Sunday, March 14th, 2010...3:11 PM
Yesterday I had the most amazing experience. For the first time since I began homeschooling, I went to The Virginia Homeschoolers conference. I don’t know why I’ve never been before, but my experience was exceptional.
I came away from the conference with a conviction that what I’m doing is right, inspiration for the future of our homeschool and comfort from being with people who all want the same thing.
I went to four sessions and listened to the keynote speaker, Linda Dobson. I have a few of Ms. Dobson’s books in my home and have always found them to be very helpful. She’s always had very practical advice that I could actually use. Her speech was about really treasuring these ‘wonder years’ with our kids. At one point, when she was describing the reasons she began homeschooling, I actually teared up. She spoke of her oldest son, and how outgoing and life-loving he was. But after only a few short months of public school he would come home as weary as a man coming home from a job he’s hated for years. And that made her sad. So she started investigating homeschooling.
Her story reminded me of my own life-loving, outgoing little boy, Josh. He went through virtually the same scenario. I didn’t know much about homeschooling then. In fact, it wasn’t until Josh was in the fourth grade that I heard about people in our district doing it. Josh wanted to be homeschooled. But I thought that was for radical people and that if we kept working with the school system his problems would all work out. Plus, I had just started my own business and thought that I could never manage a new business and homeschooling at the same time. So I dismissed the thought.
It wasn’t until high school that Josh came into some comfort in his school life. He found good friends and he found a passion. The school he attended just happened to be the County’s specialty center for computer technology. Josh enrolled in the program his sophomore year and excelled. It gave him confidence that he sorely needed. Your mother can tell you a million times how wonderful you are, but it takes outside sources to make you believe. He was very gifted with computers and earned a good reputation.
Fast forward to Cade, who is ten years younger than his big brother. His hearing problems kept him from communicating with his kindergarten teacher and the students in that class. After surgery and time to get used to hearing again, he came out of his shell. But bullies and poor social skills got the better of him in first grade. I couldn’t just sit and watch another child of mine suffer at the hands of a deficient system. So we started homeschooling.
All of that flashed through my mind as I listened to Ms. Dobson speak. I’ve heard many stories on why people choose homeschooling, but I felt as if she were speaking to me personally. And so the tears.
My first session was about keeping the attention of your students while you’re working with them. The things that I took away from this session that I think will be useful to Cade and I are that he should always have a water bottle. Hydration helps with attention. And so do crunchy foods. Apparently, that stimulates your brain. Some kids need music in the background so that they won’t be distracted by every other little thing in the room. And if possible, we should try to use mostly natural light rather than lamps and overhead lighting. The best tip that I got was towards the end of the session, she suggested that a gentle touch with a pause will refocus your child better than an admonishment.
My friend, Jeanne, was doing a class called ‘Homeschooling the Hard Stuff’. And if I could have spent the whole day listening to her, I would have been happy. She has already homeschooled and graduated two boys and has one more that is Cade’s age. So she comes to the conference with a lot of experience. Her best advice was that each parent must learn to become a facilitator rather than just a teacher. Figure out what your child loves and wants to learn and go find some way for them to learn it. If you don’t know physics or chemistry, go find someone who does. OR, you could use other channels, like community college courses. Some colleges even offer courses online that your child can take from home. She says that a lot of college professors volunteer in community programs that suit their interests and that if you search through these programs you can find excellent learning resources. Oftentimes these programs are underutilized during the daytime and they are thrilled to find a new market for their services. She suggested apprenticeships or work on the job training for kids. Also, look for very unique experiences that will really enrich your kids’ educational experience, such as foreign exchange students. Her son became fluent in Spanish and even spent a year in South America because of their time with an exchange student.
Jeanne also did a class on unschooling, which was my favorite of the day. She is a big advocate of figuring out what a child needs and loves and letting them lead the direction of their own education. She says parents should learn to say ‘yes’ more often and offer more, so that the child can make more choices. She also encouraged rabbit holing. This is something that happens to Cade and I all the time. He is in the middle of a lesson and it has sparked a weird question that I can’t answer. So we head to the internet to find the answer and end up spending 30-45 minutes chasing rabbit holes. But he never forgets stuff that he’s learned this way. It has context.
There were so many things that I took away from the conference that I just don’t have time to write down. But I’m excited to start school again on Monday. And I’m a lot more confident about what we’re doing. And I find that I really do love this life of homeschooling. I regret that I didn’t give it a try with Josh. But I’m taking it all in now.
And I can’t wait for the next conference!