Google The Unplanned Homeschooler

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Not your ordinary pumpkin patch field trip

So, the Unplanned Homeschooler didn't exactly plan to spend hours and hours at the pumpkin patch today, but this wasn't your ordinary pumpkin patch.

The Peek-a-boo Petting Zoo in Gore, Oklahoma transformed into a pumpkin patch for the kids, complete with a hay maze, old fashioned games, hundreds of pumpkins, and lots of great spots for taking pictures. But best of all, admission still included all the time you'd like to spend with the animals at the petting zoo.

Each child in our group got a cup of feed for the animals, which included llamas, goats, sheep, donkeys, a pig, chickens, geese, turkeys, bunnies and more. The baby bunnies and chicks were the favorites of most of the kids, by a wide margin.

There were lots of games to play, too, and a playground with a see-saw big enough for lots of kids to pile on and ride. And of course, every kid in our group got to take home a pumpkin. Some chose large pumpkins.

Others chose small pumpkins.

And then some chose pumpkins that could only make you laugh!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What should you do when your bullied child begs to be homeschooled?

This week, I read a post on Facebook from a mom who was homeschooling one son, and had two other kids in public elementary school. Her younger son, who'd been asking to be homeschooled as well, suffered through a bullying incident and came home crying, and begging to be taken out of the public school. The mom wanted advice on what she should do.

The scenario reminded me of another from my own home state a couple of years ago. A 12-year-old boy texted his dad from inside a bathroom stall in his middle school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The text read, “Just get me out of this school.”

The boy’s parents had been in contact with the school over the bullying that the boy said took place every single day. He said not a day went by that he wasn’t called horrible names, pushed, punched, or had milk dumped in his backpack. Finally, after suffering a beating from five other boys outside the school building, the child had enough.

Echoes of other children

Mitchell Wilson, age 11, from Canada begged his family to homeschool him after being tormented for years. Wilson, who had Muscular Dystrophy and could not escape his bullies, said he would rather die than go back to his school. 

Just weeks later, Ashlynn Conner, a 10-year-old honor student from Illinois, begged her parents to homeschool her because of the bullying she faced at school.

These cases and too many others are haunting, because the children begged their parents for help, essentially saying the same thing as the young boy in Bartlesville and the little boy whose mother was asking for help on Facebook. 

Just get me out of this school!  

They begged their families to do the one thing that would make their life tolerable, and their parents said no. Forced to face returning to school, the kids chose to end their own lives rather than be bullied one more day.

Options available to parents

If your child is being bullied so badly that they are begging to be taken out of their school, you owe it to them to explore your options. And there are options. If you live in a large district, you can insist that your child be transferred to another school for their protection. You may have to get a lawyer to make it happen if the district does not allow open transfers, but it is possible. You may also be able to have your child enrolled in a homebound program where a tutor from the district comes to your house and teaches your child at home.

In many states, you have the right to pull your child out of school for any reason. You can choose to homeschool your child or send them to a private school. Even if you have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get your child removed from their school, it is better than seeing them die.

Hopes for the future

People are becoming more aware of the effects of bullying, but the hopes for the future may not be enough to save your child today. The parents of the Bartlesville victim filed a police report after their son was attacked and said that they want teachers to pay more attention to what is going on in school.  

The day may come that anti-bullying policies actually do something to stop the torment that many children suffer, but if it is happening to your child, don’t wait for that day to come. It may be too late. If your bullied child desperately wants out, help them! Exercise your options and get them out.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I suck at drawing! Or maybe I just thought I did...

I can't tell you how many times I have said that line. "I suck at drawing!" Most of my life, I have been frustrated, because the things I wanted to draw didn't come out looking like they did in my head. And I hated that.

But recently, after watching a video by The Virtual Instructor on YouTube, where he slowly and systematically demonstrated how to draw a realistic eye, it occurred to me that if I want my kids to bravely try things, and not give up after a few failed attempts - you know, if I didn't want to hear them say, "I suck at that!" - I needed to lead by example.

So, I asked my older daughter if I could borrow the oil pastels she'd gotten for Christmas last year, and we sat down with a coffee table book about animals and a few sheets of black construction paper.

Now, my drawings are usually so bad, so flat and non-lifelike, so honestly pathetic that I gave up on ever pursuing art as any sort of hobby or pastime years ago. But going slowly, and just trying to put down on the paper the colors I saw in my reference photo, like the instructor in the YouTube video suggested, my drawing began to look pretty cool. Not bad at all for a first attempt at drawing with oil pastels, even if poor Quasimodo's right eye is oddly over sized.

Okay, so maybe I don't suck at drawing. Maybe I just never had a good teacher before, and maybe I never gave it a proper chance. But I am pretty thrilled with my frog, and I am anxious to try drawing again, and to watch more of The Virtual Instructor's videos! And if this experience helps to encourage my kids to try more things, even things they think they suck at, well, that's the best part of all.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why virtual public school is not legally considered homeschooling

It's amazing how far the homeschooling community has come in understanding this issue in the couple of years since I first published this article on Yahoo! Back then, homeschoolers who dared to insist that virtual public school was not homeschooling were shouted down in online forums, and I was actually threatened for spreading the message that the term "homeschool" should be guarded and reserved only for true homeschoolers.

Today, when someone in an online homeschool group posts that they are using K12, Connections, Epic or other virtual public school programs, they are immediately reminded, usually by several people, that what they are doing is not really homeschool, and that they have other options.

I am thrilled to see the homeschooling community defending the term "homeschool" for use only as applicable to legal homeschooling, and not to public school at home. For those new to either homeschooling or virtual public school, here's why the proper terminology is so important.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Homeschool support is all about changing lives

Good Sunday morning, readers! Today, I would like to share some good news and some gratitude.

I've been one of the leaders of my local homeschool group since it was founded, nearly five years ago. And although I have interacted with scores of homeschoolers, and helped dozens of families begin their homeschooling journey in those years, the magnitude of what I've been helping to do as a volunteer didn't truly hit me until recently.

Recently, I realized that I have perhaps not been as thankful as I should have been for the work that God has done through our little group in northeastern Oklahoma, and for the good things He has allowed me to witness through His grace.

You see, homeschool support really is all about changing lives. Becoming a homeschooling family isn't always an easy step. Just making the decision to take full responsibility for your child's education, then getting through the adjustment period of those first months is hard. But with the right support, homeschooling can completely transform your family in some pretty fantastic ways!

Amazing life changes

Some of the changes I have seen in the lives of the homeschoolers I know have been nothing short of amazing:

A little boy who often cried because he was bullied and had no friends at school now greets friends of all ages enthusiastically with hugs and high fives and looks forward to getting together to learn and play.

A mother who felt isolated and alone, homeschooling her child with medical issues, now feels connected and empowered as she and her daughter make new friends.

Kids who were lost in the the cracks in public school, falling behind academically or bored to the point of distraction in the classroom, are able to learn at their own pace and indulge their interests at home.

The role of a support

Homeschool groups, and especially leaders, are vitally important to the success of many homeschooling families. As someone who has been part of the support network for many families on the local level, and who has relied just as much on the care and support of others, I have seen what a difference caring, acceptance and encouragement can make.

I've also seen how damaging bad leadership within a homeschool community can be. In my own personal growth as a support leader, I know I have sometimes put my trust in the wrong places and made mistakes that I can't go back and change, but I have learned valuable lessons.

Our efforts, magnified

An unexpected situation forced me to really take stock of my own role as a leader in my local homeschooling community this summer. When I did, I realized that the role of a homeschool support leader is much akin to a ministry, reaching out to others to help effect a positive change in their lives. I also realized that with God's help, I could be a much better, more effective and more loving leader than I could ever hope to be on my own.

Leaning on God, and trying to follow His guidance rather than acquiescing to others, I started to see wonderful changes, not just in my homeschool group, but in my own family. My kids were happier than they'd ever been, our school schedule ran more smoothly than it had in months, and good people started to surround me and lift me up.

Our local group began to blossom like never before. We grew to nearly double our previous size in a matter of weeks and welcomed new families whose lives were a testimony to the good work God was accomplishing through our members. Other area groups began working cooperatively with ours and the number of expected attendees at our upcoming events climbed to unprecedented numbers.

Yes, our efforts at outreach and support seem to be magnified as we work to honor God rather than to satisfy others. So it is with gratitude that I acknowledge the strongest support any homeschooling family could hope to have, and with sincerity that I hope to keep putting His will first as I continue to work to support other homeschoolers locally and around the world.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How my kids reacted to a night time fire drill may save your family's life

Yes, I am the Unplanned Homeschooler, but when it comes to fire safety, I believe strongly in planning ahead. In fact, there may be nothing more likely to save your family's lives in the case of an emergency than having a good plan and running enough drills so that everyone knows what to do automatically.

That's why I would like to recommend to each and every one of my readers, please schedule a night time fire drill for your family. You never know how your kids will actually react to a fire alarm when they are sleeping until you see the results for yourself. I did, and it was terrifying.

I thought my kids knew what to do

If you think your kids know what to do in case of an emergency, you are not alone. I thought so, too, until last year. I’d gone over lots of scenarios with them, from fires and tornadoes to injuries and intruders, and I really thought they knew what to do if an emergency should arise.

One emergency situation we'd talked about at length, but not actually practiced how to address was a fire at night. I did some research on fire drills, and found the Home Fire Drill website, with videos of how children really reacted to night time fire drills. The videos were frightening. Some children slept right through the alarms of the smoke detector, and others failed to do what they were taught in daytime drills.

Still, I was confident that my own children would do better in a night time fire drill than the kids in the videos.

Night time drills are a must

I had done more than a lot of parents to prepare my children for a fire, primarily because we live in a split level home and the kids’ bedrooms do not have windows. Their avenues of escape are limited, so it's even more important that they know what to do in case of a fire. Also, my grandmother died in a fire when I was ten years old, so I have always taken fire safety very seriously. 

I thought that running through fire scenarios, planning escape routes and learning safety procedures from the fire department would be enough. We discussed our safety plan regularly, and updated it as the children grew older.  Unfortunately, I learned last night all the daytime preparation in the world is no substitute for a night time drill, performed after your children have been asleep for a while.

Results of our fire drill

I had to suppress the giggles as I sneaked downstairs to set off the smoke alarm. I thought for sure my twins would come running out of their rooms in confusion, but then quickly remember the fire escape plan. My amusement quickly faded as the smoke alarm blared and neither child made a sound. Approximately 30 seconds went by before my daughter moaned incoherently.
Several more seconds went by as my daughter whined, “Turn in off,” in a mumbling voice about half a dozen times. A fear settled like a stone in my stomach as I imagined what would happen in the case of a real fire. Finally, my daughter called out in a sleepy cry for her brother. When he heard her say his name, he immediately jumped out of bed.

By then, it had been more than a full minute since the alarm started. In a real fire, you may have only a couple of minutes to escape.

My son saw me in the hall between their rooms and asked what was going on. I said, “Fire! Get out!” He acted very confused and just stood still. I said again, “Fire! Get your sister and get out!” Had the danger been real, he would not have had those verbal instructions.

My son went into my daughter’s room, but neither of them came out until I yelled one more time, “Get out! Fire!” Finally they came stumbling out of the room, neither of them ducking low to avoid smoke inhalation. They went up the stairs instead of out the back door, the planned route to safety we had so often discussed.

My children would have likely died

According to the Home Fire Drill website, approximately 50 percent of people who die in fires were actively trying to escape. But in a real fire, you have only two or three minutes to exit the house before you die. If my children reacted to a real fire as they did in the drill, they would have definitely died.  

This reality scares me, but it also motivates me to hold more fire drills while the kids are asleep, until their subconscious mind is trained to react to the sound of the smoke alarm and they know instinctively what to do.
Please take my family's experience to heart if you have children. Hold a fire drill of your own, a couple of hours after your children go to bed when they are most likely to be in a state of deep sleep. If your kids need improvement, give them the chance to learn the right responses before a real emergency occurs. And share this information with other families you know. It just might save their lives.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

To doodle or not to doodle?

This week, I followed a discussion on Facebook about kids doodling on their homework. Some homeschooling moms strictly prohibited the practice, while others thought it was just fine, and most agreed that a little doodling doesn't hurt anything as long as it doesn't cover up the student's work.

I love that most of the worksheets my kids have done over the years have plenty of extra white space. I've found miscellaneous doodles, poems, jokes and sometimes even carefully thought out scenes that traverse the whole page. Those extra marks on the page never failed to make me smile, as they revealed my kids' personalities, their creativity, and their budding senses of humor. 

Now that my twins are in middle school, when I look back at their binders of elementary school work, I couldn't care less about seeing 8+4=12. But I LOVE seeing my daughter's evolving skill at drawing animals, my son's amazing superhero adventures, and both of their fascinations with goofy jokes. 

Doodling is good for your brain!

Some of the moms in the Facebook discussion recommended a TED Talk, by Sunni Brown, who purports that doodling is a powerful tool to help boost your learning power. This article in Psychology Today expands on the video, explaining Brown's research and going into greater detail about exactly how doodling can improve memory and help students retain more information as they work.

Many homeschoolers already incorporate music and movement into their routine, to help auditory and kinesthetic learners better absorb the material they are trying to master. Why not allow doodles, too?

A time and place for neatness 

I appreciate a sharp presentation, with crisp margins and clean lines. There is definitely a time and place for neatness, and students do need to learn how to put together a clean report and how not to doodle all over an important test. But worksheets are for practice, not for show. They're a scant step up from whiteboards and dry erase markers, in that once the material is learned, they are completely disposable and irrelevant.

By constricting the free and spontaneous flow of creativity that may be expressed in the white spaces of children's worksheets, parents may be missing out on some of the best memories of their children's development they could hope to capture.

Or at least a great laugh at the their child's visual joke about stinky feet and poot clouds!

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