Posts in Homeschooling

The Socialization Trap

July 28th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

During this pandemic, many parents have been surprised to discover just how valuable family time is. Some discovered that their children made more academic progress by not going to traditional school. No matter what the benefits, however, many had to cope with kids who desperately missed their friends.

This last problem might lead some parents who are thinking, “Wow, could homeschooling be for us?” to dismiss it out of hand. After all, no matter what the benefits of being home, friendship and social interactions are important.

Three of my daughters—all homeschooling moms—and I were each asked to film a short video about socialization and homeschooling. We’re actually not sure where the final product will be seen, but we know the person collecting the videos so we were willing to participate. As things developed, our eldest was helping facilitate the COVID-19 wedding of a friend so she didn’t manage to contribute. My other daughters and I ended up approaching the topic from different directions and I thought you might enjoy getting a composite view.

DD3 and her husband took advantage of the changes wrought by the virus to load their three children onto an RV and set off to discover America. She made the point that her children are meeting all sorts of people at each RV park they frequent. They are becoming less diffident and shy as they meet both kids and adults from different backgrounds and areas. Since everyone might move out at any moment, there is no time for slowly warming up to each other. This has made her realize that, in schools, kids are often with basically the same group of friends for many years. Certainly, some social skills are practiced, but breaking out of the school bubble is valuable as well.

DD2 spoke about the many social opportunities her children usually have ranging from homeschool coop scenarios to homeschool activities run by the local science center or other organizations. The picture of children sitting at home and seeing no one may be applicable to a pandemic situation, but it certainly does not represent most families and their normal homeschooling experiences. After initially being excited at how very many social activities are available, many homeschooling moms end up realizing that they need to choose carefully so that they do not find their entire week taken up with running between amazing options. The challenge is often too much socialization rather than too little.

The point I made was to question what the word socialization means in the first place. During my 16-year homeschooling journey, my children made friends based more on interest than on age. Isn’t that how life works? As adults, we don’t restrict our friendships to those born within the same year as us nor to those who live in the same neighborhood. As the only Jewish family within a once-a-week Christian coop, my children learned to clearly define and be proud of their unique family and religious heritage at the same time as they learned that we can be friends with those who are different from us. They took classes at the coop based on their interests rather than their age and learned to function in a group with those both older and younger than they were.

It isn’t uncommon for those parents whose children face social difficulties in school to decide to homeschool. In many cases, parents find it easier to work on these difficulties, with or without professional help, while their children aren’t having daily negative experiences in school. Outsiders may see a struggling child and attribute their awkwardness to homeschooling while the reality is that the cause and effect are reversed. The child is homeschooling because he had challenges; the challenges aren’t the result of the homeschooling.

Most kids who would socially do well in school are perfectly fine making friends through the homeschooling community as well as at their neighborhoods and synagogues or churches. Those of my children who transitioned to school during their high school or college years had no difficulty whatsoever in making friends and I hear the same from others.

If you have found that having your children home has brought blessing into your family, I hope you won’t take homeschooling off the table because of the false narrative that the need for  “socialization”  can only take place in traditional school settings. You may not have a choice next year—when and how schools will open is up for debate. However, if your school opens in a way that isolates each child and “socialization” is no longer even a goal of schooling, I hope you know that having friends and getting along with others is extremely important, but something that parents are perfectly capable of facilitating.

Vaccine Development: Seeking Poets?

April 30th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 28 comments

My husband and I were discussing whether the production of pharmaceuticals and other vital commodities would move back to the United States from China. He brought up an angle that had eluded me.

“We aren’t raising enough people with the education and ability to produce many of these things,” he said. “To make matters worse, not only are we not producing nearly enough design and production engineers, chemists, and people who know how to operate numerically controlled machine tools,  powerful unions have placed almost insurmountable impediments to manufacturing in America and have pushed wages beyond the economically sustainable.  Add to that all the politicians willing to buy votes with unrealistic economic promises and seeking power via unnecessary regulations, and we simply are years from returning to a manufacturing economy. That’s without even mentioning lawyers poised to attack any successful company.

With that in mind, my attention was caught by a newspaper article that was part of a series of how a variety of professionals are working during this pandemic. We have all read so much over the past few years about a renewed focus on STEM— science, technology, engineering and math—exactly those areas in which my husband was declaring our country to be deficient. This particular article featured a science teacher developing remote lessons. Although meant as a laudatory piece, it actually showed how meaningless a STEM label can be. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “A touchy-feely humanities class by any other name would still be a liberal arts class.”

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Balancing Home, Work and School

April 27th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Many of us are trying to figure out a new normal as we balance work from home and school at home.  There is a struggle within us—which has priority:  Work or home?  School or home?

Leviticus 12 begins with the laws of impurity and purity surrounding childbirth.  (These are very poor translations of the Hebrew words tumah and tahara, but will serve for the purpose of this writing.) The previous chapter, Leviticus 11, discusses the laws of purity and impurity of animals.  Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that just as when God created the world, He first created animals and then man, so too, when teaching us about the spiritual state of creation, the Torah begins with animals and ends with man.  There is a well-known teaching on this that says:

“If man merits, we say to him, you are primary out of all the creations, but if he doesn’t merit, we say to him, even a lowly worm preceded you.”  There are two ways of looking at mankind.  We are either the pinnacle, the apex of creation or just the stragglers.  A prominent 19th-century Hungarian rabbi expounded on this saying that in one way, mankind is clearly inferior to animals.  Animals can forage in their local fields and forests for food and they don’t need any clothing or furnishings, whereas we have to work hard to procure and prepare food, clothing, and housing.  But in another sense, he taught, people are elevated and distinguished beyond all animals because we have a purpose and goal in life, which is to serve God and engage in His Torah and this purpose gives us grandeur and importance.  That is why the teaching says, if a person “merits”, meaning fulfills his purpose faithfully and strives to reach his potential, we say, “you are the pinnacle of creation”, but if a person, “doesn’t merit”, doesn’t act upon the responsibilities inherent in being a human, then truly all other animals are better than he, because no other creature has to work as hard as he for his basic physical needs. Then we say, “Even a worm is ahead of you”.

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Time to Outlaw Homeschooling?

April 23rd, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 37 comments

Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, an esteemed mentor of my husband’s and a revered teacher of thousands, once gave my husband an unusual blessing. He said, “May God protect you from those who believe they are acting for the sake of Heaven.” His eyes twinkled as he spoke, but there was deep sincerity behind his words.

Those who believe that their motives are entirely pure, selfless and represent the only truth are dangerous indeed. Those who deliberately use the language of morality, selflessness and idealism to bamboozle others are likely even more dangerous.

I do not know Professor Elizabeth Bartholet or whether she believes that she is acting only for the public good, but having read her essay in the Arizona Law Review warning about the potential abuses of homeschooling and recommending judicial action to counter parental authority, I do know that her thinking is dangerous indeed. As the Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, she is in a position to do great harm.

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School at Home vs. Homeschooling

April 20th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

Now that families are settling into an isolation routine, I thought it worthwhile to distinguish between schooling at home and homeschooling.

When my mother was small, she contracted polio. Over the course of her childhood, she spent many months at home recuperating from operations. During that time, the school district regularly sent a teacher to her apartment. I believe the teacher came once or twice a week though I am not sure; my mother rarely spoke of those years. Those sessions, coupled with a sharp intellect and parents who valued learning, seemed to have been most successful. Missing classes, facing poverty during the Depression and immigrant parents for whom English was not their first language didn’t hold my mother back. She joined her classmates when she could and eventually graduated college at a time when that was quite an achievement.

My grandparents had never heard of the term homeschooling. Rather, circumstance dictated that my mother was often schooled at home. I assume that her parents made sure that she finished her assignments, but they trusted the visiting teacher to supervise what she was learning. Today, when many schools are closed, circumstances are leading many children to similarly be schooled at home.

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3 Tips for Isolation and Quarantine

March 16th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

In a way that you neither anticipated nor planned for, your children are now home. All of them. All the time. In addition to that, there are added worries on your plate. Will your business/job survive this economic crisis? More importantly, will all your loved ones, including aging parents, be healthy and well? Will there be shortages…? Anxiety abounds.

Making things more complicated, libraries and other attractive venues are off-limits. Your children might have on-line learning organized by their schools or they might not. If the above scenarios don’t describe your city at the moment, they may very well in the next few days.

I’d like to share three tips from my daughter, Rebecca.  While four of her children homeschool, her two high-schoolers are now home as well. The tantalizing playground next door is off-limits as are the many friends with whom the family usually plays and the homeschool activities they usually attend.

  1. Children crave routine. Whether or not your children are expected to keep up with their studies, let them know that the day is not open and endless. The schedule will look different depending on the ages of your children as well as your own personality, but you will all benefit from knowing what time to get up, what chores are expected and when meals will be. Setting times for family reading, for a walk around the block, for crafts and for other activities will make life easier than having a laissez-faire attitude. For younger children, use pictures to share the schedule.
  2. Give Mommy-time to children before they feel the need for it. Pay attention to them before they demand that you do. If you start the day by giving your children your full focus, share time with them before you need to make a business phone call and offer yourself to them first rather than last, you will probably find that they are more willing and able to be on their own and let you have the time you need (in reasonable quantities) to do what you need to do by yourself.
  3. Keep your frustration and anxiety to yourself. Vent in your room and to a friend when you need to, but recognize that the most important lesson you may be providing for your children right now is how much you enjoy being with them. Let them see you rejoice in time spent together. When they are older, they will also look back with wisdom born of maturity and recognize that you modeled how to handle difficult times with grace, prayer and love.

Rebecca always makes a point of saying that each parent needs to know what works for him or her. If her words are helpful—use them. If at this point, they aren’t appropriate for you and yours—ignore them with confidence that you are the leader that God provided for your unique family.

Your Children, Their Values?

February 23rd, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

During the almost two decades that I homeschooled, I tried hard to let my friends whose children were in school know that I wasn’t judging them. And, I usually wasn’t. I was too busy being hard on myself and wondering if I was making the right decision. When mothers would say to me, “I wish I could do homeschool, but…” I responded that it wasn’t for everyone and that there were many good educational paths.

In hindsight, my husband and I are thrilled that we homeschooled. Of course, our children missed out on certain positive experiences, but that is part of real life. Since no children are always in the perfect class in the perfect school with the perfect teacher, everyone misses out on certain positive experiences.

However, hindsight has also revealed how too many of my peers didn’t realize that the messages their children were receiving in school frequently ran counter to the family’s values and beliefs. They thought their children were learning math, literature, history and science; they didn’t realize that these were being packaged in an anti-faith, anti-patriotic and anti-family container. Even if the early years’ teachers were neutral, their children were ill-equipped to counter the hard-sell propaganda on college campuses.

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It’s Fettuccini, Not a Kidney by Randy Weiss

January 8th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Jim Weiss’ recordings are among my favorite homeschooling and mothering resources. For decades, this master storyteller’s work, produced with his wife Randy, have been favorite gifts for our children and now grandchildren. They range from CDs or downloads meant for four-year-olds to those that are more suitable for high school and up. If you aren’t familiar with JimWeiss.com do yourself a favor and check it out.

Every other month, Jim and Randy send out an e-magazine telling of appearances, new products and specials. Randy has her own column and graciously gave me permission to share her most recent offering, a piece that I loved. You can also access previous essays on the website. 

It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I was two hours from home for a variety of appointments. The emotional payoff for the day was that I could go to the community’s local Whole Foods (often referred to as my “Mother-Ship”). I wanted to pick up our favorite brand of eggs, challah, rye bread, and fish. And then something special for dinner.

I found myself in the fresh pasta section and I could instantly picture Jim and me savoring Fettucini Alfredo. Adjacent to the pasta section was the beverage bar, and behind it was the pasta guy. He was waiting on a young women with 3-year old twins in a double stroller who drew me into an intriguing and adorable baby conversation. The twins were charming entertainment as I waited for an exceptionally long time for their mom to make her purchases.

Finally, the pasta guy came rushing over and slipped behind the pasta counter and apologized profusely for the wait. He went on to say that his work partner was nowhere to be found and how he hates to keep people waiting. I appreciated his customer care ethics but my immediate response was, “It’s fettucini, not a kidney.” His frazzled demeanor suddenly relaxed and he laughed and agreed with me as we engaged in a discussion about working with the public and dealing with all sorts of personalities and expectations.

I often refer to my fettucini/kidney quote in my own mind. It’s important to consciously acknowledge what is important and what is not. I am not the most patient person in the world-all the more essential for me to work on this characteristic. Sometimes I rush around like a chicken with its head cut off and in those instances, waiting for service can seem unbearable. That’s when I need to reign myself in and choose to slow down and be patient.

It’s all about perception and perspective, isn’t it?

In my experience most issues heat up or calm down depending on how we view the situation. I have come to realize that ones’ perspective and perception can both be influenced by a choice to be in the here and now and in the process be grateful that “It’s fettuccini not a kidney”.

Caveat Parente!

December 30th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

If your five-year-old cannot translate the above title or write an essay about the play on words with the better know phrase ‘caveat emptor,’ perhaps you should hold off sending him or her to kindergarten.

Ok. I’m exaggerating. But if an article in Psychology Today reflects current trends, I am not off by much. The article focuses on the anguish of kindergarten teachers as they are instructed to treat their young students in ways that they, especially those teachers with years of experience, feel damages the little ones psychologically and educationally.

These teachers speak of pressure from the government (Common Core) via the administration insisting that they do age-inappropriate activities in their classrooms. They find themselves needing to ignore the tears, frustrations and growing hatred towards learning that they are seeing. The teachers’ other option is to quit their jobs.

There are many reasons why too many of America’s schools drastically fail those they are supposed to be serving, whether we are speaking of elementary, middle, high school or college. At the same time, as a society we are encouraging parents to put their children into organized, structured groups at earlier and earlier ages. It is not unusual today for kindergarten to be a youngster’s third, fourth of even fifth year of day care or schooling.

We can certainly get involved and try to solve society’s ills. However, as parents, our first responsibility is to those lives we brought into the world. We cannot afford for our motto to be, “See no evil; hear no evil.” Our eyes must be open and we need to be ready to act.  The onus is on us to know whether those teaching our children nod in agreement to the horrific comments below the article. Are we harming or helping our children by sending them off to school? Isn’t that an important question to ask?

Girls in the Locker Room Meet Boys in the Boat

November 26th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Those of us blessed to be born during safe times in prosperous places  grew up with certain illusions. Among them was the confidence that we could plan reliably for our futures. Military veterans, refugees from war-torn countries, and those who have survived a critical medical situation know otherwise. While we can and must make our best personal efforts for a successful life, outside forces  will sometimes derail  us. At that point, we have no choice but to react.

That reality struck me forcefully when I read Daniel James Brown’s book The Boys in the Boat. The young men featured overcame adversity, persevering until they excelled at the sport of rowing. This they did, winning a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Yet, the book doesn’t end there. Along with other men of their generation, their educational and individual aspirations soon took second place to the task of defeating Adolf Hitler, not in a series of games but in the arena of war. As such, this inspiring and uplifting book ends with the recognition that some of these young men ended up having their futures tragically cut short while those who survived the tumultuous years of World War II had to adjust and realign their plans.

Some threats such as approaching war are readily recognizable. Others—sometimes subtle warning signs of what is to come—are far easier to ignore or miss altogether. Threats are often camouflaged  and human nature makes us expect danger to look similar to how it looked in the past.

For this reason, I am writing to address parents who may not recognize potential perils facing their children. I am going to use one example to make my point, but I strongly urge each mother and father to take time on a regular basis to  ask themselves if anything  similar might be endangering their children. When our children’s physical and emotional health is at stake, waiting for others to sound the alarm and provide guidance isn’t enough. When we are surrounded by Neville Chamberlains, calling us warmongers and telling us that we are exaggerating the dark clouds on the horizon, each of us truly has to decide that the groupthink is correct or we must be willing to serve as our family’s own Winston Churchill—unpopular, derided and scorned until later years prove us right.

The issue that provoked these strong words is the decision of the school district in Palatine, Illinois to allow male and female students to access locker rooms based on “how they feel”. The ACLU helped a ‘transgender student’ bring this suit to the school board and, if you read or listen to many news reports, only the most backward bigots oppose letting children “be who they are”. Conservative news sites at least showed the other side. They featured a girl on the swim team, changing clothes multiple times a day, who is uncomfortable doing so next to a biological male. Yet, even as she squirms with embarrassment, she tries to sound loving and warm towards her fellow student. I assume that is because she has been trained through the years to distrust her own feelings in favor of minority ‘cultural darlings’. For her to be in public school at this point means that her parents, too, have made peace with a step-by-step normalization of views that were universally considered radically extreme only a short while ago. Each of us has to decide which straw will be the one that is too much for us to bear.

I don’t know this individual child or her family and wouldn’t presume to tell them what to do. But, if you are reading this and have not already recognized the unhealthy and insidious nature of society targeting your children, I am speaking to you.  Pulling your child out of school, either to a carefully vetted and chosen private school or to homeschool, may very well not accord with your child’s wishes. It means leaving friends and either being unable to participate in team sports or having to exert tremendous effort to do so. It may mean seriously considering a closer, or a new, attachment to your religion. Private school means added expense and homeschooling usually entails one parent needing to seriously curtail his, or more likely her, earning power. It very well might mean completely changing the trajectory of your family’s life, deviating from the future you so carefully planned.

There is no draft and no rampaging army forcing us to react at this point. Many parents are concerned about the direction society is taking and for this reason are paying attention to politics. That is important, but will not protect our children today. If you read about the increasing mental health issues presenting in our teens and college students, look carefully at what is being promoted in government schools and on college campuses, and contemplate what a different world we are living in, you may well decide that you are in a battle right now and doing nothing is a form of surrender. The stakes for your child and family are high.

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