Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reality check

I read blog after blog about the joys of homeschooling.  You know the ones, every day is sunshine and flowers, the children are happy and engaged in learning, and nobody misbehaves.  They are great reads and give you that warm fuzzy feeling about what we endeavor to do.  What they aren't is reality, at least not any reality that lives in my home.    I love homeschooling my kids and at least 3/4 of our year is great but I'd be lying if I said the other 1/4 of the year I didn't fantasize about sneaking them on the school bus as it drives by.  If you weren't lucky enough to be blessed with perfect kids or are imperfect like me read on and know that you're not alone.  

I remember it like it was just yesterday, oh wait, that's because it was yesterday.   It was a day of frustration.  One where lessons that should have taken 15 mins took over an hour,  one that saw many breaches in the magical sofa cushion barrier, where the sweet sounds of "stop touching me" and "Mooooooooom, make her stop" rang in my ears.  This after a week of hearing this is too hard or that is too boring and "why can't I just play video games all day?" This Mom was at the end of her rope.  As I listened to the words "I HATE SCHOOL" come out of Michael's mouth for the 5th time that day and 3,782nd time in 7 days I wanted to "go global".   My brain screamed "How can you hate school?  Do you have any idea how hard I have worked to find topics that you are interested in.  Do you not realize that I have spent hours upon hours researching curricula, planning for months on end, in the hopes that you would have a year you loved yet somehow 7 days in you're telling me how much you hate it.  How is that possible?!"   Instead what came out of my mouth (which wasn't much better) was this:  "you do realize the teachers at school would never put up with this behavior don't you??"  (which he does because he was there for 2 years)  I quickly followed that up with some sort of veiled threat of sending him back there.  As the words were coming out of my mouth I was regretting them but I couldn't seem to figure out how to shove them back in.  It was not my finest moment as a Mother or teacher but it was my reality.  My reality is kids who are fidgety, bicker with each other, aren't blindly obedient, and who seem to misbehave at the most inopportune times.  Thankfully, my reality is also kids who are silly, funny, love each other, and are quick to forgive. (even their dear old Mom)

I am grateful that each sunrise brings with it a new day full of promise and opportunity.  I enter each one striving to make it better than the one before but still grounded in the reality that I am not perfect and that this is my life.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Go ahead admit it, you think we're odd.

Really it's okay, we don't take offense in the slightest. As a matter of fact we embrace the fact that we're different.  Humor me while I take a moment to speak my mind and answer some common questions about our bizarre lifestyle.

1.  The fact that we choose to homeschool is not an indictment of your choices.  (I have bolded this because I believe it is the most important thing I will say in this entire post) We are not sitting in judgement of you because you send your child(ren) to public or private school.  As a matter of fact our children were publicly schooled for several years before we started this journey and we are both graduates of the school system who turned out just fine.  We do not have an us vs. them mentality.  We are doing what we believe to be best for our children and assume that you are doing the same.  We feel blessed and lucky to live in a country where we have the freedom to make this choice.

2.  Contrary to popular belief (and media portrayal) not everyone homeschools because they are religious whack-a-do's.   We do not sit around the table in our matching denim jumpers dissecting scripture all day.  We, like many others, homeschool secularly and for academic reasons.  

3. Yes, what we are doing is legal.  In fact, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states and has been since 1993.

4. Yes, there is oversight.  Even if there wasn't or if we lived in a less regulated state we would still be educating our children in a way that fulfills the deep responsibility we feel to make sure that they are adequately prepared to make their way in the world.  

That said let's take a look at what we must do each year to homeschool our kids here in the great state of PA, one of the 6 most highly regulated states for homeschooling in the US.  Prior to beginning our studies each year we must send in a notarized affidavit that includes the supervisor's name (me), all children's names and ages, our address and phone number, certification that no one living in the home has been convicted of a crime, a statement that all subjects are being taught in English, immunization records and a health certification form from our pediatrician, and last but certainly not least, educational objectives ("an outline of proposed education by subject area") for each child.  All of which must be approved by the school board.  PA also gets to dictate to us what subjects must be taught and when.  As you will see, this is not something we can be ill-prepared for.

     Elementary school – Grades 1-6
"At the elementary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art."
Secondary school – Grades 7-12"At the secondary school level, the following courses shall be taught: English, to include language, literature, speech and composition; science; geography; social studies, to include civics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; mathematics, to include general mathematics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires.  Such courses of study may include, at the discretion of the supervisor of the home education program, economics; biology; chemistry; foreign languages; trigonometry; or other age-appropriate courses as contained in Chapter 5 (Curriculum Requirements) of the State Board of Education."

Then, at the end of each school year we must submit a portfolio of work that has been reviewed by an evaluator.  In grades 3, 5, & 8 the kids are required to take standardized tests.  Copies of these results must be included in our portfolio in the appropriate years.  

     "The evaluation shall also be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio … and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring."  ""Appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program."

We cannot just get anyone to sign off on the fact that our children received an "appropriate education".  The evaluator must be:

     "a licensed clinical or school psychologist"

     "a teacher certified by the Commonwealth" ... "The certified teacher shall have experience at the elementary level to evaluate elementary students or at the secondary level to evaluate secondary students."

     "a nonpublic school teacher or administrator. Any such nonpublic teacher or administrator shall have at least two years of teaching experience in a Pennsylvania public or nonpublic school within the last ten years. Such nonpublic teacher or administrator shall have the required experience at the elementary level to evaluate elementary students or at the secondary level to evaluate secondary students."

     "At the request of the supervisor, persons with other qualifications may conduct the evaluation with the prior consent of the district of residence superintendent."

     "In no event shall the evaluator be the supervisor or their spouse."

4. No, I do not worry about my children's socialization.  Webster's defines socialization as "the process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status".  We believe that you don't need to sit in a room of 25 kids your own age to be properly socialized.  Being part of a family, a sports team, volunteering time to help others, interacting with people of all ages at the store, library, and in other public settings are all good ways to acquire this knowledge.  

5. Yes, homeschooled kids get into college.  Many colleges, even good ones, actively recruit homeschoolers.  No, I am not worried in the slightest that we are ruining their future.  

Now next time someone mentions they homeschool you won't have to ask them one of the above questions because you'll already know the answers.  You'll also know that while they may do things a bit differently their end game is the same; kids that end up as successful, happy, well-adjusted members of society.