Wednesday, November 16, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} :: self care

My final thought on the radical art of homeschooling, is to urge you to invest in the radical art of self care. This lifestyle is filled with unbelievable moments of grace and transcendence, but can also take us to our depths of exhaustion and confusion. Your self care needs to be at the top of the priority list. The whole shebang will fall apart with out it. You is essential and your needs are nonnegotiable. 

Today, take some time to journal what this means to you. Getting a clear idea about what it is that recharges you will help you get it. Our self care needs are as diverse as our temperaments. You might need lots of time to yourself or with your friends. Maybe you need to pray or mediate daily. Or you might need massages, time to run, household help, or just some sex - whatever it is, own up to it and make sure it is a part of your life. 

And as we discussed in the first class, look for ways to recharge while with your family. It is easy to feel like you are playing the role of the perfect parent, the patient homeschooler, the calm mother....I think when you are trying to preserve a facade of how you should be acting instead of how you truly are, the need for escape is greater. If we can somehow manage to cultivate our whole selves in the chaotic midst of raising a family, we can tap into a deep peace. 

So, teach your kids to make amazing smoothies and cappuccino for you. Let them play Minecraft while you take a bath and read a memoir. Have them push you to run when all you want to do is stroll. Make them your partner in pleasures as much as in work and chores. 

This is it! These are our lives and we have unbelievable control over how they manifest - more than any other people in history. Let's dig in, experiment, try weird things, listen to ourselves, and have a ball!

I am sending you so much love and respect! You are the best parents out there. The unique genius of your families will change the world.

I will see you on the trail (which is a fancy metaphor for the FB group)!

xo, Amy 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} :: mission statement

As we near the end of this lab, I want to encourage you to create a statement that encapsulates the values and goals that you have uncovered so far for your family's education. Even if your children attend school, this guiding statement can help you navigate classes, opportunities and complicated situations that might arise. 

There are a variety of ways you can approach this project. You might want to write a typical mission statement. Or something more loose like the "rules" for your family. Author, Jen Lee of the Right Side Business Plan calls a similar document a passion and purpose proclamation. I love that!

A big mind map is a great way to start brainstorming. Start by yourself and then invite your family to write with you. Try big butcher paper, a chalkboard or dry erase board or even a big piece of cardboard. Sometimes writing on an unusual or different surface generates new ideas and connections. 

You can write your statement as a list or prose or even in a poem form. Really think about what form helps you express your ideas best. 

Some questions to guide you:

What is most important to our family?

How is our family unique?

Write down each member's name and list what most valuable to them? What is their driving force? What are their needs?

Does your family have a big dream? What is it?

What is your family's purpose?

After you gather your data, circle the words and phrases that jump out you. Then use those to formulate your statement. 

And please share your statements with the group!

I have compiled a Pinterest board with some graphic versions of other families' mission statements. If you compose a statement that really captures the spirit of your family, you might want to consider making a wall hanging from it. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

{the art of radical homeschooling} :: documentation

Documentation can be a bear if you are not following a traditional curriculum. And while kids are young it might be something that you do not have to be too particular about depending on where you homeschool. Florida has pretty lax homeschooling laws so we have not maintained transcripts. As kids get older though it becomes more important. To enter certain classes, programs or high schools kids need transcripts. I am getting around this by writing narratives, but it is a little exhausting and I can see how more typical transcripts would make my job much easier. I am learning this one as I go along. 

Below are some ideas for keeping track of what you do and I welcome your ideas and strategies on this topic in the FB group. 

Keep a homeschool journal. I love journaling what we are doing. A few pictures and notes taken as activities are happening are a wonderful record to have. You can read more about a homeschool journaling practice here. I hope to deepen my journaling practice in regards to homeschool and family learning this fall. 

Blogging can be a record of activities. You can have a private blog that you share with your evaluator or make something public that can connect you to a bigger community. My own blog has changed over the years, but I am always surprised when I look back and see what we have done that I have forgotten. It is a part of my record too. 

Keep a portfolio. A three ringed binder with examples of work, lists of books read, certificates for classes completed and other paraphernalia can serve as documentation. 

Throw it all in a box.  I also have big archival boxes in which I keep papers, art projects and other projects my kids make. I plan to winnow this down as it fills. The paper flood can be overwhelming and knowing that everything is somewhere safe is reassuring. 

Try the envelope method. I recently read about a method which sounds like it would work nicely for corralling documentation. The author used big mailing envelopes for each subject. She wrote on the outside of the envelope: name, subject and grade, and dates. When a course was done she could seal it and store it in a filing cabinet. This seems like it would work really well for workbooks, classes with testing, or traditional curriculum. 

Write it all on a calendar. I save my calendars as they provide a record of subjects studies with our homeschool co op, plays attended, trips taken, field trips, and more. If you have a planner with extra pages you can keep book lists and lesson plans in your calendar too. We can share planners and organizers in the FB group today. I have tried many and even made my own. Their effectiveness, like everything else, seems to evolve and change as my kids' learning changes. 

How are you currently keeping track of learning?

What would you like to add/subtract from your method?

Is there something you can do today to move towards your goal?


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!). 


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