Are Homeschool Parents Too Over Protective?

One of the many criticisms regarding homeschooling involves the subject of the “Real World.”  Many opponents of homeschooling contend that public school provides time away from parents, allowing the student to gain independence.  In all public schools there are conflicts to face: bullying, drugs, peer pressure, sex, and the list goes on.  Avoiding some of these conflicts is not my family’s main reason for homeschooling — but it certainly is a bonus!  However, I have spoken with many people who feel that facing the hardships and distractions found in public schools develops character.

It develops character…

Yeah, well so does prison!

But maybe the opposing side has a point.  As the years go by, I have noticed some differences between myself and the other parents that live on the block.  Mainly, the difference is this… I don’t see them anymore.  There was a time when we would all hang out in our driveways and watch our kids ride scooters or play four-square.  The kids in our neighborhood are ages 6 – 12 now.  They still play outside.  However, it seems that I’m the only parent standing out there watching.  Whenever my girls (7 and 10 years) ride their bikes or rollerblade, I make certain I’m hanging outside where I can see them.  The other parents are indoors somewhere, apparently feeling secure about their kids.  So, I don’t know… Am I being over-protective?

Here’s another example — less to do with safety and more to do with my daughter’s feelings.  When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, we could tell even then that she was going to have a hard time learning how to read.  Because we homeschool, we have the time to work one-on-one with her.  We are also able to have her attend a tutor twice a week.  If she were in school and still possessed the same reading level she might be placed in “special” classes, and feel stigmatized or labeled in a negative way.  Homeschooling gives my daughter the opportunity to read and learn at her own pace.  But is that being too over protective?  Maybe.

What do you think?

Predicting the Future

Happy 2009 everyone!

It really blows my mind that we’ve made it to this year.  It sounds like such a science fiction sort of year, don’t you think?  According to the movies, by now we should have mastered solar-system colonies and scheduled flights to the moon via Pan-Am.

This week, I’ve been telling my kids about the expectations I had when I was eight years old.  I thought for sure that by the late 1990s we would all have flying cars and teleportation machines.  On the other hand, I had no idea that there would be inventions such as the internet, the i-phone, or that I would be doing something called “blogging.”

It’s fun and educational to discuss the future with your children.  What do they think life will be like ten, twenty, thirty years from now?  Here’s a fun activity: get the family together at the kitchen table, get out drawing paper, colored pencils, crayons, markers (or whatever your kids like to use for art projects) and illustrate a timeline of the future.

Ask them to draw the inventions and events they think will come to pass within the next three to five decades.  Who knows, they might dream up the “next big thing!”

Getting a Jump on College

If you’ve been reading this blog during the past couple of months, then you know that I mostly focus on the younger years of homeschooling — specifically from 1st through 6th grade, since that’s the range my daughters are currently involved in.

However, as a college professor, I have the opportunity to work with homeschool students.  Young men and women, from 15 and up, can register at College of the Canyons and take electives or general education courses. 

As kids grow older, many homeschool parents feel that they are no longer about to create a stimulating educational environment.  In some cases, the students might urge their parents to allow them to attend public high school.  However, depending on the quality of the school, this might not be a viable option.  Instead of resorting to the educational “conveyor belt” of secondary school, many homeschool teens are choosing to attend community college, either on campus or on the internet.

Personally, my interactions with homeschool students in my classroom have been very positive.  And, based upon feedback I have receieved from the homeschoolers, college has been an invigorating and enjoyable challenge, one that prepares them for the real world much more so than the boredom most experience in high school.

Policies regarding homeschool students vary.  However, it seems that with each passing year, college campuses are warming up to homeschool students and their infectious love of learning.  If you would like your teen to get a jump on college, visit your local community college online or contact a counselor by phone. 

Educational Resoultions for the New Year

I love making New Year’s resolutions.  Ever since I was a little kid. I’d write down my goals for the next twelve months.  I learned pretty early on that the more goals I listed, the more I fell short of satisfying my ambitions.  So, now instead of listing two dozen resolutions, I stick with three or four.

The same goes for homeschooling goals for the new year.  During the wind-down period after Christmas (when all we’ve been doing is eat, unwrap gifts, and visit family members) my wife, the girls and I like to discuss our 2008 successes, as well as the areas we’d like to work on.  Then, we collectively create a new list of 2009 goals.

Here’s what we’ve come up with:

2008 Successes:

  • Music Lessons
  • Math
  • Self-motivated Reading
  • California History

 2009 Goals:

  • Writing (Creative/ Journal/ Paragraphs)
  • Computer / Typing
  • Science

Feel free to share you successes and new year’s resolutions.  Happy 2009!

Falling in Love with Ms. Frizzle

The Magic School Bus books were first published in 1986.  By that time I was a teen-ager with my first summer job and my first unrequited crush on a girl.  I wouldn’t notice the eccentric teacher Ms. Frizzle until PBS began airing a cartoon version of it in the 90s.  Even then, it wasn’t something that caught my attention.  I recall channel surfing and noticing a School bus shrinking down to the size of a Bumble Bee.  I noticed a crazed, red-haired teacher driving the bus and I thought, “That’s a neat idea.”  then I changed the channel.

However, once my wife and I decided to homeschool our children, I began to fall in love with Ms. Frizzle and her Magic School Bus.  I even grew attached to that weird lizard of hers.  Here’s why I love the books so much:

  • Ms. Frizzle is filled with imagination.  Instead of just talking about volcanos, she makes her class jump into hot lava (protected by the Magic Bus, of course).  The kids become insects, water droplets, eletrical charges.  It’s a fun way to learn about science!
  • The Students have unique personalities.  Ms. Frizzle’s students react differently to her lessons.  Some kids take notes, some kids make jokes.  Arnold is always the shy one who is reluctant to try new things.  The diversity of personalities makes it a sure bet that your child will connect with at least one of the kids.
  • Multi-tasking pages.  Each page in a Magic School Bus book offers a multitude of different texts.  There’s the basic storybook aspect — a narrative about the school day and the students’ adventure.  Then, there are word bubbles, dialogue directly from the characters that entertain and educate.  Finally, there are the student essays that can be found on the sidelines — these show the learning process of the kid characters.  They write brief essays about their discovery.
  • Field Trips: Ms. Frizzle is an educator after my own heart.  She wants to get those kids out of the classroom as much as possible!
  • Ms. Frizzle’s philosophy: “Take Chances, Get Messy, Make Mistakes!”

What a great lady!  The books are created by Joanna Cole.  The most recent one was published in 2006 — and I’m hoping they just keep on making them!

Visit the Magic School Bus Homepage.

The Wonder and Science of Snowflakes

Yesterday, the girls built their very first snow fort.  Then they pelted me with snowballs.  Kids can be so cruel.

But they can also be curious.  We been wondering about the beautiful snowflake patterns that can observed with a microscope.  I never get tired of looking at these highly magnified images of winter:

 snowflake 01

snowflake 02

Isn’t the beuaty and design of each one simply amazing? has a terrific article about classifying the many types of snowflakes.  Just in case you’ve got some curious kids of your own.  And for those who want to get into the physics of snowflakes, check out this CalTech website.

Seasons greetings!

Snow Day!

How strange… Just a few days ago I was blogging about rainy day activities.  I was lamenting the fact that — since my family and I live in Southern California — we don’t get to experience days of being snowed in.

Well, a couple days after that post, we drove up to Washington state.  And as luck would have it, we ended up driving through a few snow storms.  Now, we’re hanging out with our relatives, and watching the snowflakes flying sideways, filling the backyard up with all that winter wonderfulness.  (Although when you’re in slip-sliding traffic, it doesn’t really feel like a winter wonderland!)

Anyway, in contrast to my Rainy Day blog in which I discussed how tranquility falls upon the household and the kids focus on reading and other calming educational activities, the vibe during the last two days has been quite different.  Instead of feeling tranquil, the girls have been charged with energy.  (Think lightning in the bottle.)

So, all day yesterday, we just played.  And we had a blast.  Today, the girls went inside and outside all morning and afternoon.  While they were inside, recovering from snowball-fighting exhaustion, I gave them hot cider and a few spelling lessons.  Lately, they haven’t been thrilled about working on spelling.  They want to compete in the spelling bee, but they aren’t very motivated to really train for it.  However, after they exerted themselves outside for thirty minutes in the snowy playground, they seemed more than happy to sit quietly for a few moments and work on various worksheets or spelling lists.

Now, perhaps your’re thinking, “Hey Homeschool Dad, it’s almost Christmas.  Why don’t you put down the books away and let the kids enjoy the holiday season?”  Well, that’s a valid question.  But because we have such a low-key schedule and a relatively easy workload for our kids, I like to throw in educational moments whenever I can — even if its during Christmas break.  Even if all the public schools are closed due to a snow day.  After all, what’s wrong with improving your mind between snowball fights?

Rainy Day Activities

I wish I could be writing about Snowy Day activities… But since I live in southern California, we just get the occasional rainstorm and a few gusts of cold wind.  None of the white stuff.  Still, when it’s a rainy day in California, it feels like a Snow Day!

Right now, the kids are having a “play date” with their best friends (and fellow homeschool students).  So, there are four rascals scurrying through the house playing hide-and-seek as we speak.  I love how some games just never go out-of-style.

But after the play date, when it’s just the family — what should we do?

I love to read during rainy days.  So, we’ll spend at least an hour together reading on our big, comfy couch.  My younger daughter is hooked on this terrific graphic novel series called Amelia Rules!

My ten-year-old daughter has been reading the hilarious Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  

Me?  Well, I wish I could say that I’ve been reading something very sophisticated, but basically I’ve been reading over their shoulders.  I still get a lot of satisfaction from children’s literature.

After reading, the girls will practice their instruments, and then we’ll do some language arts projects. There are a lot of Language Arts printables available at I try to print up a couple projects each week.

The girls will also want to play their favorite computer game: Venture:Africa.  It’s a fun, educational game that teaches about African Wildlife as players attempt to create and maintain a wild animal preserve.

Next, I’m going to have the girls help me with my writing.  I’ve been working on a kid-friendly book about Abraham Lincoln.  I’ve been studying his early years, and I’d like to have the girls decide which of Lincoln’s childhood events made the biggest impact on him.  (See, how I’m working on my own project while involving my kids with history?  Hint, hint.)

Of course, all of these things could be done during any day.  but for some reason, if the sun was shining, the kids would be antsy.  They would be anxious to frolic outside.  Or they would whine about watching a DVD.  But for some reason, when it gets cold and rainy outside, they hunker down into the coziness of our home, and truly enjoy spending an afternoon in quiet harmony.

Of my goodness, I can’t believe it.  Since I’ve been typing this, the playdate has ended.  And now my girls are cleaning their room without yelling at each other.  Wow.  Maybe I should move back to Washington state and take advantage of those long rainy seasons!

Work-Related Field Trips

Several of my friends make their living on the go.  They travel everywhere.  Some are salespeople, flying back and forth to each district.  Others are computer specialists who travel to the East Coast one week and to Europe the next.  In most of these cases, the Dad is the breadwinner, and he wins enough bread so that the Mom can stay home and send the kids off to public school.  For the most part, these families are pretty happy.

The drawback?  The Dad (or Mom as the case may be) is on the road so often he doesn’t get to spend much time with the kids.  Usually, they jam the weekends full of “quality time” to make up for the week-long absence.

Homeschool families with “Traveling Parents” might not face this dilemma.  Depending on the travel destination, the homeschoolers can pack up their books and follow Dad to New York, London, or Nebraska.  The great thing about learning is that it can happen anywhere.  since homeschool students aren’t tied down by the constraints of public school schedules, working parents should take advantage of this freedom and bring the kids along whenever it’s possible and beneficial for the family.

Fortunately, my job doesn’t require much travel.  However, last weekend I did have a work-related excursion to Monterey, California.  Together, we drove up on a Thursday.  From Friday to Sunday I was sequestered in a hotel, attending workshops and critique groups.  During all that time, my wife and daughters explored the wonders of the Monterey Aquarium.  They retraced the literary footprints of Steinbeck’s Cannery row.  And they created some amazing arts and crafts at the local children’s museum.

Each night, when I returned to the hotel room, my family would tell me about all of their adventures.  And I was so thankful to spend the rest of the evening with my favorite people.  Parents can’t always take their kids on work-related field trips.  But when you can — do it!

By the way, my daughters are now jellyfish experts.  Thanks, Monterey Aquarium!

What is Unschooling?

If “schooling” means to use traditional grading methods, standardized curriculum, and structured lessons, then “unschooling” is the rejection of those methods.

Instead of giving the student regimented tasks, tests, and lessons, Unschool Parents allow children to spend their day socially interacting, playing games, and experiencing educational freedom.  They are encouraged to learn if they are in the mood to learn.  And if the student feels like jamming on her electric guitar for a week, so be it!

Most consider unschooling a branch of homeschooling.  However, they are not synonymous.  A homeschool parent might use very formal means of teaching their children.  I know several homeschool families who devotedly follow the state’s educational standards.  Yet, I know others who practice unschooling, and they very bravely allow their children to guide themselves through their own academic journey.

Our family is somewhere in the middle.  We aren’t unschoolers because Mom and dad set certain educational goals, and we shift into “nagging mode” if those goals aren’t achieved.  At the same time, we design a pretty easy work load each week, so most of their days are filled with free time (the essential ingredient for unschooling!).