Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #7

Hi and thank you to everyone who signed up over the holidays! As always, one of the newbies gets an autographed copy of THE YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY. KIM W. write back and give me your address! In the past week, I've gotten several emails in this vein: Hi Quinn, I am based in ******, homeschooling my 2 daughters ages 4 and 6 and I am having a hard time finding our type of people doing the same. Did you ever find your tribe? If so, how??? and Thanks for the information, Quinn. I'm pretty sure I could match you doubt for doubt on whether or not I can do this. The next couple of newsletters are for those people who realized maybe as late as December that they weren't putting their children back in school after winter break ended. The parents who've watched previously happy children get progressively more miserable the past three months, or children who never really enjoyed school slide quickly back into the same unproductive patterns as the previous years, who decided that whatever homeschooling was, it had to be better than what they were doing. Only now these parents are staring at these children thinking maybe this was a very bad idea. And because life likes to amuse itself and just to impress upon the parents that THERE'S NOWHERE TO GO, they're having second-thoughts while it's -4 degrees outside. Here are some rules for the first six months of home-schooling, handed down to me from women who know far more than I do and have homeschooled their children all the way to happy adulthood. On the other hand, I got most of these wrong and will exist, as I usually do, as the cautionary tale: 1. Breathe. Biologically, if you're panicking over the magnitude of what you've taken on, your body is so busy believing everyone is going to die immediately that you can't problem-solve long-term. What this means is tell yourself firmly that everything didn't get broken in a day, and everything won't get fixed in a day. One very wise parent told me the first six months of homeschooling is mostly a wash, as you figure out the difference between what you thought and hoped was going to work and what actually works for your family. Even with that lag time, your students will be fine. Their brains are plastic and adaptable and even though I'm no fan of testing, there's something in that homeschoolers, on average, test better than the average bricks and mortar student. Those students had fallow periods as well and yet everything turned out fine. Of course I -- overwhelmed by realizing I was the worst person in the world to take on this job -- spent the second morning of our homeschooling lives breathing into a paper bag, trying to get the invisible Volkswagon off my chest. You can do that, if you want. 2. Find Your People. I'm going to tell you how to figure out where your home is in the increasingly complex world of homeschooling next week, but in the meanwhile, let's talk about homeschool get-togethers and co-ops. Most cities large enough to no longer call themselves towns have a homeschool community of some kind and once you have more than a handful of homeschoolers, you usually have a mother or two eager to get her family to the park midday for a little community time. Start by Googling " (Your City or County) homeschool" and see where it gets you. If the community is big enough, there might be families who teach classes in a co-op fashion, a parent teaching something they're either qualified to discuss or passionate about. If you have museums or zoos in your community, reach out to them and see if they have open days or classes for homeschoolers; more do with each passing year. So, you might ask, is that how I met my tribe? Well...no. I still have more friends who don't homeschool than do. When I have homeschooling questions or doubts (like, say, on a weekday), I still tend to try to figure it out on my own. This has nothing to do with the community, because I've met lovely, intelligent, thoughtful homeschooling families and everything to do with my nature. I'm an introverted only child; I naturally work as an independent contractor. Also, Alice defines herself more by her hobbies than her schooling, so I tend to have more in common with the parents of her teammates than homeschoolers. Also, I realized part of my need to find my tribe was based on a hope that I'd find someone exactly like me, only five years older, to pat my hand and say knowingly "It all works out." Once I got used to the idea of living in not-knowing, that in fact when it comes to parenting choices everyone lives in not-knowing, the need for tribal affiliation eased up tremendously. 3. Take the "Home" out of "Homeschooling." Once the Polar Vortex decides to go torture another country, get out of the house. Staring at each other across the table becomes claustrophobic and part of the pleasure of homeschooling is getting to do things and go places when other people cannot. I'll go into this in greater detail next week, but start thinking about whether you think people need to be pushed or pulled towards education; if you think your family learns best when they set the pace, ask them what they want to see, what they want to learn, and then take them there. This suggestion, I took. We've been all over this county and into four others in pursuit of things which interested Alice at the time; if you're looking for the reason for climate change, go no further. Is she still interested in most of the things she did, the places we went? No. But she developed a bravery about following her interests that simply sitting at home, or in a classroom, would never have afforded her and she knows where the Inland Empire is, and no one can take that away from her. Oh! Which leads to a Quinn suggestion: 4. Find family-friendly podcasts. If you have a smartphone, search the available podcast subjects. Whatever your family is interested in exploring, someone is rambling on about it. The next time you all decide to go to a farm for rescued animals, perhaps you can listen to a podcast about raising chickens? We love The Naked Scientist around here, which is both informative and makes you sound badass to tell people when you're 13. iTunes lets you know if it's explicit, but it wouldn't hurt to prescreen. 5. Don't act like it's going on your permanent record. Whatever decision you've made right now for your family isn't tattooed on your bicep. If it doesn't work, your child will be okay and you can try something else. People have gone from homeschooling to bricks and mortar schooling, and they have also gone the other way, and the outcomes have been fine. The dirty secret of raising children is that more of who they are, and who they are going to be, is in the genes than we're prepared to admit; they're a lot more nature than nurture. If you love your child, listen to them, and stay flexible and keep your sense of humor, that's going to matter a lot more to who they become than what methodology you choose. So relax (See: Rule #1), decide to have an adventure and know that I'll answer any specific questions you have. Speaking of questions, next week I'll show you how to pick the educational model which works for your family, whether you homeschool or not. Quinn

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