Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Great Homeschooling Balloon Release

Have you ever lost a helium balloon?    You accidentally let go of the string while outside, only to watch helplessly as it floated away?  Did you wonder where it went?   We decided to answer that question.  On Saturday morning, April 30th, a group of homeschooling families met at Kenneth Bernard Park in Lansing, Kansas.  17 kids and 10 adults released fifty helium balloons into the air with a card attached asking the finder to email us and tell us when and where they found the card.  We wanted to track the distance an average helium balloon will travel when released.   If you hop over to Where Is My Balloon? you can read about the release, look at pictures, and watch a short video of the release.  If you watch closely, you might even catch a glimpse of Captain Chaos.  At the bottom of the web page there is a map for tracking where the balloons and/or cards land.  We’ll add a push pin to the map with the location for each response that we receive.   Everyone had a good time!
Track the progress of our balloons at

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Teachers Say the Problem with Education is Parenting (and for once I agree with them)

Deputy Political Editor Alison Little wrote an interesting article in the Monday April 25,2011, edition of the UK Daily and Sunday Express Newspaper online. 
HOW LAX PARENTS PACK OFF PUPILS WITH PHONE AND IPOD...BUT NO PEN : Nearly half of the teachers questioned said children did not come to school ready to learn
PARENTS were blamed for classroom failures yesterday after teachers said too many children turn up loaded with the latest technology but lacking basic essentials like pens.
Some 68 per cent of 8,000 teachers questioned by the NASUWT union said lack of parental support was a major cause of pupil bad behaviour.
Nearly half said children did not come to school ready to learn, with a quarter blaming the influence of television, the media and video games. They said pupils were distracted by their phones and other gadgets.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates told its conference in Glasgow: “Parents can’t simply abandon their responsibilities at the school gate. Sending their child to school with basic equipment, on time, with homework completed and with clear expectations of how they expect them to behave in school, is a critical part of their role.
“Too many pupils arrive at school with mobile phones, iPods and MP3 players when teachers just wish they would bring a pen. Hours of valuable teaching and learning time are clearly being lost in lessons every day through pupils not being ready to learn.”
I have long maintained the single biggest problem facing public school education cannot be solved by creating new programs or spending more money in the classroom.  The single biggest problem facing public school education is a lack of parental support, and the reality is that proper parenting cannot be legislated.  It doesn’t matter how much money is spent on computers for a school.  If little Johnny’s parents don’t require him to complete his homework, if they don’t monitor his progress, if they don’t sit and read with him in the evening, if they don’t instill discipline at home, the odds are Johnny won’t succeed in the classroom. 
There are no better examples of active parenting than in the homeschooling community.  That is why the results of study after study reveal that homeschooled children outperform their peers on academic tests at all levels.    

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Afternoon with the Speech Therapist

We received a note from our daughter’s speech therapist this afternoon telling us about a “comparing/classifying” activity on which they worked. 
The therapist showed Captain Chaos three pictures.  One was a picture of a cat, one was of a horse, and the last picture was of a kitten.  “Which ones go together?” she asked.
“The cats,” my daughter replied.
“Why?” her therapist asked. 
“Because I don’t like cats,” Captain Chaos responded.
The therapist showed three more pictures: a boy, a bird, and a bike.  “Which ones go together?” she asked.
“The boy and the bike,” my daughter replied.
“Why?” the therapist asked.
“Because the boy let the bird out,” the Captain explained.
Near the bottom of the note the therapist explained that on this exercise the girl could earn 1 point for correctly telling which two pictures went together, and 1 point for correctly explaining why.  She further stated that the Captain only got one “why” question correct because she correctly identified a pear and an apple as fruit, and ultimately earned a 50% on the exercise.
I’m not so sure.
Placing a cat and a kitten together in the category of “things I hate” seems like a logical answer to me.
And, who knows?  Maybe the boy did let the bird out!       

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Is Risen!!

Matthew 28

Jesus Has Risen
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:1-8, New International Version, ©2011)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Guest Post at The Homeschool Village: Homeschooling Through High School

If you’ve homeschooled for any length of time, it’s the question you get asked almost as often as the dreaded “socialization” question.  And if you’re thinking about homeschooling, or just starting out, it’s the question you’d most like to ask a homeschool veteran.

Can I really homeschool my child all the way through high school?”

In fact, the thought of homeschooling a child through the high school years can fill even an experienced homeschooler with a degree of insecurity and fear!  For homeschoolers facing the high school years, the road ahead can seem uncertain, filled with potholes, curves, and many unanswered questions.  Though questions abound, answers are also plentiful.  Today, more than ever before, homeschoolers CAN educate their children through high school—and with great success!  

So what are the keys to approaching the high school years with confidence?

Read more at The Homeschool Village Blog.....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A View from Inside: A Homeschooled Teacher in a Public School Classroom

I remember it well.  The years have not diminished the memory of the night I decided to homeschool.  I was a recently certified teacher with a brand new husband and a teaching job in a suburban elementary school.

That night I finished reading Child Abuse in the Classroom by Phyllis Schlafly.  In her book, Ms. Schlafly highlighted the alarming trend of secular ideology and practice—tolerance, relativism, values clarification—being shoved down the throats of unsuspecting school children (without parental knowledge or approval) during the late 70’s and early 80’s.  (Bill Muehlenberg of CultureWatch  has done an outstanding review of Child Abuse in the Classroom here.) The things I read about the agenda of secular education fueled my growing concerns about a profession that I had worked hard to prepare for.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that all I had learned, observed, and experienced during my years of preparation for the teaching profession suddenly seemed to collide with everything I believed to be right and true.  Ironically, the revelation did nothing to diminish my desire to teach.  Rather, in that moment, I knew that my own children would not spend one moment in a public elementary or secondary school classroom.  And they haven’t.  At least not as students.

Two years ago, after 13 years of home education and 3 years in university classrooms as an education major, Darcy, my oldest daughter, took her very first step into a public school classroom in the role of student teacher.  And not surprisingly, she quickly began to experience the same conflict of ideology that I had experienced almost 25 years before.  Like me, the recognition of this conflict resulted in a shift in her thinking, and a reshaping of her goals for her future.  In the end Darcy's experience moved her away from a career as a public school teacher and toward a career as a teacher, tutor and advocate for homeschool  families.  

So what can this homeschool-student-turned-public-school-teacher's experience in the classroom teach us about public education?

  • If you are looking for a positive socialization experience for your child, the public school classroom is not the place to find it.  Place a polite, obedient child in classroom full of distractable, disobedient, and disrespectful children and watch the socialization process begin to work its magic.  In most cases, within a stunningly short period of time, in terms of attitude and behavior, this formerly “good” child will be indistinguishable from his peers. 
  • In a public school classroom, a significant portion of the day is dedicated to activities that have nothing to do with learning.  During a typical seven-hour school day, time spent in classroom management, behavior management, and various other non-academic time-stealers greatly reduce the amount of time available for actual academics.
  • Outside of the classroom, a teacher’s time is often taken up with copious amounts of administrative paper-pushing—required duties that greatly reduce the time available for teaching preparation.  These duties can leave teachers feeling drained and frustrated…before a single lesson has even been taught!
  • The most successful students in public school are actually homeschooled students.  HUH? That’s right…parental involvement in the life of a student is the single most important factor in creating success in the classroom. In many cases, the most successful students are being actively taught by a parent or other adult outside of the school classroom. Honest teachers will admit that parental involvement always enhances what is being accomplished in school, and in many cases, compensates for a less-than-optimal school experience (though teachers might not tell you that part.)
  • Highly successful students are the exception in public schools.  The status quo (or below) is the norm. 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when the skeptics (often public school teachers who can't see the forest for the trees) criticize homeschooling, they often do so by raising arguments that sound a lot like this:
    Children belong in government regulated schools where trained professionals are committed to, and equipped to provide for, the success of every child.  Parents are not qualified to teach their own children and by choosing to homeschool, they put their children at risk of failing academically.

    Increasingly, a cry is being heard calling for government regulation of homeschools.  That wouldn’t be quite so ridiculous if public schools were consistently successful at educating the children they are already responsible for.  But national statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Education  suggest otherwise.

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the area of math, national test results (2007) reveal that 62% of 4th grade students are at or below Basic level of achievement.   In the area of reading, results reveal that 68% of 4th graders are at or below Basic achievement.  In math and reading, 69% and 70% of eighth graders were at or below basic, respectively.  And what exactly do those numbers mean?  By definition, basic achievement denotes “partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade assessed.”   Listen to that again…basic achievement denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficiency at the grade level assessed.   That means that approximately 2/3 of all 4th and 8th grade students in U.S. public schools have only partially mastered the fundamental skills necessary for academic proficiency!  And this is a national average.  The achievement statistics for some states and urban districts are absolutely abysmal!  In fact, in my own home state of Illinois, recent test scores suggest that across all grade levels, more than 495,000 publicly-schooled students are falling through the academic cracks.  And yet, there are state legislators that feel it necessary to regulate the estimated 50,000 Illinois homeschoolers for fear that some of them might be falling through the cracks.

    At the heart of the matter is this: statistics suggest that government-run schools staffed by state-certified teachers are failing to provide the majority of their students with a basic level of proficiency in required knowledge and skills.  Successful students are NOT the norm in our nation’s schools.  It is absolutely appalling that anyone associated with the state-run education community should dare to suggest that a system that is failing so many children should attempt to provide oversight for anyone. Public schools should attempt to rescue the kids trapped in their own burning buildings before they come looking to extinguish the small fires that might be burning in ours. 

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Thank You for Your Help

    Overall, Captain Chaos has made gains in speech/language thanks to your help as parents.
    That sentence was written in our daughter’s draft IEP by her Apathy Elementary School speech therapist. The Captain attends the local elementery school to receive speech and occupational therapy.  The bulk of her academic instruction is accomplished at home.  I know that the comment was meant to be a compliment towards us.  Unfortunately, I also cannot help but think that it reflects the fact that the perspective of this particular elementary school employee is completely backwards.  She is thanking us for our help as parents, as if teaching my daughter is her primary responsibility.  We’re simply there to assist.   Captain Chaos spends 40 minutes each week in a group setting directly working with her speech therapist.  40 Minutes!  And we’re helping.  This woman must be one whiz-bang therapist if she’s doing the bulk of the work during a 40 minute group session, while our daughter is with us during the remaining 10,040 minutes in the week.  In reality, that was a sentence that we should write to the therapist.   Overall, Captain Chaos has made gains in speech/language thanks to your help as her therapist. 
    Hey, public schools, can we please keep things in their proper perspective? 

    Addendum:  Our daughter’s speech therapist doubled-down on her original comment, thanking us in person for “helping” with our daughter’s education.  It was amazing.  I kept my tongue.  Two years ago, I unintentionally reduced this woman to tears when I called her out publicly in an IEP meeting for her complete failure to communicate with us concerning our daughter’s progress.   I told her I was seriously considering having her removed as our daughter’s therapist.  Today, I didn’t feel like shooting a fish in a barrel. 

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Homeschooling Works!

    Okay, so can we have a praise God moment? 
    Each week at the end of karate class, the entire class says, “I promise to respect my parents.  I promise to listen to my teachers.  I promise to never misuse my karate.”   It is our karate oath.  Last week, our sensei gave the class a homework assignment.  We were asked to write the karate oath on a sheet of paper and bring it to class. 
    Yesterday afternoon, I sat down with Captain Chaos, my six-year-old daughter, and asked her to recite the karate oath.  She did.  Then I gave her a piece of paper and a pencil, and helped her write her oath.  Please allow me to qualify “help.”  She did all the work.  I sat next to her, kept her focused, and guided her on “w” and “y," two letters that still give her trouble. This was a big test of her abilities.  Some of you do know, but most of you do not, that Captain Chaos had a stroke when she was four months old.  There was damage to both hemispheres.  Her left side was affected harder than her right, but there are muscle loss/motor control issues with her right hand.  For both physical and cognitive developmental reasons, we decided to hold our daughter back from first grade one year, and focus on three primary goals during this kindergarten year.  One was to teach her how to add.  The second was to teach her how to read.  The third was to teach her how to write. And yesterday she wrote:

    This is a “Thank you, God!” moment.  This is an enormous achievement that is the result of years of prayer, therapy, hard work, and love.  This is the first time that our daughter sat down and wrote a sentence, let alone three.  My wife and I cannot help but remember looking at a very young girl on life support and wondering what the future would hold.  We looked at the Captain’s efforts yesterday and saw a blessing from above.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!
    We know that as dedicated as our local school might be, they were not capable of giving the Captain the attention that she needed to get to this developmental milestone.    Our family has been blessed abundantly, and the ability to homeschool is one of those blessings.    Let’s all remain vigilant and work to keep homeschooling available to everyone.   
    Homeschooling works! 

    (An unsolicited addendum:  This is Linda, Arby's very devious blogging partner.  I love, love, love this post.  And I wanted some Hip Homeschool Moms to get a chance to read this amazing homeschool moment from one of the hippest homeschool dads I know.  Sooo...sorry, Arby.  You're now an honorary member of the Hip Homeschool (Mom) Hop.  I voted you in.)

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    The 2011 MPE Homeschooling Convention: They Survived Our Appearance

    The Boss didn’t mean to insult the Alpha & Omega sales representatives when she stood in the middle of the vendor’s hall at the Midwest Parent Educator’s annual homeschool convention and enthusiastically announced, “I finally figured why I hate your curriculum!”  I couldn’t help but laugh.  Her energy and enthusiasm was genuine, as was the smile on her face.  The sales rep looked like she had been slapped.  I was reading through their Communication Lifepac in search of the perfect curriculum for teaching a speech class when my wife made her announcement.   Her complaint wasn’t based on the content of A & O’s curriculum, merely the fact that the Lifepac series comes in a series of large, thin pamphlet-style books that would easily get lost in our house.  We have a hard time keeping track of large, heavy text books.  This explanation did little to erase the look of polite distaste on the saleslady’s face, who replied, “It does come in a box,” before she wandered off to the far end of her display to patiently await her next customer while I complimented my wife on her tact and diplomacy.
    “But I meant it as a criticism of ourselves!” she protested.
    This was pretty much a standard date for us.  We walked through the vendor’s hall hand-in-hand, oblivious to the crowds around us as we talked about homeschooling, the children, and our teaching goals while sharing astute observations about the displays, such as Levi and the Levites were famous pants makers.  Our oldest son, General Mayhem, was watching his two younger siblings, and we were but a phone call away from any potential problems.  There were only three phone calls yesterday, but no emergency rooms bills, and the police weren’t waiting on the door step when we arrived home.  I’d say that was a good date.  We had a lot of fun.
    I’m always amused by the sales techniques used in these vendor halls.  There is a large segment of the publishing world that targets Christian homeschoolers by using the words “from a Christian perspective” as often as possible during a presentation.   Yesterday’s winner was the woman selling her state geography “from a Christian perspective” curriculum.   The geopolitical information in her geography workbooks was rather factual in nature, but that didn’t dissuade her from pointing out that Indiana became a state on December 11, 1816, from a Christian perspective.  Because, you know, from a secular perspective it happened in the 1820’s. 
    The highlight of the afternoon was meeting a woman named Carol Barnier.  She was an extremely funny lady who was selling a pair of books that she had written about teaching highly distractible children: How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and on to Learning and If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby?   There was a picture on her table of a young boy reading a book inside of a clothes dryer.  That caught our attention.   We have a child who would do that.  Well, two, actually.    We stood and talked about one clear fact, parents who do not have highly distractible children simply do not understand what life is like for those of us who do.  Those calm, polite, cooperative children who sit silently in church next to their parents and keep themselves occupied during services?  Yeah, we don’t have one of those.  And we never will.  We have the children who ask in that unnaturally loud and clear voice that a child can only produce in the middle of our pastor’s sermon, “Is he finished talking yet?”  Carol encouraged the Boss to add a comment to a contest on the Sizzle Bop Blog.  It was the “I Never Thought I’d Say THAT!” contest, and Carol truly enjoyed my wife’s all-time favorite sentence that she never thought she’d say to her children, “Take the fork out of your butt!”   You need to read the entries in that contest here.   She also enjoyed hearing about the day I looked out the kitchen window to see Captain Chaos pushing a chicken in her baby swing while our middle child, Major Havoc, pushed a chicken down our yellow wavy slide.  Chickens don’t like wavy slides.    They hit the first hump and those little wings are flapping hard, desperately searching for enough lift to escape the maniacally laughing eight year old.  
    There were other fun moments, including a phone call to the Customer Service Department of Rainbow Resources after their cashier at the convention conducted my entire purchase while talking about Facebook on her cell phone with a friend.  The woman never once said a word to me, and only indicated who was next in line to make a purchase by pointing a finger.  I used my cell phone to call customer service, standing a few feet away from the cashier while she continued her rudeness with another customer.  The customer service rep was angry, and immediately put me in touch with her supervisor, who was so shocked and surprised that she found it difficult to find the right words to apologize.  I simply thanked her for listening.  She assured me that she would address this breech of courtesy as soon as possible.  
    The Boss and I had a great afternoon at the convention, laughing, enjoying each other’s company, and searching for curriculum for next year.  That’s the way homeschooling should be.  

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    What Do They Know? What Do You Think They Know?

    When I told my daughter, Captain Chaos, that it was time to start her schoolwork, she responded with great energy. 
    “I know what we can do!” she exclaimed as she ran off to her pink plastic milk crate filled with books. 
    She bypassed our entire standard curriculum and returned with a School Zone kindergarten workbook, one of those books you can find on the shelves at your local Wal*mart.   We worked on a page that asked the young girl to correctly identify the order of events pictured by writing a 1, 2, or 3 under each picture. 

    The first three pictures showed a boy ordering a hamburger off of a menu at a restaurant.  She correctly identified the order of events: read the menu, deliver the food, and eat the hamburger.  Then we came to the second series of pictures.  You can see by her answers her idea of the correct order of events, and no amount of questioning or suggesting could shake her belief that the dog first sat on its bone, then dug up the bone, and then returned it to its master.   Her six-year-old logic was unshakeable.
    Page two was marginally better. 
    At the bottom of the page she quickly ordered the events pictured from baby to girl to woman.  No problems.  But building a snowman?  As you can see, she put the pictures in perfect reverse order.  
    “Captain, what is the first thing you have to do if you are going to make a snowman?” I asked her.
    She pointed to the first picture.  “Make a big snowball!” she exclaimed.
    “Okay, but before you make a big snowball, there is something you have to do first,” I coached.
    She pointed to the snowman’s face in the second picture.  “You need to get a carrot for the snowman’s nose, you goofy-head!” she replied, lovingly patient with my ignorance.
    What could I have been thinking?     
    Several attempts at leading her though the correct order of events failed.  I know a lost cause when I see one, so I let the girl run off to play while I put away the workbook and collected the rest of her lessons. 
    Why was it so easy for her to identify the order of operations in two sets of pictures but be completely clueless about the other two?  The answer came to me when she pointed to the snowman.  We don’t get much snow here.  In her entire lifetime, we’ve only built one snowman.    She understands that people grow up from babies to children to adults.  Her doll play along with her own development and her relationship to adults shows her that.  She also eats in restaurants.  But neither of our dogs digs holes to bury bones.  They eat them, growling the entire time at our chickens who try to steal a beef knuckle for their own enjoyment.  The process of a dog burying a bone simply isn’t in her knowledge base, so the pictures made absolutely no sense to her.  And I couldn’t explain it in a manner that made sense.
    I know.  I’m a goofy-head.
    It’s easy to forget that our children have a knowledge base from which they operate.  It’s equally easy to assume that they understand something that we’ve known for so long that we forget when we learned it.  Dogs bury bones.  That’s a “fact.”  It doesn’t matter that I’ve never seen a dog bury a bone outside of “Butch” from Tom & Jerry.  I’ve been told they do from countless sources.  This made me wonder, how often do we make assumptions about our children’s knowledge base that turn out to be untrue? 
    What have you learned about what your child does and does not know, and how did you learn it?

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Home Spun Comic #15 - Stealth Teaching

    I'm certain every homeschooling parent can identify with this early comic from Cristina's collection. 

    You can find more of Cristina's comics at Home Spun Juggling.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Homeschooling Gone Haywire

    The reading comprehension worksheet had a heartwarming story.
    Annie Sullivan had a hard life.  She grew up alone and very poor.  Anne had trouble with her eyes, too.  She could not see well.
    One day after Annie grew up, a family called her.  They needed help with their daughter.  Their little girl’s name was Helen Keller.  Helen needed a teacher.
    Helen could not see.  She could not hear, either.  She felt scared and alone.  Annie wanted to help Helen.  She wanted to be able to talk to her.
    The worksheet went on to explain how sitting next to a water pump one day, Annie taught Helen the word “water.”  It was the break-through that allowed Annie to teach Helen how to communicate. 
    At the end of the reading passage there were four multiple choice questions to test my young reader’s comprehension abilities.  And then there was the one fill-in-the-blank question.  How well did my young reader connect with the content of the reading excerpt? 
    With all the empathy that an eight year old boy could muster, Major Havoc wrote:
    A time when it was hard to learn something new was not to fart at the dinner table.
    He really captured the emotional scope of the story, didn’t he?
    We’ll try again tomorrow.