What began as a repository of thinking tips, this blog of mine is now becoming a catch-all for many more thoughts and ideas that I personally want to capture.
So today, I’m doing some spring cleaning, and as I find notes that have inspired or influenced me, I’m copying them here to not feel so guilty about throwing them away.
About seven years ago, I decided to take the plunge and try a homeschooling experiment for just one year with just one child. At the time, I picked the child I knew I couldn’t ruin, because she was already demonstrating a sense of self-motivation beyond her years, and an innate desire for excellence. (Besides that, she was about the only one of the bunch who was game.)
I had been thinking about homeschooling for ten years already, but because I had been a product of the public school system, and because I had excelled, and loved the challenge it had been for me, I really had a hard time believing that anything less (or different) than that could possibly be remotely adequate. I was such a fan of the system, in fact, that I went on to get my degree in secondary education, and taught mathematics in public and private schools for a number of years.
Because of my fear of doing “my own thing”, I took that first step by signing up for the public school district’s distance learning program. That way, I could be giving my daughter the same curriculum at home, accomplish it in a fraction of the time (like I had been told is common for homeschoolers), and have her tested at the end of the year with all the other public school students to see how we did.
That was a safe segue, in my mind.
My daughter and I loved our time together. We dabbled in some of the materials they had sent home with me, but pretty much just did whatever it was that caught her interest at the time. She was in 2nd grade and did a lot of cooking, and child care for her younger siblings. She loved being my little helper, and reveled in how important it made her feel.
In January, I realized we were on the down stretch of the school year, and that I should probably open up those lesson plans to see what it was they had been expecting us to do. I told her, “It’s time to get caught up with the rest of the kids at school, so let’s take a look…”
I opened the packet and began to look over the daily lesson plans. Sure, we had been doing the fun pieces, such as the online math games, and language development activities; but looking at what else we were expected to have been doing all those months put me in an instant panic.
The daily lesson plans were so detailed, so spelled out, that it would have literally taken us 6 hours a day, one-on-one, to do everything they expected us to do.
I called the head of the distance learning program at the district level in a panic. “I don’t know what to do! I think I’ve made a big mistake! We’ll never get caught up!”
She calmed me down and finally responded, “Oh, don’t worry. Just pick up right where you are; she’ll get it ALL again next year.”
I was flabbergasted. I thought to myself, “You mean, we can blow off an entire 6 months of school, and even the DISTRICT isn’t worried about it?? When you’re enrolled in the public school, you can’t miss more than 9 days without getting a nastigram and a visit from a police officer.”
That’s when I learned that in grade school, they introduce a concept one year, and then repeat it all over again the next. Then they introduce some new concepts again, and repeat them all again the next. What I learned from this experiment is that when a child is ready and wants to learn a topic, you can share it with them just once, and they own it. It’s when they’re not interested, or partially tuned out, that you have to keep repeating it for more than 600 days… it’s really the only way the school CAN do it – in hopes that during those 600 days, each one of the 30-34 students will tune in long enough to get it.
Over the next few years, one-by-one each of my children were given the choice to come home or stay in school, and last year we had all but one home with us. I believe in the principle that there is genius potential inside of each child, and sometimes it can only be discovered when he or she is permitted to get bored long enough that they dig down and find that creative genius. For the first two months of the detoxification period, there was a lot of complaining, a lot of boredom… they were worried because mom wasn’t standing in front of a grid of desks at home, teaching them something important. I knew we had turned a corner when the complaining stopped, and the laughter and creative chatter began, as they collaborated together on how they were going to build a fort out of the discarded refrigerator boxes in the back yard. They had finally discovered their freedom to think for themselves and create their own learning environment.
For several years after beginning my experiment, I continued to have my children take the standardized tests at the end of the year. I wanted to see if our new approach – letting them live in a culture where they were expected to think and choose for themselves what they wanted to be learning – was ruining them, or what. In every case, I was shocked but grateful that their test scores came back as though they had sat in the classroom all year long.
I remember one defining moment when my daughter was the age of a 6th grader, and we hadn’t formally talked about math all year long. We had solved incidental problems together that had come up in natural life, but there had been no real ‘math lessons’ to speak of.
To get her ready for the standardized test that year, I bought her a math workbook for her grade level, and said, “Just see how much of this you can do. Let me know if you get stuck.” A few times she brought it to me to get some clarification on what they wanted her to do, but she had the entire workbook completed in a couple days. Because she wasn’t drilled on it every day of the year, she actually found it interesting, challenging, and fun to do.
I believe we’re all born with an innate desire to learn all the things we’ll need to know to complete our ‘life’s mission’. We’ll naturally be drawn to the interests that will play a part in our life’s work, and we’ll naturally get frustrated when we don’t know what we need to know. Suddenly, in a situation like that, the knowledge MATTERS, and we are hungry to learn it because it already has application for what we want to be doing. That’s how I learned to build websites. That’s how I learned to publish books. That’s how my husband and I tripled our income. That’s how I learned marketing and how to become an internationally published three-time best selling author and speaker.
My two oldest were in junior high when I made the switch, and were simply not interested. I didn’t push it, I knew they were in a groove and enjoying their experience in school. But last year my oldest was a senior. About 3 months into the school year, he listened to a lecture on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, and something shifted.
He was so completely engrossed with what he was learning – outside of school – that before long, his new addiction to studying American History was all he wanted to do. A math teacher challenged him on some of his facts, and the game was on. He’d stay up late into the night researching, finding sources, pulling together a persuasive essay that he couldn’t wait to share first with his math teacher, and then with the world. He did all this, not for an American History assignment, but because he loved the subject and wanted to teach others what he had been learning.
We recognized the spark to be what other homeschooling families had described when the child enters a scholar phase – naturally. We encouraged it, and provided opportunities and resources to keep the flame alive. School began to be an inconvenience to him. His regular homework began to seem so trivial, and he became frustrated at the irrelevance of so much of it in contrast to the importance of the topic that had captured his heart.
In January of that year, just 4 months before his graduation, he said he was ready to come home. I was upset! I said, “I’ve been inviting you to come home for six years! YOU chose this path, I think you need to just finish what you started…”
His reply: “But Mom, I’m too busy studying to do my schoolwork.”
I almost couldn’t do it. He was so close to finishing the path he had chosen all along; but if I were to stand by the principles I had been teaching my family – to let them follow what interests them and find and fulfill their life’s mission – then I had to support it. He wanted to be homeschooled. He had been given an opportunity to go abroad and participate in a historical dig in Israel during that final semester of high school, but it would mean he couldn’t “graduate”.
Before pulling him out, I contacted the different universities that he was interested in attending, and was amazed to discover that they didn’t need him to graduate before they’d accept him. All they cared about was whether or not he had taken the ACT (which he had done the year before), and they even found him to be a very attractive candidate for demonstrating so much drive to do something this unusual.
You should have seen it – when I pulled him out so close to graduation. The administration couldn’t understand it, and had a hard time believing that the colleges did not CARE if he had a diploma or not. Instead of getting his diploma, he found himself in a new position of responsibility as the Regional Director for the Thomas Jefferson Center for Constitutional Studies (Restoration Generation).
The travel abroad experience was canceled due to unrest in the middle east, but we have not regretted the decision to let him leave high school early. He does not regret it either. He didn’t “walk” with his friends but loved his choice more. And just to check it off the list, he went ahead and aced the GED last fall. Not because the universities needed it, but just to officially close that chapter of his life. He ended up earning full-tuition scholarships from his University that helped him stay out of debt as he worked toward graduation.
What about the other kids? Each year I discover something new about them and their inborn talents. They stay active and involved in a number of extra curricular activities and have friends all over the valley who share their unique life’s experiences and interests.
My 12 year-old son Jared is being mentored by a computer programmer – a teacher at a nearby college – who was also homeschooled and loves Jared’s passion for programming. (He wanted to learn the Python programming language but I couldn’t find a class for him to join. The only thing I found was a group that could be hired to come in and train your employees for a large sum, so instead I had to find and hire a private tutor.) They are presently working together on building an application that will help our business clients. He also plays trombone in the school band and is involved in an after school club for smarty pants.
My 13 year-old daughter is volunteering her services for handling some of the secretarial responsibilities of a national organization with which my husband works. She is also involved (with most of her siblings) in EVMCO, a choral organization which just released an album last fall that hit #1 on the Billboard charts in the traditional classical category. She just hosted an “Oh Stuff and Nonsense” party for other 13-15 year old homeschooled girls in the area, and is an avid reader.
My younger children have taught themselves to read, tell time, solve math problems, and just recently we all became fascinated with the strange characteristics of prime numbers – including my 5 year-old, right there along side her older siblings. Give her a pile of beans representing a certain number, and in a few minutes, she’ll tell you if it’s prime or not.
Each morning we study scriptures, read selections from American History, have breakfast and do chores. The rest of the day is wide open for exploration, or just enjoying each others’ company. No more 7:30 am chaos, no more 4:00 pm competition for Mom’s attention… no more homework sessions that interfere with family dinner, and best of all, plenty of time to think and receive inspired sparks of curiosity that lead each one to ask the right questions at the right time, to help them prepare for the life’s work they will be most uniquely prepared to fulfill. It’s a lofty ideal, but I’ve seen it in action. (I’ve illustrated how this phenomenon also happens for adults in Portal to Genius.)
In spite of all I’ve said so far, I will add that I DO love the education I received through the public school system. But I love more what I’ve learned since… and I hope to keep learning new and amazing things from now until the day I die… and I expect, beyond.
Had an interesting conversation with Jared the other day… this boy refuses to work on Math. I have not been able to get him to do his lessons, so at age 14, he still hasn’t learned about fractions and decimals. Scary, right? Well, he called down from the loft where he was working on a computer program and said, “Mom, I’m trying to make this ball speed up as it gets closer to the hole. Any idea how I would program it to behave that way?” I said, “Hmm… sounds like an inverse relation… you’d use a fraction…” and as I was trying to remember how the formula would go, he hollered down again, “Never mind! I think I got it – I tried something and it’s slowing down as it gets closer, so now I’ll just try it the other way.”
Once he had it nailed, I said, “Did you know you just did Algebra?”
He said, “Really?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what Algebra is, finding an unknown value…”
He replied, “Then I think I’m going to love Algebra.”
“Um, well, then maybe you should get busy doing your fractions and decimals…”
A few weeks later, I brought it up again, just wanting him to finally get through his fractions and decimals books so he could move on to Algebra (because he was looking forward to it), but he’s been bored to tears just at the thought of drudging through that book.
So, because we’ve been having a hard time getting him to do his basics, I thought maybe we’d just go ahead and jump to Algebra and then go back and fill in the gaps as they come up, because he’ll be more interested in those more basic concepts when they’re actually relevant to what he needs at the time.
But then he asked what Calculus was, and I said it had to do with rates of change and … I didn’t remember what all, so I said, “Do you want to see what it’s like?” He said sure, so we pulled up a Calculus lesson and watched the first 11 minute video together. It was on limits, and it used functions, and algebra, and decimals and ALL of those things.
Remember, he had no training in fractions or decimals, but instead of being overwhelmed by his lack of knowledge and formal experience with the ‘pre-requisites’, he lit up like a light bulb and got excited, because it looked so much like some of the things he has done, or tried to do, in his computer programming, and it all actually made sense to him. I had been a math major, but had forgotten most of what I learned in Calculus and yet he was fully understanding the very things that no longer immediately made sense to me.
He paused the video several times to just digest what had been said, and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! So that’s why graphs are useful!” and he threw his head back and sang “Ahhhhhhh!” like a chorus of angels. “You know how some things just make you happy? This makes me SOOO happy-happy!!!!” His eyes literally started watering and he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
He’s 14, completely ‘behind’ on the basics, but totally in love with calculus.
Crazy, huh? Then without being asked, he got on the computer and spent a few hours honing skills and learning new things. I love it. They always told me that this would happen when you approach education in the unconventional way that we do… it’s just nice when we see it actually happen.
Life has a way of opening doors and leading us to amazing opportunities when we let go of societal expectations and fearlessly follow our dreams. ~ Me
My oldest son (who ‘dropped out’ during his senior year) called me from college. He had been there only three weeks but had an announcement to share:
Because of his desire to get involved, and after exploring some of the campus clubs (and planning to start one of his own… who does that?? Such a thing NEVER would have crossed my mind when I was in school), one thing led to another and he was asked if he’d be willing to be one of two students who would be responsible for training the team leaders for next semester’s “Get Connected” event.
(Get Connected is basically the Freshman Orientation program for incoming students, who get divided up into groups for games and activities to get to know each other before classes start.)
So my son and this one other person are now charged with training approximately 300 group leaders who will direct 6000 freshmen next semester.
My son has only been a Freshman himself for three weeks!
I happen to think that his opportunities for leadership (this hasn’t been the only one) were set in motion ahead of him as soon as he made that courageous decision to think differently his senior year, when he stepped away from what was “normal”.
So don’t be afraid to do something different than what society expects from the masses. It opens doors. When I have more time, I’ll update again to describe the doors it opened recently for my 16-year old daughter and my 12 year-old son…
When that 12-year old son (Jared) turned 15, I had an urgent sense that I needed to change something up. Where previously, his free time had been spent learning and growing, it was now being squandered, and I saw college on the horizon and a need for more guidance and structure to help him prepare. His interest in math hadn’t gone anywhere, and he still enjoyed coding, but the work in Khan Academy and his more formal math training had taken a back seat, with quite a few gaps left unclosed.
My search for what I was to do next was difficult and wrenching. It began with an investigation into where I might be able to put my 7th grader into a band. He had played with a local elementary school before our move across town, but I hadn’t found a junior high that would allow part-time enrollment for only band.
That’s a long and painful story. I’m not going to go into it here. But ultimately I found a charter school that would allow his participation with NO strings attached. The principal told me, “I think homeschooling really is the best thing for kids; I’m just grateful that a lot of parents see us as a good second alternative.”
Wow! I felt so at home and respected. He invited my band son to take anything else at the school that interested him. So in 7th grade, he was the only student on campus with something like four electives. Fast forward two years, and our family has fallen enough in love with the school that everyone is now full-time. They provide education the way I remember it in the 70s. They don’t teach to the tests. They haven’t changed anything to adjust to common core. They know that their method works, so why change what isn’t broken? At the end of the year, the students continue to test extremely well.
As for Jared, he is now a senior in high school. At least according to his age. He does not have the credits he needs to graduate, but that’s okay. Colleges don’t need a diploma to accept you, they only need to see how well you did on the College Entrance exams (ACT or SAT). He will get a GED if he chooses to. He did well on the ACT, so he’s being courted by several universities now.
But here’s the point of my update. Last year, he wanted to be in the same math class as the other kids his age, which would have been at least Algebra II. However, he still hadn’t completed his fractions and decimals – but we moved on and figured he’s fill in those gaps as needed along the way. He worked hard to catch up by studying Pre-Algebra and Algebra I online over the summer, on his own. He joined the Algebra II class that year, and aced it. In fact, after a few months of demonstrating a quick mind and aptitude for it, his teacher asked if he would be the TA for the later hour. (He was available since he wasn’t taking all the required classes for graduation – I think he only took 4 classes that year, so there was room in his schedule to be a teacher’s assistant.)
He didn’t want to take English or History at the school but agreed to join Speech and Debate, and Yearbook and Journalism. For his outstanding marks and reputation as a good citizen overall, he was chosen to represent his high school and honored by the mayor as student of the month.
Having completed Algebra II with flying colors, he was motivated to get into Calculus for his Senior year. However, he had not taken Pre-Calculus, and even though his teacher had seen how quickly he had gone from Pre-Algebra to Algebra II, he did not recommend taking the jump to Calculus.
Well, Jared was not going to be told no. So he spent his summer teaching himself Pre-Calculus and showed up ready to go on day one.
It’s been 3 months now, and he has been scoring at the top of ALL the classes at the school on those Calculus tests. He loves what he’s learning, and the other kids flock to him when it’s time to study for the next one. He’s even been known to catch errors that nobody else catches.
Oh, but he won’t be graduating 🙂
And he’s okay with that. I’m very proud of him for thinking outside the box and thriving. I’ll take a kid who loves learning and spends every waking moment honing his skills over a kid who jumps through all the hoops to get a diploma but remembers school with disdain. Jared will have happy memories of learning, being involved, and developing thinking skills that will serve him the rest of his life.
Oh man, I have so much to say but need to keep it short. Jared’s last semester at his school (senior year) was amazing. This is the child who was completely content to sit at a computer all day, but reluctantly agreed to take some more classes at the charter school last fall. Some back story: he has flatly refused to take any English courses his entire schooling career, but at the last minute let me and his former Speech and Debate teacher talk him into signing up for AP Literature. (Due to his aversion to formal English classes, I had previously steered him toward Speech and Debate, Yearbook and Journalism, and two years of Latin, so that at least he could be linguistically functional in the real world.)
In the spring, he surprised us by going out for the high school musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This is the boy who has musical talent but no interest. (He was about 14 when we stopped expecting him to attend all his sibling’s concerts, and he was about 15 when we finally let him quit the Millennial Choir for good.)
As for the play, we found out later that the directors had trouble deciding between him and another student for the lead part of Adam. Thankfully the other kid got the lead, because Jared was only semi interested in being a part of it anyway, and was thrilled to get a part that didn’t require a giant amount of time. He still got a small solo and enjoyed the participation, without the heavy responsibility of learning all the lead lines, songs, and carrying the success of the whole show.
In February I got a call from the school letting me know that he needed to be withdrawn at the end of 3rd quarter. The counsellor told me I agreed to do this when they agreed to let him come part time three years ago. I didn’t remember this at all – but the point is that if he finishes his senior year without graduating, it shows up as a “dropout” on their records and affects their official school reputation. With a small student body, every ding makes a big difference. I was shocked and angry – here he is finally having the time of his life at a school he wasn’t excited about in the first place, and they’re basically kicking him out. The irony is that he had recently been awarded Student of the Month for a second time, was loved by everyone who knew him, was acing his classes, and was still preparing for two AP tests and the school musical. They were going to kick him out before he could take the tests and perform in the play.
As frustrated as I was, I couldn’t be angry at the school. I understood their dilemma and didn’t want to throw them under the bus. It wasn’t their fault he didn’t have enough credits, and we have all been SOOO grateful for all the school has done for our family. It has been an excellent and extremely rewarding experience. So I talked with the administration and we came to a compromise. They would let him stay until 30 days before school ended (instead of much earlier, at the quarter), and he would be allowed to return to take his AP tests, and to perform in the musical.
A few weeks before his days were over, we received an invitation to the Semper Sersum awards banquet, and also the regular awards ceremony. Both were scheduled to take place after his withdrawal date, but they allowed him to return for these as well. He was awarded for academic excellence (overall GPA) at the ceremony…
….and was somewhat expecting an award in Mathematics at the Semper Sersum banquet. He’s known school-wide for being a freakish math genius and for being the only one to spot errors in the teacher’s work, and the fact that he went from Pre-Algebra to Calculus as quickly as he did (excelling all the way), led us to believe that would be his recognition that night.
Each department selected one Student of the Year for each grade, but he didn’t get the Math award. We were shocked when he was instead given the only 12th grade Student of the Year for English award, especially since his AP English class was the only formal English training he had since 2nd grade, and especially since he’s historically had such an aversion to the subject.
Good Evening. My name is Jessica Kasten and I will be presenting the 12th grade English award tonight.
As I’m sure you could guess, teaching seniors is often challenging 🙂 Many 18 year olds believe that they already know everything there is to know, are far too tired to read, and can’t be bothered with grammar lessons. But some are different and tonight I have selected one student who has risen above senioritis and has eagerly devoured every piece of information I made available. It is students like him that not only make my job enjoyable, but push me me to become a better educator.
This student embraces the rich and challenging curriculum we offer. In fact, I overheard a conversation he was having the other day where a few of his classmates asked him why he wasn’t upset [about not graduating] and he responded, “I guess it depends on what your goal here is – I came to Benjamin Franklin to make friends and learn and I have achieved those two things.”
To me, this student is a true representation of a Charger and certainly exceeds his classmates in all things English. Not only does he have a positive attitude day in and day out, not only does this student thirst for knowledge, but he also understands the value being an educated person.
I’m proud to have helped him meet his goals this year, I’m proud to have taught him, and I am eager to see what great things he goes on to do in the future.
The 12th grade English award goes to Jared Householder.
As each of his teachers learned that he was getting “kicked out”, there was a lot of heads shaking – that of all students, this was the kid getting kicked out?? I got a phone call from the soon-to-be valedictorian of the senior class on Tuesday of his last week. She said that the senior class didn’t think it was right he wouldn’t get to walk at graduation with all his friends, so they were planning a special ceremony just for him, and she wanted to invite me.
So on Thursday, they surprised him by gathering in the gym, giving him a cap (from ASU, borrowed from a students’ older brother), lining up on one side of the gym and having him walk from the other side, escorted by his parents, while they played the graduation anthem. His math teacher helped the students pull it off, and another teacher (professional photographer) took pictures. He was stunned. I cried. The valedictorian said “We LOVE Jared and wanted him to be recognized.” Then they presented him with an engraved frame/class picture that said, “Class of 2017”.
I’m so glad I felt that urgent sense that I needed to change something up. This was definitely a Mom pay-day.
Someone celebrate with me – Jared just got accepted to BYU provo! He wasn’t expecting to hear back until Oct 31 but they just notified him early, congratulating him on being such a strong candidate. Mama’s breathing a big sigh of relief because it’s what he really wanted, but seriously he didn’t hit scholar phase until the last minute. When he was 15, I felt an urgency to change things up a bit because he was disengaging and getting more lazy. I wanted to find something that allowed him to attend some fun classes part time somewhere, just to add some additional structure to his day. A new charter school nearby let him do just that.
The next year he wanted to be in the math class with his peers, but he was several years behind. Suddenly he cared. So he spent the summer on Khan Academy catching up, and ended up going from pre-Algebra to AP Calculus in 2 years, finishing Calculus at the school with a grade of over 100%. Since he was only part time, his teacher asked him to be his TA, helping other students understand the concepts. For his last year, me and another teacher convinced him to take his very first formal English class ever: AP English Literature. He hated English, but consented. (As he likes to say, “English is important, but Math is importanter.”) He ended up acing it though, and earned the English Department Student of the Year out of the entire Senior Class.
But get this – right before his final quarter, the administration reminded me that we agreed to withdraw him at the end of 3rd quarter, since they allowed him to come part time, knowing he would not receive their diploma, and to avoid a “drop out” on their record. They had been so good to us, we didn’t want them to get a ding on their reputation for something that was not their fault. But you should have seen his teachers when they heard he was getting kicked out before graduation. Face Palms all around. “Of ALL KIDS!” they’d say. This was a kid who had been nominated at age 16 by the principal to represent the school and be recognized by the mayor for outstanding citizenship… now getting kicked out. If it wasn’t so amusing it would have been painful.
Several teachers tried to find a way to let him walk with his peers, but no go. So two days before he left, the entire Senior class put together a surprise mock graduation ceremony for him, and the Valedictorian gave him a shout out in her official graduation speech two months later. Plus, the administration let him return for the school musical (he had a part in it, after all…) and for his AP exams. It was such an interesting and rewarding year. I share all this to just let you know that taking the road less traveled can be crazy and nail-biting at times, but it has been worth it. He knows how to learn. He has been allowed to pursue what interests him most, and he has LOVED being an interesting conversation piece among teachers and friends at school.
Thank you, TJEd for giving me a vision of what was possible when I began this journey back in (I think) 2006. His goal now is to do a year or so at BYU, serve a mission, and then transfer to MIT. Best of all, he believes he can. PS. About the picture of the backpack – this funny kid used the same backpack from age 6 until he was 18. He never let me replace it. It was seriously falling apart, but he liked telling people about it. He has also never had a hamburger in his life, not because he wouldn’t like it, but because he likes being different. You have to beat him best out of 3 at his favorite game, and he will eat a hamburger. Nobody has beat him yet.
Here’s the ‘note’ I stumbled onto in my spring cleaning that spawned this whole post in the first place. I’ll post it here, and then get back to work.