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Happiness in Education

Happiness…. What is it?  Most of us will probably define it as something that we all strive for, something that is even listed as one of our “unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence – the right to the pursuit of happiness.  The Webster’s Dictionary calls it

a :    a state of well-being and contentment : joy

b :  a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Amidst all the talk about happiness, including countless seminars and books, it appears to me that we don’t always put a high enough premium on it when it comes to the world of education.   It seems we have forgotten that happiness is also an unalienable right of children and not just adults.  So often we see kids dragging themselves to school, experiencing little joy from the process of learning, even though education is one of the most wondrous of life’s experiences!

This saddens me, and makes me very determined to work for a change!  The incorporation of happiness and joy into the process of learning is grossly undervalued in most of our educational systems today.  Our lives are so short; this is a reality I have just recently experienced again with the death of my father.  Why would we spend extended periods of time in self-imposed misery when we don’t have to?  Sadly, most kids don’t have any say in this whole process of imposed joylessness.  They get dragged to school with no choice and the frustration that creates can spill out in the form of a variety of undesirable behaviors.

There are many enjoyable and engaging ways to learn.  The industrialized method that we’ve been using for the past century is, increasingly, not one of those.  Wouldn’t it be more engaging for students to learn through experiences, projects, apprenticeships, and from people with a passion for the subject than to spend an inordinate amount of time practicing for a test?  If an adult wants to learn something, they find someone who knows the subject, spend time with them and learn in a hands-on, experiential way–why is it not the same for kids?  When teachers are saddled with increasingly large class sizes, required to spend many days testing and many more preparing for these tests, and required to cover all subjects, it is virtually impossible to engage every child in the most inspiring way. Putting aside the fact that it takes all the joy out of teaching, there are other problems with that model as well.  If that teacher really is not a fan of Math, do you think it will not come through in her teaching?  If she freaks out when she sees a bug, do you think her Science class will take a hands-on approach, or be the best these kids have ever had?  Of course not!  Everyone has their limitations, and someone who does not enjoy a subject isn’t the best choice to be teaching it.

At Learn Beyond The Book, we have taken many of the problems we’ve seen in traditional schools and created solutions.  Not only are all our classes taught by individuals who are highly passionate and knowledgeable about their subject, but also by kind, compassionate individuals who think of the children as whole human beings, engaging them as individuals and encouraging them as a group.  We see children as resourceful, and value their input as part of the educational process. We create classes where they feel embraced and respected as they actively participate in their own learning, where they more easily remember what they’ve learned, because they were engaged in the learning process, not passive bystanders!

Learn Beyond The Book maintains small class sizes to create an intimate and safe environment where kids can try things, fail, learn from their mistakes, succeed, and celebrate each other’s successes.  What is the result of all this?  Happy kids who can’t wait to come to class!  It’s a win-win for students, teachers, and parents.  All the kids attending are either homeschooled or hybrid schooled, which combines independent learning with several of our classes.  We provide support to homeschooling families and high quality class options to families who enroll in home-study charter schools.  Homeschooling parents love this system because it provides them with some free time and a break from the feeling that they have to become an expert in every subject, especially the ones they do not enjoy themselves.  Many times we’ve even seen parents become more interested in learning about a topic that they previously didn’t find interesting, because their kid has been so inspired by a class and shared their excitement with a parent.  Our teachers enjoy teaching because they have freedom to teach the kids in the way that they best learn, considering all the different personalities and learning styles in their class, and without being bound by stringent testing and grading standards.   Our students have a great time learning and doing it all surrounded by good friends and a supportive, less competitive atmosphere.  It is all so exciting to observe!

In my experience, happy teachers teach more effectively, and happy students are more efficient learners.  Many of our families have remarked about the change they see in their kids when they are learning in our more happiness-inducing atmosphere.  Imagine how your child might blossom in such an environment.

If you are interested in a different kind of learning environment for your children, feel free to check out our website and all of our Fall classes.

 

 

Why I love homeschooling and hybrid schooling as much as I do

As this calendar year draws to a close, my appreciation for homeschooling and hybrid schooling (a mix of school at home and outsourced classes)  keeps growing.  As new students attend classes at Learn Beyond The Book, I feel so grateful for the opportunities we have, especially where we live.  An individualized education for each kid is possible!  It takes work, but so do most things that is worth anything in life.

Here are some things I love most about homeschooling/hybrid schooling:

  1. Kids can learn at their own pace and in their own style!

Everyone is so different!  As adults, we all know it, accept it, and even appreciate that about each other, but in schools there is so much pressure to conform to a certain standard and all at the same age.  When you homeschool or do hybrid schooling, you can truly customize education!  Then it’s not a one-size-fits-all education, but a have-it-your-way education!   It’s the way of the future!

If you, for example, feel that your child is advanced in Math, you can put them in the skill level class that you feel they need to be in by either getting the curriculum for that level or attending a skills-based Math class at Learn Beyond The Book or signing up for some sessions with a great tutor.  If you feel they’re a little behind in Reading, there is a class for every level.  If they’re really interested in Science, there is a class for that as well!  Homeschooled kids are so used to kids of all ages that they don’t even bat an eye if an older or younger child is in their class or on their level.  We always stress in all our classes at Learn Beyond The Book that you can only know something if you’ve learned it, so we make sure no-one ever has any comments like “You don’t know that?!”  That way every class remains a safe learning environment for everyone to be in, on an emotional level as well as academically.

On the other hand, if your child is extremely interested in Technology, why not build their education around their interest? Why not sign them up for a Minecraft Science Modules class if they are a Minecraft fan, or help them learn how to program their own Video Games?  If they love History, focus most of their learning around their interest and see their love for learning blossom!!  We love to provide all these different kinds of classes to homeschooled kids so that they can excel in their areas of interest.

 

  1. Homeschooled kids, especially as they get older, have more time to themselves  – no unnecessary busy work and homework that leads nowhere. Teens tend to know themselves better, because they have more time to focus on what drives them and what they like to do when no-one is telling them what to do.  This leads them to discover what their passion in life is or just what they enjoy doing and it could lead to a future career.  When some of my children were in high school, they took a lot of community college courses and even with a pretty full load they still had hours more per week to themselves than their public school peers.

What did they do with their time?  The one spent hours a day practicing singing in the band he was in, then moved on to spending hours on a flight simulator and starting to read airplane manuals, watching countless documentaries, reading books about people he admired, which all lead him to his desire to study Aerospace Engineering.  The other spent hours a day playing video games and hanging out on Skype with his friends after learning some special effects video editing, with which he has earned some money and he developed his art.   Then he dabbled in Filmmaking classes, learned all about lighting, editing, Photoshop, multimedia art, and more at the local community colleges. Now he studies concept design for the entertainment industry and uses, as he told me the other day, every single thing he ever delved into, even the map building software that was linked to a videogame he loved as a teen.  The focus was not on getting him to stop playing video games, because that would’ve been futile, but to make sure that he doesn’t just play but use it in some creative way, which I asked him to do every day at some point and he usually happily did that, because it was still linked to his big love of games.  He has now learned within days a complicated game development software and started building his own game while using his own concept design art for it, using all the skills he acquired in that time when many might have thought he was just wasting his time on games.  One interest leads to another and as long as we are helping to guide things to a healthy place, eventually they find who they really are.  If they are told constantly what to do and when, they barely know who they are, end up with years in college for a degree they aren’t that interested in and thousands of dollars in debt later, they end up in a career that they don’t love and when midlife hits, there is a crisis.

 

  1. The fact that homeschooled students have more free time than kids in traditional schools usually also allows them more time to spend with family and friends and as a result they develop really deep and meaningful relationships that often last a lifetime. Bonds between siblings are very close if nurtured properly by the parents, because they spend a lot of time together.  They are also often a little less influenced by what their typical teen peers and society would think is “cool” and enjoy simple wonderful things in life.  Because they are used to being around their parents and other adults, they appreciate parents more than most school kids who are gone from their parents for almost all productive hours of the day.  As they grow, it often becomes more important for them to have a little more independent time with friends, which is when nurturing classes and group social events come in handy (like the ones at Learn Beyond The Book), because they have healthy interactions with friends with the guidance of a compassionate facilitator.  All this make for kids who are socially very well adjusted because they are so used to interacting with all different ages from adults to younger kids with the mixed ages of families, classes, parkdays and social events.  They aren’t just used to interacting with their exact age peers.  As the excellent movie, ‘Class Dismissed’ put it, there is no need to group kids “by date of manufacture”.  I love that term!

In our classes at Learn Beyond The Book, all students are treated with the same respect we would give an adult, so all their opinions are treated as valuable and it makes such a big difference in how they perceive themselves and their fellow students, no matter what the age.

I can keep talking for much longer, but these are my top three reasons for loving homeschooling and hybrid schooling as much as I do!  More in my next blog, thanks for reading!

Why homeschoolers want to stop homeschooling and why they don’t need to – Part 3

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, there are many reasons why homeschoolers feel the urge to stop homeschooling or those considering it think that they rather shouldn’t pursue it. Here are a few more:

I’m scared my kids will have gaps in their education

This seems like a perfectly legitimate concern until you actually start homeschooling and realize just how many gaps you yourself have even though most of us went through traditional school and were even very good at it. If you ever learned some of the stuff, you already forgot it long ago, since it is not useful to your current life. If a child has learnt how to read, write and do basic Math, he/she can learn everything else they desire to learn on this planet, maybe with the help of some expert, but they are capable of filling in any gaps that you might’ve left. As parents we are so concerned for our children’s well-being that we are most likely not to leave gaps and a disjointed curriculum would have a better chance of leaving gaps.

Possible solutions:
– Check to see if your children have critical thinking skills and if they question things around them and you’ll know if they’re interpreting their surroundings accurately.
– Ask lots of insight questions and you will soon span all disciplines of learning just based around a common theme.
– Make use of classes by experts where they can learn the things you aren’t comfortable teaching.
– If you are nervous you’ll leave gaps, feel free to check the standards listed on the CA Department of Education site, which would mean you would at least be leaving the same gaps everyone else in California schools would have.
– You could again enroll in a charter school where a credentialed teacher will be supervising your journey and can help you make sure important things get covered.

I’m worried I’ll mess them up

This concern is solely based on the responsibility we feel to “produce” good adults, productive and involved citizens and all around someone that everyone would like to have around. We feel inadequate in ourselves to pull that off.
Once again, just the fact that you’re concerned about it, most probably means you’re not messing them up. However, “messing them up” should be defined. I think it probably will have a lot to do with leaving gaps in their education, which I discussed above. There does come a point where fighting with your children to get them to do school work could start damaging your parent-child relationship and create a “messed up” view of education where they start hating it. I believe that is the point where a change is needed.

Possible solutions:
– There are many solutions though and most of the time this starts happening as the kids enter puberty where they really are just trying to figure themselves out and establish that they are individuals and don’t want to just be followers and feel like puppets. This is perfectly normal and healthy for them to do and once you know that is what is happening, it becomes less personal and we feel less defensive as parents. It is especially hard when this happens to your firstborn, because your sweet, friendly child suddenly becomes less happy and even rude and disrespectful to you at times and you’re not used to it happening at all. It does pass and it is important to give kids some space to develop into their own during this time. The more they see you respect them and this process, the more likely they will be letting you into their world, because you are not trying to control them.

One of my friends likened this stage of development to that of a chrysalis turning into a butterfly. All that has to be done with it is to leave it alone and provide the conditions for it to successfully emerge. If you ever tried to shake around the chrysalis or tried to help the butterfly get out when it is stuck in the process of coming out of the cocoon, you know that it is interfering with nature and never works out well. We’ve had a few butterfly gardens and it never works to try to “help”. As parents the most important thing is for us to be available to them and assure them of our love and providing an enriching world, but not “shake around” their chrysalis or try to control their emersion as they try to mature.
– At this point in time, it also really helps kids to have a lot of social interaction with friends and often they appreciate other teachers in their lives, not just their parents. Find a good class and teacher in the neighborhood in the topic they are most interested in and expose them to other good teachers and role models.

Why homeschool parents want to quit and why they shouldn’t

As homeschooling families, we all have our good days and our bad days, just like any other regular family. The only difference is that, since we homeschool, we might potentially be with the kid who is causing us distress the whole day while other families might have some hours that the child is at school to think about how to handle the situation when the child returns from school, time to sort of push the “reset” button. So, our bad days sometimes feel like bad weeks, bad months or even a bad year. There are many reasons for things going wrong and for most there are solutions that work differently for different children. Today I want to write about what it is that pushes most families to thinking that they should stop homeschooling (or never even start) and invite you to investigate why that shouldn’t make you stop and how it can potentially be solved. Most of all I want everyone to realize they are NOT alone in these struggles, it is very common.

Here are some common concerns that homeschoolers face during the years of homeschooling:

• Student(s) resisting instruction

• It’s too expensive

• We have a lot of hard days

• I’m scared my kids will have gaps in their education

• I’m worried I’ll mess them up

• I’m not patient enough to do this

• I’m worried they don’t have enough friends

In this article, the first in a series, I would like to explore just the first concern and in subsequent articles, the others will be discussed.

Student(s) resisting instruction

Many of us probably have encountered the child who, when called to start “school”, gives a sigh and asks, “Do I have to?” Although that is not a fun thing to hear when you spent several hours preparing something that you think would be important or even fun, it is important to not take it personally.

Remember the following possibilities:

– If you were waking the child up to go to the school down the street, you probably would’ve had the same response, but wouldn’t have thought anything of it, because that would be “normal”, because everyone else also deals with that and you’re not anything unusual.

– A lot of times if you have a child just coming out of traditional school, they might need some time to deschool first.

– It’s not always easy and neither is it fun to be pulled out of doing something you’re really enjoying to do something that you might not be that interested in. We don’t even like it as adults.

Some possible solutions:

As is the case with all homeschooling issues, there isn’t just one answer, but several possible options that might be helpful.

– Give the child a time that school will start and it is great to have that be a consistent time, e.g. 9am every morning or 2pm or whatever time works best with their natural rhythm and age (teens usually like to sleep in way later).

– Give the student some warning, e.g. remind them about 10 minutes before they need to start.

– Some families let the student set their own schedule. They are given an assignment sheet for each day and they have freedom to do those things whenever they would like as long as it’s done by the end of the day. This encourages time management and self-regulation, but it might have to be slowly implemented with younger children who might have a hard time to manage all their time right away.

– Reconsider the curriculum you’re using if this is a common occurrence where the child is complaining about doing school work. It might not fit their learning style or modality. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t take anything personally.

– Always encourage them to give you feedback. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to feel what they’re feeling. The more they have a say in how and what they’re learning, the more likely they will be active participants.

– If the problem persists, consider setting up a meeting with a homeschool consultant (like myself) to discuss potential solutions for your specific situation.

More on the other concerns in my next article.

How to start homeschooling in Santa Clarita

Many people consider homeschooling and they start researching it, but it all just seems so overwhelming and they don’t even know where to start.  I’ve encountered so many people like that recently.  I have been doing homeschool information meetings at Barnes  & Noble and will have another on Aug.10th at 4-5:30pm to help with it, but in the meantime, I thought to write an article to help people know how where to start.

Here are some easy to follow steps, although it will still take some more research on your part, so I will link it to my articles about it to make your life a little easier.

1. Decide what your goal is for homeschooling.  Do you have a specific vision?  Would you like to let your children have more academics or less?  Is your decision mostly social in nature, e.g. not wanting certain influences, certain attitudes or character development needed?  This would make a difference to what you do next.  If it’s not totally clear to you, don’t worry about it, but just keep it in the back of your mind to think about.  This will likely change over the years of you homeschooling as well.

2. Decide if you want to homeschool on your own, keep your own records and take care of your own transcripts, diplomas etc.  If your child is in elementary school, this might not be that big of an issue yet and you can always change it later, so whatever you decide is never irrevocable.  If you do want to have all the freedom possible, the best option would be filing your own private school affidavit, keep an attendance record and some work samples as well as your own report cards (easily created on your own computer).

If you would like more direction, you could pick to either go with a private PSP who will do the above for you and provide some guidance, but you will have to pay a little for it.  If you want more direction, but have no funds, you might want to consider public homeschool charter schools.  These are free and give you some funds for materials and classes from approved vendors.  There are several options for these charters.  All of them have waitlists, but get on the waitlist anyway, because you can always just not join once you get in if you change your mind or got into another one.

3. Once  you picked which way you will legally homeschool, you have to do some research on all the homeschool philosophies.  Here are some of the main ones:

–         Traditional worksheets/textbooks

–         Charlotte Mason

–         Thomas Jefferson

–         Classical Education

–         Project-based unit studies

–        Unschooling

–        Hybrid Schooling (some classes and some curriculum at home)

–         Eclectic (a little of everything, my favorite)

4. After you’ve determined all this, it would be helpful to observe your child and how they learn best before you will be ready to pick which curriculum you might want to get.

5. There are so many options available for curriculum, but I would suggest checkingused curriculum sales first for curriculum at a fraction of the regular cost.  The internet also provides tons of free resources.  If you need to purchase something, you can check out all the articles and links I have listed.  Rainbow Resource and Amazon.com are usually the most affordable options for most curriculum needs.

6.  I strongly recommend getting together with other homeschool moms, getting on some yahoogroupsfacebook groups and meetup groups for Santa Clarita homeschooling and visiting a local parkday to get input from more experienced moms.  There is a parkday every Friday around noon till about 4 at Valencia Glen Park on Via Gavola.  You can come and go as you are able.  If you live elsewhere, search for some local groups.

7.  Know that homeschooling is a journey and you will probably change and adjust your course several times as you find what works best for each child since they’re all so different.

Good luck and I hope to see you at one of our parkdays very soon!