Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Weird Homeschooler: Myth or Fact?

Oh my gosh, are homeschooled children weird? Whether it's in the context of a mother's agonies in deciding whether or not to homeschool, or in the context of someone's actual polemic against homeschooling, the old "Well I know some homeschoolers and they're pretty weird" argument seems to keep resurfacing.

"Yes, they're weird. They're different. They're odd. So what?!"

"No, they're not weird; they're just fine, and public school kids are the weird ones!"

"Wait, no! All kids are weird! Just look at the way they run around yelling and picking their noses -- weird!"

The truth is that the reason this argument is so compelling for people is -- it's true! There are homeschoolers out there who are COMPLETELY NUTS. I'm not going to point fingers (lest any be pointed at me) but I'm sure you can all think of someone in your little world who fits the description. So, yes, homeschoolers are weird.

And you know what? You're weird. You're socially awkward, shy, reserved, or you're outspoken, a brazen nonconformist, or you're unaware that you smell bad, you're pierced, or afraid to get pierced, you're too quiet, too loud, don't like to follow rules, or too dependent on regulations, or you don't have your hair in a braid, or you do, or maybe you don't even know how to put your hair in a braid, and the reason you're so tragically broken as a person, the source of all your personal failings, as listed above, is because your mother refused to put you into school. So sad for you. If only you had been allowed to go to traditional school, you would be perfect.

OH. WAIT. Most of us *were* in traditional school. And yet we managed to be weird in all kinds of ways, both inspiring and depressing, all without the evils of homeschool, all on our own.

"Well, I've met some homeschooled kids. And to be honest, not to hurt anyone's feelings, or anything, but they were kind of weird."

Thanks, and we know. We know it so much we've co-opted the concept, and when there's a blog co-opting the concept, with its own domain name even, you can pretty much assume that we know. Kind of like Stitch N Bitch. Trust me, those of us within the homeschooling community know way more weird homeschoolers than you do. There's always that one family, or that whole co-op full of, well, you know. So yeah, you're right. Congratulations. You found a couple of nutjobs. But here are some things you're *not* allowed to say:

Myth #1: Homeschoolers don't face peer pressure. Yes, they do. They do dance, martial arts, choir, violin, swimming, scouts, church, and all kinds of stuff with schooled children (famous for their experience with exerting peer pressure), and they also create their own little peer groups within the homeschooling community itself. So, peer pressure and peer criticism and diversity within their acquaintances -- all that is covered.

Myth #2: Homeschoolers are *all* weird. Nope. Some are completely indistinguishable from public school children. The reason you don't know this is because you probably didn't notice those children, indistinguishable as they are. You probably notice the weird freaky ones, just like we notice the thugs, drug dealers, and sluts in public school.

Myth #3: No public school children are weird. Well, that's kind of silly. And yet, it's what is implied by the conclusion that homeschooling is bad, or that you're afraid to homeschool, based on the fact that you met a weird one once. You're afraid your child will be weird if he isn't put in public school. That's short-selling your child, and yourself.

Look. It's not wrong for people to say "Homeschoolers are weird." We know it's not incorrect. But to actually let yourself be talked into putting your child in an institutional school because you've met someone who was "weird"? That's really just an excuse. Look at your child. Is he weird? Did you make him weird by teaching him stuff for the first four years of his life? Will you really make him weird teaching him stuff for the next four, eight, ten years? Come on. This is your kid we're talking about, not some kid down the street you met once or remember from your childhood. Be brave. You can do this.

Find the homeschooler!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Snow Tubing with Phi Bensa Zoe

We went up to visit our friends the Porterfields who had the shocking audacity to move North without us. So, this must have been Phi Bensa Zoe gym class? Indeed. Veronica had the awesome idea that we should drive up to Pennsylvania and go snow tubing at Liberty Mountain. There are not a lot of children for whom driving 3 hours only to drive another 2 hours to spend 2 hours tubing and then another 2 hours in the car would be worth it. For these children, it was TOTALLY worth it. Here they are waiting for the shuttle:

When we arrived at the tubing hill, my heart sank. It looked huge, fast, and we were immediately told that we couldn't go with our younger ones -- they had to go on their own. I was so proud and amazed that *all* the kids tried the hill, no one freaked out or hung back, and while Phillip declined to repeat his run after bravely giving it a shot, the rest of them went up and down the hill about a million times.

Benny, having looked over the situation, asked for "self responsibility," which I gave him with the understanding that he and Zoe (both now nine years old) would stick together. They did, and they did great having self responsibility. That alone was worth the effort of getting up there. But then there was Sadie Grace. She was a MANIAC. She loved tubing -- here's a video of one of her runs:

Did you hear her report that she said, "Woo hoo!" I can attest that she did. She said "Woo hoo!" Crammed into that tube with only her little head and her Dora boots sticking out, she woo-hooed her way down that big old hill. And Veronica and I had our moments too -- me going down face first and her circumspectly sitting upright in her tube, hair flying in the wind.

The children definitely experienced total happiness.

In Sadie's words, it was "super fun."

Karate for Him, Karate for Her

Two big changes with our karate studies.

1. Sadie started karate classes! She has been waiting to start for a while, but I told her she had to be 5 years old and 30 pounds. Well, she hit those marks at about the same time, so with trembling, fear, and much trust in Mr. Odom at Norfolk Karate Academy, I let her start. She loves it -- from the first moment she put on the gi she has been completely ecstatic. I had these illogical fantasies that she would have no contact with anything other than air for like two years at which point she would be allowed to maybe gently kick a pillow or something. Of course, she started kicking and punching things on the first night. GREAT. Here are a few photos from her first day:

Sadie started on the same night as her friend Keric. Here are the two new white belts with big brother Benny. As it turned out that night was Benny's last as a green belt -- he tested for blue that very same night!

2. Benny's blue belt test! Benny got his green belt in November of 2006. Taking over two years to go from green to blue is not normal. Benny has never been on the fast track in karate, and for all he deeply and totally loves the sport, he has never been particularly good at it. What I appreciate about Mr. Odom is his willingness to take as long as is necessary for each individual child. Some kids will go quickly through the levels. Others will take longer. Benny has never been promoted when he didn't deserve it, and has also never been made to feel less than the other children because he takes longer between tests. This is why I was so proud that Mr. Odom felt he was really ready for blue, and even prouder when he told me after the test, "Benny deserved every bit of that." Some schools will put the kids up in groups, or promote them when their friends get promoted. At Norfolk Karate Academy, I know that my kids will be treated as individuals, with patience and dedication to the long term result. That means a lot.



A great night for the fighting Netzers. Here's a link to all the pictures and video from that night. Long may they punch and kick. I have this to say about what karate is doing for my children: After one week in karate, Sadie told me she was done with ballet. She says she's strong, she says she's tough, she quickly learned to count to ten in Korean, and she's working on her first form. She practices constantly, and she *loves* the way karate is making her feel. I'm proud of my girly-girl and her desire to line up her sparkly slippers on the side of the mat and get out there and punch and kick with the boys.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Disney World is Still in Florida

We went to Disney World for a week with Dan's family. Here are some pictures, taken by my brother-in-law with his enviable camera, to tell the tale:

Sadie and Sydney's bed:

Benny and Jack's bed:

Riding Kraken at Sea World. Front Row: Terri, Benny, Ashley, Andy. Second Row: Dan, Lydia. Yes, I rode Kraken.

Sadie in the play area:

How did Benny get so wet?:

Hollywood Studios. Benny battles Darth Vader:

Sydney and Sadie:

Belle and the children:

Aladdin's Carpets:

Sadie and Mom, going to Magic Kingdom on the ferry:

Expedition Everest. Front row: Benny, Ashley. Middle row: Dan, Andy. Back row: Terri, Lydia.

Did I take pictures? I *think* I did. They were just so violently inferior to Kevin's that I despair. But here's a link to my Flickr set for the Disney trip. There are many amusing photos there.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Army National Guard Recruiting Homeschoolers to Path of Honor

The Army National Guard has a new program: The Homeschooler's Path to Honor. You could summarize this new program by saying this: "We, the Army National Guard, will cheerfully accept your homeschool diploma in lieu of a high school diploma from a traditional school."

That makes sense. After all it's only right and normal that they accept a homeschool diploma. State universities do. Why not the Army? So, fine. However, instead of a notice of that bit of clerical updating, on the "Path to Honor" web site, you'll find the following verbiage:

The National Guard recognizes and values the unique skills, abilities, and character that homeschoolers can bring to our organization. Homeschoolers are known for their high levels of cooperation, assertiveness, empathy and self-control. The values that homeschooled young men and women hold will naturally mesh with the Army Values.

Homeschoolers are known for high levels of what? Who was surveyed to compile this list of traits for which homeschoolers, collectively, are known? And what is this cooperative assertiveness? This empathic self-control? These values and traits might as well have been picked from an arbitrary list for all they have to do with homeschoolers as a group. Homeschoolers are not a monolithic group full of identical robots. They are certainly not a unified army of cooperatively assertive little empaths.

Now, there are traits that homeschoolers *do* all have in common. Traits like the ability to work independently, a level of comfort with being outside the mainstream, a tendency to think past what's expected and deconstruct the status quo. I am not a military person myself but I would feel safe in betting those are not characteristics for which the Army is actively searching.

Here's another ripe quote from the Army National Guard's pitch to homeschoolers:

The National Guard is a natural choice for innovative young men and women who pursue unconventional avenues to succeed.

Yeah. That's the army. Unconventional.

I am not against the military. I know lots of people, including my husband, who found military service to be a very positive thing. However, I must call cowdung on this ridiculous recruiting language, which both misrepresents the experience a recruit can expect to have (It'll be just like homeschooling! But with money for college!) and misrepresents the recruit him or herself. If homeschoolers want to join the Army National Guard, good for them. But do we have to make them a special "Path of Honor" with their own fake, patronizing reasons for joining up?

Would you join the army because you're unconventional and empathic? What kind of nonsense is this?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dreambox Plays Well with Right Start

If you're a fan of Right Start math, you may be interested in checking out this new online curriculum: Dreambox, for K-2 math. Sadie is working her way through Right Start's kindergarten curriculum, using lots of visuals -- tally sticks, an abacus, counters and manipulatives. When we started playing around with Dreambox, she found many of the exercises comfortably familiar, as Dreambox uses these same tools, but in the context of Flash animation and games. Dreambox encourages kids to visualize numbers and think in blocks of five and ten, just like Right Start, and we've just found that the two systems dovetail extremely well.

Dreambox's online math curriculum is very interesting, in that it progresses at a variable speed, based on your child's performance. If something seems easy for the child, the software skips him/her along to something more challenging. If something is too hard, the software pulls back to spend much more time on that skill. This quality means that it's *super* important for you as a parent not to help your child. The software is meant to be used by a child independently, because it customizes itself to the student's strengths and weaknesses. I did make the mistake of directing Sadie a bit too much at first, and that resulted in her being skipped ahead too much. Dreambox fixed it for me, though, and now we're back on track.

Here are a few screenshots of the software:

This shot shows the three sections of the Dreambox world -- the house, the adventure park (where most of the math games are played), and the carnival (where the less academic, more fun games are played). Kids earn tokens in the adventure park which they can "spend" at the carnival to play and unlock games. In other computer math systems I've experienced, there is more difference between the "work" games and the "reward" games, with the reward games being purely fun and the work games being more purely work. Dreambox mixes it up a little -- the work games are contextualized in narrative and have little cartoons and characters to play with, and the reward games are also teaching math concepts. Here's a shot of the carnival. Yes, Sadie's avatar has purple hair -- a harbinger of things to come, no doubt!

You can play for free for two weeks, and then it's around $10 a month, depending on how many months you buy at a time. If you have a strong internet connection and a K-2 child who likes computer games, Dreambox is a great way to teach without worksheets, without pencils, without lectures. The learning is intuitive, the rewards are integrated, and the software is fun!