What Do You Do with a Smart Kid?

Imagine the plight of a young boy whose story was recently brought to my attention. He is 8 years old, reads the newspaper daily, and tries to discuss current events with his classmates during recess. Since his classmates are mainly interested in childhood playthings, the boy finds himself ignored and alone most of the time. He then turns his attentions to the adults around him, reasoning that surely they would share his interests in the things of their adult world, but, alas, they, too, spurn his attempts at conversation and suggest that he should go play with children his own age.

The boy’s mother laments his “social incompetence” (her words), but rejects the idea of homeschooling, because (again, in her words) “if he were homeschooled, he would not be able to relate to other children his own age.” Nod your head if you are seeing the irony in her statement. The child already cannot relate to children his own age, and he is in public school. How could homeschooling worsen his situation?

In my opinion, the child in this example is an ideal candidate for homeschooling (but then, so are most children, regardless of intellect or ability). He is highly intelligent and highly motivated. His thirst for knowledge is undeniable. The drawback, according to the child’s parents, is their fear that homeschooling would reduce their child’s chances for a normal childhood and normal childhood playmates. I’ve got news for them: this child passed that point a long time ago, no matter where his education comes from.

The boy expresses his disappointment when people talk to him in the same manner in which they would talk to any other child. His mom feels obligated to remind him that he actually is a child. The frustrated boy insists that he wants to discuss news items and current events–real stuff, important stuff–with grown-ups, but the grown-ups refuse to talk to him as though he knows anything. I’ve got news for him, too: the adults he is trying to talk to are probably afraid they will be exposed as knowing much less about world affairs than he does. Adults hate being embarrassed, especially by children, and particularly when their ignorance of relevant news becomes apparent.

So what is the solution for this boy and his family? My recommendation, of course, is for homeschooling (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?) so that the child can explore the subjects of interest to him to the depths of his desire. I would also recommend finding (or creating) a discussion group where he could participate in conversations about the current events that he finds so fascinating. Such a group outside the home may not be easy to come by, since even adults are not all at the same level of maturity with each other. Two or three participants is sufficient for discussion, so a family “group” would be adequate. However, home education would allow this eager boy to expand his knowledge and use his mind to greater heights than his current third grade classroom can accommodate.

To leave this child in an ordinary school classroom is to punish his mind for satisfying its own curiosity and to replace his zest for learning with ultimate stagnation. A bored mind looks for ways to entertain itself, and those ways usually do not fit in with the teacher’s lesson plans. Some teachers and some schools try to provide for the extraordinary students who happen along every so often, but a few extra assignments within the classroom setting often leave the student feeling as if he is receiving punishment instead of opportunities to fill an eager knowledge vacuum such as this child possesses.

Parents, you need not be afraid that your children know more than you do. Instead of fearing his intelligence, be proud of your child’s abilities and take an interest in a few topics to cultivate conversations with him. Ask your child to tell you something he has learned from his reading each day, giving him non-threatening experience in public speaking (developing a common interest will help you both avoid the Know-It-All Attitude). No harm will come from letting your child see that you, the parent, do not know everything. In fact, it may be the spark that further ignites the flame of his learning passion. Informally sharing knowledge on a daily basis is excellent preparation for leadership, as it breaks down the fear-of-public-speaking barrier. (My children frequently had opportunities to share their hobby collection with small groups, which ultimately prepared them for giving speeches and presentations in college. Their fellow college classmates dreaded speaking in public, but for my students, it was something they were already very well acquainted with and felt comfortable doing.)

For the parents of any child who excels at learning, whether in public, private, or homeschool, you do not need to be alarmed when your student is readily leaping beyond the level of his peers. Encourage your child and help him gain the knowledge he desires. If you do not want your child to skip ahead a grade level, you can work on expanding his learning experience at the level where he currently is. Is your child devouring chapter books one after another while his classmates are just beginning to read them? Reward your child with more chapter books to read, help him find series of books on his level, or interest him in a wide variety of reading materials on this level to keep him from excelling too far beyond his peers. He can broaden his horizons to prevent boredom but still be able to discuss common interests with his classmates. Is your child excelling in math? Occupy his extra time with math or logic puzzles and other game-type activities and challenges within his level of ability, rather than pushing him to advance his ability too quickly. Allow your student ample time to practice and use the skills he already has, before advancing him to a higher level. If your student forges ahead and worries you that he will be ready for college too soon, encourage him to use the extra time during his high school years for pursuing other academic interests and expanding his education with further preparation for college.

Einstein, Edison, Franklin, DaVinci–these names have become synonymous with vast realms of study and knowledge. I have no way of knowing whether a frustrated 8-year-old boy has the ability to join their ranks, but I am quite certain that his current aggravation will not help him attain anything but more aggravation. Homeschooling at least provides the means toward the end he is seeking: the freedom to fulfill his desire to learn. Having a child who craves higher levels of education is not something to fear: it is simply an opportunity for both you and him.

(co-authored by Carolyn Morrison & Jennifer Leonhard)

Guilt-Free Homeschooling Means Freedom

How is Guilt-Free Homeschooling different from other homeschooling philosophies? Guilt-Free Homeschooling focuses on what works for your family, not what anyone else may be doing. Guilt-Free Homeschooling is all about finding success, making homeschooling work for your family, and producing admirable students. Here are the top 10 ways that Guilt-Free Homeschooling will bring freedom, success, and encouragement to your homeschool.

  1. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to homeschool for the reasons you choose and the freedom to set your own priorities and the goals that you want your family to achieve through homeschooling.
  2. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to draw closer together as a family, supporting, encouraging, and enjoying each other.
  3. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to ignore what the “Homeschool Joneses” claim to be doing and the freedom to use the methods and materials that enable your children to learn quickly, thoroughly, and efficiently.
  4. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to start and end your school year and your vacations and breaks when you choose.
  5. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to sleep late and only do lessons after lunch, if that is what works for your family, or to rise early and get all your lessons completed before noon, if that is what works for your family.
  6. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to have a 2-hour lunch break or 5 recesses per day or 3 snack breaks or do lessons in your pajamas or read stories all day, if that is what works for your family.
  7. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to take an occasional day off from structured lessons for the enjoyment of life and family.
  8. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to leave the house during the day, because education happens everywhere and all the time.
  9. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to do only the group activities that interest your family and/or stay home from any activity day if you want or need to do so.
  10. Guilt-Free Homeschooling gives you the freedom to take your lessons on the road and let school happen wherever you are, if that is what works for your family.

Guilt-Free Homeschooling is comfortable, it’s relaxed, it meets your needs, and it fits your family’s lifestyle. Welcome to a new way of homeschooling: Homeschooling… Guilt-Free.

Top 15 Mottoes to Get You Through Your First Homeschooling Year

I have said it before, and I will say it again: the first year of homeschooling is the toughest. No matter who you are, no matter what background you have, no matter what ages your children are, the first year of homeschooling is the most challenging, simply because it is uncharted territory, both for you and for your students. You are understandably nervous.

Because of that, I am sharing these articles from the archives of Guilt-Free Homeschooling, just for you, Brand New Homeschooling Parent. (Homeschooling “veterans” are allowed to read them, too.) Read them as often as you need the encouragement. Recite the titles as your own personal mottoes as often as you need the reminders. Copy the titles onto note cards and tape them to your bathroom mirror or your kitchen cabinet doors. Shout them as declarations of defiant resistance to the voices that would challenge your ability to teach your own children effectively. Hold your head high and your shoulders back, knowing that you are making a positive difference in your children’s lives. And know that I am very proud of you!

Who Taught This Kid to Walk, Talk, and Potty? (You, did, Mom, that’s who!)

What Didn’t Work for Today Can Be Changed for Tomorrow (Homeschooling is infinitely flexible.)

Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom (Again, homeschooling is infinitely flexible.)

I Give One Grade: 100% — But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It (for as long as it takes, because homeschooling is flexible)

“Family” Is Spelled T-E-A-M (Your children are not your enemies. You are all on the same side, and they are your teammates.)

You and I Drive Different Cars (and teach our children in different ways)

Who Wrote This “Rule Book” and Why Do I Feel I Have to Follow It? (The Official Omnipotent Homeschooling Rule Book does not exist!)

“Parent” Is a Verb (Who’s in charge here anyway?)

Any Dead Fish Can Float Downstream (And anything worth having is worth working for.)

We’re Not Raising Children — We’re Raising Adults (What is your desired outcome?)

Classic Literature Is Not Necessarily Good Literature (Who decides which books are better than others?)

Knowing How to Find the Answer Is the Same as Knowing the Answer (Where in real life are you required to know everything at every given moment?)

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind (Negotiation is an excellent skill to possess.)

Your Children Will Not Always Be Like This (I promise.)

Do the Best Job You Can, and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest (No one can expect you to do better than “your best.”)

Homeschooling and Hotel Management, an Analogy

Homeschooling is to public schooling as homemaking is to hotel management.

Homes and hotels have several things in common: beds to make, toilets to clean, windows to wash, and floors to vacuum. But the comparisons usually stop there. Homes are filled with families, the same people day after day, year after year, and the “chores” are motivated by familial love. Hotel patrons stay there for the convenience, the hotel employees are usually in it until something better comes along, and the hotel owners are in it for the money.

Homeschools and public or private schools also have several things in common: students learning, teachers teaching, books, maps, and pencils. But, once again, the comparisons usually stop there. Homeschools are filled with families, the same people day after day, year after year, and the dedication is motivated by familial love. Public and private schools are filled with transient students who go home nights, weekends, and holidays. The arrangement is convenient for the parents (who can now fill their days with other occupations), the schools’ employees are often in it until something better comes along, and the schools’ owners are in it for the money (let’s not kid ourselves — when schools are not financially self-supporting, they close… or merge with more profitable schools).

The methods employed and the motivations used in commercial enterprises and in family homes are entirely different from each other, providing drastically different results. Public institutions are essentially emotionless corporations concerned with financial statements and product output, regardless of the personalities of their individual employees. We have all seen movies where a hotel’s concierge or members of the housekeeping staff become personally concerned for the well-being of a guest, but even when fact replaces fiction, it is a temporary relationship at best. The same comparison can be extended to classroom teachers and their students: there are some teachers who care deeply for some students, but again, these are limited, temporary relationships. Within the home and family, the relationship is permanent, day-by-day, and life-long. The motivations are not based solely on finances, and the daily methods of operating are rarely limited to strict efficiency. Families are not businesses and cannot be not run like businesses without serious negative consequences.

What it all comes down to (in my mind) is “Who’s in charge here?” Do you want to yield to the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful School System that will tell your children what it wants them to know, when it wants them to know it? Or do you want to be the most important influence in your children’s lives? Here I am again, being your faithful Resident Cynic, but remember that I had children in the government school system — and we left. I saw first-hand that no matter how inept I might be at teaching, I certainly could do no worse than our local public school had already done.

Do you feel that your home has become a place that your family members only visit frequently? Have you been providing transportation to sporting events, after-school clubs, and various other school activities, but feel you know little of what your children are actually learning? Are you in charge of scheduling events and delivering mail and clean laundry, but have very little influence over the truly important facets of your children’s lives? Then perhaps you would benefit from investigating homeschooling a little more fully — it may bring the same intimacy to your household that it brought to mine. Homeschooling allowed us to stop running a “hotel” and start becoming a family.

When Is Reading NOT Reading?

The high school senior was asked to read a portion from the Bible during his Sunday School class. He struggled painfully over nearly every word. His efforts were so halting and disjointed that no one could follow the context of the passage easily. A girl seated next to him followed along in her own Bible, helping him with most of the words. The truly appalling part of this story is not that the twelfth grade student could not read fluently, but that no one in the room seemed to think it was at all unusual to have such difficulty in reading aloud. This young man, who was well known at school and considered a popular classmate and a “good” student, was probably reading at around a 2nd grade level. And none of his classmates in the room was alarmed by his performance.

The techniques that were used to teach reading when my daughter was in public school included identifying words by their unique shapes. “Does the word start with a letter that is taller than the others? Does the word end with a letter that dangles down below the others? Does the word have a roundish letter in the middle? That word is boy.” (Unless the word happens to be dog. Or toy. Hmmm. It could even be log.) Pictorial clues were also used to help identify words: “Let’s look at the picture in the storybook and guess which word fits best in the sentence. Yes, it must be boy. See that little guy sitting on a fallen tree trunk, holding a stuffed cloth puppy? This story is about him, so the word is definitely boy.” (Or not. If you missed the irony in my example, go back and read it again.) My daughter can still testify to the indoctrination of “identifying” words by only a few letters: she recently glanced at a price tag, bearing the code R8052CY, and mistook it for the word “Regency.”

When confusion over the correct word sets in, the popular instruction in today’s classrooms encourages students to think of words that start with the sound of the first letter or two in the word, again guessing a word they are familiar with that will fit with the rest of the sentence or story. I cannot judge your reading ability or your vocabulary, but I know that I occasionally find unfamiliar words in things that I read — now — today. How can a beginning reader be expected to know what all words will look like even before he can read them?

As you may suspect, children who have been taught to “read” using this shape-guessing technique do not become fluent readers. They do not enjoy reading. They cannot read quickly. They do not like to read aloud and, when forced to read aloud, do so slowly and without confidence. They are never quite sure if the letter is a b or a d or if it is a q or a p or a g. Ch- can make several sounds — how will they know which one to use? And do not even bring up a word containing -ough! These students are quickly labeled “dyslexic” and told that they have confusion over letter placements within words, but they are seldom given any instruction for how to overcome this difficulty. These students have little comprehension of what they read: they cannot understand what they read, so they also cannot remember what they read. Is it any wonder that they do poorly in school? Some who act out their frustrations at the inconsistency in their abilities are further labeled ADD, ADHD, and other multi-letter classifications which entitle the school to receive additional funding. And yet the funding does not translate into more efficient teaching methods.

So when is reading not reading? Obviously, the examples given above are not reading — they are guessing. To read, a person must recognize each letter, the sound it makes, and how it acts in combinations with other letters. Letters must be read as their sounds and not as their names, and the sounds of the letters must be read in the order that they appear within the word. Certain combinations of letters appear over and over again in various words, forming patterns. Phonics is the study of the sounds made by those letter combinations and patterns. Guessing at the visual shapes of words has nothing whatsoever to do with the sounds of letters. My daughter had been terribly confused by the difference between letter names and letter sounds: she thought they were interchangeable, since her school readily accepted her spelling of words such as “invite” as n-v-i-t. Incidentally, the “sight reading” method was invented as a way to teach deaf children to read — children who had no ability to sound out words. One would think that “professional” educators could recognize it as a “last resort” method for children who can hear, being far inferior to reading by sounds.

Phonics instruction includes the rules for breaking words into their syllables. (Lesson #1 being that a syllable must have at least one vowel; a word with only one vowel can therefore be only one syllable. I recently had to pull out my trusty dictionary to prove to a skeptic that the word rhythm has only one syllable, since it contains only the single vowel y.) Recognizing individual syllables enables the student to read even long, complicated chemical names as a series of smaller word-parts making up the big word. Learning about prefixes and suffixes and root words as a part of phonics enables the student to separate syllables easily and to understand the meanings of the various parts of a multi-syllable word, bringing understanding along with the reading process. Phonics will successfully teach a student to read, and a student who understands phonics will be able to read any word placed before him. Any word. He may need to consult a dictionary for its exact meaning, but the phonetic reader can come close to the correct pronunciation.

An independent organization that evaluates the performance of various industries recently looked into the performance of the public schools in my state. What it found most surprising was that the “proficiency” standards for each grade level have been redefined. A student who is considered “proficient” for fourth grade only has to measure up to third grade standards. And the gap widens considerably with advancing grade levels, to the point that a graduating senior’s “proficiency” level is several years below what should be expected from a twelfth grade education. That could be compared to going to a store and attempting to purchase your items with a $20 bill and being told that your cash is really only worth $15 in spending power, inflation arguments aside. Regardless of the denomination printed on the currency (or the report card), reality lies far below the appearance. Most of us would be upset to learn that the “proficiency” standards of a new home were skewed to the point that when the builder says the house contains five bedrooms, he really means that it has only enough room for three people to sleep comfortably. I would not want to purchase a 12-pack of sodas and find that the box actually contained only eight cans. And yet, that is the same false advertising that is being accepted from the public schools. Proficient does not mean proficient, and reading does not mean reading.

The real tragedy here is that students are passing through school, not knowing how to read properly. (A young acquaintance recently commented that she “flunked tenth grade, but was still going on into eleventh.” How does that even happen?) These students are being led to believe that they are adequately prepared for college, where they will be expected to consume massive amounts of reading materials and retain that knowledge for future reference. A student who has mild to moderate difficulty reading a child’s storybook will have incredible difficulty digesting college-level texts at the commonly expected rate of one hundred pages per night. Is it any wonder that the average 4-year bachelor’s degree now takes at least five years to attain?

Parents, if you have chosen to homeschool your children, do not neglect a thorough study of phonics in your lesson plans. The time you devote to studying spelling patterns, syllable divisions, prefixes, suffixes, roots, and word origins will set your students apart from their peers and give them a tremendous boost toward independent learning for the rest of their lives. As my husband recently quipped, “Once you’re over 50, if you don’t know phonics, you can’t remember how to spell anything!”

A Homeschooler’s View of Education

My view of academics and education changed significantly throughout my years as a homeschool teacher. Once upon a time, I thought of education as something that ended with 12th grade graduation or was extended by some people with a foray into college. During my stint in college, there was an older gentleman whom we younger students joked about as being a “professional student” because he had been taking a class or two each semester for years. I did not realize then that education could be a lifelong endeavor; I just assumed he did not know what he wanted to be when he grew up. Now I can look back at my foolish naivete’ and be grateful that maturity eventually replaces youthful ignorance and its accompanying arrogance.

Education is merely the process of learning, and I continue to learn every day. Learning is learning, whether one is studying a foreign language or making a mental note to avoid the pothole down the block. Learning is the reason why we read the newspaper or watch the local weather forecast on television. We become more educated when we try a new recipe: at the very least, we learn whether or not we want to make that recipe again. Learning, education, and academics take on new, more personal meanings with the advent of homeschooling.

Legal homeschooling in our state required that we submit documents annually to the state Department of Education. One form had boxes to check to indicate your students’ participation in various extra-curricular activities. At first, I viewed those activities in much the same straightforward way that any other educator would. After a few years of homeschooling, however, my viewpoint had shifted, and I began to see things a bit differently — from a homeschooler’s point of view.

Regular library visits? Well, we had never experienced an irregular visit, no matter how infrequently they occurred, so, yes, we planned regular library visits.

Field trips? Yes, we participated in field trips, whether to the grocery store or with more structured, group activities.

Music lessons? Yes, group singing would be taking place at church. There would also be the intermittent “Happy Birthday” choruses and Christmas carols, singing along with children’s videos, banging on the pots and pans, and singing the latest catchy advertising jingles. (It does not have to cost money to be a real lesson.)

Sports activities? Most definitely! You cannot make these children sit still for long! I did not see this as requiring us to join the local soccer club; to me, it could also mean playing horsey with Dad, riding your bike, or splashing in the wading pool — getting off of the sofa and out of the house.

Other planned social experiences? This must have been listed just to satisfy those weirdos who think that homeschoolers never leave the house, but, yes, we did plan to experience society from time to time, and Wal-Mart was typically a melting pot of society in our community.

Another required document was our “plan” for the year’s lessons. I learned to view that with the same earnestness with which I viewed preparation time for dinner each night: we would eat dinner each night, so therefore there would be some type of preparation for it. One night’s dinner may require several hours of hands-on preparation, while another night’s meal may only require phoning the pizza delivery guy. Either way, we ate. Similarly, some lessons received intensive, hands-on preparation, and others were delivered by flipping open a book, but either way, we learned. My Plan of Instruction did not list detailed lesson plans, but did list the approximate amount of time each student would spend per day on each subject (per week for lower grades). [See also Guilt-Free Lesson Plans and Scheduling] If we spent more time or less time on any certain area on any certain day, what did it matter? Some lessons were fast-food snacks, and other lessons were seven-course-meal events. The learning itself was what mattered, not the speed of the delivery, and there were many times when we learned more from the spontaneous, quick-snack lessons than we did from the this-took-me-all-day-to-prepare lessons.

Information of academic importance obviously means different things to different people. Another mandate on our annual report stated that a revised form was to be filed if any of the listed information changed during the year. Throughout the years that my children were enrolled in public school, we were rarely informed of changes to the routine, including some important changes in the staff. After we had been homeschooling for a few years, we were (again) not notified when the district’s Homeschooling Coordinator left on a two-week vacation, leaving a letter of resignation and two weeks’ notice on her desk, a gaping hole in the district’s staff, and many confused families in a state somewhere between shock and limbo — during the busiest time for the district office, the month before the fall semester began. Therefore, based on their precedent, I concluded that most of the changes I could make to our plans would be of minor significance to the district, and I switched textbooks and materials whenever I felt the need to do so, Guilt-Free, without bothering to inform them of such trivial details.

My view of the ideal teaching methods for individual subjects also changed. Once my students were reading well on their own, I allowed their “reading” course to be done in bed at night as a “decompression” time before Lights Out. I found that I was able to monitor their reading ability in their other subjects well enough that I no longer bothered to keep track of their personal, pleasure reading for a “reading class.”

Education, learning, and academics mean different things to different people. “Professional” educators view learning as an activity that takes place under their highly trained supervision. I, as a homeschool educator, see learning as more of a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week pursuit. We do not always need books or plans or even a stone-faced serious attitude in order to come away from something as a smarter person. Education and learning can and do take place in the garage or on the playground, while doing chores or while having fun, early in the morning or late into the night. Education is the process of learning. Learn something every day.

Top 10 Things I Did Not Need for Homeschooling

Homeschooling requires a minimal amount of preparation: it can be started with a few books to read, some paper and pencils, and a few broken crayons as basic art supplies. Institutional schools receiving government funding would lead us to believe that much, much more is needed for adequately educating students. I quickly discovered that certain institutional necessities were, in fact, completely unnecessary in our homeschool setting. And so, here, without further ado, are the Top Ten Things I Did NOT Need for Homeschooling.

10. Attendance Charts, Seating Charts, Hall Passes, or Restroom Passes — We relaxed and made ourselves at home… because we were at home.

9. Lunch Punch Cards — Our lunches were all paid for before we took the groceries home from the store.

8. Hall Monitors — I could hear trouble from anywhere in the house.

7. Playground Monitors — Unless you want to count the dog.

6. Harassment Policy or That Desk Facing the Wall in the Back of the Room for the Disruptive Kid — “Don’t hit your sister,” “Don’t hit your brother,” and “Go to your room” covered it all for us.

5. Parent/Teacher Conferences — Unless you want to count talking to myself.

4. AIDS Awareness; Diversity Day; or G*y, L*sbian, Transg*nder, & Bis*xual Day — We were too busy with learning the more important aspects of education… such as how to read, write, and calculate.

3. Police Officers, Metal Detectors, or Pepper Spray — I even encouraged my students to use and carry pocket knives.

2. Zero Tolerance Policies — I possess critical thinking skills and know how to use them to analyze problems on a case by case basis.

And finally, the Number One Thing that I did not need for homeschooling my own children…

1. RITALIN! or any other mind-numbing drugs to control active children — Physical exercise was much more effective for getting the wiggles out and preparing my students to learn.

*[Unfortunately, the spelling of certain words must be altered to reduce unwanted search engine hits. I apologize for any confusion.]