Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Preparing for Regulated Homeschooling

The To-Do List
Transferring a child from public school to a homeschooling environment can be tricky. From what I've learned so far the red tape in some states is a bit of a nuisance. I live in Pennsylvania and its one of the seven strictest states for homeschooling. Aside from just filing the paperwork there's also adjusting on the childs part. We're gearing up for the big day. January 3rd will not only be the last day Riley attends public school but it will be the day that we attend our appointment at the superintendents office. We will be official homeschoolers. So I've researched and reviewed lots of websites and resources for homeschooling in the past weeks. I wanted to relay some of the information that I've come across. I guess I sort of hope that it helps someone else who might be out there struggling or questioning the process. So here's what I've come up with, my Homeschooling To-Do List follows. 

#1- Research
I read somewhere that the best thing to do when considering homeschooling is to read the top ten homeschooling books available. For me this was not an option for multiple reasons, one I only found a few homeschooling books that appealed to me and two, I'm working on about a two week time frame. (with kids running around like rabid monkey's and the holidays to boot) Although there are an abundance of resources for homeschooling I've found that for some reason or another the opinions are biased or un-useful to me. I do highly recommend that you research as much as possible.  In fact I would say its pretty much mandatory. You don't want to make a decision that you find out the hard way will not work for you. I really did rely heavily on googling, lots of it.
  • State Law- First you will need to research homeschooling laws and regulations in your state. The strictest states are primarily in the Northeast and New England.  (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, North Dakota) Pennsylvania requires that you notify them that your homeschooling at the beginning of each year, you will sign an affidavit and provide your objectives for the year at this time. If you are starting in the middle of a school year or homeschooling for the first time you will need to write an official letter stating that you will be homeschooling your child/children. If your pulling your child for some reason or another you do not want to air your dirty laundry, or state why your homeschooling. It simply needs to say I will be homeschooling. Don't forget that it is your right and there's no reason they should question it. You will be working with these people the entire time your homeschooling so theres no need to burn bridges. In Pennsylvania by the end of the school year you will need to have your child evaluated by a qualified  professional, either a certified teacher or psychologist, and provide a portfolio that documents the progress you've made.
  • Curriculum & Learning Style- Second you will want to really look into what curriculum and style of learning you want for your family. Some families have no official routine or curriculum, some families have strict routines and designated spaces for their school time. If you want a set routine or space, or a certain variety of curriculum you will want to have this in order before your child is removed from their current learning environment.
  • Local Support- Last but not least the one thing I found absolutely most useful...Finding someone local who's a veteran homeschooler. Find a local homeschooling family or support group, they should know what your local laws are, where to find the curriculum and other resources you need. (what sports and library events are around, what store has the most useful educational books etc.) I'm lucky enough to have a neighbor a few doors down that has homeschooled her children all of their lives. As bad as this sounds she is my single most useful resource. She knows the local superintendents office, she knows the laws and she's got time on her side. (meaning she's been there and done it.) If you live in a more lenient state, or your less of a lunatic than I am this may not be as crucial.
#2- Objectives-(Due before Aug 1st of each year)
Pennsylvania requires that you give them a list of objectives at the beginning of each school year, (or in my case the beginning of the homeschooling process.) The objectives are basically an outline that shows each individual child's goals for the year. According to your states requirements you will want to detail which subjects your child will be learning and what progress they should make.  For children in Pennsylvania the Elementary curriculum should include  English- spelling, reading and writing, Health and Physiology, Gym, Music, Art, Geography, Science and safety education. This does not mean you have to refer to their curriculum but simply that you will teach them these subjects. From what I can tell of the law, the superintendent may not use the objectives to determine whether or not your child is getting an adequate education. The law states a required 180 days of instruction. So the objectives should keep a years progress in mind. I simply referred to scholastic's website for what progress I should look for. You could simply do a search for objectives by grade for example: 1st grade objectives, or there seem to be a good deal of books available that detail schooling your child year by year. If your using a specific curriculum I don't see any reason why you couldn't simply provide them with a copy of the syllabus. From what I can tell this is simply insurance that your child will have some sort of schooling structure or guidelines. It will also help you to understand what your child's skill level should  be close to or around.

#3- Portfolio-(Due before June 30th of each year)
The portfolio is simply documentation of your years work, simply put it seems to  be a glorified scrapbook. It shows the progress made and hopefully it highlights your childs strengths and what they have improved on within the year. A lot of states require homeschooling portfolios but even if it is not mandatory it might be nice to keep one anyway to keep track of the progress made. The things you want to highlight in the portfolio are those subjects you laid out in the objectives, more specifically the subjects your state requires your children to learn. Following are the things you will want to maintain throughout the year and ultimately this is what your finished portfolio should include.
  • A copy of Your Objectives
  • Your evaluation report- From what I've read so far Pennsylvania requires that a certified teacher or psychologist must evaluate your child and write a report noting their homeschooling progress and overall development for each year. I guess I'll figure this out as I go and verify that later.
  • Journal & Calendar- You will want to keep a journal and calendar that notes what days you did school work, what days you went on field trips, where you went, etc. Its simply notes on what subjects you touched on or simply notes that you did school work that day. A calendar is useful for jotting down quick notes on what you did each day as you did it.
  • A list of books and Resources- You can keep this in the journal or separate but you want to write down what books your child has read on their own and what books you have read together. This will insure your evaluator that your child is learning about the required subjects. (For instance if you read a book on the liberty bell your child is learning about history.) You will also want to note what text books you used and what workbooks you've utilized. If you have purchased a curriculum you will list what it is.
  • Photo Album- A photo album can contain photos of field trips, sports or even nature walks,and things around your neighborhood. You can take pictures of your child's artwork and include it in the photo album instead of having mounds of loose papers. You can document what sports or local activities your child is participating in, trips to museums or zoo's etc.
  • Samples of your child's work- Worksheets, artwork, book reports etc.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

We're Almost There

So the past few days aside from being in the aftershock of the holidays, I've been really researching curriculum and in general the entire homeschooling process. I've come across a few tidbits of information that have been immensely useful and others, well not so much. Amidst the holiday chaos I've also been really cracking down on Riley. I've been doing a little bit of learning time here and there, a little more each day. My goal is to build up to the big day so we slowly adjust to the process. The "big day" seems extremely daunting, its the day we are officially homeschoolers, the day his education is my sole responsibility. 

I would say that today was the first day we completed a full day of "work". He completed about 14 worksheets, (mostly math because that's what he enjoys most.) We read a book about Buzz Aldrin, watched the magic schoolbus played outside in the snow, tried working on sight words, practiced more math with flashcards and then finally we had music time. Although it was simply making noise  with our hand held instruments, tapping along with Nick Jr.'s Jacks big music show really did encourage him to enjoy music and follow the beat. An added benefit I did not think of is the fact that Connor (age 2) also had one hell of a great day. I'm seeing a whole new side of Riley, he seems to genuinely be interested in more and more things. All of the sudden he's asking how to spell lots of things and he's noting things that he finds interesting. He's still quite off and on with his behavior. One minute he's an angel and the next minute he's bouncing off the walls and mouthing off. (I know its pretty normal for kids to become hyper but sometimes Riley LITERALLY climbs the walls and runs until he pukes.,or he aggravates Connor to the point where everyone here is crying) The bad times seem to be less and less frequent, mostly its just hyper outbursts. I have to say his really good moments are leaving me in awe, I've actually thought to myself who are you and where is my kid?" For example the other day he did laundry and mopped up the kitchen floor ...without being asked mind you, and he says nice things like "Momma your pretty great".

One thing that I have to say is my #1 concern at this point is that,I'm concerned with how I'm going to convince him to do things he simply doesn't like. Day after day vocabulary and sight words are like torture. (for the both of us) He flies through the words he already knows and then without fail he's "tired", fidgeting in his seat, staring at the ceiling, whining etc. I've flipped the cards around so that he has equal amounts of new words and old words or even only words he should recognize by now, he seems to be genuinely disgusted and annoyed. I'm becoming increasingly paranoid that I'm going to raise kids that can't read  or write but then again I guess the fact that he is showing interest is important. Persistence seems to be the only answer I've come up with. (Momma can I have some milk? ...How do you spell milk?)  There's really no going back, only forward for us. I know this is the right decision but I'm antsy and paranoid. I really keep fearing the curriculum, and day plans. How do I ensure he's learning everything he needs to, how do I figure this all out on my own? More importantly how do I pack it into a few hours here and there during the day without him feeling like his brain is leaking out his ear? Is he going to be a well rounded individual if I don't go out and buy a 4 ft tall monthly calendar with smiling critters and colorful letters? Will he be able to live without circle time? I guess only time will tell but that's not really very comforting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Big Day

Today was a big day. I learned about as much as I have yet on homeschooling. In specific homeschooling according to the Pennsylvania state law. I'm fortunate enough to have a neighbor (literally a few doors down) who has home schooled her children all of their lives. Its great to have an inside perspective on how the local superintendent's office works, what expectations they may have and how I go about keeping a portfolio that suits what they are looking for. I've made my appointment, written down my to do list and notified the school of whats to come. Today is the big day, its the day I committed to following through and taking my children's education into my very own hands. I cant say that I don't still feel as if I'm drowning in my own anxiety, to some degree I am still quite overwhelmed. I'm sure not a single day will go by that I'm not at least a little afraid however at least I'm doing whats best for us, and for Riley especially. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Online Public Charter School

So I spent a good deal of yesterday on the phone with online "public school" charters. One in particular actually. I did have two very informative conversations and although I did not find a solution for my families homeschooling needs I did at least learn a few things. There is a very distinct difference between "homeschooling" and "online public school".  Online public school it seems is an extension of regular public school. They continued to use the phrase "at home education" vs. Homeschooling. Its government funded, you use your states curriculum, and you need to face their expectations within a timely manner, and you need to still answer to the state. All fine and good, I'm not "anti-man"...ok well maybe I am to some extent but this originally viable choice just does not seem to be the answer. How is this going to help Riley feel less overwhelmed if he's still got the same overwhelming pace of work? The general outline seemed to go like this: Sign onto the website every single day, log in what hours were done, 4-5 hours per day is absolutely MANDATORY. (this includes "online gym & art", yes I said it. Online gym) and every 20 lessons theres a 15-20 page test that needs to be scanned and sent into the charter school for evaluation. Honestly the structure and routine sounded somewhat appealing, I'm about as un-organized as they come and I think whatever solution we do find will have to have some sort of check list. 

Something that really discouraged me in particular is the woman continued to say things like "you are solely responsible for his education", "it is YOUR job to teach him",  and "You are his only teacher".  No!!!!!????? Really? Thanks I hadn't really thought of that. Seriously? It pissed me off and made me sad. Why is it so hard to grasp the concept. They are my children, why should I not be held accountable? According to the law, if he robs a bank I'm likely to get hauled in right there with him. If I send him to public school and he turns into a real head case its my fault, If I homeschool him and he turns into a head case...its my fault. I'm going to take the blame for him potentially being a total failure either way why not at least take the matter into my own hands?

I've seen a good deal of buzz around the term unschooling in particular and I'm beginning to really feel like I've gone from being completely oblivious to drowning in answers. Homeschooling is not just homeschooling...its bits and pieces and cliques. It seems to me that joining a homeschooling routine is much line committing to a cult. Theres extremely religious, theres extremely hippie, theres online public school and I still have no clue what is right for us. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day One

Today is the first day of this new journey for my family, homeschooling. Although we have considered the idea of homeschooling for quite some time its just recently become obvious that its a change that must be made. We do live in a somewhat rural area, so my initial concern was the stress children must feel sitting on a bus almost two hours a day. Beyond that theres the genuine "blah" I feel towards what children have to experience now days in public schools especially. Although I whole heartedly acknowledge that it is good for a lot of families, for mine it just doesn't feel right.  I really feel that my child deserves the attention he needs as an individual. Although I'm quite sure of that, the details from there I have not quite figured out.

My oldest son Riley is still currently in standard "brick and mortar" Public School, he's seven and in the first grade. He is hearing impaired as well as incredibly wilful. Every day is a struggle for him in a variety of ways, although he tries to fit in and improve upon a variety of things theres been little improvement. The stress is too much for him, and with that our family struggles to find all of the right answers at a moments notice. Nothing has gotten any better for him or for us and with each passing day he grows more and more frustrated. This is it, it has got to happen...when? Don't know. How? We are not sure of that either, but it has to happen. 

I have looked into the details and frankly I'm no less confused than I was a week ago. I found resources dictating the laws for homeschooling here in Pennsylvania however beyond that I know nothing. I've ordered books, I've emailed fellow homeschooling bloggy mommies. (soulemama & pioneerwoman) The cards are laying out, I'm waiting for everything to line up... and I'm quite honestly experiencing pants shitting terror. The stack of "what ifs" are growing and growing. What if I ruin my kids? What if I'm not smart enough myself? What happens when we hit algebra? Will it be high school all over again? Can I just fall asleep and pray that its over? 

I've birthed and nursed (rather un-successfully I might add) two children. Nothing is as stressful as this. Why is that? They are MY children, I'm ok with being fully responsible for them not starving or being filthy. Why is the responsibility of education so daunting? I've nagged for years that I feel its best for my kids to have me home with them full-time. Why is it so scary to think its my responsibility to educate them too? What good does it do them that I'm sitting here while they are off somewhere else? I've tried to shape them into wonderful little cherubs, which frankly I've tanked that one... they have scrapes and boogers and they swear on occasion but hey, they are my little monsters.

My goal with this site is merely to document this journey day by day, one day at a time as best I can. Hopefully years from now I will see all of my fears as just silly. Hopefully they won't be axe-murderers or hermits, hopefully they will say thank you momma you did the right thing. Either way I really truly believe that this needs to happen for Riley especially but also for all of us, for our family.