The Great War For Kids

There’s one thing about history that my daughter quickly learned in her early elementary school days. Humans seem to always be fighting each other.

It’s an unpleasant subject on the surface, but if you’re going to instill a love of history in your children, you can’t avoid the fact that they will, inevitably, be reading about war.

And they will find it utterly fascinating. Continue reading

The Homeschool Decision

People often ask us why we first decided to school our kids at home.

We started in 2006, which seems forever ago, so it’s hard to remember all of the reasons why we turned away from the public schools.

Luckily, I wrote down a conversation I had with my son a few months before we made the decision.

He was in second grade at the time.

Me: “Did you go to the library today?”
Him: “Yes, I found a Bailey School Kids book!”
Me: “Cool. You can read it tonight.”
Him: “No, I already read it.”
Me: “What? When?”
Him: “Today, during my free time.”
Me: “Exactly how much free time do you have that you could read an 80-page chapter book in one afternoon?”
Him: “Lots.”
Me: “And what is the teacher doing during all this free time?”
Him: “Making sure we’re quiet.”
Me: “Uh-huh, are you sure she’s not doing her nails or taking a nap or something?”
Him: “No, she helps the kids who need help, and the rest of us have free time.”

I’m sure that this, combined with a host of other things, lit the fire for us to try something different.

We’ve never doubted our homeschool decision. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been totally worth it.

My kids have succeeded well beyond our expectations.

My son is taking college courses at the age of 16, while my 8th grade daughter is on track to do the same.

I have a feeling that my son and daughter would not have thrived as they do now if we had stayed with the public schools. They would have learned to keep their head down, to work quietly, to move forward, and, certainly, to do as well as necessary to avoid attention, both negative and positive.

I’m not sure the fire for learning would still be burning as brightly for them if we’d made a different decision way back then.

To be fair, it’s all conjecture at this point.

The homeschool decision worked for us. That’s the one thing I do know.

10 Benefits of Homeschooling

10 Benefits Of Homeschooling

1. Our cat never gets lonely waiting for the kids to come home from school. He just curls up right at their feet, and in their lap, and on their desk.

2. The librarian is starting to recognize us from our frequent trips to get more books. Last week she looked the other way on an overdue book.

3. Stockinged feet walking around the house all day means I don’t have to worry about polishing the wood floor.

4. There is no better place to read The History of Colonial America than curled up on the couch in front of a roaring fire.

5. We don’t need permission slips to take field trips. We just go.

6. No bullies, no PTO moms, no drop-off lane, no fashion police, no dumbing down, no fundraising, no harried teachers, no busy work. Nothing but learning.

7. The manager of our favorite deli recognizes us from our frequent lunches out and upgrades our meals with big drinks and free cookies.

8. The quality of handwriting always improves when the incentive is a half-hour morning break to watch an episode of Get Smart.

9. When the kids are asked what they did in school that day, they actually give a clear and detailed answer instead of the standard, “Oh, nothing.”

10. School becomes exciting. Knowledge becomes a treasure. Learning becomes a way of life.

It’s All Good

How was I supposed to know that a simple remark to my kids would trigger a slow descent into madness?

It all began during my daughter’s grammar lessons. I was teaching her the difference between the words well and good.

This is easy to explain to anyone. Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb.

Examples: “This is good ice cream,” and “The girl performed well on her test.”

There’s a slight exception for well when it concerns describing a person’s health, such as “Dad is not feeling well,” but other than that, this is a straightforward grammar lesson.

I should’ve just stopped there, but no, I had to say it to both my kids: “A common mistake that some people make is to use good as an adverb. Next time you’re around a group of people, listen for how they mix up these words.”

That did it. Because now I started listening. At the store, in friendly conversations, watching TV and movies, on the phone… I had my radar on and I didn’t know how to turn it off.

Across the board, regardless of education or age, we are unbelievably bad about using the word good as an adverb. Now, I’m not the grammar police, and there is a part of me that doesn’t much care how you want to talk or write.

But I’m trying to teach my kids that the English language does have some hard and fast rules, and this is one of the easy ones to remember.

I never realized just how many instances of this abuse would reach my ears until I started paying attention. My son says I am now having a noticeable physical reaction, like a twitch, when I hear someone say, “You did good,” or “The team played good,” or some other example.

In the interest of my mental health, I might have to lower my standards and accept this new use of the word.

Someday maybe I can talk good like everyone else.

Still Running Through It

Check, check… Is this thing on?

Let’s see, where were we last I wrote a blog post?

Something about killing a dad blog through a good night’s sleep.

My little family blog is coming up on its tenth birthday next year, and there’s a lot of history here. About raising kids, homeschooling, being a stay at home dad. The history is still being made. The family is still running through it.

So, where are we now?

My son is in tenth grade, still schooling at home through an online charter school. The biggest change with him is that he’s fully in charge of his learning.

I’ve gone from being a teacher to being an administrator. My job is to keep him on schedule, although he’s even made great strides to doing that all for himself as well. He has slowly been mastering the art of time management. Making schedules, budgeting his workload, writing up daily and weekly to-do lists.

My daughter is in 7th grade, also schooling at home, through a different online charter school. She is following in her brother’s footsteps with taking charge of her learning, for no better reason, really, than she doesn’t want him to show her up.

Because little sisters are always smarter than big brothers, right?

There are many reasons why we continue to school at home, but over the years we have come to realize that doing things differently than everyone else sometimes has tremendous benefits. My kids are not afraid of trying new things, of looking at the world in a different way, of approaching problems with solutions that are beyond the norm.

We celebrate people like that, don’t we? Steve Jobs, anyone?

Well, I’m going to keep this post short. I hope to return to regular blogging here, despite the many current demands on my time (and the early bedtime I’ve inflicted on myself).

Please let me know if you’re still reading. Thanks!

Graphic Violence

There’s no quicker way to lose a teenager’s interest than to bring up the subject of history.

But say the words, “Graphic violence,” and suddenly they’re paying attention again.

History is already filled with violence (seriously, take all the wars out of a history book and you’re left with a thin pamphlet). Now all you have to do is make it graphic, and you have a brilliant way of teaching history to kids.

That’s the aim of a new book by Wayne Vansant, The Graphic History of Gettysburg. It’s an exciting, fast-paced telling of the landmark Civil War battle, told in comic book form.

And, yes, it’s got guns and explosions and blood spraying everywhere. Just enough to keep kids tuned in like it’s an episode of The Walking Dead.

The book describes the period leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, and includes charts and portraits of all the major players in the battle.

But Vansant wastes little time getting to the heat of the battle. His illustrations put you right in among the troops on both sides. The descriptions and dialogue are simple and straightforward, allowing readers with no prior knowledge of Gettysburg to follow the action and to understand why things happened the way they did.

Gettysburg is widely recognized as the turning point of the Civil War, so it’s vital for kids to learn why and how it happened. With the 150th Anniversary of the battle coming up in July, The Graphic History of Gettysburg is a great introduction to an important time in our nation’s history.

If you have a kid, or an adult, who nods off at the mere mention of history, these kinds of books might just be the spark that gets them interested.

Thanks to the good people at Zenith Press, I have TWO COPIES of The Graphic History of Gettysburg to give away! Simply leave a comment on this post, telling me your favorite time period in history, and why. I’ll pick a winner next week!

Why We Homeschool, Revisited

I was reading through my old blog posts, and came across this one from 2006. Our reasons for homeschooling have remained the same over the past seven years.

As my son finishes the 9th grade, we can measure his success by how well he stacks up academically with other kids his age. Would he be #1 in his class if he was at the local high school? Probably not. But, based on test scores, writing quality, and general knowledge, he would be in the top 5%, for sure. I don’t believe he would be as well-prepared if he had remained in the public schools. So, our goal of a better education through homeschooling has been reached.

Anyway, here’s my original post, from 2006:

We are entering our seventh week of homeschooling our 8-year-old son. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s all going very well. Better than expected, in fact.

Through IDVA outings and activities, we’ve met many other homeschooling families and have heard just about every reason as to why people choose this option for their kids. Most of them are homeschooling for religious reasons. Others live in remote areas. Some had bad experiences with the public schools.

Our reason for homeschooling falls into none of those categories. Our religious beliefs didn’t enter into the decision. We don’t live on some isolated mountain top. And, in the three years our son was in the local public schools, we never had a single bad experience.

Quite simply, it came down to a realization that the education my son was receiving in the traditional classroom was merely good, bordering on average. Three years of watching him, being involved, and volunteering in the schools opened my eyes to the fact that our schools can only do so much. Some kids thrive in that system. Other kids get lost. Most kids do well but never excel.

My son always did well in school, but there were too many days when he was bored or ignored. Too much time wasted and opportunities squandered. Over the past year we explored the various forms of homeschooling and it didn’t take long for us to decide that this was the way for us to go.

We’re lucky enough to be in a situation, with one at-home parent, that makes it easy to homeschool. If we couldn’t do it I wouldn’t feel too bad about leaving my son in the traditional public school setting. With limited resources and crowded classrooms, they do a good job educating children. But I can do better than just “good” for my kids.

And that is why we homeschool.

Stop Homeschooling

There are many reasons why people decide to start homeschooling their kids. But what prompts a family to stop homeschooling?

Last summer some friends of ours decided to pull their two boys out of public school because they were frustrated with the quality of teaching and worried about the negative influences of certain bullies on the playground.

The parents were enthusiastic about homeschooling and the possibilities for learning. I warned the mom, who would be the primary teacher, that the first year was a tough time of adjustment to a new and very busy schedule.

She had it under control, she told me. She was organized and ready.

Within the first month she voiced her first minor complaint to us, about how much time it was taking her older boy to finish some of the assignments. My main piece of advice to her was to relax and be flexible about the work. Homeschooling shouldn’t be rigid. I like to encourage fun learning and discovery.

We heard from our friend off and on over the months, and it was always the same refrain. “They’re falling behind,” she’d say. “We work from morning until night and the boys are starting to hate school.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just offered simple words of encouragement and continued to tell her, “The first year is difficult. You’re learning how to be a teacher, and your kids are figuring out what’s expected of them. Most of all, you have to learn how to be flexible.”

I thought she’d turned a corner in the new year when we didn’t hear anything negative for the first two months. Then, out of nowhere, I get an email from her. Not only has she completely soured on homeschooling, but she won’t even finish the year. She marched her boys down to the local school and re-enrolled them with just two months left in the semester.

In her letter, she explained to me why they were quitting:

“I’m VERY burnt out. I am so tired of spending every day going over teacher manual after teacher manual (on and off the computer) and trying to keep up with the boys’ work. I’ve gotten so burnt out that I’ve decided that we are not going to continue homeschooling.

I’m also missing having some time at home without the kids. I’ve just found that everything I do is for someone else and it’s exhausting. I have been stretched so far in so many directions that something had to change, and quickly.

I finally had to admit that I can’t do it all. Not unless I could figure out how to get more hours into a day, and I don’t know anyone who can do that.”

Let her reasons serve as a warning to you if you’re thinking of homeschooling. It is not a decision to be made lightly. Taking on the role of teacher to your kids is a major life changer. You have to give up a lot of personal time.

For some people, that’s just asking too much.

Rise from the Depths

It’s a bittersweet day.

My kids have announced that they no longer want to homeschool.

In the basement.

That’s right, they no longer want to do their schooling in the basement classroom that I painstakingly designed and set up four years ago.

They said something about it being too cold, too dark, too boring. Which is strange, because it’s a nice basement. It has a big window that lets in a lot of light. There are rows of shelves filled with books and school supplies. There’s even a comfy futon for stretching out to read.

The cold part, though, I agree with. The temperature never gets much above 55 down there, even in the summer. During winter, we’ll have two space heaters running, and we still need to wear hooded sweatshirts and fluffy slippers.

So I can understand them wanting to move their school into the family room, which is always warm because of the large west-facing windows.

Even though I was a bit sad, it took me all of ten seconds to agree. After all, their environment should be most conducive to learning. Shivering can be a big distraction.

Like many other homeschoolers, we have always used the entire house for learning, but the classroom was the center. It’s where the books were read, math problems solved, essay questions scribbled. I’ve always felt it to be important to have an actual classroom area, with desks and storage, because that’s what the kids will most likely find in the future, whether in a college lab or a work office.

Now there is much movement of desks, shelves, computers, and books as it all comes up from the basement to one side of the family room. It’s a smaller space, but I think it will work.

The important thing is how the kids learn and perform. We start school next week, so we’ll soon find out.

In the meantime, I have a mostly empty 400 sq ft basement that I don’t know what to do with!

Napoleonic Snow Day

Looking out the window one morning last week, an unexpected heavy snowfall had me thinking I’d just call it a snow day for the kids. I told them we could play games or watch some old movies, but my son was having none of it. “I’m right in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s very exciting!”

Homeschooling is like that sometimes.