Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

Homeschool Field Trip to the William Harris Homestead

The William Harris Homestead is near and dear to my heart.  It was my great aunt’s vision to restore her husband’s family’s ancestor’s farm and use it for heritage education.  Due to her hard work, it is on the National Register of Historic Places, and now over 40,000 school children have toured the Homestead.  It boasts a log house, smoke house, salt house, corn crib, barn, cemetery, and natural spring.  Everything sits in its original place.  It’s such a peaceful and beautiful place.

A few years ago, I spent some time photographing it, and I also organized a homeschool field trip there in 2010. The field trip at the Homestead is fabulous.  Here’s a description:

“Take a tour through the William Harris Homestead to learn about the lives of Georgia’s early white settlers in the 19th century.  The Homestead is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it boasts a log house, barn, smoke house, cemetery, natural spring, and other out buildings that are standing in their original places. Participants will be divided into four groups and rotated through four units as follows 1) log house with spinning wheel/loom demonstration, 2) the cellar, candle-making, herb garden and cemetery, 3) a Civil War interpreter will talk about daily life as a soldier, and 4) natural spring, a talk about the Native Americans who inhabited the area at the time, and a hay ride.  Participants will also view a live, sheep-herding demonstration!”

You can read more about the field trip and my experience organizing it in the column I wrote for the Barrow Journal.  Click here to read that. And if there is any homeschooler out there interested in participating in one of these field trips, be sure to e-mail me at writetospabis (at) gmail (dot) com.

But you don’t have to participate in a field trip to see the Homestead.  It’s open to the public on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 10-2pm. It’s just a 45 minute drive from Athens, located near Monroe, Georgia.

January 31, 2011

The Benefits of Playing Make-Believe

This is a column I wrote for The Barrow Journal.  It’s about information I learned from “The Tools of the Mind” website and how playing make-believe is important for children because it teaches them self-regulation.  Click here to read the full article.

January 30, 2011

Unschooling: Criticism of an ABC News Report

This post was written on April 22, 2010.

The other day I watched this news segment from Good Morning America, “Extreme Parenting: Radical Unschooling.” I could not have been more astonished at such an extremely biased news report.  The reporter obviously did not do her homework, and she seemed more than ready to paint a negative picture of this alternative form of education.

Let me be clear.  I’m not saying that unschooling is good or bad.  I don’t have enough knowledge or experience with it to make that call.  But I have read enough about homeschooling and unschooling to know that it is a worthwhile option to look into.

This report focuses on what the children have not been exposed to as well as some irrelevant issues, in my opinion, like a teenager staying up all night.  Teenagers tend to keep crazy hours, and I don’t think this is going to reflect on what kind of adult they become.  I saw a very short image of many garden plants the teenagers were cultivating, but nothing was said about them, and in fact, the reporter never bothered to ask what the children have learned and what they are ready for.  Furthermore, the interviews with the family seemed edited and their answers were truncated.  There was a short blip about another family who unschools, but in all, I did not get a clear picture of what either of these families look like.  When I listened to this report, I could hear the reporter’s negative questioning much louder than anything else.

The report also indicated that the unschooling parents also used a relaxed structure and little or no discipline with the children.  Though unschoolers may use a relaxed parenting style, I think it should be noted that every homeschooling and unschooling family looks different.  Again, I think these families were unfairly misrepresented, but no one should look at one family and think that every unschooling family does things the same way.

I recently read The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.  It’s just one of many books about homeschooling/unschooling that I would like to read.  From this book and the many testimonies it offers, I know that there are many unschooled children who are capable learners who can effectively live in society.  I would wager that most unschooled children are much more willing and able to do the hard work it takes to accomplish something because they know first-hand why it is beneficial and rewarding to work hard at something.

I was particularly struck by one example in the book of a twelve year old boy who decided for himself that he wanted to try public school when he entered junior high.  (His siblings chose to remain at home and continue unschooling.)  He said he liked the challenge of school, and when he was presented with a group project, his attitude was “let’s have fun and see what we will learn.”  The classmates in his group, on the other hand, had the attitude of “let’s finish this as quick as possible so that we can go home.”

Indeed, I remember having this same attitude in school, and all my friends had it too. My husband, a college professor, is dismayed by the lack of motivation of his students.  Many of his students cannot write, and he deals with a large amount of plagiarism each semester when his papers are due.  He often comments to me that he is unsure these kids are ready for the real world.  In other words, why question an unschooled child’s future when there are so many children in our current system who are not prepared for college or other “real” jobs?

Whether or not one agrees with “unschooling,” we must admit that our current system is losing a vast number of students.  Children begin life believing that the world is an exciting place, and they are eager to learn.  Now that I’m nearly forty, I also know that there is so much out there to explore and wonder about.  What can be done to help children not lose this spark?

At least these parents are taking their children’s education into their own hands.  They are trying something different.  I absolutely believe that if children are given a nurturing environment, exposed to the world through real-life experiences (and not just sitting in a classroom all day), and offered a variety of resources, they will want to keep learning and they will love learning.

I support and admire these families.  They have the right to do what they are doing, and I will look to many more (expanded and unbiased) examples of unschooling before I decide whether or not it is good for children.

***

For another good post regarding this news report by a father of an unschooled child, click here.

January 30, 2011

Article on Homeschooling in Atlanta

This post was originally published on February 2, 2010.

Thanks to someone who posted it on a homeschool e-mail list I belong to, I was able to read this informative article on Access Atlanta entitled, “Home schooling breeds new culture of learning.”  It talks about how many Atlanta venues are offering homeschool days and discounts to homeschoolers.  It also offers some nationwide and state statistics on homeschooling, which I found very interesting.  I thought you might like to read it too.

Click here to read the article.

January 29, 2011

Pumpkin Patch


This was originally published on October 17, 2009.

I took my crazy little man to a homeschooling field trip yesterday.  Unfortunately, there were many visitors at the farm, and I didn’t know who was who, so I only met two of the other homeschoolers!  (One I already knew.)  Oh well…maybe next time!

But we had a great time despite some chilly weather!  He got to pet some farm animals, watch the pig races, ride a cow train, and, of course, pick a pumpkin.  He also got to wear his new jacket…next time I’ll remember to roll the sleeves up!

(FYI:  This was his response when I asked him to smile.)

If you live near Athens, Georgia and want to go pick your own pumpkins (or strawberries or blueberries), you can visit Washington Farms too. I know there are other places around this area that also let you pick your own fruit.  If we try others, I’ll be sure to write about them in future posts.

January 25, 2011

Georgia Homeschool Groups

Below I’m listing a few of the e-mail groups that I have found in this area, but if you don’t live in my area, just google “homeschool groups” and your state or city.  Keep looking because I’ve found that digging has paid off.  Also, by joining a couple of e-mail groups, I have found other groups through recommendations.

I am not a member of all of these groups anymore.  Either I don’t have time or the activities are too far for me to drive.  But I learned so much about homeschooling by following all of these groups for a while, and then I picked the few that were most beneficial for me to keep subscribing to.  I highly recommend that beginning homeschoolers do the same.

As I find more groups or resources, I’ll add them to this page.  Feel free to e-mail me at writetospabis (at) gmail (dot) com if you have a group you’d like to get the word out about.  I’ll add it here.

Creative Home Educators – North Georgia – Very active group.  Mostly made up of families in the Atlanta area.  I also like their statement about including homeschoolers of all spiritual beliefs. (They also have a large spin-off group for Gwinnett.)

Creative Home Educators – South Georgia – Same group but for South Georgia.  Unfortunately, it’s not as active.

P.E.A.C.H. (Parent Educator’s Association for Children at Home) – Primarily for Gwinnett County.  There’s so much going on in Gwinnett County that I almost wish I lived there!

Athens GA Homeschooling

Barrow Co. Homeschoolers

Walton Co. Homeschoolers

GAunschoolers – A group for Georgia’s unschoolers.

Secular Homeschoolers of Georgia (SHOG) – For families who choose secular homeschooling.

Walton County Secular Homeschoolers – For secular homeschoolers in and around Walton County.

2012 UPDATE

Another note about signing up for homeschool listservs – you may want to create filters to sort these messages because these groups can fill up your inbox in an instant!  I cannot possibly read every message, nor do I contribute much to the discussions yet.  But they are a great source of information to keep on hand, if you are thinking about homeschooling.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you can always create a group of your own by meeting people through existing groups or perhaps posting a notice at your local library.

You can also read the newspaper column I wrote for the Barrow Journal titled, Doing Research on Homeschool Groups in Georgia. It has similar information.

January 22, 2011

The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith

This post was written on April 13, 2009.

The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith is the first book I’ve read about homeschooling, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is thinking about homeschooling.  I don’t think it would suit seasoned homeschoolers, but for us beginners, it gives a broad overview of everything we need to think about as we make the decision whether or not to homeschool.

Hopefully I’m not breaking any copyright laws if I give you the Table of Contents.  I think it best summarizes the topics in this book:

Does Homeschooling Really Work or What Do We Tell the Grandparents?

Legal Issues, or Can We Really Do This?

Structure or Can We Wear Our Pajamas to School?

Assisted Homeschooling, or Do We Really Need Any Help?

Money and Other Practical Matters

The Primary Years: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic

The Middle Years: Exploring the World

The Teen Years: Finding a Direction

Evaluation and Record Keeping, or How Do We Know They’re Learning?

Finding Learning Resources

The Homeschooling Community

Coping with the Rough Spots

Special Circumstances

Beyond Homeschooling

There are also four appendices in the back of the book that lists Homeschooling Resources, Homeschooling Organizations, Selected Learning Resources and Colleges That Have Accepted Homeschoolers.

I can’t possibly summarize the whole book, but I can tell you what I most appreciated in the book:

  • She emphasizes that every homeschooling family has to find their own way of homeschooling.  You may hear plenty of advice from other homeschoolers, or you may come across companies who swear their curriculum is the only way to go, but there is no right way to do it.  Try out everything until you find what works for you.
  • In the first chapter, she lists and summarizes much of the academic research that has been done on homeschooling.  There is not much evidence that homeschooling is a bad choice.  At one point she explains that this is largely due to the fact that if homeschooling doesn’t work for a family, then they put their children back in school and no harm is done!  I found this to be very reassuring.
  • In the third chapter she briefly goes over the various theories of learning.  (Examples:  Jean Piaget and Cognitive Development, Charlotte Mason, and Holt and Unschooling.)  I found this interesting because I have no background on any of this.  She also goes over the advantages and drawbacks of different homeschooling styles, such as School at Home, Eclectic Homeschooling, and Unschooling.
  • Throughout the book there are letters and advice from many different homeschoolers.  Each of them seemed to tackle the various topics and issues differently, and it gave me great insight to how current homeschooling families work.
  • I loved the part in which she explains that new homeschoolers might be intimidated to visit a seasoned homeschooler’s house and find that it’s clean and in perfect order.  She says that the seasoned homeschooler probably scrambled to get her house clean just before the visitors arrived!  That is, for every homeschooler, it’s difficult to get everything done!  When I read this, I thought to myself:  “Gee, that’s how I deal with my housecleaning already!”
  • She makes suggestions for what to do if your children decide they’d rather go to school, and she also covers “parental panic attacks.”  That is, all homeschoolers have doubts and moments when they’re afraid they are doing it all wrong.  She offers sound advice and consolation for when this happens.
  • Most beneficial of all are the resources she lists.  Whatever you can think of, she put a list in there: websites, magazines, newsletters, books, organizations.  It’s a great place to start if you are looking for more information on homeschooling.

Furthermore, I found this book to be easy to read (I’m not a big fan of non-fiction), and I read it rather quickly.  I thought there was a good, honest balance between the benefits and the challenges of homeshooling.  Because of this book, Mary Griffith’s other book, The Unschooling Handbook, is now on my wishlist!

You can also read the newspaper column I wrote for the Barrow Journal on The Homeschooling Handbook. Click here to access it.

Please tell me what books/articles you have read about homeschooling.  What would you recommend?

January 22, 2011

Concerns About Homeschooling: Financial & “What’s the family gonna say?”

This post was written on April 8, 2009.

When I talk about my financial concerns with homeschooling, I am not talking about how much homeschooling might cost by itself.  I do know that there are many companies who are marketing expensive curriculums to homeschoolers, and there are schools who offer a kind of independent study at home or other kinds of support/evaluation in exchange for tuition costs, but I don’t think I would take either of these routes.  I have read also that new homeschoolers can get very excited and buy almost every educational tool they come across only to find out that their children don’t respond to these gadgets or computer programs or what-not.  I believe that especially in the beginning when my children are young, I would mainly use the library and a few well-selected books and games, and then we would build from there.  If later I felt we would benefit from part of a curriculum, I would look into those.  But I don’t believe that homeschooling has to cost a lot of money.  What I mean when I talk about financial concerns is that we would be living on one income for many more years to come.  We have been living this way for the past few years now, and we’re okay, but it’s not easy.  So I worry that in the long-run,  we might wish I had gone back to work.

I know what homeschoolers would say about this: it is worth the sacrifice!  Because nothing is more important than the children and their well-being, and if homeschooling is important to us, we can find a way.  I agree.  That is why I’m 99% certain we’ll homeschool.  And I might be able to find some kind of work-at-home job, although I don’t think I should count on this.  We have already made sacrifices so that I can stay home in these early years, so it won’t come as a shock to us.  But when you live on the edge, you aren’t as prepared for emergencies as you wish you could be, and that will always be an issue.  What it comes down to is that while homeschooling, finances will always be a concern, so we’ll have to decide if we can keep living like that.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  We are moving forward with our plans to homeschool, and though we will always wish we had more money, we continue to live frugally.  I am writing for our local newspaper, which pays me a small fee for my columns, and though not much, even a little bit helps.  I have also been taking on some photography jobs.  As we move forward, we’ll continue to look for ways to save money and make a little extra.  I think it’ll be worth it.

Finally, I think about what some of my extended family might say about our homeschooling.  This should be easy.  Who cares what other people think?  I wish I could say that I didn’t care what others thought, but I do.  At least when it comes to big issues like this one.  And I know there are people in my family who know how to “push my buttons.”  So this is something I think about.  Fortunately, there’s not much I need to do about it.  People will think what they think, and we’ll do what we want to do.  This is part of the reason I have started this blog — so that I can gather my thoughts and research on this subject and hopefully be armed with information when people question me.  Also, I have considered that the few people I’m thinking of might surprise me and won’t think it’s a big deal (yeah, right).  Ultimately, I would hope that their concerns will be put aside once they see that my children are doing well, academically and socially.  This, anyway, is what I read in The Homeschooling Handbook.  Many people who express anxiety because their grandchildren or neighbor’s children or niece or nephews are being homeschooled, later come to appreciate the choice, once they see the outcome.

So in a way, this is a non-issue, but I wanted to bring it up here because it will be an obstacle I face, and I’m going to have to deal with.  Wish me luck!

So please tell me what your concerns are about homeschooling?

Click here to go to Part 1 in this series, which is about socialization.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  I also write about concerns and issues regarding homeschooling on my FAQ page.

January 22, 2011

Concerns About Homeschooling: Socialization

Note: Since writing this post, I have written two, updated posts about issues concerning socialization: On Homeschooling, Socialization and Religion Part 1 and Homeschooling and Socialization Part 2.

This post was written on April 5, 2009.

I know that skeptics probably have many concerns about homeschooling, but these are my biggest concerns: socialization, financial considerations, and what other people (specifically some of my family members) are going to think.  I’m going to split this post into two because I have a lot to say about my first topic, socialization.

After doing some research, and reading The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, I have learned that socialization is one of the top concerns for almost all new homeschoolers or those who oppose it.  However, for seasoned homeschoolers, socialization seems to be a non-issue.  I especially like what Renee of FIMBY said in her video presentation about homeschooling (and I’m paraphrasing because I watched it some time ago): she said that she never worried about socialization.  Her children socialize together, and they are very active in their community.  They meet people of all ages, and they have no trouble speaking or relating to other people.

In The Homeschooling Handbook, which I’ll talk about more in another post, there were quotes from many different homeschooling families, and some of them felt that the socialization homeschoolers get – with children and adults of all ages – is much healthier than putting the children in a classroom all day with kids of the same age – the blind leading the blind so to speak.  Furthermore, I get the feeling that if you, as parents, are active and make an effort to take your children to activities around the community, there will be ample opportunity for socialization.  I know that around Athens, there are many places that offer classes and fun activities for children.  The Homeschooling Handbook even mentioned that some schools let homeschoolers participate in certain classes or extracurricular activities.  I have not yet looked into this.  It would depend on how flexible the schools were.

Right now there are so many homeschooling groups across the United States that any homeschooler should not have a hard time finding a support group.  I did a quick search for groups in my area, and I found several.  I have signed up for two listservs.  One is for homeschoolers in Athens, and one is for a neighboring county.  I posted “newcomer” questions to both lists.  No one in Athens answered my query, which was disappointing, so I know I’ll have to dig a little deeper, if I want to do things there.  [Update: Since writing this post, I have found the Athens listserv to be very welcoming and helpful.]  The other list seems much more active, and two people responded to me.  Coincidently, I found a woman who lives within walking distance to me, and she homeschools two children.  She assured me that I should have no worries about finding activities with other kids.  We live out in the country, and she said that she participates in many different groups’ activities.  She picks and chooses, depending on what sounds good.  She said her children are also active at the YWCA, and she said there they have the opportunity to meet non-homeschooled children.  And, of course, for families who attend church, that is another social outlet.

I also have had some homeschoolers say that if you cannot find a group you like, you can always start your own!  Whether you want your kids to have park time with other children, or whether you want to start a specific study group, you can always post a notice at the library and see who bites!  I am fortunate in that my step-mother’s niece lives nearby, and she is planning to homeschool her three boys.  I’m sure that together, we could find a couple more homeschooling families to start a small group with.

So socialization is not a big worry for me anymore.  I tend to be shy, and my son is very shy, but I don’t think going to school will necessarily make him un-shy, just like it didn’t make me un-shy.  I know that it will be up to me to find activities for him to participate in, and fortunately, we live in an area where I don’t think that will be a big problem.

Click here to go to Part 2 in this series, which touches on financial concerns and what other family members might say about it.

UPDATE May 31, 2011:  I also write about concerns and issues regarding homeschooling on my FAQ page.  There is an update to our socialization concerns there too.

January 18, 2011

My Reasons For Thinking About Homeschooling

This was written on April 3, 2009.


Five years ago, I had never heard of homeschooling, and I’m pretty sure I was introduced to it by a neighbor who teaches her four girls at home full-time.  Then my friend Maya of Springtree Road told me she was going to homeschool her daughter, and then we had another homeschool family move in the neighborhood, and I’ve gotten to know them very well.  I can’t remember my first reaction to homeschooling.  Maybe I thought it was a bit crazy, or maybe I thought it was something I wouldn’t be interested in.  But it didn’t take long for the idea to sink in, especially as I watched my two-year-old relish learning — at 21 months, he could identify all the letters of the alphabet correctly.  He loves books, and he loves exploring.  Now we’re working on the sounds of the letters, and he also knows his numbers and colors.  I keep asking myself, how can I keep fostering this love of learning without pressuring him or making him lose interest?

This, I believe, is my number one reason to want to homeschool.  I want to foster that love of learning.  I am not against traditional school — I believe most teachers do their best to teach students.  But I do think that once you put 20 or more children of the same age and different learning levels in a classroom, the teacher can only do so much.  She or he has to keep moving through the curriculum whether some kids are more advanced or some need to stay behind.  Occasionally the teacher has to spend the majority of her time dealing with behavioral issues.  So I ask myself:  if it’s possible for me to homeschool — if I’m willing and we can afford for me to stay home — why not?  Why not give my children the one-on-one attention they deserve?  If they are interested in a particular subject, I want them to be able to study that subject without any restraint.  And what if I can build some other lessons around what they are already interested in?  Surely it is common knowledge that each of us learns better when we are interested in what we are learning.

Now that I have been thinking about homeschooling for a while, I have been meeting other people who homeschool – whether in person or online.  And seeing how well-adjusted, well-mannered, and bright their children are, I am more and more convinced that homeschooling is a good thing.  My husband is a professor at a local community college, and he has had students in his classroom who were homeschooled.  He says they are among the brightest and most willing to participate in class.  They seem very well-adjusted, and furthermore, they are usually high school students taking courses for early college credit!

I would also love to homeschool so that our family can be together more and for the flexible schedule it offers.  My husband has a flexible teaching schedule (at least right now), and he’s home a lot.  I believe that raising our children in a homeschool atmosphere can only foster close family ties.  Not to mention the children’s schedule —  elementary school children have to be at school by 7:30a.m. in Georgia.  On his way to work, my husband has seen small children waiting for the bus in the dark (with their parents, of course).  I like getting up early, but I don’t like having to scurry around to get out the door early in the morning.  Think about all the hours in the school day that are taken up by simply getting to school, from class to class or to the cafeteria, recess, etc.  I would like my kids to spend that excess time at home doing things that are more productive or simply more fun!

Finally, I’d like to homeschool because I love learning.  I love to read.  I love to explore historical places or museums or anywhere that will expand my mind.  I used to travel to other countries, and I love learning about different cultures.  Not only do I think that homeschooling would be good for my kids, I think it would be wonderful to learn right along with them.  And I would hope that my enthusiasm would rub off on them.  I think it would.  Unfortunately, I think that traditional school can have the opposite effect on children.  I know that when I was in school, I was more concerned about the friends I had and the friends I wished I had, the clothes I was wearing, and the boy I liked.  I didn’t do badly in school, but I could have done much better.    It wasn’t until I was in college and beyond (when I could study what I wanted to study), that I became a better learner.

In my next post I will talk about other concerns and issues with homeschooling, specifically socialization, financial considerations, and what other people might think.

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