about your tribe.

Is it where you want it to be?

Do you need to create something new?

What works well with your group?

Monday, September 12, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} uncommon resources

When we leave the classroom and get into the world, learning opportunities abound. After a while, it is like you put on special glasses and begin to see everything as vibrant and rich for discussion. My graduate work was in American Studies and I feel like that interdisciplinary approach to history and culture prepared me for homeschooling. In my course work, we could read American culture through nearly any lens. Ice cream, snow, housekeeping magazines, tourism...any subject that we were interested in could be explored and placed into the context of the world in which it existed. I even lectured on Paint By Numbers in post WWII America. 

Taking that idea, that anything and everything is full of information and inspiration, the world becomes a book to be read or a treasure box to explore. I see my job as keeping my eyes and mind open to all around me AND filling our lives with resources that can be mined for meaning. We can go so far past a boxed lesson plan and plug into the curriculum of the world around us. 

Here are some of our favorite resources. These are the things that have sparked the most conversation and ideas: 

Audio books - Homeschoolers are on the road a lot, so audio books are a wonderful resource to embrace. We have listened to the Kane Chronicles and deepened our interest and knowledge in Egyptian History. The Star Wars radio drama taught us how radio shows work which led to discussions of early entertainment. We recently listened to The Story of the World which is offering a beautiful, conceptual time line of the history of civilization. And we all sat riveted and horrified as we listened to the War that Saved My Life. 

Strangers - I am a big believer in talking to strangers. To connect with people who are living their dream lives. We are always asking people - how do you like your job? what is the best part? what sort of schooling/training did you do? Hearing first person accounts from other people's lives are as (more) important as any book we could ever read. 

Daily work + living - We do not separate errands and work into kid and adult activities. Many doctor appointments are attended by everyone (even if kids end up in the waiting room, they always see or hear something interesting). When we ordered granite or had concrete poured or had a beehive removed from our eaves, the kids are there, watching and learning. I tend to ask people a lot of questions and usually end up with much new knowledge about a previously misunderstood field. We had a rental house that ended with a tragic eviction and they were part of it. When we bought a car, they were there watching us negotiate and fill out paperwork. We recently had to euthanize our dog and after a long discussion, we decided that they should be there for most of the procedure. My 9 year old just build a fence with my husband using a drill and screwing in all the planks. These things might just seem like day to day activities but I think because our kids can participate in them regularly, they become a linchpin in their education. They are able to link the skills they learn in their more formal school work to the real world. Learning about area in a mathwork book is dry. Measuring a room for new flooring and then figuring out how much it will cost is dynamic and exciting. 

Conventions - We have learned so much from the various conventions we have attended over the years. We started out attending conventions that specifically tied into a particular kid's interest, but are now more actively seeking a wider variety. We have been to doll shows, pigeon competitions, reptile conventions and Maker Faires. We are looking forward to a sailboat expo and Bluegrass festival in upcoming months. 

Open houses and alley trash - We love getting a peak into the lives of others. If there is a home tour, open house, or model home tour we are likely to take a look. Kids love checking out houses and always end up telling us (and journalling) how they will design their own homes. We live in an old neighborhood and frequently walk through the alleys where we see the cast offs of the residents. This is especially interesting when someone moves (or dies). Lots of treasures have been dumpster dived and used by my kids. Interesting finds have included a papasan chair that was used as a balance toy, golf clubs, and old minutes from a lawn bowling team.

Protests - We have been in a protest, which was a great experience,  but just as interesting is talking about protests we encounter in real life or even in the news. The Immokalee tomato workers have protested our local grocery store which led to discussions about immigration and farm worker rights. There are peace protests, abortion clinic protests, and political campaigners on our streets and we nearly always talk about them. We are interested in freedom of speech and the varied voices that are important in a democratic nation. 

Farmers market - Talking to farmers and makers is a wonderful way to learn more about where our food comes from, issues that growers might have, and potential careers. 

Yard sales and antique stores are such rich resources for exploring history and culture. 

Master Naturalist, Master Gardener, and 4H programs are offered fairly regularly and inexpensively in most states and offer educational opportunities, often with college professors. 

TedX and Pecha Kucha are two wonderful events that allow audiences to hear big and groundbreaking ideas as well as stories about passionate living. 

Make a list of outside-the-box resources available in your area. 

Make a plan to engage in one of the places you wrote on your list. My brain goes on autopilot a lot - so on these discovery outings, I have to work hard to keep my mind open, to really look and to listen to what my kids are noticing. It seems simple, but is actually a hard practice (at least for me!). 

Monday, September 5, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} strewing


Unschoolers have a term that is very useful to any parent, called strewing. What it basically means is leaving interesting items ( books, puzzles, toys, food, articles, anything) in the path of your children for them to discover. 

These items can be based on current interests or completely unrelated. By having a rich and novel environment, minds are enlivened and curiosity peaked. I do this by second nature now, mostly with books,  and I am always surprised and happy when one of my children find something fascinating and become engrossed.

It is important that you do not leave things out with an expectation for a particular outcome. If you do, no doubt the interest will wane as you are anxiously watching for engagement. Think of these items as invitations, and it is up to your child to accept them. This does not mean you can not offer your kid things, too. I am always coming back from errand or internet browsing with something to share. 

Strewing is just another layer that adds to a curiosity enriched home. Think of it as a booster shot - extra immunity against stagnant thinking. 

In addition to exposure of new and novel things, strewing allows for and encourages making new connections between disparate ideas and items. It encourages a sense of play, remixing and mashing up. 

Try leaving two unrelated craft or art items and see what happens. 

I adopt this mentality of  keeping our environment dynamic by "strewing" other things too. Try listening to a wide variety of music on Pandora. Watch movies and documentaries far outside what you normally lean towards. Read antique books. Listen to records. Go to concerts and lectures. Strew your whole life with new and interesting content. This should be casual and ongoing - not frantic or stressful. The work you do is minimal.

This works great for all ages. 

What you can strew
coffee table books - either your own or from the library
Pipe cleaners and beads
a basket of curated blocks (for older kids you could add a glue gun, wood burner, or sharpie markers)
a little bowl of foreign money (maybe you have a collection, if not you can find inexpensive money at a coin shop)
a globe or map with sticky arrows to mark places to go
a jar of marbles
a huge piece of paper taped to a window or wall with a little bucket of crayons
board game already set up
a stack of old newspapers and some masking tape

puzzle or riddle written on your chalk board
interesting word or poem written on the wall
balloons (deflated or blow up several before you go to bed)
fresh play doh
old photo albums or baby books (you would be surprised how much fun this one is)
a new to them comic
a funny picture from a magazine with a note on it (my kids love those ads with the cat who looks like he is holding himself - they make them giggle so much)
a craft kit (especially for olders who can do the project themselves) 
FIMO clay and a cookie sheet
cardboard boxes
electronics kit (like little bits or snap circuits)
a basket full of blank books (just folded over paper, stapled and taped) or comic blanks
origami paper and some instructions
coloring sheets (they make amazing ones for older kids now)
wooden pattern blocks
yarn and a knitting loom
extreme dot to dots

Where you can strew
My favorite place is the kitchen/dining room table, if I clear it off at night and put something interesting there, the kids nearly always engage. Other places include coffee tables, the bathroom walls, the car, the kids desk or bed. Also, if your kids are older, you can email or text them links that might be of interest to them. Keep the lines of communication flowing and encourage them to strew or share back with you!

Walk around your house for 10 minutes and make notes about some things you might strew that you have not thought of. You do not have to go out and buy things to strew. Just find stuff around the house you already have and might have forgotten about.

Try leaving something out each day for a week and see what happens. Are your kids receptive? Do they like a certain type of activity? 

Monday, August 29, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} learning spaces

Even though homeschoolers spend a huge amount of time outside of our homes, how you use your home when you homeschool will no doubt change. Maybe even radically. Your home will become a laboratory for learning and experimenting. It might shift from a place to relax and find refuge to an active playhouse of possibilities. And you will accumulate more stuff (books, art and craft supplies, recycled things, globes and microscopes...).

Several years ago at an unschooling convention, I led a discussion on how eclectic homeschoolers used their space. I was fascinated to hear about how families had completely reimagined their homes, reclaiming dining rooms, formal living rooms and even hallways and walk in closets to use as learning/reading/dancing/art making spaces. The creativity applied by these families was inspiring and boiled down to 2 major points. 

Rethink space

After actually deciding to homeschool, rethinking domestic spaces and how we use them is the next big mental shift. You might want to start with a description of a perfectly supported learning home, if you have a clear idea. Most of us, will more likely try new things and evolve along the way. 

You can decide if you will have a dedicated school room. Some people decide to use an unused bedroom, basement, or formal dining room as a learning space. Although I am not interested in recreating a traditional school room in my home, we do have a "learning lab" which is essentially a family office. Each kid has a desk and some wall space. In addition, the learning lab has shelves with basic art supplies and storage for notebooks, workbooks, science apparatuses etc. We have this room because our current house is big enough, but to be honest, the kids rarely use their desks and prefer to work lounging on the couch or at the dining room table. (note: we recently moved and are using the dining room as a learning lab, along with laptops that move around the house). 
I see all rooms in the house as education rooms, really. The kitchen is open to everyone to cook and make experiments. Making sure kid appropriate tools are accessible is a key to kids learning to use this space. A learning tower was one of the best investments we made when our children were younger (it was so sturdy, we were able to sell it for a good price when they outgrew it). They were in the kitchen during most meal preps, either helping or playing with various kitchen materials. They are all now pretty proficient cooks and I own much of it to their ability to hang out safely in the midst of kitchen work from the time they could stand. 

The bathtub was a prime learning space for many years. We built with pool noodles, read poetry, mixed benign ingredients, try to make floating  crafts, turned off the lights and dropped in glow sticks. You can search "bathtub science" on Amazon and Pinterest and find enough ideas to have an entire tub curriculum.  

You might even want to rethink the way you use your bedrooms. I feel like we have had every combination. When our kids were very young we had a huge family bed on the floor that ensured everyone got great sleep. Then my kids all shared a sleeping space and used an extra room for a playroom. Now, everyone has their own room, but our landing area is where we meet and read together at night.

The point is, there is no one right way to organize your space. And even if you find the perfect set up, be prepared to rethink it later. We have discovered that the only constant is the frequent evolving. 

One extra idea I want to share is the the joy of an empty room . There is nothing better to offer your kids than a completely empty room, at least for a while. If you are moving or renovating a room, see if you can give your kids the gift of an unstructured space.  And then stand back and see the villages and race tracks and forts they create. 

Bless the mess
There is no way around it. If you homeschool, your home is not likely to look magazine or even company perfect. Your home is a work space, and as such you should expect it to be full of projects and displays and works in progress.

It is very easy to be hoard-y when you homeschool. Empty yogurt containers and bubble wrap are kept on hand for building projects. Old electronics are piled up in the garage to  take apart. Fabric is stacked on shelves for quilt and clothes making. Cheap books and passed down curriculum might fill your shelves. There is a temptation to keep things around just in case you need them in the future. 

While you might want to keep a few things on hand try not to gather items for years ahead. Not only is it a pain, but I think in many ways, it impedes creative, open thinking. Work books, craft kits and various supplies that you never use become reminders for things not done and might create a guilt that slows you down. Be realistic and frequently cull your supplies, books and stores. A clean space is often way more invigorating and inspiring than a multitude of cool things piled up. 

I thought it would be interesting to share a list of our most used supplies. These are the things that are consistently used and that I have to effectively store. Obviously, these would be different for each family. (I am leaving off books and curriculum).

a microscope

blank notebooks

poster board paper

pencils and an electric pencil sharpener

3 ringed binders and page protectors

pronged folders

glue sticks

water color paints

globe and world wall map
pom pons, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners
cigar boxes - I buy them at the local cigar shop for $1 each
a variety of papers and stickers
a sewing machine

a recycling center - we have bins like these and keep egg cartons, old cereal box cardboard, strawberry baskets, newspapers, yogurt containers, and any interesting packaging that comes into the house. I try to keep the recycling limited to this area. If I start to get too much, I cull.

stuff for the yard

a place to dig a hole - my kids have had the most fun digging big holes
sand box - to build rivers and forts and playscapes

scrap wood and various junk to build a shack

water source

trampoline - we love our trampoline! I am pretty strict about only allowing one kid on at a time ( I recently read that 75% of injuries happen when more than one kid are jumping). My friend has an autistic son and told me that the trampoline and swinging were really good for his vestibular system and sensory processing. I have noticed a remarkable ability in my kids ability to calm themselves down with a 10 minute jump - so maybe there is something to that!).

geodesic dome - this was a big gift from grandparents. And even though it seems super expensive, it is made to last forever and so beautiful in the yard. It is sturdy enough for adults to stand inside and climb on.  

skateboards, balls, kites


What would a perfect learning space look like for your family? Write a list or make a Pinterest board. 

How are the rooms in your home used? 
Are there rooms that are not being used?

Where do you homeschool now? 

How do you store supplies? Are there any issues? Too much? Need to add a few things?

What outdoor space can your kids use?

Are there any projects that you would like to add to your indoor or outdoor space?

Are there items you would like to add to your homeschool that you could ask for as a holiday or birthday present?

Monday, August 22, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} it's a lifestyle

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience.” 
– Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher

a disclaimer - the views,opinions and thoughts are completely my own and based on my personal experiences of raising my kids and interacting with my community. I am in no way meaning to prescribe a particular method of lifestyle. I want to share my journey and open up a discussion and safe space for each of you to explore this subject, either for the first time or to go deeper into you current practice. 

How we began homeschooling

I never intended to homeschool, although looking back, I can now see how everything led me to this point. I did fairly well in school, but early on felt that I was just putting in my time. I knew I was in a flawed system and I figured out how to work with in it to stay under the radar, get good grades and even cultivate a positive reputation among my teachers. But I was not learning much. I memorized content and completed projects which I immediately forgot.

I came alive when traveling with my family, hearing the rare engaged history or humanities lecture, and while working at one of the many jobs I held from the time I was 14. The real world was where I wanted to be and school seemed like an institution bent on keeping me out of it. So, I paid my dues, started college early and wondered what my future would hold. It wasn't until my upper undergraduate classes that my mind was reawakened. My major was art history and I studied gender and power constructions, historiography, mythologies, photography, costume, performance, and low art. I worked with an amazing array of professors who were challenging and pushed me until my mind cracked. I was able to travel to NY and spend several summers in Paris meeting and working with artists who through their examples of engaged and discursive living helped me rebuild my brain and create my own approach to life.

Later, in graduate school, I taught humanities and American studies courses to freshman and sophomores. I was under impressed with most of them who came straight from the school system. They lacked creative and independent thinking skills. In fact, they were right where I had been a few years earlier, punking the system for a grade. (I had thought I was the only one who went through this). The most interesting and engaged students were older, had lived, worked and traveled and hungered for knowledge and conversation. 

I even tried teaching 5th grade for a semester at a local public school. While I loved my students (who were severely socially and economically challenged) it became apparent that the system I had contempt for had gotten even worse. The constant testing, implementation of new learning schemes, and complete lack of understanding of my childrens' actual needs was eye opening. Luckily, I was at a school that was so bad, the principal was just happy to have someone in the classroom keeping the kids safe and contained. I had a little freedom and would try things like reading chapter books aloud, mediation, watching and responding short art films and unstructured outside time.  I will never forget the time we were watching a Little Rascals episode and I looked at the face of my favorite student (troubled and brilliant, he was). In the flickering light he has relaxed, put down his ever present posturing and defenses and was laughing. Laughing like a real kid. It broke my heart because this is what these kids needed. Space and time to connect to something safe and fun. And it was nowhere in the curriculum. His drug-addicted mom took that from him, his community with its crime and guns took that away from him, and the school system was taking it from him. 

When I started having my own kids a few years later, I spent so much time watching them explore and experiment. They were natural scientists and learners. My job seemed to be to support them and offer resources. To be there and witness their process.  When they approached school age, I could not fathom taking their time from them. They were so happy, healthy and connected to each other, their extended family and larger community. (I know some have really great school communities - but there was not a great option for us at that time). So, our decision was not necessarily to "homeschool." It was really a decision to not add school to what was already working so beautifully. School did not seem like it would add as much as it would take away. 

The lifestyle and its benefits

Homeschooling is not an education method, it is a lifestyle and has the potential to change everything. If explored deeply, it becomes a lifestyle of curiosity and questioning. Homeschooling has led us to rethink nearly all of our automatic thinking from housing, to health care, to sleeping arrangements to jobs and careers. Many people have told me they could never homeschool (I guess assuming it is way too much work). I usually respond that I could never adhere to a typical school and work schedule. Homechooling is intense and hard work, but there are some sweet, sweet luxuries built in. Here are the benefits for our family:

We sleep in our natural cycles. Typically, we have slept with the sun cycle. As the kids enter teen years this might be changing. I love the fact that they are able to sleep in when their bodies need the extra rest. Experiencing puberty in your own comfort and boundaries has been wonderful. This is total luxury, but I love the fact that during certain uncomfortable times, we can rest and take care of ourselves. 

We eat better than we would with a more typical schedule. We eat home cooked meals together as a family (for the most part!). We can eat when we are hungry and take as long as we want. 

We learn in multiage groups. Not only within our family, but also in various home schooling groups and classes. Kids are attracted to each other because of common interests not simply because of arbitrary ages or school grades. The past two summers, my son took a master naturalist program intended for adults and learnt along side school teachers and retirees. 

We follow interests as they arise. We are always up to try something new and not held to a schedule of when things need to be learned. A deep interest in Egypt can be studied right away. In school or within a strict curriculum, this is not as easy to accommodate. 

Life becomes an experiment - the ultimate lab. I love that we are able to try new approaches to life. We can experiment with where we sleep, when we read, how we eat dinner, where we meet friend to learn, anything. It is all open. We can try and adjust all we want. 

We can adjust days easily when illnesses arise. We are not sick to often, but I have often felt a deep sense of relief that when I am up with a sick kid all night, I know I  can recoup the next day. I can not imagine how hard it would be to go to work, find care for a sick kid and fit in doctor's appointments. I know this is a privilege and I appreciate it immensely. 

More physical exercise. I will never forget when my daughter was at her 5 year check up. The doctor, noticing how tall she was, was relieved when he knew she would be homeschooled. He shared that when kids enter school (especially bigger kids) they are prone to gaining weight right away due to sedentary days. Because she was homeschooled and would be more active, this was not a problem. As my boys were born and also active and outdoorsy, I knew that they would have a problem in school too. When my kids were young I read about Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educational reformer. She believed that children should spend at least 6 hours a day outside. That number stayed with me, and I made it my goal to get them outside for the majority of the day. That could never happen with a school based lifestyle. 

More quiet and self focused (and even bored) time. We can schedule tinkering/reading/hanging out days as often as we want them. These are some of my favorite times when the best ideas and plans are hatched.

Better integration into daily chores. They can cook their own hot breakfast. I have noticed that when we are in a heavily scheduled camp week (one that seems to most closely represent a typical school schedule) they are less able to help with chores. 

Peer pressure seems to be rare. I rarely see serious bullying or peer pressure in homeschool groups. For the most part, the kids are helpful and supportive to each other. And I have never (ever) heard anyone tease another for what they are wearing, the backpack they are carrying or what they are interested in. Seriously. For much of my kids' life they dressed in costumes (or the same outfit everyday). And they are accepted. They have, at times, weird and esoteric interests. And they are accepted.  

Deeper sibling relationships can be cultivated. Early on, I read several articles explaining the impact and importance of sibling relationships (even over parent relationships). For the most part, my kids are very close and I hope that their bond continues and offers them support long into their lives. 

Education is not parceled out or divided into discrete subjects. When it is working the best, learning is a vital part of everyday living, part of who we are, a family of autodidacts. 

Every homeschooler knows about taking advantage of sites when everyone else is at school or work. For a long time my husband worked shift work, so we were already used to the luxury of midweek shopping, eating out and site seeing. When we had kids, it got even better. We have spent long quiet afternoons at the zoo and aquarium talking in depth to the animal care workers, we go to Disney during the week and DC right after school is back in session. The off season and off times are our favorite times to do stuff. We tend to stay close to home on the weekends and holidays. A lot of homeschool groups have back to school parties to celebrate the emptying out of the science centers and bowling alleys. 

Write down what benefits you will have (or already have) from homeschooling. Get as detailed as possible. Include selfish benefits (like, I don't have to wear a bra first thing in the morning!). 

Is there a big goal or dream that your family would like to work towards? (a year of travel, moving to a farm, starting a family business...)

What is the biggest drawback? (be honest here, many people worry about time to themselves, loss of income, lost of status, what others might think...)

What are your biggest worries?

Write down what a perfect day would look and feel like for you and your kids. (this is a great journaling activity to do as a family. I am always surprised at what is most important to my kids. I try to ask them this a few times a year).

If images move you, I highly recommend creating a collage of words, magazine images, original art and text exploring what it might be like (or what it is like) to live a life outside the mainstream. 

Share you thoughts in the FB group or the comments here. 

+also, if along the way, you are digging the content, I have added a donation button at the top of the page. I am trying something new (always trying new things...). Instead of having every lab be a paid for thing, I am interested to see if I can create and share content in this way. Thanks for any support (monetary, notes or good vibes :)


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