Friday, August 17, 2012

Homeschool Standards - Choosing a Path

One of the most frequent concerns I hear about homeschooling (after socialization issues) pertains curriculum standards. What curriculum do we use? What standards do we follow? Do we take standardized tests? Well, it's that time of year again. Kids are heading back to school, and after our long summer break, we're diving in as well. Let me share our planning technique.

We begin our planning with the understanding that we homeschool not to provide a narrower vision of the world, but a broader view of the world than any brick-and-mortar school can provide. We are not limited by political norms or corporate sponsorships. Because we receive no tax funding to provide our children's education, we are not beholden to report test reports to those funding agencies. We homeschool to allow our children more free time to explore their interests and the world in which they live. We homeschool because we enjoy the time we spend with our children. (OK, if you're a follower of this blog, you'll know this only is true MOST of the time.)

So, our school-year moves on to the next stage: incorporating California State Standards. Why, you ask, given that California ranked 30th among the nation's schools in a 2011, 47th for student achievement? Because were our children to head to school tomorrow, they'd be heading for a California school. Being prepared for school in Montana or England or Germany does not mean they'd blend in well here, so we want to make sure they're prepared for the local standard. But that's only a beginning.

Thanks in no small part to the advent of the internet, we also have at our fingertips other standards including standards from top-ranked states (for science and math) or even other nations. Since we hope our girls are on the college track (both have been talking about their college futures for years now) we can also look further down the road and examine college-bound test standards. Which states perform highest on the SAT? Or the ACT? Or both?  Of course, testing and ranking is hardly the litmus test for education programs. (State SAT rankings are worse than meaningless, say Ball State experts). But with this basic information in hand, we can choose the state standards that we feel will better meet our family needs.

Why limit ourselves to U.S. standards? I've found Canadians and British to be, on the whole, far more literate than too many Americans; Germans more literate and analytical; and we've read countless news reports about the superior math performance from our Asian counterparts. What are they doing that the U.S. is not? Some answers may be found in their curriculum standards (for example, Canada or even Japan if your Japanese is great), but we also know education is as much, if not more, about environment and culture. In Korea, it is said children spend full days in school, then attend post-school academic study sessions until 10 p.m. six days per week.

Is academic success all we want from our children's education? Certainly not. We focus on Joie de vivre as well. This is a key subject area of our homeschool curriculum, and it is easily incorporated in our life skills studies. While it's all well and good to pass a chemistry test with flying colors, to be at the top of your class in your spelling skills and to be able to perform rote math, there's a lot to be said for knowing how to take care of yourself and your family, the food-safe science behind culinary arts that keep yourself and your family food-safe and fed. We can build models of the solar system and learn to crochet. We make time for drawing architectural designs, then building them in the real world to experience structural failures and successes firsthand.

This year, for the first time in their education careers, the girls will sit down with me to help hammer out school year plans. E is in middle school grades now, so it's time for her to take more control of her education. These should be her goals, not mine. And V will get in on the act because younger siblings come along for the ride. We'll combine standardized initiatives with personal initiative, and I hope some real-life projects can bridge the gap between paper standards and lifelong lessons.

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