It’s A Podcast!

I’ve been wanting to get a podcast going for sometime now, but haven’t had the gumption until recently. Presently there are only two episodes available – and the first is just a pilot so… – but new episodes will be released on Tuesdays.

As you might imagine, the podcast will interview individuals involved in the homesteading and homeschooling movements in an attempt to gain insight into how others run their micro-programs so that we can all learn from each other. I have recorded a good number of episodes and I can tell already that my interviewing skills have started to get better, so stick with me and give them a listen.

Each episode will start out discussing an article from the internet, or some sort of interesting, unique, informative website or program that homesteaders and homeschoolers might find useful or informative. After that we will get into an interview. My first interview was with Miss Elizabeth Melton of Sixpence Farm. Check out the show notes for all the details, and put the rss feed into your podcatcher to subscribe to all future shows. (The show will be on iTunes soon, but as of writing, Apple is still in the reviewing process.)

RSS Feed: https://homesteadsandhomeschools.libsyn.com/rss

Forced Sharing is Socialist Indoctrination

No matter where on the political spectrum you fall, it is fairly well accepted that the public education system leans to the left; some simply accept this, others get angry, and still some enroll their children in private schools or even try their hand at homeschooling. Many of the latter accuse the schools of indoctrinating children into Statism or even Socialism. And while this may have some truth to it, there are some things parents do without recognizing that they are, in fact, indoctrinating their children into socialism right from their own home.

Most everyone has heard the little catch phrase before: “sharing is caring,” and while to some degree, it is, sharing can actually be rather sinister. The problem with sharing, is that it can diminish the importance of private property, individual ownership, and voluntary interactions.

In a classroom, most of the toys used are bought by the school or the teacher, they do not belong to the children and it is up to the administrators to make the rules surrounding how toys are shared. However, in the home, toys are usually purchased by an individual for a specific individual. At my house we have a few of those toys meant for large group play, specifically, a rickety jungle gym with a little climbing wall, a slide and two swings; we also have four children. This creates problems. We often resolve these problems by introducing a new object, or suggesting they take turns, but we do not actually force our children to get off a swing and give it to a sibling. Usually the suggestion to share is enough to persuade our children to behave differently, and if it’s not, we might lean a little harder with shoe-on-the-other-foot examples, but we never force a child off the swing.

We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.
And then we also have those individual toys: the Batman action figure Grandma sent down, or the iPod Santa left behind. Too often, parents allow a child-owner of a toy to use the object, but when a sibling or friend wants to use it, the child-owner is forced into sharing. If you do not share, there are consequences that may involve time out, or shuttering of the toy, of course this is after the child that made the request to share has been given the object of their desire against the will of the owner. It may not seem like a big deal, after all, I am the parent and children should learn to listen to authority figures, right? But consider the message and the moral you are sharing: “It is okay for an authority figure to force someone to give up their private property to someone else who wants that property.” This is simply unacceptable. There is no need for this framework to ever be established, especially in the mind of a child. On top of this, it not only tells a child it is okay for an authoritarian force more powerful than you to take your property, it also tells a child it is fully acceptable to appeal to authority to use force on others so the appealer’s desires are met. It instills entitlement, which only furthers the acceptance of forced sharing.

Now, I am not suggesting voluntary sharing is a bad thing, or that we should not encourage children to share, but it should be on their terms. There is great importance in teaching children the value of charity, and the benefits of taking care of others when you can, but these are things that cannot be forced, and it must be understood that these things have limits. We need to teach children that being mindful of others has a place, but it is at their choosing. At the same time, we need to teach our children that sometimes, we will never be able to use a friend’s toy, nor may we ever be able to purchase the toy on our own and that is simply the way of life. We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.

Continue reading “Forced Sharing is Socialist Indoctrination”

Liberty is the Least Restrictive Environment

When I was going through school to be a teacher, one of the key phrases that was always bandied about was Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Specifically, the language is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As you would imagine, a child with a disability is required by law to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, or in a classroom with their peers without disabilities, this includes giving students interpreters, aids, or other services necessary to achieve this goal. The student will be removed from the classroom of their peers without disabilities when the severity of their disability prevents the goals of IDEA and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from being achieved. It would seem that most educators agree with this model and state that it prepares students better for adult life and improves their socials skills, it also, more importantly, gives them a better education and presents them with higher expectations. The last two are key.

I am no longer a teacher in the traditional sense, but I do homeschool my children. Right now, we have two that are being homeschooled, but next year we will (most likely) have four, and this provides the ultimate in LREs. My wife and I are able to create IEPs for each one of our children and they are allowed to flourish. The children find topics that are exciting and important to them, and they delve into those topics on their own; my wife and I create little projects that encourage further exploration and real world application.

While I don’t always agree with the world of mainstream education, I do think this idea of LRE is a good one and should be applied generously to everyone, and by everyone, I mean every breathing being on the planet. There are a handful of reasons to employ LRE in education, but the most important are that it allows for a better education and presents students with higher expectations – the one begets the other.

How does a least restrictive environment produce higher expectations? Where do those higher expectations come from? It’s not the teacher, the teacher’s expectations for the student should remain the same regardless of the environment in which they are taught. It’s not the expectations of the other students, in fact, the other students probably have lower expectations for the disabled child. Rather, it is through self-imposed competition with their classmates. No student wants to be seen as the “dumb kid” or the “slow kid” and most students will do their best to keep up and stay within the norm.

When we apply this to the real world, it takes on a bit of the “Keeping up with the Smiths” mentality. Often we tend to live right around our means, sometimes we pull back and live a little more frugally, saving for the future, sometimes we get caught up and spend a little more than we should, but we’re often able to dial it back and get on course. There are certainly outliers – millionaires in wholly pants and stained t-shirts, and five button suit, fedora wearing, chapter 7 filing debtors – but they aren’t the norm. We all strive to fit in with those around us and adhere to the social norms in the public spheres we frequent.

The problem is, the current system of our politics is not in the vein of the Least Restrictive Environment. The State is constantly regulating everything, from how you run your business, to what shoes you have to wear on the job site, these regulations add restrictions. When we add restrictions and regulations, it makes it harder on small businesses and the individual to better their economic station.

Further, when the State hands out monies to businesses in the form of tax-breaks or assitances to the individual, we start to see restrictions being imposed. Those restrictions come in the form of a lack of competition. If I know that I can wait on the State to feed, clothe, medicate, and shelter me, I have no incentive to compete with others for a better way of life. If I know that my business is operating at a loss until the end of the year when I get a big tax-break from the State because I installed some solar panels, or I hired some minority workers, or that my business is just too big for the State to let fail, my incentive to improve starts to diminish. When I join a union, I know that every week, I will be paid a certain amount, I know that my job is fairly secure, and I am aware of the minimum amount of work I must do. I have no incentive to work harder for a raise or to work better to keep my job. I can do just enough to get by and while this may seem ideal, it lowers our expectations of ourself and with it goes some self value.

The Nanny State that is entrenched and upheld by the duopoly, the political system in the United States does not allow for the Least Restrictive Environment. There are tomes of regulations and restrictions on the individual and the business. A truly least restrictive environment in which competition can flourish and the individual can excel exist within the freemarket. If we all had to compete for jobs and paychecks we would get better at discussing contracts with bosses, we would become more efficient workers, we would have higher expectations for ourselves, because they would be attainable. We mandate teachers to teach students in the least restrictive environment so why is it any different for adults? Why do we recognize that students have higher expectations for themselves when restrictions and barriers are removed and they are forced to compete with other students? If you threw all the students into a pot, undoubtedly they would settle out and there would be striations, levels of students, some smarter, some not so smart, some would excel at auto-tech, some would excel at physical education and others at math, and it would be normal. If we threw all adults into a pot, the same striations would occur. Not every individual is cut out to be a CEO, and not every individual is cut out to be an auto-tech or a roofer, but you would have more movement. It would be easier for the roofer to go out and start his own roofing business and become a CEO, it would be easier for the beautician to start her own cosmetology school. Unfortunately, regulations create restrictions and limit this movement – usually due to licensing fees or zoning laws. In a more free world, we would all be living in our own least restrictive environments; if it’s good enough for the children, why not the adults?

Wavering Steam

No doubt about it, teaching is not an easy job. You are constantly bombarded by disrespectful students, disconnected parents, an at times semi-supportive administration and an education system handed down from the government that is focused more on testing and “critical thinking” than actual knowledge based learning. Not only does this distract a teacher from actually teaching, it also makes a students job harder and learning more difficult. These things are all part of why we chose to start homeschooling.

Though, with that in mind, we certainly aren’t unschoolers, as we do believe that there are some things that school teaches: one must learn how to sit quietly and patiently, focusing attention on something that you may not want to. While society wants us to think work-life is fun and exciting and we should do something we love, it does not always work out this way and many times we are stuck behind desks focusing on a task we have no interest in. Learning to force ourselves monotonous events we have no interest in is a mighty gift public education teaches us. Another of those school taught maladies we must be comfortable with is busy work! How many times do we have to do something superfluous in the real world if only because some regulation says so? (Sorry for the rant, but hey…).

Anyway, in order to actually teach a thoughtful lesson filled with substantive knowledge and interactive tasks, much research, planning, and development must be completed. Unlike a public school teacher who can reuse most of their unit plans from year to year – provided they don’t change grades – homeschoolers, have to develop units every year. We can reuse them for siblings but there’s still necessary creation for the eldest. Yes, there are box curriculums, and we utilize them to some degree, but we always find them to be sub-par. Unfortunately, this creation is where we get bogged down. Creating curriculum like we want takes time, and we need to borrow that time from one of our other many tasks: trying to run a small homestead – planting, firewood, butchering, etc., foster children with weekly appointments, making shoes for the masses, and other pet project we find ourselves engaged in.

With all of our “distractions” sometimes homeschooling takes the back seat. Planting seeds, keeping court appointments, stacking firewood to cure, filling shoe orders are all time sensitive and while homeschooling is also time sensitive to a degree, it can, in a sense, be “put off.” This is not to say it is altogether skipped, but over the last month or so, we find ourselves relying more on worksheets and handouts: the easy fill-in-the-blank stuff we wanted desperately to get away from when we started homeschooling. Yet, here we are. We still put in effort and there is still work being done on both ends, but compared to last year, we can’t help but to feel like we’re failing.

This past weekend we somehow (between three birthday parties, a drama performance and two doctors appointments) managed to dig a little deeper. Yes, we still included a number of worksheets for this weeks lessons, but we were also able to get out our Home Depot shower board out and get a skeletal framework for the next month. We made time to develop a couple of projects that will require our son to reason and think about what he has learned.

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Showerboard!

I’m sure to some degree these lulls in intensity are fairly normal. (Everything else ebbs and floes, why not homeschooling?) But, last year we hit homeschooling hard, this year, we hit it hard, and lost steam. We’re gathering steam again and know we can maintain it for the remaining seventy or so school days this year and it’s exciting. It gives us hope for next year and beyond, something that we started to doubt earlier this year.

If you’re a homeschooler, what keeps your steam from wavering? Do you use worksheets or other forms of busywork when you can’t get your act together?

Hale’s Hazardous Tales

As a kid I was a big reader. I could be found at night with the covers pulled up and the flashlight on illuminating my bed cover fort from within. I would spend the seemingly endless bus ride home from school, neck crook’d downward, eyes consuming words, head bumping off the glass window as we traversed the back country roads. I read a number of things, but they were all novels: words on paper – no pictures. As I progressed through middle school and high school, I kept to the same things. At some point, I’m not sure when, graphic novels started making their way into our culture. The first I recall were The Watchmen and Maus. While I had read a few comic books (X-Men 2099), I never really got into it, and to be honest, I kind of looked down on the genre. Using pictures to tell a complex story seemed like something of a cop-out. (I’m an English major, tell a story with words, not pictures!)

It wasn’t until I was actually teaching in Brooklyn that I read my first graphic novel: Persepolis. From there, I read a few more, but nothing struck me hard enough to be remembered a decade down the road; though they did make a spot for themselves in my cannon. They weren’t incredibly awful, and to some degree they do make literature more accessible to hesitant readers.

Since my time in Brooklyn, I’ve had a son who has grown to be also be a tremendously consumptive reader. He will read through a Magic Tree House book in a couple of hours. For Christmas he received the Indian in the Cupboard, read it in two days, and is on his second read. (To be honest, there is a bit of disbelief on my end, but when his comprehension questioned, he seems to know what is going on.)

His love of books fuels his love of the library. We spend quite a bit of time at the there, and he can get lost in the children’s section when his mother or I get to picking out books for school. As with any library, the children’s section is divided into sections: easy readers, young adults, and non-fiction. (They also have sections for holiday themed texts, and longer series’: Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, etc.) Our library also has a small section – it’s really a cart – devoted particularly to graphic novels. We first discovered the section when we took out The Monitor vs. The Merrimack, one in a series of “graphic battles of the Civil War.” For us, this was a major score, after all, what six year old doesn’t want to read comic books about war? When it came time to return it to the library, it wasn’t in the pile. It had migrated into my son’s room; who knows how many times he read it. In the car to the library, it was clear how much he really enjoyed the book as he kept recounting the battle for me and asking further questions; of course when we actually got to the library, I had to show him the graphic novel section. He was enthralled.

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The booming graphic novel section.

There were a number of good texts and series on the shelf – and I may write about some of the others later – but there was one that really stuck out for us: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. Where as “Graphic Battles of the Civil War” details battles of the Civil War, Hale’s Hazardous Tales run the gamut of US History. In total there are seven texts from the Revolutionary War to World War II.

The author is actually Nathan Hale – or at least that is their pseudonym, the first in the series is also about Nathan Hale… – and he recounts historical stories that focus on some sort of harrowing or otherwise deadly tale. They read like typical comic books, but instead of kryptonite and heavily moustached detectives, there are actual believeable characters that may or may not have existed and conversations that probably didn’t actually happen. I wouldn’t say they are the end-all-be-all history texts, but they certainly set the framework and get kids excited and encouraged to learn more and go deeper. At around 120 pages, they are longer texts, but their comic book nature allows readers to plow through these books.

As like most of the books my son reads, he is constantly going back for these. Even though he has read all but the most recent, he continues to check them out and read and reread them. They may not be for everyone, and I suppose, are geared more towards young boys than young girls, but they are certainly approachable by all. While we haven’t built any units around these texts, they have all been a part of the unit when we covered that particular historical period. They are an excellent supplement or everyday read for those younger elementary aged students. While they may not all be found at your local library – ours only has three – they are all on Amazon, and you can also check out Hale’s website for some interesting facts and early proofs. (It doesn’t get very many updates, though.)

The seven texts are as follows:
One Dead Spy – A Revolutionary War story about the actual spy Nathan Hale
Donner Dinner Party – Westward Expansion, and of course the Donner Party
Big Bad and Ironclad</> – The history of the Ironclad warships of the Civil War
The Alamo Allstars – Texas, The battle of the Alamo
The Underground Abductor – Story of Harriet Tubman and her work as an abolitionist
Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood – World War I, trench warfare, etc.
A Raid of No Return – World War II bomber pilots over Japan

Each text focuses on a particular event in history, but also wraps in the political and social climates of the time. If you haven’t checked these texts out, I’d highly suggest it.

Raddish Kids Review

(If you want to cut right to the pros/cons/discount code, click here. For the full version, keep reading.)

Boxes, crates, kits, call them want you want, mystery packages ordered by subscription seem to be infiltrating our lives from all directions. From boxes full of new outfits to fishing lures and reels, from make-up to athletic gear or even healthy dinners: they run the gamut. If there's a hobby or something that interests you, there's a box made especially for you. They even have boxes for education. I never thought I would succumb to the gimmicky overpriced boxes on the internet, but when my wife thought they might make a neat Christmas present, my apprehension was overruled. Most subscriptions are set up so that you can go with a one month renewal – that of course comes at a premium – or some longer duration (3/6/12 months). Being that we have three children in the house that might enjoy said boxes, we decided to order three different boxes as one month subscriptions, and cancel them after Christmas.

There were a plethora of boxes to choose from, and at times it got a little overwhelming, but we finally decided to go with Raddish (Rad Dish), Green Kid Crafts, and Groovy Lab in a Box. They were meant as group gifts for the three older kids, so no single box was purchased with a specific child in mind. At the time of publishing this post, only two of them have arrived. When purchasing these boxes, it is important to mind the ship dates. Some subscriptions will ship your order as that months box right away some will wait until the following full month and send that month’s subscription.

Raddish
That’s a fancy looking box.

This particular review focuses on Raddish. (If you want the really short version and the discount code, skip to the bottom.) I have to say when we stumbled across Raddish my wife was pretty stoked. Both of our kids really enjoy cooking and our foster-daughter seems to be getting interested (she’s 3.5). And of course, cooking is a great way to learn math and do some work with basic fractions. After looking over the website, we decided to give it a go. It seemed to fit in the price range of all the other boxes, coming in at $24/month with free shipping for US based customers. (They offer a $2 a month discount for six month subscriptions and a $4 a month discount for 12 month subscriptions.) For three month and longer subscriptions you get a bonus Raddish Apron. We opted for the one month subscription.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when the box came. I knew it had a “kitchen tool” and would contain a shopping list, and some recipes. And while it was a Christmas present for the kids, I was kind of excited to open the box and take a peak at what was inside. It’s a nice looking box, decorated in lime and pink with a relatively simple Raddish logo. Of course, when I opened the box, I was quickly disappointed. I thumbed through the recipe cards, looked at the “table talk” guide questions, looked for the “game” and played with the “kitchen tool” which happened to be a timer. It’s a half-way decent timer as far as kitchen timers go (something like this), but after I went online to verify the price was indeed $24, I promptly canceled our subscription. Again, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but what we received seemed far from a $24 value.

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The fancy timer and a “collectible” iron on patch.

When we were checking out, there was an option to order an extra kitchen tool if we were going to be sharing the box – one for each kid kind of thing. We thought about it for a moment, and then passed. There was no telling what the “tool” was and going by some of the older boxes we weren’t sure we’d really need three of anything: oven mits, spatulas, etc. In the end, we’re glad we didn’t order three. The tool this month was a timer, and we really would have had no need for three timers. As it stands, we don’t even really need one timer. You see, we have a timer on the oven, and another on the microwave. I also have a cell phone, and on it is yet another timer. Now the timer we recieved is a very nice timer of the egg-timing variety, and my son has since used it to start timing his sister’s completion of menial tasks, yet it certainly isn’t a necessesity and can probably be purchased for under $10.

Next out of the box was a cooking badge. The ultimate in gimmicky, it’s an iron on patch with a picture of a mixing bowl and spoon. Cheese, cheese, cheese. I can kind of see the appeal for some kids, but again, ultimately unnecessary.

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Instructions on how to make a Cookie Jar Gift.

With both the timer and patch out of the way, all that was left was a stack of cards. The first two went together. Both cards are printed front and back on heavyweight card stock and are part of the craft. On the primary card are the directions for the craft: a Cookie Jar Gift. Essentially it’s mixing the dry ingredients for a batch of cookies in a mason jar. You’re supposed to pour the ingredients in gently and I’m sure it produces a layered look akin to those poured sand crafts. The second card can be cut down the middle to produce two hang tags for your mason jar. On one side is a nice To/From section and the other is the instructions for adding wet ingredients and actually making the cookies. It’s cute. It’s neat, and it’s nothing that can’t be found on Pinterest.

Pawing through the box some more are two more card stock cards. The first is just an

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The list of what the box contains and ingredients needed.

overview of the the box, what culinary skills your child will be mastering, the recipes included, (what Raddish has deemed) collectibles, and the games and activities. On the back of the card is a shopping list of ingredients of what you’ll need for each recipe. The second of these two cards has the game on it. (I didn’t think it was much of a game, but I’m pretty sure the Cookie Mason Jar was the activity which leaves this card as the game.) The game was a review of what

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The more educational cards.

the child learned, by essentially ticking off a box about what they learned – presumably after they’ve recited to a parent what it is they’re checking off. The back of the second card is where some of the educational stuff kicks in as it includes some discussion questions about the lesson and how to use the timer.

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What we really came for: the recipes.

With the stock cards out of the way it’s time to get down to the recipe cards: nice tri-fold cards heavily laminated that could stand alone. Each recipe card is laid out nicely with prep and cook time and yield on the front. Inside the tri-fold are illustrated lists of ingredients and cooking tools, as well as step-by-step instructions of how to craft your food. The pictures are telling and if your chef couldn’t read they might be able to get by, but would probably need some help deciphering the actual cooking instructions. On the backside of each card are different “Featured Culinary Skills,” for this month it was oven safety, baking cookies, and mastering measuring spoons. Also included on the back are two additional topics that vary from card to card. For this month there was instructions on how to run a cookie swap as well as how to do some calculations for circles (radius, diameter, circumference), a gingerbread game that included smelling ingredients and a little breakdown of the specifics of whole wheat.

Conversation Cards
Questions for the kids.

Lastly out of the box are the “collectible” table talk cards. There are four cards made of a thicker plastic material that can be punched out of the sheet they’re in, and strung onto a key ring of sorts should you choose to do so. On the back of each table talk card is a question meant to inspire discussion and thoughtfulness. I suppose at times, they might be nice, but if you can’t talk about what you just did with your child and you need a plastic card to direct the conversation, there’s probably other things that need to be worked on. With that said, the cards did spark a little interest among the children, specifically the explanation of a cookie they want to invent.

As you go through the box, you’ll notice that they refer you to their website fairly often, and this is with good reason. There are some other activities on the website, but there are also some lesson plans to go with each recipe. Lessons are laid out to last 45-90 minutes. Honestly, these were the most useful things out of the whole box, and they can be found online for free. (You can also find dietary substitutions on the website.)

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Getting going.

Overall, my seven year old son really enjoyed it. He does a lot of cooking, and has just gotten into doing it on his own. He enjoyed making the Festive Pizza Wreath (pizza style Monkey Bread) and sharing it with us for lunch. Of course, he also enjoys printing recipes off of the Highlights website or anywhere else we let him explore and cooking those.

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The finished product. It ended up sticking to the bundt pan, so it got a little mangled. Still tasted the same.

In short:

Pros:

  • My child really enjoyed it
  • He thought the recipe cards were cool
  • He really enjoys playing with the timer and using it home school his younger sister
  • If you like gimmicky stuff and your house has room for it, there’s lots of eye catching things in these boxes
  • Lesson plans online can be helpful if you really want to make a lesson out of this.

Cons:

  • It’s expensive. For $24 a month, my child can find recipes online and we can do everything the box set out to do. It requires thought, but it’s possible
  • Lots of gimmicky stuff that just adds to clutter.

Overview: We canceled it right away. There was nothing we couldn’t do ourselves, and felt the $24 could go further if we bought our own stuff to create cooking lessons. The lesson plans online can be useful and may make the $24 price tag reasonable.

If you plan on purchasing a subscription for Raddish, on our box was a $10 discount code. I’m not sure if it’s $10 for one box, or if it has to be a subscription of x-months, but here it is: TNVDY3 If you choose to use the code, let me know how the discount worked.

Addendum: That sweet timer that came in this box just broke less than a month later. Bummer.

Three Reasons Not To Homeschool

Earlier, I mentioned that my wife and I had many discussions before deciding to not enroll our son in first grade. In those discussions we came up with a number of reasons that we were unhappy with the public school system. At the same time, there were a handful of things that made us apprehensive about homeschooling. Surely, you may not agree with all of our reasons, or think we missed some key reasons to keep a child in public school, but these are what we thought of.

As adults, we make decisions for ourselves, as parents we also make decisions for our children. Every time we make a decision we are utilizing a recollection of previous experiences as well as synthesizing new information surrounding the present circumstances. A lot of the decision making when it comes to whether or not to homeschool, can be based on our experience in school both educationally and socially speaking. I was a student that thrived in the elementary school setting (fell apart in middle school and was back to enjoying high school by the end.) I enjoyed the projects, I enjoyed reading and writing reports, I enjoyed gym class every other day, I enjoyed running around like a hooligan on the playground. Believe it or not, some of my teachers taught me to enjoy learning and instilled some important values. In the end I would eventually go on to get my Master’s degree. Public school also worked for my wife as she went on to get her Doctor’s in Audiology. So if a generic public school setting worked for us (and countless others) why shouldn’t it work for our son? And further, why would I take that experience away from my son? Unfortunately, when you’re making decisions for a third party, you need to keep their best interests in mind, and sometimes what worked for you may not work for them. My wife and I really tried to remove our personal experiences with school from the decision making process, but it was difficult. The public school landscape has changed and not for the better.

One of the biggest factors when it comes to deciding whether or not to homeschool for everyone to consider – and it’s really too bad – is it’s affordability. There are a couple of upfront costs, but there are also some hidden fees that need to be considered. The most obvious cost is curriculum. Even if you create all the curriculum you will use, you’ll still be using resources be it paper and ink, pencils to write, or even just the electric to keep the lights on when they’d otherwise be off. Luckily for us, my mother-in-law is a homeschooler and my mother is an Elementary Special Ed teacher, my brother is a high school tech ed teacher, and my father is an engineer with a huge science brain: we have resources. Over the past couple of years we’ve bought a few boxed curriculum sets and filled in the rest with miscellaneous worksheets from workbooks given to us. If we decided to buy a boxed curriculum for every subject, the cost would add up quite quickly. Though, the biggest fee associated with homeschooling, is that you’re working for free. Say what you will about a homemaker/homeschooler it’s a job. It takes time and effort and most importantly – financially speaking – it reduces household income to one salary. Next year both of our children will be school age and we could be sending them to public school which would free me up to work part time or even full time as a teacher. That would be easily an extra $30k per year. Over time, that second income adds up and homeschooling becomes pretty costly. The last prong of the financial fork in your homeschooling steak is tuition. The moment you buy a piece of property, you start paying property taxes and somewhere wrapped in that massive donation to the state/county are your school taxes and you’ll pay them until you start renting or you curl up under a log and die – long after your child has finished with school. Depending on how big your house is, or how vast your property, your tuition will be different, but the fact is you pay for public school, so you might as well use it. Say what you want, public school is not free. Essentially you pay for homeschooling twice through taxes and an income you won’t be seeing.

The last big hang up with homeschooling over public school is sports. It is a much bigger issue for me than for my wife, and it is one of those things that won’t surface for another handful of years, but all the same, something to think about – and something I still think about quite frequently. School districts often offer youth rec-leagues and there’s usually some sort of travel program depending on the sport. Though by seventh grade, the youth programs peter out, travel programs get more expensive and high school sports begin. At a quick glance it seems that most states allow for homeschool students to participate in school sports (you can find a fairly comprehensible list here), but Georgia (our state) isn’t on that list and when speaking to other homeschoolers, their students have not been allowed to participate in public school sports. (Though I imagine if the student was an all-star QB the district would quickly change its mind.) To me, this is an issue.

I ran all three seasons: cross country, indoor and outdoor track. It was something that I recall quite fondly, and I think instilled a strong work ethic and a sense of routine outside of school. Everyday, when school ended – a place I was compelled to be – I would play some frisbee with my friends for an hour and then at 3:30, practice would begin and I would spend the next hour-and-a-half of my day doing something that I technically didn’t have to do. Sports kept me occupied when I might have too much free time, and they also gave me certain standards I had to meet if I wanted to keep participating (grades, behavior, tardiness, etc). It really gave me an incentive to work through high school as opposed to fighting my way through.

If the incentive sports gave to work through school wasn’t enough, there was also the team aspect. There was nothing more important in my education than learning to work with others and the camaraderie that comes when aiming to achieve a universal goal. Understandably, this might not be true for all students, but they heavily impacted my high school education and in turn impacts my decision making when deciding to not enroll our son.

As I look back at the decision making process, I think we had some other minor drawbacks here and there, but these three were the ones that came up repeatedly. Almost every anti-homeschool discussion focused on these topics. In the end they weren’t enough encouragement for us to keep our son in public school, but they might be for others. And as we move along this homeschool journey, we may find other traits of homeschooling we disagree with. I can’t foresee any that would make us send out son back to public school, but high school – both public and home – is a completely different situation.

Making the Decision

Homeschooling, it’s not for everyone, and to be honest, it took me a long while to get on board with the concept. After all, I have my Master’s degree in education. Pulling my son out of public school, the place I spent six years of my life training to work in, felt like something of a betrayal. It was an admittance that I saw something wrong with the public school system, that there was something wrong with my life-path-choice. It was an admittance that I was wasteful and wrong, two things I don’t care to be. It took us nearly the whole summer to finally make the decision and we only really pulled the trigger a few weeks before school was slated to start.

When we lived in Vermont, the idea of homeschooling never really crossed our minds. Sure, the schools in Vermont had to live up to the same federal standards as the schools in Georgia, but the mentality was different: the halls were friendlier, the parents welcome, the classes smaller. That isn’t to say the schools in Georgia are bad – my son learned how to read and blazed through math in public kindergarten – but it just wasn’t a good fit for our family. Of course, I didn’t and still don’t know that homeschooling is the right fit, but we’re trying.

I’m not sure how many discussions my wife and I had before finally making the decision to not enroll our son in first grade, but there were many, and it wasn’t always the same points that were contended. Undoubtedly, homeschooling isn’t for everyone and there will be a litany of different reasons for every family, some will be more real than others, but they all play into the final decision.

One of our main concerns with public school was time: time traveling to school as well as time in school and how it was spent. In our county the students have a seven hour day, even the kindergartners. Yes, I am aware that many schools are moving to a full day kindergarten, but in Vermont this wasn’t the case. (I strongly disagree with full day kindergarten but that’s for another post.) It seems to me that graduating from a three-to-four hour pre-school program to a seven hour kindergarten day is a massive jump and one we weren’t particularly keen on.

So, while I may not think it ever appropriate for a five or six year old to be in an institutional setting for seven hours a day, inevitably as a student progresses through their educational career, it will become necessary. What I fear (and saw first hand) is how seat time is actually utilized. As a soccer coach, I learned that no player should ever be standing still: lines are bad. If you must use a line for a drill, try to get players to do basic exercises with the ball while standing in line. The same idea can, and should, be applied to school, but it isn’t, in fact, many times, it can’t be accomplished due to classroom makeup. Classrooms are filled with brilliant students who buzz through worksheets in no time as well as students who ought to have an aide, but don’t. Yes, it’s a teachers job to handle this gamut of students, but it’s not always possible with burgeoning classroom sizes and ever increasing government proffered “standards.” So what happens? I guess it depends on the teacher, but it usually ends up being downtime in which a student is wasting time, and at the end of the day if you add up all that wasted time, how much do you have and what else could have been accomplished?

Another issue I take, is that in a seven hour school day, kindergartners went outside once for twenty minutes: twenty minutes. They went to gym twice a week for 40 mins, lunch was 20 minutes. There was no down time from learning. Kindergarten – in my mind – ought to be about playing, learning how to play and interact in a manner that is appropriate for children. Instead they’re stuck trying to keep up with standards some bureaucrat on the take from the Education Lobby has put in place. (Think about how much money is poured into the education industry with the advent of testing?)

In his year of kindergarten, my son never took the bus. This wasn’t for fear of being bullied or any other emotional fear surrounding the bus, but rather it was the duration of the bus ride. Because of where we lived, my son would have been the first on and the last off the bus which doesn’t mean much in itself; however, when you learn that the bus went by our house at 6:35am and again at 4:35pm it gets a whole lot realer. From beginning to end, that’s essentially a ten hour day – for a five year old. There are adults that don’t (and couldn’t) do that. In the end, it was me that was driving him back and forth to school everyday, yes it was our choice to do so, but it was a decision that had a pretty bleak alternative.

On top of the long day, the school system in our county is quite large; it is the third largest county in Georgia and it is broken into three school districts. Coming from Vermont where each grade had two – maybe three classrooms of 15-25 students in each, a grade with eight classrooms of 22-25 kids was a bit of a shock. It essentially meant that from year to year, our son would most likely not be with any of his friends from the prior year: each year would almost be like starting over. In our minds that meant two things, firstly, if home schooling didn’t work for first grade, we could stick him back in for second grade, and in terms of social networks, he wouldn’t be that far behind. Second, it meant that each new year would almost be like starting in a new school rather than a return to familiar situations. This was troublesome for us. (Imagine how much attention can be put on learning when you don’t have to constantly worry about navigating new social situations.)

Despite all the differences we face based on regional characteristics, there is at least one common trait through schools across the country: teachers. Some teachers are phenomenal and you wish your student could have them every year, some teachers are rubbish and you wish your child didn’t have to spend a day with them. Unfortunately, this is a crap shoot in public school. There is no telling who your teacher will be from year to year. At least with home schooling I know who the teacher is and where their weaknesses lie.

healthy breakfast
The lovely tax-payer funded school breakfast. Whole grain though.

For all the talk about how unhealthy our kids are, and how much we need to make them go exercise and eat their grains it was amazing how unhealthy the school food was. Due to the average income level of the student body as a whole, the school received funding for free breakfast for all the students, and while one might think that a tax-payer funded program would provide good wholesome food – it didn’t. Each morning as every child entered the school doors, a lunch worker was standing there handing out bagged breakfasts to those that wanted one. (We never let our son take them, but he would inevitably get them in the classroom.) What was in these wholesome bags of goodness? Sometimes a fruit – orange, banana, apple, – or a cheese stick, but more often than not, it was a six pack of mini-donuts, or a box of sour-raisins, a Pop-Tart or a juice box: grains and fruits loaded down with sugars and additives. Exactly what students need to sit through a long day of school, but hey, it was tax-payer funded.

Lastly, a big concern of ours was communication. When a teacher has 25+ students, seemingly endless evaluations to write, new standards to learn, lesson plans to write and constantly submit for evaluation, there leaves little time to communicate with families. Just like everything else, education has gone the way of regulations. There is a constant growth of paperwork and guidelines for teachers to follow, and that takes away from what education really is: a relationship between a teacher and a student (and family when appropriate) that encourages a child to grow their brain and discover the world.

This is not to say that homeschooling is the answer to all these issues, but for now, it seems like it is the best answer to many of these concerns. And of course, homeschooling has it’s drawbacks and give me pause whenever I think about them. No doubt there’s lots of other pros to homeschooling that were either of little concern to us, or things that I just overlooked.