Friday, October 1, 2010

Fun times

A group of local home educating moms have been getting our daughters together for the past couple years to have a book club. A mom and daughter pick a book, all the girls read it, and then they meet to talk about the book, do a craft or activity inspired by it, and then just enjoy being together.

It has been a great experience. We have read some interesting books. My daughter has made new friends. I enjoy sitting down for tea with a group of moms and talking about our take on the book.

One of the best parts though has been watching the whole group of children play together after the book discussion is done. Yesterday, they dove into a particularly well stocked bin of dress-up clothes and once they were all decked out, they went for a walk. This was all the book club girls who are from seven to twelve years old, plus some little sisters as young as three or four. They were wearing a marvellous combination of princess outfits, pioneer garb and odd capes and hats. They wandered around the block for about half an hour, on a gorgeous fall afternoon, and had so much fun doing it.

I am very grateful that my daughter can have the freedom to really act her age with a bunch of friends. Most eleven year olds are too cool to pull out the dress up stuff anymore, much as they might want to. These girls all delighted in helping each other pick the right outfit, and came back giggling about the funny looks and comments they got while they were out. The little ones were part of the fun, not just tolerated, but included.

The goal of book club yesterday was to share a book. The extra stuff that came along, serendipitously, was nearly as good, like a great meal followed by the best dessert.

Monday, September 27, 2010


My hobby of the past several years has been knitting, which led me further into fibrey pursuits when my husband bought me a bargain spinning wheel at a garage sale. (I wonder if he sometimes thinks he should have just kept driving. It's become a bit of an obsession.) I have two spinning wheels, a variety of spindles and more wool than you might think possible.

I never really intended to make wool and spinning part of our home education, but inevitably the interests we pursue lead to new discoveries. I did not know that at one time exporting Merino sheep from Spain was punishable by death. I did not know that the linen sails of Columbus' ships were made from thread spun on hand spindles, since spinning wheels had not been invented at that time. I had a vague understanding of the central role of textile manufacturing in the industrial revolution, but I did not know that the precursor to computer technology was weaving looms that could be set up to create complex patterns.

I am not saying that fibre arts is the best foundation for home education, even though I could make a pretty good case for it. (Without spinning and weaving we'd all be wearing leather or naked. I think that alone establishes spinning as an essential of civilization.) What I found out through learning about wool, linen and cotton is paralleled in any other area of interest. Whether it's model aircraft, or photography, or rock hunting, or woodworking, there are rabbit trails to follow that might lead to many other discoveries in history, geography, science, language or the arts. When we integrate our interests into our children's learning, we expand the possibilities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Building Thinking Skills

Some of the more important things we teach in home education are implicit in multiple curriculum areas, but rarely defined as goals in themselves. Logical reasoning is one of those things that is hard to focus on by itself, but is essential to proceed in truly understanding every subject.

At the AHEA convention in the spring, I found a workbook designed to develop those sorts of skills. It's Building Thinking Skills, by Sandra Parks and Howard Black, published by The Critical Thinking Company. It has sections on similarities and differences, sequences, classifications and analogies, and deals with each area both figurally by using shapes and verbally.

Many of the exercises are similar to brain teaser puzzles that you might see in children's magazines. They build steadily in difficulty and challenge. My daughter likes working in this book and often completes four or five pages in a day.

There are six levels in the series, Beginning, Primary, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 Figural, and Level 3 Verbal. Hannah is doing Level 2 which is labelled as grade 4-6, so I assume Beginning would be a "preschool" level (preschool is such a funny term for home educators to use!), Primary is likely suitable for grade 1, Level 2 for grades 2 to 3, and the level 3 books are likely for grades 7 to 9.

I tend to assign Hannah pages from this book when I can't work directly with her, or when we're either done early or hitting some sort of roadblock in another area. It almost seems to wake her brain up to sit down and go through a couple pages of this book.

I bought my copy from SMARTS, and I think it's also available from Canadian Home Education Resources.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Ideas

I sometimes feel a bit sorry for my youngest because I know I was more creative in my approach to learning when her siblings were younger and I was too. We are currently very book based in her learning. reading many good books, and I know she is learning. It's a reminder to me that the best way to home school is the way that works for your family at the time. It changes, and it should.

Today we did incorporate a creative approach to one of the subjects that isn't fun for my daughter. She really does not enjoy writing assignments, which is fairly normal for children her age. For a more fun approach to a typical brainstorming exercise, we used a set of alphabet stamps and notebooks with blank pages. I asked her to pick a topic word and stamp it at the top of the page. Then she thought of other words to describe it, and stamped them all over the page. Somehow using stamps to put the words on paper made it less of a chore and more like a game. Today's topic was one of our dogs. Tomorrow, she plans to create a page about the cat.

This likely isn't something we'll do all year long, but I can see being consistent with it for the next several weeks and then pulling it out again if there's a day that Hannah needs to do some independent work, or if something happens that might be fun to record in this way, or if we just hit the doldrums and need to spice things up again.

Routines are marvelous, but stepping a little outside them makes them even better.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not Back to School in the Media

Last weekend, the Globe and Mail printed an article about unschooling, a variety of home education based more on the child's intersts and curiousity than on any lesson plan or curriculum choice by parents. Unschoolers help their kids learn when the kids ask to know about something, they provide good resources and experiences, but they don't have lesson time or phonics programs. It's been around since the 1960's, and it works. It's always been the less-travelled path of home education. If you're nterested in the article, here's a link:

It's not so much the article itself that I found interesting. After all the first book I ever read on the topic of home education was Teach Your Own by John Holt. It was far more interesting to read the comments. Interesting and annoying, because so many commenters were focussed on the same things that we have been asked for 20 years. I guess I don't encounter the criticisms anymore, so to read that home educated children will end up on welfare or stuck in dead end jobs, that they are socially inept or overly sheltered, that they won't know how to cope with college was a huge surprise to me.

I have my own success stories to point to, our children who are doing very well in their school and work. I knew that we would be trailblazers, but I didn't think it would take this long to establish the optiojn of home education as good for children and good for families.

Of course there were other comments too, from families with very positive experiences, who are speaking out in favour of educational choice. Their comments were a vivid contrast to the negative ones. All in all, the article plus the comments woke me up again to the need for all home educators to be proud of what we do, and to speak up clearly and often about the good things we are seeing. I am glad to have my daughter home, I am glad to have spent my children's early years with them. It has been good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tine to catch up

It's funny how the summer goes along and then one day you realize that it's the middle of August and time to figure things out for fall. I've had a rather rotten summer, but it's getting better and I am beginning to look forward to starting up all the fall activities again.

I had quite low expectations last fall about what we would achieve and we exceeded them so I count the year as a success even though we probably completed less academic work than ever before. I knew that I would be rebuilding stamina from my heart attack for most of the year. Added to that were some extended family issues that called for extra travel to Saskatchewan. Even with those interruptions, Hannah completed all of her math program and reached new levels of understanding. We read many good books. She pushed herself to new levels in swimming and gymnastics. And anything we didn't get to last year, we'll catch up on this year.

Clearly, blogging regularly has been a challenge, but I'm working on it. Tomorrow I hope to go shopping for the curriculum extras I want for the year. I promise to blog again once I've got them!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Seeking support

It's been a homeschoolery week for me. Tuesdays I take Hannah to a park to play with other home schoolers, and I have tea with the moms (one mom brings her kettle, tea bags and mugs every week so we can have tea!) in the heated shelter. Wednesday night, I went to the monthly coffee get-together at a local coffee shop. And tomorrow I'm off to one day of the Alberta Home Education Association annual convention in Red Deer.

All of this made me think about how much we all need each other. Home education is in many ways a very solitary occupation. It's a mom in her kitchen with her children working through yet another day of math and spelling and reading and science. And if in any way it's going badly, she is all alone with a sense of discouragement and all alone in working out a way to make it better.

Getting together with other people on the same journey helps. We can see that we are not alone. We can see that our children are much like other children. Sometimes we can see that ours are ahead in some way, even if they are also behind in others! We hear the same concerns and challenges happening in other homes. Face it, every child complains about his math!

I often feel at this stage of home education that I don't so much need to support. I am in the position of looking to our older children's successes to empower myself for the days I don't find much joy in the moment. I know there are ups and downs and that the whole process is worthwhile. Even so, I need to get my shoes and get out to some kind of get-together for the warmth and friendship I find there. I am very grateful for the other moms who show up and I am trying to be more steadily committed to showing up myself, just because we all gain from the sharing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How it's going now.

Somehow, discussions of our children's post secondary education often end with the admission process. I'm trying to pay more attention this time to how things are going post admission. The short answer as we near the end of the second semester: Very well indeed.

Tim's entrance into post secondary took some time to work out well. His first semester three years ago at college was challenging and he chose not to continue in that program. To be accepted into the faculty he wanted to study in, he completed upgrading classes at NAIT, not because he did not know the material but because he had to be able to prove to the admissions office that he knew it, and that proof had to come in a form that they understood. We were told that we had abandoned our values as traditional home educators by having him take these courses, that we had had a chance to be trailblazers and had instead bowed to the powers that be. In reality, we had investigated every possibility and chose the path that would give our son the best opportunity to use his unique gifts.

Interestingly, he has definitely been the trailblazer and the positive representative of a home educated student. His professors comment to him about his knowledge. They read books he has recommended to him! One has said that Tim is the smartest person he has ever taught. His calculus professor is creating a summer research position with Tim in mind. All of these teachers know that Tim was home educated, and give credit for his skills and talents as a student to his innate abilities. (Much of that development was independent: Tim invented his own method of multiplying in grade 2. He thinks about math concepts and numbers in a way that I admire and do not remotely understand.)

We began the journey in faith that our children would be equipped by home education to find a unique individual place in the world. Tim, and his siblings, have proved our faith warranted. We are delighted to have been able to be part of the process that put him where he is right now, and we're excited to watch where the next three years will lead him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why doesn't everyone...

I had an interesting visit with a home educating mom last week. Her son attended school until part way through grade 5, when she brought him home and started him on a very structured DVD based program plan. He’s had a great year this year, starting in September on grade 6 curriculum after spending all summer catching up on grade 5. He will finish early and with good grades. He has learned so much this year, and beyond that, he has learned how to learn.

His mom had tears in her eyes as she described the change in his attitude about himself. He now knows he is smart. He can tell when he’s losing focus. He has learned how to read for meaning and how to tell what the main idea is. His penmanship has even improved!

Then his mom asked me the question I often hear when parents have seen remarkable success from a particular program: “Why doesn’t everyone use this?” It’s a reasonable question. Answering it made me think about the ways we structure learning and how different thought patterns almost demand different programs.

Her child is not an organized thinker. His main problem in the classroom was his distractability. He doesn’t see the connections between things unless they are pointed out. Once he has the framework for his learning, whether that would be an outline or a set of questions to answer or a series of visual cues in his text like bolded vocabulary words or names, then he can use that to learn and remember the information presented.

Other children find that structure limiting and confining. They are good at making their own connections. The connections they find on their own resonate with them and do far more to help them remember the facts than any text or teacher supplied ones could. Maybe it’s a fascination with maps that leads to a real sense of history, or a knowledge of scientific discoveries that links into history study, but because these children have their own network of connected knowledge the tightly structured course frustrates and limits their learning.

I think it’s the difference between packing ideas into boxes (metaphorically speaking) and tying them to a web. One child goes to an encyclopedia and looks up the fact that he was sent for. Another flips through the rest of the book (once upon a time encyclopedias were books) and learns twelve other things while he’s at it. One learns the lesson of the curriculum and may learn it very, very well. The other is learning to group and relate ideas outside the context provided. He may never learn the capitals of all the provinces, but he may learn which provinces have bears. Which is better? That depends on your child, your goals. Neither is bad, and neither works for everyone.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

From the Kitchen Table to the Classroom-Part 2

(This is the second half of our daughter's thoughts about her college and university exerience.)

After my first semester at Macewan I began working at the Mustard Seed. During my employment there I realized that the problems facing the inner city population were more than psychological issues and that psychology was an incomplete perspective for dealing with systemic social issues. A colleague recommended I consider Social Work. I looked into the diploma program at MacEwan, but realized that with another 30 credits I could apply directly for the Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) through the University of Calgary’s Edmonton division campus. I completed the requirements for admission and was accepted into the program Fall of 2007.
I completed the program this spring. The faculty of Social Work was the perfect fit for me. The graduating class from the Edmonton Division was just over 40 people. The instructors not only knew me by name, but got to know me as a person and provided informal mentorship to me. I learn best when I am actively engaged in the topic and the process and the University of Calgary provided an atmosphere that I thrived in.
I did my Senior Practicum with the City of Edmonton and it lead to full time employment with them. I am working as a counselor and group facilitator. I enjoy and am fulfilled with the work I do and plan to return to school for a Masters of Social Work in the fall of 2011.
Home education prepared me for success. Throughout university my reading and comprehension abilities were my greatest asset. My mom always encouraged reading and approached it in a way that made it fun and rewarding. Home education taught me to enjoy learning and to seek the acquisition of knowledge. I still love learning and it enriches my life and improves my practice as a Social Worker.
Unfortunately, there are also limitations to home education. I always wanted to pursue an arts degree, but had I wanted to pursue a science degree my path would have been more difficult and I would have likely had to earn high school science credits before being considered for admission into a science faculty. In my pursuit of an arts degree I attended 4 universities. This was time consuming and costly. My tuition at Taylor was nearly twice the amount as a public institution, I had to pay application fees 4 times, applying to the University of Calgary was complicated by the fact that I had transcripts from 3 different universities, and I had to prove myself every step of the way. I took 6 years to complete a degree that usually only takes 4. This was due in part to the complications of not having a diploma, but I also allowed myself time to work while in school which provided me the necessary work experience to apply for Social Work.
One last thing: Even though I had many rich and close relationships and countless interactions with a variety of people during my time in university, the first and often only question I would be asked when people learned I was home educated from k-12 was always, “but what about socialization?” often followed by, “but you don’t seem home schooled” (despite that fact that most of them had never met someone who was home educated other than me). I think that question will probably haunt me (and all other home educated people) the rest of my life!
Thanks for reading about my experience.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Today I'm sharing with you the first part of my daughter's reflection on her education. More to follow!

From the Kitchen Table to the Classroom

When I completed my course of home education I knew I wanted to continue on with post-secondary, but since I had taken the non-diploma route I was unsure how to do this. I knew the publicly funded universities had no policies to accept individuals without a diploma so together my mom (Kathy Put) and I approached Taylor University College (which has since closed). They had an informal process for accepting home educated students and after submitting writing samples and a transcript of my grades I was accepted into the Bachelors of Arts in Psychology program.
I found the transition to post secondary much smoother than I had anticipated. In university you are expected to self-motivate and to do the bulk of the learning independently. Home education prepared me for this and I found the course load and reading assignments manageable. The biggest challenge during my time was with the other students and their lack of commitment to learning and lack of participation in the classroom. It was discouraging to be excited about learning a new topic and have my classmates behave in a distracting and sometimes disrespectful way towards the process and the professors. However, I managed through my frustrations and formed informal study groups with a few fellow classmates who were as excited to be there as I was.
I spent two semesters at Taylor and earned top grades. I used Taylor as a spring board into public university. Once I had proved myself capable and earned a university transcript, I applied to open studies at the University of Alberta. I took two courses there over a semester. I struggled with the large class sizes and found it more difficult to be engaged in the learning process. Second year psychology courses at the U of A often have 200+ students and I felt lost in the crowd, so I applied at Grant MacEwan college and was accepted there following my semester at the U of A. MacEwan has smaller class sizes and was a great fit for me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tonight I am speaking at Home School Christian Fellowship in Edmonton about our family experience in transitioning our children from home education into college and university. I have come to see just how different this part of our home education experience has been. We have had remarkable success in helping our children achieve their goals, a success that is perhaps rare.

I plan over the next week or so to turn portions of the talk I give into further blog posts, but for today, I want to focus on really useful web sites.

Alberta Learning Information Service, at gives career preparation information including on-line quizzes, occupational profiles, college admission standards and job seeking information. I love the career profile information which clarifies the details of any job, and gives suggestions in related fields.

Since many home educators use a "friendly" institution to begin their post-secondary studies and then transfer to a biger school, it is important to know about the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfers, at Before you enroll in any post-secondary class, you can be certain whether it will be accepted at another school. The site includes an overview of the upgrading course offered through Alberta colleges that are accepted at all universities at This is an excellent help to those who discover late that they lack a credit or equivalent for a specific program, since it shows you the options to fill in the gap.

There's a good overview of high school possibilities for home educators at the THEE web site, at….

More thoughts on all of this in the coming days.