Monday, April 30, 2012

Why We Homeschool: Myth-Busting

We homeschool for one main reason: I firmly believe it is the best choice for my kids, especially Little Professor. We have come across criticism from various people along the way, and surprisingly, most of the critics are relative strangers to us, and know very little about homeschooling! The majority of our friends and family have been mostly supportive, or at least willing to take the time to learn what homeschooling means, and why it works for our kids.

Myth #1:
"You just want to keep your kids sheltered!"
Nope. In fact, my kids are out in the "real world" far more often than kids in brick&mortar schools. They are exposed to a larger variety of people, cultures, and beliefs than most in-school kids. Also, being atheist doesn't mean we never discuss religion. We probably discuss it more, if anything, because we talk about different beliefs of many different religions, with no one way being presented as better than any other.

Myth #2:
"Your kids aren't going to know how to handle themselves in the real world. Being bullied will make them stronger and/or they need to develop a thick skin!"
Yikes. Again, my kids spend a lot of time in the "real world." They handle themselves just fine. Also, being bullied doesn't make anyone stronger. And personally, I don't see how a "thick skin" is such a great thing. Having a thick skin just means you're not showing how you feel; it's not changing the feelings! Instead of trying to "toughen them up," I am working on building self confidence. If you believe in yourself, it doesn't matter what the bullies of the world say, because you know it isn't true.
Also, homeschooling doesn't eliminate the possibility of being bullied. It just means that I am usually *aware* of what is going on, because I am either nearby, or because my kids share everything with me. We still spend time with other kids (and adults), and that means sometimes there is bullying. Sometimes *my* kids are the bullies. But in either event, I can help them come up with better ways to handle the situation, whether to stop the bullies, stop BEING bullies, or reaffirm that the bullies are wrong.

Myth #3:
"Your kids are going to be anti-social weirdos."
Well....Little Professor probably IS, but he would be if he were in school, too. That's the Asperger's, not the homeschooling. The main difference about being homeschooled is that around here, it's OKAY to be weird! Annoying as hell sometimes, but still okay :) We're not going to tell him that there is anything wrong about the way he does things (unless he's actually hurting someone, of course). He knows his diagnosis, and he is more or less aware of what it means...but he doesn't think there is anything wrong or different about him!
As for the other kids, they socialize just fine. They make friends easily and everywhere! And they are more tolerant of the other weirdos out there, because they know that everyone is different, and different is good!

Myth #4:
"You must not care about what happens to public schools. If public schools are so bad, you should be fighting for change from the inside!"
This is actually an argument I've heard from other atheist parents, or other very left wing liberal parents anyway. First of all, we took Little Professor out of PRIVATE school to homeschool him. If anything, private school is more of an attack on public schools! However, having had him evaluated twice, by two different public schools, since then, and being told that homeschooling is probably the best option, well, I think I'm inclined to go with the schools on this one.
I used to teach public school, too, and I quit because of how awful it was. Could I have stayed and been one of those public school teachers that they make movies about? theory, maybe. In reality, it was so depressing, and I was so miserable, I wasn't even being as effective as the (very low) standards the school expected. Well, I guess that's not entirely true, since I *did* manage to get all the kids on the bus alive at the end of the day, which is the goal I was given to shoot for.
So, do I want to sacrifice my child's current emotional and educational well-being in an effort to maybe make a tiny improvement for the next generation? Absolutely NOT! My job, as a parent, is to do the best *I* can to help my kids achieve the best *they* can. Right now.
That doesn't mean, however, that I don't care about what happens to kids in public schools! I do! For one thing, I have young relatives in public schools across the country! And even if I didn't, the majority of the population is in public school, which means these kids are going to be growing up and getting jobs and entering politics and affecting life for all of us in every way from bagging our groceries to running the country. So YES! I care about the quality of education they receive! And I pay attention. And I VOTE.

Friday, April 20, 2012

That Moment...

My favorite thing about homeschooling is that moment when you can SEE that something "clicks," and suddenly your kid can understand a new concept. We hit that moment with Princess this week. Suddenly, all of those letter sounds and sight words came together and she is really reading! It's just an amazing moment to be able to share with someone; the fog has lifted and she can make sense of things!
The best part about her being able to read (still just a little, mainly Cat in the Hat level) is that it means she is a little more independent with her schoolwork now. This makes things easier because I can go back and forth between kids more easily.
Princess is still not a fan of reading, but I've caught her reading things when she thinks I wasn't paying attention, especially on the computer. I also kind of feel like my job is half finished now, because once you can read, you can find any other information that you want!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Butterflies and Other Critters

I was pretty impressed with myself yesterday evening, when I happened to catch a painted lady butterfly. If you've ever tried to catch butterflies, you know it's not the easiest thing in the world to do. We put it in one of our butterfly habitats with some flowers and sugar water, and everyone admired it for a while and then kind of ignored it.
Imagine my surprise then, this afternoon when Puppy came running in to tell me he had caught another butterfly! The kid is quick! So the second joined the first....and 10 minutes later, Princess caught her first! Little Professor finally managed to catch one, too, and we are now up to a total of six! Four are painted ladies and the other two are white, but I have no idea what kind they are. The kids have gathered a bunch of flowers and branches, and the butterflies seem perfectly happy...not that I would probably be able to tell if they weren't!
The butterflies are joining our ever growing menagerie, which is pretty interesting in a house where I said we would never have pets. We now have the butterflies, two tadpoles caught from a nearby pond, and Little Professor's Russian Tortoise, which is honestly the best pet ever. Mostly because it requires very little work on my part.
The tadpoles and butterflies are (hopefully) part of a lesson on metamorphosis. I say hopefully because so far, the tadpoles are showing no evidence of changing, and for all I know, all the butterflies are boys and we'll never get any eggs, let alone caterpillars. But I'm optimistic!

Friday, April 6, 2012

No, Really. I Hate Shakespeare.

Admit it. You are guilty of stereotyping. We all are. Generalizations are just human nature. We make them, and they are frequently reinforced, because there is usually a grain of truth somewhere. Stereotypes aren't always such a bad thing, but of course they can be. I think as long as you are aware that you are stereotyping and realize that they are generalizations, not facts, it's not a problem.
We also all fit into someone else's stereotypes, too, even if we don't see ourselves as part of the same group other people do. Usually, we know we belong to a "type," and we seek out other people of the same group. It helps narrow down the billions of people in the world to a manageable number, so we can find like-minded people who we are more likely to agree with or get along with.
But no one fits into on profile perfectly. Personally, I break a lot of the generalizations people make about me.

Confession 1: 
I'm a vegetarian, but I don't like animals. Really. Keep them away from me, please. And don't ask me for money supporting animal rescue or no-kill shelters. Or assume that I belong to PETA.
Obviously, animal abuse is wrong and horrible, and the people who abuse them should be arrested and prosecuted. I'm totally on board with that. BUT, when there are so many HUMAN rights being violated, trampled, or ignored right here in the USA, I really don't care how many unwanted kittens are being euthanized. When kids in this country are going to bed hungry every night, I have no real compassion for dogs who need thousands of dollars worth of surgery so they can survive with just three legs and one eye. Don't like the way animals are being treated when they are raised for food? Stop eating meat; but don't expect me to get teary-eyed over the factory chicken photos.
I am glad that there are people who are responsible pet owners, and who help rescue otherwise healthy but unwanted animals...but don't assume that just because I don't eat animals that I am one of those people.

Confession 2:
Not to brag, but I'm really pretty smart. I have an above average IQ, and I'm well read. But I have actually had the following conversation:
Me: Ugh, I don't want to read more Shakespeare.
High School Classmate: Why not? I mean, I don't want to either, but that's because I don't understand any of it.
Me: Oh, I understand it. I just don't LIKE it.
HSC: But you're so SMART!
Me: Yeah, I'm smart enough to know I don't like Shakespeare!

I'm also lousy with computers, reading poetry makes me sleepy, and I stopped taking math and science by senior year of high school, because physics is booooring. I did well in school, but it was a means to an end; I never particularly enjoyed it.
The worst part of this particular stereotype is that for a long time *I* bought into it, too. I really made an effort to get through Anna Karenina when the other honors English students and I were assigned that for reading instead of being made to sit through grammar with the rest of our 10th grade class. I TRIED. And I was disappointed with myself that I hated every word of the 90 pages I read. I even forced myself to read Shakespeare that hadn't been assigned, thinking that maybe if I found the right story, I could say I liked his plays. It never happened; all it did was waste a lot of time I could have used for reading something I enjoyed. It continued through most of college, too, before I could admit to myself that being smart didn't mean I had to like all of the stereotypical "smart people" stuff. And it was a relief! So, now I'm perfectly comfortable with admitting that I liked reading Twilight, but I have to space out my Jane Austen novels, or they all sound exactly the same.

Confession 3:
I'm a baby-wearing, co-sleeping, occasionally cloth diapering, homeschooling, long term breastfeeder, but have ZERO interest in homebirths, or even natural childbirth. Bring on the epidurals! I completely enjoyed all three of my childbirth experiences (although not the 9 months leading up to them!), and that is largely due to the wonder of epidurals. Also, when I think of homebirths, all I can think of is that *I* would be the one who had to clean up the resulting mess, which is not something I want to do immediately after giving birth. No thank you! The three days I spent in the birth center after my youngest was born (mostly due to a broken air conditioner at home and 95+ weather) were like a little vacation. As soon as I got home, it's just back to life as usual. I liked the little break, where I could pretty much just lay around and hold the baby and get spoiled. Eventually I got bored and was ready to go home, but it was nice while it lasted.
This approach to childbirth horrifies a lot of moms who agree with many of my other parenting choices listed above. The moms who agree with me on hooking up the epidurals are usually horrified by nursing a toddler or cloth diapers. Well, to each her own. Do your own research, make up your own mind, and try to ignore the other side telling you what you're doing wrong, because you will never make everyone happy all of the time.

Confession 4:
I admit to making my own baby food, and that I (unknowingly) did child-led introduction to solids (I didn't know it was a whole philosophy at the time), but it had nothing to do with making the best foods for my kids or going organic or any other parenting philosophy. I had two reasons: food allergies and money. All of my kids have had some type of food allergies, and it is easier to figure out what they are allergic to if you are making your own food with no added ingredients or worrying about cross contamination during processing. It's also easier to avoid allergens once you do figure it out. Also, making your own baby food is cheaper. And the child-led solids thing came about for the same two reasons, plus a third...laziness. Spoon feeding an infant is messy, time consuming, and creates more dishes to wash. Breastfeeding doesn't even require you to sit up. So, there you go. My reasons for following this whole parenting movement that I knew nothing about were purely selfish. Honestly, I have to wonder if this is true for a lot of the child-led weaning advocates, but they try to cover up their selfishness and laziness by making themselves sound like super-moms. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We're Having an "Unschool" Day

Unschooling, for those people who don't know, is a controversial topic, even among other homeschoolers. Unschooling involves little or no "traditional" schoolwork like sitting at a desk doing math worksheets or taking spelling tests. It is very much child directed, with children choosing what they are interested in and learning more about it, with parents facilitating learning opportunities, but not directing the child on where to go with it. They look for learning opportunities in every day life, instead of constructing topics to be studied. Like all forms of education, it's not right for everyone, but it can be done very successfully when it's being done well.
Overall, we are not an unschooling family. While I can understand it's merits, it's just not something I feel comfortable doing full time. Maybe it's the four years I spent in college learning how to be a teacher. But I do use some of the principles. I think all parents do, whether they realize it or not. Our science curriculum especially is very child-directed. I let the kids pick a topic they want to learn more about, and then we work together on finding books, projects, or experiments that help them learn more about it. Kids are naturally curious, and when something interests them, they will learn as much as they can about it, and it will STICK! Little Professor is particularly good at memorizing facts and reciting them back at every possible moment.
Other times, I direct his learning when he doesn't even realize it. I have discovered that while he drags his heels on assigned reading, if I leave interesting looking books next to his bed, he will almost always pick them up and read when he thinks he's supposed to be sleeping. He thinks he's being rebellious, and I get him to read without a fight. It's a win/win!
In general, however, we do spend between one and two hours a day on traditional schoolwork, where we sit at the table and they do have to read, write, and demonstrate concepts they have learned. The rest of the day is open for projects, play, and other activities.
Some days though, like today, my kids take over.
Confession: I am not a morning person. I joke that this is one of my main reasons to homeschool, but there is a grain of truth in that, too.
So, my kids almost always get up before me in the morning. Usually they watch tv or play video games, because they know when I get up, those things are getting turned off. And that's how today started, for sure. But it's also a beautiful day out, so before I was even up, they were already begging to go outside. While they were finishing breakfast, I was still dragging through making my coffee. And they were dressed and ready to go out and play before I was really fully conscious.
So, they went out. They played. They caught bugs. They found interesting rocks and brought them in for me to look at and help them identify (Little Professor was disappointed to learn that there really aren't any volcanic rocks in our area, but decided that metamorphic rocks are almost as cool). We had a mini-discussion on geology. They came in for lunch and then asked if they could play Connect 4 instead of starting schoolwork right away. Connect 4=sharing, taking turns, counting, conversation skills, and visual/spatial awareness. OF COURSE they could play Connect 4! And they did, for over half an hour. Now Little Professor is doing some reading, but also voluntarily. Princess is bugging him to tell her about the story he's reading (Mary Jemison), and Puppy is running around with a bra on his head.
Not every moment has to be about learning ;)

Conversations About Death

One thing I have come across from various religious folks who don't understand atheism is, "How do you talk to your kids about death?"
It's actually not that difficult.
I had this conversation with Puppy the other day.
P: Mommy, when people get too old, they die?
(His great-grandmother died last year; the only "real" death he is aware of)
Me: Yes, that's true. No one lives forever.
P: That means YOU could get old and die? (His voice was starting to waiver a little).
M: Yes, it does. Everyone dies sometime, but I won't be old for a long, long time.
P: Even ME? I could get old and die? (Tears definitely near the surface now).
M: You won't be old for a long, long time. We can't live forever, and really, no one would want to. But you don't need to worry about it right now. We just do our best job to stay safe and healthy so we can get old. That's all you need to worry about right now.
P: Oh. Ok. Can I play with playdoh?

Yep. That was it. No need for fairy tales, no need to lie, and no need to burden a 3 year old with the other reasons people die before they get old. He asked his questions, got the facts, and hearing the truth was all he needed. Life goes on. Hopefully for a long, long time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Autism Awareness Month

Today is Autism Awareness Day, kicking off Autism Awareness Month. According to the CDC, the rate of autism has gone up 78% in the past ten years. That's pretty freaking unbelievable.
The biggest question, of course, is WHY?

Mark Roithmayr, president of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, says more children are being diagnosed with autism because of "better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50% of 'We don't know.'"
Yep. Still. No one knows. You'll see lots of theories, some valid, and some, well, some are so insane you can't believe they're real.

Honestly, the why isn't on the top of my list of questions. I'm looking to the future for the kids we already HAVE with this diagnosis. I mean, I guess I don't understand why there isn't more of a public outcry over these numbers! Imagine 1 in 88 kids in wheelchairs. You'd barely be able to walk down the hallways at school. 1 in 88 kids who were blind, or had cancer. 1 in 88 kids just vanishing....this is MORE THAN 1% OF OUR POPULATION! These kids are going to grow to be autistic adults. Despite what Jenny McCarthy thinks, there are plenty of adults with autism now, and there are about to be a whole lot more.  Hopefully, many of them will be able to care for themselves and have jobs and contribute to society....but they won't ALL. And they won't all have families to care for them, either.
There is some awareness regarding adults with autism now. The Secretary-General of the UN had this to say today:
Although developmental disabilities such as autism begin in childhood, they persist throughout a person’s life. Our work with and for people with autism should not be limited to early identification and treatment; it should include therapies, educational plans and other steps that lead us towards sustained, lifelong engagement.
I completely agree. I would really like to see more attention being given to older teens and adults...we have all seen the adorable faces of the little ones with autism...let's see how some of them have grown up!