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.

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!

Feeling Ugly

A new bill was introduced today in an attempt to regulate private homeschoolers. After a long walk and talk session with a friend this morning, I was already a little down about the state of things in our country and now this.

I’m writing in the afternoon, which is not my best time. I’m usually upbeat and inspired in the morning. That’s when I sit down to write something fabulous. Yep. That’s me. Fabulous. At least, that’s how I feel when I’m letting words flow onto the screen. The afternoons, well…I’ve had time to have the shine rubbed off a bit.

I made the silly mistake of checking Facebook and my email an extra time today and now I’m sitting here…discouraged.

Do we really think that if we only make one more law, one more inspection, one more regulation, people won’t be able to hurt themselves or others? How much power are we willing to give a government entity over us in order to feel safe? Apparently, a lot. And then we can all sit around and cry about how “they” won’t let us live our lives and “they” are taking over everything and doing bad things with it. I guess that’s better than taking responsibility for our own lives.

Sorry. I think I’ll go make a cup of tea and watch the sun set over the desert before I make dinner.

React or Reflect

I posted this today on my Facebook page. I felt compelled. Seriously. If I could say one thing to all people it’d be “Look at yourself, not the mirror.”

Life Advice: Whatever everyone else is doing, whatever they say is “best,” don’t do that. Look at YOUR life, YOUR home, YOUR love, YOUR children. Take into account all the advice in the world and then do what makes YOUR life (and the life of those you love) easier, happier, kinder, and more fun no matter what the rest of the world seems to think is a better way.
Peace, peeps!

But I’d like to expand on that for just a bit. When we read, “This is the best way to…” or “This is how you get things done.”, we can take those bits of advice a couple different ways. We can look at it and react, “Hey! Don’t tell me how! I know what I’m doing!” or we can reflect on the advice and think, “Wow. That’s cool that person has a way of…” We don’t need to take offense when someone offers advice or states their opinion. We can take it as a sign of affection and see the longing to be heard behind those words that are written.

We also don’t have to take the advice in total or in part. When I hear someone’s great idea, plan, or advice, I read it and wonder. I look at my own situation, the one right in front of me, not the one I imagine or reflect back in some distorted mirror (at least I try to anyway). And then I decide whether or not I need to change anything.

Take education advice for instance. We homeschool in a very unconventional way and when I read articles about college entrance, the use of electronic devices, or the latest way to get kids to whatever it is they are supposed to do to live a happy life, I (sometimes) read them and think, “Interesting.” And then I look at my kids, the one that just slept until noon, ate leftover chili for breakfast and is now online ordering another monitor for his computer and laughing at his Facebook feed. He seems happy, healthy, and fairly well educated. And then I think, “Well, I guess that advice isn’t for us.” and I move on.

What do I not do? I don’t comment that the information I read was ridiculous and irrelevant. I don’t put down the person as trying to manipulate me. I don’t argue that if they just did whatever I do, they wouldn’t have these problems to fix in the first place. I only assume they are kind, intelligent and trying to help. Their advice isn’t for me, but it’s for someone out there.

I guess I’m only assuming the writer/poster’s intentions are the same as mine. They are trying to share what works for them, their experience, their point of view, in the hopes that it may help someone else or at least brighten their day.

It’s related to this, “My favorable view of my own choices does not negate or invalidate yours.”

Clarification

This is something I posted to a local Facebook group and my homeschool blog, but it is a subject so close to my heart and I want so badly to help people not be afraid, combative, or stressed about homeschooling, that I felt I’d like to share it here as well since I worked so hard at writing it. It was in response to our local group interacting with the school district over some changes to a charter school that caters to homeschoolers. Sometimes I think we could all benefit from changing how we look at things.
First of all, if you are enrolled in a charter school, you are in the public school system. There are only public and private schools in California, no “homeschoolers.” That’s actually a very good thing and something that advocates of secular and religious homeschooling in the 80’s and 90’s worked hard to keep that way. It’s a way of protecting us from the “tyranny of the majority,” giving ALL public and private schooled “homeschoolers” the same protections as those that enroll in the corner school or pay out of pocket for the church’s private school.
 
Second, I think it might help a lot of people to think of the local school district, the charter school, the church private school, and all the other “school” options as individual businesses trying to get you to buy their services. Walmart doesn’t lose money if you shop at Target, but they do want you to shop at their store and will do what they can to entice you to shop there first. And in meetings, they do say, “We’re losing money to that other company! What can we do to stop them?!” Businesses use all kinds of tactics to get you to buy their products, including advertising, sales, surveys, etc. And (unfortunately) since the government is now involved with more and more every day, they also have government ways to force you to shop there, from stopping other stores from coming in the area to lobbying government to change laws in their favor.
 
Schools are very similar. They want you to buy their product (enroll your child) and they will do what is available to get you do just that. The role of government in our schools has added a bit of fear to all of this because they have the use of force on their side. They made laws (long ago) that will put you in jail if you don’t enroll your child somewhere. Kind of a bit of a monopoly, I’d say.
 
That fear of the use of force is what we are all reacting to, but I’m refusing to do so. We don’t have to worry what the school district is up to. We don’t need to get them to see our side. We can just use other options, ignore what they are doing, and do what’s best for our families right now. I’ve found over the years, while working with the legislation and legal teams at CHN, that interacting directly with the school district as a community only creates stress and solves very little. Bureaucracy is an infuriating slug when your child is growing up so fast! They just want to find ways to “help” and like a vampire you’ve invited into the house, they’ve found a way to get into the homeschool community. Most of us don’t want their help. We just want to be left alone. I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t interact with them, I’m just saying you don’t have to. Sometimes the best way to fix something is to let it sit on its own, walk away, “opt out.”
 
That being said, to stay on top of legal issues, I’d recommend joining and following a statewide advocacy group. CHN, HSC, HSLDA, CHEA of CA, all have people watching the legislation that comes in and out and they warn us when we need to “do something.” I love advocacy groups of all kinds! It lightens my load of citizenship and lets me focus on my family.

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.