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.

Big Decision

We’ve been homeschoolers for over five years now. It seems like forever, and I can barely even remember when my kids were in a brick and mortar school.

My kids have thrived at home, learning and growing at a rate beyond my expectations. It’s a real pleasure, and kind of fun as well, to guide them through the education they’ll need to find success as adults.

And yet, despite all of that, I’ve never truly accepted the idea of homeschooling. Not completely, anyway.

I left the door open. The possibility of my kids returning to public school was always there. For years, I’d end homeschooling discussions with statements like, “We’ll do this for a few years, maybe until high school.”

In my own mind, I began to prepare, mulling over the best options for my son as he approached the end of middle school. I wondered how he would adjust to sitting in a classroom with 25 other kids. Or if the honors courses would be challenging enough for him.

So, last summer I started talking with parents whose kids were in the local high schools, including one highly regarded college prep charter school.

I heard a lot of stories and advice, from both parents and teens. It was all good and positive, but it was heavy on the social scene. I learned a lot about clubs, sports, and video games. Not so much about inspiring teachers or challenging coursework.

It was discouraging to me that the schools don’t seem to be so much about learning as they are about hanging out with friends.

One morning, just last week, I was again thinking about our options for returning to public school when I had a sort of epiphany. For the first time, I asked my son what he wanted to do.

His answer was clear and confident. “I want to continue homeschooling.”

The door that I’d left open suddenly started to close. Actually, it was more of a slam.

Just like that, I realized there was an option I hadn’t been considering. And it really is the best option. I mean, look at what we’re doing: one-on-one teaching, creative curriculum, independent learning. Who wants to argue against that?

So, the big decision I’ve made is that I’m finally buying in to homeschooling. Absolute and total acceptance of the system which has been in place in our home for over five years. About time, huh? I am rejecting all other options as inadequate for my children’s educational needs. We’ll take this thing all the way to high school graduation and never doubt if it’s the right choice for us.

My kids are homeschoolers. They don’t just learn different. They learn better.

The Best Mad Scientist Book

As a homeschooler, I’m always on the lookout for ways to bring science to life for my kids. They can learn only so much with their nose stuck in a textbook. It often takes the hands-on approach to teach some of the more difficult concepts and to let the kids see for themselves what science can do for them.

I’ve seen plenty of books and videos attempting to make science cool, but the new The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists, by Ken Denmead, is one of the best collections of scientific projects and experiments that I’ve ever read. Denmead is the editor of the amazing GeekDad blog, so he knows what he’s talking about.

With this book, your kids will learn how to extract their own DNA, build a radio out of office supplies, grow sea monsters, and play with plasma.

And it all couldn’t be easier. The instructions, concepts, illustrations, are all explained in an easy-to-understand creative way. Denmead knows how to capture and keep a kid’s imagination by relating the science to what they think is fun. You know, space aliens, lasers, robots, spies. All the important stuff.

My kids actually got excited when they thumbed through this book for the first time. My son immediately wanted to try the alchemy experiment (no, it’s not lead into gold, unfortunately). And my daughter is ready to set fire to some Cheetos.

If you’d like to get your kids excited about science too, this book is the place to start. There’s something in it for everyone in the family. I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a 3rd grader or a college student, or anyone who wants to find some answers to how the science all around us works.

With Christmas coming up, this book should be at the top of your list of gift ideas. It’s available at every major book seller, including Amazon.

The good folks at Gotham Books have sent me a copy of The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists to give away to one of my readers.

Just leave a comment on this post, telling me you want it. I’ll pick a winner after the Thanksgiving break.

An Epic Fail of Planetary Proportions

This bothers me.

But I wonder if it bothers you.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. However, if you think about the sheer number of seemingly intelligent people who should’ve caught the mistake, but didn’t, it does seem like a real head scratcher.

The people behind this include scientists and researchers from NASA, National Geographic, and the US Geological Survey. And not one of them spotted what I consider to be an epic fail of planetary proportions.

I see it as a sign of our lowered standards in both education and quality. What else could it be? Either these “experts” don’t know or they don’t care. I’m not sure which is worse.

So, it bothers me to find something like this while looking for resources to supplement my kids’ education. Sure, it’s just a television documentary, but it very well could’ve been a Boeing 787 or a freeway overpass. You’d like to think the people making those things would spot an obvious error in their work, especially when it appears multiple times throughout.

If you’d like to catch the mistake yourself, just watch the video below. My daughter noticed it right away.

Leave a comment if it bothers you too.

The documentary is National Geographic – Amazing Planet from 2007, and currently streaming on Netflix.

Y’all Homeschool?

We had a yard sale last week, mostly to get rid of some large furniture items that have been cluttering up our garage for awhile.

We also asked the kids to root through their crowded shelves and find any books that they wanted to sell.

Turns out they found hundreds of books on shelves, in drawers, under beds, tucked away in the back of the closet. Books going back to kindergarten.

So, at the yard sale, we ended up with three large tables covered with all of these children’s books.

At one point, a very cheerful middle-aged woman walked up the driveway, scanned the books with widening eyes, and asked me, “How long have y’all been homeschooling?!”

I was puzzled, because there was nothing out there that identified our school choice. Plus, you know, we don’t get to hear “y’all” much around here. I asked her, “How did you know we homeschool?”

She swept her arm at the tables and said, “I saw all these kids’ books and just knew y’all had to be homeschoolers!”

I hear enough negative stereotypes about homeschoolers, it was kind of nice to hear one go the other way.

Besides, you know she’s right.

First Day Fizzles

Our first day of the school year kind of fizzled out after a few hours.

My son is starting 8th grade, while my daughter heads into 5th grade.

Or, at least, they’re trying to get started.

Just yesterday, quite abruptly, we decided to end our affiliation with the online school we’ve been using for five years.

The school had just informed us, two days before classes were to begin, that all 8th graders would be required to use their high school program for math and language skills instead of the regular middle school program. They called it a “bridge” to high school.

Now it was never our intent to continue with them past 8th grade, mostly because I don’t like the way their high school is set up. It completely minimizes the parent, because they know that most of their enrolled high schoolers are home alone.

I teach my kids. I don’t leave it to a computer.

So, we’re moving on to our own curriculum, and I’m kind of glad. My son will have the opportunity to really explore some different avenues of learning. He and I will both have to be creative with his courses, whether it be Algebra (which we’re hitting pretty hard this year), or Latin, or the history of the earliest civilizations.

For my daughter, we’ll stick with the curriculum we’ve been using, as they haven’t seen fit to mess with the elementary school students yet.

Her day fizzled out because she took one look at her brother’s situation and said, “If he doesn’t have to do school today, then neither do I.”

And I couldn’t really argue with that.

Photo Friday: Old Schooling

Old School

Last week we traded our home school for an old school.

On spring break in Montana, we stopped in at Bannack State Park, a well-preserved ghost town, for a little old-fashioned book learnin’.

It wasn’t quite the same. Too many desks, not enough cats.

And both kids defied my orders to stand in the corner with a dunce cap on their head.

Where’s Willie Oleson when you need him?

History is Boring

Bored at The British Museum

While walking through what I consider to be one of the best museums in the world, I spotted this kid who was more interested in his Nintendo DS than in the staggering amount of world history that was on display all around him.

Right in front of him were Ancient Egyptian mummies! But his attention was focused on electronic zombies instead.

Maybe he’d taken it all in already. The British Museum is a big place, and you can certainly feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.

I was thinking, “Would that have been me when I was ten?” My passion for history didn’t develop until college, so I very well could’ve been that kid on the floor, rolling his eyes at one more 5,000-year-old statue.

My own kids are different. They both have a much stronger appreciation for the past than I did. My son, especially, loves Egyptian and Roman history, and would’ve been walking on air in the British Museum.

History doesn’t have to be boring. If a child understands the passage of time and how different people and events relate to each other on a timeline, they can learn to love history at an early age.

One key is to help kids understand what it all has to do with them right now. Find a good starting point (the classical republics of ancient Rome and Greece are the most obvious), hit the major events, keep it simple, and make it fun. After they see the connections to the modern world, you can go back and fill in the gaps.

I’d like to take credit for my son’s love of history, but I think he was mostly inspired by the Horrible Histories book series that highlights all the awful, gross, repugnant things that humans have done throughout the years. Kids love that stuff. It’s like Halloween!

We also watch a couple of historical documentaries each week. Netflix is a treasure trove for these. One of the earliest shows we watched was Digging For The Truth, a slick History Channel production that is part history, part archaeology, and part myth, with a little bit of Indiana Jones thrown in.

Someday, I hope to take my kids to The British Museum, and I don’t think either of them will end up on the floor, staring at a video game, while all around them the history of the world is on display.

Geography Bee, Again

For the past four years my son has entered the regional National Geographic Geography Bee through our local homeschool group.

With every intention of winning it.

And each year he came up just short, placing second twice and third once.

But this year he finally won. As they placed the champion’s medal around his neck, it also felt like a great burden was lifted off his shoulders.

I kept telling him not to quit, to study harder, and to try again the next year. “Just don’t give up,” I would say, “and one of these times you’ll win it.”

I’m not sure he believed me until now.

The questions seemed to be harder this year. At least I thought so.

Here are 10 of the 20 or so questions that were asked at the competition:

1. The Wabash River forms part of the border between Illinois and which US state?

2. In which country is the mouth of the Danube River?

3. The site of an ancient lighthouse on the island of Pharos brings tourists to the city of Alexandria in which country?

4. Breaks Interstate Park, called “the Grand Canyon of the South,” is in which two US states?

5. What is the term for the layer of the Earth between the core and the crust?

6. The city of Santa Ana is a major coffee-producing center in which Central American country?

7. Africa’s highest peak is part of a National Park in Tanzania. Name the mountain.

8. Tet is a popular holiday and festival marking the new year in which country?

9. Which US state is represented by a bison skull on the quarter?

10. Gibraltar, located in Europe, is across a narrow body of water from what other continent?

How’d you do?

Oh, you want answers? I’ll post them in the comments later today.