Archive for the ‘BW and public school’ Category

Delay grades as long as you can


Unless you are making a transcript for college applications, homeschool is no place for grades.

That’s a strong absolute statement—the sort I refrain from making on this page. If you are using a grading system for a reason that makes sense in your family, please don’t take this post as an indictment of that practice. You do you!

For the rest of us—for homeschoolers who ask me regularly about how to “grade” writing—I offer you the following thoughts.

Letter grades (scores) in years K-8 are irrelevant to your children. We parents are used to the hang-over of traditional school where our parents were able to determine if we were performing adequately by the report card at the end of the semester.

You live with your children as they learn. You know if they know how to read, how to spell, and how to calculate. You know where they get stuck on the times tables and when they surge ahead to mastery.

The goal isn’t to measure and label the achievements of your child with a value judgment (grade). Rather, your job is to identify the areas of growth and to establish a trajectory for continued skill acquisition. If you become concerned that your child is struggling specifically in an area (you see little change in the course of an entire year of consistent, kindly supported effort), you may want to ask your peers or an expert if they would “worry yet” about a learning disability or some other impediment to natural growth.

I still wouldn’t grade that child. Grades forge an “outside-in” identity—either “I’m not as good as others,” or “I’m way better than others.” Each of those identities is flawed and unhelpful to your child’s unique educational path. The child is not evaluating self based on his or her own curiosity and skill strength from within. Rather, grades drive the child to either feel discouraged (I can’t learn this) or sometimes to feel overly self-confident (I already know this; Why do I have to keep reading/growing/studying?).

Curiosity about a subject area is the best feature of a homeschool education. A child can go as far as he or she likes. There isn’t an arbitrary end when a grade has been assigned, as though the study of the subject is confined to a school term and is now complete. Rather, topics and skills blend together, weaving in and out of each other, informing one another, for the duration of the home education lifestyle.

This is why it is difficult to explain to other friends and family how homeschooling works. Your children don’t identify with “going up a grade level” or “finishing math” in the same way traditionally schooled children do. The end markers aren’t there in the same ways.

But this is all to the good! You really can let Ancient Rome take over your homeschool for 18 months because in it, you’ll discover math, science, literature, spelling, grammar, foreign language, mythology, art, religion, and (obviously) history! There’s no “discreet unit” about Ancient Rome that lasts 16 pre-planned weeks with objectives to cover and tests to prove you are finished. There is only learning and exploring as long as Ancient Rome fascinates and gets the job done (leading your children into a glorious “science of relations” between all subject areas).

As long as those connections are happening, you are in the homeschool zone where learning is experienced and validated by how engaged your children are in interesting subject matter.

High school is a time when you may assign grades. But let me throw out a word of caution here. Most colleges/universities have little regard for the grades of a homeschooling parent. They are focused much more on the standardized tests (ACT, SAT) that either validate or invalidate the homemade transcript.


You don’t have to suddenly become a scrupulous parent-teacher where you give unnecessarily harsh grades to your child to “prove” you weren’t biased.

Nor should you become the mom who overlooks a child’s performance in order to give all “As.”

What you want to do is give As for completion of work, and mastery of the material insofar as you can measure that. Don’t labor over it. Bs are fine too.

Then make a transcript that has both grades (GPA) and course descriptions. The transcript should match the SAT/ACT score. In other words, don’t pretend your child did Honor’s level work and is a 4.5 GPA student if the SAT and ACT score are average (in the 50-70%). (If you need help, check out The HomeScholar, and Lee Binz’s excellent transcript services.)

Your child has had an avant-garde education. Focus on that in the application. Don’t try to make your kids look like they went to public school. Major on the unique experiences, reading, and areas of expertise they have cultivated while home educated. THAT’S their ticket to college.

And the essay: make sure it’s a winner!

Bottom line: grades are school’s domain. Homeschool is built from different bricks. Focus on the strengths of homeschool and let go of the tools of traditional school. You’ll be glad you did.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © Leslie Banks |

Beware of the “Random Assessment”

Beware the Random Assessment
Jacob and Caitrin Bogart

You know the one. Your mother-in-law drops by and suggests that before you serve your son ice cream, you make him spell “ice cream.” (Literally a mom just shared this story with me in email.)

You’re at the Thanksgiving table, and your Aunt Bev springs a pop quiz on your daughter: “What’s 6 times 8, darling? Surely by fifth grade, you have covered the 8s.”

Your best friend (who doesn’t homeschool) looks at your child who is standing off to the side during soccer practice break, singing loudly to herself—arms extended to the sky, and says, “Kylie isn’t comfortable with large groups of kids her own age, is she?”

Sometimes your spouse who works in the education establishment (professor, principle, junior high counselor, fifth grade teacher, AP Psych instructor) blindsides you: “Haven’t you taught Evan the essay? All the eighth graders in our district learned it by Christmas. What curriculum are you using anyway?”

These are the un-standardized tests of home education. Everyone feels free to quiz your kids, to “catch them” in their particular gap, to discover how you (the instructing parent) have come up short as a teacher. It’s uncanny how universal this intrusive practice is! It’s as though everyone feels qualified to prove to you that you aren’t doing as good a job as the brick and mortar schools.

Imagine doing this to a kid who is in school!

The usual conversation usually goes more like this:

Uncle Tom: “What’s your favorite class?”

Kid: “I don’t know.”

Uncle Tom: “You don’t have one?”

Kid: “Um, PE I guess.”

Uncle Tom: “Ha ha. Okay. I get it. You don’t love school. I didn’t either.”

End of discussion. They then fall into talking about their favorite NFL teams.

But with homeschooled kids, rather than ask: “What are you learning that interests you?” The intrusive relative or friend decides to find out if the kid is actually learning anything of traditional school value.

Weirdly, homeschooled kids are far more likely to answer the “favorite subject” question because they usually have one! They often actually like learning the stuff they explore at home.

Let’s fix this. Here are a few ideas to head-off the casual interloping assessor, particularly on anticipated family holidays:

1) Display all evidence of substantial projects and studies. It’s great to have the telescope in the family room, to frame child artwork and hang it on the walls, to bind and publish beautiful copywork or writing and leave it on the coffee table, to hang well drawn maps on the bulletin board, to display science experiments and complicated Lego creations on the mantel, and so on. Say nothing. Let the artifacts speak their silent eloquence to your amazing homeschool.

2) Ask the sympathetic relative to lead the way with questions about a child’s favorite stuff—don’t feel the need to pretend your kid likes medieval history if what he really loves is roller coasters. Simply give that kid the chance to rattle off all he knows about roller coasters. Trust me. It’s always impressive. Homeschool kids self-express with enthusiastic detail when they are passionate about a topic.

3) Encourage your kids to volunteer what they are good at and know well. Prime the pump. Let them know that Grandpa Eli is skeptical about homeschooling and may randomly test them. They can subvert that tendency by offering some well-told stories of their learning adventures (the time they created their own sluice for a pretend Gold Rush, the time they built their own light switch, their book of drawings of WWII tanks, their green belt in taekwondo).

You can’t stop the pop quizzing, but you can be ready for it. The best thing to say when the adult over does it with specific test-type questions is: “We’re on break. No tests allowed!”

Even though this isn’t how you operate, it’s familiar language and usually shuts up the nosey.

Finally, my best advice? Give them pie. That usually does the trick.

When They Don’t Get It: Surviving the Holidays

Trust, feather in, and prepare

The little ghost of public school past may whisper that you are behind at any given moment. She expects six subjects per day, carefully divided into hour-long segments, with lunch dissecting the day at noon.

You, on the other hand, had a busy month. You had a baby; you worked part time; your husband was sent on a tour of duty with the military; your youngest got tubes put in her ears; you found out you were pregnant and now are exhausted and nauseous; the remodel is taking an extra month; your mother-in-law had hip surgery and is staying at your house; a hurricane blew into your city; your car broke down; your dog’s cancer became terminal…

Any one of those could be you right now.

Life exhausts all of us some months and homeschool vanishes. When those months come during the “official” school year, we panic and try to make up for lost time the next month. We feel pressure to “catch up.” We transfer that pressure to the kids, and sometimes short change the subject matter in our hurry to rush ahead to the “right” place in the text book or lessons. Life becomes harried and unhappy very quickly under these conditions.

Let me start with a little demythologizing to help you.

Did you know, for instance, that in school when a teacher leaves due to an imminent birth, the new substitute sometimes puts on a video each day for a week or two before the lesson plans kick in?

Did you know that sometimes schools go through trauma (shootings or vandalism or weather-related damage) that lead to skipping whole chunks of information when the regular school hours return?

Did you know that some teachers are not as effective at teaching as others?

Schools are not uniformly efficient in following schedules or completing lesson plans every year, in every subject. Know that, so that you can successfully “flick” the ghost of public school past off of your shoulder. You are not a school and you are not required to follow a school schedule or system. Even schools can’t always get it done!

Now TRUST home education! You homeschool for good reasons:

1) tailor-made learning,

2) variety of learning activities and experiences,

3) the ability to speed up and slow down,

4) self-teaching by the kids,

5) flexibility!

When you feel like a month went down the tubes, follow this principle:

FEATHER in the subject areas over the course of a few weeks. You can choose to simply get back to the easy workbooks (like math and handwriting) for a couple weeks while you sort through what else you’d like to do with your kids. You don’t have to resume a full homeschool schedule for every day of that month. Start small and build. It’s okay to not know after a month from h-e-double toothpicks what else you want to do besides those easy lessons. Use the new month to find out.

PREPARE for the other subjects before you expect output from the kids. Rather than racing ahead into the unfamiliar material, take time to read the instructions, grasp the vision, and understand the philosophy of the materials. Get to know the books or guidelines, over tea or coffee, while the kids watch videos or play with Legos or jump on the trampoline. No harm comes to them while they play and you prepare.

All kids benefit from well-planned lessons. Take your time to offer your kids a meaty experience, rather than a rushed one, thrown together by guilt.


A side-note: I have a problem with “open-and-go” as a philosophy of learning. While convenient, particularly with a large family, some of the learning (the rich, deep, invested learning) needs to be the kind that takes consideration and thoughtfulness. What will your kids remember from their homeschooled childhoods? Workbooks that were so easy to use, a parent could open them, give the instructions to the child at a glance, and then return to the computer or the laundry or phone?

Or will they remember the month you took two weeks to think about a month-long writing experience, where you discovered the ideas ahead of time, prepared for the experience with enthusiasm, tools, and know-how, and then executed that experience with lovely, distraction-free, carved-out time and nurturing?

I know you want the latter. We all do. You can create it. Take your time to get there.

Trust that home education works. Because it does.

Feather in the subjects one or two at a time, with space for them to take hold, before you get all the plates spinning at once.

Prepare for the more challenging subjects, consciously, while your kids are busy in the same house, if need be. Plan for rich experiences that take up the entire morning and displace some of those other subjects if need be.

Image by Xlibber

Show offs!

Long Before the Third Grade TestImage by welcometolearn

Testing is for school where no one can pay close enough attention to your child to know if he or she has actually read a book or studied math facts or was paying attention during the history lecture.

You don’t live that way. If your child’s nose is stuck in a book, say, Johnny Tremain, you know he’s read it. You don’t have to wonder or prove to him or you or anyone else that he read it. Did he understand what he read? If he is naturally chatting to you about the story, you can assume he did. Standardized tests are designed to “catch” the kids falling through the cracks that no one is noticing in a classroom of 30. Some of those tests are a tad strange, too. They expect kids to read looking to answer a question at the end of the reading, rather than finding out what the child took in, how the child processed the information personally, inside.

As a home educator, you can bypass that rigid, “find-fault” system by being attentive to your children.

Rather than “testing” your kids or assigning book reports and artificial measurements that are school “hang-overs,” encourage your kids to be show-offs! Foster an environment where your kids know they are smart and maturing by how well they use the information and experiences they gather naturally.

For instance, a child who loves a poem by Tennyson can memorize it to share with a grandparent via Skype. She can illustrate it. She might copy it with a fountain pen into a copywork book. She might compare the poem to another poem by Tennyson to see if he uses the same rhyme scheme or poetic rhythm.

A child whose fascination with WWII tanks becomes passionate can be encouraged to share his new expertise through a blog or by drawing each tank and labeling it in a book that is left on the coffee table for others to read. Maybe it’s enough to simply talk about tanks at dinner, asking your son his opinions and deferring to what he knows. Then watch a few old movies that feature the tanks. When WWII comes up in family conversations, ask for your son’s opinion. Let his expertise guide the conversation.

Father SonsThe main distinction between school and homeschool ought to be that the child has the chance to repeatedly express expertise naturally, with flourish. Your goal is to raise kids who will go out into the world (their professional world, families, and online) armed with confidence in what they know and their ability to articulate it. That confidence is built through repeated chances to “show off” not through tests that remind the child of what he hasn’t mastered yet.

Testing (that uncomfortable measurement designed to show what a child doesn’t know) has no place in your living room. Showing off does!


P.S. I had a student who earned a 95 on her essay in my college class email me to ask how she might “improve her grade.” She’s got a straight A in my class, wrote a wonderful paper, and is an active participant in class. Yet she is concerned that she didn’t “get a 100.” This is the problem with grading and testing. She couldn’t enjoy her success! She was focused on what fault the grade had found in her.

At home, you don’t have to give grades or scores. You can interact naturally with your kids, affirming them, asking questions that challenge them to dig deeper, and modeling for them what it looks like to analyze, consider, and revise one’s point of view. What a privilege!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image of father and sons © Alevtina Guzova |

Create question marks

Question markImage by The Italian Voice

Neil Postman (famous educator) says, “Children enter school as question marks and come out as periods.”

Homeschool gives you the opportunity to resist that trend. While the impartation of our own worldview, beliefs, and values is often part of what motivates the choice to home educate, we must resist the temptation to “download” those ideas onto the heads of our children, blunting their natural curiosity and creativity.

The best educational models rely on the Socratic method of inquiry—asking good questions. Writing depends on the ability to ask yourself good questions. Your leadership at home can facilitate that growth and development.

Here’s how.

1) Ask thoughtful questions (even if you think you know the answer):

“What might have motivated Paul Revere to ride through New England warning ‘The British are coming!’?”

“Why do you think we practice X as a tradition?”

2) Ask imagination questions:

“What would it feel like to wake up in the morning and see a green sky and blue grass?”

“If you could fly, what might be a few of the dangers you’d encounter?”

3) Ask personal experience questions:

“What did it feel like to ride your bike without the training wheels? Did it remind you of any other experience?”

“Can you describe to me how the toothpaste tasted so I can imagine it in my own mouth?”

4) Ask factual questions:

“What happened first: the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the writing of the Constitution?”

“How fast can a cheetah go at maximum speed?”

“What is the difference in plumage between a black-capped chickadee and a Carolina chickadee?”

Model how to ask yourself questions by talking out loud in front of your children:

“Let’s see. If I’m going to host 15 people at Thanksgiving and each person will eat .25 lbs of turkey, how big does my turkey need to be? I wonder if the weight includes bone. I better find out.”

“I wonder why some people are against ____________ when I am for it. Could it be that they have a different experience than me? I wonder what that might be. I need to find out so I can understand how they see the world differently than I see it.”

Teach your children to ask themselves questions:

“Do you know the reasons for your main character’s choices? As you think about the main character, ask yourself questions about his motivations, his childhood and how that shapes his understanding of the world, and what his goals are. These often tell you why he makes the choices he makes.”

“I hear you: that idea makes good sense to you. Maybe you are thinking that way because of an experience in your life. Can you recall a time in your life where you faced a similar dilemma? Think about what might have happened if that situation had resolved itself in a different way. How does that impact your idea?”

“If you think some historical event makes the people in it seem out of control, it might be because we have the benefit of hindsight. See if you can ask yourself what it would be like to have lived in that era without knowing how the event or condition (war, battle, court case, revolution, institution of slavery, the Holocaust) ended. Does that change how you understand it?”

Your job as a home educator is to be a person who trains children to be quality, effective question marks. Academics (those who make their living at research and teaching) are incurable question marks! To enter that world, we all need to be better at asking questions than providing conclusive answers.

Who better than you to lead your children into that habit of practice?

Cross-posted on facebook.