Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ready...Set....Home School!!!

Good grief...where has the summer gone? Truly, it kinda feels like since becoming a parent of school aged children the summer seems much shorter and I remember last school year thinking not only the exact same thing, but recalling that when I was in school, the school year was September(starting AFTER Labor day) through May. Jeepers, now kids don't get out until June and start in the middle of August!? Well, so in light of the new school year that we began on August 25th, I thought I'd share our experience in home schooling.

I grew up going to public schools and was under the assumption that everyone else did  too. It wasn't until I was in 6th grade did I ever hear the words 'home school.' My cousins were home schooled but I didn't really know that until much much later. When I did learn about home schooling I was told that people who were socially inept or 'sheltered' were home schooled. They were more like social out casts. Now hearing that made me feel sorry for my friend who came to school in 7th grade. She didn't seem socially inadequate or weird...or behind in any way, but I knew then that I never wanted to be home schooled. I think because of this grossly misunderstood way of schooling it has gotten a lot of BAD press. I would like to set the record straight...Home schooling is NOT just  for socially inept,'sheltered,' or social outcasts. In fact may I just say LOUD AND CLEAR: Home schoolers are actually known to be some of the most intelligent, socially well-rounded people you will ever meet. (Side note: did you know that Stanford University actually looks at all HOME SCHOOL APPLICANTS FIRST??? Yeah...stick that in your back pocket! I felt justification in this little tidbit as a home school parent.)  Does that mean that there aren't groups of home schoolers who aren't socially well-rounded? Absolutely not, but that's like assuming that everyone who is public schooled is a genius and never had a care in the world. There are people who take home schooling to the extreme and separate themselves from society. But as a general rule of thumb, as a home schooling parent I don't want to shelter my kids from living life. Quite the opposite, I want them to be involved in sports and have friends and yes, experience a classroom that isn't at home. And much like the home schooling families that we live life with, we are very much out in society and involved in activities outside the home. We just exercise our rights as parents to have more authority over the environment in which our kids learn and the material they learn in a much different manner.

It actually makes me laugh now when people think that by home schooling my kids I'm somehow restricting or 'robbing' my kids of social interaction! HA! Really? Why, because I'm not 'socializing' them with kids their own age who are disrespectful, rude, foul-mouthed, and bratty? My kids have developed a few of those characteristics all on their own, they don't need to be socialized to help them along there. My children are nowhere near perfect, but I feel that by ignoring bad behavior because they are 'expressing themselves' is creating socialized MONSTERS! Good grief, we, by nature, are self centered beings...if I allow this idea that my kids are the center of the world to set in their little minds, what kind of parent am I? A self centered child becomes a self centered teen...which often leads to a self centered adult. I'm doing my very best to teach them that their actions say so much more than they realize. God calls us to disciple our kids and teach them the 'way they should go.' I don't want my kids to merely be nice, I want them to have hearts that really want to be kind to others. This is an on-going lesson that as an adult I'M STILL LEARNING...but it has to start somewhere. I have also experienced how MEAN kids are in general. I'm appalled how some kids act on the playground. I'm also astounded how parents do not pay attention to their kids or let this horrendous behavior go. Its these kids who are usually the worst behaved because they know that they can get away with it or they know that bad behavior will get the attention they want, even if its negative. So why would I want my kids 'socialized' with these kids? Yeah, I know that they'll be around those people and you can't hide from the world...true, but I want to help my children develop their character in a way that a healthy self confidence is promoted and not survival of the fittest (or the best dressed, the prettiest, the most athletic, the coolest shoes, or the most silly bands.)

I feel sorry for the teachers of public schools really. These men and women are somehow not only put into a 'teacher' role, but most times a 'parent' as well. That's NOT fair. And they are put in a classroom of 18-22 kids and expected to have each one on track, reading, computing, achieving everything that a test says they should. Wow, I have 2 girls, one in 1st grade and one in 2nd grade. Both learn in COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ways. That's only 2 can one person be expected to reach 22 kids? Plus the teacher only has maybe an hour for each subject...there's barely enough time for them to spend more than 3 solid minutes with each child...if that were the case in a perfect setting. Most likely there are a few kids that learn differently and need extra time so time isn't equally dispersed. Jeepers, I struggle with teaching my own kids and finding what ways they learn the best...and we, as a society, have the nerve to think that our teachers (who don't get paid nearly enough for their time) had better be teaching our kids exactly the way we want...but here's the kicker, we aren't even willing to put in 10 minutes of our own time for their homework. Somehow its gotten mixed up in the shuffle of living life to the extreme, filling every second of the day with something, that these teachers aren't the parents and shouldn't be expected to raise our kids. What really makes me sad is that most of these teachers actually know our kids better than we do simply because they spend more time with our kids than we do. I understand that not everyone can home school, don't want to home school, or have to work 3 jobs just to make ends meet. I'm not judging that in any way, I'm simply explaining my point of view (right wrong or indifferent) why we chose to home school our kids and I'm grateful for the opportunity that God's given me to home school my kids, but as a general observation of how we as a society look at education is irritating.

SO! Enough of my soap box.

I was completely against home schooling, but I joined a remarkable group of women who showed me that I was in the dark about what home schooling is. I thought to home school my kids meant I was up at 6 am and had to teach my kids everything all day long or I was a failure. How ridiculous. If I could go back and smack myself I would. Thankfully I was surrounded by grace, love, and complete support and encouragement of this group of ladies and a few other families while I dove into my first year of schooling. I often joke with a dear friend of mine that she encouraged me to go to 'the dark side' when I chose to home school. ;) I was blessed to have one of my best friends also start home schooling right along side our family. What a journey. Its wonderful to know that you aren't alone in your frustrations teaching your own kids! Its important to remember that home schooling doesn't mean that you have to have a teaching degree. I went to college to become a teacher; ironically I went in declared as an education major! HA!!!! Hilarious. I remember thinking my sophomore year, I hate school...why on earth would I want to be a teacher? Wow, talk about a 2x4 to the head!!! LOL anyway. When I was at our Thursday night church group one of my Bible study friends said, "Wait, you are just starting out right?"  "Well yeah, Natty is in kindergarten..." Christy just laughed..."You know, its only ABC's and 123 don't need to stress so much. You aren't teaching high school math or science. And you aren't teaching 8 hours a day...and don't forget, in Colorado, kindergarten doesn't even count. have to have fun!"
PHEW!!!! THAT LITERALLY TOOK THE HUGE LOAD OFF MY SHOULDERS that I had put there. So with that, I have a few things I must say.

1: Home schooling is NOT that hard. (Clarification takes time, energy, and patience, but its not mentally difficult)

2: We school from 10am-3pm (I am NOT a morning person, so naturally I'm not going to add stress to my kids school experience by trying to be someone I'm absolutely not because of some pre-conceived notion that I 'have' to do something some way.) Sometimes we have to do abit longer, but not usually.

3: We DON'T home school EVERYDAY. (We will take Monday or Tuesday off depending on what Rob's schedule is)

4: There is FREEDOM in home schooling.

Let me stop there and explain this. I found so much freedom in home schooling. But I think my freedom came in a solid curriculum that doesn't make me guess or worry about what I have to do 'next.'

Our good friends went with us to a home school curriculum fair. HOLY OVERWHELMING. I'd say that if you are considering home schooling and are going to go to one of these alone and unaware of the kind of curriculum that you will be checking out...GRAB A FRIEND and do research QUICK. We all went and I think I was like a deer in the headlights...I may have even stopped breathing. Good grief!? I had been researching curriculum and so with first hand knowledge from my trusted friend and ALOT of prayer, I KNEW what curriculum I was choosing. If I hadn't known, it would have been disastrous. Choosing curriculum is very personal. And there is ALOT to choose from. Each kid learns differently and you have to find what works for you and your kids.

We use Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E).  I L*O*V*E this curriculum. I found that while I was teaching Natty her ABC's and 123s I needed an outline of what to do. I didn't like just 'winging' it. I used workbooks from Walmart/Sam's and a book called Alpha Phonics with both of my girls while they did Kindergarten. They are fantastic readers and enjoy reading so much~ I HIGHLY recommend starting out with this book for beginner readers. But I still didn't like not having a 'curriculum' I would build on and I felt scattered or worried I wasn't 'doing enough.' So when we finally ordered A.C.E. it was such a relief~ no more scattered or worry.

 Natty is a visual kinesthetic learner. She reads about it and then needs to do it with her hands to remember. Isannah is a mix of all three and truthfully I can't really figure her style out yet! LOL I think she is an audio learner because unless she hears me tell her to read the directions or what the directions are she won't do them...she may be an audio visual. I also think that not everyone is one specific type and that we all have characteristics of all types, but trying to figure out how they learn best has been when I've made the most progress.

Sorry, back to ACE. Each student uses a PACE. its basically like a workbook that they work through in each subject. Each subject has 12 PACEs and the great part is that they can GO AT THEIR OWN PACE! We do have to get work done, but the great part about home school is that there ISN'T HOMEWORK! Depending on how many pages the girls have in each PACE (1-30 or 1-39) we will try to finish a PACE in 2 weeks. I LOVE this. I don't want to guess if they are learning or feel like they aren't getting enough. Each PACE has 'check ups' and has a 'self test' and then a final test before going on to the next PACE in that subject. So I never have to wonder if they aren't grasping something. I have to initial work being completed and they have to read things to me throughout the PACE. I also grade them as they go according to the lesson. So again, I'm quick to see if they've understood something. I absolutely NEED this kind of structure as a teacher. I also feel like my kids need the direction and tangible boundaries and goals for each lesson and school day. We don't always get everything done, but again, that's alright too.

Time and hours? Well, in the State of Colorado there are different home schooling regulations. Kindergarten doesn't count. I still counted my hours anyway just to be in the habit. Our rules state that your student gets 4 hours per day for 180 days. I've been told 163 days and 172 days. I stick with 180. So that puts me at 720 hours that my kids need in their school year. I will also tell you that schooling for '4' hours doesn't necessarily mean four SOLID hours. I have the girls do between 3-6 pages in each PACE. Natty will do 6 pages in 25 minutes sometimes. Well, that 25 minutes constitutes as one hour in that subject. So I count it in her hour log...ONE HOUR! BAM! Sweet! How is this alright you ask? Okay lets look at a regular classroom. There are students that will race through their subject before the other students. You remember, what did your teacher allow you to do? You could sit quietly and color, you could lay your head on your desk or you could do...whatever. Point is, you didn't get to leave your class because you were done with your work and it counted as the full hour. Same with home school...but more fun because we get done earlier! Plus my girls get more one on one time with me as their teacher than any kid gets in ANY class they take unless they require a tutor.

My girls take all the core subjects. Science, Social Studies, English, and Word Building(kinda like phonics). We chose a different Math curriculum, Math U See. This curriculum is AWESOME. Its very basic and builds on itself. Natty did NOT get the ACE math. We went half a year in constant BATTLE. Oh my gosh, no one should EVER endure a subject. The blessing of home school~ YOU CAN CHANGE!!! I would have changed or done Math U See from the very get go, I just didn't know about it. Now my girls both LOVE math. No more tears, no more struggle, no more angry words. Its wonderful. I highly recommend it. Our kids have chores. Guess what? Those also count. Some chores are only counted as 30 minutes for us, but cooking, dishes, cleaning, laundry, feeding the dog, dog-poop duty, picking up toys...all of these count for hours. Any time we go to a church function it gets counted as school hours. Why? Religion. Going to the zoo? Awesome! Hours for school! YAY field trip!! We started reading The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingals Wilder. We only read a chapter a night, but it took us about 30 minutes to read and it counted as the full hour. We do gymnastics and that counts as PE as well as play dates to the park or jumping on the trampoline out back.

There are some public schools and charter schools that will offer classes for home schooling families. We used Greeley Options last year and loved it, but chose to try the Frontier Academy's homeschooling program on Fridays this year. My girls LOVE it and I know that the kids they are in class with come from homes that have the same goals and morals in mind as I'm trying to instill in my own family. I LOVE having this opportunity! Plus it allows my girls the opportunity to have a classroom experience and 'socialize' with kids their ages. I want them to have their own friends and develop skills on how to deal with getting along with kids they aren't necessarily friends with and learning in a fun environment.

See? Home schooling IS NOT as hard as you may have thought. It doesn't consume EVERYTHING. It can be fun and a great experience for you and your kids. I don't think everyone should home school and I do agree that there are plenty of kids that turn out fantastic who go through public school. It has been a great opportunity for our family. Not every day is great (believe me, there have been days were I seriously question why God called us to obey and home school our kids), and there are times when mommy gets a time out for attitude, but the benefit that I have as a teacher is deciding that we don't have to do school on those bad days. Its just not worth fighting my kids tooth and nail every step. Obviously we have to change attitudes and get into our 'school mode', but school should be fun and at my kids ages I want them to relate 'fun' with school...not drudgery. Having the ability to change the dynamic of how we do school is something I use frequently. And I have the privilege of deciding how we go about our schooling day! We may not home school our kids through their entire schooling years, but we will continue on as we are until God calls us elsewhere. However, even with those really crummy days, I'm one blessed mommy to say that I taught my children how to read and I've seen those precious moments of their eyes lighting up when they discover that they can read a word, all by themselves.

When I became a mommy I never saw myself here.

But now that I am HERE...I wouldn't change it. My dearest and closest friends will tell you that I have sworn otherwise, but I believe they know and understand my heart...its hard to be selfless and excruciating to take on this monumental task of educating our kids...
You know who you are...and you've taught me something pretty important...


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