Saturday, November 28, 2009

High School

I just met a homeschooled high school girl that got me anxious. She is 16, lives with her mother but is in a horribly strained relationship with her, has not done an academic thing in a year, and has been homeschooled since 2nd grade because she has an extreme anxiety disorder.

Oh boy.

The high school aged homeschoolers that I have heard of are self motivated and doing amazing work in areas that interest them. That's what I think of when I think of homeschooled teenagers. I think of "the other teenagers" being adrift, unmotivated, and aimless, mostly because the atmosphere of public high schools is oppressive to many kids that it drains their own self motivation. I thought that homeschooling was the answer! This girl, one of the very few homeschooled high school kids that I actually have met, showed me quite clearly that homeschool families are not immune to the yucky teenage years.


She said that she is thinking of working on her GED and getting a driver's license.



That made me pause again. Do homeschoolers have to get a GED to "officially" graduate? GED's are loaded. For a lot of people they carry the connotation of 'high school drop-out', and 'has enough gumption to go back and get a diploma of some sort'. While I have a lot of respect for people who have enough gumption to go back and get a GED, it makes me think what was going on that they didn't finish high school the regular way. General flakiness? Baby? Drugs? Run away? Family disintegration? Too much of a genius and needed to go straight to college?

None of those may be correct in an individual's case, but a GED makes people wonder.

I don't want people to wonder when looking at my daughter's future credentials. I want her to have a regular diploma.

Needless to say I trotted home to check out the legal situation.

Whew, I am glad I did. Homeschoolers have a huge amount of freedom in getting a high school diploma. They can meet their state's requirements if they like, but are not obligated to. Their parents or whoever has been homeschooling them can just up and write a diploma out whenever they think their child has met their own requirements, whatever they may be.

The transcript is the important piece, I think. While a parent can write a diploma whenever they want, it can likewise be rejected anywhere if it is useless. A transcript states, simply, what a graduate was required to do to receive his or her diploma.

This girl who admitted to doing diddly for the last year, will have to have her mother write out her diploma. She has also admitted to a horrible relationship with said mother, I am guessing related to the fact that she has done diddly for the last year. I am also guessing that her mother would love to come up with a plan of action with her daughter to accomplish certain goals and, when she meets those goals, to award her a diploma. I am further guessing that the daughter is looking for a way to bypass her mother because she is a rebellious teenager.

Nice little collection of stereotypes I've collected, isn't it? I'm showing my biases.

That is a ton of guesswork on my part and I just met the girl so I am most likely way off.

But if I am right, what are this girl's options? Her mother won't write her a diploma because she doesn't think she deserves one. So, this girl can:

1. prove to her mother that she deserves one by getting back to work.

2. get a GED.

3. go to high school, meet their requirements and get a diploma.

4. skip all that and start taking community college classes.

The last option is actually what a lot of homeschoolers do, I think. Our local community college allows high school students to take classes. Once you have taken a few classes and done well, you have proved your ability to do the work. Then you can get officially admitted to an academic program and just start on your college career. After you get a college diploma of any kind, a high school diploma is moot.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A kinder, gentler business world

Do you remember playing Monopoly when you were a kid?

I played with my two brothers and it was painful. Literally. It was this cut-throat game where if someone landed on your property with motels on it and went bankrupt, there was dancing on the living room carpet. I remember land minds of built up properties with only a few safe zones that you prayed for. If you landed on luxury tax, you celebrated because you got off cheap. I got stomach aches from it.

Mi'ita saw Cat-opoly in Sandcastle Toys the other day.

Sandcastle Toys is the best toy store on the planet and it's right across the street from the lizard store (herpetology.) Since we have to buy crickets for our lizard once or twice a week, we've been regulars at Sandcastle Toys. It is full of educational toys. Smart kid toys. I've been hemorrhaging from the wallet there regularly since we've started homeschooling.

Cat-opoly is Monopoly with cats, and it is math. Adding, subtracting, percentages, large numbers, small numbers, mental math, using a calculator. It has cats all over it and Mi'ita is a cat girl.

We bought it, of course. Mi'ita had $20 of her own money to spend, it was 20% off, and I made up the difference. (Having a coupon for 20% at a toy store when you have money to burn in excellent math!)

I was nervous when we brought it home. I was hoping that we could figure out a way to play it so that I wouldn't get stomach aches. Mi'ita, either. She hadn't ever played Monopoly so this was new.

It was weird. Seriously weird. Perhaps not having siblings has its good points. I don't know.

Mi'ita was sweet. "Oh, mommy, you landed on my property! You owe me $14, but you can just pay me $10." "Oh, mommy, you landed in Water (jail) and you don't have much money. I'll pay to get you out." "Oh, mommy, I have fishbones (a hotel) on that property and it's $1160, but you don't have it. Don't pay it this time, and when I land on your fishbone, you can let me off."

Um. Is this a good thing? I certainly didn't get a stomach ache. There was a lot of kisses and hugs involved. How did she get this way? Not having siblings to get competitive with? Seeing me with money being generous with people?

It is certainly how I'd rather live my life, but is it good business?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Math Program

Mi'ita finished her first math book, Singapore Math 3A, last week.

Dilemma. Should I continue this program that I know is good but she hates? Or should I switch programs? I looked online at Math U See, my next runner up when I was researching math. It didn't seem that exciting to me. The program boasts about all the manipulative's, but all I saw were base ten blocks.

I called Mi'ita over and asked her if it looked exciting to her. She took one look at the base ten blocks and said, "Oh, I LOVE those!"

I bought the program.

They came Friday afternoon as we were about to leave for the weekend. She was all excited to open them, but I didn't let her--we were about ready to walk out the door. When she got back Monday night she wanted to open them again. Again, I didn't let her. It was bath then bed time.

7 AM Tuesday morning and she wanted to get up and do math. She hasn't done that since we started homeschooling in August.

Before you get all excited about buying this program for your kids, know this. We opened the box and played with the base ten blocks. When it was time to do the math problems, no interest.

This doesn't worry me. She didn't have any interest in doing Singapore Math, either. If she gets some math concepts by just playing with the blocks, great. She still has to do the five problems four times per week. If she does them with little interest, but complains less, I'll take that as a success.

The level we bought for her, Delta, has a lot of review for her. We have covered long multiplication and long division already, but this book approaches it differently so we need to learn their methodology. Fine. Learning several ways to do the same functions is good. As soon as she gets the hang of their notation (more algebraic) and what they require for the manipulative's, we can speed up and skip some stuff.

Y'all are probably thinking that I am slacking. My daughter basically has to do the sum total of 20 math problems a week. Most kids do double that every day! But as my friend pointed out, if she can demonstrate in 5 problems that she knows the concept, forcing her to do 40 will just make her cranky and turn her off of math. I would rather her do a lot less rote math and like it. And we have shifted our emphasis to games, puzzles, mysteries, and word problems. She loves word problems. She thinks of them as puzzles to solve. Word problems are how math is used in real life so that thrills me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mi'ita's Day Off

Yesterday was Veteran's Day and we had a friend spend the day with us. Basically it was Friday Field Day on Wednesday. Boy did they work me! Horseback riding lessons in the morning, mucking out stalls after, home for showers, off to pizza for lunch, the aquarium to visit the new buzzards, the pet store to see the puppies and fish, off to the Bayfront to shop, walk the dog to the rope swing, dinner, and then play practice. They were on the ball from 9:30-8.

Today was supposed to be a regular day. After 10 minutes of her 5 math problems (to prove to me she doesn't need more) we were going to do a math game, Swahili, and latin. She had her nose in her book, though, so I let her finish it first. After 15 minutes of uncooperative Swahili, I asked her if she just needed the day off. Yesterday was so much. Relieved, she agreed.

Her day off? She spent the whole morning reading. She finished an entire collection of Norse myths and a book about The Medieval World. Then we went off to school to learn more about rocks and start a project on the Clatsop Indians. Then ballet.

That's her day off.

Whew! I read somewhere that the only way to teach TAG (Talented and Gifted) kids is to unschool them. I am not ready to say I am unschooling yet, but her freeschooling is getting looser and looser.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One unschooled person's eval of high school

A young man who had been unschooled his entire life decided to try high school his freshman year. He wrote about it.

It's interesting. A couple of my favorite quotes:

"I also understood why public school kids act like they do. It's called loss of motivation."

"I quickly realized that if I had to endure that shit for 9 years, I probably wouldn't be the person I am today. Friends have told me "you would have been a complete honors student!". [He had a 3.8 GPA.] I say no, I would've have been a lazy ass bum that wanted nothing more than a couch in life. (Which, I might add I learned a lot from TV. But you get my point. ;P) The thing that made me responsible, smart, and motivated was my unschooling life. And as stupid, annoying, unmotivated, whatever most of the public school kids are, you really can't blame them."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A couple of years down the road

Husband and I have a different idea of the future of our child.

We both agreed that the schools right now are in bad shape with class sizes in the mid to upper 30's. That's why Husband agreed to homeschool, which surprised me. When I found out that Mi'ita's grade level, 4th, by some strange blip in the demographics has class sizes in the mid to upper 20's, I didn't tell him right away. It was already a couple weeks into school when I found out and more than a month before I told him. If we had known that, we probably would have enrolled her but we were committed, had bought the materials, everything was going well, etc. We decided without even discussing it to stay the course.

The more I find out about homeschooling and the more I do it, the more I am convinced that it is a better education both academically and socially for children. Teaching and going through the school system myself has left me with at best luke-warm feelings about k-12 schools.

The HSLDA report also said that homeschoolers that continue their whole career through high school have the highest academic scores of all.

I am ready to do it.

My own middle school and high school experience were what I consider the low point of my life. I was a stringy haired, chubby, bottle thick glasses, nose in a book, honors classes, socially awkward but friendly type of kid that was skewered by the social elite of school. My hair was pulled, I was taunted, things were thrown at me not daily but often enough that school has no allure to me. I found my education mostly in the library and in history discussions with my father.

Husband had a different experience. He was in band, on the football team, and in all the honors classes, so though he was not in the social elite he was a part of three clicks. Asides from being paralyzed by the thought of girls, most of his school days were all right. He did do a brief stint in an inner city LA high school, lasting less than a month, had a gang after him, and refused to go back. He moved back in with his stepfather to the little rural school he was used to.

Husband understands a bad high school and would be willing to homeschool if we had one. But we don't. The local high school, right around the corner, is a good one. Not the best one on the planet, but good. We even have a charter magnet school for science as an option for middle school. It has an excellent reputation as does the International Baccalaureate tract at the high school.

According to HSLDA, though, homeschooling does better. Even with the parents not knowing everything.

Husband is not looking at just academics, though. He remembers band and football and wants Mi'ita to have the same fun opportunities that he had. I remember spit wads thrown at me during class in front of teachers who were too busy grading papers to stop my tormentors.

Every state has different rules about how much homeschoolers can ask of the local schools. Ours is very generous and Mi'ita can be a part of high school sports, music, and whatnot. I don't want her to miss out on the opportunities of high school if she wants them. I envision her cherry picking her classes--having music before lunch and chemistry after it, having lunch with her friends, then homeschooling the rest, or some such. She would have the social scene at school, have friends to go to the football games with, proms and boys and whatever else floats her boat, but getting her real education at home.

I have no idea what will happen. I have a feeling that in two years, Mi'ita will be enrolled in the magnet middle school and we'll give it a whirl. If she has an experience like Husband's, she'll stay. If she has an experience like mine, we'll homeschool.

Or maybe not. Maybe in two years Mi'ita will like homeschooling so much that she won't have any desire to go to regular school and it will be two against one. She does like it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Footing the bill

By far the most expensive part of homeschooling is a stay-at-home parent.

Almost 98% of homeschoolers come from a two parent household, most are taught by their moms, most moms either don't work at all or have a part time job.

Homeschooling is a full time job that doesn't pay diddly squat. I can't imagine doing it as a single parent.

I don't work. Asides from the two years I took off when Mi'ita was born, this is the first time in my adult life where I didn't have a job or wasn't in school myself. It's a transition for me. I quit my job not to homeschool but because I hated the school district I worked for and the regulations around ESL teaching. Then the schools around here went belly up from budget cuts caused by the economy. Class sizes were heading over the mid to upper 30's, and I just decided to pull her. I'd been thinking of homeschooling for a while now as I have heard homeschoolers doing amazing things. I thought now was a good time. The perfect storm, to use an overworked cliche.

I've been trying to figure out how to work a tiny bit, though. My husband makes enough, thank the good Lord, that I don't have to work at all. I'd like to pay for two things, though: 1) her homeschooling materials and trips and 2) the $200 I've been putting aside for her college since she was born. I've been paying for those things out of my savings so far. As a certified teacher, I could sub, which pays well ($200 per day before taxes) and is very flexible. I'd only have to sub 2-3 days per month to take care of those expenses.

The only part I can't figure out is where to stash Mi'ita. At nine years old, she is too young to stay at home by herself those days. In a couple years I could see doing that and I think she'd do fine. But not now. She is too old to go to daycare.

I've been trying to jobshare with other homeschoolers. I've approached two other moms. Both agreed to try. One flaked. The other is going to try it out with me. She has a son 6 months older than Mi'ita. Tomorrow he is going to spend the day with us. If it works out, I'd like him to come once a week and I can then stash Mi'ita with his mom to homeschool for the day when I get jobs.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Delight Directed Homeschooling

Delight directed homeschooling is a new term for me. I discovered it as I was reading the HSLDA report about the academic success of different homeschooling methods. Apparently delight directed homeschooling is just as effective as the beat-them-over-the-head-with-a-book method.


I've got to learn more about it. Apparently you follow a child's lead and study things that "delight" them. I'm not sure how that's different from the unschooled approach. Since Mia is so interested in the world, I think it might work for her.

When I was a librarian and parents came to me worried that their older kids never read and didn't want to and weren't good at it, I gave them all the same advice. Put into their hands literature about ANYTHING they are interested in. If they are a skateboard punk, get them a subscription to a skateboard magazine. If they like guns, get them Eyewitness Weapons. If they like fashion, boys, and make-up, get them a subscription to Teen People. Magazines work especially well for older kids.

And here it is. My advice coming back to me, kind of.

I've been kind-of following it already. I've tossed all preconceptions about scope and sequence in science, history, geography, etc. She gets to learn about what she wants, when she wants it. I've dropped spelling and grammar as independent subjects completely. I make her write a piece for her blog once a week, give or take, and don't direct her writing inside or outside of that.

I can't let go of math, though.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Field Day

Our Fridays were supposed to be field trips to see museums, zoos, field studies in forests and swimming holes. I know we live in a tiny town 3 hours from the major metropolis of less than a million people in a biggish but sparsely populated state. But still! Even our little burg has a few museums...that we've seen ten times already and go to every time we get visitors.

What have we done on Fridays? Well, we went to the Oregon Coast Aquarium last week to watch the daddy scuba dive in a Halloween costume for their festivities. That was cool. We started a hideous papermache Cerberus the week before that. My aunt and uncle were visiting from Thailand before that and we showed them around town (remember those museums?) She got some cool paper money from Thailand, Oman, Qatar, and Egypt for her coin/money collection.

There's this wildlife safari down near Roseburg that biologist friends have said is worth going to, but it's three hours away each way and my rear is not up for the drive yet. I wanted to get to Mt. St. Helens before the snows hit, but that didn't happen. We probably could still get to historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood built in the 30's as a depression era work project. It's a ski resort so the roads are well plowed, but I'm a wimp and I know that plowed roads can still be dangerous. We'll probably wait until the snow leaves.

We always do something.

Today? We're headed over to my friend's house. She's a marine biologist who's going to show me how to pick chanterelles. I have had a burning interest in mycology for years, but never took the time to get going on it. Then we're headed over to Facets, a gem store to look at rocks. Mi'ita just did a rock report for the 4th grade class we visit Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. She did a good speech on obsidian--well planned, well researched, well organized, well delivered. I'm proud. I'm hoping we get a video watched today about Alexander the Great, too.

I am not interested in rocks, but will go to Facets if she goes mushroom picking with me. She's not interested in mycology, but will go if I take her to Facets afterwards.

It's a done deal, bear!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More research

I've been back to the HSLDA, Home School Legal Defense Association, to find more information. I've been wondering whether I've chosen the right homeschool method. Freeschooling feels so loosey goosey, and I was so entranced with the classic method based on the ancient Greeks--Plato, Socrates, Aristotle. I figured if if worked for Alexander the Great, it should work for Mi'ita the Magnificent, too.

Mi'ita hated the classical method and I knew I would be cramming education down her unwilling throat if I stuck with that. So we shifted to freeschooling which fits her personality much better, but does not feed my need to be anal retentive.

I've seen tons of articles on the different methods of homeschooling, but no research comparing their long term academic effectiveness. I'm a little focused on academic effectiveness. I went back to the Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics to look further (I found a prettier, easier to read format.) Perhaps they had something more that I missed, and lo and behold, look what I found!

"The study considered the many approaches that homeschoolers take to education—and found hardly any difference, less than .5% of variance, in achievement based on the following variables:

•Degree of structure (ranging from very unstructured approaches such as delight- directed learning or eclectic teaching approaches to very structured, preplanned, and prescribed approaches),

• Amount of time spent per day in parent- directed learning activities, and

•Enrollment in a full-service curriculum (one that furnishes a year’s worth of textbooks, lesson plans, evaluations, counseling, and record-keeping in all core subjects)."

What a wonderful thing! Finding a homeschool method that works for you and your kid(s) is the ticket. There is no one method that is the creme de la creme.

Does that mean that we can toss everything to the wind and go swimming every day if that's what they want to do and they would get just as good an education as those whose mamas keep their nose in a book 12 hours a day?

Perhaps, but that one scares me. It looks like freeschooling is just as good as classical for my kid, though. For that matter, buying textbooks and doing a canned curriculum is just as effective, too. And now that I have the research behind me, I have fed my need to be anal retentive.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finally, finally, finally some science!

I have been waiting impatiently for Mi'ita to turn to science. We have been saturated in history since August! I like history, don't get me wrong. I would be sad if she were so interested in science that she ignored history. But I've been worried.

This morning I gave up my hands off approach to science. Freeschooling is supposed to force feed only the basics of math, reading, and writing. All else is interest driven. I've been suggesting this and that scientific activity all along, but so far her interests led her to history.

Today I pulled out Usborne's How Nature Works and said that we really need to do a little science. She was finally nonresistant and we sat down and "looked for good experiments." Of course the experiment that she was interested in was getting a pet turtle. We headed over to the Wee Beasties reptiles pet store and talked to Brenda the herpetologist for a good hour about turtles and tortoises. We finally decided it wouldn't be a good pet for us, but we learned a ton and a half. Did you know that Darwin got a tortoise in the Galapagos Islands named Harriet that just recently died, over 200 years old? Apparently they don't really get old, like we do. They die of other things, but not old age.

After the herpetologist, we had some down time and I found her nose deep in How Nature Works again, learning about skeletons. I pulled out a pamphlet about fossils on Oregon beaches and we headed down to the beach to look for fossils. We looked at a lot of rocks, I read the pamphlet out loud while she built a sand castle, and we found a rock that some tube worms had burrowed in, but no fossils. Found some bivalve and gastropod shells, though, and talked about that.

Bedtime story tonight I gave her the choice of a science book and a history book. She chose a different science book about snakes. Now she has her hopes set on a pet corn snake.

I am so relieved that science has made a comeback.

A slap in the face to teachers

I have to tell you right off the bat that I admire teachers hugely. I was a teacher for 13 years and know the system from the inside. Almost all teachers that I have known over the years are well educated, care about their students tremendously, spend money from their own pockets for materials for their students, work long hours, and are just really nice people. They are working from the heart and doing the best job they know how to do. I can count the number of teachers I have met over the years who don't fit that stereotype on one hand with fingers left over. Seriously.

That said, I've been reading some information from HSLDA, Home School Legal Defense Association. They have done research studies on the academic achievement of homeschoolers over the years. The latest one, Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics, had some really interesting statistics. Mostly it says that homeschoolers out-perform public and private school educated students by leaps and bounds. The average performance of public school students in the major academic areas is 50% (duh) and for homeschoolers it's in the mid 80's. That's pretty significant.

The study goes on to break down the achievement by race, educational level of parents, how much money is spent on homeschooling, etc. Most of those statistics are pretty consistent across the board. For example, people who spend over $600 per year are only 3 points higher than people who spend less (89th% to 86th%.) Interestingly, homeschooled minorities score very similarly to whitebread folks, but they languish horribly in public schools.

The most interesting statistic for me was whether one of the parents was a certified teacher or not. Being a certified teacher, so many people say that it should be easier for me because "I know what I'm doing." Makes sense. I've done it before. 24% of homeschoolers are educated by a certified parent. I guess we feel more confident that we can do it. What is fascinating, though, is that students of parents who are NOT certified teachers outperform those whose parent are certified teachers!


It's not by much. Certified parents hit 87% and non certified parents are 88%. I don't even know if that is statistically significant (statisticians reading this, please comment!)

That is why I said that this is a slap in the face for teachers. Oh my.

My thoughts? I think it has to do more with the way teachers are educated themselves. In college, we learn educational theory, human development, and more than you'd ever want to know about racism and minority students (minority students languish horribly in public schools, remember?) We learn very little about how actually to teach. School librarians (as I was) get a little more practical in that we are taught how to run a library and teach library skills. I actually think my school librarian courses were better preparation than my regular ed classes.

And I think that teaching is an art. It takes talent. You can certainly learn and get better at it, but it is not really something that you can study, so much. That's why non-certified parents are just as good at it as teachers.

I am grasping here. I don't really know. At least I can say we are on par.

My husband is a better parent than I am. I thought I would be because I had read so much about childhood development and parenting, and I have been in the field so long. Before I was a teacher I was a nanny and preschool teacher. But he is better--more patient, more logical, more consistent, gets better cooperation. He's good. And he's an engineer that works with computers and boats all day.