Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #8

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. AMY W., write back and give me your address! This morning, I am the proud parent of a cough, probably the logical outcome of dry California air, a fire nearby and some painting and sanding which has gone on in the house this past week. It’s not attractive, my cough, but it makes up for it by being very loud and making toddlers cry. I say this not to inspire sympathy or offers of popsicles (although, having written that, I would not turn down a Popsicle or twelve) but to wrestle with a question people have asked me: How do you homeschool your kids when you’re sick? Or, how do you homeschool when you have to go to the DMV, or take care of your elderly parents, or stop the regular schedule and handle something the way all of us do nearly every month of our lives? If life is complicated, should you rethink homeschooling? Well, first of all, I never advocate homeschooling. I’m still not even sure it’s the right thing for our family, let alone yours; it’s entirely too soon to tell. But I think deciding not to do it because things happen and schedules get upended isn’t a good reason. If, say, I felt like just lying in bed today coughing and staring dully at the wall, I could arrange for Alice to do the homework I know is essential for today and then agree that she can watch a movie she likes, but that she must watch it in French, an option on most DVDs. If you have younger children studying American History, I strongly suggest checking out “Liberty’s Kids,” an animated series about the American Revolution. Indifferent 80s animation notwithstanding, it’s factual and I’ve yet to meet a child who didn’t like it, if only because they were getting away with watching television. If they’re younger and you need some quiet to heal or take care of something, I also cannot recommend “Brainpop” strongly enough. They cover all sorts of subjects suitable from K-8 and for one annual fee your kids can study specific topics or just cavort around looking at what interests them. Heads up: for the older kids (over 3rd grade), there are some topics which you might want to cover with them ahead of time or declare off-limits. I found what Brainpop did with difficult topics to be sensitive and smart, but it’s your house. The older children in your house can be sent to Khan Academy to watch videos; Alice just found and loves Crash Course, a program within Khan. Is watching videos the same thing as buckling down and learning Algebra? No. On the other hand, an afternoon spent getting a little smarter about things which interest them rarely hurts anybody and let’s be honest, schools have slack-off days as well; I think I saw the same video about California poppies in Science class three times in 5th grade. Something else to consider; I think what we learn from a page, or a workbook, holds one degree of importance and relevance and what we learn from living our lives comes in at an entirely different level. A woman I know had to care for her elderly uncle, who lived across the United States, so she pulled her kids from school and started homeschooling while also learning about eldercare and, fairly quickly, hospice care. The children learned the basics of what they needed to finish the school year, but they also learned about caring for someone, and the rigors of insurance paperwork, and grieving and what their mother was like under pressure. Will any of this be on the ACT? No. But I can’t help but think it will make them more compassionate and interesting adults, people for whom a lot of what may come off as boring policy debates will have actual meaning. Now, off to entertain the masses with my impression of Peppermint Patty.

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

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #6

If you’re new, thanks for signing up! As promised, I’m giving away a copy of THE YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY every week to new subscribers. This week, the winner is HM! HM, I’ll be in touch. A few years ago, I got to a page in this “Choose Your Own Adventure” book which I call life and opted for the “Homeschool your child” path. We like it pretty well; I mean, we’re still at it so it must be working for us. And then there are weeks like this past week where I long to flip back to that decision and go with “Start middle school at any of the many credible options around Los Angeles.” It’s not that Alice has been especially thirteen; she’s a fundamentally sound person. It’s not that I’m suddenly flummoxed by how to teach her something; when you’re me and your child is taking Chinese and Chemistry, you’re fully aware that you shouldn’t touch the shiny academic things because you’ll break them. No, what’s humbling me lately, what’s making me look longingly at the parental drop-off line at the local middle school, is the very largeness of what we’re trying to do. Are we giving her enough, making sure she’s ready to go and do whatever she wants to do, whatever that turns out to be? I’m not saying “What if I don’t get my ‘I have a child a PRINCETON’ bumper sticker!?!?!!” I’m saying what if, with all the best of intentions, we’re doing this child a real disservice? What if my love for her is giving me a blind spot the size of the Indian Ocean for something she’s simply can’t do and Future Alice is going to be really hurt by what Present Quinn didn’t notice. Maybe I’m just Wyle E. Coyote, legs bicycling through the air a mile above the desert that second before he looks down and realizes...oh. I can tell you she’s happy enough, but I can’t know for certain if she’s educated enough. And yet I know the things she’s doing, and I know the opportunities and responsibilities she’s had the luxury of taking on thanks to homeschooling. I know the studies which show that homeschoolers, on average, do better on standardized tests than bricks-and-mortar students. In one small study, the homeschoolers outpaced even their private school cohorts on the ACT. And what if she isn’t perfectly educated this day or even this year? Let’s assume we’re screwing something up and she has a great big gap where some learning should be. I have to have faith that we’ll find it and fix it, she’ll learn it when it’s necessary for something she wants or maybe it wasn’t all that critical anyway. I casually said before that she’s happy enough, but I have plenty of friends with children the early teen years that are very not happy right now. It’s easier to add something to a happy brain than a miserable one. So we homeschool for one more day. All this to say, if you’re thinking about homeschooling and wondering if you’d always need to be serenely confident it was the right choice, I’m here to say that at least one homeschool parent is the occasional wreck and the kid still manages to be thriving. Now, to the link of the week, a video which even this mathphobe watched all the way to the end (and learned a few things). It might be a way to helping a visual learner truly understand some rather abstract concepts. As the mother of a girl, it’s also heartening to hear STEM materials being taught by what sounds like a confident, happy young woman. And here’s my tip of the week for parents of teens, homeschooled or not, who live in Los Angeles; read this: http://www.piercecollege.edu/offices/transfer_center/CROSS%20ENROLLMENT%20POLICY-PROCEDURES.pdf If your teen takes classes at Pierce and earns a decent grade, they can take classes at the highly sought-after UCLA for only $24 a credit. When you factor in that high school students can take up to 11 credits a semester for free, that might be the best bang for your educational buck I’ve seen in quite a while. Imagine getting their freshman year done before they even graduate high school for a couple of hundred dollars! If your child has their heart set on a particular university, make sure they accept transfers. Have a great week and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write me at the “Year of Learning Dangerously” page on Facebook. Q

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #5

If you’re new, thanks for signing up! As promised, I’m giving away a copy of THE YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY every week to new subscribers. This week, the winner is Molly P.! Molly, I’ll be in touch. I’m writing this at 4:23 in the morning; Alice is sick. Nothing awful, just the usual cost of doing business when you breathe in air others have exhaled, but in case you ever thought homeschooled kids didn’t get sick, I have a hacking kid down the hallway to prove otherwise. Actually, homeschooled kids are just like any other kids. They socialize, they learn phrases you heartily wish they wouldn’t use around their grandparents, they beg to be allowed on social media, they sulk when they are denied social media; in sum, they get infected in all sorts of ways, same as any other child. One subject that always gives prospective homeschooling parents the cold sweats is AP tests. “But,” they say, pulling at their collar like they aren’t getting enough air, “how would I prepare my daughter for the AP Physics test? I don’t think they even had Physics when I was a kid!” Courage, I say. There are options. First of all, there are study-skill franchises like Kumon et al, many of whom offer AP tutoring. It’s pricey and I can’t vouch for their effectiveness, but if your child learns best sitting next to someone, it’s worth checking out. There are teachers at any local high school who, sadly, aren’t getting paid enough and would probably be interested in doing some AP tutoring on the side. I know parents who love these people and have been very happy with the result. Some other options are Stanford and Apex. I also know of some families who have studied on their own, or have even seen their teenagers take responsibility for prepping for the test and have seen it turn out well, but that takes a pretty seasoned homeschooling family or a nearly mythic teen. Something to consider is that while many colleges still give college credit for an AP test with a score of 4 or 5 and let the child skip some college classes, that is increasingly not the case at the most prestigious universities. An AP test is a great deal of work; you have to decide whether it’s the right work for your family. Which takes us back to where we always are either as the parents of homeschoolers, of students in traditional school, or as parents in general: frequently at a loss. But here again, whatever decision you make will be a good decision and if you don’t like how it’s turning out, I give you permission to change your mind and that will be fine, too. If it seems like I’m avoiding taking a strong position here it’s because I am. Education in the new century requires flexibility and feedback. The best experiences are those that allow both. Next week, I’ll give you the greatest secret pass I’ve found in the Community College system so far; you can use it for your homeschooler or your traditionally-educated teen. Until then, here are (as of this writing) links to 800 free online college and university courses. In the news, I went and took a tour of the Pasadena branch of Fusion Academy. If you’ve ever wished your child could homeschool for certain classes, but step into a classroom for some of the others, while also getting some peer time every day, this might be something to consider. They’ve got fifteen branches up and running and four more opening in the first quarter of next year. The space was interesting and the kids I saw congregating, doing homework or hanging out together between classes, seemed happy and engaged. I’ve already suggested it to a friend who isn’t necessarily in a position to homeschool but has a child who might need it. And now, speaking of children who need things, my daughter needs a box of Kleenex. See you next week, Quinn

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #4

Welcome back to the newsletter. Several readers suggested I give it a name and I’m thinking about calling it: Homeschooling for the Rest of Us. What do you think? With thankfulness on my mind this week, let me first say I’m very grateful you’ve signed up for these shortcuts, hints, homeschoolers in the news and other random bits I’ve found useful or interesting. In fact, I’m so grateful that, as promised, a new subscriber this week is receiving a free, autographed copy of THE YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY. The random drawing pulled...JENNIFER HILL! Jennifer, congratulations! Reach out to me at Quinn@Learningdangerously.com and I’ll get that book out to you straightaway. I’ll do more gift drawings in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. I got several requests this month which included notes along the lines of: “I’m trying to decide whether homeschooling is a good idea.” Well, here’s a confession...Me too. I can tell you tell you everything I’ve learned since we started this adventure, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea. I hope what we’re doing is right for Alice, but I’m knee-deep in it which makes me possibly the last person to ask. Then again, the parents who bust their humps to pay for private school are also hoping this is the right choice but don’t always know for certain; as are the parents of the public-school students, charter-school students, and boarding-school students. What can be the right choice for one child can be a unqualified disaster for another child – even if they’re in the same family! You can spend months researching the school decision and end up with your child having more problems in school than the kid down the street whose parents who only noticed the local elementary school the week before Labor Day. Here’s a story: I’ve blurred some of the details, but the parts which are relevant are true. A friend had three kids, the last one much younger. By the time he was in sixth grade, his mother had already seen two children through high school and knew exactly how stupid and distracted hormones made her older son and daughter. After careful research, she decided that an all-boys school would keep him focused, not something which came easily to him. After jumping through a series of flaming hoops, she got him enrolled into the perfect boys’ school. Her next six years were going to be better than she’d experienced with her first two children. Two weeks after starting seventh grade, the boy came out to his parents, tearfully admitting he’d fallen in love with his new best friend at school, who was straight. His mother now admits he didn’t learn a single damn thing for the entire year except how to cry in the bathroom. He’s great now, but it wasn’t the path any of them thought it would be. Is there a lesson here? Maybe it’s that life doesn’t always reward good intentions. Or ambitious research. Still, I will promise you one thing: if you keep talking and listening to your child, whatever choice you about their education will be a good choice. Or good enough. Or fixable. I sincerely believe that children simply give up when they believe they aren’t being heard. Homeschool, don’t homeschool, just try to see them for who they are and what they need. Everything else is negotiable. If you’re even considering home-schooling as an option, there a few things you might want to think about while you weigh your options. I did some videos covering just that. No matter what you end up choosing, I hope you keep coming back to the LEARNING DANGEROUSLY Facebook page, as I’m going to keep putting up links to things I think children (and parents) might find interesting. Let’s just say that torturing Gummy Bears and setting tea-bags on fire is highly educational, no matter where you usually get your education. Finally, homeschoolers in the news; is it possible that one of the benefits of homeschooling is healthier children? If you're in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! Next week's topic: How do homeschooling families handle AP tests? Quinn

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #3

Thanks to all the new subscribers; I hope you like it! Once a week now, I'm going to randomly draw a name from the new subscribers from the previous week and give them an autographed copy of YEAR OF LEARNING DANGEROUSLY. This week the winner is Beth Pranger; Beth, get in touch! What can I tell you about homeschooling? Well, there’s a lot of stuff associated with it. I don’t mean baggage; yes, relatives will continue to ask if your child will ever go back to “Real school,” and there’s always a stranger eager to tell you that you’re a selfish freak whose hobby is child-ruining, but after a while that emotional flotsam and jetsam will be less annoying than your children’s stuff, everywhere. I promise you that even if you’re one of those “I can’t sleep until the house is at least partially straightened up,” after you do all that straightening up you’ll put the children to bed and slide in your refuge, your sanctum, your bathroom and find kid stuff. In our case, it’s MUSE magazine, a subscription I thank God for every month, because it’s smart and fun and all members of the family enjoy it. You have a kid who likes to learn new things every month? I cannot recommend it highly enough. My child loves it. But she also loves it as in “But I’m READING that!” and it’s three years old. A sane (read: Not homeschooling) parent would create rules like “If it’s from a previous presidential administration, you’re done with the issue,” but the homeschooling mother thinks “Yes, but it’s education and we’re going to do that unit study on birds so we should keep the issue about Alex the parrot and look, the baby is flipping through it!” If you educate at home it’s kind of like living at work and if you live at work you’re never off the job. All this to say that yes, that is a two-inch stack of weathered magazines in my car; just push them into the back seat before you get in. Now to continue with websites for learning foreign languages: Mango Language Very user-friendly, languages galore. 2. LiveMocha Not intimidating at all and offers users the chance to converse with native speakers. 3. BBC Language Page While not as shiny as the first two, it’s free and it’s perfectly good for starting one off on a language. Also, if you click on the link, you can get a feeling for what British people are like on holiday. Believe me, you need that. Homeschooling in the news this week is an article in The Atlantic, “Paris Was My Middle-School Classroom” and then on the other side of the IQ chart, the youngest Kardashian says she homeschools for about three hours a day because more than that would cut into the work she has to do. Let’s hope she has a MUSE magazine or two in the car to read on the way to work. See you all next week. If you have any questions about specific tools for homeschooling, or general questions about homeschooling, or what to do with MUSE magazines after they can no longer be held together with tape, please write me at Quinn@learningdangerously.com and I'll try to answer them.

Learning Dangerously Newsletter #2

When Alice was 12, she decided one item on her bucket list was to be multilingual before she turned 13. I was 51% delighted and 49% “Oh, crap.” “Well,” I said, stalling, “You’ve got English, some French and you’re working on Chinese. You’re already there!” No, she wasn’t already there. She decided English didn’t count towards the total and even if we counted being able to read music as a language, that only made her trilingual. Trilingual is not multilingual. Mercifully, she granted me that she didn’t have to be fluent in the next language; a working comprehension would suffice. I bargained it down to a few words achieved in the new language before her birthday. This, while good news, didn’t make my job much easier because: a) We homeschooled and on a good day I’m monolingual. On a good day. b) While we live in a city filled with the Spanish language (The name of the very city being Spanish), she refuses to study it, declaring it too obvious. c) I knew I couldn’t afford language tutors, on top of everything else. d) She wanted to learn Arabic. Yes, it’s not an obscure language but it’s not ubiquitous, either. I fretted. I researched. I came to discover that while there are certain subjects which aren’t a natural fit for homeschooling, language classes are out there, easy to find and frequently cheap, if not free, to learn. As it happened, four months before her birthday, we met the Sabra family who are keeping up their Arabic through a school based in Egypt. The mother gave the school glowing praise. A private one hour tutoring session a week cost me $39.00 a month. Before her birthday my daughter could say “Insh’Allah” with enough confidence to check “Multilingual” off her list and we had the secondary educational benefit of a teacher who was living through the political turmoil in Egypt this summer. At one point during a tutoring session, their Skype kept clicking out. Alice rolled her eyes in disgust. “Honey,” I counseled, “Cut them some slack; they’re in the middle of a civil war.” Middle East politics rarely comes to our house with such immediacy. If you’re thinking about languages, here are some options. I’ll skip the more obvious options such as Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur in favor of some lesser-known, highly useful and cost-effective programs. In fact, I have found such a ridiculous excess of fun and creative language options online that I’m going to split them up: Studio Arabiya: Their primary educational goal is to help younger students with the reading of the Qur’an but the teachers were incredibly productive and helpful with Alice. I cannot recommend them highly enough. The back office is quick, efficient and you’ll never have more polite emails with a company. Once a week hour-long tutoring comes to $39.00 a month and the hourly price goes down if you take more classes. Learn10.com is a program whereby you will be sent 10 new vocabulary words every day from the language of your choice. There are about twenty languages available now, ranging from Chinese to Swedish. For an additional fee, they’ll even add a language for you. The basic fee is $9.95 a month. For an extra $9.95 you can get an annual subscription to a screensaver which will show you your words. I haven’t used this but it looks interesting enough to mention. Duo Lingo teaches French, Portuguese, German, Italian and Spanish. You can play games, read articles, practice with friends, build up points and win prizes. It’s incredibly user-friendly. I had the kid try it out a year ago and within two hours she wanted to use her new Portuguese sentences on her Brazilian-born godfather. Yes, it’s fewer languages than some of the other websites but it’s among the easiest to leap into. If you want your child to get college credit for his or her language, you should certainly look into BYU. When an important part of your school’s mission is preparing nineteen year-olds to travel around the world preaching the gospel, it means you’ll have a strong language program. Next week, I’ll give you some more really terrific ways to learn languages at home but first, I did promise my readers something for the Klingon speakers in the audience, so...here. You’re welcome. For teens looking to augment their homeschooling or just make their lives a little more interesting, I offer you: Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education and 100 Incredibly Useful YouTube Channels. These are glorious time-sucks but unlike most online time-sucks there are things here to learn and, unfortunately, very few cats. Finally, in the news this week: “Ohio’s homeschooled and private-school students can now participate in sports and extracurricular activities at public schools in their local districts without restriction.” Also, in PEOPLE magazine there’s a story about a family of twelve, all ten kids have been homeschooled and, so far, six have gone to college by the age of twelve. So I’m off to don my “Laziest mother on Earth” t-shirt and eat bon-bons. See you next week.