July 5, 2014

I just found this TED Talk from a 13 year old student who has been freed from public school to follow his interests and his learning style. Love it! Also, check out Sir Ken Robinson for more reasons why interest-led learning makes so much sense.


May 14, 2014

What the Kids Think About All This

http://simplehomeschool.net/beenthere/
I've been writing at Simple Homeschool for a few years, but today is my last post. I asked Peter, Meg and Missa to give their reflections and advice for homeschooling parents. It's pretty fun to hear what they think after living it!

Here's the article: Homeschooling advice from graduates who have been there

And if you want to read all my posts on Simple Homeschool, you can find them here.

March 16, 2014

Peter in Corporate America

Peter and Missa last summer
My previous posts have been about my two girls, so now it's Peter's turn.

Now that my kids are adults, I don't want to write too much about their lives because, well, it's their lives and privacy matters. But Peter is cool with me talking about his homeschooling experience and how it has influenced his life out in the "real world."

He graduated from college in 2012 and spent his first year working at a job that paid the bills but was not what he wanted long-term. During that year, he taught himself computer programming, volunteered evenings at a small company to gain experience, and started interviewing for software development jobs. As it turns out, in this tech hungry world, you don't need a degree in computer science to land a job in the field, you just need to show you have what it takes.

After a few interviews last summer, one company offered him an incredible opportunity in downtown Chicago and he has been working there ever since. All I can say is WOW. Wow, Peter, wow.

He says being an unschooler has been his advantage. He learned how to learn, how to go after something from nothing and build it. He was tired of college telling him what to read and what to study. When he was free, he set his sights on a new career, researched what he needed to do and did it.

He has met one other unschooler at his new job, and this guy is not so positive about his experiences at home. Peter thinks it's because he didn't have as many chances to get out and explore like we did. I thought that was interesting. It is true, successful unschooling needs opportunities.

Imagine a child sitting in an empty room. There isn't much to explore or learn there, even though he is innately curious and intelligent. He needs a library and the whole outside world to explore and find what he loves. Then he needs experts to advise and teach what else he needs to know to build on the knowledge he has to keep growing and creating.

So, as moms at home, still in the middle of homeschooling, let me encourage you to relax as you watch and listen to your children. Take them to new places and see how they respond. Ask them what they wish they could do. Help them become their best selves. Let them become experts at what they love and to enter adulthood with a love for the process. This will increase everyone's joy (believe me!) and carry your children into the future with the confidence and skills they need to succeed.

*********
For you moms with techie kids, Peter started here in learning programming:

https://www.udacity.com/course/cs101 (Peter did the free version)

He says, "They work well together, so I recommend starting both of them and switching back and forth whenever you start to get frustrated/bored/confused." Spoken like a true unschooler.
 


February 4, 2014

Meg in Art School

Meg went to India the year she would have been a junior in college. When she came back, she realized she wanted to be an art student, and perhaps, eventually an art therapist. She had been in Family and Consumer Sciences, so that, along with psychology, are her minors.

She just loves art classes. It's a dream come true.

She drew this man from a picture. You can see a bit of the original taped to the side. Her skills have taken off with just a little bit of training. Drawing is relaxing and invigorating for her. She is happier than I have seen her in a long time.

January 20, 2014

One of my children is gay.

We parents love our children. No, we fall in love with them. From the moment they are born, we marvel at their tiny fingers and notice each new development as if it were a miracle. Sitting up, crawling, talking, walking, running, riding a bike, reading...all these things filled me with awe as I watched my children and helped them develop their talents.

One thing I didn't notice about one of my children was that she is gay. I didn't live in a world where gay people existed. I didn't know a single openly gay person, and I didn't think it was possible to be born gay.

But one day, when she was 18 years old and we were dropping her off at college, Missa asked to go on a walk and talk. She said she had been praying and trying not to be gay, but finally felt peace that it was OK. God still loved her and in fact, He had made her this way.

I hugged her and told her I didn't understand, but I wanted to learn, and I was happy that she still loved God and wanted to continue her relationship with Him.

I spent the next year in silence. I didn't tell a soul about this. Missa and I stayed close, texting almost everyday, and weekend visits were frequent, but we didn't talk about this part of her life. I was in shock. I was processing. I was hoping it would go away. She was very patient and kind to me.

After one year away, she moved back to our hometown and started going to college here. I continued to stay silent until I found a book that helped me tremendously. It's called Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate, by Justin Lee. His background and experiences were so similar to Missa's that I finally understood. My view on this topic has completely changed. I now see how a person can be gay and a Christian and that my views of the Bible passages were wrong.

Many people say it takes knowing a gay person to help us confront our long-held opinions. That's what happened to me. I never had to think about this issue because it wasn't part of my life. Little did I know I was raising a gentle, thoughtful, talented gay individual.

Missa has started a blog of her own, talking about her struggles to reconcile her faith and the reality of being gay, what she went through before she came out to us, and what she thinks now.  

I could kick myself for being so blind and so lazy, for not studying this issue for myself, and for using pat answers. She forgives me and we are still best friends.

For you parents NOT stuck in the mud on this issue, yay for you!! I don't talk about my faith much on this blog, but it's the main reason I didn't know what to do when Missa came out.  

I found these realizations to be the most helpful for me as I emerged from my year of silence:

1. People are born with a certain sexual orientation.
2. Homosexuality is not contagious or learned.
3. The Bible verses that seem to condemn homosexuality are not as clear as I had believed. Studying for myself using the tools on www.blueletterbible.org was very eye-opening.

If your kids are "testing the waters" by asking questions and they sense you are against homosexuality, they might retreat from you and have to handle this on their own. To be preemptive, read Torn, do your own Bible study, listen to your kids, and don't be afraid.

Resources:
Another mom's story  
The Gay/Christian Network
PFLAG
Essay: A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On
Video: The Bible and Homosexuality by Matthew Vines 
Book: Bible, Gender, and Sexuality by James V. Brownson

October 11, 2013

My Posts on Simple Homeschool

I've been writing posts over at SimpleHomeschool.net for a couple years now. If you want to browse through those, here is the link: http://simplehomeschool.net/author/jena/

It's a great blog full of practical ideas and inspiration.

October 8, 2013

To New Homeschoolers from an Old Timer


Suzy Homeschooler recently sent me some interview questions. I had a great time thinking through this stuff.

Here are the questions:

1- First tell us a bit about your yourself and your family. [For example:] How many years have you homeschooled? How many children do you have and what ages are they? How would you classify your teaching style? Has it changed since you first started homeschooling?
2- Despite its rising popularity, homeschoolers are still in the minority. How did you respond if/when family, friends, or even complete strangers would make negative comments?
3- Stay at home moms, both homeschooling and not, often feel lonely and isolated due to the long hours spent alone with small children. Did you ever struggle with this? And if so, what helped you through it the most?
4- As moms we wear many hats and homeschooling is a very time consuming matter. Did you ever struggle to take your "teacher hat" off and reconnect with your children or your husband or even yourself- away from homeschooling? What advice, if any, would you give to women regarding this balance?
5- During the difficult times in one's life, it can be easy to focus on the current situation rather than on the bigger picture. Many homeschooling moms feel defeated after a bad day. Looking back on your years homeschooing, was it worth it?
6- If you could say only one sentence to a new homeschooling mom, what would that sentence be?


July 14, 2013

The Parent's Role in Interest-Led Learning

I like to call our years of homeschooling "interest-led" because the curriculum was driven by what interested the kids. We didn't replicate a classroom in our living room, we just lived a life full of outings, books, and projects. If someone wanted to learn more or become an expert, we encouraged it! We provided the materials and resources to go as deeply as that child desired. Of course, there was the time Meg really wanted a pony, but our city backyard and tiny budget said no. These things happen.

Our homeschool was child-centered, but not Lord of the Flies. Mom and Dad ran the house, made sure the necessities of life were fulfilled (finish your to-do list) and provided the opportunities to discover interests. We loved to watch our kids in a new experience. Did they love it or hate it? Did they show aptitude or frustration?

I'll never forget Meg at the age of 10 with a paintbrush in hand, painting delicate roses, saying dreamily, "I feel like I'm in another world." I knew this was something she was born to do and that meant doing what we could to help her excel. Drawing kept her sane during her nine months in India, and this fall she starts classes for an art therapy major in college.

As we provided opportunities, we also did a little nudging. I kept a copy of The Core Knowledge Sequence to remind myself of topics to explore. I'd find colorful books at the library and stage them around the house, sort of like baiting the hook to see if they'd bite. At other times I was much more direct and held "classes," which they loved, because you see, being in class was novel, something they didn't do every day. I remember doing a unit on world explorers, working through a library book a little at a time everyday for a couple weeks.

I also read to them everyday, usually at bedtime. My favorite tactic was to read historical fiction. Not only were they getting a good story, they were learning about famous people and time periods that would stick in their minds. I even attached a long strip of computer paper around the room to place people and events on a timeline.

During junior high and high school, I suggested we volunteer at a local historical site, complete with costumes and training in period skills. To them it was a fun family activity, a chance to dress up and pretend, but I knew they were learning how to be self-sufficient, how to cook over an open fire, and how to relate to an important time in American history. Eventually, Peter decided he really didn't like it, so he stopped. Missa was a little too young to participate on her own, but Meg loved it. She continued long after the rest of us lost interest.

That's the key. Provide the opportunity and let them stop and move on when they are ready, or let them dive in deeply. 

Children learn best when they are motivated from the inside, but unless we provide the experiences and the subject matter, they might never know what they love! And from that foundation of internal motivation, they can learn all they need to succeed.

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The idea for this post came from a reader's question, so please send me questions! My email is yarnsoftheheart[at!]gmail.com.

July 2, 2013

A Glimpse into My Year as a Public School Teacher

After 18 years of homeschooling and a year of graduate school, I spent last school year in a public school classroom. I was the Title 1 reading teacher in a small town in Central Illinois. Let's just say it was very educational. I learned I don't belong in the public school system. I'm too into respecting the child as a unique learner and using individual interests as a bridge to a love for learning. Public schooling is more about making the child fit the mold and meet the criteria established by people who never met them. 

Interest + Opportunity = Motivation

For example, Laura (not her real name) was a 7th grader who had been in Title 1 since first grade. For one thing, a child should not be in a special reading classroom that long unless she has a learning disability, and then she should be in the special education classroom. Instead, Laura plodded through the same curriculum delivered by the same teachers every year, and because she didn't score well enough on certain tests, she went through it all again. No wonder she hated reading!

Toward the end of the year I was able to free the junior high kids from the computerized reading twaddle and get them into real books. I found a book that I knew Laura would love. It was about a girl who got on an all-boys sports team (her own dream) and it revolutionized her life. 

Here's how it went: I found the book at a university library and brought it to school. As I handed it to her, I gave a little synopsis, then walked away. After just a couple minutes, Laura slammed down her hand and said, "Mrs. B, I love this book!" A couple minutes later, she said, "You gotta hear this!" and she started reading to me, telling me how cool this story was. I smiled and tried not to explode with joy!

A few days later she came in and said, "Last night my mom said everything has changed since I started reading this book. I'm doing my chores, getting my homework done and reading every chance I get." I was speechless. She even read walking down the halls at school. Remember, this was the girl who HATED READING!

Even though I had great success with Laura and gave her a vision of what she could do academically, I realize that my philosophy of teaching and learning is at odds with the public school machine. It would be another year of pain and suffering for us all...pain for me as the inflicter of nonsensical policies and pain for them as they endured it.

Homework
This mug sat on my desk, full of pencils. It's from LennyMud on Etsy.
I resigned. I know I could help those kids in that particular school, but I want to use my super powers to help parents succeed at home. I want to help them resist the temptation of sending their kids to school just because they are struggling readers or lack motivation to learn. Homeschooling isn't easy, but it's a lot of fun, and it's much better for kids than being cooped up in a building all day long, forced to do things that masquerade as education. So now I'm looking for suggestions. I will keep blogging, but what else could I do to encourage families to join (and stick with) the homeschooling movement?

February 12, 2013

What Really Matters in Homeschooling



If I had to boil home education down to just one necessity, it would be this: impart a love for learning. Think about it. If you love to do something, you give it a lot of time and you get pretty good at it. If our kids love learning, all we need to do is stand back and watch them go. Of course we need to be there to coach and encourage, but overall, the internal motivation fuels the learning. And when kids are doing what they love, they are happy and easier to live with too.

The key is to keep learning from being a chore. If you notice that your kids are starting to whine about your curriculum or a certain activity, change it. Find a different way to get that information across, or leave it for another day. Be willing to listen to your kids and take their preferences into account.

Another great way to foster a love for learning is to let them dive deeply into something they find interesting. If your child is into dinosaurs, let him become an expert. It's OK if he reads about dinosaurs 24 hours a day. Just think of all the science and history and reading skills he's developing. And as he talks to you about it, he's practicing his verbal skills and flexing his comprehension strategies of summarizing, visualizing, connecting and questioning.

Talking to your child about what she's interested in and what she's learning is an excellent way to build higher order thinking and communication skills.

My kids are now out of the house, and I'm glad to say they caught the learning bug. In fact, Peter (now a college graduate) has started a study/research/discussion group with his friends where they get together and talk about their recent intellectual interests, maybe even peer reviewing papers before they try to publish.

That's the goal--adults who keep on learning.

Homeschooling can seem very overwhelming, so keep it simple and keep the end in mind.

I have related post on Simple Homeschool called How to Build a Strong Foundation for Your Child.

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