The Right To Control One’s Learning

Should we honor our children’s right to curiosity, their right to not only choose what they want to learn, but from whom they want to learn it?

No human right, except the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you,  but about what interests and concerns us.
​​

John Holt, child advocate and supporter of school reform thinks so. Read more about natural learning here and when you’ve finished, please comment and tell us your thoughts! ​

What You Need to Know Before Your Homeschool Portfolio Evaluation

I will not ask your child to jump through hoops for me. A few years ago, in my local area, it was common to hear from homeschooling families that their evaluator “tested” their kids during a portfolio evaluation. My initial reaction: WHY?! During a portfolio evaluation with me, I will not ask your child to read aloud to me, do math computations for me, or recite the dates of the major battles in the Civil War. There are, however, certain things that all homeschool evaluators must look for according to FL law, and a portfolio evaluation does not include any of those things listed above.

 

We are so fortunate in our state to have several options to choose from when it comes to providing evidence that our students have made progress each year. The benefits of using the portfolio evaluation option are many. Just take a look at this article to read more. I feel so strongly that the portfolio gives you and me a much more comprehensive picture of your child’s progress than any standardized or nationally normed test, that I do portfolio reviews exclusively.  Testing has its place. I have my girls test every year in addition to reviewing their portfolio and I often recommend that my clients do both as well. 

 

Authenticity

 

Portfolio assessments provide an authentic way of demonstrating progress, skills and accomplishments. If I ask your child to read aloud to me, in order to assess his/her fluency, what would I be basing that day’s progress on? I would not know how your child’s fluency was at the beginning of your homeschool year in order to compare. Similarly, if I ask your student to take a math test for me, or any other one-time summative assessment, I would need a standard or benchmark with which to compare.

 

Let’s Look at the Difference Between Formative and Summative Assessments

A portfolio should include any type of formative or summative assessments that you, (the teacher) have done throughout the year.  The difference between formative and summative assessments is that formative assessments are given by you (the teacher) and help you monitor progress and provide feedback as you go along. For example, you are reading a great work of literature with your student, and you pause at the end of every chapter in order to assess comprehension. You provide feedback and identify any areas of strength or weakness which will help your student improve their learning.

Summative assessments are assessments that come at the end of a unit or course, and will examine your student’s learning by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.  For example, you may make up your own grading rubric after doing a unit study on Shakespeare. You then ask your student to compare Romeo and Juliet to Julius Caesar by designing a multimedia project.  Your grading rubric shows your student details of what you expect out of their paper or project which you will later use to “grade” it.

What I like to See as an Evaluator

During a portfolio review, I like to see YOUR formative and summative assessments included in the child’s portfolio.  I am happy to listen to your child read so that I can assess fluency if you would like me to, however, I never include this as part of my portfolio evaluation process, nor does the Florida law ask me to.

I am concerned that if homeschool evaluators who conduct annual portfolio reviews continue to ask their students to do these types of activities as a general rule, that they will be setting a precedent for this, and eventually our homeschool-friendly State of Florida will be adding these requirements to the law so that all homeschool evaluators will then put your child to the test As a homeschooling parent myself, I rather enjoy my freedom to be able to decide whether or not I want another person to administer (any type of) test to my children.  I certainly wouldn’t want my children to have to be subjected to it during a portfolio review.

 

 

 

 

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Why Play Should be an Integral Part of Your Homeschool

Lately everywhere I turn homeschooling parents are over the question, “is my child doing enough to get ahead?” The pressure on young children today is incredible. Even the developers of PBS believe that the biggest obstacle American children face in terms of education is being unprepared for kindergarten. No wonder parents are worried! Not only are parents over-teaching, but they are also over-scheduling, I believe it’s being done out of fear.

Phonics lessons and grammar lessons in the morning, music and Mandarin lessons in the afternoon, and in between all that Moms are forcing their young children to work in newly purchased math workbooks and insisting that they complete multiplication and division problems. The words “algebra” and “geometry” are being tossed around at play dates and these parents really think that they are doing the right thing. They’re giving their children a “leg up” right?

They are not. Here’s why.

First, young children are not developmentally ready to pursue such academic activities. Are some seemingly “able” to do this type of academic work? Perhaps. But a completed worksheet does not equal a deep learning for a subject matter and even if you believe that your child is ready, there is evidence that doing so is more harmful than helpful.  Take a look at this article written by a mathematician </a>for reasons why worksheets should not be used with young children.

Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.

Secondly, the importance of play has been so overlooked in the last decade or two that it is shameful.  Here’s what Edward Miller and Joan Almon say in their book Crisis In The Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.

Such practices are contributing to high levels of frustration, stress, and anger in kindergartners, sometimes resulting in extreme behavior problems. At the same time that we have increased academic pressure in children’s lives through inappropriate standards, we have managed to undermine their primary tool for dealing with stress— freely chosen, child-directed, intrinsically motivated play.

David Elkind’s “hurried child” is now not just hurried but also worried. ​

​And this is only one outcome of the push to turn our kindergarteners into first and second graders and our second graders into adolescents.

We homeschoolers know why public (or private) schools aren’t the choice for us.  We’ve heard the stories, and sometimes experienced them personally. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to “keep up” with what schools are doing and bring these inappropriate expectations into your home school.

Play is supremely important for developing imagination, for learning to be “thinkers”, not just “do-ers”, for getting the body moving and the blood flowing. Movement is so very important to brain development (again, a very important subject for another day.)

Perhaps a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics will be enough to convince:

​Play is one of the vital signs of health in children.75 Parents intuitively recognize this and often describe the severity of a child’s illness by how much he is able to play. When a child is very ill, play ceases. It returns when the child is well again.

If play is such a strong indicator of children’s well-being, what happens when children grow up without adequate opportunities for play? How does this affect their immediate and long-term health, both physical and mental?

The American Academy of Pediatrics expressed concern about the demise of play in a clinical report issued in October 2006. Its recommendations included the following:  Pediatricians can promote free play as a healthy, essential part of childhood. They should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, nonscreen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress. They should emphasize that although parents can certainly monitor play for safety, a large proportion of play should be child-driven rather than adult-directed.

Pediatricians should emphasize the advantages of active play and discourage parents from the overuse of passive entertainment (e.g., television and computer games).

Pediatricians should emphasize that active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.

​What did Miller and Almon find about the effects of the the academic push on mental health?

​The overall picture of children’s mental health is summarized by psychologist Sharna Olfman in this way: The number of American children being diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses has soared over the past decade and a half. The National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH) estimates that today one in ten children and adolescents in the United States “suffers from mental illness severe enough to result in significant functional impairment.” During this same time period, psychotropic drugs have become the treatment of first choice rather
than the treatment of last resort. Recent years have witnessed a threefold increase in the use of psychotropic medications among patients under twenty years of age, and prescriptions for preschoolers have been skyrocketing.

Over 10 million children and adolescents are currently on antidepressants, and about 5 million children are taking stimulant medications such as Ritalin. 83

Having been involved in the field of education since 1990, I have seen the despicable results of such changes in the education system. Like many things, the pendulum swings to the left, then to the right, and hopefully settles somewhere in the middle. Right now there is no middle. Continuing to take away the things that foster and nurture our children can bring nothing but more anxiety, frustration and depression to kids who should be free to love life and all it has to offer.

This is only one study. There are countless other books and articles on the subject of the importance of play.  Listen to Kathy Hirsch-Pasek discussing her book Einstein Never Used Flashcards.

Don’t let this blog post be enough. I urge you to read the entire text of Crisis In The Kindergarten and let the failures of the school system prompt you to make the right decisions for your kids. When you read, however, keep in mind that this was published in 2009 and so many of Miller’s and Almon’s references to “turning our kindergarteners into first graders” can easily be translated into, “turning our kindergarteners into second and third graders.”  The pendulum has swung that much further in the last several years indeed.

All quotations are taken from:
<strong>Edward Miller and Joan Almon, Crisis in the
Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,
College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood, 2009.</strong>

The entire text can be found here for free.

  • this blog post was originally published on April 11, 2011

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Five Simple Things You Should Know to Help Your Young Child Become an Amazing Writer

​I am often asked the question, How can I teach my child to write?  Since reading and writing go hand in hand, the best way to start “teaching” writing is by reading.  Teaching a love of writing at this early age is so important for future successes a writer. There are a few things you should know about the early stages of writing.

Scribbles Are Important

Early writing really begins with drawing or scribbling. These random marks on the page are very important beginnings to the writing process. If you watch your child, you will see that these “scribbles” soon turn into long wavy lines resembling writing. This usually happens between the ages of 2 and 4.Next in the development of writing at this age, you’ll likely see your child making letter-like markings. These won’t really be true letters, but represent them.

Recognize Letter Strings

Around age 4 or 5 you’ll start to see real letters in strings on the page. They may or may not make real words.  More often than not, they are simply the letters your child enjoys making in non-phonetic blocks and lines. Don’t be alarmed if many of these are backward. This is totally normal.

Inventive Spelling is “Real” Spelling

When inventive spelling emerges on the page, (usually around age 5 or 6,) the fun begins! Now your child is using his or her own spelling according to how he or she makes the letter-sound correspondence.  This is my very favorite stage of writing and children are so excited to be able to put their sounds to paper and have others decipher it! One thing you can do to celebrate this success is read your child’s stories aloud. I promise, the more you read this inventive spelling, the better you will get at being able to decipher it. Hint: “speak” it as your child speaks; try to talk like your child. When my daughter was young, she had trouble with the “bl” blend and her writing at this stage reflected this.

Have Your Child Share Their Work

Children love to share their writing. Ask you child to be an author and sit in an “author’s chair” – a special chair designed for the sharing of the written word. Ask your child to sit in this chair (or wear a special hat, or other special thing to signify author’s time).  Be an active listener.  Invite the whole family. Ask questions about the story. Comment on what you enjoyed about it.

What Not To Do

It is very important not to correct a child’s spelling or grammar right now. Let them enjoy the free flowing feeling of writing without worry whether it is “right” or not. Spelling is one of those skills that is best acquired over time and does not come by rote memorization, constant correction or practice writing words correctly over and over again. (I’ll have much more to say on this subject in later posts.)

Later On

Around age 7 is when children begin to use more and more conventional spelling in their writing and spells most words correctly. Now is the time to teach simple grammar rules, which we’ll talk more about later on.

Useful Books:

This is an oldie but a goodie. It is hard to get a hold of, but if you can find it, it is gold:
Using Word Walls to Strengthen Student Reading and Writing at the Emergent Level

​Playful Writing: 150 Open-Ended Explorations in Emergent Literacy

Literacy-Building Play in Preschool: Lit Kits, Prop Boxes, and Other Easy-to-Make Tools to Boost Emergent

Reading and Writing Skills Through Dramatic Play

The following books are excellent books for teachers and are a must-have when you are teaching little ones during these early years:

Soaring with Reading and Writing: a highly effective emergent literacy program 

Teaching Beginning Writers

Helpful Websites

Get Ready to Read (GRTR)

International Reading Association (IRA)

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL)

Reading is Fundamental (RIF)

Reading Rockets

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