Posts in Homeschooling

Maps, Graphs and Charts: Yes, They Still Matter

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Over the course of the festival of Sukkot, Jews who follow a Torah path make every effort to eat outdoors in a Sukkah (a temporary “hut” built to certain Biblical specifications). This year, my husband and I did not build a Sukkah of our own as we do most years. Instead, we are relying on sharing the Sukkot of our gracious children and neighbors. In that way, we found ourselves this morning having breakfast with a 20-something young man, son of one of our host families.

This charming and accomplished youth asked us a question about our beloved boat trips in the Pacific Northwest. As my husband replied, he realized that our young neighbor, an east coaster,  wasn’t familiar with the area. From experience, I knew what was coming.

“When you are going on a journey or to a new place, do you look at a map to get the lay of the land?” my husband asked.

“No, I use my GPS,” came the expected reply.

Even today, our home is stocked with maps. We do not set out on a long trip without a paper record of the areas through which we will be going. The above conversation is one that my husband frequently has, especially with those under the age of 35. Each time, he is amazed at the answer. While GPS has its highly respected place in our lives, my husband cannot imagine not having a mental overall picture against which the GPS voice can be measured. Leaving oneself open to befuddlement if the directions mess up, as they certainly sometimes do, is anathema to him.

As the discussion continued, I remembered a homeschooling resource that I valued and enjoyed. It is possible that my children enjoyed it as well, but whether they did or did not, it bore its fruit. The series, Maps, Charts and Graphs by Modern Curriculum Press began with a first volume geared to second grade and then increased in complexity for quite a number of years. It taught how to read maps, graphs and charts, explained different types and uses of each of these tools, and imparted interesting information along the way.

I did a quick search and found that this series is still available. In all honesty, I last saw it many years ago so I cannot guarantee that the product hasn’t changed. I’m sure there are many newer competing products available now as well. But I do think there is value in practicing this material on paper rather than only via a computer or an app. This recurring conversation with young men and women who have little or no familiarity with maps led me to want to share this resource with you.

Keep It New and Exciting

September 15th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

Two weeks ago was our grandson’s first day of school. He isn’t a five-year-old starting kindergarten, but rather a fourteen-year-old beginning high school. As a homeschooler, he learned a great deal, but he never set foot in a formal school environment.

His parents were not compelled to send him; one of his older brothers is homeschooling high school and he could have taken that path as well. However, our daughter and son-in-law, in agreement with their son, thought that this school would be a perfect match and offer him a great deal.  It has been thrilling hearing his reactions. His excitement as he leaves for school each day (a day that runs from 7:45 am to 9:30 pm as it includes a great deal of Torah study) is a joy to behold. We laughed with delight at his exclamation, “Math teachers are awesome!” when an obviously talented teacher explained a difficult concept.

He is confused by one thing. While some of his classmates—none of whom were homeschooled—are eager learners, others slump into their seats as class begins and prepare for a nap. He cannot understand their lack of interest.

As adults, parents and teachers have the awesome opportunity of introducing so much of life to innocent children. One of our gravest responsibilities is making sure not to diminish the wonder of life and learning for the next generation.

A talented parent or teacher can peel open a book revealing depths not necessarily evident on a first reading. A mentor can point a child towards an understanding of history that will help the youth become a greater person. A science teacher can reveal the wonders of the universe and God’s creation to thirsty minds and hearts. Those same educators can crush a love of learning, impoverishing and harming a child.

Maybe your children are going back to school, either in person or online. Maybe you are taking those first exciting, scary and momentous steps and homeschooling for the first time. Let’s hope, and what’s more take steps to ensure, that whatever teachers our children have, we and they are not among the Grinches stealing the pleasure from education.

  

What Do You Mean I Need to Teach My Child to Read???

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

Schools are opening. Or they are not. In many districts, parents simply don’t know what will happen. Meanwhile, we are being assaulted by articles telling us of the decades-long consequences that will affect different age groups if they do not get back in the classroom. College-aged students will see a lifelong lessening of earning power (Funny, isn’t it, how the soldiers returning from WWII who delayed or missed out on college did rather well economically.) Middle-school students will face unprecedented mental crises (Is it possible that was a path we were already on and, if we act wisely, school closing could lead to a different and better path?). Today my concern is for those parents who cannot imagine how their children will learn to read without an adult who holds multiple educational degrees to guide them.

I do not boast of many letters after my name indicating advanced degrees. My BA heralded the end of my accreditations and it was not in early childhood education. However, most of the children to whom I gave birth learned to read under my roof. I can’t say that I taught all of them to read because some of them taught themselves. All I did was supply an environment that provided the soil for that miracle to take place. I did follow a program with a few of the others that I will describe below and two of my girls learned to read in school, though not without consequences. Let’s discuss each of these in turn.

Our children were born into a home that teemed with books. When we moved from an apartment to a house, we filled out a questionnaire that asked how many TVs we had and whether a piano was involved. We dutifully filled in the numbers of beds and chairs we were transporting. The three strapping young men who came to facilitate the move blanched when they saw the number of boxes awaiting them. No one had asked how many books we owned.

We acquired very few toys that beeped, buzzed and lit up, but we bought lots of books for little hands. We also had adult books on low shelves that weren’t slated for destruction but that we didn’t mind teeny hands using for practice in turning pages. We kept a stream of conversation aimed at our children as we changed their diapers and took them for walks and we sat them on our laps, reading aloud as we showed them pictures that matched the words. When they were very young and still nursing, I sometimes read aloud from whatever my current reading was. I think some of the babies showed a distinct affection for Thomas Sowell. From quite a young age we played variations on games such as, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with coat and goat and float and we see it at a dock.” We also laughed rather than became terrified when our delighted three-year-old yelled out “dinghy” as her first guess.

Our children frequently saw us reading. Books were clearly a source of pleasure and just as they wanted to cook along with me or pump gas alongside my husband, they wanted access to the exciting, adult world of reading. For two of our children that was all that was needed. With no directed instruction, they simply began reading at about the age of four.

In our pre-homeschooling years, two more of our daughters learned to read in school. That worked for one of them but caused problems for the other. We accept the fact that children start crawling and walking at different ages, and we don’t rush to enroll our not-yet-erect eleven-month-old in remedial walking classes. We somehow don’t allow the same latitude for reading. Unbeknownst to us, one of our daughter’s eye muscles weren’t ready to read when that was the focus of the classroom. As a bright girl who loved stories she managed, but we didn’t realize until we started homeschooling that she was seeing double of some letters and had developed some other vision problems that needed correcting. It’s easy to be a post-game coach, but I think that we might have avoided those difficulties had she learned to read naturally rather than because the curricula demanded it.

For those of you counting, that leaves three more children who learned to read somewhere between the ages of five and seven. Even in those years before homeschooling exploded, there were quite a few programs on the market, but my choice was a simple paperback book called, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  One child greedily lapped up the lessons at age five so that she was reading fluently in closer to 70  than 100 days, while another child showed no interest at all at that age. The book went back on the shelf with attempts every few months until finally, at close to age seven, she asked to use it and was reading on a second-grade level within a month. Our third child fell somewhere in between those extremes.

You might be surprised to discover that America’s literacy rate did not necessarily improve when compulsory education was instituted. Colonial America was a highly literate society. If you don’t count slaves, who were deliberately kept from reading, early America was a nation where the average person often knew his Bible as well as his Shakespeare. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was a popular rather than academic best-seller, while books like James Fenimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans were read for enjoyment in the early 1800s. Try reading either of those with a college student today.

My point is that the educational establishment is entirely unnecessary for most children to learn to read. Even more so, many academicians promote reading programs that inhibit fluency. If you don’t know whether your school district is whole-language or phonics-based, that is really something you need to explore. Do parents need to be aware of potential vision problems or other impediments to reading? Yes, just as they need to be alert to hearing loss or allergies. In the overwhelming majority of cases, parents are entirely competent to introduce their children to one of life’s major pleasures and gateways to accomplishment. Should professional guidance be needed (and it is needed much, much less than thought) it can be sought at the right time.

I believe that reading can be taught with no special material. At the same time, there is an abundance of useful ideas and, yes, stuff you can buy to help accomplish your objective, which in my mind is a child who loves reading and is competent in it. My recommendation is not to spend a lot of money until you have spent a lot of time snuggling and reading together and approaching the subject playfully. Do your research and try different things such as carving letters in sand, baking pretzels in the shape of letters and serving snacks with items that begin with a specific letter. If you absolutely love a program, purchase it. But ignore any sales claims that you “need” this material in order to succeed. You and your relationship with your child is actually the main requirement.

The moment when your child takes his or her first step is incredibly exciting. The moment when your child deciphers lines and swirls on a page into meaningful words is even more so. If your young one will be home this fall—and winter—and spring, consider it a gift.

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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