Certainly Beats the Classroom

This just never gets old.

Yesterday there was a teaser on TV regarding the NHL team St. Louis Blues, which is one of the teams in the 2017 NHL playoffs. (If you didn’t already know, we’re die-hard hockey fans.)

During the teaser, the boys saw the St. Louis Arch. They got so excited and started yelling: “That’s the St. Louis Arch! We saw that! We drove right by it!” Indeed, this past September we did drive right by it on the way to Mississippi from Illinois.

We can’t even tell you how often they’ve made comments like this, positively thrilled that they saw, experienced, and learned about things in person, not merely from books. We’re not saying they haven’t learned about things from books or the Internet, but what they remember, what they talk about, what gets them super excited, are the things they have actually seen, been to, and done.

Our boys can say they’ve been to the top of a lighthouse because they’ve climbed the 203 steps to the top of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Florida.

Our boys can say they’ve seen hundreds of huge windmills because we drove by and between them in states like Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, and more.

Our boys can say they’ve played in the snow while a young moose walked by only feet away and watched two bull moose fight in Alaska.

Our boys can say they’ve been to the top of the Space Needle and looked out over Seattle, with Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains as the backdrop, in Washington.

And yes, the boys saw the St. Louis Arch glistening in the setting sun in Missouri.

Already they’ve stayed at least a week in each Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico, and D ‘Skiy has been to New Mexico, although he was only one year old at the time and doesn’t remember it except for the pictures.

(And then there’s our home state of Florida, of course.)

The boys have camped in the sweltering heat of the Florida Keys and the snow-covered hills of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

They have been on steam engine and diesel engine trains, climbed many rock walls, rode on wave runners, took on several ropes courses, snorkeled crystal-clear waters, canoed and kayaked, fished in both salt and fresh water, walked dozens upon dozens of trails, and splashed in freezing mountain streams.

They’ve been to many gardens, zoos, museums, science centers, historical landmarks, and amusement parks throughout the country and the Caribbean.

The beauty of it is that they’re still so young, and they still get so excited whenever we go someplace new, enter a state we’ve never been to before, and pack for any adventure, whether we’ve done it ten times or this is the first.

That’s part of the beauty of homeschooling. The world is their classroom and everything is an open book.

And it never gets old when they can point to something on TV or in a book and say, “I’ve been there.”

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And So Begins Another (Home) School Year

It’s Year 3 and Year 1 at the ‘Skiy residence! D ‘Skiy begins his third year of homeschooling today, and today M ‘Skiy officially starts homeschooling!

We can’t even begin to express how grateful and blessed we are to be able to do this.

Mama ‘Skiy doesn’t have to go through that emotional first day of school, especially since our youngest is now “attending.”

We can choose the schedule we want, which happens to be Monday through Thursday, since Papa ‘Skiy has every other Friday off of work. This is also why we always begin school on the first Monday of August, rather than when traditional schools begin.

We can vacation and travel when other families aren’t, which means smaller crowds, shorter lines, and less traffic. And if somebody is sick or having an off day, we can take it easy and make up lessons some other time.

Our boys — being boys — are extremely active and don’t sit still for very long, preferring to go outside and work with their hands over remaining chained to a desk and book to finish tasks. And if they don’t get something right now or find something too easy or boring, then we adjust for them, so they can learn in the manner that’s best for them.

Do we even need to mention homework, studying for tests, attending parent-teacher and parental organization meetings, dealing with bullying and various behaviorial issues of other kids, waking up super early and possible sleep deprivation? After all, no study has proven the benefits of homework, teachers are pressured now more than ever to teach for tests and not true education, those meetings tent to fuel competition and frustration…

The boys have asked us about regular school, and we’re honest.

Papa ‘Skiy only attended high school in America, and he was picked on a lot. Due to the way classes are taught here compared to Russia, he also struggled. He enjoyed the activities he got in to — swimming, tennis, band — but admits signing up because (due to the language barrier) he didn’t understand they were school teams. He was smart but says he also got involved with bad habits and not the best of crowds, just so he could try to fit in.

Mama ‘Skiy was one of those annoying students that completed all projects ahead of or on time, volunteered to bang the chalkboard erasers and pass out papers, excelled in all subjects and was even moved to the level of band ahead of her age and class, was in every honors society and tutored other students and classmates… She actually enjoyed school, for the most part. Although she liked the classes and activities, she was teased and bullied relentlessly, and despite her parents’ involvement and how much they tried to help with issues and be part of field trips and such, the schools despised their participation and presence and made her parents well aware of this. It was as if, unless parents were willing to be quiet participants or kiss butt, the schools didn’t want parents involved.

We’ve given the boys the option to go to school, especially because they’re curious and have never been, and we’ll continue to give them that option. Homeschooling is a family decision, though, not a parental one.

We’re certainly not worried about their social skills. Their friends range in ages from two to fourteen, they’re very outgoing and more than comfortable talking to adults and making new friends wherever they go, they — and we — are constantly being praised for their manners and behavior, and they can easily recognize the bullies and bad behavior at playgrounds, stores, and other places we go…and they choose to avoid it.

And we’re not helicopter parents. We don’t hover at the playgrounds, we allow them to ride their bikes on their own at campgrounds, and when we go places like Sea World and they want to go to the children’s area, we have a meeting place and have walkie-talkies to keep in touch.

Despite popular belief, we’re no hermits. We do a lot, we travel, we explore, and we’re active. Our boys are growing in leaps and bounds — physically, emotionally, and intelligently.

We’re thrilled that our boys have chosen to be homeschooled. We can continue to educate them in ways books and schools simply can’t, and we can carry on with our RVing and camping obsession…er, hobby.

Year 3…and Year 1: bring it on!

Winding Down Another Homeschool Year

June is a busy month for us. Ours sons’ birthdays and their birthday party are in June, Mama and Papa’s anniversary is in June, and we complete schooling at the beginning of the month, which means the evaluation will be coming up soon.

Our oldest has completed his 2nd official year of homeschooling. And we can remember very clearly just how nervous — and stressed — we were his 1st year.

Just before that 1st year, our youngest son had broken his leg. He was in a full-body cast and needed help with everything. Everything. Nearly every amount of attention went to him, from day-to-day struggles to appointments at the children’s hospital almost 2 hours away. It’s not that we neglected or ignored the needs of our oldest, but it’s safe to say homeschool preparation took a back seat.

That resulted in an ill-prepared first year of homeschooling. Lessons were thrown together haphazardly, we feverishly read books to make sure everything necessary was covered, and our collection and records of work were a complete mess.

When it came time for the first evaluation, Mama was a wreck. She had scraped together every paper, photo, worksheet, and art project that had been completed…and the dining room table was a mess with all of it!

Yet that evaluation was less painful than choosing which book to read at night! Needless to say, she was over-prepared. All that was necessary was a reading log, examples of work at the beginning and end of the year, and a chance for the evaluating teacher to talk to the student.

And this was all done via Skype, in the comfort of our home.

This past year was a breeze. His reading skills are much-improved and he completed almost two full grade levels of work. Our reading list was extensive, as were our lists of activities, places visited, and events attended.

Not only did he grow, but we did too. From the first year to the second, we all discovered just how easy and fitting homeschooling is for us.

The lesson here: if you taught your child how to crawl, walk, talk, feed himself, and dress himself, then any parent can homeschool. Nobody knows your child better than you.

Honestly, it really is that easy.

Homeschool vs School At Home

We’ve been homeschooling for a couple of years now, and we know several others that educate their children at home as well.

In no way do we do it the same though.

The majority of our friends take a school-at-home approach, and most assume we do it the same way: grade- and age-specific curriculum, unit studies, competitive projects between homeschool groups, co-op and group lessons and outings, et cetera.

A fair amount of our non-homeschooling friends and family also assume our sons are in a “grade” and have a set schedule of assignments.

Therein lies the beauty homeschooling.

You could meet 20 separate homeschooling families and witness 20 different ways in which they homeschool, especially in Florida, where homeschooling laws and rules are fairly flexible.

In our case, we are unschooling homeschoolers. As per Florida requirements, we track what our sons do, what they read and what we read to them, maintain their records, and meet (online) with a certified Florida teacher once a year. We are not required to use a curriculum or follow Common Core, two items that also happen to be among the reasons we didn’t want to put our kids in school in the first place. Our boys are also not required to take tests, read books uniteresting to them and are the reason CliffsNotes was invented, or sit quietly at a desk, in a room, for hours on end.

Don’t get me started on that “S” word either. Our sons — and the vast majority of the homeschooling population — are better socialized than schooled kids. To be properly socialized, kids are comfortable around and used to talking to kids of all ages, as well as adults. They’re not restricted to being around kids their own age. Case in point, our boys will soon be having a birthday party to celebrate their 6th and 8th birthdays, and the nearly-dozen friends attending range in ages four to eleven…and none of these are relatives.

Oh, and isn’t school about learning anyway, not socializing? Isn’t that why, the instant kids walk through the doors of a classroom, they are baically told to sit down and shut up unless they’re called upon?

Please don’t get us started on peer preasure and bullies. Wear glasses? Have an accent? Raise your hand in class? Complete homework and assignments on time? Have the sense not to smoke, try drugs, or skip class? Wear generic or hand-me-down clothes? Then you’re on the fast-track to name-calling and becoming a victim.

For crying out loud, don’t tell us school prepares kids for life or toughens them up. When are you bullied at work or the store? Do you understand right from wrong? Do you try to save money rather than senselessly flaunt it? Do you work or socialize with adults only your age? Are you tested at work and expected to recall everything on a whim, or do you have references and resources readily available when you’ve run into a problem or challenge? And doesn’t this world need more kindness and fewer bad asses, less robots and more rebels? School programs and shapes people, and you’re rewarded when you conform and fit in.

Let’s not forget the massive time wasted on assemblies, teaching for government-mandated tests and test taking, reviews, corraling kids between classes or drills, and so on.

Vacations? Breaks? Please! Yeah, nothing sounds more fun than planning a trip during a period when millions of other families are attempting to do the same. Crowds, longer lines, more traffic… Fun.

This isn’t a post against school and traditional education. (Okay…maybe it is a little.) It’ a post in defense of homeschooling, unschooling, life lessons, and true education that doesn’t consist of and require books, homework, tests, faux socialization, and lack of flexibility.

For homeschoolers, it’s seamless. We’re not necessarily saying it’s easy, but anything worth doing right and doing well requires work and dedication and will have its share of challenges.