Hi there!

Hi there!

Before we started homeschooling, I did a TON of research.

After we started homeschooling, I started writing on Quora.com. Over the past months, I have written over 100 articles about education.

The articles on this site will capture many of the topics I have previously written about, and will chronicle the ongoing travails of our homeschooling adventure.

Please feel free to contact me, or to comment on any of the topics.

Ross

How do I homeschool my 4-year-old?

She’s going into kindergarten this year,and I wanna know what things I should be teaching her over the summer.She’s already been to pre-k,so she has a basic understanding of abc’s and #’s.She can count to 39, recite her abc’s,spell her own name, and can kinda write.

Written 26 May 2017

Teach her absolutely nothing!

Young children should enjoy their childhood. They will learn everything they need to know by playing.

If these statements appear too drastic, then consider the following research.

Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm

Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used.

How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development

What a finding! Benezet showed that five years of tedious (and for some, painful) drill could simply be dropped, and by dropping it the children did better, in sixth grade, than did those who had endured the drill for five previous years.

(1) For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read. Some children learn very early (as early as age 3), others much later (as late as age 11 in this sample). The timing of such learning doesn’t seem to depend on general intelligence, but upon interest. Some children, for whatever reason, become interested in reading very early, others later.

(2) Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly. For motivated children, who are intellectually ready, learning to read requires none of the painful, slow drill that we regularly put children through in school. Many children pick it up without anything that looks like a lesson; others ask for some help, which may come in the form of a few lessons concerning the sounds of the letters.

(3) Attempts to push reading can backfire. Children (like all of us) resist being pushed into doing things they don’t want to do, and this applies to reading as much as to anything else.

School starting age: the evidence

Several European countries are delaying the introduction of academic instruction until later, as a result of research such as this.

Read the research.

Let your children play!free to learn

What are some questions about homeschool a parent may ask?

I am planning on being homeschooled next school year as a sophomore in NY, but my father is still not fully convinced that it’s the best option for me.

What are some questions he might have about homeschool? What are some info I can tell him to convince him?

Written 24 May 2017

BoyinabandYou probably don’t want to show this video to your father, but it actually summarizes a ton of research in a short time. (I have spent hundreds of hours researching this topic, and I believe Dave Brown captures them well).

So, if your father is a relatively normal parent, he is likely to ask the following questions:

  • How will homeschooling impact your chances of getting into the college you desire
    • Answer: Lots of homeschoolers get into the college of their choice. In fact, many colleges actively recruit homeschoolers. Check out the college websites you are interested in, to see their requirements for homeschool students. In many cases, a high school diploma is not required – the SAT scores are, however, very important.
  • How will you study?
    • Aha. Tons of answers on this one, but the short answer is – whatever best suits you.
    • Okay, your dad probably won’t like that answer, so here’s an alternate. Studies show that tutoring and mastery learning (see Benjamin Bloom) are the best ways to learn. So, if you don’t have a tutor, the best way to learn is to study the topic (read, watch, do), and then test yourself to make sure you get it. Rinse and repeat until you are comfortable you properly understand the topic.
    • Okay … another answer. You can use resources such as Khan Academy (which has mastery learning “baked in” to its math approach), or Coursera. Or, you can register for, and participate in, community college courses.
  • What will you study?
    • One answer is … whatever interests me.
    • Another answer … I will study the topics which are required for college entry, and to help me pursue the field of my choice.
  • How will I be sure that you are spending your time productively?
    • One answer … you won’t. (And since it is my life at stake, it is my responsibility to do well).
    • Another answer … you will be able to monitor my progress on Khan Academy (parent login); review my Coursera and/or community college grades.
  • How will you take care of exercise, and socialization?
    • You can participate in sports (even on many school teams or extracurricular activities – check with your local school district). Also, there are many homeschool groups which regularly host activities.
  • What did I forget to ask?
    • Don’t worry. There are lots of resources, such as local homeschool groups, and lots of website homeschool discussions.

And you definitely don’t want to show your dad this one.

Unschooling in Action

 

Flametail

One of the greatest advantages of unschooling is the freedom to explore, and to develop ideas and skills.

Since our daughter started homeschooling a couple of years ago, she has burrowed down several rabbit holes, including interests in astronomy and physics. Generally, after she has learned about a topic, she moves on to new interests. However, throughout the entire time, she has exhibited an enduring passion for drawing, and also animating.

Previously, she had been attending art classes, so already had an interest in drawing. She had also been reading The Warriors series, by Erin Hunter. She began to draw Warriors characters on her computer, and I eventually got her a digital drawing pad.

Interestingly, she learned most of her digital drawing (and animating) skills online, mostly from YouTube videos. She created her own YouTube channel, and a video which shows how she developed the Flametail picture (above):

In this video, she uses a time-lapse recording, which is referred to as a “speedpaint”.

She then continued to develop her interest by creating animations:

She is part of an artist’s community which collaborates on drawings (often short art contests), and animations. These animation collaboration projects are called “MAPs” – Multi-Animator Projects. One artists hosts the MAP and determines, the theme, characters, music, etc. Other artists offer to complete scenes. Usually, the MAP lasts about 30 seconds, but some can last several minutes.

The artists are located worldwide. The other evening, they were comparing their timezones, and it turns out they had participants from Europe, East and West Coast USA/Canada, and Australia.

The next step is to tackle 3-D animation. She has been studying videos about the Blender animation program, and started creating some rudimentary figures.

While it is possible for students at traditional schools to develop interests outside the regular curriculum, for unschoolers this is actually the norm. Our daughter has pursued numerous unusual interests, and I look forward to seeing her participate in many more.

I am trying to decide on an appropriate kindergarten homeschooling curriculum for my autistic spectrum son. Does anyone have any suggestions?

I am not in a position to recommend any specific strategies for your autistic spectrum son.

However, in my (rather extensive) research on schooling strategies, it appears that starting formal schooling too early can actually be harmful.

Parents may be sending kids to school too early in life, according to Stanford researchers

School starting age: the evidence

So, what are the alternatives? Again, there is a fairly rich body of research suggesting that we should let our kids play. (Pretty radical idea … not). I suggest you take a look at some of the writings of Dr. Peter Gray.

Freedom to Learn

Lastly, my opinion.

I have come to believe that children learn best when they are learning about things they are interested in, and enjoy. While I don’t have extensive experience with autistic spectrum children, those that I have encountered seem to become engrossed, occasionally in some really fascinating areas. I therefore believe the unschooling approach to learning is very valuable. (Once again, Dr. Peter Gray writes extensively about unschooling).

Okay, I said I was done, but I had another thought, and wandered off on some additional research.

It occurred to me that the Sudbury school system might be appropriate for autistic spectrum children. A quick google search turned up a number of interesting articles, including this one:

http://sudburyschool.com/content/i-am-not-autism

Anyway, the Sudbury type school may be a very helpful and appropriate choice for your son, so is another avenue worth checking out.

The Middle School Years – by Rosemary Ward Labaree

This post is for the many, many homeschool families who ask me about the middle school years and how best to prepare for high school when a competitive college admission is the ultimate goal.

I’ve met many parents of middle school students who feel stranded.  They want to be prepared for the high school years that are skulking around the corner.  They want to get this right, but they’re unsure.   School administrators, grandparents, and well-meaning friends offer  “do this, do that” sound bites.  But, inertia and uncertainty prevail.

There are two distinct phases of home education, after the elementary years wind down: The Interrogatory Phase (middle school) and the Execution Phase (high school).

It is in the Interrogatory Phase that you learn what you will be doing in the Execution Phase.  The Execution Phase is a terribly busy time and as the name implies, you are putting into action all of the plans you made in the late middle school years.  If you wait until high school to ask the important questions, you will find yourself bogged down, confused, and feeling rather ineffective.

Regardless of what your long-term goals are, you should think of middle school as preparation for high school. Here are key components of middle school years:


                                                         Figure out your kid

What does my student love best and where does he/she excel?   For example:  Does she like to build things?  Is he quick with his math?  Does she read above grade level?  Can he write better than most boys his age?  Do topics in science, music, art, or history hold her attention more?

It might seem like a lot to know about your student but if you pay close attention to your days, the answers are there.  Your goal is to get an academic lock on your student and know his strengths, weaknesses, and special interests.  Pay attention to your student’s skill set and talents.  These are the headwaters from which good things can flow.

                                                                      Test

For an objective “stock-taking”, you’ll need to test. I am not a big advocate of testing, especially in elementary school, but by middle school you really need to get a fix on how your student measures up against the general population.  We are not very good scorekeepers for our own kids.

(There are many online resources for testing your student in the privacy of your home, if you prefer.  A google search will reap a harvest of them.) 

1.  You can have your older middle school student take the PSAT or the SAT.  Scores prior to 9th grade are purged – no one but you will ever see them.  You don’t have to get upset with low scores here because you will adjust down for his/her age.  For example, if your 7th grade student has an SAT math score of 500 – you should be very encouraged; that is quite good for that grade level.

2.  There is also a test called the SSAT (not administered by the College Board).  The SSAT is similar in shape to the SAT, is geared toward the middle school student, and it will give you a projected SAT score, depending on the age of your student when he takes this test.  The SSAT is a personal favorite of mine.

What does this testing accomplish?

1. You will have a reality check.

2. You will know where you need to concentrate your efforts.

3. If your student has real strength in one area, it will be revealed and you may have a ticket to gifted learning programs.

4. Since all of these achievement exams are (at minimum) 3 hours long, your student will know ahead of time what it feels like to sit through this endurance test.  Better your kid do this before it counts than do it for the first time when it really does count.

                                                             Preparedness

Is my student ready for high school?  Is he ready to work hard?  Does she know how to manage her time?  Does he know why he needs to do all of this work?  Are we on the same page?    

Most students do not know what they want to do with their lives.  But, they should still have goals. Without goals, how will you get them to study into the late hours of the night and on weekends when that time/need arrives.  It is very hard to push a kid who does not have a shared vision of excellence and achievement.  To instill this desire in your student, he must see the goal(s).  You should do college tours.  It might sound foolish to traipse across the campus of Columbia University with a middle school student – it is not.  Pick a beautiful day, travel without time constraint on a day when classes are in session, jump in to an organized tour or just walk the campus and hang in the nearby eateries to get a sense of the intellectual energy and excitement that you will find everywhere.   If you can get your student excited about attending ONE college, ANY college, then you are on the “go” square of the game board.  You can build goals from there.  Without this, you will find yourself parroting admonitions which will fall on deaf ears.  A student needs a tangible goal, especially if no particular career goal is present.  Invest in your student’s enthusiasm.

Does my middle school student even KNOW what hard work looks like?


This is critically important.  Your daughter might view 20 math problems per week as punitive.  Your son might think that a weekly 250 word essay is pure torture.  Most middle school students need to calibrate what they think is hard work to what hard work actually is. They need good models.  Middle school students who want to land in a competitive college need to meet other students with similar goals..  Your job is to find them. The homeschool community is filled with success stories.  Find the families who have high-achieving kids.  Ask them what they did.   If your 12 year old son or daughter sits down with a 21 year old who has a proven academic track record and they hear it straight from the source, they will never forget it.  It is golden.

To find peers, try to get your middle school student into one high-achieving program, whether online or through your local community.

                                                        From Ideas to Action Plans

During the Interrogatory Phase of the middle school years you should try out different things.  This takes time but it is worth it.   If math seems to come easy, find a math club.  If your student loves science, do science fairs.  If writing is at the top of the list, find contests and competitions to enter.  Your goal is to get some traction.  Once that happens you will see real progress. Advice for mom – get on numerous homeschool discussion loops and scour the digests from these groups nightly.  This is how you learn about cool, local opportunities.  You will  have to make a regular investment of time to do this research.  Here is a terrific website with lists and lists of competitions in science, art, history, math, computers and writing. A good place to start –  http://cty.jhu.edu/imagine/resources/competitions/index.html

This list includes a good number of competitions for middle school students.

If a student is preparing to compete for something  – anything – he will be more focused.  Then you (mom) can reverse-engineer your school year around this event.  Big events like these actually ADD structure to your year.

                                                           Plan, Plan, Plan Some More

Once you have gathered up activities, events and competitions, you are one easy step away from creating a calendar for the year with clear goals mapped out.  Keep going with this.  Do a hypothetical 4-year high school plan.  Involve your middle school student in this.    Of course, this plan is going to morph.  But if you have no plan at all, you are bound to fall short of a high standard.

                                                                Broaden Horizons


A desire to achieve and the determination to do hard things  won’t come out of thin air.  You need to nurture it.  There are wonderful educational events run by Learning Unlimited throughout the year.  Middle school students can take exciting classes on the campuses of some of the best universities in the country for as little as $30 for a full weekend of amazing courses.  No grades are given.  University students volunteer to teach. Often a middle school student discovers an entire field of science or language they did not even know existed. Inspiration is everywhere.  Do this!  Do it as often as you can.

http://www.learningu.org/current-programs  Get on the mailing list.  Have it on your calendar.  The MIT and Yale programs are especially good.

                                                                Your Leadership


Many years ago a homeschool family asked to meet with me.  Mom and dad could not get their kids to read books. They wanted advice.  Most home educating families know that in order to be poised for the academic world kids need to read  – a lot.  They need to read hard stuff and they need to read often.  These parents were worried.  Their kids did not have dyslexia or ADHD. They were neurotypical kids.  “Why can’t we get them to read?” they lamented.    I asked them what they (mom and dad) were currently reading, looking high and low for a sign of books.  “We don’t read, we don’t have time for it.”  Hmm.

The prescription is simple.  Kids will read more if you have a set reading time and lead by example.  Kids will also read in the absence of other forms of entertainment and if most table top surfaces hold a small stack of interesting books.

If your middle school kids are glued to glowing rectangles, have technology free hours built into the day and have good books ready to fill the gap.  It is harder now than it ever was before to encourage kids to read books.  The glowing screens hold far more appeal.  We cannot extricate ourselves from these devices entirely but we can claim back a few hours a day – this is a reasonable goal.  Lead the way on this.

                                               ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~

The middle school years are a period of intense mentorship.  It is during these years that you can establish that you and your student are on the same team.  The road to excellence is arduous, but it is made easier when the prize is clear, the goals are reasonable, and your leadership is obvious. You got this !   Godspeed !

Rosemary Laberee

labereetown@gmail.com