Friday, September 22, 2017

Homeschooling in Pennsylvania

Before we began our homeschooling journey JT was a student in our local public school. There were many issues during those years and I often ended up in conflict with the district. When we decided to leave the district we moved to a public cyber-charter school for two years before we finally found our place as homeschoolers. Since becoming homeschoolers, we have had little interaction with our district and no conflict. Lately I have been hearing from some homeschoolers in other districts that are running into serious issues with their schools and I realize how conflict free our years have been.

If you are considering homeschooling in Pennsylvania, I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the PA homeschool regulations. People who have homeschooled in states other than PA often find our regulations to be too strict. Maybe that is true, but because I have never worked under another system, I don't feel that way. Knowing the regs helps me to feel confident in my rights and be aware of what I need to do to satisfy the requirements.

I am thankful to work under a district that has never asked for more than I have provided. In the situations I have been reading about in the PA homeschool Facebook page, many parents are reporting districts that are requesting far more than is required by the regulations. Many times those districts seem to have little knowledge of the regs. Suggestions were made to attempt to educate the districts in a non-confrontational way. But my own experience working to educate the 'experts', from the days when we were sending our son to public school, tells me that they will probably meet much resistance in that attempt. For those parents, I can only say, know the regs, try to be factual when discussing issues with the district, look for help from homeschooling legal organizations, and stand your ground. When parents give in to districts' demands for compliance to their own rules versus the legal guidelines, other parents find it harder to resist these extraneous requests.

As someone who finds rules made for no good reason infuriating and people who push their own ideas of the 'right way to do things' down my throat the most irritating people to deal with, I feel the anxiety and frustration these families are dealing with in their situations. One mom told how the school had sent an attendance officer to her home because she hadn't filed paperwork for her son to homeschool. The son is not yet of compulsory school age, so she is well within her rights not having submitted the forms. When she wasn't at home for the visit, the officer left a business card in her mailbox, a clear violation of federal law! As I read about this, I wanted to march down to her district and slap a copy of the regs on someone's desk. Many made comments on the post with advice to sign up with homeschooling legal groups for help. However, the mom expressed her resistance to do so since the group recommended had a system of beliefs she did not follow. She seemed so sure and in control as she shared how she planned to deal with the district's improper requests. I was happy to see someone so confident ready to fight for her rights, and in a way, my own.

It is good to be a member of a tribe that works as one to protect our right to educate our children in whatever way works best for each us. If you are dealing with issues in your own district, remember to reach out to your community. And remember that your fight is not your own. It is ours together.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why Can't More People Be Non-Conformists?

JT is wrapping up his third week of his community college classes with a nasty virus. We assumed he was exposed at school and had near certain verification when a girl sitting next to him in math class last night told him she had been sick with the same mess for the last week. Assuming she was the source of the initial contact, we are speculating three things: it's airborne, has about a week incubation, and we are all doomed to sickness in the next seven days.

As homeschoolers we have gone against the norm for years in many ways. One of those ways is that if we see any sign of sickness we cancel activities and stay home to stop the spread of infection. I always felt this was common courtesy. I found it ridiculous that schools expected kids to come to school when contagious. I thought work places where working through sickness was required to be brutal to both the sick and the soon to be sick. I have always believed that workplaces encourage vaccination for the flu not because they are concerned for the health of their employees but for their bottom line. Because my husband works from home, unless he is in bed with a sickness, he can safely work without dragging his germs with him to share with co-workers.

But now, we have a problem. JT is attending three college classes this year. The instructors handle attendance in a variety of ways. One instructor wants a doctor's excuse for absences. So, sickness that is contagious, but not warranting a doctor visit, is no excuse to stay home. Now everyone can get sick instead. Am I just weird to consider this utterly ridiculous? I guess it is if you define weird as a logical thinker who doesn't stand a chance against the work-your-butt-off-despite-sickness-or-you-are-not-a-good-American-citizen standard we all live under. JT first felt sick Wednesday evening, with full-blown sore throat, chills, and severe congestion by Thursday morning. He had two classes on the schedule for the day, Art Appreciation at 1:15 and Survey of Math at 6pm. I suggested he contact his art teacher, tell her he'd be out sick, and ask what was going to be covered in class. He did that and she gave him the information. But he was going to have to attend math class because they were having a test. I had him stuff his pockets with tissues, take a Sudafed, and sent him on his way. I couldn't help but feel guilty for putting him out there to spread this to more victims. But hey, America!

There are many times I wish we lived in a more primitive time. Back in the day when snow forced things to come to a stop, when sunset meant it was time to sleep and dawn meant the start of a day, when sickness was a sign that you should stop and let your body heal. Sure those days had many bigger problems, but every now and then I'd just like to be able to feel like the pace of life could be more in line with what I aim to create in our home. I just want to have time to stop and smell the roses... with no nasal congestion.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Favorite Things

Mommy Fuel
I was looking around our classroom recently, thinking about the items I use most often to make our learning experience a success, and thought I should write a post to share some of them. Maybe these are things you are already using as a homeschooler and maybe they are things you can add to make your homeschooling better.

Number one ingredient of successful homeschooling in my life? Coffee. A great quantity of coffee has fuelled our homeschooling years.

classroom 2009
classroom 2014

Many homeschoolers spend their days at a kitchen table, or moving about the house to find a place to work. When we first made the decision to homeschool, we decided to add an addition on the house with a dedicated space for homeschooling.

white board
When we first built the classroom, we used chalkboard paint on a large portion of one wall. I quickly found that the chalk dust was getting out of control in our new room. My parents bought a large white board for us and we installed in over the chalkboard paint. The white board has been an essential part of our daily routine since the beginning. We've used it for almost every subject, practice for spelling tests, drawing for fun, and I use it for my planning. The giant surface is great for laying out the plans for next year each summer.

classroom map
I love looking at maps. We have two large maps in our classroom, one world and one USA. We also have a map of the National Parks. There are numerous atlases and books of other maps on our shelves as well. I keep an atlas in each car, even in this world of GPS, Google maps, and Siri.  And everyone knows all of the best books have a map in the front cover. The boys have used our maps many times over the years for both school work and just to satisfy their curiosity.

note the presence of coffee

Our printer has been an essential part of our school for the boys. I have made countless copies of things I found on the Internet; tests I made on Easytestmaker, Thinkwell worksheets, BrainPOP quizzes, to name a few. We've used it for art projects, reports, and in JT's board game designing years. Most important, we've used it to create the portfolios that were not only necessary to meet Pennsylvania's homeschool regulations, but also to have a record of our schooling, that the boys will be able to keep and enjoy when they are older.

just a few books
Finally, the most important tool we use in homeschooling is our books. Last count there was something in the neighborhood of 1,100 books in this house. Not all are used specifically for homeschooling, but the presence of this quantity of books shows how essential they are to our daily lives. The boys and I don't go a day without reading from a book. I am so glad that they have inherited my love for reading.

We enjoy using all of the tools we have for homeschooling, but if all we had was access to a library, nothing else would be necessary to gain a complete education.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The New Routine

Our 2017-2018 school year is now in full swing. We usually start our year in July, slowly working our way up to full time schooling. With the start of JT's college classes on Monday, we are now working with a packed schedule.

My week looks like this:

      JT's Wellness & Nutrition class 9:45-11:10 (35 min drive each way)
      Piano lesson 11:30-12:30
      Home again for a few hours of work with EM
      Fencing for JT 7pm-8:30pm (30 min drive each way)

     Every other week, 10:30-12pm JT's private music theory class (45 min drive)
     JT's Art Appreciation class 1:15-2:30 (35 min drive home)
     Work at home with EM

     JT's Wellness & Nutrition 9:45-11:10
     JT to library for volunteering, 1-4pm
     Bible class at church 7pm

     JT's Art Appreciation class 1:15-2:30
     Home for work with EM
     JT's Survey of Mathematics 6pm-8:45pm

    EM's homeschool gym class 10:00-11:30 (35 min drive each way)
    Lots of work at home together, American History for both with me

Again this year, I spend a great deal of time driving. The plan had been for JT to have his license by now, but we haven't done enough driving instruction to get him to the point that he can take his test for the license. In PA, you need to wait 6 months after receiving the permit to even apply to take the test. He also needs to log 60 hours of driving practice. Hopefully by the spring semester he will have that license. Then I will have more time to work at home with EM. Luckily he's the kind of kid who will work independently when I'm not there. It's also fortunate that his dad works from home so someone is there with him when he has questions.

In order to save me some driving time, we are allowing JT to hang out at the school between his classes on Thursday. That is freeing me up to come home and work with EM. On Thursday, JT finished his first class at 2:30, then walked 6 blocks to Wendy's to eat his early dinner. He spent about 30 minutes there, then walked back to the school and read until his evening class started. This might not seem like a big deal, but it's a new experience for him. We live in a rural area, so JT hasn't had much opportunity to walk in a city and find his way around. Earlier in the week, we walked to the Wendy's together so he knew where to go. One of the intersections is especially busy, so I was a bit worried about him. Yes, I know he's 16, but it's something new for all of us, so don't judge. Everything went smoothly for him and I was happy to not need to make a second drive to the school that day. We will continue with the same plan as long as the weather permits. Hopefully we'll have mild weather through the end of the semester in December. If not, I'll go back to my excessive driving routine. Or maybe, if things work out, he'll be a licensed driver by then. I'll just have something new to worry about then...