Alpha Mom » Heather Sanders parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Simplifying Laundry for our Busy Family + $300 GiftCard Sweepstakes Wed, 26 Feb 2014 16:24:32 +0000 (Don't miss our $300 Target GiftCard Sweepstakes)]]>

This post is underwritten by P&G.
(Please scroll down for a $300 Target GiftCard Sweepstakes)

I work from home full-time and I homeschool my kids, so to say I need life to be as efficient as possible is an understatement.

As a homeschool parent, I pour into my kids’ education as a teacher, facilitator and resource provider. While academics are an obvious part of my role in their lives, it doesn’t stop there. I am also raising responsible household managers who will stand on their own two feet one day; fully capable of the daily skills independent adults need to know.

Emelie, my older daughter (17), has been responsible for the kids’ laundry for the last two years, but this year we flipped tasks; meaning it was time for Meredith (13) to take on the kids’ laundry. Not only is she responsible for the sorting, washing, drying, and tending to “special care” items, but also for keeping us stocked with the required laundry supplies: detergent, oxygen bleach, dryer sheets, and stain removers.

While the kids were all still very young, it probably seemed to them as though our household cleaning products appeared (as if by magic) for them to use in the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms. As they’ve grown older (read: and can write legibly on the grocery/toiletry/supplies list), I’ve given them the responsibility of recording what they’ve used up, as well as keep an eye on what products need to be replaced in the near future.

Obviously, the time this saves me adds up, but even more importantly, maintaining a home is a skill all three kids will need throughout their lives.

Emelie has accompanied me to Target to purchase toiletries for several years now; so, when she began driving last year, I transferred the task of our bi-monthly household shopping trips to her.

Recently, Meredith has joined her, and though I cannot say they are always the most expedient shoppers, they have been taught to read labels and, at the very least, know the importance of being smart shoppers.

Both girls have grown up understanding our commitment to the budget, but now that they are older, we give them freedom to take advantage of unexpected savings, and even, to comparison shop.

Gain Flings Original Scent vs. Moonlight Breeze

As sisters raised in the same household, they share a lot of the same practicalities, but frequently, their individual preferences differ. For instance, all white vs. print paper towels, floral vs. fruit scented shampoo or soap, and most recently, Original Scent vs. Moonlight Breeze scented Gain Flings.

Most of the time I’m available via text to make the final decision, but sometimes the girls are left to sort it out on their own, as in the following re-enactment of a recent shopping trip where the girls picked up a few household items.

Gain Flings Simplifies Laundry for Busy Families from Heather Sanders on Vimeo.

Once my younger daughter Meredith (the daughter whose arm is not in a sling) learned that Gain Flings included Febreze, she was sold. This is a child who asked for Febreze in her Christmas stocking for years (no lie), and kept a few bottles (different fragrances, of course) to freshen up her room multiple times a day. She also frequently chased the dogs around the house spraying them. Honestly, I did not discourage this practice as I was often too busy to get them to the groomer on a regular schedule.

Though she was probably 4 or 5 then, Meredith could not say “Febreze”, but instead called the air freshener, “FreezeBreeze”, which stuck in her brain and our family’s vernacular. Years later, it is not uncommon to see “FreezeBreeze” written on the Target list.

One thing both girls (and I) agree upon is that Gain Flings may come in small packages, but their overall effect is anything but small for our busy family.

One of my biggest laundry room complaints includes the mess made by the kids who let the detergent drip down the side of the bottle. So naturally, beyond the fresh scents, what I love most about Gain Flings is that it’s a ONE STOP, NO MESS process.

The kids simply toss in ONE Fling for a small to medium load or TWO for a large or XL load. That’s it. NO MORE MESSES!

The NEW Gain Flings make boot socks smell divine - just ask Meredith.

Also? Gain Flings makes boot socks smell divine (the odor removal power of Febreze WITH the extra cleaning power of Oxi Boost does the trick) – just ask Meredith.

It’s a 3-in-1 product y’all.

The NEW Gain Flings are one of those products that simplify living in a house of 5 where laundry is a constant battle!


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Individualized Learning is a Respecter of Persons, Not Timing Mon, 24 Feb 2014 16:52:42 +0000

Every year my kids receive a Christmas tree ornament from their Izzy (my momma). She goes to great lengths to find the “perfect” ornament that best represents each kids’ interest from the preceding year. Amazingly enough, there are never a shortage of interests to select from within each given year. This past year’s ornaments were a square, Chinese carry-out box for Emelie, a Pufferfish for Meredith, and an Xbox controller for Kenny.

The kids cherish their ornaments because they fully understand that their Izzy takes time to “know” them, and as a result, is up-to-date regarding their areas of interest. Watching their faces light up and listening to them reminisce as they unwrap the ornaments each year is a precious time of trimming the tree. Not only are the ornaments a physical reminder of much of what they’ve pursued and adored throughout the years, but they are a personal validation of who they are as individuals.

These yearly gifts are treasured for much the same reason that individualized learning experiences are successful; both are uniquely personal.

Individualized Learning Requires Flexibility

As a homeschooling family flexibility is one of our greatest assets. We are not tied to daily, weekly, monthly, or even annual schedules. I’ve seen first-hand that learning has a natural ebb and flow for individuals, and it is not typically a respecter of schedules.

At age 41, I am evidence of this as I am understanding Algebra for the first time in my life. I took it in high school, and, unfortunately, again in college. Even with tutors, it never stuck–never made sense. It wasn’t until I needed to help it make sense to my own children that my head was finally able to grasp the concepts and apply them successfully. I am learning Algebra because I WANT to learn it.

I think back to when Meredith was wrapping up what would be her “3rd grade” year if she were in public school. I was frustrated that she would not (could not?) memorize her multiplication tables. I knew that, if we were to stay “on schedule,” she needed to know her multiplication tables before I could move her into long division. She had no interest in either. At that time, her sole interest was in reading and then, integrating the stories into elaborate “pull-out-all-the-stops” set-ups on the living room floor with Kenny.

I bought flash cards. Fail.

I constructed silly memory games to play on the trampoline (this had worked before). Fail.

I threatened to take away her hot chocolate and not let her wear pink for a year. Fail.

Exasperated, I backed off.

Individualized Learning Requires Self-Motivation

When the kids and I began the next school year, Kenny decided he wanted to learn his multiplication facts alongside Meredith. Well, not EXACTLY–rather, he wanted to annoy Meredith. While I drilled her, Kenny walked behind her in the schoolroom mumbling his memorized answers under his breath…just loud enough for her to hear–and fume about.

One morning, after giving him a death stare, she grabbed the cards off the table, went into her room, and came out one hour later with every.single.card.memorized.

She was self-motivated.
What was the motivation? To not be shown up by her brother.

Granted, this isn’t necessarily what I was going for, but it was an “Ah ha!” moment for me. Meredith learned her multiplication facts because she WANTED to learn them–she had found her motivation; she did NOT want her obnoxious little brother knowing more about Math than her.

Self-motivation and individualized learning have many shapes and forms, and on that day Meredith finally learned her multiplication facts while revealing her deeply competitive spirit.

Some may call this level of behavior disobedience, stubbornness, or any manner of other things. I agree, to an extent. Still, Meredith wouldn’t learn, and then she did–on her terms. I couldn’t find the motivation for her; it had to be her own. Her brainpower was toggled at the very moment she decided she wanted to memorize her math facts.

Individualized Learning Requires Trust

I read reports about kids “falling behind” in elementary school, and I shudder. I am concerned for parents who buy into the belief that learning is an annual construct–broken down by age and grade. It isn’t. It never has been and never will be.

At age 6, Kenny memorized multiplication facts (to drive his sister crazy, as I mentioned before), but fast forward to age 9 and surprisingly, he struggled with long division; in addition, his handwriting was atrocious, and his sentences were simple and loaded with grammatical errors.

We took a break from “grammar” in a traditional sense and instead he spent nearly a year copying paragraphs about some of his favorite presidents. He didn’t mind practicing his handwriting in this way because he was interested in the topic and copying the information gave him the time he wanted to ruminate over the details. I was content that he was spending time consuming information about our early presidents because he filled our ears with new information as he learned; it was a joint learning experience.

One year later, Kenny was writing complicated, grammatically correct sentences with near perfect spelling. He learned grammar organically, based upon his area of interest at the time — the early presidents. If he had no interest in the Presidents, I would have sought out other quality books for him to copy. He began asking me to check his punctuation, verb tenses, etc… in his personal writing, and he was proud that he could communicate his thoughts effectively through the written word.

Learning is a slow, steady, and oh, so personal process. It marks points in our kids’ maturity and lives without any interest in uniformity or really, convenience. Honestly, that’s what makes homeschooling so appealing for many families–it gives parents a chance to free their children to gain a basic foundation of knowledge in a way that respects who they are as individuals.

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Graduation is not the goal; it’s the by-product. Wed, 15 Jan 2014 23:52:58 +0000

My oldest child, Emelie, graduates in May. I have been asked on many occasions what constitutes graduation for Emelie; more specifically, does her transcript include a progression of classes and credits that parallel that of any student enrolled in our state’s public school system–the answer, “Yes” and “No.”

“Yes,” because, despite the fact that home schools are considered private schools within our state (Texas), and therefore remain unregulated, we chose to integrate the state’s high school diploma requirements into Emelie’s graduation plan. Since it is not her current desire to pursue a college degree, Emelie recognized that if her transcript aligned with the “Recommended” plan set by the state of Texas, if/when she decided to return to college at a later date, she would not have to waste time on any leveling courses to begin.

“No,” because, from the beginning, the goal was not for our children to graduate high school; graduation is simply a by-product of learning. Our homeschool focus is process-oriented not results-oriented; this is where our family’s educative philosophy stands polar opposite to our exposure of the local public and private school systems.

Our homeschool focus is process, not results, oriented.

When Emelie began her high school level coursework, we loosely divided it into a 4-year structure, but she always understood that the structure itself was malleable. Once she mastered a concept, she moved on–regardless of the semester or “year” that the subject matter was assigned to in the overall picture. The same could be said for areas where she required more time to grasp concepts, such as Algebra.

When, or how long our kids take to learn something is irrelevant. Our individual strengths and weaknesses play a large part in the movement of information to understanding. What matters is that when the kids do “get it,” they are able to use it; otherwise, it is a waste of time and can hardly be called “learning.”

For the record, I will have to state that although I am re-learning Algebra to facilitate Emelie’s (and eventually, her siblings) understanding of the subject, I am stumped for how it (generally or specifically) applies to life. In every other subject, I can make correlations between it and the real world, but I am honestly beginning to believe Algebra was created for the sole purpose of serving as an academic “stump the chump” rite of passage; which, in my opinion, makes me wonder if it should be part of any academic plan.

Our homeschool is not without standards.

Our homeschool is not without standards; in fact, we firmly believe standards are imperative, but because we involve the kids (our students) in the decision making regarding their individual, educational path, they learn how to set reasonable, attainable goals in order to reach the future they envision.

This discipline, in and of itself, is far more valuable than following a ubiquitous construct that serves no other purpose than saying, “Ha! I made it through four years and here is a diploma to prove it.”

To say the high school goal is to graduate is much like saying one’s career goal is to be successful; both are temporal. Graduation is a movement from one arena to another, and success gets redefined soon after it’s reached. We do not teach our kids to hang their hat on either one.

The outcome (graduation/success) is fleeting, but the tangible knowledge and skills gained in the process is where the focus must stay because THAT is what will make the most difference in our kids’ lives way beyond their school years.

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Homeschooling Selects Specialization Over Well-roundedness Tue, 03 Dec 2013 13:46:35 +0000

Regardless of the fact that studies suggest homeschool students who go on to college will outperform their peers and that homeschooling has gained enough mainstream attention that some colleges actively recruit homeschool students, those of us who homeschool still receive criticisms that we are somehow limiting our kids’ opportunities.

In the past, those opposed to homeschooling spouted that homeschoolers lacked socialization, but research reveals the opposite–that they are significantly more likely to participate in community service initiatives, join civic, religious or business organizations and be politically involved.

Now, the naysayers’ most frequent misconception is that homeschooling parents cannot possibly know every area of study enough to offer a stellar, well-rounded education for their children.

They are 100% right.

Fortunately, many homeschooling families are not as concerned with offering their children a well-rounded education as they are with walking alongside them as they find their place in the world–and by that, I mean helping them recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and honing that knowledge into a future career path.

Isn’t that why we educate our children?

Be honest–it isn’t purely for the love of knowledge, right? I imagine if we are all brutally honest we will admit that we want the best education for our children so they will eventually leave our home, engaged in a stimulating career that both challenges them and pays their bills.

If that is the case, and eventually we want our kids to make enough money to support themselves, then “specializing” is more important than well-roundedness.

Think about it. Why is there such a heavy push for well-roundedness in the early education through high school years when the first thing high school graduates must do (before even applying for college) is choose a major (area of specialty)?

It hardly makes sense to force students into cookie cutter paths for 12 years, and then when they graduate, tell them to stop thinking like everyone else; now they must define what they want from their lives/careers.

As a homeschooling parent, my own lack of well-roundedness will not negatively affect my kids’ futures. How can it when I have the freedom to fine-tune their education for their individual needs, strengths, and areas of interests?

Also, if they need to develop a skill-set their father and I do not have, there are a number of resources available. They can find and work with mentors, which could be family, friends, or even someone they do not yet know, but can approach because of that person’s knowledge and experience in their field of interest. There are also more straightforward options available, like dual-credit courses at the local college and university.

A parent’s lack of educational omniscience will, in reality, never get in the way of their children’s future; only a lack of motivation can do that. For this reason, the argument regarding well-roundedness is hardly an argument at all, and why I feel strongly that most parents or guardians can successfully homeschool.

Well-roundedness is unfounded because the logical result is a person who knows a little bit of everything, which means they don’t know a lot about anything. Personally, I do not want a well-rounded brain surgeon, and I could care less if my mechanic knows the major themes of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. And what do you bet, if asked, the parents of brain surgeons and mechanics saw the early interest or propensity that lead up to their child’s current career? Both are valid careers, but neither require a well-rounded education; what they require is focus, commitment, and dedication to their specialty.

For those who feel that homeschooling compromises a child’s opportunities, think again. Parents and guardians are in a prime position for leading their students towards a profitable career because they KNOW the children in their care the best, have their best interest at heart, and this is true whether they are doctors and lawyers or truck-drivers.

Photo Source: ZANYBAH

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Career-minded Parents Can Homeschool Too! Mon, 04 Nov 2013 13:13:33 +0000

It has been a stressful few weeks, which may not be a wise time to write a post that fits within the parameters of “What Everyone Can Learn from Homeschooling Parents.” Or, maybe that is an entirely wrong mindset. Maybe this is the most beneficial time to write about homeschooling–a time when even a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils could hardly ease the day enough to put a smile on my face.

Three cheers for transparency!

Things are difficult right now. With the holidays on the horizon, finances are tight, and as the only fluctuating income in the household, I am stretched uncomfortably thin–some important decisions need to be made, and soon. What I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that we will make whatever decisions are necessary to continue homeschooling–it is that important to us as a family.

Homeschooling is Not Just For the Privileged Few

There is a common misconception that homeschooling is only an option for the privileged few; specifically those families who can afford to have one parent working a full-time career while the other parent stays home to teach.

By extension, this rules out homeschooling as an educational option for single parents as well as two-parent households who need dual incomes to make ends meet, which in the United States, is the majority.

Our family and most two-parent homeschooling families I know have chosen a dual career/income lifestyle. Some manage with one parent bringing in a part-time income, but both my husband and I work full-time; my work is online, so I am the primary homeschooling parent.

It Is Possible to Homeschool and Work Full-Time

Balancing working from home full-time while simultaneously homeschooling three kids is a feat. On most days, I rise to take on this challenge with vigor, but when I accept work above and beyond my sustainable flow, things quickly fall apart and subsequently, my family suffers for it.

This is why each year I comprise a new plan because each new year comes with its own set of family activities and individual responsibilities, as well as knowledge of what did, and what did not, work the preceding year.

After nearly 7 years of homeschooling, I have proven that I can work full-time AND homeschool, but I am also aware that, as with anything worth doing, it takes perseverance and commitment.

More Flexibility for Parents Who Work Full-Time

Honestly, I am no busier than my friends who manage full-time careers outside of the home while simultaneously caravanning their kids to and from school, dental/orthodontic and doctor appointments, music lessons and recitals, theater practice and performance, and sports practices and tournaments.

What I notice, however, is that my schedule is entirely more flexible–and not because I work from home (although that may play a part at times), but because the kids’ schooling is more flexible.

This flexibility is why a girlfriend of mine who is a single parent can homeschool her son in the evening hours after dinner. While she is at work, her son stays with a friend who owns an auto-repair shop. The set-up is a dream come true for this boy who loves cars and would not otherwise be afforded the time or experience learning about this trade in such a hands-on way.

Being master of one’s own schedule is also one of the reasons why doctors and lawyers are choosing to homeschool their children.

At the end of the day, the freedom of self-directed learning reduces the amount of stress we all feel–kids included, which lessens the overall burden on the family. I chose to make my primary role one of wife and mother, but I still desire to work–so it is important that I fit my career into the overall picture.

As a parentrepreneur, I enjoy “eschewing the status quo and finding innovative ways to advance the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth of [my] children.”

After all, I created this type of working environment for myself, so it makes sense to afford my children the same opportunity.

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Failure is a Possibility. Expect it. Tue, 08 Oct 2013 13:44:24 +0000

I homeschool my children, teach writing classes for our local homeschool cooperative, and write about homeschooling. For all practical purposes, it may appear as though I know what I am doing – that I am confident about educating my children; that would be true most of the time.

However, just because I have taken full responsibility for the direction of my kids’ education does not mean I don’t question myself. Believe me, I question myself regularly: about the curriculum I select, the approach I take, whether our family’s decision will in any way limit our kids’ opportunities, when and where to find tutors in struggle areas, etc.

Those who stay actively engaged in their children’s public or private schools are tuned-in to local school board decisions, academic direction, and teaching standards. Homeschooling families meet the same concerns head-on, but in a more direct, tangible, “Holy crap what are we using for this year’s history curriculum?” kind of way.

If I fail at homeschooling my children, it is my fault. I can’t in true faith point the finger at a fledgling administration, an exhausted, underpaid teacher, or a poor curriculum.

However, throughout this journey, I have learned the only sure-fire way to fail is never to try at all. So here’s what I do: I overwrite my fear of failure with an active approach – knowing full well I will “fail” along the way and need to assess, adjust, and accelerate in a different direction.

Actively Overwriting the Fear of Failure

I know of no better visual representation for our approach to homeschooling than the photo above of my two daughters, Emelie and Meredith, and my cousin (their cousin once removed), Olivia.

This photo rests in a frame on the piano lid right at eye level for my younger daughter (the only member of our household who plays piano). It serves as an inspiration that failure is temporal; that, with the right tools and perseverance, success is at her (literal) fingertips.

On the day of the photo, the girls were trying rather unsuccessfully at first, to capture an action shot.

My grandmother has a concrete pig aptly named Wilbur in her side yard. The girls wanted the photo to essentially “frame” Olivia balanced on the pig between their two jumping bodies. Using Emelie’s iPhone and the GorillaCam they discovered while looking for self-timer photo apps, the girls probably took no less than 50 shots trying to photograph what was in their cumulative mind’s eye.

Before they managed to capture the final photo, they soaked their shoes and butts in the rain-drenched grass, their stomachs were sore from laughing hysterically at the many less-than-successful photo captures, and they were plain tired of jumping, and in Liv’s case, posing on the pig.

And yet, in spite of one failed attempt after another, they kept on doing it.

They kept on trying.

Now we have this photo as proof of their success, and as a reminder that even seemingly trivial undertakings can easily become difficult, but in the end, are worth the sustained effort.

Education Requires a Sustained Effort

Failure is always a possibility; expect it. It is why a solid education requires a sustained effort, regardless of where that education occurs.

When people approach or email me saying, “I think it is wonderful what you do, but I could never homeschool!” I know it isn’t correct. The truth of what they are saying is “I think it is wonderful what you do, but I don’t want to.”, “…am afraid I might fail.”, or “…am not certain what choice is right for me and my family.”

All of those are valid.

Homeschooling is not the only choice; it is simply one choice. It is our family’s choice.

We give home education our all because our all will not always be good enough initially, but if we persevere, will always be good enough eventually.


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Be Flexible – Learning Does Not Have a “Face” Mon, 02 Sep 2013 15:06:18 +0000

The most attractive asset available for homeschooling families is flexibility. Not just the freedom to change what is not working, but in the process of building a framework for life-long learning, releasing the notion that learning, in and of itself, has a face; and that it must look like “x” or “y”.

For instance, when my older daughter Emelie was moving through her three years of ASL (American Sign Language), Meredith often chose to join us on the hour-and-a-half journey, and two hour class block. This required that she carefully select the work she felt most capable of accomplishing in the midst of a somewhat noisy coffee house environment where we went after dropping off her sister. Of course, this was the same decision I made each week in my office away from home – choosing email correspondence and design over writing posts.

In this instance, her learning environment was a Starbucks. She planned accordingly, and took responsibility for her day’s schedule and made certain to schedule an earlier morning to push through the work she knew she could not do away from home – be it because of a lack of space, materials, or just the sheer number of interruptions intrinsic to an active public place.

It was Meredith’s choice to make, and she made the necessary adjustments for accomplishing her daily goals without missing out on time with her sister and me.

How Expectations Can Thwart Flexibility

Recently, I wrote about living at the epicenter of a navigational nightmare. My home is the first (or last, depending on the perspective) home on Rollingwood Drive. Just a few feet from my driveway Woodland Valley Drive begins, which would not be a problem for most people if we lived on a corner, but we do not – we live in the middle of an ongoing street. One moment drivers are on Rollingwood Drive, and then, when they pass our home, they are on Woodland Valley Drive.

Laughable Street Sign

I watch the same cars pass by two or three times, but the drivers simply cannot grasp that midway the street changes names, even with the laughable street sign that clearly designates the somewhat abrupt transition.

Why is this so hard to grasp? Expectations.

We have expectations based on experience, and that experience tells us that streets maintain the same name until, at the least, a cross street interrupts the flow. When what we see fails to measure up to what we expect, it takes a bit of time to absorb, adjust, and “recompute”.

The same inflexible, trapped thinking applies to an approach many take with their children’s education. For those of us raised in public or private school scenarios, learning looks like a building full of classrooms, teachers, and standardized curriculum, but just like a church is not a building, but instead, a body of believers, learning is not an identifiable structure so much as it is a body of knowledge, with knowledge being the application of experiential learning.

Thankfully, a solid education can occur anywhere.

To offer our children the best possible learning experiences, we must toss the assumption that learning requires a certain place or position. Rather, that unconventional, effective learning happens every day, from the back seat of a big rig, on a 40′ Lagoon Catamaran, driving an RV across the country while entering kayaking competitions, or in the offices of members of the state legislature.

Flexibility paints a more positive educational outcome – allowing kids to discover whom they are in a safe environment that builds confidence and fosters independence.

Children mature into young adults as they begin to see their strengths and weaknesses, and with guidance, will set their own individualized path toward their future goals, all the while excelling and owning their learning experience.

Do your children have a flexible learning environment? Do you agree/disagree that flexibility is a crucial part of growing and learning?


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Don’t Fall into the “Let’s Get Through It” Mentality Mon, 05 Aug 2013 15:22:18 +0000

As a home educator, I am required to take full responsibility for asking questions when presented with new information, which is exactly what this year’s homeschool conference forced me to remember.

The weekend’s workshops made evident how easily all parents fall into the “let’s just get through it” mentality in any given subject (i.e. higher level Math subjects like Algebra, Algebra 2, etc…). Instead, we need to stretch toward the ultimate goal of grooming life-long learners who uphold the merits of full understanding over short-term memorization.

Friends who teach in public and private school settings explain that there is no longer time to focus on individual student struggles in class, and with the decreasing role of parents, there is a perspective shift; now, the teacher, not the parent or student, seems to be solely responsible for whether a student succeeds or not.

It is an unfair expectation and fails on so many levels.

Educating the whole child.

Two years ago my oldest daughter started Algebra 1. I struggled through Math in high school and college, so I surrendered my daughter’s Math education into the capable hands of the local homeschool cooperative. The Algebra 1 class met every Monday morning, attended a lecture that covered a number of lessons, and received countless problems to take home and prove their mastery of the subject.

It was a nightmarish experience for her; not because the teacher was incapable – she was highly-skilled and knowledgeable – but because my daughter did not grasp the “why” of what she was learning, I failed to provide the necessary mentoring in the midst of her weakness, and by default, missed building a foundation to carry her through the year. Not only that, my own insecurities with Math led to the illogical assumption that there were “Math” people and “English” people, and ne’er the two shall meet.

I handicapped my daughter with my (real or imagined) ignorance, and then the next year, I did it again by tossing her into a Geometry class with a barely workable comprehension of Algebra. She cried her way through Geometry, often working 4 hours to get through a single lesson, feeling like an idiot compared to other classmates who just seemed to “get it” without trying.

Somewhere in that two year span I lost the mindset that our family’s homeschooling goal was always to educate by building upon one mastered concept after another – teaching the “why”, as opposed to nonsensical rules, formulas, tricks, and shortcuts.

Do NOT be afraid to change what is NOT working.

In every parent’s mind, there are moments when we cannot run from the truth. This is my oldest daughter’s last year of high school. In order to graduate, she must complete Algebra 2. The two of us have dreaded it through the entire Summer – that is until a workshop at this weekend’s homeschool conference revealed that only an insane person does the same thing over and over expecting different results.

Without a foundation in Algebra 1, she cannot possibly master Algebra 2. While I never expect her to love Math in the way she loves art, design, or the written word, I failed to provide an example of resourcefulness; a skill-set she will need throughout her life.

There we were at one of the largest homeschooling conventions in the state of Texas, with an exhibit hall of curriculum and teaching experts readily available for extensive question and answer sessions. I set out on a quest to find a program that approached the same subject from a different viewpoint – one that could provide new insight and deeper understanding for my daughter.

This year we will begin a new program – one bent on enabling students to develop the ability to think analytically and to understand the “why” behind Algebra. Are we certain it will work? Of course not. Are we willing to take a chance? Yes. Will we keep trying until we find a solution? Absolutely.

Parents are their kids’ primary educators, whether the kids attend school at home or away from home. We need to be in the trenches with them, teaching them the problem solving skills they need so when they do graduate and move into the real world, they can apply the same model of resourcefulness and critical thinking in life.

Besides, I am a strong believer if one can get through Algebra – they can get through anything.

What hurdles have you overcome, or know are on the horizon, in the upcoming school year?


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Building the Framework for Life-long Learners Mon, 01 Jul 2013 13:49:26 +0000

I have always been curious about homeschooling and one thing I know is that we can all learn from these parent educators. And with that, I am honored to welcome Heather Sanders as a regular contributor. I have been a fan of Heather’s for years now and am looking forward to her sharing her educational insights monthly. ~Isabel


I am a homeschooling parent. This has not always been the case. My oldest child, who is now 16, was in a Montessori school for Pre-K and public school in Kindergarten and 1st grade; we began homeschooling when she was in 2nd grade. A few years later, we enrolled all three children – one in a private Pre-K, and the other two in public school for two years while my husband and I worked to pay off debts and save to buy a home. To date we have homeschooled for a total of 7 years.

Regardless of where a child’s learning occurs, it is my experience that most parents agree about the importance of taking an active role in their child’s education. As a home educator, I glean from the experiential wisdom of other homeschooling parents as well as friends who teach in public and private schools. Knowing how tremendously helpful this is for me, I believe the reverse is also true; there are many things parents of public or private schooled students can learn from homeschooling parents.

Change comes with greater understanding.

Our homeschooling experience morphed through the years, starting from a naive, highly structured yet unattainable schedule, to a looser, but still structured curriculum-based schedule, and now, a blend of “curriculum + local cooperative + interest-led” learning.

As a home educator, I seek out truths about the basis of learning, making modifications to our homeschooling processes as the need becomes evident. This means I am responsible to ask questions when presented with new information. For instance, recently I debated whether learning should always be fun, and decided that no, it does not always have to be fun, but must strive to be intriguing while at the same time have real life, practical applications.

One of the things I believe everyone can learn from homeschooling parents is recognition of how the current educational system often fails students and what parents can supplement to off-set this deficit.

Memorizing is not the same as learning.

In most public or private school systems a child typically advances to the next grade level when he reaches or exceeds a specific academic average in each of the required subjects for his current grade level. Basically, the completion of the required work is recognized as mastery.

However, mastery is defined as a “full command or understanding of a subject”, and unfortunately, what is becoming increasingly clearer, but what administrators are not ready to face, is that what test scores really measure is not a student’s individual mastery, but how she compares to her fellow students when echoing memorized material.

In his article, “What medical education can learn from homeschooling”, Craig Koniver, MD wrote, “The idea of learning the facts by themselves in an isolated manner makes no sense anymore…We are fooling ourselves thinking that random facts mean anything.”

Koniver’s family practices a style of homeschooling called “Unschooling” (also known as Interest Led Learning) where there is no curriculum and the kids choose what they want to learn and when they want to learn it. He supports this method of teaching based on his experience with traditional education, medical school, and working in the medical field. For instance, just as the Krebs cycle was “gibberish” to Koniver when he regurgitated it for a test, only becoming real when he was dealing with a patient with a mitochondrial disease, a child’s curiosity for learning is essential in order to reach mastery of the subject matter.

In other words, there is a difference between knowing and understanding the content, and the ability to regurgitate information on paper is totally meaningless. What kids memorize, they forget. Trying to force-feed MORE content into our kids’ heads, instead of watching and engaging them in their area of interests, does not equate to learning, and certainly not to mastery of content. The learning experience must be real – it must matter.

In his TEDxSinCity address, Dr. Wyatt Woodsmall stated, “We live in a world in which we are drowning in data. Data is increasing at an exponential rate, and most of it is absolutely worthless, and irrelevant…Organized information is knowledge. Knowledge plus experience equals understanding. Understanding plus more diverse experience equals wisdom. We don’t need to cram data into people’s heads. What this society desperately needs is wisdom.”

If one buys into this breakdown of how to obtain wisdom, it is clear that the path MUST involve experience, experience, and MORE experience.

Experience as a gateway to wisdom?

This past year, in our local homeschool cooperative, my son Kenny was expected to memorize all the 50 states and their capitols. He managed to do it quite effectively, but the states and capitols that required no prompting whatsoever were those we drove through in our 2011 family road trip that took us out of Texas and through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico before returning home.

He knew where we were going (knowledge). At each stop, we experienced a taste of that state – from swimming in freshwater springs and climbing in caves, plummeting hundreds of feet underground to tour a salt mine, scaling Pike’s peak and exploring cliff dwellings, spying wildlife of all types like Elk and Bison, checking out hydrothermal areas in Yellowstone – including Old Faithful, viewing copper mines that can even be seen from space, standing in awe at the majesty of the Grand Canyon, as well as the Miraculous Stairway in the Loretto Chapel.

Experience, experience, and MORE experience.

Obviously, budget and time constraints limit most of us from plunging into that depth of experience on a day to day basis (it has been 2 years since our trip and we are STILL unable to take another), however, homeschooling on the road is not the only way to ensure students absorb information. Parents can provide opportunities for interest-based learning experiences after school and on weekends.

Kids learn when they are interested.

Why is it important to pursue interest-based learning experiences? The perfect time for kids to gain an understanding of information is when they are interested. That particular time is not age or grade specific; the determining factor is level of motivation. Desire, coupled with readiness (ability) is key because, like the rest of us, kids essentially learn what they WANT to learn WHEN they want to learn it.

The parent’s role is to clue in to opportunities for teaching and provide resources (often the primary resource is TIME).

As an example, my son loves geography and LEGOs. His entire room is organized around these two themes.

Kenny's entire room is organized Geography and LEGOs.

I used this knowledge for his benefit when he was learning area and perimeter. After inspecting a fortress he built, it was easy enough to point out how he could calculate the area (the amount of space inside a shape) of his creation using the studs (the little “bumps” on top of LEGOs). He calculated the area of his rectangular structure by multiplying the length by the width.

Then, we established the perimeter (the distance all the way around his fortress) by counting the studs and adding them all together.

Easy enough, right?

Using LEGOs to learn area and perimeter in Math.

This type of understanding can extend beyond the basics. When he needs to seed in his mind the various formulas for establishing the area of a parallelogram, rhombus, trapezoid, or even a shape that has to be broken down to several different shapes, we can still do this using LEGO structures.

It takes TIME.
It takes ENERGY.
It takes EFFORT.

Still, initiating this further development as a parent does two things; 1) it hones a particular skill set and 2) strengthens relationships as kids recognize that their parents are interested in what THEY are interested in. When we dig into their area of interest, we validate it – which is a reward in and of itself.

Sometimes our only job as parents is to step out of the way, like when Emelie and Kenny became absorbed in a self-directed project of drawing and water coloring human organs.

Drawing and Water coloring Human Organs

Kenny was studying Human Anatomy as part of his regular homeschooling, so he was already familiar with their shape and functions. Though their intention was not to create identical replications of each organ, they were somewhat consistent. I was impressed by the work they accomplished together.

They worked on this task for several days until they were tired of it and moved on to something else. Their interest was their motivating force, and my only job was to have the supplies at the ready (large 18 1/2 x 12″ sketchpads, Sharpies, watercolors and paintbrushes).

I have no doubt that the experience of this art project moved Kenny from basic knowledge to understanding. A few months later when his anemia led to blood transfusion after blood transfusion, there was much more discussion about the heart, another interest-based experience on a path to understanding and wisdom.

Building the framework for life-long learners means recognizing this path is never complete, but that, as parents, we need to assume a level of responsibility for learning or lack of learning that takes place while they are still under our care.

What sort of interest based or supplementary learning ideas have you integrated, or can you integrate, into your child’s education?


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