Humble Homeschool Beginnings

January 25, 2013

IM000689Many moons ago, when I started home educating my first child, I didn’t even know I was doing it. Nicky just naturally gravitated to books and floor puzzles and mazes and all sorts of logic-related stuff, and that’s the kind of thing we had around the house for him to fill his days with. (This was way before the Computer Age, y’all.)

And by the time Nicky turned three, I was expecting child number three. I laid around and read to those first little critters an awful lot in the early days.

Before long, the card-carrying, diploma-waving teacher in me decided I needed to set some goals and add some structure to my oldest child’s day.

Here is a short list of the personal goals I had when I “officially” began home educating my first child, Nicholas, at age four:

1.   Present new information in various forms: workbooks, readers, texts, etc.

2.   Test when necessary to make sure information is learned to an A level.

3.   Move on to the next thing, letting my child’s readiness be the guide.

Because I had that degree in elementary education and had taught school before having my own children, it never dawned on me that children would enjoy learning if left to themselves. I was prepared to entice and cajole my son into formal learning.

Isn’t that a strange thing to say? But it’s true. My experience in the classroom had taught me that children had to be pushed and pulled along, for the most part.

In my experience as a mom who was home educating her child, however, I found that Nicholas moved very, very quickly through his lessons because he could go at his own speed. He didn’t need to wait for the class to finish up; he was the class!

Nor did he know that he should not be enjoying this thing called school. Ah! But that was the difference! It was not school; it was learning at home. We weren’t up at the crack of dawn, gulping down breakfast, scrambling to find matching shoes, and running out the door to catch the school bus, separated from everything related to family.

Instead, learning was a natural thing done in the comfort of our own home along with family, on a schedule that worked well for us, not for an entire school system. What a cool thing it was to be able to tailor learning to my student! What an improvement over group learning!

I wasn’t just providing the opportunity for learning; I was there to ensure that learning took place, the learning of all the subject matter, not just 75 or 88 percent of it, but all of it. And then we moved on, directed solely by my son’s desire to learn—a desire which was surprisingly voracious.

Why would I want to send my child to a school when he could have such fun learning at home and could move at his own speed? And hang out with his sibs? And eat real food?

I simply did not want to miss out on time spent with him either. If I put him on a school bus, that meant forty fewer hours per week I would have to spend with him, times thirty-six weeks in a year. That equals 1,440 hours apart per year. Multiply that times twelve years, not counting kindergarten, and that comes out to 17,280 hours—roughly three full years of his life spent elsewhere.  Yikes! Why did I have a child only to entrust him to someone else to influence, mold, and shape? That didn’t make any sense to me.

I knew my son could learn better at home than he could anywhere else. For now, home education was for us. We’d worry about high school later.

Additionally, at age four, Nicky had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This was quite a shock, of course. And years ago, there was no way to accurately test blood sugar at home as there is now.

Another reason we decided to keep Nicky at home was that we knew we could keep a better eye on his health challenges than any school nurse could.

If your child has chronic health issues, learning at home is certainly a wonderful option to explore.

Thus began our home-education adventure. Home-education adventures all have unique beginnings. What did yours look like?

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

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Help! I’m a Self-Learner, and I Can’t Figure This Out!

January 22, 2013

Questions curriculum questions picWith the advent of the Internet and search engines like Google, many of us have become self-learners simply because information is literally at the tips of our fingers.

It’s AWESOME, isn’t it?

Yes! It’s so awesome that my daughter Lilienne, who will be 11 on Saturday, deduced recently that school really wasn’t necessary once you learned to read because you can now look up everything you want to know on Google as you need to know it.

I concur with her….to a degree. Nowadays we have no excuse not to know the answer to a question (that actually has an answer) aside from lack of time to research or laziness or lack of motivation or something lame along those lines.

I’m not a Webhead, but I enjoy playing around with my websites and junk online. I can usually figure stuff out on my own with a little persistence, sometimes accompanied by tears and frustration. Recently I ran into a situation where I needed to figure out how to put an RSS feed both here and on my Author Page on Amazon.com.

Step one: I googled something about RSS feeds. Well, after going here and there ~ info specifically for wordpress blogs, etc. ~ I wasn’t getting it. (Perhaps a mental block because I was born about the time color television hit the American scene.) Google really wasn’t helpful. Not because I was lazy, but because I was kinda overwhelmed with the lingo.

What is a self-learner to do when stumped?

Step two: Ask someone else who might know the answer to the question at hand.

I asked my fabulous son-in-law, Brandon, but he couldn’t help me right that minute. I asked my daughter Lauren, who is a whiz at setting up Websites (www.beadboxbargains.com) but she had something else going on at the time, so she couldn’t help me either.

So I did what I do best: I moved onto another project and forgot all about it.

Until this week during a conference call with my publisher who asked me if I had put my RSS feed from this very blog up on my amazon.com author page. Heh heh. Oopsie. No, I hadn’t done that yet.

After the call, I mentioned to my husband that the RSS feed thing was driving me nuts, and I was fixin’ to cuss (not that I would actually ever DO that. no way. not me.)

Yesterday Tim came over to my desk (one of them, anyway. I have desks all over the house) and he told me how to add the widget and what to put in the URL. I knew how to do the widget thing, but the URL is what had stumped me.

Isn’t widget the cutest word EVER?

Tim had done a little research for me and figured out the missing piece to the whole thing! Wasn’t that nice of him? Yes. It was. Thank you, Tim. And now I will make him salisbury steak and smashed potatoes for dinner tonight. 🙂

So now I have an RSS feed!! AND I’m still a self-learner because I learned how to do the RSS feed thing. I know you think I’m not a self-learner because I had to ask around, right? I can read your doubting mind.

Self-learning simply requires knowing where to go to find out what it is that you don’t know.

I had to ask someone else ~ multiple people, in fact ~ before I found someone who was able to help me learn what I needed to learn. I now know how to set up an RSS feed.

Self-learners tend to think they shouldn’t ask for help; they should be able to figure things out on their own. That is not always true. Asking for assistance is a really good way to learn at times, although seeking out the answer yourself first is kind of the rule of thumb in our home school.

But if you’re stumped, don’t be too proud to ask for help.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


How to DE-Motivate

December 16, 2012

Young boy in bedroom yawning using laptop and listening to MP3 pScenario 1:

Let’s say my eleventh-grade son wants to be on a debate team. If he has an interest in debate, then by all means, I will look into the possibility of getting him involved.

So he and I do some research and find a local team, and I step back and allow my son to set his goals from there. I won’t harass him with how I think he should do things. I may give some guidance if asked, but for the most part, I’m letting experience be the best teacher.

A self-teaching student who has a yes-I-can attitude will head into the activity wanting to be the best. Why do something if you aren’t going to do your best? That is the attitude I find that my children naturally have.

I have not taught them to be competitive—I don’t have to push them; they just feel that anything worth doing is worth doing full-out. There is no halfway. They are intrinsically motivated to do their best, and when they are pitted against other debaters who feel the same way, the results are going to be quite interesting.

Scenario 2:

However, if I as the parent decide that I want my son to participate in a debate team apart from his own choosing, he is not going to be enthused, and I don’t blame him.

As parents, we need to give our young adults support when they choose an area of interest. I may tell my son 24/7 that he could be a wonderful debater if he would just try, but if he lacks the interest, I am wasting my time.

Sure, I can insist that he do it, but what will that yield? Frustration and discouragement—on both our parts. I am just creating a battle scene.

Here is a third scenario:

My son comes to me and expresses an interest in being a part of a debate team. I ask him, “Is that something you really think you can do? I mean, you’ve never been good in front of people, and logic isn’t your strong suit. Don’t you think you should try something else?”

Wow, I have just totally motivated my son to never ask me to help him in the future!

Parenting self-propelled children means encouraging them to spread their wings and fly, to branch out and try new things.

In this last scenario, I caused my son to go from yes-I-can to maybe-I-can’t.

I shot a hole in his self-esteem.

Maybe logic isn’t his strength at the moment, but if he has the desire to hone that skill, then I surely can help him find opportunities in which to develop it. It is a joy to help children find opportunities to engage and develop their skills.

However, it is never acceptable for me to decide what I want my young adults to excel at and then push them, micromanaging their lives so that my dream for them comes true.

May it never be!

Our job as parents is to equip our children to become the people they are created to be.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Motivation and Self-Esteem (Part 7)

December 13, 2012

School children and their teacher in a high school science classWelcome! If this is your first foray into my series on Motivation, we’ve been talking about a book entitled SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, by Dr. Tom Fischgrund.

Dr. Fischgrund studied 160 students who scored perfectly on the SAT in 2003…and their families.

In several of the interviews done with perfect score students themselves, it was found that high achievers’ parents respected and encouraged their kids.

“Perfect score students don’t operate in a vacuum. They can’t tap into their inner motivation without first having high self-esteem. They need to believe that they can succeed before they develop the drive to succeed.

Parents, of course, can build or tear down their children’s self-esteem. Starting at the youngest age, children get cues from their parents about how high their expectations are. If children know that their parents expect great things that are realistically achievable, then they will be motivated to achieve those things.”[1]

Some would scoff at the whole concept of self-esteem and believe-in-yourself psychology. To them I can only say there is such a thing as self-esteem or self-worth. It is very real, and a child either has low, average, or high self-esteem. While self-esteem is internal, it is formed by external factors or cues from parents, siblings, friends, and other relationships.

A young child’s parents and close family members have control over his self-esteem, and children raised in a loving home will have higher self-esteem than those raised in a home where they do not feel important or valued.

Parents need to instill in their children the belief that they have the ability to succeed.

That is not to say that failure isn’t going to occur. Failure is a part of life, and teaching our children that sometimes things will not turn out the way we want them to is vital.

Learning how to deal with failure was a real challenge for my children. Because they tend to throw their whole selves into a project or activity, they take failure personally when it does come. But there are always important lessons to be learned through failure, and my husband and I don’t discourage our children from trying a new activity out of a fear of failure.

It’s not easy to watch our children fail, is it? No, it never is, but we recognize that struggle is part of what brings out the beauty of the butterfly as it breaks the restraints of its cocoon.

Freedom requires struggle.

As a tenth-grade chemistry student, I quietly fought against failure. Because I was an honors student, failure was especially humiliating, and I hid it from my parents until my first semester grade report arrived. I don’t remember my parents saying much at all. They knew I was a “good student” who always tried to do my best. In reality, there was something unapproachable about the chemistry teacher; he didn’t talk much. His classroom was always eerily quiet.

I still remember the way he would look at me and my lab partner during labs when we didn’t know the answer to a question. He would look at us with a sort of grin on his face as if to say, “What do you mean you don’t know? You’re kidding, right?”

So I stopped asking questions, and so did my lab partner. I ended the year with a solid D.

Looking back now, I cannot believe my questions were not taken seriously. The teacher was not gifted in teaching at a high school level, and I was not a self-learner. Consequently, the last thing I would want to study as an adult is chemistry because I still don’t think I can. “No-I-can’t” is what I hear in my head when I flirt with the idea of studying my high schoolers’ Apologia chemistry book.

Academically, a self-propelled student is going to find out that yes, he can do things on his own with excellence.

Parents who require mastery learning are setting their kids up for success because mastery ensures that a student is constantly moving on but not before he is ready to do so. That yes-I-can attitude is what translates into positive self-esteem.

Setting realistic goals is very important to building self-esteem. In order to set goals that are challenging as well as realistic, the student has to understand that he can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Is the student willing to do what it takes to achieve his goal? Does he understand how hard he is going to have to work to achieve it?

While a student may work hard to achieve a goal, he is naturally going to work harder if he has set the goal himself than if a parent has set the goal for him. The “realistic” part comes into play when the student sees just how much effort is required to meet the goal. Is it an amount of effort that he is willing to give?

In the long run, achieving a goal will depend upon the student’s personal motivation which is a direct result of the self-confidence he’s developed via childhood experiences. Many of us spend our adult lives overcoming the lack of self-confidence stemming from our childhood days.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 69.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Motivation & Perfect SAT Scorers (Part 2)

December 6, 2012

forestSo what did Dr. Fischgrund’s Perfect Score Study reveal about kids and motivation?

The study found that these high-achieving students set high standards for themselves. Notice: they set them for themselves. Their parents didn’t set the standards for them. Dr. Fischgrund found that “they’re rarely satisfied that they’ve accomplished enough, and they see their education as a path of discovery as opposed to a destination.”[1]

It is so important that our children realize that education is more than a desk, textbooks, and a teacher.

I love the “path of discovery” thought because that is exactly what happens when the self-propelled student is allowed to explore his interests. He takes the road less traveled and meanders here and there, not controlled by linear thought. He doesn’t have to go from Point A to Point B because it is the most expedient way to learn. He’ll master a concept and go on to the next thing; however, if he wants to take a side trip and explore something more deeply, he is going to do that on his own.

He will chase his thoughts wherever they may take him.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, pp. 64-65.

__________________________________________________________

About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Motivation & The Perfect Score Study (Part 1)

December 5, 2012

greenboard

We’ve been talking at great length about Motivation over the past severl blog posts, and I finished off the last one by talking about the relationship between those children who did NOT eat the marshmallow and high SAT scores. Speaking of high SAT scores, I’d like to relay a little of my own experience in tandem with a study done by Tom Fischgrund, PhD.

While browsing a local bookstore a couple of years ago, I came across a book, entitled SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score. What interested me about this book was the fact that the author, with the blessing of the SAT Board, did a study of 160 college-bound high school seniors who had achieved perfect 800s on both the verbal and the math portions of the SAT in the year 2000.

His goal? Find out what makes these kids tick. What do they have in common? Who are they? How do they think? What do they aspire to? What are their academic habits? He also did a study of average-scoring kids, and this group served as a control group. No study like this had been done before.

Since I have a perfect SAT scorer and a near-perfect SAT scorer in my home, I was more than a little interested to see what this study revealed and how my sons, Nick and Taylor, compared to the kids Dr. Fischgrund interviewed for his book. Unfortunately, SAT Perfect Score is out of print, but you can find copies on Amazon and other used book outlets. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a student of motivational theory. You’ll see why as I share some juicy tidbits of information that relate to motivation from my well-worn copy of the 7 Secrets.

First, here is what the author says about his work:

“I have to admit that I was surprised by many of the findings of the Perfect Score Study. As a professional educator and a high-level recruiter, I have studied the best and the brightest for twenty years. When I looked at the information I had gathered in the Perfect Score Study and shared the results with knowledgeable professionals in the education field, we all agreed that we were amazed by the common trends that exist among perfect score students.

The brightest of the bright students have common personality traits and lifestyle habits that made it possible for them to score a 1600. I call these the 7 Secrets of Perfect Score Students.”[1]

Keep in mind that this particular study involved the interview of one-hundred-sixty high school seniors, plus about fifty average students from a control group. Parents of the perfect score students were also contacted in order to corroborate what their kids said, as well as provide input on how self-motivated they thought their students were. I will not reveal the seven secrets here because I think everyone should get the book and read it for themselves, but I will share a few surprising statistics from the study. Here we go.

Who do you think studied more, the perfect score students or the control group of students? Surprisingly, they both averaged ten hours a week of study time. About 80 percent of perfect score students attended public high schools, and there was not a higher incidence of perfect scorers from private schools with smaller class sizes. The average class size was twenty-three students, which is close to the national average.

“Only 1 percent of perfect score students are homeschooled, which is even less than the national average.” And only one perfect score student in the study was home educated. In fact, Dr. Fischgrund states, “The 7 Secrets will reveal that homeschooling doesn’t offer an advantage—and may even be a disadvantage when it comes to doing well on the SAT.”[2] We will definitely take a closer look at home education and scoring well on the SAT.

Here is a startling statistic:

“Ninety percent of perfect score students come from intact as opposed to divorced families, compared with 66 percent of all U.S. high school students who come from intact families.”[3]

Just so you truly get this, let me put it this way: The vast majority of perfect SAT scorers came from public schools and from homes that had been untouched by divorce. Fascinating, don’t you think? It makes sense that homes where there is relative peace will spawn children who can be more single-minded in their pursuits.

One other statistic I am compelled to share:

“Perfect score students are just as athletic as other high school students.”[4]

Some people may find that surprising. I do not because my kids are very athletic. But they don’t get it from me!

Are Perfect Scorers Weird?     

What does a perfect scorer look like? First of all, it is important to know that perfect SAT scorers from this study saw their scores as simply a means to an end and not as the end itself. They had a well-rounded view of life in addition to a core set of values. They were always looking for a challenge, and they were multi-faceted individuals. Most were avid readers who read for enjoyment and learned for enjoyment. They were not motivated by external rewards; they possessed an intrinsic motivation system that drove them to do their best and to be self-motivated.

And believe it or not, these kids were not classified as geeks.

They were very likeable kids who were not likely to broadcast their perfect scores because they were quite humble about their achievements.[5] That pretty much sums up my sons, Nick and Taylor. They don’t discuss their test scores because they are not defined by a test score. They are both humble, athletic, fun-loving guys who throw themselves into every project they undertake.

Alas, my other six children are oddly motivated to succeed as well. They all have a desire to excel at whatever they undertake. While my kids may not all have perfect SAT scores, they all sport the same drive and determination to succeed. They each have one or two core passions that drive them, and they have parents, siblings, and friends who support them in their daily lives. I don’t care whether or not any of my kids ever score perfectly on any test. What is important is that they possess attitudes that fuel their motivation about learning and that they pursue their passions.

References:
[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, SAT Perfect Score; 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, p. 53; hereafter cited as 7 Secrets.
[2] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 44.
[3] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 19.
[4] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 49.
[5] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 163

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Motivation and Marshmallows

November 30, 2012

Pink and White marshmallowsMany moons ago, in 1972, a landmark study was done by Walter Mischel of Stanford University using marshmallows to assess the ability of preschool children, ages four to six, to delay gratification.

Children were placed in a room by a researcher, and each was given a marshmallow. The children were told that if they could wait until the researcher came back into the room before eating their marshmallow, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Then the researcher would leave the room for fifteen long minutes. (Remember how long fifteen minutes seemed to you when you were a preschooler?)

The results? Some of the children resisted eating the marshmallow—others didn’t. Out of the roughly six hundred children who participated in the study, only one-third were able to resist the call of the marshmallow and receive a second one as a reward.

While the original purpose of this study was to confirm a hypothesis about delayed gratification and age, this experiment has been repeated many, many times to prove or disprove various other hypotheses.

In fact, Mischel performed a similar experiment on the island of Trinidad using chocolate bars in order to see if ethnicity had any effect on delayed gratification. He found that while ethnicity did not, social and economic status did. Isn’t that fascinating?

But what fascinates me even more is a follow-up study that Mischel did on a group of the original “marshmallow children.”

Researchers interviewed them years later and discovered that those who were motivated to hold out for the second marshmallow, exhibiting self-control at a young age, had become more successful as adults than their counterparts who had given into temptation.

What does this study say about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

The kids who waited those fifteen long minutes weren’t thinking intrinsically, were they? I mean, they weren’t focused on the good feeling they were going to get from successfully waiting out the researcher. No, they were looking to the end goal which was two delicious treats instead of just one.

They were able to see the big picture which enabled them to demonstrate self-control.

They definitely liked marshmallows, right? It wasn’t that one-third of the children hated marshmallows. We can say they were motivated extrinsically—but one marshmallow wasn’t enough. One marshmallow just didn’t make sense when they could have two.

This study reveals that some children aren’t satisfied with what just anyone can have; they want more, and they will do what it takes to get more of what they want—in this case, marshmallows. They weren’t trying to make anyone happy by their choice. They were just doing what came naturally: “Well, if I can have two, why settle for one? This is easy! All I have to do is wait.”

The other, larger group of children apparently couldn’t see the big picture. They could only see what was before them: a fat, squishy, deliciously-tantalizing marshmallow, and the motivation to get twice as much out of the deal just wasn’t there. They gobbled up the first marshmallow (although some of the children played around with their marshmallow first, licking it a bit and holding it in their hands before giving in), and their reward was only one marshmallow.

Conclusion?

From this study, it was concluded that those who had the ability to wait for gratification became more successful adults, and I am assuming that by successful, the study means better jobs and all the trappings that go along with such things, which may not be everyone’s definition of success. A pretty impressive study and conclusion, nonetheless.

Danggit. Now I really want a marshmallow or two!

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


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