Nick is at a university soccer camp this week, and I am catching up on all kinds of things — laundry, writing projects, evaluation letters, and blogging.
It looks like my last post was just before the VaHomeschoolers Conference and Resource Fair in March. I didn’t even have a conference committee job this year, but I presented three sessions, and apparently the buildup and recovery from the weekend — along with the wrap-up of our homeschool and soccer year — was enough to interrupt blogging.
Preparation for my talks is pretty time consuming. This was especially true this year because of two new presentations I did.
On Friday, I presented “Homeschooling 101: Homeschooling for Non-Homeschoolers,” explaining who homeschools, how homeschooling works, and why people homeschool. The numbers I crunched for this talk are worthy of a post on their own — that will go on the list of things to blog about. The statistics certainly show the phenomenal growth of homeschooling in Virginia and the U.S., but they also bust some stereotypes about who is homeschooling and why.
I enjoy speaking to non-homeschoolers, including business leaders, educators, political groups, and prospective homeschoolers who have their questions.
At the conference, I also led an audience through our evolution as a homeschooling family, with my retrospective talk “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back.” I took a bit of a risk in designing this presentation, taking people on a visual tour of our family’s books and book shelves to create jumping off points for describing how we have learned together over the years.
This “book shelf idea” came to me because I realized that when I see photos taken in other homeschoolers’ homes, I’m always craning my head sideways to see what’s on their book shelves. Why not just put big pictures of our books up on the wall and talk about it all — from the first Oak Meadow curriculum to the math books that didn’t work to the novels we loved to our oldest sons’ college textbooks?
Apparently the risk worked. After worrying up until the moment I launched into the presentation that it was just a little bit too. . . bookish. . . to make a good talk, I was rewarded by the interest my audience showed in this approach. As I suspected, books turn out to be something homeschoolers love to talk about, and exploring our family’s journey through years of books was an effective way to look back on our homeschooling experiences.
My slides of various sections of our bookshelves — along with a few more interesting photos — gave me a chance to talk about how some resources did not work for our family, and yet worked great for other families we knew, emphasizing the customization of homeschooling.
With photos of picture books and early readers projected behind me, I got to talk about how our kids acquired reading fluency. With favorite history and science books behind me, I got to talk about Joy Hakim’s History of US and the years-long read-aloud project her series provided.
There was the impact of The Lord of the Flies and 1984 on a family full of sons, not to mention Boy Scouts merit badge books, wilderness survival books, books on anger management and time management, and books full of soccer drills, Norse myths, and German fairy tales.
And of course, there was Harry Potter. And The Gospel of Harry Potter. And the Bible.
Kelly McCants attended “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back” and volunteered both as the organizer of the teen volunteer party and as a panelist on the working and homeschooling session, and she does a great job of describing her experience at the conference at her ModernJune blog.
Finally, I presented “Unschooling Unzipped,” a session I have presented numerous times both at conferences and for smaller homeschooling groups who want a workshop or single session.
My take on unschooling is, hmmmm, more moderate than some, and I am of the mind that the ideas of unschooling are accessible and useful to homeschoolers who may never move “all the way” to unschooling, as well as those who are ready to embrace unschooling as their full philosophy of education. My unschooling talk is designed to reach both of those audiences with practical ideas and food for thought, as well as providing a few cautionary tales.
For those readers who aren’t immersed in homeschooling lingo, by the way, “unschooling” used to just mean “learning without school,” but it has come to mean a particular style of homeschooling that emphasizes the learner’s autonomy. It’s often controversial because it can sound downright crazy, and it doesn’t help that sometimes extreme examples of self-designated unschoolers are profiled in the media as representative of unschooling.
Still, unschooling can be both extreme and effective. A lot of kids who have a lot of autonomy in their learning do amazing things. Still, even within the world of homeschooling, unschooling provokes passionate debate.
I enjoy the fact that radical unschoolers may not accept some of my version of unschooling because it does not go far enough, while people accustomed to current school methods would probably see my version of unschooling as radical.
This gives me an interesting perspective to speak from, since I have learned from over fifteen years of homeschooling why our approach to learning has worked for us, and I have respect for the process other families go through as they learn what works for them.
Janell E. Robisch’s take on the conference, “Mom’s Weekend Out,” mentions “Unschooling Unzipped” and gives a great overall feel for the conference.
Interestingly, many of the stereotypes of unschooling aren’t at all relevant for our family. For example, many equate unschooling with unstructured time or not having an overt curriculum. This would certainly surprise our youngest son, who at 15 is working through the academic requirements laid out by NCAA as well as adhering to a soccer training schedule, an academic co-op schedule, and his own intensive music practice — by choice.
So talking about unschooling at the conference and answering questions and corresponding with homeschoolers afterward was a rewarding experience. My thoughts on homeschooling continue to develop, thanks to these opportunities and the many smart, committed homeschoolers I get to speak with.
I’m already brewing ideas for my talks at the next VaHomeschoolers conference, which will be held March 21-22, 2014 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen in the Richmond area. The keynote speaker will be Susan Wise Bauer, and the featured speaker will be Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.
VaHomeschoolers conferences are inclusive, with organizers understanding that homeschoolers come from a wide variety of religious, political, economic, and family backgrounds.
You can read a great overview of the conference written by a former public school teacher who is homeschooling her twins here: “Three Reasons the VaHomeschoolers Conference Rocked and Why You Should Attend Next Year.”
If you can’t wait that long, and you want a workshop for your local homeschool group, or if your community or special interest group of non-homeschoolers is curious about homeschooling, contact me to arrange a speaking engagement. I have a lot of possible topics, and we’ll find one that’s right for you.
Since I’m finally writing this after-conference wrap-up, I hope it will break the “no-posts-since-conference” spell, and I’ll be able to catch up on blogging. As usual, there has been a lot happening, and I want to get it down before I forget what I wanted to share with you.