how to overcome challenges

On letting them grow and letting them go

You birth these precious cherubs. Bring them into the world and for awhile, they are your world. And you are theirs.

You teach them to read,

homeschool learning to read

to create

homeschool art

and to explore.

exploring the creek

You’re with them in their valleys

homeschool field trip stream

and on their mountain tops.

homeschool field trip Pike's Peak

You nurse them when they are sick, serving them Sprite and bouillion and toast. You try to let them rest . . . as much as anyone can rest while having their temperature taken and their blankets adjusted hourly through the night.

homeschool sick day

You laugh with them in their silliness

silly face

and help them through their messes and mistakes.

homeschool messes

You watch them fall in love

kitten love

and know that one day, another will replace you.

wade and dakota-min-1

You hope you’ve taught them enough. That you haven’t made too many mistakes. That their faith and their character will make up the difference. They’re ready to embark on this adventure. You? Not so much.

loading the car for farrier school

But you take them as far as you can. Excited for the next step.

dropping off at school

Excited for the hopes and dreams of the future. Praying that they’re ready. Praying that their faith is strong enough to see them through.

forge

And then they don’t answer your calls. They don’t answer your texts. You know they are busy. You know they are being asked to work harder than you’ve ever asked them to. You know they are tired. But you want to know how they are. You want to hear it from them. But you go on, making plans for a field trip that won’t include them. Knowing their plans don’t include you.

sandhill crane

You know they are OK. There WOULD have been a call if they weren’t. And somehow, you know that this, too, is right. Because it’s their life now and you are no longer the center. Still, you don’t feel quite right until that first text comes in. “Sorry, mom. I was at the forge all day but I finally got my hoof pick made. It’s hard!” And then you finally find a bit of peace that they are where they belong and that they know where you are if they need you.

homeschool freedom

Because they’re growing up and you’re letting go.

how to overcome challenges

I Homeschool For The Impromptu Field Trips

Like the homeschool field trip we’re on right now to see the sandhill cranes.

homeschool field trip sandhill crane

This is an almost annual tradition in our family. One day in March, usually at the last minute, I look to see if there are any hotel rooms available and we head out to Kearney to watch the sandhill crane migration. We drive around the outskirts of town looking for cranes. We watch them dance. We watch them eat. We watch them in their family groups and in their larger flocks.

And at sunset, we watch them descend upon the Platte River, filling the skies with their calls.

It is the familiarity of the annual event that makes it special. The children look forward to different parts. There is always excitement when we spot the first flock just outside of Grand Island, And even more when we get to the river and they can finally just run. Their favorite is walking under the highway bridge to get down close to the river.

Why is it so fun to just poke sticks in the water?

And I always enjoy looking at the pictures they took when we get home. Like 15 different views of this sheet of ice on the shore.

homeschool field trip Platte River

Impromptu field trips are the best because I have no specific plans or objectives in mind. We are just here to explore and take part in the annual migration of the sandhill crane. They’ve never had an assignment about the birds. We have no lapbooks on the subject. All we have is a love for being out in nature, listening to their calls and sharing just a moment in their life journey.

And yet they know why the birds sleep standing in the river. They know how important this stop over is to birds that need to be able to start nesting and raising young as soon as they land in the far north. They know about their family structure, diet and migration pattern. They know about the Platte River, how significant it is to Nebraska and how significant it is to this migration.

And of course they know about the dance of the sandhill crane. We drive around the countryside outside Kearney, looking for flocks close to the road just so we can watch them dance.

I enjoy this freedom homeschooling gives us to just notice what is going on in the state and go out to take a look. Sometimes, our field trips have something to do with what we are studying. More often, we just take a break from our lessons to be travelers for a day.

They give us the opporunity to just explore.

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

how to overcome challenges

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.”

how to overcome challenges

Share the Buzz, A free lesson guide about honeybees

Why just teach your children about honeybees when you could do something together to help save them? This lesson goes beyond “just” planting another pollinator garden by focusing on planting flowers which bloom when bees need them most, providing the maximum benefit for limited space.

free homeschool lessons about honeybees

Children learn best by doing. And by having someone to inspire their curiosity, encourage them to ask questions and help them find the answers. In this lesson guide, you won’t be creating a lapbook. I don’t have any notebooking pages for you. Well, I’ll include some links to some at the end, just in case you feel the need to have something for their folders. But really, my suggestion for teaching children about honeybees is to plan a pollinator garden together, tend it and talk about who comes to visit your flowers. Talk to your children as you work. Share your knowledge. Listen to their questions and research the honeybee and other native pollinators together.

Not many people outside the beekeeping world know this, but March is the most difficult month for honeybees. They spend winter semi-dormant in their cluster in the hive. They aren’t raising brood. They aren’t collecting nectar. They aren’t making honey. The colony’s population is at its lowest by the end of February, but to be ready for the clover bloom in June, honeybees start waking up and raising brood by early March. A good queen can lay almost her own bodyweight in eggs Every. Single. Day. The hive is preparing for the clover bloom, but the  presence of early spring flowers can make or break a hive coming out of winter low on stores and high on demand.

Importance of early blooming flowers for honeybee survival-min

This is a long post with a LOT of information. It contains just about everything you need to get started on your garden and teach your children “here a little, there a little” as you work and watch your garden develop. There is a link at the top of the post to turn it into a pdf which you can then print to refer to offline.

Teaching your children about honeybees

They will learn more and learn it more deeply when the information comes in small snippets, shared while their attention is focused and their minds are already working out what they are observing. You don’t need a lesson plan, a notebook or a lapbook. All you need is a garden you planted together, a sketch book and small, buzzing visitors to talk and wonder about.

Before you get started, think about the lessons you want your child to learn. Use this to guide your conversations with your children as you plan your garden and observe the insects that come to visit.

Look for opportunites to share the information in conversation while you are watching the bees in your garden. Dissect a flower together and look at its parts. Talk about how all the workers you see are female. Drones (males) are raised for a specific job and all they ever do is hang around eating honey and waiting for a chance to mate with a queen. Look for the pollen basket on the hind legs of a honeybee and talk about what that does. Talk about how the honeybee gets back to the hive and how she tells her colony where she found a food source. These conversations do not need to take place during a two week formal study or even in one growing season.

Have questions? Feel free to drop me a note here, via my contact page or on my facebook page. I am not a commercial beekeeper, but I have had hives for several years. I love to talk about this life we have out here, whether it is related to our hobby farm or our homeschooling.

Planning a Spring Garden

As you plan your garden, talk about the importance of habitat to all living things. Honeybees need food, water and a safe place to raise their young just like any other living thing. As humans turn wild spaces into lawns, businesses and farms, it gets harder and harder for pollinators to find the variety of nectar and pollen producing plants they need to survive. If you have older children, you could introduce the concept of a “monoculture.” I live in rural Nebraska and we have acres upon acres of farmland planted in corn and beans. Bees do collect pollen from these plants, but they have a need for variety in their diet just like we do. Kale may be a “superfood,” but it that’s all we ate, we wouldn’t stay healthy, either.  Also discuss why you are focusing on early blooming plants.

Look together with your children for a spot in your lawn to plant or extend a garden. Ideally, find the equivalent of a three foot by three foot area to plant because bees like clusters of the same kind of flower best. However, even a small container garden can be beneficial and your children can learn the same lessons. Research plants that provide pollen and nectar for honeybees. (Sap is not something bees generally have difficulty finding). Pay special attention to early blooming plants that will give honeybees (and other pollinators) a nectar and pollen source to replenish needed stores.

Crocuses are a wonderful addition to a garden. They produce a good amount of pollen which provides needed protein to a bee’s diet. They bloom early in the year, sometimes while snow is still on the ground. They also fit very easily into existing gardens because they are finished with their bloom before most other plants have begun to come out of their dormancy. If you have room for shrubs, hazelnuts also provide an excellent pollen source early in the year.

Wikipedia has an comprehensive list of North American nectar sources for honeybees which includes an indication of when the bloom period for each plant begins and how significant it is to the honeybee. When planning a garden, you do not have to worry so much about how many pounds per acre of honey each plant would produce, but this chart definitely demonstrates why the clover bloom is so important to the honeybee! This article from The National Gardening Association focuses on more popular spring-blooming garden plants that aren’t necessarily native.

Set aside time to watch them at work when they visit your flowers (or the weeds in your yard!). Talk about the parts of the bee, notice how they bury their head deep within the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar within. Let them know that all the workers they see are female. Look closely at the hind legs of the bee and see if you can see the pollen baskets where the honeybee stores pollen to take back to the hive. When they are ready to return, these baskets are full and look like yellowish or brownish (depending on the pollen color) bulges on their hind legs.

The bee’s year

While you work the soil and start planting your garden, discuss the importance of bloom times to the life cycle of the hive. Share the information in the infographic above to re-emphasize the importance of early pollen and nectar sources to beehives and begin to look for things that are in bloom in your area. Talk about where the bees are in their yearly cycle:

Winter: The hive slows down. A cluster forms around the honey and bees take turns eating honey and vibrating their wings to generate heat. Overwintering bees live the longest of any bees (besides the queen)

Late winter (Feb/Mar): The build up begins. The queen can lay between 1,000 and 2,500 eggs a day – almost equal to her own body weight!

Late March: The first bees from the build up emerge from the hive. The bees that overwintered begin to die. Large amounts of dead bees may be found at the hive entrance as bees clean their hives.

June: A strong hive will have at least 60,000 bees to be ready to harvest nectar from the clover which should just be beginning to bloom.

Summer: The hive maintains its numbers. Bees literally work themselves to death and will crawl away from the hive with tattered wings. Her average lifespan during the working season is just 40 days.

Fall: A secondary flow of honey begins as the goldenrod and asters come into bloom. The hive starts winding down for winter. Brood prduction slows. The drones are ejected from the hive. A northern hive will need approximately 80 pounds of honey to survive winter. Southern hives need about half that.

For a sweet treat, when the clover comes into bloom, take a moment to show your children just what all the “buzz” is about. Carefully pull a few of the tiny flowers (the flower of a clover is actually made up of many small flowers clustered together) and chew on the ends that were attached to the flower. You should taste a little of the sweet nectar. This is easiest with the large red clover, even though this variety is worthless to honeybees. Their proboscis isn’t long enough to get to that nectar! Bumblebees appreciate them, however!

Dissecting flowers

The garden you planted may or may not begin flowering this spring, depending on what you planted, however you will certainly have the opportunity to collect some early spring flowers. Pick a few flowers and bring them in to dissect. Help your children carefully cut the flower open and remove all of its parts. Some flowers, like crocuses, tulips and daffodils, are easier to teach with, but your children will enjoy taking a closer look at any flowers you can find.

diagram of a flower

 

After you separate the major parts of the flower and discuss what they do, consider sketching them in a journal and labeling the parts. Talk about how pollination works. Honeybees and our native bees collect pollen for their own consumption, but they also help move it from the female parts of flowers to the male parts of flowers, allowing the seeds to form and the flowers they visit to reproduce. This is good for the plant and for the honeybee!

The importance of pollination

Did you know that 50% of the United States’ commercial hives go to California for the almond harvest? Hives come from as far away as Australia to pollinate the almond crop . This creates problems of its own as far as spreading mites and disease to colonies across the country and around the world, but it does attest to the significance of the honeybee in crop production!
Honeybees are responsible for 80% of crop pollination for the plants we eat and their pollination service is estimated to be worth $15 billion a year! Naturalists are not exaggerating when they say no bees means no food!

Why are honeybees so important to pollination? Many insects feed on nectar and pollen, but honeybees practice “flower fidelity.” That means they like to visit the same kind of flower until they’ve exhausted the nectar or pollen supply. Once they start on apple blossoms, for example, they will continue visiting apple blossoms, ignoring all other flowers. This ensures the pollen from one apple tree is carried to another and not lost in trips to dandelions, henbit or whatever else is in bloom at the same time. There are other native pollinators (and some of them are even more effective pollinators), but they do not live in the large colonies that honeybees do and they are not as easy to transport from field to field to pollinate crops.

When the bees begin to visit your flowers, take time to just watch them work. Ask questions and wonder with your children what their day is like. Watch how they dig their faces deep into the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar. Look closely at the hind legs to see if you can see the pollen baskets. If the bee is close to returning to the hive, you may see large yellowish or brownish balls attached to the hind legs (depending on what kinds of pollen she is collecting). Encourage your children to ask questions and if you don’t know the answers, help them research the answers online or at the library. This is also a good time to discuss the importance of honeybees to our food supply.

For a refresher on the pollination process itself, including diagrams of the parts of a flower, Kids Growing Strong has an excellent article on pollination, written for children.

Remember, each visit by a honeybee is an opportunity to share a little more of the wonder of the honeybee world with your child.

The information I have gathered here focuses on habitat protection and the importance of honeybees to our food supply, but hopefully you will have many opportunities to watch the bees come and go from the flowers in your garden. Each time you stop to watch, consider sharing a little more about the lives of honeybees.

Other topics to consider discussing while beewatching:

Protect honeybee habitat

Rethink your relationship to “weeds” such as dandelions, henbit and even the clover that grows in your lawn. In some communities, you may not have a choice, but learn to appreciate them for the valuable bee food that they are. If you have to remove them, try focusing your weed efforts on controlling them before they bloom. Honeybees aren’t interested in your green lawn or even in the dandelion greens that are beginning to sprout up. What you do with your lawn between now and when the first flowers begin to bloom will not matter that much to your local pollinators.

Once the flowers bloom, try leaving them alone. If you have to control them, try popping the tops off dandelion for some dandelion jelly. At the very least, watch the flowers for bee activity. Bees will work over the average lawn in less than a day (less than an hour!). Some of these weeds will rebloom and draw the bees and butterflies back again, but when you notice that the activity has stopped, work quickly to destroy the weeds (that are a whole lot easier to see with that big yellow target!).

Spray wisely

Beekeepers and sustainability types will tell you not to spray chemicals at all. I’m not going to do that. Sure, I’d like for you to do that, but I know that’s when some people will tune out and go on spraying the way they always have, putting bees and even themselves at increased risk. Even whole states need to improve on this. During the Zika virus scare, indiscriminate spraying killed millions of honebees.  A few simple rules can prevent your lawn from becoming its own honeybee holocaust, making it safer for the insects you want (and generally saving a bit of money, as well).

  1. Read the package directions and follow them closely.
  2.  Control drift. Don’t spray on windy days and spray close to the ground so you are only spraying what you need to spray.
  3. Spray early in the morning and late in the evening when bees aren’t active.
  4. Try spraying only what needs sprayed rather than the whole lawn or garden.
  5. If bees are active in your lawn, try waiting a day or two and spray when they’ve moved on.

And of course, think carefully about whether you need to spray at all!

Share

OK, so really, a few extra nectar producing plants in your garden are not likely to have much of an affect on bee populations in your area. Bees visit approximately 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. Appreciate that the next time you see shelves lined with this liquid gold. Your pollinator garden will be most effective at teaching your children to respect habitats and learn about honeybees and other insects sharing our lawns and gardens with us.

But imagine if everyone in your neighborhood gardened with bees in mind. A little extra planning put into our landscaping could mean that we could begin to give bees and other pollinators back some of their habitat. Share this information with friends and neighbors who might be interested in doing what they can to help honeybee populations. You don’t have to dig up your lawn and replace it with clover. You don’t even have to stop controlling weeds. All it takes is a little forethought and a conscientious effort to include plants that honeybees seek out in your landscaping and be mindful of their presence while controlling weeds.

Other resources for teaching children

I know, I know. I’m a teacher, too. Sometimes it just feels good to have them complete an assignment to put in their folder and sometimes you just have to have a lesson plan.

Suggested books:

(Contains affiliate links, mostly so you know what books I am talking about. If you were to purchase anything through these links, a few cents would be thrown my way.)

A Short History of the Honey Bee, by E. Readicker-Henderson. This is a beautifully illustrated book with a lot of good information, especially for older children. I bought it for myself and read it aloud to my children.

The Bee Tree, by Patricia Polacco. One of my favorite children’s authors. Mary Ellen gets bored and grandpa knows just what she needs: a hunt for a bee tree. Mary Ellen learns that the best things in life are the ones you work for.

Lesson plans

A free honeybee lapbook, including a printable game to play with your children

A Round Up of lesson ideas. Definitely go visit a hive if you have the opportunity! Consider calling your local beekeepers’ association to arrange a field trip.

An excellent collection of ideas for nature studies involving honeybees

Most important of all, have fun with your children. Enjoy the garden you plant together and look for opportunities to stimulate their wonder as you share your garden with the honeybee.

how to overcome challenges

I Homeschool to Avoid the Homework Trap

The first (and only) meeting I ever had with an upset parent was over homework. He didn’t think I assigned enough. And I taught pre-K.

why homework is harmful

 

Homework has become such an ingrained part of our education culture that we not only don’t question it, we have begun to demand it. So much so that even research suggesting homework in the elementary years has no favorable effect on academic performance while at the same time creating extra stress holds little sway for a parent concerned about their five year old’s future success. Much less on a school district obsessed with state testing.

A Vermont school decided to act on the research, however, and instituted a school-wide, no homework policy. Instead, they wanted students to eat with their families, read a book and play outside. The result?

Six months into the experiment, Trifilio says it has been a big success: Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”  ~The Washington Post

“Time to be creative thinkers and follow their passions.” Two of the things I think homeschooling provides children. And really, it has to do with simply having time. They have time to get bored. They have time to daydream. They have time to dig deeper into the topics which interest them.

And we do it without homework. That isn’t to say they have no independent work. But I don’t assign the kind of busywork I was assigned in school. You remember those assignments? Book reports designed to prove you had read the book, copying spelling lists 5, 10 or 15 times each and the endless number of math worksheets. And I was in elementary school back when they still thought 15 minutes a night was ideal.

What do they do instead?

They read. They love reading. The library is one of their favorite destinations. They read fiction and nonfiction and check out books on the oddest things I never would have thought they would be interested in, but they saw the book and decided to see what it was about.

They write. Three of my children are working on writing a book . . . four if you count the six year old who is filling a journal with his random letters that he calls his book.

They build. Unfortunately, they lost their fort in a series of storms and a suspected raccoon rampage, but they had a pretty nice one made from scrap they found in the barn for some time.

They garden. Each year, they’ve been allowed to plan a small container garden with flowers for the porch. This year, they are each getting their own raised bed for their own vegetable patch.

In other words, they explore. And almost every pursuit they choose has more value to who they are than any worksheet I could have designed just to keep them busy.

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