Workshop Wednesday: Color-Coding As a Learning Tool

[This article was written by Jennifer Leonhard.]

Is your student attracted to color or motivated by markers? Does your student struggle with staying organized when studying? Color-coding is a great learning tool. Visual learners respond well to color as an organizational method, and non-visual learners can improve their visual skills by using color to organize information. As classes become more complex in high school and college, color-coding becomes an even more valuable organizational tool.

As a strong visual learner, I used assorted colors of index cards and highlighters to help me organize my thoughts and the material I was studying in my college classes. I used the order of the color spectrum as my color code whenever I needed to maintain a beginning-to-end, front-to-back sequence: red, orange, yellow, green, blue. My system always began with red (pink worked as the closest available color in note cards and highlighters) and proceeded through the spectrum to blue (violet/lavender was too hard to find in highlighters).

Here’s how I wrote the various parts of a speech or oral presentation: one pink card held the introduction, several orange cards for the information for Point 1, several yellow cards for Point 2, several green cards for Point 3, and one blue card held the conclusion. I could rehearse a presentation using these cards, and if I dropped them or they got mixed up in my backpack, I could easily put them into color spectrum order again. Any supporting quotes had their own index cards (using the appropriate color code for each point), and I would draw a squiggly outline on those cards to indicate that they contained the quotes. Each card had a topical title at the top and a number in the corner to indicate its order within each color group. I rarely ever needed to look at my note cards when giving a presentation, because I had them so well organized that I could easily see them in my head and go from there, but I did keep the cards with me in case of a blank-out moment. I could also turn them in to the teachers who asked for them as part of the assignment.

I also used this system for writing extensive research papers to create an outline in this format. I could put anything supporting Point 1 on orange cards and just go through all the orange cards later to put them in order for writing my paper.  When doing research papers and printing out a stack of articles for a 50+ page paper, I would use highlighters in the same colors as my note cards to circle significant points in the article. I could then grab all articles with orange outlines and work just on my first point without being distracted by all the other sections.  If an article had information for several points I would do a thicker outline in the color that it discussed the most and a thinner outline in the color of the point it discussed less, and then highlight or circle the section of text that pertained to each part in the appropriate color.  I could flip through my notes very quickly and efficiently in this way and find exactly what I was looking for at any particular moment.  I rarely had a “blanking” moment when writing, because I had a system that provided me with a place to start.  I didn’t have to write the individual sections of the paper in any particular order, and if I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of research information I had printed, I could simply start color-coding instead of freaking out.  If I found myself unsure of where to stand on an issue or how to phrase my findings, I could simply grab all of the items outlined in orange and start highlighting, circling, or underlining the important sections that I wanted to use.  Stuck on what to write for orange? No problem! Just work on the yellow items for a while, and then come back to orange later.  I had no fear of getting confused or forgetting what I was doing next, because everything was very plainly color-coded for picking up where I left off.

Similarly, I would use this method to study complex material. I used the same color-code for highlighters, note cards, in my lecture notes, and in the text books, so that I could start the process while reading and know what to put on the index cards later. I used yellow as my color-code for keywords from the text. Pink was for any important dates to remember, green signified important people, and orange was for formulas and diagrams. Blue was for any other information I needed to make sure to remember. By categorizing things like this, I could pull out just my orange cards right before a test and review the formulas and diagrams, if I thought I was suddenly blanking on something. I’m bad at remembering specific dates, so I could grab the pink cards to quiz myself on those. This made it easier to categorize the test elements in my head, and instead of all the information being a blur of grey pencil notes on white lined paper, I could focus my memory on just the orange parts, or just the pink parts. The colors became just as important as the facts themselves, especially when trying to sort through all the facts in my head to find the one correct answer I needed on a test.

Whatever color-coding system you choose to use, the color significance can vary from subject to subject, but consistency within each subject is the key to making your system work. Yes, I bought a lot of index cards and highlighters, but they became valuable assets to my study habits, and the positive results proved their worth. Other colored items could also be added to a colorized system, such as colored pencils, file folders, pocket folders, notebooks, divider tabs, sticky-flag bookmarks, and whatever else your favorite office supply store has crammed into its aisles. Using color-coding is a great organizational and memory tool, and it strengthens your visual learning skills, even if visual skills are not your strongest learning style. And who doesn’t like playing with a whole rainbow of highlighters?

Workshop Wednesday: Tactile Card Holders, Version 2

Based on last week’s Tactile Card Holders, Version 1, this week’s version uses a few different supplies to create a similar product.

Equipment:
Cereal box cardboard
Photo corners for index cards
Glue (optional)

Yes, we are breaking out our old friends, the cereal boxes, to make yet another great learning tool. I cut the cardboard into pieces larger than my index cards and attached self-stick photo-corners in the middle for the index cards. You can use 3×5″ or 4×6″ index cards, depending on what you have available and how much information will be put onto the cards. Then I decorated the surrounding “border” with whatever was available (1 “theme” per card), using glue to attach the things that weren’t already self-stick.

Edges decorated with:
Ribbon
Sequins
Craft foam/felt stickers & shapes
Sandpaper
Acrylic rhinestones/gems
Textured papers

The examples in the picture show photo corners without an index card inserted, along with a few examples of spelling rules. As in last week’s article, these card holders can be especially helpful for older students who are trying to memorize more complicated information and formulas. Once learned, the note cards can be easily switched with new cards for studying new facts. The border textures work by appealing to tactile fingers and giving them something to focus on while the eyes are busy reading the facts on the cards. Later on, when the mind tries to remember the facts, the textures, patterns, and colors from the borders of each card holder will serve as markers on a virtual road map to help the brain find those facts and pull them up into view. Students who have had trouble memorizing dull, dry facts in the past will find these note card holders add some pizazz to the process and actually help stimulate their memories.

The borders of these card holders will offer even more tactile interest than the ones from last week that simply had their edges trimmed with special scissors. My favorites among these have to be the cards with sandpaper borders — I made several of those, each with a different level of coarseness. Satin ribbons offer a smoother texture, but grosgrain ribbon is different yet. I also found some wonderful textured papers at a scrapbooking supplies store to expand the variety of textures and visual appeal. Other cards had their borders adorned with thick felt stickers, craft foam shapes, acrylic “gems,” and other crafty materials to add texture and color. Let these examples spark your imagination and see what you can come up with!

Workshop Wednesday: Tactile Card Holders, Version 1

Sometimes certain facts work well for studying from homemade flashcards. However, some students just don’t do well with trying to learn from ordinary index cards. Today, we’re going to make those cards extraordinary! These card holders will work especially well for teens who are trying to learn complicated facts and formulas, but who need some extra learning methods thrown in.

Equipment:
Index cards to hold the facts or information
Bright colored card stock
Razor knife for cutting slits
Scrapbooking scissors for trimming edges

How To:
I started with 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of brightly colored card stock and cut them in half to make two pieces 5″ x 8 1/2″. Lay an index card in the middle of each of these sheets and mark about 1/2″ from each corner. Use the razor knife to cut angled slits (connecting the marks you just made) for the corners of the index cards. You don’t need to get the cards exactly centered or the slits angled perfectly; if you have a student who is fanatical about precision, give this job to him. Either 3×5″ or 4×6″ index cards will work, depending on what size you have on hand or how much info will be put on each card. The bright colors add visual interest to the boring facts (did I just say boring? oops), and colored index cards can do the same thing (the ones in the photo are light blue, but white cards work just fine). Just be careful that the colors don’t clash or create such a visual disturbance that no one can stand to look at them!

I had a variety of scrapbooking scissors available, so I trimmed the edges of the card holders, using a different pattern on each card. If you only have one or two fancy scissors (or even just a pair of pinking shears), that will still work. You could even use regular scissors and just cut some wavy or zig-zaggy edges. The idea here is to create a little bit of tactile interest for the fingers that will be holding the cards.

As your student studies the facts on each card, the bright color of the card holder will become a visual cue to those facts, and the tactile edge will do the same for his fingers. Reading the card information aloud lets the student say and hear the info, important methods for auditory learning — and when he stops reading aloud, he’ll catch himself wandering off-topic. The large size of these card holders makes them more of a kinesthetic learning tool than just small index cards are. The colors, edge textures, size, and reading aloud will all provide memory keys that his brain can rely on when trying to remember the facts on each card. Hmm… that card was in a red holder… I was holding it with both hands… the edges were pointy… I remember hearing myself say these points over and over… I know — it said THIS!

By inserting the index card’s corners into slits, the holder becomes reusable. When this set of facts has been learned and the student is ready to move on to learning different information, the index card can easily be slipped out and another inserted in its place. Make as many card holders as needed, but if possible, trim the edges of like colors with different patterns to make them different (notice that the 2 blue card holders in the photo have different edge patterns).

The cards shown here are for fallacies of reasoning, but you can use this method for learning vocabulary words, their spelling, and meanings; math or science formulas; historical events or people; or anything else that needs to be memorized.

Also see Tactile Card Holders, Version 2 for more ideas!

How Did You Learn to Write?

The college professor handed out an in-class assignment to all of the students and then bent down near the two homeschooled students seated in the front row. Pushing their assignments aside, the professor huddled very close to them and spoke in a low voice of the type usually reserved for sharing state secrets. “How did you two learn to write?” she asked.

The two friends exchanged glances and tried to decide how to answer the unusual question. “We read a lot,” they both ventured.

“But how did you learn to write?” the professor continued, “No one else in this class can write — at least not like you two can. I know you were both homeschooled. What program did you use to learn how to write?”

The sixteen-year-old part-time college freshmen were also both still high school students at home, one a Junior and the other a Senior, and they knew that they had not actually used any specific writing curriculum. “We read a lot of books,” one repeated, “so we know what good writing should look like.” “And we learned grammar,” offered the other.

“But who evaluated your writing?” the professor kept probing.

Another glance was exchanged. “You mean… our… Moms?”

“That’s it? You read books, and that’s how you two learned to write like this? I rarely have a first-year student who can write a coherent sentence, and you two are telling me that your mothers taught you how to write this well by teaching you grammar? I am impressed!”

These two students revealed that they had learned by example: reading was their primary source for instruction in composition. Reading a variety of literature and learning the basics of grammar had set them apart from the rest of their English Composition I class and from the bulk of the students that this professor had encountered. The writing experiences of these homeschooled students prior to the college class had included writing a newspaper article and a short novel in group classes, but they had no previous exposure to analogy, comparison and contrast, or the other forms of composition introduced in this college class. Observation and imitation were their keys to success in writing: see an essay — write an essay. The quality of writing that had been observed through reading was easily reproduced in writing assignments.

My recommendation is to start your children out with phonics to teach them reading and basic spelling rules. Add in handwriting and let them practice copying anything and everything that interests them so that they can become confident in their own abilities to reproduce written material. Begin adding basic grammar rules once the students have mastered reading and add more complex rules as the students’ abilities increase. Regard vocabulary as an ever-expanding knowledge base, and use the dictionary daily to confirm suspected meanings, solidify pronunciations, and discover various word forms. Promote their consumption of all manner of reading materials, and discuss passages read to ensure comprehension of concepts and ideas, beyond mere words and sentences. Observation will lead to imitation, and the more they read, the better they will be able to imitate what they have read. Once the student has a broad background in reading a variety of materials, after he possesses a fairly substantial vocabulary, and when he has a solid foundation in grammar, then he can be expected to complete a writing assignment with proficiency.

I did not force writing assignments, such as book reports, journaling, or essays. In our past experiences, the public schools seemed to think that children should be composing stories even before they could spell simple words or form a sentence. The teachers there encouraged “creative” spelling, resulting in some rather curious inventions. If my students wanted to write something, I let them. However, with my students, that did not happen often. If ever. I did have them write thank-you notes when necessary, but that was about the extent of my imposed writing assignments. Grammar study was another story. I did insist on grammar lessons, along with lessons in fundamental spelling rules and proper use of punctuation. If you want to use a skill, you need the proper tools, and those rules are the tools needed for the skill of writing.

I did use a program during high school that taught how to read and analyze, a much-preferred alternative for us to the common creative writing programs for high school students. It was a 3-workbook set called The Elements of Clear Thinking and focused on effective communication and analyzing and revealing fallacies in reasoning. My students were not interested in writing fiction or poetry; they were much more focused on non-fiction, informational content, but not the dry reports or book reviews that usually require no critical thinking skills. The excerpts used in the Clear Thinking books came from authors, politicians, and world leaders, from magazines, newspapers, and biographies. What my students learned in those books prepared them for reading a wide variety of sources as required by their college classes and enabled them to organize their thoughts for writing logical arguments. (If you are interested in purchasing the Clear Thinking series for your high schooler, I highly recommend buying the answer keys as well.)

A student who can read fluently will be able to read a wide variety of literary forms and understand what he is reading. The more that student reads, the more that student will understand and retain about the proper structure of language. Grammar instruction will give the student opportunities to practice proper sentence construction without having to invent his own subject matter (creative writing uses entirely different skills from mere grammar practice). What the student has learned about the mechanics of written language and witnessed through first-hand observation of written language will be reproduced with proficiency. But I cannot promise that the college professors will not be baffled.

 

Update:

The Elements of Clear Thinking series has become a little tricky to find, so these links will show you what to look for:

The Elements of Clear Thinking: Accurate Communication

The Elements of Clear Thinking: Critical Reading

The Elements of Clear Thinking: Sound Reasoning

Note: My kids described some of the excerpts in these books as boring, confusing, or too intellectual, and I agreed. As a substitute for the more complicated passages, we went to the library and found long magazine articles covering topics that were more interesting (one article had to be at least 6 pages long for an amount of text comparable to the longest excerpt). The details are more fully explained in Kids Will Be Kids.

Sample Transcript & Diploma

For all of the readers who have requested it, a sample homeschool high school transcript is now available. This one is modeled after the examples in the book And What About College? by Cafi Cohen. We listed anything that received significant time and attention during the high school years as a class and referred to a course catalog from our local community college for help in writing our own course descriptions. The Carnegie credit standard refers to 120 or more contact hours, but the focused attention of homeschooling can condense that time into a shorter period. Essentially, if my student devoted considerable time and attention to a subject, I gave credit for that subject. A more complete description can be found in the article, Transcript Writing.

This six-page document is reduced in size on this website, so if you prefer to enlarge it, you will need to hold your mouse over each page/photo and use the third-mouse-button “Save Picture as…” command. Then you can open your saved photo and zoom in or print the photo to read it more clearly.

A sample homeschool high school diploma is also available, as is my son’s tongue-in-cheek graduation announcement. (Wording on a diploma you design should reflect your own state’s laws governing homeschooling.)

Click to view the desired document:
Transcript
Diploma
Graduation Announcement

Homeschooling High School

The prospect of Homeschool High leaves many parents trembling in fear. A cold sweat breaks out on the forehead of the new homeschooling mom who dares to envision life a few too many years down the road. Moms have little real difficulty teaching a child how to tie his shoes, but those same moms will often cringe at the very thought of teaching high school.

A good high-school-at-home plan can be easily set up by using the basic entrance requirements for college, whether your student wants to attend or not. The student’s personal interests can be accommodated with some creative class development, and college-level classes can be utilized for high school and college credit at the same time through community colleges or distance learning programs.

If you have not been homeschooling previously, you will need to check your state’s laws regarding legal homeschooling accountability. It is best to check with a reliable source such as http://www.hslda.org/ — Home School Legal Defense Association — for the actual laws in each state, since local school districts are often ignorant of their state’s laws and can unintentionally mislead potential homeschoolers. Some states require you to file an “Intent to Homeschool” form with your school district; other states have no withdrawal procedure. Some states list which subjects must be taught in their homeschooling laws; others do not, meaning that there are no state-mandated requirements (i.e., Iowa lists no required subjects, but Pennsylvania has a detailed list).

You and your student need to decide if he is college-bound and what colleges are likely candidates. Check with those colleges and your state universities for a comparison of the basic admission requirements. Knowing how many years of math, science, English, and other classes are required for college admission will give you a basic plan for high school. Then, even if your student does not opt for college immediately after high school, you can still know that you have given him an excellent foundation for any future educational endeavors. I drew up a simple block chart with spaces for each grade (9th-12th) across the top and each subject area (math, English, science, social studies, and electives) down the sides. Then I penciled in our plan for what courses would be covered in which years. As I settled on specific books to use, those were also added to the spaces. It was a very basic guideline that changed several times over the years, but it gave us a place to start.

For a very rough outline of high school, begin with the basics of physical science (9th) and life science/biology (10th), a good foundational program for advanced grammar (9th and 10th) and the styles of composition writing (11th), algebra (9th), geometry (10th; Saxon Algebra 1 & 2 texts conveniently combine geometry with algebra in a clear and logical manner), world geography (9th), world history (10th), and American history (11th). Add in extra math and science courses when needed (11th and 12th), depending on your student’s career goals and interests. Literature (12th) can be split into one semester of American authors and one semester of foreign authors. Half-year or semester classes in American government (12th) and economics (12th) help to prepare your student for life in an adult world, as will courses in personal finances, independent living skills, auto mechanics, or home economics. Music lessons do not need to be formal classes: regular participation in congregational singing at church meets my personal requirement for a vocal music class. Most homeschooled children are naturally active outdoors, so be sure to count their regular outdoor chores or recreational bicycling, roller-blading, or swimming as physical education.

Once you have a basic plan of the required classes for high school, you can tailor those requirements to your student’s interests. My daughter became an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln as she focused her American history course around reading Presidential biographies. My son’s personal interests exhibited themselves as he taught himself to play guitar with little or no involvement from others; I counted this as a legitimate “course,” even though it did not have a textbook, a teacher, or an enrollment fee. The same principle applied to his learning percussion and earning a spot on the church worship team.

My daughter began working with tiny glass beads, threading them together into amazing patterns. A little internet research led her to animal designs, which she then strung together to form bracelets. She was making them for herself and as gifts for her friends, using the time as a relaxing diversion from her normal lessons. By the end of that year, she had designed so many intricate patterns herself that I gave her transcript-credit for “art projects.” She also spent a great deal of “free” time researching the collection of antique clothing buttons she had inherited from her great-grandmother. As her knowledge of button history increased, so did her list of credits — “Art History through Clothing Buttons.” One of her goals in life is to be a judge for state and national competitions among button collectors, so this course was tailored specifically to her interest.

We had a hearing-impaired friend who usually “listened” by lip-reading, since few people sign. My son wanted to learn sign language as a favor to her, and when a local church offered a free night class, he enrolled. He later went on two mission trips to a boarding school for deaf children, vastly increasing his knowledge through immersion in the language. Two years of experience with American Sign Language has now been accepted by his college as his high school foreign language requirement.

Other homeschooled friends of ours have pursued their interests during high school as preparation for their chosen career fields: veterinary medicine, aviation, real estate, computer science, agriculture/farming, etc. Exposure to a variety of career options can be gained through field trips or informal interviews with acquaintances for the student who has not yet decided on a lifetime goal.

Certain shortcuts can be implemented to make progress possible in the high school subjects where a student has difficulty. Textbooks may seem boring or tedious to certain learners, so consider the possibility of letting them read biographies related to the subject or read through a text very quickly, perhaps in only a few weeks, and then moving on to the next subject. Many students would rather push through a boring subject quickly and get it over with than drag it out for an entire year. We used videos as an aid to reading high school literature, so that a story line could be absorbed without losing precious hours getting bogged down in a not-so-interesting book. My student was then required to read a portion of the book to get a feel for the author’s writing style. The portion could be a page, a chapter, or even the entire book, based on the student’s interest. (A supplemental discussion topic from this approach was “the variations from book to movie” and how or why those variations took place.) Our public library had videos for many literary “classics” that the local video rental store did not have. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jane Eyre, and Oliver Twist were easy to follow on-screen, giving us the context of the story, which was then followed by reading a portion from the book to see how the author had put those scenes on paper. Reluctant readers will usually watch a movie, and even picky movie watchers will endure a change from their favorite genre for the class credit. My daughter was eager to read the equivalents of chick-flicks such as Sense and Sensibility. My son, however, was allowed the more action-packed selections of The Man in the Iron Mask and The Hunt for Red October. Ironically, a mix-up at the video store left my son watching Jane Eyre one day when he found it accidentally slipped into the case of his chosen rental and he did not want to give up his planned afternoon of movie-watching.

Lab work is required in some science classes, but lab work simply means hands-on learning and experimentation. Biology lab work can be accomplished by studying plants and animals through gardening and pet-care, or collecting wildflowers, tree leaves, or insects and identifying them through reference books obtained at the public library. Labs do not need expensive or complicated equipment in order to impart knowledge. I have heard of homeschoolers who scooped up fresh “road kill” to use for dissection (although I must admit my reaction is EW!). Even flowers and seeds can be dissected and examined to learn how their basic parts differ among species. Do not assume that learning at home means a second-rate education: the vast resources available on the internet put incredible amounts of knowledge right at our fingertips.

Before you protest that you did not do well yourself in high school, let me say that you now have a second chance. I know a Mom who wanted to read and discuss literature with her son, so she went to the public library and checked out two copies of a book at the same time: his and hers. I tackled the higher math lessons right along with my son, reasoning that if he became confused on a concept halfway through the book, I did not want him to have to wait around while I studied the last 30 lessons to be able to help him with the one that stumped him. Yes, these methods do mean more work for Mom, but they are excellent ways for your students to see education as a lifelong endeavor, and they provide common ground, a unique bond between you and your student — goals I consider well worth the effort.

I have often advocated taking advantage of community college classes to complete the high school courses that may be more difficult to do at home: chemistry, physics, calculus, etc. My children were able to accumulate multiple college credits in this way while still in high school. One college counselor instructed me to specify the college classes on the students’ high school transcripts as “a college class, taken on a college campus, from a college instructor, with other college students.” College-level classes are often available at public high schools, but college administrators do not view them as identical to the classes taken in the actual college atmosphere.

However, there are a few things to be aware of before dropping your impressionable high school-aged students off at the college doorstep. The assignment expectations are often much greater than students usually handle in high school. The college “atmosphere” includes a vocabulary that is R-rated, not PG-13, and classmates with questionable reputations and worse recreational pursuits. I cannot recommend involvement in college theatrical departments for conservative Christian students: the subject matter chosen is usually extremely liberal. Speech class topics, literature excerpts, and English compositions will also likely include “mature subject matter.” Art appreciation and drawing/painting/sculpture classes will include exposure to human figures lacking apparel. If your student is mature enough to handle these situations gracefully, he or she will probably do well in the college setting. I do recommend taking classes on a part-time basis (1 or 2 classes at a time) to start and attending full-time only after the student is 18 years old (the age of most college freshmen).

To successfully homeschool high school, start with a solid foundation of college entrance requirements. Fulfill those requirements to the best of your ability and with a bias toward the student’s interests and consider using college classes to complete any classes that you find too difficult to accomplish at home. I personally enjoyed my students’ high school years of homeschooling more than the elementary grades because of the wonderful one-on-one discussions my students and I had about their studies and life in general. High school at home is not a fearsome thing to be dreaded; it is an exciting adventure to be anticipated.

Stereotypes Proven (in reverse) at College Orientation

As our son is completing his Associate degree at our local community college, we are taking the needed steps to transfer his educational studies to a state university for the completion of his Bachelor degree. A part of this process meant spending one day recently at Orientation Day at The Big U. Transferring students were occupied in one building with academic counseling and advising, registering for fall classes, getting ID pictures taken, and sampling the student union’s food court. Parents were whisked away to another building on the large campus and submitted to a bevy of speakers from the faculty and staff. (Our lunch will not be mentioned, except to admit that I snobbishly opted to drink my ice water from a coffee cup, rather than the dirty glasses that were offered.)

Since this is our second child to advance through college, we were already somewhat familiar with the routine. However, I did find quite a few differences from the small, private colleges our daughter attended. It seems that the stereotypes we have all heard attributed to homeschooling are true — in some respects. The stereotypes addressed were all things that have been actual problems at The University: the ultra-shy student who has no clue how to talk to people or make friends, the student who cannot get himself up in the morning and off to class on time, the student who is confused by the class material and cannot or will not ask questions of the professor, the student who has never taken notes in class, never studied for a test, never written a paper, never experienced “real” school. However, these stereotypes were not pointed at homeschooled students but at the public school students!

At first, I felt offended that these staff members would dare to assume that my student fell into any of these categories. As the question-and-answer sessions continued, I began to realize that most of the parents in the room had such children. The full scope of this was mind-boggling to me. These administrators are used to seeing students of this type. They expected only slightly better from our group of transfers students who have attended some college classes already, but since our students have only been to community college, they still do not really know what real college work is like. (Read with patronizing tone of voice, smirk, and head-bobbing wink.) Never mind the fact that our son has managed to survive classes from big-fish-in-a-small-pond professor-wannabe teachers who maniacally assigned graduate-level work to their freshmen and sophomores to “get you used to it.”

Two moms at our table nodded along with the speaker, agreeing that yes, in fact, their sons were painfully shy waifs who would never speak to a stranger or attempt in any way to establish a friendship with someone who was not already a lifelong acquaintance. Your child must be like that, too, they mistakenly presumed of us. As though perfectly timed and rehearsed, my husband and I laughed and responded in unison, “No. He’s not like that at all.” I continued, “If you see a crowd of people and hear a burst of laughter, our son will be at the center of it.” When we met up with our son later, he had indeed made several new friends in his field of study, shot a few games of pool with them over the lunch break, and signed up for a class with at least one of them. (Should I be feeling sorry for the poor public schooled introverts upon whom we are inflicting this homeschooled wonder?)

Among other important topics (such as meningitis can be spread through sharing a Chapstick), we were also informed of what must be a relatively new phenomenon in the world of higher education: Sudden Onset Reading Disability. I am not making this up. The woman stood at the front of the room and reported this with a straight face. Students are coming to the university who have gone all the way through high school, perhaps some community college, and then they suddenly develop an inability to read properly. I had to hold myself down in my chair to avoid jumping up and ripping the microphone away from her, proclaiming the freedom parents have to teach reading through phonics in homeschooling. Those kids never knew how to read! I wanted to scream. They were just passed through the system because identifying the problem would mean admitting the system’s failures!!! Through tremendous exertion of self-control and wrapping my legs around the chair’s legs, I managed to restrain myself in relative silence and not start a riot, because, after all, this particular university is known nation-wide for producing new public school teachers. (Am I allowed to pray to keep the computer-science-major boy far away from the education-major girls?)

Parents, if you are homeschooling your children now, be encouraged that you are doing the right thing. Explore all facets of learning and help your students develop a thirst for knowledge that will last a lifetime and the skills to satisfy that thirst on their own. Expand your home education to include more than just textbooks, more than just worksheets, more than just the four walls of your home. I am seeing more evidence every day that homeschooling truly provides the best opportunities for an excellent education and results in well-rounded students who know how to tackle the problems life presents. To any parents who are not currently homeschooling, but are beginning to consider it more seriously, it is my strongly held belief that you can do nothing better for your children than to teach them yourselves at home — and the latest crop of college entrants seems to prove it.