December 2, 2020

Transcripts and Diplomas

One of the most common questions asked in regards to homeschooling through high school is, "How will my child earn a diploma?" And then close on the heels of that query comes the next: "How do we get a transcript?"

The answer to both lies within the text of homeschool law. And, though it might seem strange if you've subconsciously believed the myth that only institutional schools are "real," homeschool law recognizes a child's parents as the bona fide, legal administrators of their private, independent homeschools. Therefore, as with any other legal school administrator, parents have the legal authority to decide on each child's graduation requirements and to then create and issue legitimate, legally-binding documentation - a diploma and transcript - when the child meets those expectations.

Unfortunately, misinformation abounds in this regard. Some mistakenly believe teens must enroll in "accredited" programs during high school in order to obtain legal documentation. Others think they must hire a "professional" provider to create and "validate" a child's transcript and diploma. But - with very rare exception (i.e., for an NCAA-caliber athlete) - neither is true. Again, homeschool law in almost every state ascribes to homeschooling parents - without a need for "oversight" by others - the legal authority to independently design and implement a high school course of study and to independently create accompanying documentation. And - absent evidence that a parent has somehow failed to comply with the homeschool law - employers, military recruiters, and college admissions officers must accept parent-generated documentation.

But once you understand the legal reality, how do make those documents?

To begin with, give them a professional look. Choose appropriate fonts, include all necessary information, accurately present the content in an organized manner, spell-check (!), and print the documents on résumé-quality paper. In fact, think of a teen's diploma and transcript as his or her academic résumé so that you'll be motivated to present them in the best possible manner.

In terms of the diploma, I suggest you do an internet search for "homeschool diploma" to view a variety of options for design and wording. Look as well at your own high school and college diplomas. Then design your child's diploma using as simple a program as Word or - if you have access and know its basic functioning - Adobe Photoshop, and print it on quality paper, perhaps parchment-style. Then sign it - with the child's actual graduation date - and consider adding an embossed seal somewhere. You can present it as a rolled scroll tied with ribbon, in a diploma cover, or framed. Here are two examples, one "fancier," the other perfectly acceptable but more basic:



Creating a transcript is, of course, a bit more involved because it requires keeping track of credits and activities beginning about four years before graduation. But, assuming you developed a system for doing so along the way, putting it all together into transcript-form - using a simple word processing program and printing it out on high-quality paper - is not all that complicated. As with diplomas, doing an internet search for "homeschool transcript" will yield many possible format templates, and your own high school and college transcripts are also good models.

Essential elements for the transcript's "introduction" include:
  • "School" Name: Whether you have chosen a formal name for your homeschool or simply refer to it using some iteration of your surname, place the name as the first element of the transcript's header. The header itself can be simple or "fancy." Just make it appealing and clear;
  • Official Transcript: Be sure, too, to clearly indicate in the header that this is an official (final) transcript;
  • Student Name: Provide your child's full legal name, including either a middle initial or full middle name;
  • Date of Birth
  • Gender: I consider this element optional and do not include it on my children's transcripts. Use your discretion;
  • SSN: I am not comfortable including my child's social security number on a transcript, which may be somewhat widely distributed. If you will complete a FAFSA, college application(s), and/or job applications, you'll include the SSN there for tax purposes, so listing it on the transcript is unnecessary. But use your own discretion on this matter;
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Email
  • Parent Names: Include the full name for one or both legal guardians, generally those who have claimed the child on tax returns;
  • Graduation Date: It is essential to list the day of graduation as well as the month and year;
  • Test Scores: Taking standardized tests (i.e., the ACT, CLT, SAT) is not required for high school graduation, but if your child has taken them, include composite scores. On the other hand, do NOT have your child take the GED! Having a GED is completely unnecessary and ill-advised. Taking a GED signifies being a dropout, which is inaccurate of homeschooled students, who earn wholly legitimate high school diplomas;
  • GPA: If the student is planning for any sort of post-secondary education, plan to include a grade point average (as well as grades for courses completed later in the document). It may be possible to submit a grade-less transcript in some cases but it is, unfortunately, still the accepted norm to include grades and GPA.

Because the transcript will include two or more pages, be sure to add a footer to help those reading it keep track of the complete document.

Next comes the "body," in which you will first list all the courses your teen has completed during his high school years. You may organize this as conventional schools do - by "grade level" (i.e., 9th Grade, 10th Grade) - or by subject area. The latter is not as common but is perfectly acceptable and may be both easier to compile and more authentic if you do not organize your homeschool around a nine-month "school year." Simply list courses chronologically in each subject area. In Wisconsin, my state of residence, homeschoolers are required to provide instruction in at least six basic areas each year - Language Arts, Reading (which is a component of Language Arts), Math, Science, Social Studies, and Health - so I used those subject area designations, along with others (i.e., Fine Arts, Foreign Language, Electives), on my children's transcripts. 

Course titles may be basic or more creative; the key is to use terminology that is recognizable to those who read transcripts (i.e., college admissions officers) and factually accurate. Thus, if a course was introductory in nature, label it as such by calling it "Introduction to..." or "Basic...". Alternately, be sure to accurately label any courses that were legitimately "Advanced" or "Honors." Likewise, if a child earned some of his high school credits at another school - i.e., you pulled him from public school after a semester or more there - and/or via dual credit through classes at a college, be sure to clearly indicate that. And, rather than submitting multiple transcripts, include the information for those other entities on the final, official transcript you compile and provide copies of the other partial transcripts only if requested.

If you're unsure what to call a course, get inspiration by doing an internet search for "high school course titles." Be sure to also indicate the amount of credit earned for each course - see my guidelines for determining that HERE - and, as previously mentioned, it's probable that you'll be expected to include grades earned (which can be calculated in any number of ways, depending on the curriculum and resources you use) for each course. You will use course grades and a notation of total credits earned to determine the child's GPA. Of course, you may try submitting a grade-less transcript if you'd like to see if it will be accepted, but be prepared to add grades if/when requested.

Some transcript-building guides suggest including brief course descriptions on a transcript, but I don't recommend doing so. First, adding such information invariably makes the transcript look cluttered and, therefore, less appealing. Second - and even more importantly - doing so is not the norm. In other words, transcripts for kids attending institutional schools do not include course descriptions and we should not voluntarily provide any information beyond that which is expected of others. For various reasons, a few colleges have developed a written policy requiring textbook titles and/or course descriptions from homeschoolers. But even if your child has his heart set on applying to such a college, that information should be provided separately from the transcript itself. Likewise - because it's not the norm on other students' transcripts - there's no need to include a "grading scale" on a homeschool transcript.

One of our homeschool battle cries is to, "Count everything!" In other words, if a teen spends time on some learning endeavor or activity, we should give him "credit" for it in one way or another. However, that doesn't necessarily mean awarding academic credit for everything. It is true, of course, that almost anything could be labeled as a "course," but it makes more sense to document some activities in other ways. And, since a homeschool transcript is a sort of résumé - aiming to demonstrate that a teen has had a "well-rounded" high school experience - we can/should also consider including other categories after the course listing, where we use some of a child's activities and accomplishments to round out those categories. Specifically, consider including sub-headings for Certifications, Honors and Awards, Extracurricular Activities, Volunteer/Service Experience, and/or Work Experience. And, for integrity's sake, do not double-count. For example, if your child volunteered at a horse farm for 200 hours and learned all aspects of equestrian science in the process, list it as either a course (in science or as an elective) or as volunteer experience - depending on which would be most logical for his post-secondary goals - not both. 

Finally, be sure to include a brief statement to "certify" the accuracy of the transcript along with the signature of at least one parent and the date of graduation. Some suggest having the transcript notarized, but I do not recommend doing so voluntarily, as kids who attend other types of schooling do not have notarized transcripts so neither should we be expected to provide outside "validation" of ours.

To illustrate these ideas, I've mocked up two sample transcripts to go along with the sample diplomas, above. Remember that these are not prescriptive (i.e., the way the documents "must" be formatted) because the authority to determine the design of a child's high school documentation rests solely with his own parents. But these examples - along with your own further research - may prove useful as you decide how to compile your child's records.

HOMESCHOOL TRANSCRIPT SAMPLE 1


HOMESCHOOL TRANSCRIPT SAMPLE 2

December 1, 2020

Homeschool "Graduation Requirements"

With rare exception, the homeschool law in most states does not specify homeschool graduation requirements. And even where a homeschool law lays out some requirements, it doesn't mandate that homeschools mimic public school requirements. In fact, as the legal administrators of our home-based private education programs – which operate independently of public/government schools – we homeschooling parents are generally charged with determining each child’s graduation requirements for ourselves, without regard to what public schools mandate.

Of course, a wise parent will begin with the end in mind in order to plan an appropriate course of study for a child, and engage in necessary research (i.e., visiting college and trade school websites to learn admissions requirements, checking with military recruitment offices, etc.) to determine what a child may need for his next step in life. After all, our primary responsibility is to insure that our children launch well. But the key word is customization – i.e., as home educators, we may legally and without apology customize a high school program for each child and determine ways to “count” all that the child desires to learn about and study. We are not bound by state mandates on those who attend public/government schools or the requirements determined by the boards of public school districts in which we reside; indeed, we should purpose to ignore all of that in favor of meeting the real needs of each of our uniquely-designed children.

It’s also very important to understand that our parent-generated diplomas and transcripts are legally binding and wholly acceptable, and that – in contrast to misinformation sometimes touted by various bureaucrats – obtaining a GED is not at all necessary or preferable. The documents we create should be accurate and professional-looking but, because homeschooling is a legal means by which a child of every age may receive a legal education, our final documents – without need for outside validation or “accreditation” - are just as acceptable as those from any other legally-operating school. 

Given all of that, most parents still want to get down to brass tacks – i.e., what does it take to earn a credit and how many credits does a teen need? In terms of the former, we may use any of three commonly accepted ways to award a credit with integrity, and we are free to incorporate all three in different ways, depending on each child’s needs.
1. Complete about 70% or more of a textbook or conventional online course.
Textbooks – and, nowadays, lecture-style online courses – are often the first means of content delivery we consider because these options mirror the approach used by the institutional schools with which we are most familiar. And sometimes this approach is best for a particular child and/or to advance his goals in a certain subject area. But remember that we – as the legal administrators of our legal private schools – may legitimately determine which textbooks and courses to use to meet our children’s real needs. Often that means we search for “high school level” books and classes. But for some children we need to seek out advanced coursework (i.e., college level) and for others we may need more basic material. Regardless of the label provided by a textbook publisher or course curator or how we might document it on the child’s transcript (i.e., one course may be called “basic” or “introductory,” another as “honors” or “advanced”), if a child works on it during his high school years, it counts as a legitimate high school credit. 
Additionally, the amount of time it takes to complete a course is not important (i.e., we need not organize our teens’ learning based on school-style 16-week semesters or 32-week school years). If a teen can finish a book or self-paced online course in a short amount of time, he still earns 1 credit. Alternately, if he takes more time than would be typical in a conventional school and/or you purposely spread out completion of the material over a longer period of time, he still gets 1 credit when done. And you may award a full credit if the child reaches 70% completion if you’d like. At first blush, that seems odd – as homeschoolers, we usually believe in completely finishing a book before moving on – but in some situations, allowing a child to stop before completion is appropriate. Indeed, most teachers in conventional schools rarely finish more than 70% of the textbooks they use, yet still award full credit. 
2. Accrue about 120 hours using a variety of resources.
The homeschool law in most states mandates that we “provide instruction.” However, “instruction” is generally not strictly defined within the law and is not limited to school-style seat work and textbooks. In reality, “instruction” includes the use of any resource or participation in any activity that can reasonably contribute to a child’s overall education. Thus, “instruction” can legitimately include the use of living books, media, hands-on activities, project-based learning, field trips, software and other online resources, etc., in addition to (or instead of) textbooks and school-style tests and quizzes. When using this approach, the commonly accepted standard – based on what is called a Carnegie unit – is to award 1 credit for every 120 hours or so of study (or a half-credit for about 60 hours). We need not be militant about this (i.e., if we keep a rough tally and a child spends 115 hours, we can still award a credit), but – as with every element of our homeschooling endeavors – we should use the hours approach with integrity. 
3. Demonstrate mastery.
Sometimes a teen is simply gifted in a particular content area and/or pours himself into mastery of it during his free time and without using any formal resources or keeping track of time. Because we want to give our kids credit for the holistic learning they undertake during all of their time in their high school years, we can legitimately award credits for such endeavors without using either of the other methods. As a rule of thumb, think about whether your child could demonstrate mastery of a content area or skill if asked by a person knowledgeable in the field. If you can answer yes with integrity, you may award credit based on demonstrated mastery.
Regarding how many credits to require in each content area for graduation, it’s worth reiterating the importance of avoiding the use of public school graduation requirements as your measure; simply put, those requirements are set for public school kids for various reasons, but they do not represent any sort of objective ideal worth imitating. Ignore them. Beyond that, the answer varies depending on the needs of each child.

For example, if a teen’s goal is to enroll in a 4-year college directly after high school – or to obtain an appointment to a military academy – you should study the real admissions requirements on the websites of colleges/academies of interest and use that to plan a high school program. If you do so, you’ll see two things: first, with rare exception, the requirements for most 4-year institutions are remarkably similar, so planning to meet requirements for one college will likely suffice for most others; second, quite a few colleges (including some Ivy Leaguers!) no longer list specific required high school coursework, taking a purposely more holistic approach and stating only that a student must have a diploma and transcript and submit appropriate standardized test scores and, perhaps, personal essays.

Alternately, you may be considering a community or technical college (i.e., a 1- or 2-year program), in which case your child’s high school plan can (and should) be quite different than if he were going to attend a 4-year school. In most such cases, the community/technical schools have no specific admissions requirements at all; instead, students must simply submit a diploma and a transcript and, perhaps, take the school’s placement exam. Some programs within a community/technical college do have specific admissions requirements, and if your child knows the program into which he wants to enroll, you might use those requirements in designing his high school expectations. But he can also take any prerequisite coursework at the college if he hasn’t already done so in high school.

Yet another option might be direct enlistment into the military, which is a completely viable alternative for any homeschooler and does not require any specific high school coursework. Or a teen may desire to go directly into a full-time job or start his own business; in those cases, his high school coursework can (should) be tailored to his specialized needs.

Given all the options, it’s impossible to say that all homeschooled teens must take a set list of courses – or that all must approach coursework in the same way. As intimidating as it might seem, the freedom and responsibility for deciding each child’s high school graduation requirements really does rest solely with his parents based on his real post-secondary needs. No one else has the authority to say otherwise.

But some general guidelines might put some minds at ease, so I offer this chart as a list of minimum suggestions (not my idea of “requirements”) based on customary expectations. On these charts, I have first listed – as a reference point – the required subjects named in the state homeschool law where I live (Wisconsin) and proceed from there.


Notes Regarding Each Subject:
MATH
Four-year colleges/academies generally want a student’s first high school credit to be Algebra 1, with a subsequent progression through Geometry and Algebra 2, followed by Trigonometry, Calculus, or Statistics, depending on the student’s planned college major. Though some mandate only 2 credits, most that list requirements say 3 or 4. 
Placement exams for community/technical colleges often include some elements of Algebra 1 and Geometry, so taking those courses at some point in high school may be beneficial. However, a student could study more “basic” math – General Math and Pre-Algebra – earlier in high school (and legitimately count the credits earned) and then take Algebra 1 and Geometry later. And for other options, credits may include any “higher” math of interest but might also be limited to more “basic” material such as Personal Finance, General Math, Practical Math, and Pre-Algebra if preferred. 
I’ve suggested a 2-credit minimum to facilitate compliance with the language of some homeschool laws that say math should be "covered" in some way every year (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year). 
READING
Though it is listed as its own subject within the text of some homeschool laws, Reading is not otherwise identified as its own subject. Instead, it is typically considered to be part of Language Arts or English.   
LANGUAGE ARTS
When 4-year college admissions counselors think of “English” credits, they generally expect that an “English” course has incorporated an appropriate mix of reading (literature) and expository writing. Spelling and grammar are not considered to be major components of such coursework; instead, it is assumed that mastery of those skills will be addressed within the writing process. While it’s acceptable to label courses simply – as English 1, English 2, etc. – it is also possible to list more customized course titles – i.e., Creative Writing, British Literature – but the courses should still reflect a balance between reading and writing. 
For 2-year colleges and other options, you will have more flexibility. Whatever course titles you list and credits you award, your goal should be to insure that your child is proficient in reading, writing, speaking, and listening at a level commensurate with his post-secondary needs. Thus, it’s probably wise to plan for 1 credit each year. But I suggest at least a 2-credit minimum to facilitate compliance with the language of a homeschool law that says language arts should be "covered" in some way every year (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year). 
SCIENCE
Some 4-year colleges require only 2 science credits, but most mandate 3 or 4 and sometimes indicate that 1 or 2 of those credits must be “lab science” (i.e., science in which the student participates in lab work/experiments of various types). While a typical science course sequence might start with General Science or Physical Science and then proceed to Biology, Chemistry, and Physics and – if time allows – Advanced Biology, Organic Chemistry or Advanced Physics, some colleges may not accept General and/or Physical Science, particularly for those pursuing a science-oriented degree. 
For other options, on the other hand, any of the above-mentioned credits are acceptable, as are less common courses such as Astronomy and Earth Science, and customized work in areas of special interest (i.e., Canine Science, Equestrian Studies, Botany and Gardening, etc.). As with other subject areas, remember again that even if you require fewer than 4 credits, your state homeschool law may mandate “some” coverage of science (not a full credit but some amount of relevant content) every year. I've again suggested a 2-credit minimum to facilitate compliance with this (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year). 
SOCIAL STUDIES
The social studies – or social sciences – is often the area in which 4-year colleges get most specific. That is, they might specifically mandate 1 credit in World History, 1 credit in American history, a half-credit in Civics/Government, and (sometimes) a half-credit in Economics. But they generally don’t require that “world history” cover the entire scope of the subject (i.e., it’s possible to focus on a particular era for the credit). And if they have a more general requirement, a student might also (or alternately) study Geography, State History, Psychology, Sociology, Criminal Justice, and the like.

Other options again allow for much more flexibility in that any relevant subject matter can be studied and credited. But, of course, in the event that your homeschool law mandates “some” coverage of social studies (not a full credit but some amount of relevant content) every year, I've once again suggested a 2-credit minimum (i.e., aiming for at least a half-credit every year).    
HEALTH
Though some coverage of health-related topics (to include physical education/fitness if desired) is explicitly listed within the text of some states' homeschool laws, the subject is rarely mandated by typical colleges. However, if you must address “health” every year according to the homeschool law, you should give a student credit (at least 1 over the course of four years, perhaps more if earned), which can be listed as its own sub-heading or under Electives. And, of course, those aiming for military enlistment or an appointment to a military academy will have additional fitness requirements that can be built into Health coursework. 
FOREIGN LANGUAGE
Up until recently, the majority of 4-year colleges required two credits in a foreign language (i.e., two years studying the same language), and some still do. However, more and more colleges do not specifically require foreign language credits – or foreign language might be listed as a possible Elective rather than a particular requirement – and it’s not mandated for other post-secondary options.    
FINE ARTS
Some – but not all – 4-year colleges require a Fine Arts credit – i.e., study of some sort in music and/or the arts. Rarely, 2 credits may be required. Of course, a student aiming for an arts-related degree will want to earn multiple credits in relevant areas. And, even if not required, earned credits in the arts can be listed as Electives. This is not mandated for other post-secondary options. 
ELECTIVES
As I studied various college admissions requirements, I learned that most 4-year institutions – even the “elites” – require a surprisingly low minimum of just 15 to 18 high school credits. Of course, they generally favor students who exceed their minimums, and it’s worth noting – in the one and only nod I’ll give to institutional schools since homeschooled kids do “compete” with their kids for college admissions slots – that most coming out of institutional schools have earned 20 to 24 credits, contingent upon the way their school terms are organized. Now, depending on a homeschooled student’s pace of study, it is actually often very possible for him to earn upwards of 30 credits, but it would be wise – in order not to stand out in a negative way – to aim for at least 20 to 24 total credits. Thus, if a student following a 4-year college plan earns 17 credits in the required areas, he will need at least 3 to 7 elective credits, depending on what you set as his graduation requirement. 
For those pursuing other options, my suggested minimums yield just 9 to 11 credits. And, technically, if you’ve fully complied with the provisions of your state's homeschool law, it is legal – though probably not wise – to graduate a child without even tracking credits or creating a transcript. However, awarding a diploma without a transcript or with as few as 10 high school credits and no electives would very likely stand out in a negative way to community/technical college admissions counselors, military recruiters, and potential employers. That would be poor stewardship of our responsibility to our kids. 
Thus, you can use that minimum suggestion as a baseline and then – at your discretion, in order to maximize your particular child's holistic education – require more in any or all mandatory areas. And the beauty of pursuing something other than admission to a 4-year college is the flexibility to more freely delve into other areas of interest and passion,  too. So, I recommend going beyond the minimum and requiring at least 20 credits for graduation, having the child accrue the additional (9 to 11 or more credits) via extra coursework in required areas and/or through electives. 
In terms of what counts as an elective, the sky is really the limit. Electives can be earned as “extra” math, language arts, science, social studies, or health credits. Or they might include extra foreign language or fine arts, Bible/theology, computer programming, web design, keyboarding, filmmaking, culinary arts, clothing production, etc. Really, any area of study not counted via another credit can be turned into an elective by simply making sure a student has earned a half or whole credit in one way or another and creating an accurate, representative course title.
The bottom line - the reason this article puts the words "graduation requirements" in quotes - is that, aside from a responsibility to comply with the exact text of your state's homeschool law, each individual home-based education program sets its own graduation requirements according to the convictions of its administrators (i.e., a child's parents or legal guardians). We don't (shouldn't) consider public school requirements to be our own. We don't need to borrow the rules adopted by local private schools. Instead, we need to embrace the legal authority given to us via the homeschool law and devote the necessary time and energy into researching what would be best for each child's long-term well-being and go from there. We must actively decide for ourselves instead of passively accepting some other entity's requirements. Whatever each child actually needs in order to successfully step into life as a young adult is what we should plan for and facilitate during his high school years.

September 6, 2020

Epistle of the Felines: Our 2020 Cat Saga

I recently wrote a post about how so many things that were supposed to happen a certain way over the past six months haven't panned out as expected. And now I've got another entry in the "supposed to...instead..." ledger - one that warrants its own post.

We were not supposed to get a new cat this year. We have four - two different sibling pairs - and, even though my husband and I have pinkie-sworn with each other that we'll always have cats, I was very content with that.

But fast forward to the end of June when this little guy showed up on our back deck one day - and didn't leave!
After several days - even though I wanted to resist - we felt compelled to put out some water...and then some food. He was very friendly, and our cats did not stress about him through the patio door, as they've done with strays in the past. We christened him "The Apawstle Pawl" (Pawl for short) since he was generally self-sufficient but was willing to accept gifts when offered.

After a couple of weeks - yes, we waited that long, assuming he'd eventually "go home" - we finally let him come into the house one day...and he promptly made himself at home.
We were shocked that our cats were receptive to him - even the one who would be content as an only cat tolerated him - so we took that as a "sign" that we were supposed to add him to the pack. But we still let him outside when he "asked," and we were awakened in the middle of the night by a terrible cat fight the second day after he'd come in. And that morning Pawl was nowhere to be found; in fact, he stayed away for a full day.

Thankfully, he eventually returned and didn't look terribly beat up. But I determined right then that I'd convert him to indoor-only life for his own good. However, though he was as sweet as ever with us and still friendly with our cats, he began trying to mark his territory all over the house! He hadn't even hinted at that prior to the brawl with the other outdoor cat, so I surmised he might be trying to tell the other cat that our place was his territory.

I sympathized with his defensiveness, but couldn't tolerate spraying. So out on the deck he went again, and I tried a couple of times a day to bring him in to see if the spraying urge was only temporary. Unfortunately, it became clear that we couldn't trust him not to mark...but neither could I stand the thought of him living alone on our deck.

I did some asking around and found some friends-of-a-friend who could take Pawl. They live in the country about 30 minutes from here, so Pawl would remain an outdoor cat - but these new friends have about 10 other kitties and purpose to love them all very well. So I drove Pawlie out there at the end of July, and he has proceeded to adjust exceptionally well in short order.
We missed him - he has a distinctive meow we'd become accustomed to hearing from the deck - but felt good about his new home. And we thought that was the end of that.

But this is 2020, so we should have known better!

Once Pawl left, we noticed a young gray tomcat hanging around - in our neighbor's yard, though he wasn't theirs, and in our driveway. We figured he was probably the one with whom Pawl had had his tussle, and I was miffed at the little guy - cute as he was - because it was "his fault" that I'd had to surrender Pawlie. I determined that we'd shoo him away and hope he'd go away completely.

Of course, you can probably see where this is headed. By the end of August, he'd jumped the fence into our yard and managed to wheedle his way into Jeff's heart. In fact, Jeff took this picture one recent night when he (as has been his custom through much of this summer) was sleeping in a hammock in our yard.
After that, the cat went from visiting the deck a couple times a day to claiming it for his own and doing everything in his power to win us all over. And...of course, win he sure did!

On September 2, Jeff snuck him some cut-up hot dogs. I didn't know that so, when he and Rachel were on a bike ride, I put out some soft cat food for him. Jeff laughed at me...until Rachel snitched about the hot dogs.

We then let him inside for several hours on September 3, and, despite the fact that they'd only seen him through the patio door for a few days, our cats were surprisingly chill. Two have been rather tentative and one - our lone ranger - has growled at him. But Prince - the one who also loved Pawl right away - has already taken to licking his head, and not one among the five has gotten aggressive.

And he hasn't sprayed! In fact, though I wasn't sure at first if he'd use a litter box - he seemed afraid of it that first day - he's been a perfect gentleman in regards to his bathroom habits.

We let him out at night on the third because we weren't sure if all the cats could handle him being in overnight. But I let him in again on the morning of September 4 - I felt so bad for him because it was so windy that day! - and he's been in  - happily and at peace with all the other cats - ever since.

By the way, his name is Barnabas - named after The Apostle Paul's friend, the one with whom he did ministry for a time but from whom he eventually separated by mutual agreement. This seemed very fitting, given the circumstances - i.e., that kitty Barnabas and Pawl had apparently been relatively friendly with each other until their apparent late-night brawl, after which Pawl ended up "itinerating" out on the farm.

So...we were not supposed to get another cat this year. But then we were supposed to adopt Pawl. Instead, we found a more appropriate place for Pawl so that - unbeknownst to us at the time - Barnabas could adopt us a month later!

Of course, unlike so many of the "supposed to...instead..." moments of this year, this one at least - unexpected as it was - has a happy ending.
Ironically, we think both Pawl and Barnabas are about six months old (Rachel even wonders if they're biological brothers), which would put their birthdays at right around the time this whole pandemic business gained traction. So maybe, just maybe - now that they're both safe and loved instead of fending for themselves - might all the craziness of 2020 stop? 

Yeah, I don't think so either. But at least we've done right by not one but two cute little kitties. And, thankfully, there aren't any other strays milling around our property!

*****
ADDENDUM - October 25:
There was another cat milling around, though she initially stayed under the neighbor's porch and skittered away whenever she saw any of us. However, she worked up her courage around the middle of the month and started visiting our deck, checking out our cats, including Barnabas, through the patio door and crying - just like Pawl and Barnabas - for a bit of attention. We christened her Lydia (after the New Testament Lydia whom Paul and, presumably, Barnabas knew). Yet we knew we couldn't keep her - she's unspayed and Barnabas isn't neutered yet - even though we felt horrible at the thought of her being stuck out in the cold all alone. So we put out the call to our cat-loving friends, in search of a new home, and one of my homeschooling acquaintances and her husband said yes!

We brought Lydia inside this morning - to make sure she was here when her new owners came to get her. After eating a good breakfast and exploring a bit - during which we kept all the other cats upstairs - she happily claimed a little cushion we keep under our bed and literally slept all day, warm and content, except for the times we couldn't resist visiting her and playing. We're now convinced that Pawl, Barnabas, and Lydia are siblings who were dumped in our neighborhood in June - but continue to be amazed at how friendly and healthy they all are despite their circumstances. And Lydia most of all might have had reason to be semi-feral - but, just like her brothers, all she needed was security and love.

We sent her off to her new home this evening, where she'll live with a few other kitty companions and some dogs as well. Based on how quickly she adapted here today and early reports from her new owners, we're confident she'll adjust as readily as both Pawl and Barnabas have. And we're confident - for real this time - that we've seen the last of neighborhood strays this year!

August 29, 2020

Supposed to . . . Instead . . .

Whatever your position on the nature of 2020's "coronavirus scare," there's no doubt that it has significantly disrupted all of our lives over the last six months or so - and may continue to do so for some time to come.

I already knew in January that this year would challenge me simply because it would mark the end of my journey as a homeschool mom; I even wrote about my "year of lasts" in June 2019. But, of course, I had no idea that so many milestones and important family events would end up being lost entirely or manifesting so very differently than I'd originally anticipated - and I never imagined that so many things would be turned upside down, in large measure because of other people's reactions to a microscopic pathogen.

To be sure, our challenges haven't (thank God) been catastrophic; in fact, some (the homeschool spring formal and our graduation party in particular) may have turned out to be better than originally intended. But we have experienced real stress over the chaos of the last few months, and our lives going into this fall do look very different from what we'd envisioned at the beginning of 2020. So as I stand on the precipice of my first autumn as a "retired" homeschool mom, I thought it worth recounting what was supposed to have happened over the last several months versus what actually occurred instead.
*****

The year was moving along pretty much as anticipated through January and February and into March. But then...

Rachel was supposed to play her 11-page Class A piano piece - which she'd begun practicing in August 2019 - at the district music festival on March 13. If she'd played well, she would have earned her first-ever berth at the state festival in May.
Instead, the festival was cancelled just hours before she was slated to play. 
Attempting a video lesson shortly after the festival was cancelled

Rachel was supposed to continue taking on more and more shifts at her job as a YMCA lifeguard, both to earn and save money for college and to transition more and more into adult life.
Instead, she was furloughed starting on March 16, and has yet to be called back for a single shift even though the Y reopened in June. Rather than continue to wait around for shifts that might never come, she finally opted in July to open her own business - Girl Friday - through which she does various odd jobs (cleaning, babysitting, painting, cat-sitting, gardening, etc.) by request.
Working her first Girl Friday gig

Rachel was supposed to continue tutoring through our city's literacy council, which she'd done since October 2018.
Instead, she hasn't seen her student since March and doesn't know if they will ever reconnect. 

Rachel was supposed to play her Class A solo and one other piece at her senior piano recital in April.
Instead, her teacher was forced to postpone and eventually cancel the recital.

The girls were supposed to sing in their final homeschool choir concert at the end of April - a performance of pieces from Broadway's Anastasia in which Abbie had a featured role and Rachel would serve as one of the narrators.
Instead, the director was forced to postpone and eventually cancel the concert.
Fall 2019 choir rehearsal

I was supposed to coordinate the 20th annual spring formal for our homeschool group in April. We expected 75 or more teens, which would have been the group's largest event of its kind.
Instead, I first had to postpone and then cancel entirely. A small group of 20 teens did participate in an alternate event at the end of May that turned out to be special in its own right, so my girls did at least get a senior prom of sorts.
Speakeasy Spring Formal

I was supposed to coordinate the June 6 graduation ceremony for our homeschool group. Twenty-five teens from 23 families would have participated, making it the group's largest-ever ceremony.
Instead, circumstances led several families to drop out by early May, our original venue cancelled on us just a couple weeks before the ceremony date, and we scrambled to find a new location. The new venue had a much lower capacity so we had to limit attendance and lost a few more families in the process. We still had a beautiful ceremony - Abbie was part of the special music team, and Rachel finally got to play her solo as part of the ceremony's prelude music! - but we ended up with just 13 graduates representing 12 families. 

We were supposed to have our graduation party - a joint celebration with some dear friends whose daughter also graduated with our homeschool group - at our favorite park (where the girls played all the time when they were little) a few blocks from our home.
Instead, city policies made it impossible to hold the event as we'd envisioned it, so we moved the party - rather at the last minute - to our friends' family farm an hour from town. 

Abbie was supposed to be living at home after graduation, working and going to college while we planned her wedding for sometime in Spring 2021.
Instead - fueled at least in part by virus-related lockdown measures - Abbie and her love, Gabriel, chose to elope on May 13! She moved in with him on June 14, and we held a reception for them on July 18. I'm still adjusting to her not living here anymore. 

Rachel was supposed to volunteer at Lake Lundgren Bible Camp for several week-long camps throughout the summer.
Instead, LLBC first delayed the start of camp and then cancelled everything for the entire summer. Rachel did make a couple of day-trips to help out with maintenance work, but it was nothing like what she'd anticipated.

In mid-August, Abbie was supposed to start full-time in the Administrative Professional program at the local community college.
Instead, she changed jobs - taking a full-time assistant teacher position (which she loves) at a local Montessori preschool - a couple of weeks before the semester started, and decided to go part-time at the college. But then, less than two weeks into the semester, she chose to switch to the Early Childhood Education program, which necessitated dropping her Admin Prof classes and applying to the new program. Schedule-permitting, she may start part-time EC classes in January.

Our church was supposed to mark 50 years of ministry in September with a weekend-long celebration. Many with ties to the church over the years planned to travel from near and far to join us.
Instead, the event has been postponed until September 2021...so a 50th anniversary celebration has to wait for acknowledgement until the church's fifty-first year.

Rachel was supposed to leave today - August 29 - to begin her studies at a missions-oriented Bible college that she'd had in mind to attend for at least two years - as her first step toward serving in Japan.
Instead, the school's last-minute adoption of a draconian, inflexible mask policy led Rachel to drop out in protest less than two weeks before she was slated to begin. We're very proud of the stance she's taken even as we ache that her long-held plans have been unjustly upended. We're now helping her to recalibrate her thoughts and plans, which likely include ramping up her Girl Friday services, working and volunteering in other capacities, and (possibly) taking a class or two through the local community college. 
Her "at-home dorm room"
Add to this what has been going on in my husband's life - he's been working from home, ensconced in his basement office since March 16, trying to be a corporate trainer via Zoom for a company with an international reach (and with no hope of returning to the office until "at least" January 2021); he's got a missions-mobilizing ministry but cannot actually mobilize any current missions teams; his ministry's annual fundraising golf outing was cancelled because of virus-related policies at the venue - and all I can really say is that this has been a lot to digest.

Though I've grown in flexibility over the years, the "Rou-Tina" part of my personality bristles over the fact that my routine has been out of whack for almost six months - with no end in sight. And my inner Momma Bear hates that the girls - especially Rachel - have lost so much that should have been normal in their senior year and launching into young adult life.

Of course, I do see that it's not all bad. I love my new son-in-law even though I didn't expect him to bear that title until next year; I know he's the man God has always destined for Abbie. I also believe that whatever God is doing in His redirection of Rachel's life right now, it will be good; she stood up to the college with godly motivation so He will bring beauty from what might seem like ashes at the moment. And I'm grateful that our lives have not been devastated by job loss and related problems that are hurting so many others.

So I'm not complaining even if it might seem that I am. It's just interesting thinking about the "supposed to" versus the "instead." I don't know how our current circumstances - in the lives of my family members or society at large - will play out going forward...or what lessons we're all supposed to (!) glean from this. Time will tell. In the meantime, I'm just really, really glad I know Jeremiah 29:11!

I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.

August 27, 2020

The Art of Buddy-Reading

When my girls were first learning to read, I stumbled (by accident as I tried various activities with them) upon a process I came to call buddy-reading. It worked really well for us, and I've recommended it regularly to many others since. But almost every time I suggest it, the person with whom I'm talking asks, "Buddy-reading? What's that?"

In a nutshell, buddy-reading is a way to help new or struggling readers practice the skills associated with reading - decoding, comprehension, etc. - in a positive, low-key manner. Buddy-reading also helps a parent understand a child's reading strengths and weaknesses in the context of relationship.

That last point - in the context of relationship - is key. In fact, it's the key to the entire process of homeschooling, as it is a loving parent-child relationship - not turning our homes into mini-schools - that fuels effective home education. That's why - with helping a child learn to read and everything else - I advocate ignoring the regimented, standardized approach the schools take in favor of seeing home education as a simple extension of parenting.

In terms of buddy-reading, this translates into employing the approach most of us associate with reading aloud to our babies and preschoolers with our older, learning-to-read kids as well, and keeping things easy-going, warm, and relational - starting only when each child has actually demonstrated readiness to learn to read - instead of making it a formal, mechanistic process.

With that in mind, this is what I did with my children as each was learning to read and then growing in fluency - roughly from age five to about nine or 10 in our case. I started out using just the Amish Pathway Reading series - only the primers, not the workbooks - which I highly recommend, until the girls were about eight and nine, and then eventually added in my Readers' Workshop tool as well.
  1. Find a comfortable, cozy spot - such as your living room couch or propped up with pillows in your bed - and cuddle up with your child, book in hand. The idea is to associate reading with warmth and positive feelings;
  2. Read the title of the book or story aloud and then take a few minutes to turn the pages and talk - conversationally, not in quiz-mode - about the illustrations. Gently encourage the child's use of descriptive, expressive language and see if he can make predictions about the storyline based on the pictures;
  3. Ask the child if he would like to read the first page - or if he would prefer for you to. Honor his decision and start accordingly. Then alternate every other page (i.e., if you read the first page, the child reads the second, etc.);
  4. When you read, be sure the child can see the text and encourage him to pay attention, but don't run your finger under the words. Aim for the process to be as natural as possible - as when you read aloud at story time - and rely on the appropriateness and topic of the text to draw him in;
  5. When your child reads, let him run his own finger under the words if it helps him; if it doesn't, don't require it. When he gets to a word he cannot decode, just supply him for it (without making him labor over it or "sound it out") and keep going. Provide appropriate praise as he proceeds;
  6. Read all the way through the story, alternating pages. As you read and/or at the end, take time to discuss - again, in conversation, not quiz-style. Think about how you'd talk about a favorite book with an adult friend and use that as your model as you talk about the story with your child. When the discussion seems to be over, tell your child what a good job he did, give him a hug, and send him on his way;
  7. The next day, get situated in a similarly comfortable manner and pull out the same book/story. Talk about the story for a few minutes if the child wants to - i.e., if he says he thought about some new things related to the story since the previous day - and then ask him to begin reading it aloud to you;
  8. For this second reading, the goal is for the child to read the entire story to you. But allow him to ask for help when he gets stuck on a word, and oblige if he asks you to read a page now and then after he's read several. If there's a word that you know - from past experience - he can sound out rather quickly, encourage him to do so. But if it's a sight word or a newer decodable word, just supply it to him so the flow of the reading continues and the experience stays positive;
  9. At the end of the story, praise him appropriately for reading the entire story to you. Then ask him to tell you the story in his own words. This is a comprehension check - no need for quizzes or tests when you've got a relationship with your child! - and you'll quickly know if he grasped the gist of the story. Then give him a hug and move on with your day;
  10. In the evening on the second day, arrange for the child to read the same story aloud to your spouse - so, yes, the child gets three readings of each story, which builds confidence and "muscle memory." Tell your spouse ahead of time to listen actively as the child reads and to simply supply any words on which the child stumbles or asks for help, without pressure. And encourage your spouse to talk about the story with the child afterward - again, in conversation mode, not quiz/school-style - and praise him for the effort.
  11. Move on to a new story the next day. Rinse, wash, repeat.
I know this seems almost too easy - and probably leads you to wonder, "What about phonics instruction?" I'm definitely a phonics fan - and I worked on letter identification, matching sounds to letters, and sounding-out and blending, etc.,  with my kids before we ever began the buddy-reading process. In fact, I spent a pretty penny (far too much!) on a bells-and-whistles phonics program I thought was the Holy Grail of reading instruction. But God blessed me with a right-brained learner in one of my kids - meaning that she learns whole-to-part, not part-to-whole. As such, she had a hard time with isolated phonics lessons but began to thrive as we read - buddy-read - the Amish Pathway series, because the real stories provided her with context that enabled her to decode unfamiliar words. In fact, even her left-brained sister did better with her reading within the context of real stories. And one strength of the Amish series over randomly picked "easy-reader" or favorite picture books from our shelves was the leveled, incremental method built into it - so, even though we were reading real stories, they were also instructional and phonics-based by design.

As we dug into the series - and grew in relationship - via our daily buddy-reading, I was able to challenge the girls to pause now and then and really "sound out" a new word instead of just saying it for them - so I still employed phonics in that way as well. But I found that the girls rather naturally took that on for themselves more often than not as their confidence increased and their enjoyment of buddy-reading grew. Once we started buddy-reading - leaving the kitchen table and the worksheets and drill-and-kill lessons in favor of this more holistic approach - all the pieces fell into place rather quickly and learning to read became a joy, not a burden.

August 22, 2020

The Homeschool Curriculum Route-Finder Tool










In 2013, I created a database of homeschool-related curricula and resources that would eventually become The Homeschool Resource Roadmap. Then in 2015, I expanded The Roadmap's original purpose and built what would become the very detailed resource charts now housed within the site's Deluxe Charts Project and Special Projects: IND Only sections. The Roadmap currently lists and describes more than 4,800 different resource providers and, with an average of more than 7,500 page views per month, is clearly helping a lot of homeschoolers - all at no cost.

Right now anyone can visit The Roadmap - for free - and click on any section of interest to begin searching for appropriate homeschool-related resources and other helpful information. For example, if you were looking for elementary math material, you could follow a short thread to get there: Deluxe Charts Project > Ages 5-18 > Math: Elementary. And when you clicked the link for Math: Elementary, a PDF file charting all 800+ options for elementary math would open. You could view and use the chart online, download it, and/or print it out for further study.

Part of the First Page of the Math: Elementary PDF File

The Deluxe Charts Project and Special Projects: IND Only sections each detail in slightly different ways the content available to home educators in over 300 different subject areas for Ages 0-18. And, though at first blush the thought of parsing through the charts of interest might seem daunting, many users have confirmed that doing so is actually quite intuitive with just a little practice.

Even so, some people don't want to take time to dig into the charts for themselves and would prefer, instead, for someone else to it for them. And it is for those people that I have recently developed a paid product, THE HOMESCHOOL CURRICULUM ROUTE-FINDER TOOL - a.k.a., The Route-Finder.

If you purchase The Route-Finder, I'll send you a link to a brief survey with questions related to the different columns on The Roadmap's charts. I'll then use your answers to personally study the relevant charts on The Roadmap and create a report for you, listing all the options that will likely best suit your kids' needs. I will also make myself available afterwards for further consultation.

Each report is unique - because each parent will have a different combination of survey answers. But take a look at a few samples, generated for real parents who were kind enough to beta-test the tool for me, to give you an idea of what to expect:

Seemingly similar tools do exist elsewhere and are sometimes available for free. But The Route-Finder is different from those products in at least three ways:
  1. Other tools are often sponsored by affiliate programs and will, thus, direct you to just a few favored options. But The Homeschool Resource Roadmap - the single most comprehensive listing of homeschool-related material around - is not fueled by affiliate income. Thus, I'll share with you every possible relevant resource, not just my personal preferences;
  2. I do not use a computer-generated algorithm. Instead, every report is unique, based on each individual's answers to the survey questions. I take as much time as necessary to study The Roadmap charts and write a customized report for each client;
  3. I'm not offering The Route-Finder to collect email addresses for product promotion. While I do have plans to write at least one book - likely in the near future - I won't use your email to try to sell you anything else. The Route-Finder is a stand-alone paid product, not a marketing tool.
I've done beta-testing with over 50 people - new and veteran homeschoolers alike - and have received valuable feedback and favorable reviews. Among the most insightful of comments was one from a mom who said that The Route-Finder both expanded and narrowed her options, all at the same time. She said it enabled her to learn of several resource companies of which she'd never heard before - thus expanding her view - but simultaneously helped her to hone in on options that most fit her kids' needs, narrowing her search in a very valuable way.

Now, even as I believe that a worker is worthy of his wages (1 Timothy 5.18) and know that The Route-Finder is worth a lot in terms of the time and hassle it saves busy homeschooling parents - not to mention the fact that it will likely save its users lots of money in the long run by preventing the purchase of unhelpful curricula - I also know that most homeschoolers live with budgetary constraints.

Thus, I'm currently offering The Route-Finder at
a very reasonable introductory rate:

a one-time fee of just $19.99!

When you buy the tool, I will send you - using the email you provide with your purchase - a link to The Route-Finder survey, and I'll use the survey results to generate your customized report just as soon as possible. I'm a "one-woman show" so, if I receive a lot orders, that may take a few days, but I know you might feel under a time-crunch, so I'll do my very best to be prompt. You will receive my email address with your survey link, and/or you can contact me via The Roadmap if necessary, so you will be able to get a hold of me to check on the status of your report.

What do you think?
Would you like to see a rather extensive list of viable curricular options?
Do you want to save the time and hassle of searching The Roadmap yourself?
Would you like a veteran homeschool mom to do the digging for you?

Yes?
Then click here to purchase
THE HOMESCHOOL CURRICULUM ROUTE-FINDER TOOL:


August 11, 2020

A Plea to New Homeschoolers

Many thousands of parents have responded to the coronavirus situation as it affects conventional schools - both public and private - by choosing to leave the system and move to private, independent, home-based education (i.e., homeschooling). If you are one of those new homeschoolers - coming into homeschooling for the short- or long-term - know that we veterans will welcome and try to help you. But, in return, we ask that you keep a few very important points in mind:
1. If you are using a public school's virus-related distance learning or a virtual/charter public school, you are not homeschooling (from a legal perspective) even though your kids are at home. That's not a value judgment, just a legal reality. Actual homeschoolers operate under a different set of laws, and it's imperative to understand, acknowledge, and respect the distinctions. For a complete analysis of what is and is not homeschooling, check out this article; 
2. Current state homeschool laws have been in place for 25+ years. Modern homeschool pioneers fought hard for the freedoms inherent in those laws - some even went to jail - and bureaucrats are regularly on the lookout even to this day for ways to take that freedom away. Therefore, it's incumbent on every new homeschooler to know the law in your state and abide by it. You will have great freedom as a homeschooler - but with freedom comes the responsibility to make sure it continues for others down the line. If you knowingly flout the homeschool law just because you're new to the party and don't like the rules, you risk everyone's freedom going forward. Please don't do it; 
3. One distinct feature of homeschooling is that homeschool parents do not receive taxpayer funds or other government-sponsored stipends. We pay for our kids' resources on our own (yes, even as we're also forced to pay taxes for public schools). That doesn't seem fair and perhaps it's not - but self-funding is a hallmark of homeschooling. And the reward for using only our own money is freedom (i.e., no one has the right to say how we can or can't use our own money). Veteran homeschoolers fought long and hard to obtain and keep that freedom too. So do not come in and try to get that changed. If you want government funding, you need to go with distance learning or virtual/charter public schooling, not homeschooling; 
4. There are literally thousands of homeschool curriculum resource providers out there - over 4,800, to be precise...all of which you can see on The Homeschool Resource Roadmap (HERE for alphabetical lists and HERE if you want to start choosing what to use for your kids). And there is great diversity amongst those resources! Some will not comport with your personal/family values and you may even be "offended" by some companies' views. The answer: just don't buy that stuff. But please do not bully those who do...or talk about getting it banned (yes, that has, sadly, been happening!). There is something for every homeschooler, and it's not your job to try to control a market that has existed for almost 40 years. Spend your money as you please and don't complain about how anyone else spends theirs; 
5. The same is true for homeschool groups. If you find an existing homeschool group you don't like...move on and find a different one or start a new one yourself. It's not your job to come in and try to "reform" long-standing organizations that you don't happen to understand or like. We do truly want to help...but, as Abraham Lincoln said, "Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself..."
As you begin private homeschooling, you are coming into a beautiful, rich lifestyle choice upon which our country was actually founded - and which has been vibrant in the modern era for more than 40 years. Veterans will generously show you the ropes so you can start to build your own homeschooling "house" - we'll be your biggest cheerleaders! But please understand that we won't allow the basic blueprints of the movement to be altered by "newbies." Just as you would not walk into someone's home and start knocking down walls, please respect the history and integrity of the system you're joining. If it's not for you, that's totally fine; you have other options. If you're choosing homeschooling, though, you need to accept what it is...and is not.

July 11, 2020

Look Back and Go Forth


Much to the chagrin of experienced home educators, a large percentage of the general population still seems to think that homeschooling is a new educational model or even a fad. Driven by ill-informed and/or agenda-driven media reports, they mistakenly believe homeschooling to be a novel idea taken up recently by “religious weirdos” or wealthy, entitled elites. In fact, a lot of younger and prospective homeschoolers believe the same things because it’s all they’ve ever heard, causing them to wrestle with insecurity over their interest in home education. They worry that trying something “new” and “untested” might somehow damage their children’s growth and development.

Luckily for them, the cultural misconceptions – whether accidental or deliberate – couldn’t be further from the truth.

In point of fact, home-based learning – the practice of a child’s parents serving as his primary educators in all realms of life (physical, emotional, social/relational, spiritual, and intellectual/academic) – is as old as time and spans across all geographical regions and cultures. Though outsourcing a child’s education to paid strangers (i.e., school teachers) at younger and younger ages for more and more time each day and year is the current norm in many places, things haven’t always been as they are now. In fact, institutional schooling such as we currently know it – not homeschooling – is the actual social experiment.

In America, homeschooling in one form or another was practiced by all Native tribes and was the norm among European immigrants from the Pilgrims’ initial landing in 1620 all the way through the Civil War. Where community schools occasionally popped up during this time, children attended on a voluntary basis for a very limited amount of time, typically for only a few weeks during the winter and summer seasons and only between about age eight and 14. Parents of schooled children retained tight control over what and how teachers taught, and many never sent their kids at all. Yet literacy rates and overall educational accomplishment soared all throughout the colonial era and into the nation’s first century of existence as a republic, led by parents as their children’s main educators.

However, even as Americans spread their wings of independence after the Revolution, there remained an undercurrent of “loyalist” discontent – a cadre of individuals who longed for a return to monarchy and who shared that desire with their children and grandchildren. These parents often sent their children to European boarding schools, which had adopted Prussian ideals of militaristic structure and control. This European-trained oligarchy openly longed for European-style social stratification and a means of controlling the American “masses” for their own gain.

And they seized their opportunity to do so after the Civil War. Americans were stressed by the chaos the war had caused and longed for a return to stability. The oligarchy – led by the likes of Horace Mann, John Dewey, and the Rockefellers – took advantage of this and promoted compulsory, government-sponsored schooling as a solution, promising that if all children were taught the same things in the same (managed, regulated) way, the nation could “heal.” And, when waves of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe began streaming into America near the end of the 19th century, these same “progressive” elites used people’s fear of change to advance the cause of factory-style, government-controlled schooling even further.

Some states outlawed homeschooling outright, not because it had failed children, but merely to force resistant parents to send their children to the “public” schools. In other states, home education was never officially banned. But it became so rare as more and more families defaulted (under duress) to government schooling (or parochial schools begrudgingly tolerated by the oligarchs – as long as they adopted the public-school methods) that people thought it had been criminalized and eventually gave it up.

By the 1960s, however, the fallout from a system of institutional schooling that treated children like products on an assembly line and purposely marginalized parents and their values began to manifest. Parents from all political stripes – from counter-cultural liberals to religious conservatives and many in between – became frustrated when their concerns fell on (purposely) deaf bureaucratic ears. Through the 1970s and into the ‘80s, leaders from diverse backgrounds – John Holt and Raymond S. Moore most notably among them – began advocating for parents to take back control over their children’s education and eventually created an informal alliance that promoted a return to home-based learning. Following several protracted legal battles, homeschooling was – by 1993 – once again acknowledged as a legal means of education in every state.

It’s because homeschooling was dormant (though never completely dead) for about 80 years that people feel justified in saying it is “new” and “untested.” But, of course, a practice that has existed throughout time and across cultures and then predominated for 280 years of American history before taking a relatively short, coerced hiatus is neither new nor untested. Rather, it is a time-honored approach that was asleep for a time but has now been reawakened. And even if we only consider “modern homeschooling,” that movement is at least 50 years old; it’s obviously not “new.”

We homeschoolers must embrace our movement’s long, venerable history as we go forward. Even though we look “radical” compared to the current cultural norm, we can hold our heads high if we understand that our critics are simply ignorant of true history on this subject. We’re not walking away from tried-and-true educational practices and, thus, jeopardizing our kids’ well-being. No. We’re actually walking away from a dangerous experiment gone bad. And we’re returning to a rich, family-based lifestyle of holistic learning that’s been passed down for thousands of years all around the globe in order to fully meet our responsibility as parents.

You are called to educate your children at home according to your convictions and values because you know them better and love them more than anyone else on the planet ever could. Walk in confidence with the history of the ages behind you and your best dreams and hopes for your precious children ahead. Look back and go forth.

*****
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Gaither, Milton. Homeschool: An American History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 
Gatto, John Taylor. The Underground History of American Education. New York: The Oxford Village Press, 2001.
Murphy, Joseph. Homeschooling in America: Capturing and Assessing the Movement. Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin, 2012. 

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