let kids watch beauty and the beast

I homeschool for liberty

I homeschool for liberty . . . their liberty, our liberty and the liberty of our nation.

homeschool liberty

Their liberty

I want my children to have some control over what they are learning. They need time to follow their passions and sometimes even to just be bored. My eldest’s obsession with horses led her to read every book she could find, even after we finally bought her one. And her love and hours in self-directed study seem to be turning themselves into a career.

I enjoy the freedom to take them to the zoo or the museum or even just for a hike in the woods. We have all of Nebraska as our classroom and the lessons learned in the woods are just as important as those learned in a text book.

They learn from living books, from others who are passionate about their fields and from life. What better curriculum is there?

Our liberty

I am Christian and I do believe that the education of our children is our primary responsibility within our family. I don’t see sending your child to public school as sin and I hold no judgment against those who choose that option. However, sending a child off to school (public or private) does not absolve a parent from the responsibility of teaching their children in the Lord. I happen to find that much easier at home.

And it’s not that we isolate them. I just strive to hold Christ as the standard and encourage them to compare what they see in history, in literature and in our culture to what the Bible says about how we should live.

I wish to maintain this liberty we have from how the state believes children should be educated. The state is primarily interested in producing good workers for industry. I am primarily interested in expanding the kingdom of God. That’s why I write about the problems with vouchers for homeschoolers. That’s why I keep an eye on our own state legislature. And that’s why I am looking for more ways to join the fight for educational liberty in the United States. If the minds of our children cannot remain free from the influence of the state, what area of our lives can?

The liberty of our nation

That sounds rather dramatic, but really, what is the greatest threat to our liberty today? It isn’t government overreach. It’s voters who ask for it. It’s citizens who don’t bother to vote. And it’s people who lack the self control necessary for liberty. Because at some point, the state has to step in to protect the lives and properties of others.

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” ~John Adams

Liberty is only possible when the citizenry is capable of governing themselves. We have to learn to value liberty and to exercise self-control in order to be worthy of it. That’s why I homeschool to educate my children for liberty. I strive to foster in them a love for liberty and inculcate in them values and habits worthy of that liberty. Because in the end, the only true liberty is that found in Christ.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Check out what I’ve written so far!

A is for Adventure
B is for Boredom
C is for Christ
D is for Daydreaming
E is for Every day
F is for Failure
G is for Grow
H is for Homework
I is for Impromptu field trips
J is for Just enough
K is for Kindle their fire

Image courtesy of wikimedia under a Creative Commons license.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

School vouchers do not equal school choice

Over the last week, I’ve seen a lot more support coming out for school vouchers under The Choices in Education Act (H.R. 610). A common thread in discussions I’ve had on facebook is, “So you object to something you are afraid will happen?” No, not really. This isn’t a hypothetical. It isn’t just “a foot in the door” or a “slippery slope.” It is simply what will happen . . . what is happening . . . what has happened. Only instead of applying solely to private schools accpeting vouchers, it will extend to homeschools as well.

school vouchers do not equal school choice

School vouchers do not equal school choice.

Issues in Education, a conservative Christian radio program discussing issues in education (as the title might suggest) ran a two part series supporting vouchers. (I heard the re-airing Sunday). They come out in strong support, quoting Milton Friedman,

“Choice doesn’t take money from public schools but gives the money to schools that teach the kids.”

And claiming that these vouchers will help parents get their children out of poor performing public schools and into private schools which do a better job of education at a lower cost. They see it as an opportunity to not only stop Christians from having to pay for a secular institution, but as an opportunity to take state money to evangelize secular youth.

But we now have 14 states plus the Disctrict of Columbia with a voucher system in place. Issues in Education highlights Nevada as the first state to give universal free choice to all students. Which isn’t even true. I think they mean that Nevada is the first state to make vouchers available to all students, but tax money is not the same as choice. The choice was there before, the only difference was the funding.

With state funding comes state control.

Even in Nevada. At the moment, Nevada’s regulations are pretty light. But the State Supreme Court ruling which (at least temporarily) blocked the implementation of the voucher system specifically states,

“We recognize the ESA program imposes conditions on the parents’ use of the funds in their account and also provides State oversight of the education savings accounts to ensure those conditions are met.” Nevada Homeschool Network

And like I said, Nevada’s requirements were light. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states with voucher systems in place have accountability measures in place.

Accountability policies that oversee the performance of private school choice programs primarily focus on setting standards private schools must meet in order to accept participating students. Additionally, states may choose to collect and evaluate performance data on students participating in a school choice program. While every state with a private school choice program enforces some level of accountability, states vary widely in what they require from private schools.

Setting standards, standardized testing, collecting data. The exact same things we have been fighting from the beginning. But now because federal legislation mentions “homeschooling” in relation to vouchers, it will draw us under the same accountability umbrella.

The government does not have a monopoly on education. Yet.

Another conservative, Christian homeschool advocate, Mimi Rothschild, also favors vouchers. Enough to start collecting signatures for a petition on Change.org. After a brief description of what vouchers are and how America’s schools are failing, she writes,

“HB 610 effectively breaks up the governments monopoly on education. Monopolies are bad for everyone because when you only have one choice, there is no incentive for that provider to earn your business by building a better, cheaper product or service. Subject to the principles of free enterprise, schools will improve because they will be incentivized and rewarded when they offer a better school.  Schools who fail our children will die as they should. Schools who provide a great education will grow and compete for our business. America wins.”

But the government does not have a monopoly on education. We have private schools in every state. We have the right to homeschool in every state. We have public schools in every state. We already have choice in education in every state. This bill does nothing to expand our choices, protect our rights or expand our liberties.

Like Issues in Education, I believe Mrs. Rothschild is conflating government money with private choice.

Distributing government money not only allows but requires accountability measures to be put into place to guarantee that tax dollars are being spent in accordance with the educational goals of the state. Vice President Mike Pence worked hard on the voucher program for Indiana. Now all private schools receiving voucher money are required to administer the state assessment and are graded according to the state’s school grading system. 

Assessment shapes teaching. And bringing all schools, whether public, private or homeschools, under one test is a monopoly. A monopoly that will be aided by vouchers.

Not to mention the fact that Indiana homeschoolers currently do not even have to report their decision to homeschool to the state. That level of independence is not possible if school vouchers include homeschools.

She is right that the two most powerful education lobbies oppose vouchers. But she ignores the fact that HSLDA, the most powerful lobby in favor of homeschooling, also opposes these vouchers.

Taxes should be about raising revenue, not influencing behavior.

When I read the arguments in favor of vouchers for homeschoolers, I realize I may have a fundamentally different view of government than even many of my fellow Christian conservatives. I keep reading,

“But it’s my money. There’s nothing wrong with getting some of it back.”

But it isn’t mine. Not once it’s withheld. Then it becomes “our” money. Nebraska’s money. America’s money. It is there to do things like defend the nation from attack, build roads and catch criminals. We can debate what exactly falls under “the common good,” but that money is supposed to serve our common interests, not mine personally.

And really, if the government viewed it as my money, why would they take it to begin with? Why are we discussing vouchers and not lowering taxes? Why are we discussing vouchers and not expanding the child tax credit? What sense does it make to take my money just to give a percentage of it back to me?

Because it is about control. Even if the control is minimal, the state wants to make sure I spend it on “appropriate educational expenses.” But why should they decide whether my family is in greater need of a new curriculum or new clothes? In any decent family, an increase in income will result in better conditions for the children. And where that isn’t the case? Well, no amount of government regulation on the direction the money goes is going to help.

What can we do?

Call your representative. Outline your concerns and ask that homeschooling be dropped from the legislation.

Contact Issues in Education or other conservative programs you hear in suppport of school vouchers. They clearly want to increase choice in education, but I don’t think they have looked closely at what has happened to other institutions that started receiving government money.

Stay in the conversation. Discuss the issue on forums and social media. Share posts with good information. Let people know that there is more to school vouchers than just “school choice.”

let kids watch beauty and the beast

That Time We Got Lost in the Woods

This week, the Virtual Curriculum Fair’s theme is Exploring our World. What better place is there to explore than the woods? And what better story than that time I got lost? With all my children? As the sun was setting?

Getting lost in the woods

It started off simply enough. I drove out to Mahoney State Park, intending on watching the kids at the playground while my daughter attended an event. Except we were supposed to be at Mahoney Park in Lincoln, not Mahoney State Park in Ashland. Thinking back, maybe I should have taken this as some sort of omen. I mean, we couldn’t even get to the right public park on public roads using GPS. Why ever did I think it was a good idea to take my entire brood — six children aged 2 through 17 — traipsing off into the woods?

But I had just been thinking about how nice it would be to get out more with the children. Explore some of Nebraska’s natural beauty. Combine exercise, family time and getting to know Nebraska. And here I was, the brand new owner of a State Park Pass. It was perfect.

And this is Mahoney State Park. 690 acres which consists mostly of lodges, meeting areas a campground and a golf course. I go here for writer’s conferences. What could go wrong? Seriously. My fellow Nebraskans are probably laughing at the idea of anyone getting lost in Mahoney. It’s not like I just skipped off into the back country of Yellowstone. It’s more like I wandered into the trees in a city park and couldn’t find my way out.

So, yeah. I mentioned a hike in the woods and the children cheered. They wanted the longest possible hike. I picked one that had options. The entire trail was a couple miles, but there were several points where we could just leave the trail and go back to the road and walk back. Because it was late on an October afternoon and I didn’t want to be in the woods in the dark, no matter how small and nearly urban those woods may be.

The trail was rough. Far rougher than I was expecting. Most of our hikes have been on the tamed and heavily mulched trails of Pioneers Park in Lincoln. Suddenly, we were met with obstacles. Drop offs. Places where injury could occur if you didn’t stay on the trail. And it didn’t take long until even staying on the path was no guarantee for safety. Not that it was dangerous, per se. Just that it wasn’t like walking on a mulched trail in Lincoln. There were steep inclines and places where you just sort of had to try to keep your feet under you and slow the descent as much as possible. One such spot landed me face first in the mud at the bottom.

Which was actually kind of funny.

But this was not exactly what I had in mind. Upon reaching the first such descent, I contemplated turning back. But the children were so . . . alive. All their senses were alert as they took in the woods and the activity and this sense of real adventure on a real trail that they actually had to climb to navigate. So I staged the children on the trail, passed Asa down to my son who then passed him down to my daughter and we embarked on this adventure.

And it was an adventure. The children decided they were members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and perhaps the first white people to ever traverse this untamed wild. We saw so many tracks. Deer, raccoon, coyote. There is something about being on a rough-hewn trail in the wilderness that sparks the imagination. And the sense of togetherness.

It was all so right. It was everything I hoped to share with my children through my vague plans of exploring Nebraska’s state parks.

Until the trail we were on just didn’t seem to end. We walked and walked, following the trail, eyeing the sun as it sank lower and lower in the skies. It was below the trees, now, shining through the trunks, calling for us to hurry. It would be getting dark soon. And while I was sure the lights from the campground and the interstate could guide us back to civilization, I was not so sure I wanted to navigate these trails in the dark. Where we could just walk off a drop off and possibly break a leg. I looked at the trail map. It wasn’t a perfect map. But it clearly indicated that this trail should be circling along the outside edge of the treeline and heading back to the campground. But it just kept meandering, on and on. I began to suspect we were not on a trail at all.

At least not one made by park rangers and plotted on a map.

This was one of those spontaneous trails that sprout up in the woods. Trails that seem to be for a ways and then fade away. Trails that disappear when you turn around to try to make your way back.

And I had all my children with me.

I called them to a halt. The first reds and oranges of the sunset were already appearing above the horizon. We had to think through what was best. We could continue forth and hope this trail was indeed the correct one. We had to be close. We had already been walking for too long. Or we could go back. If we got to the creek, it would lead us to the outer fence that would lead us back toward the trail head . . . and several outlets near the campground. This ground was flat. A little less intimidating in the dark. But heading back was heading toward something that was known.

We decided to turn back and move quickly. But the trail instantly turned into a dozen trails, winding this way and that, confirming that we were not on a trail at all.

“We might be spending the night here,” I said aloud.

I hadn’t really meant to say it. I was just trying to figure out what to do.

“We’ll freeze!”

We were just standing in the woods, looking first one way, then the other. I kept staring at the now useless map, trying to make these passageways through the undergrowth into an actual trail.

“No. It’s only supposed to get down to 45 tonight. That’s cold, but I’ve slept in colder. Did I tell you about the time my hair froze to the side of the tent?”

Their eyes were wide. I thought better of telling them that story just then.

“We’ll be fine. We’ll be cold, but we’ll be fine.”

I looked at the colors of the setting sun. That was west. That meant this way was south. South should be the quickest way back to the park road. I could keep us going south as long as there was light on the horizon.

“We’ll brush away a little hollow at the base of one of these trees and you will all snuggle in a family pile. I’ll spread all of our jackets over you like one big blanket and your body heat will keep you warm. I’ll stay up to make sure you’re safe.”

I wanted to give them some sense of calm. Some sense that even the worst case scenario wasn’t that bad. It wouldn’t be a comfortable night, but there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of. But I so wished my husband were home. If he had been home, I would have been certain that at some point, he and a park ranger would come marching through the woods with flash lights until they found us.

Instead, we left what hints of a trail surrounded us and I marched them straight south through the undergrowth as fast as we could move.

We came out of the woods in a clearing and were greeted by five deer. Five breathtakingly beautiful deer. We were on the horse trail. The kids were convinced we would be jailed for walking on it because there were signs at the gate warning against entry. I just felt relief. The trail was broad and clear and regardless of which way we went, it would end up back at the horses.

We were safe. We were free. We were on our way home.

And it amazed me how thin and fragile this line is between civilization and the wild. A trail had been left to overgrow and sent us wandering through the woods, less than a mile from roads and houses and people, and yet there had been a very real chance of getting stranded. One mistake, one miscalculation and we were lost in the wooded area of an otherwise busy state park. There was a time when people hiked off into the wilderness and simply lived off the land for months at a time. Now we aren’t sure what to do for one uncomfortable night and the thought of being forced to fills us with fear.

But adventure is just hardship that ends well.

And do you know what my children ask for every time we go out for a family day? A hike at Mahoney State Park.

I haven’t quite had the courage to go back. But when we do, it will be with a flashlight and a cell phone.

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Exploring Our World this week:

Note: all links will be LIVE by Monday 1/23 at noon EST.

Notebooking Our Way through History by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Studying the Where and How by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays

The History of Our Mysterious Struggle With History by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Social Science, Science and Exploring our World – Our Path by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Learning History Through Fiction by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

History in Our Homeschool by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Exploring Our World Through History And Science by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Bringing History to Life! by Yvie @ Gypsy Road

History, Living Books and the Imagination by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Exploring our world comes in many different forms. by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Bible, History and Geography by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Beyond the Books – Social Studies and Science by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Exploring the World with Living Books by Brittney @ Mom’s Heart

High School History & Science without Textbooks by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Exploring the World Starting with Canada by Annette @ A Net in Time

Visit The World Through Video by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

Nature Study is Our Favorite Way to Do Science by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully

What A Wonderful World by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

The Time we got Lost in the Woods by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acres

What a World by Jennifer King @ Worth A Bowed Head

 

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Everything you need to homeschool preschool (and you probably don’t need to buy anything at all)

Sitting around chatting with other homeschoolers, they almost invariably ask, “So what curriculum do you use to homeschool your preschooler?” And I stumble around for words, trying to explain what it is exactly we do. I know it comes out sounding more like, “Oh, we don’t do anything at all!”

homeschool preschool

Except that isn’t true. What I really want to say is something more like this. Preschool means pre – school. Before school. To have curriculum before school seems, well, somewhat disingenuous. I believe that children at that age should be running, jumping, climbing and exploring. They should be splashing in puddles, making forts under your furniture and asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” A quality preschool should actually be Plan B, an institution’s best attempt at imitating family life, not the other way round.

Play is the work of a child.

Especially a young child. And to push curriculum . . . textbooks and workshets . . . too early interrupts their natural intellectual and emotional development.

Research backs this up over and over. As Germany was beginning to move away from play-based kindergartens (note that “kindergarten” in Germany is more like preschool here and takes children ages 3 – 5) and more toward instruction focused early learning, they conducted large scale research involving 100 kindergartens. While those who attended the more academically focused kindergartens did indeed show early advantages over their peers, these gains were not only lost but reversed by 4th grade. By then, graduates of play based kindergartens fared better on every measure used, especially in reading, mathematics and social development. The results were so clear that Germany moved away from the direct instruction model and has stuck with its play based model even to today.

Studies in the US have shown similar results, though they largely focus on poverty and it can be difficult to differentiate between the effects of early education programs and the lasting effects of poverty. Still, they indicate the same results. Children in more academically focused programs show early gains that seem to disappear by third or fourth grade, while those in play based preschool programs demonstrate better academic and social development.

Why do homeschoolers feel the need to homeschool preschool?

America, however, never has made any serious effort at reversing the trend toward direct instruction at earlier and earlier ages. Particularly schools in poorer areas get bogged down in test prep. I had to provide 45 minutes of test prep instruction a day as a first grade teacher. Schools are under incredible pressure to perform and they are passing that pressure down to students at earlier and earlier ages. Research or no, stepping away from academic instruction in favor of increased play time is a tremendous leap of faith that schools struggling with low test scores are just not willing to take.

Why do homeschoolers get caught up in the feeling that we need curriculum for preschoolers? Quite frankly, I think it’s because we’re inundated with it. Have you noticed that television programming and even toys aimed at young children now come with a list of the educational objectives met?

That and the message that really what your child needs is opportunities to explore and play guided by a parent willing to engage them in discussion, acting as guide in this crazy world doesn’t sell product. It doesn’t sell toys. It doesn’t sell television. It doesn’t sell books. And it doesn’t sell curriculum to those beginning homeschoolers who still feel like they’re competing with the public school system even as they’re experimenting with stepping out of it.

So what do preschoolers need?

You.

If you care enough to ask the question, you are probably already doing everything your child needs. This is what I believe preschool children need to help encourage their academic and social development:

  • A variety of toys to encourage fine and gross motor development as well as imagination.
  • A library, whether at home or provided through regular trips to the library.
  • To be involved in daily chores and activities.
  • Someone to answer their questions, even if the answer is, “Hmm, I wonder?”
  • Someone to narrate events and describe what is going on at home and on outings.
  • Outings. Around the neighborhood, on walks, to the store, to museums, to zoos.
  • A variety of textures. Sand, mud, water, dirt, play dough . . . whatever you have.
  • Crayons, markers, pencils and paint.
  • Time. Enough to get absorbed in a task of their own choosing.
  • Someone who will listen.
  • And most importantly, love. Love and support and encouragement.

Take heart. And have the courage to set the curriculum aside and focus on the play.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Kindergarten and moving forward through grief

Micah starts kindergarten in the fall.

Around here, that’s a Big Deal. I’m planning, browsing amazon, ordering . . .  stuff. Stuff that, to a five year old, looks an awful lot like toys. And we’ll even plan a little party for the first official day of school. (Did you know that in Germany, the home of kindergarten, they celebrate the first day of school, not the last? It’s a Big Deal there, too, with cones full of goodies, pictures and all sorts of excitement.)

It also represents a change. Little Micah is growing up. We don’t do preschool here. He plays while the others are doing their lessons. And yes, he has a binder and he has lapbooks for astronomy and history. Some days he chooses to color in them and sometimes he chooses to see how high he can build a block tower. I have a strong respect for the power and importance of play in a child’s life.

But now that Micah is Five Years Old, his world can open up a little more. He can have a box of sand in the house. He isn’t limited to the watercolors when he wants to paint. He can use real tools to explore and manipulate his world.

And the first thing I did was set up his calendar. I don’t know how many of you do calendar time in your home, but it is an engaging way to practice basic math, science and literacy skills daily. I sat down with Micah and went through several websites, looking at the different calendar centers and trying to remember all I did with mine the last time I set this up.

We finally decided on a basic design and I got started modifying and printing and finally dropping it all off at the print shop to be laminated. And as I sat trimming pieces and arranging them on the poster board, I was struck with a strange sort of grief.

I didn’t do any of this for Tiggy. But I didn’t do it for Nisa or Elianna, either. For a very long time, I was just getting through the day. And it’s not that we didn’t do anything. Other than spelling, they’re all on track with where they should be. I just wasn’t in a place where I could take on a project that took daily maintenance. Even the thought of something like that was overwhelming.

The children noticed, too.

Calendar time

“Mom, why didn’t you do anything like this for us?”

“Sweetie, when I would have put this together for you was right after Tiggy died.”

“Oh, yeah.”

I paused. There didn’t seem to be anything else, to say, really. It’s hard, sometimes, to wonder just what toll my grief has taken on their lives. But then again, they were allowed to grieve, too. And they didn’t have to return to school as if nothing had happened and sit through lessons while their mind was occupied with deeper issues. And other than in spelling, I can’t really say they’re behind.

“But you can do it now.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Especially when we start recording the weather and I set up the graphs and the clock, there will be plenty here for you as well. The teacher who taught me how to do this was a fourth grade teacher. It isn’t just for kindergarteners.”

And they seemed satisfied. Especially since the finished product was “way better than anything in the stores.” At least according to them.

If you are interested in a closer look at the different parts of our calendar time, here they are with links or associated printables you would need to complete them (as I post them):

The Weather Station

The date