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We will all defend our basic first amendment rights with everything we’ve got – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly, and rightly so. As a society, we all value freedom, individual rights and independence from those trying to oppress our freedoms. Those are some of the most important and fundamental values our country has been established on. When it comes to education, though, it’s a whole other story. We insist that students need to learn what adults feel is important for them to know, in a way we approve of, and on a time schedule that has been pre-determined by bureaucracies far removed from the classrooms in America.
The learning process
Teachers are not free to instruct students in a way they feel will best fit their students. Often their hands are tied to teach in accordance with pre-determined criteria that will be tested and needs to be measurable. They are forced to only be concerned with the end product and not the process of learning.
The process of learning, therefore, can be very unpleasant, stressful, and pressured. Sadly, often that is what we feel is necessary to really learn something valuable. No pain, no gain, right? Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to education! Yes, sometimes there are spots where a student might have a little hump to get over in their understanding of a concept, which might not be as engaging, but overall learning should be joyful and is pretty natural to humans (young and old). If we just give them a chance to have the freedom to explore in education and not just be stuck with what bureaucrats feel is important for them to learn on their timetable, it all could look so different!
What can we do?
On this Independence Day, as we celebrate of our country’s independence and all our freedoms, I want to urge us all to embrace and encourage any actions that will promote freedom and independence (agency) in education. We all know as adults we learn more and retain better if we study something we have an interest in and if we are allowed to learn it in a fashion that fits our style of learning. Why would it be any different with children?!
When we go to the store, we expect a variety of products so we can pick the one we like best. Why do we not allow that in education?!
We are free to do so many amazing things. Why are children not allowed to learn what they’re interested in and in a way they enjoy, at a time when they’re ready for it?! Do all children walk exactly at the same age? Do they learn to read at exactly the same time? Never!
Why do we expect them all to understand the same things at the same time as everyone else when it comes to formal education?! If they don’t, we have them spend any free hours they might’ve had for play (a crucial part of learning that we so often neglect) to work on extra practice or tutoring so they can be “up to standard”. Who is setting the standards and why? I believe that often our own pride as parents are on the line when our child is “behind” so we want to get them “up to standard” so we will look like good upstanding parents with “smart” children.
Environment of consent
There are countless examples of people who were allowed to follow their own learning journey and who came out to be what we would label “geniuses”. All it took was for their base of knowledge to expand by exploring and poking around with what they found compelling and fulfilling. No significant discovery came about without a lot of trial and error. I’m not arguing for a complete absence of any guidance from adults. If children don’t have any input, they might not always know what there is to explore necessarily. However, if we can teach them in a relaxed and non-stressful environment to read, understand, and interact with what they read in a discerning way, can they not learn anything they set their heart on? That is how we, as adults, learn things. If we feed them with a rich environment of materials, books, videos, technology, and more than anything our attention, time, and love, they will set the pace and learn without coercion. We teach them about consent in every other part of their lives and we neglect that completely from our education process. Feel free to check out this excellent short video by Blake Boles.
Honor ALL our freedoms
The fact remains that our education system was set up on the Prussian model which was intended to create good soldiers and good factory workers, who work long hours on something they don’t necessarily enjoy day after day without complaining. We still do that in traditional schools and our world has completely changed! With the more rencent advances in AI, it is changing faster than we can keep up with. Are we surprised that we’re falling behind other countries? It is time to do better and honor and model the freedoms we have in every other part of our lives for our children in the education realm as well.
A place to start
If you don’t want to be solely in charge of all this change for your children, there are many options. One way would be to incorporate games into their curriculum (even video games) to make learning more engaging. Sit with your child, look through our catalog of classes, and let them pick some that interest them. Then, maybe you also pick a few that you feel might be helpful to them in the future, if you don’t want to teach all math and English yourself, and let go of the stressful expectations of a particular product at the end. Another way to enliven learning could be to watch some amazing documentaries together. Just enjoy a year of learning together and notice the difference! Let there be lots of choice! I am convinced that you will be amazed at the reciprocity of the learning between you and your children if you’re willing to also open yourself up to more joyful learning. We all have our own journey and the freedom to explore it. Let’s make freedom in education one of our valued freedoms as well!
What better way to learn about engineering and building than from an engineer? Just one more way that Learn Beyond The Book brings learning and real-life together. Michael Marchesan was trained as a civil engineer who discovered that he really enjoyed teaching and tutoring, so for the past few years, Michael has been teaching Math, Engineering & other subjects at Learn Beyond The Book. We’ve had some fun watching the kids design and build bridges, housing structures complete with drainage systems, and other projects!
Why would anyone want to learn these skills? Not only does it come in handy for students who want to pursue a career in a STEM field, but the classes encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and designing of solutions. Then, students have the hands-on experience of building what they’ve designed. They get to use real tools and are encouraged to be creative within the parameters of the projects! In our changing world, these skills are becoming more and more invaluable by the day!
For early elementary students, we offer Lego Robotics & Engineering to introduce these skills.
I’m homeschooling… I have no idea where to start! HELP!
First of all, congratulations on deciding to take a pro-active approach towards your children’s education. Secondly, I know how scary this can feel, much like you felt the first time your oldest child was put into your arms and you had to start parenting and had no idea what you were doing. As you look back, I’m sure you, like most parents, would’ve told your younger self to relax and enjoy it as much as possible. You really CAN do this! You’ve successfully taught them to walk and talk, and you can take it the rest of the way! You are not alone and there are great resources available, more now than ever before.
In this article I would like to guide you a little on where to start with some practical tips to make the process move along a little smoother.
1. Join as many local support groups as you can find and know where to find information for local homeschooling. Then start attending some of the events and field trips to get connected.
For Santa Clarita, that is easy, because we have a lot of support out here and hundreds, if not thousands, of homeschool families. There are TONS of social activities and if you hook up here, you will find out about all of them.
Here are some links to get you started:
2. Attend a homeschool information meeting where you can ask questions and get some basic homeschool information – there is one about once a month and details about it is available on the LearnBeyondTheBook.com website.
If you can’t wait till the next info meeting, click on this link for a recorded info meeting with all the supporting documents.
3. Read “how to” books about homeschooling.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Maria-emma Willis, ISBN 978-0761520139
The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick, ISBN 978-0880620741
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, ISBN 978-0865714489
How Children Learn by John Holt, ISBN 978-0201484045
101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy, ISBN 978-0929320151
The Teenage Liberation Handbook ISBN 978-0962959172
4. Attend a local park day and listen to all the veteran moms talk about curriculum and classes and ask your questions. Most likely someone else has the same question or has used that curriculum before that you have a question about. You can talk while your children will form important friendship bonds with the other kids.
5. Attend your first Used Curriculum Sale – these are always some in the summer months and we have a used curriculum selection for sale all year at Learn Beyond The Book. Used Curriculum sales are great to look at curriculum hands-on before purchasing it and the prices are a fraction of the cost of new curriculum. Definitely go to one of these before buying new curriculum if possible.
6. Attend your first curriculum fair/convention. These usually also occur during the summer months. They provide lots of great talks and discussions where you can learn more. If you missed it this year, don’t worry, they happen every year.
7. Like the Learn Beyond The Book page on Facebook. Our Facebook page provides inspiration, current news, homeschool humor, and lots more and it’s LOCAL!
8. Familiarize yourself with the California Homeschool Network (CHN) website where you can find answers to questions about if it is legal to homeschool and tons more information. It is also great to refer friends and family to, if needed.
9. Take a look at the California Department of Education website if you are wondering about standards and what would be covered in different grades in a public school.
10. Decide if you are going to file your own PSA or if you are going to register with a charter school. Feel free to read my other article about charter schools so that you can get a better understanding what that involves. If you decide on a charter school, make sure to apply ASAP.
11. If you decide you don’t want to do all the subjects alone at home, but want to “outsource” some learning to someone else in and do some version of hybrid schooling, check out our Fall 2019 schedule to choose from hundreds of engaging, hands-on, project-based courses, kindergarten through 12th grade, in 4 different locations.
12. ENJOY your children and being together as a family and enjoy all the learning you will be doing yourself!
As you know, Learn Beyond The Book already partners with 10 great charter schools offering classes and social groups, fieldtrips, and more to their students and will continue to do so (Golden Valley, Sky Mountain, Gorman, SCVi, iLead Lancaster, iLead Exploration, Sage Oak, Albert Einstein Academy, Excel Academy, and Mission View Charter Schools).
I’m very excited to let you know that Inspire Charter School has partnered with Learn Beyond The Book, to provide a true hybrid program for homeschoolers/hybrid schoolers in a new Specialty Program, starting Fall 2015. There are many benefits for you as a result of our partnership. Most families will love the ability to choose up to any six of the available Beyond The Book classes each semester. These classes are available tuition free for all enrolled Inspire Charter School students. If students want to take more than the six classes, parents are free to pay the rest out of pocket.
The whole goal of Inspire is to simplify things in order to give students the best individualized education program possible. Inspire provides special education services and the teacher assigned to your student will be available for assisting parents in getting any questions answered that you might have about the program or homeschooling in general.
A credentialed teacher, assigned to the students at Learn Beyond The Book (one of our own local teachers), will be on site at Learn Beyond The Book at regular predetermined times and they will be collecting the monthly work samples, most of which will be created during Learn Beyond The Book class times from students/parents, as well as an attendance calendar, which has to be initialed by the students and signed by parents for all days attended in the month. Since the teacher will know the students from being on site, they wouldn’t have to meet with them and the parents for an hour each month. Parents also won’t have to fill out any specific learning logs. We are excited to have Kelli Mejia, a homeschool mom herself, be our first teacher!
If your student chooses to use the online courses available to them, the funding for those will not reduce your tuition-free classes. For K-8 students, K12 or Odysseyware is available and A-G approved APEX for high school students. Students in high school could replace APEX courses with community college classes and/or test out of certain courses. High School Science courses with labs done through APEX will have labs completed by attending 2 Saturdays per semester of lab time. Electives taken at Learn Beyond The Book can count for credit under certain circumstances, so please see this article for more details. High school credentialed teachers are available all week for students’ questions via phone and online and classes taught by our own credentialed teachers will be able to count for high school credit.
When testing time rolls around, all Inspire state testing will also be conducted at Learn Beyond The Book’s facility and proctored by the assigned teacher(s). Inspire doesn’t believe in teaching to the test so students will not feel pressure about that.
If students want to use funding at other vendors as well, they can enroll in a different program of Inspire with an annual budget of $1,000 for enrichment with the core subjects being done through one of the online platforms (K12, Odysseyware and APEX). In this program, students have to use the online curriculum.
There are limited spots available for the Fall, so don’t delay your enrollment if this sounds like a great fit for your family. Then also register on our site for the classes you want and put Inspire down as your school.
A free information meeting to provide you with more details about Inspire’s partnership with Learn Beyond The Book was held on July 16, 2015 and here is a partial recording of the meeting (forgot to push record right away, but what you missed is in this article).
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.
– 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.
– 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.
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.
A few months ago, I found out that a new documentary about homeschooling would be released soon and I was very excited. I bought my ticket online and drove down to North Hollywood last night to see it in the Laemmle Theater. I entered the theater with great anticipation and the hope that this will be a documentary that I can recommend to secular and religious people alike when they consider homeschooling as an option or are new to it. Up to this point, I haven’t had much luck locating a documentary like it anywhere. All I’ve had to recommend were Sir Ken Robinson’s awesome TED Talks and the great talk about Hackschooling. I must admit that I was concerned and a bit nervous too, since I had invited a lot of fellow homeschoolers to go watch it with me. What if this was just another biased documentary with an agenda to push one way of homeschooling as the only right way?
The theater was clearly filled with enthusiastic homeschoolers as was evident from the loud cheers at regular intervals during the screening. As the movie minutes rolled along, I got more and more excited about Class Dismissed. It really portrayed all different kinds of options available to homeschoolers as it followed a family along their homeschool journey, struggles and all. What I really loved about it was that several different options were given. Viewers got to see different approaches to homeschooling and other options like hybrid schooling with the help of learning centers as well as an experience with a charter school. They made the point throughout that one thing would or wouldn’t work for their family, which is the way it should be seen, especially as homeschoolers. There is no right way for each family and not even for each student!
I felt the movie did a wonderful job of being real. It had a real family, real-life issues, real questions and concerns, real solutions, without being unnecessarily dramatized. I am convinced that the homeschool world needs a movie like this so badly, because everyone has their own struggles and especially when you are new to it, parents so often feel so alone and think that they’re the only ones with struggles and that they are just not equipped to pull it off! I’ve found countless times that as soon as I’m honest about our family’s struggles on the journey, others open up and share theirs as well and it is amazing how similar these struggles are. The film did an excellent job of portraying homeschooling as it truly is: a journey and not an event.
I appreciated the homeschool experts who spoke during the movie, with all their years of wisdom. They all had such good points to add and really contributed to making this a great and balanced film. I loved how none of them pushed just one way of homeshooling as the only or superior way. Blake Boles even commented how homeschooling isn’t for everyone and that it really is about the choice that parents should have between all different kinds of schooling, which is not currently the case. I believe that movies like this will do a lot to promote change in that direction, which is very exciting.
The drive down to North Hollywood was made even more worth it since we got to meet the family who is the main part of the film, as well as the 2 producers, Jeremy Stuart and Dustin Woodard. What an amazing production! The cinematography and editing were excellent as well. I found it very easy to watch and interesting to follow the life of the family. It was engaging and not repetitive footage as is often the case with documentaries.
I want to show this film to everyone because of all the great reasons above and so we will have small screenings at Learn Beyond The Book in November and the months beyond, depending on demand. I am convinced that this movie could be the start for many families of creating an environment where everyone can be happy, fulfilled individuals all throughout their lives. I hope you will be able to join us for one of the screenings. If you have a day and time preference, please leave it in the comment section.
Last week I wrote about the importance of Language Arts in the curriculum of every student and this week I want to highlight the importance of Math.
For a lot of students Math is a nightmare and they just can’t wait to be done with it for life. I always tell them that they will never be done with Math, since we use it every single day. There is a level of Math though that few people ever use unless they get into a career like Engineering, Architect, or Math teacher. Even though it is not everyone’s favorite thing to do, it sure can be taught in more interesting ways than it sometimes is. Some parents/teachers really hate it themselves and never quite got it down themselves and now years later, after not using it, they have forgotten a lot of it. Math is like a second language and therefore needs to be taught as such, with constant repetition until it becomes second nature to the speaker.
At Learn Beyond The Book our Math classes are taught by individuals who absolutely love numbers and Math and will impart that love and passion to their students. We employ lots of games and projects as well as hands-on manipulatives for a lot of it, whenever possible.
We also break Math down in the components & skills that make up higher Math. We start out with a very strong emphasis on Place Value, which is essential to grasp and then Adding & Subtracting, plus things like reading clocks, counting money, etc. Once students master these concepts and Math facts, they move on to the Multiplication & Division class. Once they mastered those skills, which of course build on addition & subtraction, they are ready to move into the Decimals, % and Fractions class. Then we introduce them to positive and negative numbers in the Integers, Measurements & Word Problems class, some basic Geometry, Graphs, and cement all of that with word problems. Finally, they are ready for Pre-Algebra and higher Algebra and Geometry classes, which would be the next levels. Just understanding that progression already helps a lot to know where everything fits in place. Lots of curriculum teach a little of everything and don’t review enough for students to really master anything and so when they return to the same skillset the next year, they don’t remember it anymore and it is discouraging. Mastery is such a crucial aspect of Math instruction.
When I was in school, we learned Math more like parrots than thinking people and it was very confusing to most students and even though I loved the numbers and manipulating them, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what I was in fact doing. So, my goal in teaching Math, is to make sure students understand what they’re doing and why, because without that, they’ll feel lost and never be able to apply it to real life situations.
Of course, there are the applications of Math as well, so we also have some creative classes that mix Literature with Math for those students who love stories. We use the Sir Cumference series of books to demonstrate several Math concepts and do projects based on the story for the week. Another class that apply Math in a very important way is the Economics & Personal Finance class, titled “Where’s the Money?”. This class gives students all the skills they need to manage their own personal finances and even start a small business. They learn through projects, games (money & review) and lessons. Near the end of the semester, we have an Entrepreneur Day and also a fieldtrip to the Federal Reserve Bank planned.
For those students who might really not like Math, the Math through Logic & Games class might be a great fit, since they play games, but learn Math at the same time. The teacher, working on her PhD and a Mensa member is so fun and has as much fun as the kids with the games!
Even given all this, we also have Math tutors available to help with homework or for students who need a little extra practice during the week which can be scheduled by appointment.
Whether you sign up for a Math class or do it at home, please make sure your students master the Math skills before moving on. To me there is no such thing as Gr.5 Math or Gr.2 Math, because every student is at a different level with it and either acquired certain skills or not.
Patience and encouragement in teaching it is key to students’ success. Happy teaching!