Private Does Not Have to Mean Expensive

I have to get something off my chest. It’s about what education is and what makes home education work. It starts with money. Education is not about buying the right stuff. A good education is not expensive. I’ll admit that in the past, people were limited educationally because they couldn’t get their hands on books or see outside their own farm or neighborhood, but that just isn’t the case in the United States today. We have public libraries in every city and an internet connection is a must in every home. Yes, there may be exceptions, but I’m talking generalities here.

The most important thing you need to educate your own kids is to be able to be at home with them. If you have a partner that can support you and the kids while they are young, you have a huge advantage over any expensive education system. If you have a vehicle and gas to get you around, you’re sitting pretty!

How can you give your kids a practically free education? Again, it starts with you. Educate yourself and take your young children along for the ride. That doesn’t mean go back to college! It means read an article online, open a book, visit a museum, watch a movie, or have a discussion. Create and cultivate in yourself the life long learner first. Do it right in front of your family. Your kids will follow suit in their own way.

Go to the library and check out any books you and the kids like and read them. Don’t study them, just read them! Go the park and explore. Walk around your neighborhood. The grocery store, the post office, the bank, etc. are all potential field trips when you look at them like a child would. Instead of rushing through the grocery store with your list, involve the kids with making the meal plan, the list, and the budget. A couple of dollars of their own to spend at the grocery store or save for the future is a lesson plan all of itself. Actually working with money goes a lot farther than talking about it. Go through the store and answer all the questions they have, have them find things, substitute things, and explore the store like you’ve never been there.

When we allow our kids to explore their world, if we can be patient and quiet while they do so, they get so much out of it. They become more interesting people. And we can see the world in a whole new way. We can do this everywhere we go.

When my boys were very little, the regional park was amazing to them. We spent hours there every week. We loved amusement parks but rarely went inside. They thought the shopping area, pond, and Independence Hall was Knott’s Berry Farm. And Downtown Disney, its fountains, people, shops, and hotels was the best part of Disneyland. We went to beaches, parks, free museum days, all over Southern California. Small local museums are usually only a couple of dollars donation and we always brought a picnic lunch for all of us. My sons wanted lunch boxes like school kids, so they each had one with their name on it and a backpack to carry it in.

My point is that you don’t need a packaged curriculum, the monthly craft/science box, the big organized field trips, or extra-curricular classes to give your kids a great education. You just need to be with them, be patient, and help them explore the world around them safely. We unschooled the whole time, but even if you want to home educate in a more traditional way, there are tons of free resources on the internet. You may have to piece it together and you may have to open your mind to some unconventional ways of doing things (i.e. Mad Libs instead of grammar workbooks), but it is very possible to do this on your own without the state school system breathing down your neck.

I always see private home education as an entrepreneurial thing, a do-it-yourself, be your own boss, kind of thing. What are the benefits of private education? No state standards to keep up with, no grade levels, no mandatory number of days, no testing. That’s just the start. To me, the best thing I got out of it was a sense of self-reliance. I second guessed myself all the time, especially when my sons weren’t behaving the way I thought they should. I’m lucky I had an amazing partner that could see outside my day to day life and remind me that many of my perceived “problems” were just parenting/relationship adjustments. It had nothing to do with school.

I don’t begrudge people the choice to use the public charters to homeschool. If the education the public schools are giving is what you want, without the crowd control and classroom bullies, then charters would be fine for you. But if you want something different, if you want the education outcome to be different than the seniors graduating this year, then there are other options out there.  Private education is feasible, even on a tight budget.

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Homeschooled!

We homeschooled all the way through high school! Yep. We did it.

I’m not surprised that we continued to homeschool through high school. It was the plan from the start really. I was open to changes along the way and we did make some adjustments over the years, but whether the road was rough or smooth, whenever we looked at another road, the road that formal school was on, just didn’t seem to fit. What has really struck me is how early and quickly my sons have moved toward independence.

Let me start by saying we have used an eclectic style that started with “attachment parenting” and moved into a leadership education model. The leadership education model was really for me. It’s what I’ve been doing for myself the last twelve years and my children benefitted from my personal education journey by getting to hear my stories, hear me read books aloud, and knowing first hand what a love of learning looked like. I didn’t “teach” them when they were younger. We decided to delay any academics and allow them to be children. We helped them with the projects they took on, took them places that looked interesting, spent lots of days exploring the world. It was a magical time and I only wish I was aware of how short that time would be while I was in it.

As they grew, we took more of a “radical unschooling” approach. Our home had no hard and fast rules. We used no formal curriculum. We spent our days much like we would if the kids were on vacation. We went places like zoos, museums, and camping trips. We read books, watched tv, went to the movies, and played video games. We met with other homeschool friends and had parties.

The traditional “school subjects” were “offered” as required by our state, but we offered them in very different ways and they weren’t required to study them. Language Arts was offered through books and games. Science through museums, experiments, and videos. History through movies, tv, and historical sites. Math through cooking, games, and other adventures that needed basic math skills. It was often hard to tell the difference between on subject and another.  Many project encompassed all the school subjects at the same time. Once my sons hit their teens they took on a new sport, motocross. They bought old bikes, fixed them up, found out about race tracks, and we’ve been supporting them through that for the last four years. Most of their “education” has been centered on that sport since then.

All of this has been pretty expected and a slow and steady progression for all of us. And then they turned sixteen!

At fifteen and half they were chomping at the bit to get a driver’s license. They took the online class and the behind the wheel through a private company in town, made an appointment one day after their sixteenth birthday and came home with a license. That was the first test they ever took.

At sixteen they began looking for work. The oldest lucked out when a restaurant opened in town and they had a mass hire. He worked there for about six months and saved most of the money. He had a plan to visit Europe when he turned seventeen and nothing was going to stop him. Both the boys learned German and French through free online apps. The week before his seventeenth birthday he took off for a two-week trip on his own. I’ve never been so terrified. The boy had never spent the night away from home! But he had the whole thing planned out, the ticket, a place to stay, a cell phone that would work. Long story short, he ended up volunteering on a farm, deciding to stay a year, and going through immigration for a work permit. I made him a diploma from our own high school and emailed a “permission slip” for his immigration papers. At the time I write this, he’s not yet eighteen. He’ll be back in a few months with his new girlfriend and they’ll be finding ways to start their lives together here.

The youngest has a different path so far. He’s still looking for work. It’s no small task in a small town. He’s been doing odd jobs for a neighbor for cash. He’s taken up reading, guitar, and 3D modeling. He enrolled in the community college and will start classes in a couple weeks. When he took the assessment tests for the college, he tested into college English and almost into college Algebra. Not bad at all. He’s still considered a high school student for this semester because I was under the impression that high school “dual enrollment” students could take some classes for free, but it turns out that’s only at the big city schools. That’s ok though. He enrolled as a private high school student with no trouble. I made him traditional transcripts and he’s taken on the responsibility just fine.

So here I am. One kid graduated and out in the world. One almost so with one foot in college. They seem happy and well adjusted, almost normal. I say almost because they are very different from kids their age and they are very much “nerds” by any standard. Homeschooling works. You don’t need a curriculum. You don’t need oversight. You don’t need to fight and argue with your kids. You can just live with them, support their dreams, treat them like roommates, and they will eventually just take off.

Playground Rules

Sitting across the table at the mall from my world-traveling seventeen-year-old son, I’m complaining about the words some people in an online group are using. “It’s not just online,” I say, “it’s at park days too. What’s wrong with these people?” My son reads what I’ve shown him, “I have no comment for that.” “But how can we combat this? How do we get people to understand they are hurting others and not being the ‘inclusive’ and ‘tolerant’ people they claim to want to be?” My son looks at me, “If you don’t like those people, if they are hurting you, don’t play with them.” My playground advice comes back to me like a boomerang, ten years after I said them.

He reminded me of other “rules” just before he left on his first trip last year. I was becoming more and more worried about sanctioning this solo-trip to Europe. He would only turn seventeen while he was there. What was I thinking? I was looking at my son, the one sitting in front of me for the last (nearly) seventeen years. I knew what he was capable of and his personality. He’d be fine, but as the departure date grew closer, I began to doubt. I had started to give him pointers. Funny, coming from someone who has only been across our own border once, with her mother, when she was eighteen and never left again. “If things don’t seem to add up don’t go, ok? Don’t be so trustful of people. If you get confused or scared, just ask an employee of the airport, or security, for help. They want to help you, it’s what they are there for.” My baby (that’s what he looks like to me) looks up at me, “You mean don’t take candy from strangers and look both ways before crossing the street?” Crap. Yes. I guess so.

It never occurred to me as I coached my sons on playground etiquette and personal safety walking home from the park, that they would use those same rules in their adult life as personal principles. I just thought I was trying to keep them from fighting or getting hurt while they grew up. Everything we do with our kids is training for the adult world, when they will be out there on their own without us guiding the way.

I’m happy we spent so much time together. I’m happy we never sent them to school. I’m content knowing they may have received a better academic education somewhere, but they couldn’t be better people, more human, than they are today.

I’m reminded of “Star Wars” as I enjoy my son’s company while he visits for a couple weeks before heading back to Europe for a few more months. “When I left you, I was but a learner; now I am the master.” The roles have reversed. My sons are my teachers. They reflect the world back at me in ways I never dreamed possible.

Private Homeschooling Under Attack?

I wrote this today in response to a bill recently introduced in my home state. I’m reposting it here on my personal blog because it’s an issue near and dear to my heart. There is more specific information about the bill in the link at the end of this post.

“Why not have a Fire Marshall inspect your home if you are going to use the private school laws to home school? The private school I send my children to has to have an inspection.”

I’ll tell you why, because this private school is my home, with only my children as students. It is not a business. I do not charge people money to be here. I do not watch or educate other people’s children. I do not say to people, “Come here and I will keep your children safe and educate them while you are at work for only this many dollars a month!” The only people living and learning here are my family. Regardless of how old my children are or where they go to school, I still have the right to a private home free from government regulation. This is the United States of America.

Let’s think about this bill for a minute.

If your children are under compulsory school attendance age, under six years old, you would not have to have a Fire Marshall inspect your home.

If your children attend the local public school during the day, leave at 7am and come home at 4pm to spend the night, you don’t have to have a Fire Marshall inspect your home.

If your children are enrolled in a public charter school and spend most of their days at home, you don’t have to have a Fire Marshall inspect your home.

But if you satisfy compulsory education laws in California by creating a private school, pay for and use your own curriculum, keep your own records, and educate your own children, you should have to have a Fire Marshall inspect your home?

Should your home be just as fire safe as the local public or private school down the road? Sure. And I bet it already is. If you own your own home, the house was probably inspected when you bought it, when you refinanced, or when you upgraded your home owner’s insurance. If you rent, there are regulations about renting in California and you are most likely pretty safe there. “Fire Safety” addressed in this bill is already covered.

And how about the notion that the Fire Marshall coming in and inspecting your home once a year would keep children safe from abusive parents? Do you really think so? Teachers are trained and regulated. Doctors, dentists, and therapists are trained and regulated. Gym teachers and sports coaches are trained. Background checks and fingerprinting are done on all of these people. They all take classes each year to notice signs of abuse. They see the same children on a regular basis and they are all legally required to report abuse when they suspect it. But children continue to be abused, many times by the very highly regulated people that were charged with reporting it.

So what good would a Fire Marshall inspection on home-based private schools do? Next to none. In fact, it would probably do more harm than good. If you believe that if you have nothing to hide, then nothing can be reported against you, you are naïve. When an authority goes looking for trouble, they will find it. That’s not being a conspiracy theorist. It’s just human nature and it happens on a daily basis. It may not have happened to you, but it happens every day. When it does, it’s destructive and tears families apart in much the same way abuse does. It’s why we have laws that protect us from searches like these. It’s why we have “innocent until proven guilty.” Laws that make it hard for the police and other authority figures to search you or your property are there to protect the innocent from being harassed.

The state of California’s constitution gives everyone the right to an education. As a parent, I’ve chosen to educate my children privately without the financial help of the state government. My children are receiving an education. It may not be the one that the government wants for them, but that does not make us suspect and subject to search. Do we really want to treat parents as criminals simply because they chose to educate their children outside of state control?

For more information about this bill and to stay on top of the latest legislation, please visit The California Homeschool Network’s website HERE. Please consider becoming a member as well!

An Obstacle?

I sometimes worry that I may be a tad insane. Probably not in a bad way, but just a tad on the deranged side. One part of me wants to reach out and offer what I have, the other part of me is afraid the offer will be misunderstood and rejected. What to do? I’ll be praying for clarification, although my prayers so far have led to one pointer after another into an area littered with landmines. I keep looking in that direction and thinking, “I’ll just pray for guidance again.”, like rolling the dice over and over again to get the results you’re looking for. I am not equipped for this kind of stress, but I know the Lord is my strength. I’m just having trouble seeing my way to leaning on Him fully.

Two things came to mind yesterday as I moved through a stressful day, tentatively putting my foot out into the waters of our local homeschool group.

The first was “The Obstacle is The Way.” It’s a book on my reading list and part of the Stoic philosophy I’ve been thumbing through for the past year. I found a very nice (short) video that lays out the idea and shared it to the group. You can find it on YouTube HERE. I’m going to be watching it several times over the weekend and the book has already been moved to the top of the reading list.

Also, just before I go to bed each night I read from “The Daily Stoic.” Last night this was the page I read to myself three times before turning it over on my nightstand.

“Seneca’s advice to someone studying the classics is to forget all that. The dates, the names, the places – they hardly matter. What matters is the moral. If you got everything else wrong from The Odyssey, but you left understanding the importance of perseverance, the dangers of hubris, the risks of temptation and distraction? Then you really learned something. We’re not trying to ace tests or impress teachers. We are reading and studying to live, to be good human beings – always and forever.”

I have a feeling that this is what I’ve been working towards, “to be a good human being,” and to ignore the call to share what I’ve learned, to mentor others wanting to give independent home education a try, would be to hide my treasure. Two things have changed my life. Jesus and home education, specifically leadership education and the principles of unschooling. They are my passions and I want to share them. I’m just afraid of looking crazy. As my sons constantly remind me, I can’t avoid that so I might as well have fun with it.

“What is Evolution?”

I’ve had this book on my shelf for several months. I bought it from the author’s website after I read several articles by him and really wanted to hear more from him. I wasn’t disappointed. This book is questioning evolution theory, not on the basis that it conflicts with Christian theology, but because it conflicts with sound scientific thinking and is more philosophy than science. He proposes that it is closer to its own religion because several prominent proponents of it have stated that the only way to promote the theory is to “loosen America’s grip on faith.” Personally, I can learn and study how our physical world works and still believe in the “why” of Christian faith. There is no conflict between science and faith. And I’ve read many books and articles from scientists that are also Christians that have the same idea.

So why the push to denounce anyone who questions the ideas presented in evolution theory? Isn’t the point of science to question everything? If we stop questioning, don’t we end any chance of scientific discovery?

The one thing that keeps coming back to me while reading this is the definition of science. Merriam Webster’s definition of science is “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method”. And scientific method is, “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” The evolution that has occurred over millennia is not something we can prove by observation or experiment. We haven’t been able to recreate it or test it. It’s only a theory. It may seem that all the signs we have point to the theory being correct but we cannot say it is law in our world. The science will never be settled, well, unless we find a way to go back in time or recreate it somehow.

But here’s what I don’t understand. Why is it so important to people that we “admit” that evolution is how this planet obtained its diverse species? It has no real bearing on any other scientific knowledge or understanding. The same goes for theoretical physics. Interesting to think about and come up with new theories, yes. But it has no bearing on how we attempt to get a person to colonize Mars at this time.

Anyway, the book was very interesting and not “God said He created the earth!” and it doesn’t glorify Intelligent Design or Creationism either. It only points out some flaws in the theory, the fact that it cannot be recreated, and that it is being pushed on public education as definitive science that everyone must accept to be considered a legitimate scientist. I found it very interesting and, once again, it’s led me to add another book to my reading list, “Why is Evolution True?” by Jerry A. Coyne.

If you’d like to read more about William James Herath and his book, go to http://www.whatisevolutionbook.com

The Park

Sitting here with my laptop at the regional park while the boys try out a new trail on their mountain bikes. I already went for a walk and got bored. I’ve read my books and written in my journal. Here I sit, in the truck. You’d think I’d sit outside under a tree, but that’s less comfortable. There are creepy crawlies there that would draw my attention. I just can’t seem to relax. I’m happier in my pretty truck with the seat all the way back and my bare feet up in the window. The breeze is blowing through the trees and I can hear a few families nearby. The sounds of the city are intermingled with the chattering of squirrels, the staccato of woodpeckers, and various bird calls.

I’m glad we moved away from here. This used to be the only place I could escape the city streets and we’d come here often when the boys were little. The train ride around the park, an ice cream cone, and a walk around the pond was enough to wear them out. Sometimes we spend hours in the zoo looking at all the local animals. We read all the signs, fed the goats, and watched the animals do their thing. We’d play on the playgrounds and climb trees. We’d bring bikes and ride the trail that went around the whole park, stopping every hundred yards to check out something exciting on the side of the road; a nest, a bee hive, a dead squirrel. We’d sit in the shade and just watch. We’d sit beside the pond and try to get the ducks or peacocks to come up to us by sitting very still with a cracker in hand.

When my boys were young we had an “adventure backpack.” In it we kept a pair of binoculars, a cool hand-held microscope, a bandana with animal tracks on it, a few pamphlets about birds and animals native to our area, some snacks, and various other things we believed would be best to have on any adventure. There were always a couple of sketch pads and pencils. Occasionally, I had to clean it out when it became heavy with rocks, acorns, and other treasures.

I was reminded of all the fun we had when we came here because of the families I saw as I walked around the park. The whole train was filled with people, the zoo parking lot was full, a few paddle boats were on the pond, several families walked along the path together or rode bikes on the road. It’s not crowded by any means, but it’s busy for a Friday morning. It is still summer yet. When school starts in the next couple weeks it will be odd to see any children here on a weekday. It makes me sad.

For us, this was their “school.” Wait. It wasn’t school at all, it was real education. There wasn’t a moment they weren’t learning something very important and compared to that time spent here, school would have been a waste. A “field trip” here wouldn’t have been the same. Even having friends with us most days would have ruined it. There was something magical going on here every week. I had an inkling of it while it was happening. This vague joyous feeling that something wonderful was being built.

One day sticks out in my mind as extra special. There was a day when my boys wanted to ride their bikes very far, so we brought the bikes here and we set out to make the loop along the dry river bed. I told them to go as far as they liked but to stop at any forks in the road so we wouldn’t get separated. They were pretty young and new at riding bikes. I could still catch up fairly quickly. Off they went, full speed, their little blond heads under helmets bobbing up and down as they peddled their hearts out. It’s a long straight trail, so I could see them pretty far. I walked as fast as I could without running.

About ten minutes into the walk, they disappeared around the bend. I grew up at this park, so I know where things lead. This was about where the trails split; to the left, up the river bed and down into a wash, to the right, down into the parking lot and some tall trees. I was about twenty feet behind them as they made the turn. I quickened my pace. Would they stop at the fork? Or would they be so distracted by the “call of the wild” and continue up the trail or seek the refuge of the trees?

As I came around the bend myself a minute later, there they were, leaning over the handle bars of their bikes talking like two old friends. My son looks up, “Mom, I see NO forks but I didn’t want to get lost, so we waited here for you to catch up!” It never occurred to me that they didn’t know what a fork in the road was! “That way!” my younger son yells, pointing to the trees. It was getting hot and one mile of riding was enough for them.

We headed for the trees, the boys pushing hard on their small bikes across the grass. When we reached them, they threw the bikes down and collapsed on the grass spread eagle on their backs and I joined them. We lay in the shade looking up at the tree tops. “What kind of trees are these?” asks my older son. “They are eucalyptus trees,” I say. “Koala bears?” my younger son says. “Koala bears eat the leaves, but I don’t think we have koala bears at the park.” He stares up at the leaves hoping to see a koala bear. A woodpecker lands on the tree and begins to peck away. “What’s he looking for, Mom?” “Bugs,” I tell him. “The woodpeckers peck a hole and then put an acorn in it. Then they come back later and eat the bugs that have started to eat the acorn. They are acorn woodpeckers.” They attempt to make the same sound as the woodpecker and laugh hysterically. We break into the backpack for a bag of crackers and an apple. I tell them we should probably head home soon, Dad will wonder what happened to us if we don’t get home in time for dinner!

While I’m putting the bikes into the back of our truck, the boys scramble to climb into the backseat. Both ask for juice boxes as I buckle their seat belts. Driving across town back to the house, I’m thankful we’ve chosen a slower life and can enjoy days like this.

Today, as we came to the hill near the entrance of the park, my sons well into their teens, their mountain bikes loaded in the back of our truck, my younger son lights up when he sees the hill of brush and the sign to the park. “Now I remember this place!” He’s never one to be very wordy or excitable, so the outburst is a sure sign of nostalgia and excitement. We pay the entrance fee and pass by the ball fields, “Mmm…grass.” my older son comments. He’s always been a fan of grass, something we don’t see much of in the desert at home. I’m not sure they will want to make the one hundred mile drive out of the desert to ride here too often, actually, I’m hoping they don’t, but it was worth the drive today, just to remember it, just to see the look on their faces as they reminisce about their childhood. It makes my heart happy to know they already look back and think how great life has been so far.