October 9, 2019

A Letter to Teen Girls

One of my daughters, Rachel, loves to write and maintains two separate blogs. My other daughter, Abbie, has a lot to say, but doing so in writing is not her default. She dutifully completes the writing tasks I assign and does a good job with them but isn't generally passionate about written composition. Recently, though, she's had enough interest in a few particular topics to delve more intently into the writing process, and her latest narrative essay is something about which she feels so strongly that she wanted to share it. Thus, it's my privilege and joy to hand over this space to my precious Abbie today.

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Dear tween, teen, and young adult girls currently struggling to find who you are and what you stand for:

This is a letter written to you in love from a fellow girl who has had her ups and downs throughout her tween and early teen years. At the time of this writing, I am seventeen and a soon-to-be high school graduate. Hopefully knowing where I am in my own life will put your mind at ease, as I am not far removed from the stress of being a teenager and I can truly empathize and understand your situations. I will be including my testimony also, so you can see my background. But, before I delve into what I really want to say to you, there are a few things I assume are true about you, your current state of mind and your situation; if one or more of these rings true to you, then I urge you to keep reading.

Number one: You are a girl between the ages of thirteen and twenty. Number two: You feel a disconnect with the world around you and don’t know how to reconnect. Number three: You have a generally negative outlook on life and are disinterested in most everything. And number four: There is no one around that you feel would understand your emotions and problems, so you bottle up everything. These are my assumptions because I have gone through these things and I can only speak from my own experience, which I suppose I should include.

I was raised in a Christian home, my parents were and still are happily married, I have one sister who doubles as my best friend, and I have been homeschooled for my entire life. I was a pretty normal kid up to the age of 13, when I “finally” became a teenager, a far off goal that I was all too happy to have finally reached. It was around this time that I started to express myself through my fashion, which at the time consisted of everything bright, glittery, or patterned. Around this time, I also started to get involved with teen drama. Many of the girls I hung out with had a generally snarky attitude towards parents and/or other young girls who, for one reason or another, “weren’t good enough” to be in the popular circle. These were the people who most molded my thoughts at the time and I became annoyed and distant with my own family, believing that everything they said or believed was wrong, simply because they were my family.

This phase lasted until I was about fourteen and then I moved into what my family and I now call the “goth phase.” After having a falling out with a few friends, I remember being very sad and in my own head about it for maybe a month. Then I went shopping for a whole new wardrobe and bought all black, white, and grey clothes. This was a rather drastic change from the bright neon colors from the previous year. I also experimented more with makeup and took to wearing a whole lot of very dark eye makeup, and I dyed my hair such a dark brown that it looked black. This didn’t all happen overnight; it was semi-gradual.

You may be asking now, “Okay, so you tried a look that didn’t work. What’s the harm?” And to that I will tell you this: At least for me, the way I dress reflects my state of mind and which emotions are in control at the moment, and this was especially true for the “goth phase.” I continued to distance myself from my family, especially my mom. I also backed away from spending time with friends. I always felt lonely, but I was disinterested in anything around me so I chose not to go to any event or activity. I became even more withdrawn and my inner monologue consisted of self-righteousness and self-pity for my “terrible life” and “awful, closed minded parents.” I wouldn’t say I “had depression,” but I was quite depressed.

The worst of my angst came, though, when I decided that the answer to fill the void and emptiness in my life was to set up multiple email accounts and join an online dating site. I was fifteen at that point and wanted to see what guys thought of me. I went back and forth in my head about whether I should or shouldn’t do it, but once I signed up for one, I was in. I faked my profile and said I was 18, as that was the youngest these sites allow. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that many of the people on the site could have faked their ages and profiles too, and for all I know I was talking to forty-something predators. I don’t remember how long I was on this site, but it was at least a month, and one day I started to feel very guilty about what I had done. This persisted for a few days and I finally deleted the account, or so I thought. Then about a month after I got off the site, an email from it came into my regular email - not the secret email I had set up, but the normal one. The normal account was linked to my mom’s email so she could actually see it. I am still baffled as to how it came to that address, but I am so glad now that it did. After she found the dating account, which I guess I hadn’t taken down correctly, my mom and I had a very open conversation about the sadness I felt. I remember my mom praying over me multiple times that day. I look back at that conversation as the turning point for me.

In the past fifteen months, God has been changing me. I have gotten a job, grown closer to my family, and made deep friendships with good people. I feel a general sense of peace and and contentment in my soul that I have never felt before. But, of course, getting out of that dark place was gradual. I am still a very private person and have to force myself to express my feelings to others instead of just waiting around for someone to literally guess what’s wrong. I still struggle with being honest and that is probably a tendency I will live with forever. But through the grace of God, I can get better at it. Sometimes I wonder where I would be in my life now if my mom hadn’t gotten that email. I think I would still be in a dark mindset feeling sorry for myself and blaming everyone around me for my own problems. God has blessed my so much by giving me a loving and supportive family to whom I can open up, and I hope that my experience will help me give advice to girls in a similar state of mind.

If you’re going through a rough time, I would greatly encourage you to talk to a parent. If you have a parent who you know will love you and stand by you no matter what you have done, please, please, please talk to him or her. It will be difficult to open up - I know I still struggle with it - but every time you push yourself to tell someone about your problems, it will get easier. Unfortunately, people are not mind readers, and you cannot expect your parent to come to you one day and guess every single thought you have had and every single problem you face. Sometimes you have to be the one to make the first move; you need to be the one to walk up to your parent and say, “Can I talk to you about something going on in my life?” Most parents will be concerned at this phrase, but they will also love you and be so happy that you trust them to help you.

I do understand that not all families are supportive and receptive. If you are going through a hard time and you have tried to speak to your parents but they are unresponsive, then your second option is to go to someone from an older generation who can help guide you through your emotions and help you pick yourself up. A good example of this type of person would be a pastor, aunt, uncle, or teacher. If you can’t find an older person, then the last resort would be to go to a friend. I list friends as a last option because I feel a person at your same maturity level might accidentally justify your feelings and sadness. It is absolutely okay to be sad if you are, but it is not okay to simply stay that way.

My last bit of advice to you girls is this: Open a Bible and read. When you do this, please pray that God will lead you to a passage he wants you to hear. Also, please keep your heart open to what God may be saying to you. You may not think he cares but he does, and when you read his Word with a desire to hear him, it doesn’t matter if you don’t find the passages applicable to your life or not. What matters is that you are in the Word and it is in your head. God loves you, and, if you let him, he will help you. But you must want to be helped, and - from someone who has been there - I know you may not think you need it. Let me tell you now, though, that you and your burden are in my prayers and, although I can give advice, I know you are the deciding factor. Only you can decide that you want to change. But please know that you are loved.

Love,
Abbie



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Photo Credit: Art Ranked

September 3, 2019

What is Legal Homeschooling...and Why Does It Matter?

Choice is a good thing. And, in contrast to the sad state of affairs in many other countries, American parents currently have a plethora of options when it comes to how and where they'll see to it that their kids are educated. I fully support parental rights in this regard...but we cannot forget that with choice comes responsibility. In this case, the responsibility to speak truth.

Homeschooling was actually the norm in America up until the post-Civil War era. At that point, political "progressives" teamed up with captains of industry and academics such as Horace Mann and John Dewey and - for less than altruistic reasons, as described in Milton Gaither's Homeschool: An American History and John Taylor Gatto's magnum opus, The Underground History of American Education - essentially outlawed home-based education and severely limited the reach of private schools. Thankfully, choice eventually returned, first for conventional private schools and then - beginning in the 1970s - for those who wished to educate their kids at home. It took too long, but by 1993, every state had again acknowledged parents' legal right to homeschool.

And our choices have greatly expanded since then, such that I've been able to identify 16 different approaches of which parents might avail themselves. Each option has its own perks, challenges, and legal ramifications, and parents must carefully vet them all to determine which best matches their values and will most effectively meet their kids' needs. The problem is that many don't understand the important distinctions between the different options. And some persist in blurring the lines between them - especially when it comes to referring to some non-homeschooling options as homeschooling - even when they do know better.

With that in mind and after spending years trying to help parents understand the various approaches, I decided (with the help of my graphic artist husband) to create this infographic with its accompanying explanations, below. For the sake of full disclosure, I admit that I advocate (not arbitrarily, but when asked my opinion) for one particular approach - i.e., wholly independent parent-directed private home-based education (i.e., legal homeschooling) - but my goal here is not to put homeschooling on a pedestal or convince everyone to homeschool. Rather, I aim only to share the actual legal reality for each option, taking "feelings" and judgment out of the equation, to explain the actual facts about the different options as they stand today. In so doing, I hope to help parents understand the objective, legal distinctions between what is actually defined as homeschooling and what is not, so they can make well-informed decisions for their kids and understand what the choices they make really mean.

Download a PDF version of this chart HERE.
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As you can see, the chart has four quadrants - just like a punnett square - based on where funding comes from (public or private) and an entity's base of operation (brick & mortar institutional - i.e., a physical building other than a child's home - or home-based). These two important factual realities, coupled with a parent's level of authority over day-to-day instruction, combine to designate the objective and legal nature of each educational option. 

PUBLIC BRICK & MORTAR INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS
  • Conventional (Neighborhood) School: This is the sort of school that most readily comes to mind when someone mentions "public school." It is funded with "public money" (i.e., taxpayer funds collected at the local level as well as federal funds distributed by state governments to local districts) and operates out of a specific physical building. For the most part, kids who attend this sort of school are assigned to it based on living in relatively close proximity to the building; hence, its nickname of "neighborhood school." Parents do not influence the nature of daily instruction. Clearly, children who attend conventional public schools are not homeschooled.
  • Charter / Choice / Magnet School: A charter, choice, or magnet public school is also funded with public money and operates out of a specific physical building in a local community. However, this sort of school differs from a conventional public school in at least three ways: First, though it is funded by taxpayers, it is often operated by a private, for-profit company contracted by a local school district and, therefore, is usually not subject to collective bargaining agreements with teachers' unions. Second, kids who attend need not live in proximity to the school; instead, they apply for admission regardless of where in a community they live. Third, it often has a special focus (i.e., on the arts or STEM or by using alternative means of learning and evaluation) that differentiates it from a conventional public school. Because a charter/choice/magnet is publicly-funded, its students are still required to follow the state's public school requirements; they simply do so in ways that differ from their peers in a neighborhood school. Similarly, though parents may be more involved than is common in conventional public schools, they still don't have much influence over day-to-day instruction. Children who attend charter/choice/magnet schools are not homeschooled.

PUBLIC HOME-BASED OPTIONS
  • Homebound Instruction: Homebound instruction is typically reserved for children with chronic illnesses that preclude them from attending local neighborhood schools. A child in that situation is visited on a regular basis by a teacher employed with the local district who monitors the child's progress through the same lessons he'd receive if he were in the school. Though the child is at home and may be given modified assignments to account for his health needs, he is enrolled in the local public school district as a public school student, and the teacher's services are taxpayer-funded. A parent may help as a sort of teacher's aide but has no authority over the educational content. Those on homebound instruction are not homeschooled despite receiving instruction in the home.
  • Conventional Virtual Charter Public School at Home: A conventional virtual charter is what typically comes to mind when someone mentions public school at home (PSAH). In this scenario, a local district contracts with a for-profit company (K12 and Connections are the two most well-known entities) to provide online instruction for students whose parents want their children to receive a public school education while remaining in the home. The company is paid with taxpayer funds and must see to it that its students abide by the public school regulations of the state in which it operates; in fact, the students are counted for enrollment purposes as public school students. Families are given books and computers for "free" (i.e., paid for with taxpayer funds), and each must follow the schedule and procedures decided upon by the state-certified teacher assigned to work with them. A parent may act as a sort of teacher's aide but does not have ultimate authority over the content a child is taught or the pace at which he proceeds. Those enrolled in conventional PSAHs are not homeschooled even though parents of these kids "feel" as if they're homeschooling - because the children are counted (by law) as public school students and also because they are taking taxpayer funds and do not control their children's instruction.
  • Choice / Independent Study Public School at Home: In a choice/independent study PSAH program, a parent is given a generous (taxpayer-funded) stipend for each child with which she may purchase curriculum and resources and pay fees for community-based enrichment classes, and the parent directs the child's daily instruction. However, the sponsoring school district limits what may be purchased with the stipend (i.e., it may not be used for "sectarian" material or activities), and (in every state other than California and Alaska) the child is counted for enrollment purposes as a public school student. In every state, a child enrolled in a choice/independent PSAH must meet the same public school requirements as those enrolled in brick and mortar schools, and the parent must provide evidence of the child's progress to a state-certified teacher assigned to supervise the family. Ultimately, the family is under the authority of the sponsoring school district because of the public funds it is using. Thus, those enrolled in choice/independent study PSAHs are not homeschooled even though parents of these kids "feel" as if they're homeschooling (and despite the odd labeling situation in California and Alaska) - because the children are almost always counted (by law) as public school students and also because they are taking taxpayer funds and are bound by public school regulations.

PUBLIC "GRAY AREA" OPTIONS

  • Hybrid Charter School: As schooling options proliferate, one of the latest twists to enter the market is the public hybrid charter. A student in a hybrid charter attends a local public school - either conventional or charter/choice/magnet - two or three days a week and works from home the other days. He is enrolled as a public school student and is subject to all public school regulations; he is simply completing school-assigned work at home two or three days a week instead of going into the school. A parent may act as a sort of teacher's aide but has no authority over the content or pacing of instruction. Hybrid charter students are not homeschooled because they are counted (by law) as public school students and follow public school regulations.
  • Homeschool Partnership: A homeschool partnership is when a local public school district offers classes and enrichment programs within district buildings to groups of homeschool students. Such partnerships ostensibly resemble private co-ops, but the classes are taught by state-certified teachers (who use public school parameters within the classes) and districts receive taxpayer funds for providing the "free" or low-cost service. Parents do not have influence or authority over the content of the classes, but these children retain their legal status as homeschoolers if parents continue to direct and control the rest of their children's education beyond the partnership classes - unless a family is actually enrolled in one of the aforementioned PSAH options, in which case they're not homeschoolers to begin with. It's also important to note that districts collect a great deal of personal information about each child, usually far above and beyond that which is mandated by a state's homeschool law.
  • Part-Time Public School Enrollment: Under the precepts of some states' homeschool laws, homeschooled children may enroll in public school part-time - and/or participate in public school sports and other extracurriculars - and still be legally defined as homeschoolers; for example, in Wisconsin, those filing with the state as homeschoolers may take up to two classes per semester at a public school and/or join in on select extracurriculars. However, enrollment is not guaranteed - it is at the discretion of building principals, contingent upon whether or not space is available. And, of course, a family using such an option puts itself under the authority of the school and is obliged to follow the school schedule, calendar, and rules. Districts also collect a great deal of personal information on such students and may also require them to comply with public school regulations - i.e., taking standardized tests, reporting grades, taking certain coursework at particular ages - above and beyond the parameters of the state's homeschool law. And if a child enrolls in "too many" such classes, he will lose his legal status as a homeschooler and may then be subject to truancy charges unless he enrolls in the school full-time.

PRIVATE BRICK & MORTAR INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS
  • Faith-Based / Parochial School: A parent desiring a faith-based education within the structure of a conventional school building may enroll her child into a private religious school. Most such schools mirror the organizational structure of conventional public schools but integrate sectarian material and activities. If such a school does not take public funds, it is not subject to public school regulations; however, it must still comply with state laws specifically pertaining to institutional private schools. Parents who use these schools usually do not use taxpayer funds to pay a school's tuition; instead, they pay out of their own pockets. Because they pay the school directly, they have a bit more influence over the nature and content of the school's instruction. But de facto control over what a child learns is decided by the school administrators and teachers. Those attending faith-based private schools are not homeschoolers.
  • Non-Sectarian Private School: Other private schools do not operate from a faith-based perspective but, rather, have a "secular" approach. They sometimes employ the structure of conventional public schools but may also use "alternative" approaches. As with faith-based schools, these schools are not subject to public school regulations if they don't take taxpayer money, but they must comply with state laws pertaining to institutional private schools. And, as with faith-based schools, parents generally pay tuition out of their own pockets and may have some influence on the administration but do not have final authority over what the children study. Those who attend non-sectarian private schools are, of course, not homeschoolers.

BRICK & MORTAR INSTITUTIONAL "GRAY AREA" OPTIONS
  • Voucher School: In recent years, many states have instituted a program that provides taxpayer-funded vouchers for kids to attend participating private brick and mortar schools. Parents apply for one of a limited number of voucher slots at a school and, if accepted, the state will pay for a child's tuition. In return for being given public funds, though, the private schools come under added regulation - i.e., to be accountable for the use of taxpayer money. This may limit a faith-based school's ability to incorporate parochial material into its classes and activities and subject either sort of private school to other rules and restrictions. Obviously, those attending private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers are not homeschoolers.

PRIVATE "GRAY AREA" OPTIONS
  • Hybrid / University Model School or Part-Time Private School Enrollment: As with public hybrid charters, those using private hybrid or university model schools attend classes in a designated physical building two or three days a week and work on school-assigned work at home the other days. A parent may act as a sort of teacher's aide when the child is at home, but she does not control the content or pace of instruction, And, though parents pay for these programs with their own funds, students enrolled in a private hybrid or university model school are not designated by law as homeschoolers. This is because the schools maintain a presence in a physical building and must register with the state as a type of institutional private school; thus, those attending such schools are counted as conventional private school students. In terms of part-time private school enrollment, states generally treat that the same as part-time public school enrollment. Where it is allowed under a state's homeschool law, students using that option - with parents paying tuition out of their own pockets - can be designated as homeschoolers if they follow the parameters of the law because parents direct the children's instruction at home when the child is not attending class at the school.
  • Learning Center: Private learning centers are another educational option available to parents, most notably for those who prefer an "unschooling" approach. These centers operate as either for-profit or non-profit community organizations, not as private schools, and, therefore, need not register with the state. For that reason, children who frequent the centers are not designated as private school students but can, instead, be legally classified as homeschoolers. Parents pay any fees associated with attendance from their own funds and kids go to the centers when they want to - not on assigned days or for a mandated amount of time. Some attend for several hours a day and others only visit now and then. While a child is at a center, its "learning coaches" or "facilitators" supervise his self-directed activities and sometimes help him develop and implement short- and long-term learning goals; when a child is at home, his parents direct his learning endeavors.
  • Co-Op Based Learning: A private co-op is generally an arrangement among a small group of private homeschooling parents to, in essence, pool their resources. They find a place to meet - in members' homes or at a local church, community center, or library - and parents take turns volunteering to teach group classes to all of their kids in particular content areas. They usually meet for part or all of just one day each week and, because homeschooling parents themselves deliver this group instruction for free for just a few hours a week (with parents directing their own kids' learning on non-co-op days) and pay for any costs associated with the co-op from their own funds, kids participating in these sorts of arrangements are legally designated as homeschoolers. This is a gray area, though, because some co-ops grow very large, begin to meet several days a week, and/or decide to pay non-parents to teach some or all of their courses. While kids in these programs will still be ostensibly labeled as legal homeschoolers, it's possible that the programs may draw the attention of city or state officials, who may question whether or not such a co-op is really operating as a private school and try forcing it to register as such. Parents utilizing co-ops should be mindful of this possibility in order to maintain their homeschool designation with integrity.

PRIVATE HOME-BASED OPTIONS
  • Private Pay Online School: Private pay online classes and schools operate in a way similar to the conventional virtual charter PSAHs described above: A student enrolls in classes taught online by teachers working for the program or (private pay) school in question. Those teachers - not the child's parent - control the content and pace of instruction for the online classes. If a child is enrolled in an online program on a part-time basis, the parent controls the rest of his coursework, but if the child takes all of his courses through the program, the parent doesn't actually direct any of it. The difference, of course, between private pay online programs and PSAHs is that parents pay for the courses themselves, not with taxpayer funds. This means that those using private pay online programs are legally defined as homeschoolers. That may seem odd since the parents don't direct their children's instruction. But the reason for this designation goes back to the fact that, when current state homeschool laws were written - between the mid-1980s and 1993 - the internet as we now know it had not yet been born. Thus, homeschool laws could not address the legal status of private pay online courses and have not been revised since then to take them into account. For that reason, the current consensus in every state is that children who take online courses delivered to their homes and paid for out of their parents' own pockets are classified under the law as homeschoolers.
  • Wholly Independent Parent-Directed Homeschooling: When modern homeschool laws were written near the end of the last century, they were drafted with wholly independent, parent-directed instruction in mind. These laws have not been changed in measurable ways since, so this model remains the "classic" definition of homeschooling. With this option, parents research and purchase with their own funds educational material they believe will best meet each child's needs. While they may utilize some community resources and occasional private-pay online classes and co-ops, they personally direct the vast majority of instruction, serving as their children's primary instructor/facilitator. And - importantly - they do not accept taxpayer/public monies. 
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In addition to the infographic above, I've also created this summary chart of what I've just detailed, a PDF version of which is available HERE.
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I know some folks will take issue with my explanations, continuing to insist that they "feel" like homeschoolers even when current legal realities say otherwise. But the truth we must speak is still there, like it or not. Though both are fruit, a pear is simply not an apple and never can be, no matter how much we might wish it so; likewise, an educational option that isn't legally defined as homeschooling is not homeschooling, regardless of our "feelings." Simply put, state homeschool laws were written - and have not been altered very much over time - to reflect an educational option in which instruction is led directly by a child's parents from a base of operation in the home, paid for the parents' own privately-held income and assets. Some gray areas have developed over time which, perhaps, need to be addressed legislatively. However, until/unless that happens, we have to accept reality as it really is.

That doesn't mean, though, that the non-homeschooling options are somehow less valid. As mentioned above, I'm an advocate for wholly independent, parent-directed education, but I'm also an advocate for parental rights - as every homeschooling parent should be. And that means I support every parent's right to choose an educational path he or she deems best - as long as those parents tell the truth. Thus, if you've decided to send your kids to one sort or another of brick and mortar institutional school, embrace your choice with confidence. If you're involved in some of the gray area options that are currently defined as homeschooling, own what that means in terms of both strengths and challenges. And if you've enrolled your kids in either PSAH option or a hybrid/university model school, celebrate the truth about your decision rather than insisting that you're homeschooling when (under the law) you are not. Be a proud PSAHer. Be a rabid university model school parent. Go all-in for what you're really doing, not according to your feelings but according to factual, legal reality.

Why does this matter? Why can't people self-identify as they want? Well, first, that would be lying; a pear is not an apple. Second, the homeschool laws in every state came to us after very long, hard-fought battles just a few decades ago, and we homeschoolers realize that activist legislators could sweep them away in pretty short order if they wanted. We must keep the lines between what is actually homeschooling and other educational options as firmly drawn as possible - not to be on guard with other parents but, rather, to protect ourselves from overzealous bureaucrats, who have demonstrated that they will take advantage of blurred lines to try stealing freedom from homeschoolers. We must be ever-watchful of them.

It's unfortunate when that necessary vigilance feels like a slam on parents using non-homeschooling educational options, especially one of the "blurry" ones. That's not our intention. We really do want to support your parental rights as much as we fight to keep ours. But the current state of affairs means that we homeschoolers must insist that we all keep the fruit in distinct piles as much as possible. So, if you're using one of the educational options that is not legally defined as homeschooling, please be proud of and tell the truth about your real choice, and please try to understand our position as homeschoolers. When we're honest and hold fast to necessary distinctions, we all benefit.

August 31, 2019

Sometimes You Can Go Home Again


Several months ago, we reached agreement as a family that it was probably time to leave the church we'd attended for about 20 years. That was no easy decision, as it was the only church the girls had ever known, and Jeff and I had been deeply involved in various ministries for the entire time we were there. Out of respect for our friends who still attend, I won't go into the reasons we'd come to that conclusion; the important thing is that we'd reached unity as a family.

Yet we weren't quite sure. So last February we decided to begin visiting other churches in the metro area when we could, and then we took a complete hiatus from our church at the beginning of summer to visit more earnestly. We prayed the entire time that God would lead us with clarity, either back to our church if we were supposed to stay or to our next church home; we simply wanted to obey, whatever that meant.

Counting a few places we'd previously visited out of curiosity, we checked out 13 different congregations. Along the way, we decided that every visit was worth it as a means of showing the girls different options before they move to new places where they'll each have to find a good church fit for themselves. So we looked at the visits as valuable "field trips" even if God ultimately led us back to where we'd been.

I was concerned and a bit frustrated by mid-July because, even though our visits seemed to be confirming in all of us that we wouldn't go back, we didn't have unity about where we should land. Then I had coffee with my friend Renee, who patiently listened as I expressed my thoughts on the different churches. At one point, she gently interrupted and said, "Can I put in a plug for New Hope?" That was interesting because she attends one of the other churches we were considering; I tucked her reasons in the back of my mind and we continued on with other topics.

But as I drove home, I couldn't get New Hope out of my head; we had all enjoyed our visit there in May but had kept visiting other places so I'd kind of put New Hope up on a mental shelf with some of the other earlier visits. When I got home, the girls were baking cookies together. I asked them what they were thinking about New Hope...and they both explained why they'd liked it during our visit. In fact, of all the places we'd checked out, New Hope seemed to be the one they both liked. I was rather giddy all afternoon - three of us seemed to be in agreement! - and couldn't wait to ask Jeff what he thought of the day's developments. When he got home and I asked, "What if we went back to New Hope?" his eyes lit up, and he said, "Really? Are we going home?"

You see, we'd attended New Hope before. Jeff and I went there in college and were married there. God used New Hope's evangelism team to draw me to saving faith and then used David George, the pastor when we both started attending, to ground Jeff and me solidly in our fledgling faith. David did our premarital counseling before he was called away to plant a church in California a few months before our wedding. Bill Anderson, the church's associate pastor, married us, and then the next senior pastor, Jonathan Peters, gave me my first post-college job, as New Hope's secretary, and made a huge impact on Jeff in regards to missions.

When we left a few years after we were married, it wasn't due to any problems. It was only because we were quite young and thought - right or wrong - that going somewhere more "contemporary" would help us to encourage our young friends to come to church with us. When we explained this to Pastor Jon and the elders, they actually gave us their blessing. And we have maintained friendships and warm connections with many at New Hope ever since, during our few years at the "contemporary" church we first attended and the many since while we were at our most recent church.

Thus, deciding to choose New Hope - which maintains the same commitment it's always had to deep, biblically-solid teaching and deep, committed relationships - meant we weren't going someplace new again. We were, instead, going back to where Jeff had started his adult Christian journey and where I'd actually begun my entire faith walk. And the fact that all four of us "knew" when we said it that New Hope was the right choice confirmed our decision.

During our first couple of Sundays there in early August, we were able to tell some of our old friends that we were coming home, and their reactions were priceless. The men all grinned and told us how happy they were; the women teared up and gave us huge hugs. One even said, "Well, we've always still thought of you as part of us anyway, as if you'd never left!" We've met with the current pastors, Jim and Jared, neither of whom was there when we left, and they, too, have affirmed their pleasure that we've come home, saying they're sure that New Hope will be blessed by our return. The congregation is very homeschool-friendly, which is a sweet perk. And Pastor Jim has given the green light for us to become involved in ministry as soon as we feel ready. So when I was asked last week to serve on worship team - a role dear to my heart that I thought I'd have to sacrifice for a time - I said yes. My first time up will be September 8!

It's a bit surreal to be back and, in some ways, feeling as if we'd never left. It makes me wonder how things might have been different for our family as the girls grew up if we'd stayed years ago. But I know God had good purposes - in the friendships we've made and things we've learned - at the two other churches we've called home for a season, so I'm not going to fret over that. Instead, I'm thankful God led us back, and I'm really looking forward to how He'll weave us back into the life of New Hope over the coming months and years. We could have made a way in any new congregation - a handful that we visited seemed very solid - but there's really something to be said for going back home.

June 9, 2019

A Year of Lasts

Last Saturday - on June 1 - we attended the local homeschool graduation ceremony, as we have the first Saturday in June for a few years now. As in past years, we've been acquainted with most of the graduates' families and know a few quite well. So it was exciting and touching to share in their joy.

Afterward in the lobby one of my good friends chirped, "So, next year this'll be you!"

Of course, I knew that. But somehow her saying it out loud at the venue right after the ceremony hit me like a ton of bricks, and it dawned on me: Everything we do as a homeschooling family going forward from this day will be...a last. 

It's not that our everyday lives will instantly change the moment the four of us descend from the stage next year, the girls with diplomas in hand. They'll continue to live at home next summer as each makes final preparations for her immediate post-secondary plans that fall - I fully intend to milk as much out of that season with them as possible too! And, even as they embark on their respective adventures, I anticipate we'll still be "tight" as Jeff and I help them navigate through new waters; if we've done our job right, they'll remember their roots even as they also spread their wings.

But things will change when they're not living here for several months at a crack. When we won't start our days together with great "morning meet-up" conversation around the kitchen table. When I won't check their academic progress daily. When we won't plan for the father-child campout, winter snowball, and spring formal. When I won't give and get a handful of hugs each day and can't pop into one of their rooms for "just a minute" but end up staying for an hour to chat about one important matter or another.

And so - even though I've tried in my human weakness and sin to be as fully "present" as possible every day of both of their lives since each drew her first breath - the importance of each day in this last year of my girls' "childhood" seems magnified. Somehow I want each moment to make an impression, and I want to linger over each activity just a little. So we don't forget it. And yet we need to enjoy it all, so I somehow need to do that without being maudlin and melancholy!

I am so torn. I don't want the girls to stay little...except when I do. Yet that's obviously not possible so there's no sense in wanting it anyway. On the other hand, I am so excited for the plans God has given to each of them and for how He'll direct their paths beyond what we can see so far...except it means they won't be here with me, at least not as much or in the same way. I want to cling to the past and to every "last" of the coming year without letting my momma-longings get in the way of the girls' dreams for their next steps.

As I have with every milestone before - and will with all to come down the line - all I can do is take one day at a time, keep striving to be fully present, and trust God to guide me through. But if you talk to me over the next year and I seem a little "schizophrenic," give me grace. This year of lasts has arrived more quickly than my heart could have imagined even though my head always knew it was right around the corner. I'm a big jumble of anticipation and grief and joy and regret and loss and pride, and I have no idea which will prevail at any given moment.

And if I seem "missing in action" now and then over the next twelve months, you'll know where I am: enjoying a "last" with my precious girls.

May 26, 2019

Tina's Take on Things: My Curriculum Suggestions

Because of my work creating The Homeschool Resource Roadmap over the last several years, I'm often asked by homeschoolers online and in real life what curricula I recommend. Of course, answering such questions feels a bit presumptuous - a good fit with curriculum and other educational resources happens when parents find a match in material with how God has designed each of their children, and I certainly don't know other people's kids well or at all. For that reason, I wrote a summary guide a while ago describing a process through which parents might walk to narrow down the options. But, given the now-3,900+ educational resource providers I've been able to identify via The Roadmap, I understand how the prospect of choosing is still overwhelming even when using my summary.

So,  though I absolutely do not consider myself the arbiter of what will work for all children in all families, I decided that putting together shorter lists of possibilities for those interested in my opinion might be helpful. I used The Roadmap as my starting point and honed in on a few guiding principles to facilitate a sorting process:
  • Though The Roadmap is designed to be "agnostic" in regards to the common core standards (CCS) and its related initiatives - I've gone to great lengths to present a "just the facts, ma'am" approach so that users can find what they are seeking in terms of CCS, whatever that might be - I am not. In fact, I'm quite opposed to all things CCS. Thus, choosing only that which is wholly independent of the CCS became my first parameter. And if a provider I currently suggest decides at some point to connect with the CCS, I will edit the lists to remove it no matter how much I may have liked it before;
  • Via its Deluxe Charts, The Roadmap classifies resources in a number of other ways beyond CCS, including worldview/religious perspective. As a Christ-follower, I've included a large percentage of Christian providers on my lists, but that's not all. I also felt comfortable listing a couple of Jewish resources and quite a few that I call "Non-Sectarian," by which I mean "material that doesn't obviously promote any other perspective - i.e., it is as 'neutral' as possible where worldview is concerned - and, thus, might be comfortably used by people who embrace a variety of...other perspectives." In my life and on The Roadmap, though, I distinguish "Non-Sectarian" from "Secular," and I have chosen in my lists here to eschew anything I've determined to be "Secular," as well as anything espousing other worldview perspectives;
  • I hold strongly to young-earth creation science so cannot in good conscience suggest old-earth-oriented material. Of course, in many cases on The Roadmap, provider websites haven't specified a position on origins - or it's not relevant to the content in question - but where it might come into play, I list only resources that are young-earth or consciously neutral;
  • In terms of other classification categories - i.e., homeschool style/approach, recommended age range, whether or not something is online, has an app, or is free - I've tried to include a wide variety of options;
  • Within those parameters, I've listed everything I've actually used and enjoyed over the years - or am otherwise familiar with - marking each with an asterisk;
  • As you'll see, though, the lists include a lot more than I could ever personally use...because I wanted to suggest multiple good options in as many categories as possible. So, in compiling the suggestions with which I don't have direct experience, I've relied upon information gleaned from wise homeschoolers I know in real life and in the large online group I moderate, as well as studying company websites as I've built The Roadmap. And everything I list is something I'd at least consider for my own kids.
As you browse the lists, you'll notice that some are still quite long; for example, the Elementary Math list has 84 suggestions and Elementary Science has 117! But I wanted to include everything I felt worth considering and, given that both original lists have over 700 total options (!), including longer lists here seemed appropriate. In contrast, you'll notice a few categories with very few or even no suggestions; that's generally because the original category - which you can view here - has few options, none of which I felt met my parameters.

Will you like everything on these lists? Surely not. Would your parameters for making similar lists be different than mine? Quite possibly. I want to reiterate that these lists are merely suggestions based on my personal experience and study,  not prescriptions of what is "best" for "everybody."

Though the lists are copyrighted, I offer them freely for downloading and printing; simply click on a link to open a PDF list. I ask only that you link to this post when sharing the lists with others. May these ideas be a blessing to many.

 *****

NOTE:
Most of the lists - other than the ones for PRESCHOOL and PARENT RESOURCES -
link to resources for use with "school-age" kids (i.e., Ages 5-18).


PRESCHOOL
(Ages 0-5)

Multi-Subject Packages
Art
Bible
Character/Manners
Community-Based Youth Organizations
Culinary Arts
Educational Games & Toys
Educational Media
Foreign Language
Health & Fitness
History & Geography
Language Arts
Math
Music
Science
"Social Studies"
Worksheets/Printables
Special Needs



Multi-Subject Packages
Traditional/Texbook
Online/Video
Living Books Approach
Waldorf Approach
Bible-Based Unit Studies
Geography-Based Unit Studies
History-Based Unit Studies
Literature-Based Unit Studies
Math-Based Unit Studies
Music-Based Unit Studies
Science-Based Unit Studies
Thematic Unit Studies


Art
Appreciation/History
Integrated Technique
Crafting
Drawing/Illustration
Filmmaking
Graphic Design
Painting
Photography
Printmaking
Sculpture/Ceramics


Business Education
Accounting/Business Math
Entrepreneurship
Keyboarding
Marketing
Office Skills


Foreign Language
Africa
Asia
Europe
Middle East
North & South America
Pacific Islands
Miscellaneous


Geography
United States
World


Health & Fitness
Integrated
First Aid
Growth & Development
Hygiene/Personal Care
Nutrition
Physical Education
Safety/Prevention


History
American
World
Anthropology/Archaeology


Home Management
Integrated
Automotive Upkeep
Child Care
Cosmetology
Culinary Arts
Hospitality & Tourism
Interior Design
Maintenance/Repair
Metallurgy
Textile Arts/Fashion Design
Woodworking/Carpentry


Language Arts
Integrated
Composition
Drama/Theater
Elocution/Speech
Grammar
Literature - Texts
Literary Analysis
Penmanship
Reading/Phonics
Spelling
Vocabulary


Life Skills
Character/Manners
Driver Education
Personal Finance/Consumer Math
Speed Reading


Math
Elementary
Secondary Integrated
Algebra 1
Algebra 2
Calculus
General Math
Geometry
Pre-Algebra
Pre-Calculus
Statistics
Trigonometry


Music
Appreciation/History
Composition
Listening/Enjoyment
Theory
Instrumental Technique


Religious Education
Apologetics/Worldview
Bible Study/Theology
Christian Living
Devotional
Scripture Memory
Sunday School/VBS
Denomination-Specific
Tenet-Specific


Science
Elementary
Secondary Astronomy
Secondary Biology
Secondary Chemistry
Secondary Earth Science
Secondary Forensics
Secondary General Science
Secondary History of Science
Secondary Origins
Secondary Physical Science
Secondary Physics
Secondary STEM


Social Sciences
Civics
Criminal Justice
Economics
Logic/Critical Thinking
Philosophy
Psychology
Sociology
"Social Studies"


Special Subjects
Academic Competitions
Accredited Programs
Advanced Placement (AP)
Dual Enrollment
MOOCs


Technology
AutoCAD/Engineering
Coding/Computer Programming
Drafting/Architecture
Electronics/Robotics
Game Design
Web Design



Academic Support
Brain Training
Career Exploration
Research Tools
Standardized Test Prep
Study Skills
Tutoring




Educational Games & Toys
Activity Books
Board/Card Games
Digital Games
Puzzles
Subscription Boxes
Toys


Educational Media
Magazines
Audio Libraries
Video Libraries





Special Needs
ADD/ADHD
Autism/Aspergers/PDD
Cerebral Palsy
Cognitive Disabilities
Emotional Disturbance
Epilepsy/Seizure Disorders
Gifted & Talented
Right-Brain Learners
Sensory Disorders
Speech & Language Disabilities





April 23, 2019

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare

When I was in high school, I managed to avoiding reading anything by William Shakespeare. For some reason, the oft-obligatory reading of Romeo and Juliet didn't happen in my freshman English class, and sophomore English was a combination of "communications" and composition, devoid of any literature study. Then, as an upperclassman, I filled my schedule with advanced science classes appropriate for a wannabe veterinarian, and met my English requirements with more composition classes and a couple semesters of "theater arts."

And that was fine with me. You see, I'd naively latched onto the idea that Shakespeare was "really hard," and, as an insecure perfectionist, I didn't want to risk my GPA on the supposedly incomprehensible work of a dead British playwright. Give me, instead, the comparative safety of shark dissections, chemical equations, and essay writing!

In college, I rather quickly realized that life as a vet wouldn't be for me (thank you, Calculus 101, for so unapologetically pointing that out!) and then spent several semesters trying out a variety of academic majors. Ironically, I eventually landed in the humanities and found myself considering an English major. But Mr. Shakespeare's potential to tank my GPA still terrified me, so I avoided him by choosing a general "Humanistic Studies" degree instead of the more specific English major just so I could skip his eponymous class.

A few years after receiving my generic bachelor's, I returned to school to obtain a certification to teach English as a Second Language. I slugged my way through some hard-core linguistics classes, still believing Shakespeare would be harder, and eventually got a job teaching at a public/government middle school. A few years later, I transferred to the high school level, delighted to be assigned the upper-level ESL kids (i.e., those almost ready to "graduate" from the program into mainstream classes). But there was a catch: In order for the students to receive English, not merely elective, credit for the classes, the teacher had to be certified in Grades 6-12 English Language Arts in addition to ESL.

Given the option of taking additional coursework or being assigned to other classes, I headed back to the university. To obtain the certification I sought, I had to earn an English minor, which required - unsurprisingly - that terrifying Shakespeare course.

My perfectionism had abated a bit, but I still wanted to get "good grades" so I was nervous. However, my self-confidence had increased enough that I felt I could manage to earn the A I wanted if I just worked hard enough. Thus, I actually went into the class with curious anticipation.

And it didn't take me long to realize that, while reading Shakespeare certainly does require focus (and, in many instances, a good side-by-side modern "translation" to confirm the meaning of obscure phrases), it is well worth the effort and not nearly as difficult as I'd imagined. His use of metaphor! His understanding of human nature! His turn of a phrase...over and over again! In fact, I deem that Shakespeare class to be one of the best courses I've ever taken, simply because it afforded me the opportunity to "bathe" in the work of a master writer for 15 weeks.

Besides enthusiastically teaching both Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar to my students during my classroom tenure, I went on to jump at the chance to teach King Lear to middle school-aged students at a homeschool co-op. And when they were only nine and 10, I introduced my daughters to The Bard, starting with Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema, an excellent picture book biography, and then introducing them to Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams and a picture book adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by Andrea Hopkins. And later - as we marked the 448th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 2012 - I read a prose narrative of Macbeth from Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, delighting as both girls hung on every word and immediately asked for another story from the book. I happily obliged, and urged them to read as many of Shakepeare's original texts as possible over the next few years (and to re-read them as adults).

My only regret about my "love affair" with Shakespeare is that it didn't begin sooner. But I've got plenty of time to make up for lost time. And, of course, I saved my copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, so I've got everything he wrote right at my fingertips.

*****
Photo Credit: Glyn1
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