Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It's Not That Homeschool is Better....

It's not that homeschool is better. However, some homeschool models do have advantages that could be carried out in public or private education settings which would elevate children's lives and education. If we took some of the main components of homeschool and put these components into other settings, we would have a highly effective and productive environment for ALL students regardless of the choice of, for lack of a better way to explain this,  location for learning. Below, I list eight ways that homeschool can encourage other school models to change in order to elevate student education. Feel free to list your own ideas in the comments section. Read on and feel free to suggest changes within your local schools. You can write to your legislators, the media, etc. You CAN make a difference.

1. Homeschools often have low student to teacher ratios. Low teacher to student ratios allow students to receive individualized instruction that includes remediation, enrichment, flexibility in curriculum, problem solving, and creative expression. One teacher for every 15-25 students is a huge undertaking whereas one teacher for every 2-6 students is a much easier work load for all involved. Also, many homeschool families surround themselves with co-ops, family, and friends who are also invested in the children's education. This lowers the student teacher ratio even further in many cases. If we took funding from the testing companies, we could afford to have more teachers and lower class sizes. Since that is not likely to happen at this time, we can offer to help a teacher. Volunteer to run a group at language arts time or help organize an activity. Simple math tells us that the more adults in a classroom, the lower the student to volunteer/teacher ratio will be. You can help just by being present and ready to participate.

2. Many homeschools include varied settings such as co-ops, parks, wildlife preserves, archeological sites, art studios, and more. Varied learning environments foster creativity and exploration. Life experiences help students to internalize information and remember it long term. Reciting information from memory like a robot is NOT, I repeat IS NOT, learning or education. In fact, education hinges on being able to use information learned in the real world. Can you use multiplication and division to compare prices in the grocery store? Can you double or half a recipe? You can memorize a topic, but not have functional use of that topic. We learn by trial and error. We learn by experimenting with objects and topics in real world settings. Many schools cannot offer this type of learning because of money, standardized testing requirements, lack of time, etc. The answer is to create schools that have a variety hands on exploration areas on campus. It may be possible for two schools to work together to create this environment and place it half way between them as walking short distances is possible for many general education students.

3. Homeschool families often learn together. No one is an expert is every topic. It is important for students to know that we all continue learning even beyond our school years. Even adults have to learn new information and adjust their perspectives and behaviors when new information becomes available. There is no harm in teaching children that all people make mistakes, all people must continue to learn, and that learning is a lifelong process.

4. Many homeschool families attend physical education classes, join hiking groups, or exercise at least once daily while they are out and about in the world. Sadly, many schools have less and less time for children to exercise. Sure, most schools have mandated PE and occasional recess, but this is often time spent in a large group and the teacher or teachers may spend most of the time playing "whack a mole" aka disciplining those who are off task. I would find it difficult to focus if my class size was 30-60 as well. There would be too many distractions for me, personally, and I am an adult. Imagine what a hopeless exercise this is for children living with special needs that affect their focus or physical abilities. How would a teacher be able to tailor the activities to meet each and every learner's needs in a class that large? This is a very difficult situation for all involved. This is another area where lower class sizes and varied outdoor classrooms would encourage a positive change.

5. Homeschool families are often asked if their children socialize enough. When I discuss socialization, I have to bring up my experience as a kindergarten teacher. My students had very little time to talk with each other about topics other than schoolwork. During lunch, movies were shown in order to keep the peace. (I fought this and pulled my child from lunch daily to keep her from this practice.) During class time I was to instruct or the children were to participate in group work, testing, or work on their own. Discussions were geared toward academics, not social skills and proper citizenship. Many teachers, like myself, pushed for social centers and recess which allowed the students opportunities to socialize for 15-30 minutes per day. Sadly, this is not the norm throughout the US according to my friends who still teach. Students need unstructured time to talk, work out social issues appropriate to their age level, and move about. In order to aid in social development, schools can implement unstructured time with teacher supervision that allows for exploration of social skills and situations. Teachers should model positive decision making skills and social skills as needed during these times. A different approach is to allow extra time in the schedule so that social skills can be addressed in a positive manner as they come up. Perhaps an argument occurred because a child took another child's pencil by accident. Stop class and address this issue even if it takes 20 minutes, then return to the lesson at hand. Focus on natural consequences, not adult created consequences. (You were kind to a friend, so the friendship is reciprocated. You hit another child, now others are afraid to play with you.) Children need time, opportunities for free choice, and modeling by adults so they learn positive social skills.

6. Not only do students need to learn social skills, they need to learn other life skills. How to care for yourself, others, budget, take care of a family, take care of animals, and take care of the earth are all just as important as academic skills. Not every person or school can afford constant field trips so why not bring the field trips to the school? Plant a garden with the students. teach them organic techniques so that no dangerous chemicals are used. Show them how to cook, sew, clean after themselves, and please teach them empathy and patience by modeling them. Take those children outside and let them help scoop rabbit poop or, even better, have free range chickens and let the children collect the eggs (yes, be cautious of allergies). Let them take science walks through a tall meadow or small forest nearby. Make sure each student takes an exploration bag that includes science notebooks, writing utensils, a pocket microscope, and more. (Last time I checked, Amazon had pocket microscopes for about $2.75 each. Surely a local business would be willing to donate a few class sets of these in exchange for some recognition.)

7.  Many homeschool family focus on personal responsibility and mutual respect. Schools can take this idea and implement it in order for students to become successful without constantly needing external factors acting upon them to make positive social, emotional, and physical choices. Students must learn to make wise choices. They need to be able to trust themselves without worrying about praise or consequences from another person. Natural consequences should be discussed and honored, but imposed consequences from an adult are never the best option as these do not honor reality within the world. Teach the children to trust their thought processes, decisions, and bodies. Let them climb trees if their bodies allow it, let them explore within the bounds of the garden or school trees within the gates. Let them walk across a log that sits above a shallow patch of water. They CAN do this. Have a constant dialog about safety, listening to your body, listening to your conscience. Give them the berth to be flexible, make mistakes, and adjust their choices to correct the mistakes.

8. Homeschool families often search for those who are different in order to learn and grow into world citizens. Many people think that our schools foster a "melting pot" effect where students accept one another regardless of differences, yet we hear about children killing themselves because of bullying. In order to foster world citizenship, we must teach about diversity and teach the philosophy of "harm none", but we also must go out and meet others who are different that ourselves. We must explore the world and learn about cultures that we consider foreign to our own experiences and lives. This is extremely difficult to do even if you have programs that invite community members into classrooms. A community approach to education is key. Exchange programs for older children are also helpful. Attending or hosting cultural events on school grounds can foster a community of respect and world citizenship.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Health Department Shenanigans

I recently had a fairly bizarre trip to the health department in my area. Though we homeschool, we chose to use a private umbrella school for our official paperwork. This choice means we have to also file paperwork regarding vaccines or lack thereof. I will get into the illegality of this in a minute, but most people like us choose not to fight it because we want to be left alone to teach our children.

So I tried to make an appointment for a couple of weeks. Problem is that the staff would only make an appointment on one particular day of the week and they did not fill their entire daily hours with appointments. They might open at 8 AM, but only see people after 9 or 10 AM. They insisted that walk ins not be taken at all. They also insisted on calling the day of the appointment to make the appointment IF they had time for us. This took a few tries to get an appointment.

The appointment time rolls around and I was right on time. The place was mostly deserted. I thought this might be a positive sign since my goal was to get in and get out ASAP. We just moved and my to do list was growing daily. I filled out paperwork and was told that it would cost $40, $20 per school age child, to get the form signed by the nurse. (This does deny my children a free and appropriate education.)

Though I did not give our social security information, as it is not required and the less information the health department has the better off we are, they still looked up the children's vaccine history. (Yes, before our injuries and subsequent research we did vaccinate. Now we know it is against our religious beliefs and can harm our children further.) I did not give permission to look this information up PLUS I sent certified letters to the state shots program several years ago to opt out of the database they automatically keep. (The database violates HIPAA as the children cannot consent to their information being given and I surely won't consent on their behalf as they deserve their rights under HIPAA. Plus vaccines are not 100% effective so EVERYONE should assume they can get a disease regardless of vaccine status.) THEN the employee, I have no idea what her title was to be honest, tried to convince me to pay for the vaccine records because they are cheaper than the exemption. You see, if I did this, the kids would be compliant for a year until the older one is in seventh grade. Then, I would have to come back for the exemption form anyway. I am sure this is one of those tactics the AAP and others list so they can try to convince people to vaccinate without actually investigating pertinent health information about the products. So I explained to the employee that religion does not change because she wanted me to purchase a cheaper form ($10 per form instead of $20 per form) and vaccinate in the future.

Eventually I was called back to meet with a nurse who also had someone else, perhaps a trainee or witness?, standing there watching us. She was very bubbly which is fine. So was I. She handed me a pamphlet that said something about immunizations, the CDC notes that these are reactions our bodies have and are not the same as vaccines, that indicated the health department considers this term the same as vaccines. She began to tell me about "immunizations" and I kindly corrected her. She began to discuss children being kept from school if an outbreak happens and I again stopped her and explained that we homeschool and that ANYONE, regardless of vaccination status, can get a disease. She went into an explanation of why she forced her child to get a chicken pox vaccine as an older child and how she got a "lesser form" of the disease when chicken pox went around. I remarked how vaccines clearly do not work if the fully vaccinated are coming down with the disease. She really had nothing to say after that, but I did give information about one of my children's reactions to the chicken pox vaccine and HER subsequent "slight" case of the disease as well. I hated to do this, but gave the information without saying which child had the issue. I should probably mention at this point that it is really a non-issue to have vaccine records on file with schools since, again, ANYONE can come down with a disease regardless of vaccination status. Having these files in a school IS a violation of HIPAA through coercion of parents.

I think at this point the nurse decided she probably should just move things along so we both signed the forms and I headed to the checkout. She noted that this is a parent's right and I thought to myself that I am only protecting my children's rights. That is a responsibility, not a right of a parent. But I didn't bother wasting my time on that discussion. As I paid the $40 for these forms which violate so many laws, I chatted a bit with the employees. They were very nice, as was I, but one of them did eventually ask if my son is autistic. You see, he refused to meet their gaze, would not speak to them or respond at all, etc. He was very well behaved compared to how he can behave. And, yes, he does have special needs, but it was not their place to ask. He has NOT been diagnosed with autism, though. If I had suggested such a thing to a parent when I was a public school teacher in this very same state, I could have been fired and my county sued for the costs of medical testing and treatment of the child. This issue was stressed often when I taught and we all knew exactly what we could and could not say. Even if a parent suggested such a thing, we had to be cautious how we approached the answer to the question.

All in all, I am glad to have the form which I will not have to get again until my children get to college or my little one turns 6. I do think that there were many MANY problems within my visit. I chose to be personable anyway. I wanted to get in and out without issues. I held my tongue a few times, though there was a lot of information they could have really used.

Please excuse any typos you find. I really just want to be done with this entire situation so I probably won't proofread too much, or at all. I plan to follow up with the local and state entities in charge of these matters as so many things went wrong. A big thanks to L.J. for calming me down and helping me process things after this exchange. She rocks!

If you want to see the list of package inserts for vaccines so you can be sure they do not violate your religious beliefs, or those of your child, then click this sentence. :)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hands Off!

One of my children does not like to be touched. End.Of.Story. He spent two years avoiding holding my hand, being picked up, hugs, etc. You would think a child would want a parent to hold and cuddle them, but not all kids want this. There can be this fine line between autonomy and safety. If he ran toward the road, yep, I would pick him up even though he would pitch a fit. Thankfully, he rarely did this so it was mostly a non-issue.

It must be ironic that he is the child with a set of gorgeous curls on his head that tend to attract attention from adults. He has a sweet smile and chubby cheeks that make other people want to squeeze him and hug him. Heck, half the time he doesn't even want others to look his way so if they TOUCH him it is a huge trigger.

I understand that kids are cute and cuddly in theory. Mine is not. I understand that not all adults realize that autonomy is everyone's right and that we should not touch others, even kids, without permission. This may mean the child hugs us first or this may mean asking if you can give a hug to the child. I try to give people a heads up or quickly explain. The thing is that if I do this while out and about, we spend our whole day explaining sensory issues, vaccine injuries, and attachment parenting instead of enjoying the time we have together as a family. A couple of examples come to mind when I think about this issue of touch and autonomy.

One time we were at a local pharmacy looking around for something or other. My son finally decided he could walk and not be carried. (YAY) Then an employee said hello. My son had walked a few feet from me to explore, but I could see and hear him just fine. This employee was working and ended up between my son and I as she spoke to him. Then she tried to get him to high five her. Up until that moment all was fine. My son did not respond at first, I let her know he is not fond of strangers, and we left it there. It would have been perfectly okay, but she just HAD to offer that darn high five. My son sprinted away. He was not thinking of where he would go or that I was just a few feet from him in the other direction. He did not hear me call him. He was in fight or flight/panic mode. He felt his body was in danger all because of that high five suggestion and the fact that the woman was between us. I may have blogged about this before, but this is why I exercise. I may not be thin, but I am fast. I caught up to him seconds later and scooped him up. He was a heaving, sobbing mess. (No I do not suggest leashes unless the kid asks for one, but I do suggest one of those trackers that goes on a child's clothing if you have a runner who is older than toddler/baby age. You are the parent, though, so you make the choices. That is just my way of doing things.)

Another time a well meaning relative tried to help my son with a project. This relative gets along well with the child and is very patient with him. It seemed logical to use hand over hand assistance when something was not easy for him. Unfortunately, my son was not receptive and it surprised him so he proceeded to run around screaming and it took some time to calm him and work the situation out. We were at home and he did limit himself to our property. No safety issue there.

I won't lie. This sets us back. This might set back a typical kid as well. Please, please do not get between a parent and child as long as everyone is safe and no abuse is happening. Please, please do not touch a child you do not know. Many children are living with special needs these days due to environmental toxins. Many children are introverts. Children deserve autonomy because they are humans. If you accidentally do something that causes stress, apologize. You can set a positive example for the child and the parent will probably appreciate your thoughtfulness as you try to make amends and empathize with the family.

 It is extremely difficult to have a child who does not like physical affection. It often leads me to worry about him. However, he is perfect and deserves to make his choices about how he interacts with others. I think sharing this information can help us all reassess our choices and respect the boundaries of others.