Friday, August 28, 2015

Reflections on the 10th Grade: Mom’s Point of View

It's so rewarding for us to hear the stories of our families who have gained freedom and joy in their lives by getting free of the school system. Read on for a moving story from this mother about how her son went from being an angry teenager to an engaged, alive person pursuing several passions. Next week we will post the son's reflections of his experience in school, and the difference since he has started homeschooling. Check back next week for part 2!
                                                                                   - Peggy and Karen

"Deciding to homeschool/unschool has been an incredible decision for our whole family. After a very rocky 9th grade year, we went into the 10th grade year with an agreement (from all of us) that we would not have a repeat of the 9th grade. We briefly discussed homeschooling, but my son made a decision that he wanted to try school again for the 10th grade. I think he wanted to be with his friends, and I think there was some hope that things would be better. By mid-year of the 10th grade in public school, though, my son was a shell of his former self. Moody, angry, irritable, reactive... those are words that could be used to describe all of us! We were all exhausted and traumatized by the constant battle to get school work done. As parents, we were getting scary e-mails and phone calls from the school, and the expectation was that we better do something about our kid - and fast! The threat was that if we didn’t, we risked letting our son fall through the cracks, only to become a teenaged failure. This was horrifying to us, and we didn’t understand what was happening with our son. I am sure the pressure was even worse for our him! Our bright, observant, thoughtful kid was miserable, and every time we talked to him about school, he became deeply defensive and angry. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and neither could he. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that our relationship with our son was more important than his grades. Even though we were getting a lot of scary stuff from the schools, we made a difficult decision to let him succeed or fail on his own terms. This was really hard, but ultimately, it helped us to make choices that would lead us home.

Even though we had decided to back off and not take on so much of the pressure we were getting from the e-mails, robo-calls, and messages from school counselors, we all still struggled. It was painful to watch my beloved son struggling every day with going to this place that obviously made him feel terrible! I tried enlisting help from all of our son’s teachers, and only got a response from 3 of them. I think his teachers cared, but I also think they had a huge amount of work in front of them, and our quietly failing boy in the back row (who they barely remembered) was not high on their list. This was very stressful, and we were not perfect in our resolve to let our son fail. We struggled with our own fear and panic. Would our son be OK? Would he ever have the chance for a full life? Was he throwing away his opportunities for success in the world? And, even more importantly, why wasn’t he happy? Why was he struggling so much? He couldn’t articulate this, and the more we asked, the more frustrated he became with us. We had to really work to back off. It took us a long time to let go, but when we finally did, it was a watershed moment.

I picked my son up from rock climbing on a Wednesday just before he finished out the fall semester. “Vinnie,” I said, “It looks like you are going to fail some of your classes. Dad can probably help you figure out how to pass them, if you want. But, more importantly, I want you to know that there are other ways to become an educated person. Maybe this way isn’t working for you. There are other options for you. I don’t know what is happening for you at school, but we can do things differently. If you want to talk with me about options, we can get some dinner and talk.” To my complete surprise, my son started talking. He admitted that he was about to fail, and talked about how even though he was interested in the subject matter, he just couldn’t bring himself to comply with the assigned work. He described how the work felt arbitrary, and how he felt insulted by the “busywork” of school. He didn’t want to do the things they wanted him to do. I told him that we could consider a variety of options, and that we as a family would take the winter break to decide what would be the best option for our son.

From that moment forward, I finally felt like the mother I have always been. I remembered that my son’s life is HIS life. He doesn’t belong to the schools, and neither do we as his parents. His school’s structure is set up to warehouse hundreds of kids and make sure they all meet big external standards as a group. This has never been what education has meant to us as a family. What we value is freedom and joy in learning. We believe that learning is and should be fun, and that  becoming educated means you have your head on your shoulders and can examine the world and your life consciously and critically. Being educated means you know how to get the information you want and need when you want and need it. It is about being able to take in information, process that information thoughtfully, and communicate about it effectively. It is about being able to deepen as a human being, from a well-informed place, so that you can live a full, exciting, passionate life of your own creation.

By the end of the winter break, my son informed me that he had decided to homeschool. This was the day before school was supposed to start for the spring semester. Vinnie told me that he was concerned about losing touch with his friends, so we decided that he would go to school, get as many numbers as possible, and make sure he felt good about this decision to homeschool. When I talked to him after school the next day, my son had cleaned out his locker and made his final decision. The relief was absolutely palpable.

Over these last few months, my son has gone from an angry, unreachable teen to an engaged, alive person. He is reading again, with as much voraciousness as he did when he was younger. He has rested and recovered. He has sought out the things he wants to learn. He started taking online computer programming courses and has found a college degree program he’d like to get into some day. He traveled across the US for a month with my Mom and sister. He got to drive a tractor and feed the goats and donkeys and chickens on their farm property in Texas. He learned to scuba dive, and he is learning to drive. He joined the varsity rock climbing team and is able to climb three days a week. He got interested in social justice and race relations, so we watched movies about civil rights leaders, read news articles, and had discussions about Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He spent time snowboarding in the mountains, and skateboarding to Dairy Queen. He is exploring what it means to be a friend, and what it means to say no to people who drag him down. He is owning who he is, and taking responsibility for being an educated person in his own, shining, unique way. He is becoming himself, in the best way possible.

Of course, we are not without struggles now. We still have to work on letting go, and he still has to work on taking responsibility for himself. But this is now in the spirit of joy and freedom and growth, rather than pressure and threat and fear. This is healthy and challenging, rather than traumatizing and terrifying. I am so grateful every day that we made this decision to take back the power in our lives. I am grateful that we could let go enough to see that there really are options and possibilities in this life. We are not at the mercy of the system, even though it can feel like it when you’re in the middle of it. We are the true creators in our lives, and we are glad to have reclaimed this for our family."

~ Rachel S., Colorado.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Homeschooler Leads Robotics Team to World Championships

Our students have diverse interests and accomplishments. In this post we are focusing on the unique accomplishment of one of our students in the world of robotics.

Sally (name changed to protect privacy) was the Team Lead for a robotics team this year. The team consisted of 50 teenagers from public, private, charter and home schools. They have mentors on the team that have volunteered their services and experiences to assist them. The mentors are either parents of students, employees from sponsoring companies, or members of the community. She says while many of her teammates prefer to work directly with the robot, she loves to be an organizer of people. 

Her organizational skill showed as her robotics team was one of the top 600 teams (out of 6,000 teams world-wide) who made it to the World Championships of Robotics. They finished as one of the top 60 teams! 

This was the first year they have made it that far, and it may be partly due to her improved implementation of the Solidworks CAD program. The 16-year-old says: 
“My inspiration for learning Solidworks CAD came from the fact that our team relied on the 3D computer construction of our robot, yet few students were able to actually use the program. Over the summer of 2014 I took extensive tutorials and online explanations, and I slowly but surely taught myself how to use the program. Through the 2014-2015 season I used my skills to develop small parts that we 3D printed for our robot.” 

Sally was introduced to the robotics team through her family; her sister was previously a team lead and her father is the team president. She says that although she was initially drawn to it through family and friends, she came to love robotics itself and the challenge of organizing a team. Now she is considering the idea of specializing in the field of robotics in the future. Meanwhile, she's looking forward to the challenge of organizing and fundraising for the team, as she was voted in as Team Lead again this year. 

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility to devote time to a student’s passions. Sally says:

“Homeschooling has allowed me to be very involved in my robotics team. I have more free time, and I can multitask with my school work and the organizational demands of my robotics team. I am able to keep to a schedule with some flexibility since I have to balance school work, robotics, and soccer. Some days it can be a little crazy, and I have to push myself and remember that I love all the opportunities that I am given.”

What is the process that she uses to create her learning plan for each year? She describes it like this:

“My mother and I meet at the end of summer to plan my next academic year. It is a mutual process that involves me first professing my interests and what I would like to study and my mother providing feedback.  For example, my grandfather gave me a collection of Shakespeare’s plays bound in small, leather books that were brought over from London during World War II by my great-great-grandfather.  I brought these to my mother, and we decided that for my English course I would read these plays and write papers concerning them. My grandmother is Hungarian so I picked Hungarian as my language of choice and decided to go to Hungary and stay with relatives there this summer.  This year I am taking two classes at the community college since self-teaching and my mother’s extensive knowledge can only bring me so far. The process of picking what I will study that year depends on what I have access to, my interests, and what my schedule will allow."

It’s quite apparent that she is able to keep her schedule quite full with fascinating activities that are meaningful to her. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to help create a new paradigm of education

How to help create a new paradigm of education

Lecture style teaching and the increasing volume of testing are based on the premise that we can manage and control learning in others. Growing evidence is demonstrating that this method doesn’t work. What really works is to acknowledge that other people, of any age, are autonomous, powerful and intelligent human beings who choose what information that they will accept and what it means to them. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a two-year-old about why a food that they don’t like is good for them and tried to convince them to eat it, you’ll know what I mean. Broccoli chunks on your nose is the most likely result!

The current school environment of standardized testing, and the assembly-line view of the process of creating education for young humans is failing miserably. How arrogant of adults to think that they can force-feed knowledge into another human being and make them retain it through mindless repetition! Human beings have an amazing capacity to use our brains to be creative, inventive, and make meaning of the world around us. We all have an impact on everyone and everything that we touch, but we are ignorant of of that basic fact. Instead, we often fall prey to the deception that we can actually control anything or anyone. When we let go of trying to control others and accept responsibility for our impact, we see that everything we do matters. This leads to taking more careful consideration of our words with other people, and of our actions in relationship to our environment. 

Children are sponges that absorb everything around them. The most effective way of “teaching” them is to simply create an environment around them that allows for and supports their learning. All it takes is genuinely listening to them when they tell you about the inner world of what excites them, and then taking action to help them find the resources that will take them one step closer to achieving their goals. If they’re excited about something, then they’ll learn it effortlessly, and retain everything essential to them. If they’re implementing information, then it will become permanent knowledge. If they choose what they are learning, then they will be inspired and joyful about learning it.  

What if instead of schools with rigid curriculum and standardized testing, we had resource centers with passionate learning facilitators and personalized portfolios? These centers exist currently in various forms, but they are in the minority. What if they were the norm and every child had access to them? Homeschoolers create this for themselves through co-ops, support groups, and community involvement. This is wonderful for them, but so many children are still in the standard system and aren’t given this environment. What if this kind of environment were available to every child? What if every school and every parent were committed to this vision for all children? What kind of world could we all live in, and what kind of future could these children create? 

While this may sound idealistic and pie-in-the-sky, we all can have an impact in transforming the
world into this vision by taking a stand for this in our own homes and communities. It’s so simple. You can choose to be loving and supportive of the unique individuality of the children (and adults!) that surround you. You can choose to be courageous by raising your voice in your community in support of this learning environment. You can choose to take ownership of your impact in the world. You do have a powerful impact in the world; what will you choose for it to be? This future is possible. Will you take a stand for it?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Homeschooling/Unschooling Resources to start off your "back to (home) school" time!

"Back to School" advertisements are all around you, and you can't help but get caught up in the excitement of planning for a fun year of learning with your kids. We thought we'd contribute the resources and lists that our families have found helpful in their planning. 

Whether you are following a curriculum or doing completely student-led unschooling, this is a discount source for purchasing learning materials. 

Free! Who doesn’t love free, online learning materials? This homeschool mom and blogger has put together a great list of free, online educational resources. Even better, she has them sorted by age and subject. 

Another extensive list is here:

One of our families said this about a fun website that they have enjoyed using: 
“We found a site called DIY which is, as the name suggests, do-it-yourself learning based on kids' interests.  There are different areas (art, animation, genetics, Legos, astronaut training, etc.  - it's very eclectic!) and each area has activities and challenges presented as short videos that the kids can do on their own and earn virtual or real patches for leveling up.  The site itself is free, but they also have 4 week camps on the same model that are $40 for the 4 weeks.  We signed up for stop-motion animation, one of his skills. It's fantastic for unschooling!”

A popular avenue for learning is Minecraft. Here’s “31 days of Homeschooling with Minecraft” for your Minecrafter’s enjoyment!  

Maybe you’re wondering how to “unschool” in the high school years. Here’s an example of how one family does an “unschool curriculum” for 10th grade. (They also have other posts for previous grades!)

Lastly, now that you have a fun variety of activities and learning programs, how do you keep track of what you've been doing? Several families have highly recommended this app as an easy way to track and record what you do during the year. 

We hope this gets you off to a great start in 2015!

P.S. Enjoy this homeschool comic to remind you why you're doing all this work and research! ;)