Google The Unplanned Homeschooler

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Table etiquette for homeschoolers

My parents tell me that public schools used to teach etiquette and manners as part of a student's elementary education. They say that teachers used to sit with students at lunch time and instruct them on proper table manners, correcting them as needed, so the children grew up at least knowing the basics of table etiquette.

But that wasn't my experience in school, and it definitely wasn't my children's experience when they entered public school a few years ago. With the uproarious clamor of an overcrowded cafeteria, and just minutes to spend at the table, my children's lunch period was overwhelming. The staff on duty had all they could handle just ushering kids in an out the doors and making sure no one was throwing food.

Thankfully homeschooling allows us to enjoy a much more relaxed and calm midday meal, where the kids have plenty of time to eat their lunch and it's relatively peaceful and quiet. But the table manners I try to instill in my children are, admittedly, short of the etiquette that may be expected at a formal dinner or an important business luncheon when they get older.

As much as I love the look of a formal table setting, our meals are decidedly informal. We don't set out more plates or silverware than we need, we usually eat our salad with the same fork as the rest of our dinner, and no one ever gets more than one glass or cup. Like many families in today's busy world, we often eat on the go, or even on TV trays while we watch a movie together.

Honestly, I'm concerned that my kids have had few opportunities to learn the higher level table etiquette they may need to make a good impression on future employers.

But I'm a homeschooler, and that means I can teach my kids anything I want as part of their basic education. I know there are resources that we, as homeschooling parents, can use to instruct our kids, and perhaps even ourselves, in the best of proper table etiquette before our youngsters grow up and leave the nest.

I'm fortunate to be friends with etiquette expert and fellow writer, Rebecca Black, who has written many books and articles. She knows all about proper manners for every situation, and writes in such a helpful way that she makes it a pleasure to learn. I'm excited to see that she has published a new book, "Dining Etiquette: Essential Guide for Table Manners, Business Meals, Sushi, Wine and Tea Etiquette," which would be a perfect resource for teaching homeschooled teens and pre-teens everything they need to know about table etiquette before they go to college or begin careers.

I'm looking forward to checking out this book, and perhaps staging practice dinners with my own kids, so that they are better acquainted with all the rules of etiquette they will need to flourish in any dining experience.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If you don't send your kids to public school, you're a bad guy?

A controversial article from Slate made the rounds on social media about this time last year. The title says it all. "If you send your kids to private school, you are a bad person." It's not the first time a Slate writer stirred things up with an inflammatory article bashing parents who opt for something other than public school. In 2012, the hot button title was, "Liberals, don't homeschool your kids."

Both of these articles had the same general premise. Parents, especially educated and affluent parents, have a responsibility to the community at large to send their children to public school. Those who choose to do otherwise, by either sending their kids to private school or homeschooling, are cheating the public school kids out of their involvement and influence.

These authors acknowledge that public schools in many instances are broken, and that it might take generations of involved parents to get them back on track, but they insist that parents should make the sacrifice, foregoing the benefits of an alternative education, in order to eventually improve public schools for all.

As a parent, I balk at the notion of sacrificing my children's education, their happiness, and even their safety in pursuit of a collective social good that may never be obtained.

If public schools might be compared to swimming pools, many today are choked with crud. You have everything from predators on the faculty, academic scandals in the classrooms and bullies in the hallways. What the Slate writers insist is that the slime in the schools could be cleared away if parents didn't pull their kids out of public school and choose other alternatives. But kids aren't magical filters that can change a system that has been decades in the making. Leaving your kids in a cruddy school only guarantees one thing - they will come home covered in the same grime they've been swimming in every day.

We chose to homeschool because we believed it was the best option for our kids. We sacrificed my income so that we could provide our kids with an alternative education that is individualized and helps them reach their potential. Making the best choice possible for our own children doesn't make us bad people.

Why didn't we stick with the public schools and devote our time and energy to making them better? Don't we care about kids stuck in failing public schools? Certainly! Do we have the power to effect change on behalf of those children? Unfortunately, to a large extent the answer is no.

Because as I see it, public education in America is no longer a local entity that can be changed with the involvement of caring and dedicated parents and teachers. I see public education as a giant, run by corporations, unions and government officials. And the chance of changing anything, from the number of standardized tests kids take to the time they have at the lunch table, is virtually nonexistent, at least in the short time that my kids will still be kids.

So I do what's best for mine, and I hope you can do what's best for yours. And together we can vote for officials who will try to put control of the schools back in the local communities, back where parents and teachers really can make a difference.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Go ahead, get your homeschooler a backpack

It's almost time for back-to-school, and even though you are very happy with your decision to homeschool instead of sending your little one off to kindergarten, your child may still be expressing a desire to go to public school with the other neighborhood kids.

It's no wonder, really. Kids are inundated with the same back-to-school ads we see. The children's section of the library is full of books about so-and-so's first day of school. And those big, yellow school buses are truly fascinating if you've never been stuck on one for an hour with no air conditioning in the middle of August. 

But when parents stop and ask their preschool or kindergarten age kids what it is about school that they desire the most, often the answer is surprising and simple. They just want a cool lunchbox or a backpack like the ones they've seen in the stores!

My twins on the first day of kindergarten.

My twins went to kindergarten in public school. They got new backpacks and they both picked out a brand new lunchbox to take to school on the first day. My son picked Spiderman, and my daughter chose Disney princesses. I probably wouldn't have bought them lunchboxes if we'd started out homeschooling, but the backpacks have come in very handy over the years.

My kids have used backpacks to take books and crayons to doctors appointments, to carry clothes and toys on overnight trips to their grandparents' house, to use as carry on bags on airplanes, to store treasures in at home, and much more. 

You might not think your child needs a backpack, since they'll be homeschooled. But chances are, you'll find plenty of opportunities for them to use a backpack, and because they won't be dragging it around every day, it will likely last them for several years. If a backpack makes them feel more like they are doing "real" school, by all means, go ahead and get them one and fill it up with this year's crayons, pencils and other supplies. I promise, you won't regret it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

How homeschooling helps save big on school supplies

When I first started homeschooling, I really didn't know what supplies I would need to buy for my kids. As an unplanned homeschooler, I was jumping out of public school and into homeschooling knowing I would have to learn as I went along.

I had been spending between about $85 and $150 per child for the supplies on the teachers' lists when my kids were in public school. I knew homeschooling would save us money on the standard school supplies, but over the first few years, I was shocked at just how little we ended up spending. This year, I expect to spend less than $100 on all three kids combined, excluding some special art supplies my older daughter wants for her birthday.

Here are just a few tips that have saved my family money on homeschool supplies over the years.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pandas on a playground. How cool is that?

Oh, you guys! Today's unplanned adventure started with a video I saw on a friend's Facebook page. It featured young pandas playing on a wooden slide. Pandas on playground equipment, people! I don't think it gets much cuter than that.

Of course, I wasn't satisfied to just watch the video over and over and grin ear to ear. I needed to know where these adorable pandas lived, and what exactly was up with the panda playground. I found the original video on YouTube, and discovered that the young pandas were part of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China.

This one of a kind research center gives researchers a chance to study the giant pandas native to China, and to help in the effort to conserve the species. There are tons of educational resources on the site, perfect for anyone who loves pandas, and even live 24 hour high definition webcams where you can watch and listen to the Chengdu pandas from anywhere in the world!

Today's venture into the world of the Chengdu pandas was definitely an unplanned stop, but sometimes those are the very best learning adventures of all!

Happy as a cow in the summer rain

You couldn't ask for better weather than we've had this week in Oklahoma. It's mid-July, but our temperatures are hovering in the 70s and low 80s and we're enjoying a nice steady rain. I couldn't think of a better time to be a cow.

Today, my kids and I had to go to Tulsa to pick up my youngest daughter's glasses and get the estimate done on our van after the collision I wrote about last week. Along the way, we passed pasture after pasture full of happy, happy cows.

And why wouldn't they be happy? It's nice and cool, the rain is coming down just steadily enough to keep the biting flies at bay, and there's an abundance of tender, green grass growing where the hay was cut and baled over the last couple of weeks.

Next week, some of the members of my homeschool group will be taking a field trip to a local ranch to visit cows and learn more about farming. The field trip reminds me of my daughter's third birthday, when her only wish was to "pet a baby cow."

Farms make wonderful destinations for field trips, especially when there are new babies to see. Have your kids had a memorable experience on a farm? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review of "Lizards: Research and Activity Guide" by Fran Wisniewski

I love lizards. I've always been fascinated by them. I like the sleek and shiny ones best, the ones that you're apt to find darting along a path or from rock to rock in your garden. They almost look wet, their scales glisten so beautifully in the sun. But I like the rough, bumpy, knobby lizards, too. I think they're all amazing creatures.

That's why I was so excited to receive a copy of "Lizards: Research and Activity Guide" from my friend and fellow homeschooling writer, Fran Wisniewski for my kids to use this year.

As a wildlife biologist, in my life before kids, I read a lot of books about different types of animals. I studied everything just about everything in varying depth, including insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians and even fish. So, when I was offered a copy of the 70 page "Lizards" guide for my kids, I had a notion what I'd receive.

I expected a book that gave an overview of lizards, followed by sections made up of different types of lizards, sorted either by region or by body types, with several pages of specific examples for each category.

What I got was so much more. This research guide is actually written in such a way that a student could use it to study one specific species or learn about all the lizards of the world. It focuses on lizard anatomy, with questions which lead students to search for the answers online or in books.

With questions such as, "What parts make up the digestive system of a lizard?" students discover some of the basics of lizard anatomy and physiology, but are also likely to find themselves researching more specific questions that they come up with on their own, like, "What does the lizard in my garden like to eat?" or "How often do lizards poop?"

You know your kids would want to know!

The "Lizards" guide provides lots of resources where students can find information about lizards in general and about their favorite species. Wisniewski also provides plenty of suggestions for field trips and other activities, and even includes printable games and graphics you can use to make your own worksheets and cards.

If you have a child who loves lizards, you'll want to check out this very reasonably priced resource. Pick up your own copy of "Lizards: Research and Activity Guide" on Fran's World of Discovery and start learning today!

Disclosure: My copy of this research guide was a gift, without any agreement to write a review, but I liked it a lot, so I'm sharing with my readers!