Trust The Children

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Never Felt More Alive

I read this quote on another list. I asked Beth for permission to share it. The picture above isn't Beth. At least I don't think it is. But it is the feeling I get from her post. Look for elements of balance, of involvement, or personal fulfillment in the quote below. What is it about Beth that you think really hits home?

"We kinda got into HSIng by accident. My first son is gifted and from day one just had a thirst for knowledge and loves to read and learn. While doing preschool at home I began to read on HSing and the opportunities it gives to children. There are sooo many ways to do it. We do structured Math and Language Arts but the rest is based on a guided interest on their part and we do it together. This year my son choose Chemistry so we are doing that for science and We are in our second year of studying history Chronologically. My two boys LOVE history! I never knew learning could be soooo contaigous and exhilerating. We totally enjoyed learning about the ancient Greeks last year. I am not bored and I feel challenged every day by their interest in life and what we are reading and learning about. It keeps me on my toes. I would have to say that I have never felt more alive in all my life. At first it might have seemed like I gave up a lot to do this...but to be quite honest I feel like I am gaining more than I could ever have gained doing something else. I enjoy learning and I feel like I am getting the education that I never had. And I get to do it with my children."

For me, there is a sense that as a parent, she is doing her best for her children, but she is also doing things that she loves too. Reminds me of Covey and his concept, P and PC. Production and Production Capability. Or B or BC. Building myself AND building the child. (That's my version ;-)) As long as Beth is loving what SHE is getting out of home schooling, AND seeing her children growing and thriving, you get the idea that their family is in position to go the distance in this home schooling journey.

I have seen that in Cyndy over the years. She loves to explore. Can't go anywhere without seeing something new she didn't see last time. Funny how sometimes she literally needs to drag the boys along, but when they get there of course they have fun, love it and wonder why they made such a fuss.

I don't know about you, but that just gives me hope. Thanks Beth and more thanks to Cyndy. I can't thank enough, nor can our children.

OK, So Now What?

Today, I want to share some thoughts about who is responsible for the education of an adult or a child. Read on in that context.

We've had our own melt downs around here from time to time. They come in all kinds and shapes. While they may come at any time during the month, they often do come in February and March. The melt down I have been thinking of this time, however, was the one that came from our then teenage daughter, who will remain nameless, but has red curly hair and has broken more hearts than Carter has pills. She is beautiful, engaging and capable.

Anyway, one evening it all came out. "All the kids at the high school know more than I do. I haven't even studied American History. I don't even know a thing about it. Not one thing. This home schooling thing has put me behind them. I will never catch up. And the sky is falling and yada yada yada." Considering we had 4 girls in a row and 3 of them in the teen age years at any one time, this wasn't the first time I experienced emotional disintegration. It wasn't the first time I was the brunt of it as well. As a dad, you have a couple of options. However, you really have only one. You have to try and be compassionate no matter what. (For me "try" is the operative word. This is not a gift of mine.) Further, you can't try to fix it, no matter what. You can only listen really. You know this is the only way, because you have tried it the other way before. The fallout from the other way lasts much much longer, believe me.

Nevertheless, this one caught me at a moment where I did venture something else besides dropping all that I was doing, looking her straight in the eye and taking it all in. So I quote, "That's right, you don't know a lot about US History. But guess what, there are all kinds of things you don't know a lot about. And guess what? There are all kinds of things the kids at school don't know a thing about, even if they took the class. You may not know a lot about US History, but they have probably forgotten it all over the summer anyway. And guess what? If sometime you need to know it, you can study it then and learn it then and you will probably appreciate it more. And guess what? (Newsflash!!!) I am 53 years old and I still don't know everything. I am still learning. I actually taught myself how to program AFTER college. OK? So you don't know about US History. OK. So now what? Now that we know you are US History challenged, what are you going to do about it? Because for the rest of your life, when you run into something you don't know, you are going to have two choices. Either you can blame us as your parents, or you can decide to buckle down and learn something on your own. So, what's it going to be?" (By the way, Cyndy read this and wanted you to know this wasn't a perfect quote of the conversation. So stick with the spirit of it. The point is worth cutting my memory some slack. Also, she said that the daughter involved will certainly have a different memory of the incident. So be prepared for some kick back from her. OK. So I am prepared.)

Now I am not sure that I've given you the response, word for word. But it's close. I actually got some silence out of her for a minute or so. And in that minute I felt so good about articulating a decent come back I almost didn't care how it turned out. But in this case, our red head settled down. Time has passed. She went to BYU-I. On a mission to Ecuador. Graduated. This fall she is working on her masters in Public Health. I am not sure if she ever studied US History. I really don't think she did. But she got accepted into a masters program that is tough to get into and she is prospering so far.

As home schoolers, we often worry that some day our children are going to miss out on opportunities or get after us because somehow they were shortchanged in some aspect of their upbringing or education while at home. We ask ourselves, "How am I going to feel when they needed some answer and didn't have it while I as their parent was on the 'educational watch'. They trusted me and my decisions and now they end up forgetting some minor factoid or idea and as a result some consequence plays itself out in their lives. And they are going to say that it is my fault."

Well maybe we did mess up at one point or another. I don't think we did really bad, but let's get that possibility on the table. OK? That wasn't so bad. I mean admitting things don't always go perfectly. (You know what? You want another News Flash? They don't go perfectly in the government schools either) For me the real question is, and I mean the question for the child involved, "NOW what are you going to do about it?"

If home schooling teaches our children anything, I hope it teaches them to take responsibility for their own lives and education now, and into the future. They want to know something? Why wait to look around for a teacher? Get started! We live in a world that has libraries and librarians. We've got the internet. There are other people who can be resources all around us. We are living in a world that is awash in information and access to it. So what are you waiting for?

As to our children, we hope to find them asking themselves, "OK, so now what?" We hope to find them deciding for themselves on a course of action to get the information they need and move forward with their lives. And I hope our children end up comfortably telling their own children some day, "OK, so you don't know something. So now what?"

After all, our job as parents was to see to it they developed tools and had the will to go to work using them. Tools to use long after we are dead and gone. And a work ethic to use the tools, long after we are dead and gone. Right? Isn't this home schooling success too?

Got you thinking? Got you wondering? OK.... So Now What?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Breathing Out... Breathing In...

As I mentioned, I have been doing a lot of reading lately. I have been going back in the past to try to understand the thinking and attitudes of some of the foundational people in home schooling. I had never heard of Sylva Ashton Warner until I saw her name mentioned by Pat Montgomery. I wondered what actually came from Warner that influenced Pat Montgomery. So Amazon got yet another visit.

I learned a lot about Warner from the book, "Pay Attention To The Children" by Sydney Clemens, in fact more about her personally than I wanted to know. She was a teacher in New Zealand. She taught in the rural areas to children who often paddled canoes to get to "school". Sylvia observed the impact of the teaching style she had acquired through obtaining her teaching degree. What she saw was a terrible mismatch between what she had been trained to do and what the kids responded to. To her credit, Sylvia became over time a "student centered" teacher. Her teaching became more about what worked with students and less about teaching as she had been trained to teach. Today I want to share one of her concepts called "Breathing Out... Breathing In". I want to share this, because I have proved for myself that this concept is a foundational concept in teaching anyone anything.

As you woke up this morning, it wasn't long before things were on your mind. Things to do, places to go, people to see, problems to solve, and the list goes on. Small children are no different, except they have in addition the wiggles. Often they need to move. They need to move to think. They seem to need to move to even communicate. They have energy inside of them. They are full of thoughts and ideas too. Full to the brim and overflowing. Overflowing with ideas and with energy. This energy is bubbling over and wants to express itself. You getting the picture?

Sylvia found that trying to "teach" anyone when they were in this "state of being" was a struggle. Sydney Clemens said of Sylvia's philosophy, "Arriving at school children needed time to unpack or discharge the stuff that was packed in: to breathe it out, paint it, sculpt it, dance it, talk it, capture its impact in a key word, play it out." We can all appreciate that can't we?Clemens continues, "Understanding that children don't come to school empty Sylvia made it possible for them to focus on lessons by letting them first discharge what was on their minds." She called this Breathing Out which is "making room in their emotional suitcases to take in other, new images (lessons) including those Sylvia wanted to teach." (Clemens, pp 130-131)Breathing Out made room for Breathing In or learning the more basic stuff of education.

Sylvia divided up her day into four time periods. Period 1 in the morning was a breathing out period that lasted 45 minutes to an hour or more. Period 2 was a breathing in period, when she led the children in more formal learning experiences. Then came lunch recess. After lunch came period 3 which was another shorter breathing out period, followed by another breathing in period and the day was done.

Besides the obvious benefits of allowing for expression of energy and emotion, perhaps the most powerful and beneficial part of this isn't so obvious. Sylvia, during the breathing out times, would take this opportunity to observe closely, the words, interests, drawings, acting's out, emotions and frustrations that were expressed during this time of natural play. Her "observations" became the raw material for instructing in the more formal learning that day. Because she listened to the children talk about their lives outside the class, and their experiences and concerns, she was able to actually reference them while teaching reading or writing or anything else on the agenda. For example, "Mary tell us about the red boat you drew this morning? " or "Billy, putting the corn away for the winter is like memorizing the quotes from Winston Churchill." The children felt listened to, accepted and affirmed because the teacher used their point of reference to teach with. Second, "Children were emotionally refreshed and renewed enough, through creative arts, to have room to take in something new." (ibid, p 131)

I have seen the practical application of this idea over and over again. In scouting, it is after the patrol meetings, and inter patrol competitions, when the boys are "worn out" that the Scoutmaster is supposed to offer the "Scoutmaster's Minute" a meaningful thought or idea to lift the boys to a higher level each week. In my Sunday School Class, by investing 10 or so minutes at the beginning to allow for some kind of casual expression of what is going on in their lives, makes the next 30 minutes profoundly more effective. At home, for family night, giving each one a chance for personal expression before the final lesson, has them in a much more teachable frame of mind.

So... close your eyes, sit up straight, touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your second finder in making a circle, hold your hands out to the sides and... Breath In .... Breath Out... Breath In .... Breath Out...Breath In .... Breath Out........

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

List of Books

In the last month or so, I have found myself with a little extra time. With that time, I felt impressed go back to the roots of home schooling and read. Before home schooling was really even a movement, there were people who were speaking out about in support of educational reform. I mean back in the 40's, 50's and 60's. Never really formally organized, they read each others works and drew from each other. It has been fruitful. Also, along the way, there have been a few books that have really helped us gain the confidence that 1) it was ok to bring our kids home and 2) we as parents could do this even with our weaknesses and educational holes. So here is the beginning of a list of books to consider.

School Can Wait - Raymond and Dorothy Moore (He actually lives in Washougal, WA near us.)
Reasons why government schooling may be unnecessary for the early years at least
7 Kinds of Smart - Thomas Armstrong
Identifying and developing your Many Intelligences. In other words Intellectual intelligence isn't the only intelligence to
value in a child.
Home Schooling for Excellence - David and Micki Colfax
About a family, and how their choices propelled their children to success.
The Teenage Liberation Handbook - Grace Llewellyn
You can't help but feel here unabashed enthusiasm for what teenagers CAN do at home, instead of school. Her subtitle
is "How to quit school and get a real life and education."
Real Lives - Grace Llewelln
Eleven teenagers who don't go to school
The Homeschooling Book of Answers - Linda Dobson
The 88 most Important Questions Answered by Homeschooling's most respected voices.
Dumbing Us Down- John Taylor Gatto
The hidden curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
Saxon Math - Totally sold on this.
Anything by John Holt - Growing Without Schooling
A Way Of Being - Carl Rogers
Pay Attention to the Children - Sydney Clemens

So this is a good start.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Reasons WHY, Change Over Time

We are holding a beginner workshop for home schoolers in our home this week, and as a result, I was looking on the web for some material I had read once. In the process, I found so many wonderful quotes, ideas and perspectives I was blown away. One of them really struck me. Here is an except:

"Our reasons for home educating our children have changed. Even if given the most perfect public school there is, I'm extremely doubtful that we would enroll our children back into that system. Just by the very fact of removing ourselves from that system, our horizons have broadened. We are much different people than we were three years ago. We have learned to question more and accept “expert opinion” less. We have learned that our own “instinct” is quite often the best answer we can find. We have learned to seek our own knowledge and to view things very differently from mainstream society. Not only are we adults learning to “think outside the box”, but our children are learning that there is no box.

I think that many of the "newbies" in home education will experience the same growth. They will seek out the "school-type" opportunities for their children less and less and listen to their inner voices more and more. They will develop their own philosophy about education. Their reasons for home educating won't be just safety issues anymore. Who knows? Perhaps they will be the ones grousing in ten years about the influx of all those new homeschoolers leaving the public school systems out of fear!" Karen M. Gibson June 1999 Valid Reasons for Home Schooling

What was a leap of faith at first turned out, over time, to grow into a really secure feeling about this choice. It changed for us over time. And it changed for the better. I echo Karen's sentiments. I don't know that I could ever go back to a total "government school" approach, no matter how much it might improve. I really believe this is just fundamentally a better way.

A key reason is that I see our children still very much loving reading, learning and growing on their own. Sure we have struggles from time to time. For example, we have one son who has a really hard time putting in the effort on Algebra. He is great on Geometry and Trig, but Algebra just doesn't turn his crank. Yet, as a 16 year old, he knows he needs to give math some seat time in order to be prepared for the SAT and ACT. However, we spend hardly any time with them as they go through the Saxon books. They do really well on their testing as a result of this approach, so even though we have to be creative in how we "help" them get the job done, the rest of the package that comes with home schooling is just so much better.

I credit Cyndy so much, for reaching out in the beginning. She really become a student of home based education in the early years. She was like a sponge. She made sure she was part of a support group. She read John Holt's "Growing Without Schooling" as each issue came in the mail. As the support group went on activities together, ideas were exchanged and week by week, month by month, she became stronger and more confident. I hope new home schoolers take this example to heart. Reaching out, becoming a student of the art, and processing with other parents.

Reasons for beginning home schooling are highly individual. Yet over time, don't be surprised if your trust of your children and yourself, becomes such that you too find that home based education is just a better way.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Blessing of Crisis in your Home Education

In a recent PLOG that I read on, Patrick Lencioni, one of my favorite business writers made this statement, "No one hopes for a crisis, and rightly so. Certainly this applies to teams and organizations. Most leaders would probably say one of their primary responsibilities is to prevent a crisis from occurring. However, I have found that a powerful lesson for organizations can be found smack dab in the middle of a crisis. It isn't uncommon for a leader to say, "our team has never pulled together more than when we were facing a crisis. Maybe it's the prospect of going out of business or dealing with a public relations catastrophe or even a natural disaster that causes people to rally.

And while this may not seem surprising, it begs the question, "why?" Why do people set aside their usual squabbles and petty politics in the midst of a crisis?"

Lencioni continues, "I found an answer while pondering which teams and organizations live in a perpetual state of crisis every day. Consider firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and soldiers in the heat of a rescue mission or battle. These are certainly some of the least political and divisive teams that you'll ever find. For them, disagreement about budgets and lines of responsibility are inconceivable. Or even worse, deadly. And that's the point. When the stakes are clear and high - life or death - well-intentioned human beings can't help but focus on the overriding task at hand. Which is precisely what happens to companies in crisis: they focus around a compelling, over-arching goal. "

It was this statement, "When the stakes are clear and high - life or death - well-intentioned human beings can't help but focus on the overriding task at hand," that really struck me. It hit me, because recently I was introduced to the TED talks. One of the speakers, Sir Kenneth Robinson speaking of education, reminded me that the world we live in is more unpredictable than ever before. No one is sure what is going to happen in 5 years time, let alone next 40 years. Yet, we as parents are supposed to be ensuring the education of our children to negotiate those years successfully. As he says, WE may never see the next 40 years, but our children surely will. They are the ones needing to succeed and survive it all, not us. What tools will they need? With China, India and Indonesia most likely taking many of jobs out of our own job market, what skills will emerge as absolutely necessary? And are we better able to give those skills to our children at home?

In educating our children, the "overriding task at hand" for me is preparing my children with attitudes and skills that will enable them to succeed. It is to help them more successfully meet future needs some 40 years down the road. While I don't claim to know the specifics of the needs super clearly, acceleration of change seems obvious. As I have faced those kinds of issues in my life thus far, my experiences tell me that the following are important, if not essential for my children. 1) Love of learning, 2) The ability to think creatively 3) Closeness to the Lord in order to receive guidance and 4) the inner strength to select a course, even a visionary one, and remain on it, in the face of opposition from others. Most likely there are additional important goals for our children I need to consider. For now, I am sticking with these four.

Preserving a love of learning in my children is much much more possible at home than at school for the obvious reasons. We have more freedom at home. We don't have to generalize instruction to meet the need of the weakest link, or any link for that matter as so often happens in a classroom setting. Creative thinking is an outgrowth of the very fact that our choice of home schooling tells our children in real terms that there is more than one way to skin the cat, even when it comes to education. Closeness to the Lord, isn't even taught in the public system, let alone nurtured and encouraged. Inner strength and courage is less an outcome of practicing social skills than it is the establishment of deep spiritual roots in purposes that please our Creator.

These conclusions, born of over 27 years of home based education are the blessing of the "crisis of education" that came to us as our first children reached school age. We like many others, were faced then with considering for the first time what was best for our children. That crisis led to our making the decision to give home schooling a try. It was at a time when home schooling wasn't even legal in our state. The years have gone by, it is now legal and accepted almost everywhere and we can see the fruits of this "fork in the path." Next to our faith in God and his prophets, this "road less travelled" has made a huge difference in our children and family. A huge difference for good.

Certainly our children will strongly consider higher education. Surely they need to make choices now to make that opportunity possible then. Yet with the accomplishment of those educational goals in their lives in years to come, we are, as parents, much comforted that underneath those educational pursuits will exist a foundation, rock solid. The cornerstones of which are love of learning, creative thinking, closeness to the Lord and personal courage and inner strength.

This may be the time in your life that finds you and your family in the "valley of decision" as it says in Amos. Here is a tip. Deciding what skills and attitudes you want your children to develop and possess, will make educational alternatives clearer to evaluate, leading to a best choice for you and your loved ones. We hope that it includes home based education.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Story of the Hammer and the Nail

Perhaps you have heard the saying, "To a hammer every problem is a nail"? In other words, the hammer just can't think in any terms other than nails. Perhaps then, to every Superintendent of Public Instruction or politician who oversees the "business" and I mean the BIG business of public education (there is a huge clue here), every problem is solved with more of the same 'ol same 'ol. Same premises, same methods, same players, same attitudes except more of it all... this is the solution for sure this time! Why reinvent the business of education in this state, when they have no one they compete with? They get paid the same no matter what their results, and in fact lobby for more money to use the same broken system to achieve the same or poorer results. This is the message of the article "Vision for Schools - Gregoire: State must improve education to compete globally" in today's Columbian. It sounds like change, but it really is "we need more of your money to control." Sell this big enough and we CAN raise taxes.

Is there an explanation for this? Perhaps. Parents and educators continue to believe that ALL children learn cognitively, because this is all parents and educators can remember from their own educational experience. Both have largely forgotten how they really learned when they were young. It is this forgetting that causes these hammers to forever see the problem as a nail, saying forever as the Governor said, "that Washington must *invest* in a world-class education system if it hopes to retain its competitive edge in the global economy", also known as "spend more money", our money, without giving us a choice in the matter. And that to get the same or poorer results. We entrust our most precious commodity to them, our children and by their own admission, too often this treasure is squandered.

Perhaps it would help if the hammer could see something else in the world besides the nail. Let's give it a try. First divide children into manageable groups. 0-12 and 13+. This is more important than you think. The discussion about one group is too often applied to the other group and confusion is the result. For the younger group, who are forming their attitudes about "learning" itself, whether they love to learn or hate to learn, let's adopt the premise that the primary way they learn is by observation and experimentation not by instruction. Let me say that again. The primary way this younger group learns is by observation and experimentation not by instruction.

Complicated skills like talking and walking for example are all learned by watching and trying, not by attending advanced or remedial classes on the subject. There are actually studies that support the idea that even reading is learned more by observation than by instruction. Nine of our eleven children have all taught themselves to read, for example, primarily because we read to them and read a lot ourselves as their parents. That is part of the job of a parent after all, to model something that when observed by their own children is worthy of emulation.

This premise, that younger children learn more by observation and experimentation than by lecture, has very far reaching implications. Yes, the NEA, politicians and others will argue to preserve the status quo of the "business" they are in. They have a monopoly after all, and who wouldn't fight to maintain that? Both parents and educators need to reinvent education more today than ever before, just as other "businesses", facing market realities, need to. To put it in a nutshell, when we take a cognitive approach to children who ache from the current educational process, many of our children lose, ever so slowly, their love of learning. For many the light just goes out. Where does that lead? That seed sown in the early years, is what the educators of the older group end up reaping. Can anyone argue how difficult it has become for "instructors" of the older group to just survive in the classroom? Sow a different seed in the younger years and the harvest reaped in the older years is more bountiful. And while the law of the harvest plays itself out, do the best we can to help the older group recapture their love of learning until the new younger crop begins to make it into the system.

What is that different seed that needs to be sown? It begins with a change in premise. A paradigm shift. Begin here..."The primary way this younger group learns is by observation and experimentation not by instruction." The genesis of improvement in the education of our children must be a fundamental change in the premise of the hammer. Instead of the same old nail, the hammer needs to begin seeing that younger children learn primarily by observation and experimentation, not by instruction. Work on that for a while, and over time the rest gets very obvious.