Friday, August 28, 2009

Resources in my 'hood, pt. 1

I've been getting several emails asking me about some home schooling resources that are local to central Massachusetts. There are many, but you have to do a little hunting. Massachusetts seems to be a bit different from other places, in that we have a very loose system of home schoolers. In other states, it seems like everyone belongs to some co-op or other (or several!). Here, there are various activities that home schoolers are involved with, some with other home schoolers, and some with the "general public." I think this is a good thing, since one of the reasons many people home school is to make sure their kids can relate to everyone they come into contact with, not just a classroom of their peers. It's easy to be tempted into filling your schedule so full of home schooling activities that there is no room for interacting with your community as a whole, and I think this is a mistake.

The first part of this list is going to be home schooling-only resources. Many of them are online, which in turn lead to face-to-face opportunities. In the Worcester area, where I live, there is not a face-to-face meeting group. But there are a couple of online groups, and if you are willing to drive a bit, there are some co-ops as well. Here we go:

1. Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc. or AHEM: This is a Massachusetts-wide website that is where every home schooling parent in MA should start. It has everything you need to get started, and can answer many, many questions a new home schooling parent might have specific to MA. They have a newsletter you can get by email, they have a list of homeschooling organizations, they list the laws in MA as well as articles about writing letters of intent and progress reports, etc.

2. Worcester Home Educators Network or WorcesterHEN: This is a Yahoo Group for home schoolers in Worcester. You can go on here and ask questions, or look for families with whom to get together, invite people to park days. There are announcements about activities, and a file where you can find Worcester's policies on home schooling.

3. LEAF Home Learners Network: This is another Yahoo Group, for southern central MA and northern CT and RI. This is a larger group than WorcesterHEN, and has many activities posted on it.

4. ALOHA: This is a group that is a little far for me to travel to, and I can't seem to find their website, but I think they are still active. I also think that this is something you might have to pay a fee for, maybe they have a co-op sort of thing going on. If you inquire at the LEAF group you might find some more info. They were located in Princeton, MA the last I heard.

5. Voyagers, Inc.: This is a group that is also a bit far from me. It's a co-op (involves fees, there is a scholarship program to help those who can't afford them), and has teen activities which seem to be popular. They are located in Acton, MA.

6. Think Tank Worcester: This is an organization that teaches classes about various topics, like astronomy, medieval history, botany, math. It seems to be for older kids, and some find their fees to be "limiting." It seems to be an excellent program, however, if you can afford it.

There are more, many more, but I think this list can get people started. I think even just going to the AHEM website can help open doors to other sources that can be helpful.

In my next post, I will discuss resources that are NOT home schooling specific, like area museums and farms, etc, that we have enjoyed through the years.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Good intentions...

I've been full of good intentions lately. I think many of us are. We all intend to eat healthier, read/learn more, get our degrees, exercise, write that memoir, do that charity work... In my case, it was write at least two articles for this blog every week.


Well, life just takes over sometimes. And I think that is especially important to remember when home schooling. It's so easy to get overwhelmed and overcome by negativity. Just because you weren't able to do something or something didn't go as planned does not mean you are a failure. It simply means that something else happened instead. So you have a choice: you can accept what happened and work with it, or you can not accept it and work against it.

Acceptance: We can't control everything that happens in our lives, we might as well accept that. Once you come to peace with that fact, things begin to look much brighter. We can't control things, but we can prepare for the bad things when they come. For example, I know a woman who insists on writing her lesson plans in ink. Very non erasable, permanent ink. Not only thins, but she writes her plans for months in advance! When she is done, she feels a sense of relief. "Look at that, it's all black and white, perfect." But life is not perfect; not by most of our definitions, anyhow. Inevitably, strep throat strikes, or the flu, or an ice storm that leaves them powerless for a week. And then, the best laid plans... well, you know what happens to them. What does one do?

Well, for one, how about writing your plans in pencil? Or doing them on the computer so you can simply cut and paste and move things around. There are a few computer programs out there specifically for homeschoolers to plan their years, and they make it very easy to account for unexpected absences/delays. Then, just move on from where you stopped. Or, you can redo some things, cut a few things out of your year so that you can still finish when you had planned. At the Heart of the Matter Homeschooling Conference a couple weeks ago, Linda Hobar spoke about a "dateless planner" she used so that when things got messy in her year, it wasn't a problem. They just moved on. You can make plans per week rather than per day, and concentrate on getting a list of assignments done over the week rather than over one day. This way, if one day gets hairy, you still have the rest of the week to do that work. It takes the pressure off. And that's the problem most of the time. Pressure. The natural disaster is bad enough, but then you have to worry, are my kids learning enough?? Well, if worse comes to worse, think of it this way. What learning experiences can be derived from what is happening to you? How can it tie into your lesson plan?

When one child is sick, it can be a very valuable experience for your other kids. Accept your child's sickness and use it to teach your other kids about compassion. How can they make life easier for their suffering sibling? Maybe they can research how their brother might have gotten sick, or how he might have avoided getting sick. How can they avoid getting sick from him? You can get a whole year of science just from this, including nutrition, human body, weather, germs, etc.

Our other option is to not accept the fact that life is organic, that it is constantly changing and growing, and as such, is unpredictable. We can write out our plans in ink, and then... bang our heads against the wall a few times a year. We can pretend to be surprised at illnesses, at accidents and natural disasters. But really, is it worth fooling yourself?

So I went a few weeks without being able to post. Well, let's think about this. Why couldn't I post? I was outside playing with my son. I was making plans for my schoolyear. I was watching movies with my husband. When you look at the things that you DID vs. the things you planned to do, life takes a different perspective. What I see is that my family takes precedent over my blog. Which, to me, is just fine.

The next time your kids get sick, think about this--you are homeschooling! You could make them do school when they are sick, they are at home not at risk of infecting others, right? Does that sound crazy? Why? Oh, is it because your kids' comfort and happiness is more important to you than a paper plan? Instead of feeling discouraged by the delay in your plans, feel joyous at the fact that you have such a caring family, who care more about feelings and happiness than events that happened five hundred years ago.

You have 18 years to homeschool. You have only one chance at making TODAY happy for your child.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"The Name is not the Way"

The wise teacher does not choose to give a particular name to her or his style of educating children. All named teaching practices have political implications, and political movements become parts of the pendulum course that education has followed throughout history. Names are limiting, for other people's definitions are attached to the names. A name can evoke unnecessary, unwarranted reactions to implied meanings that are not true of you at all... Do not follow the dictates of any one group; follow the dictates of your own, carefully developed, philosophy.
-- Greta Nagel, Ph.D, The Tao of Teaching, 1994.
Names have associations, no matter how objective we try to be. Say, "rose," a certain smell comes to mind. But roses also have thorns. Say, "spaghetti;" some will think of warm dinners at Nona's, others will think of the times they were too poor to eat anything but pasta and canned sauce.

When I say "unschooling," do you think of kids and moms experiencing the joy of discovery in everyday life; learning to love experiencing things firsthand; knowing they can stop what they are doing and look up that bug that just crawled across their book? Or do you think of lazy moms, lazy kids, panicking when test time comes, wanting what they want at that moment, instant gratification? When you think of classical education, do you think of a wealth of knowledge, eloquence, self-discipline? Or do you think of mom being a slave driver; memorization; joyless learning? How about Charlotte Mason? Is it gentle learning with nature and living books? Or is it raising weaklings, not tough enough to "cope" with the ruthlessness of today's workplace? Only hippies unschool, right? And fascists classically school. Victorian wanna-be's do Charlotte Mason.

I know these statements are not true. I've witnessed quite disciplined "unschools," very gentle classical schools, and very modern Charlotte Mason followers. Maybe you have, too, but I'll bet there are plenty who have not; they have only seen what their experience has shown them. Even when you choose a method to use in your own home school, you may make assumptions and generalizations which may not go along with everyone else's concept of that method. So when you name yourself as an "unschooler," for example, expect that someone else will make some generalizations about you which may or may not be accurate.

When I first started home schooling, it seemed like everyone wanted to know, "What method are you following?" Every book I read seemed to be telling me, "You need to find a method or you will be lost forever." So after doing tons of research, I chose one and used it for six months. We were having problems, but tweaking seemed so wrong. It was a method, wasn't it? Tried and true. If I tweaked it, it wouldn't still be THAT method, would it? So I tried another method, in all its purity and glory. But there were real problems with that, too, after a while. What was going on? Was I incompetent? Add to this the "Aunt Maybelle voice," and I was a mess, especially since the method I was using said, "If you don't do it this way, you will FAIL."

Wait a minute.

Fail? The Chief is going to be in the "second grade," and is doing everything on a third and fourth grade level, even with all the mess ups and start overs and goings back. How is he failing? That was when I realized, it was not he who would fail, but the method.

I was so busy trying to perfect my use of the method/s that I did not see that I was working too hard for a method that was not working for me.

This is what we are telling ourselves, if not other people, when we say, "Oh, I use the _____ method." We are saying that we are willing to relinquish our control of our families and home schools to this book or person. If it works, the method gets the credit. If it fails, then we take the blame because it's the METHOD. It can't be wrong, can it?

Don't get me wrong. All methods have their pros and cons. You might actually find one that is the perfect fit your you and your family. If so, that is WONDERFUL! I think that happens very, very rarely. If a time does come, however, when you find yourself having doubts, thinking, "why can't my kid do this? All those other kids can narrate stories/write essays/draw like Picasso," maybe it's time to do a little re-evaluating. What drew you to the method in the first place? Go back and answer the ten questions. Instead of asking yourself, "What's wrong with my kid, why can't he do this?" ask, "What's wrong with this method, why isn't it working for us?" Write down what works about the method, use them, and drop the rest and try something else. Is this sacrilege? Are you a slave to your method? What's more important, the method or your family? Think of how it feels to be a child who is asked daily to do something he can't do. How would you feel about yourself?

Think of it this way. A warrior who can only use a bow and arrow would be pretty worthless in close combat. A swordsman is frustrated if his enemy is on the opposite bank of a very wide river. Why not train yourself with multiple weapons so you can overcome many obstacles, whatever comes into your path? And the next time someone asks you, "What method do you follow?" you can answer them with confidence, "The one that works."