Friday, June 10, 2016

School Doesn't Always Matter...and We Shouldn't Treat it Like It Has To

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at

This month we lost my stepfather, Matt. It was unexpected and tough. I found myself writing an obituary for a man who spent 35 years serving California as a Firefighter. When he decided to retire, he worked at the State Fire Marshall's office as a Deputy Chief.

His title and job were impressive. More importantly, he was someone who made you feel like you were his best friend after being in the room with him for five minutes. His friends and wife jokingly pointed out his adult ADHD as the reason he could never sit still and probably a key to his success as a firefighter and law enforcement officer. He could not stop moving, talking, doing. He lived for the opportunity to grab his badge and gear to  be a part of the action.

When I spent time with Matt's mother in the days preceding and following his passing, she did what all moms do. She comforted those around her.

"Robert was very special to Matt, he talked about him all the time." She told me as she hugged me. "He called him his grandson."

I knew about their relationship. When we went to Grandma's the question is always, "Is Matt there?" Whatever Matt was doing, Robert wanted to do.

 Matt's mom was the counselor at Sacramento High School when hers sons and daughter were students. She told me the story of how he found fire fighting.

"Matt hated school. There were other things he wanted to do. We would not let him get his driver's license because of his GPA. When he graduated high school, I knew he wasn't going to go to college, and I wondered....what are we going to do with him?"

It was at the end of his Senior year that a flier landed on  her desk for the fire academy.

"...and I thought, this is what we are going to do." She smiled as she told the story and explained that after a few weeks they all knew he had found his niche. It was after the academy that she discovered her son really WAS a reader. A voracious reader. Mom and son often swapped books. "When he was in school he didn't read!"

While writing his obituary I referenced his resume. He steadily rose through the ranks of CAL FIRE. At some point he did get his AA in Fire Science, but the AA was the least impressive of his accomplishments and training. In fact, his list of accomplishments was surprising to me. His humble, down to earth nature never hinted at what he was doing on the job.

The number of people he mentored and colleagues who respected him wasn't on his resume, but were apparent on the days preceding his funeral with the number of men and women who sought me out to talk to me about Matt's impact on them.

As the mom of a son who doesn't particular like school or think school matters, I often wonder if I am doing the right thing by not trying harder to ignite his passion for learning and traditional school.

When his standardized scores come in and he is in the  middle of the road (when his IQ says he should be much higher) I have second thoughts about spending my homeschooling time doing interest led learning units on World War II and Donuts. Those scores often make me consider running straight to the local Huntington Learning Center.

I often second guess my decision to let Robert join the Lincoln Youth Shooting League and Nerf Boot Camp instead of forcing him to play little league baseball, take robotics, or attend coding camp. I mean, when your kid is drawing pictures of guns on his testing privacy screen during SBAC, it can cause raised eye brows.

That little kernel of fear in the pit of my stomach begs the question, "What is going to happen to him, what am I going to do with him?" and must be like what Matt's mom felt 35 years ago.

She must have been pretty brave and smart (or desperate?!) not to try and shove him into a college shoe that didn't fit. Something that most parents now, can't imagine doing.

Because college debt, an unhappy (and under employed) millennial is better than an adult child with no college degree, right?

Somehow, liking school and being good at school has become (at times) more important than the particular aptitudes of a child. It has become a measuring stick by which parents are measured and considered a benchmark towards becoming a successful person.

Teachers feel the pressure, too. Somehow if we create the most engaging lesson plans or turn it into a Minecraft project, even the kid who would rather be at home, in his room reading,  will LOVE learning!

Uhhhh....sometimes a kid just doesn't like school. And that needs to be okay. Their dislike of school should not be a commentary on them as a person, their future, their teachers, or their up bringing.

The past few weeks have confirmed for me that really, school doesn't have to matter.  For some kiddos, school is an exercise in patience until they can move on to what REALLY matters to them.

When I think about the people Matt impacted, the communities and people he protected, and the role he played in Robert's life I think about all that we would have sacrificed if Matt's Mom had thrown away the flier and insisted that a degree had to happen "first" or if CAL FIRE had required a degree before he was allowed into the Fire Academy.

As an educator, I am more motivated than ever to help students find and develop their passion instead of forcing them onto one path.

As a mom, I hope I am strong enough to stand by my own kid as he discovers what is important and meaningful to him.

I am more sure that his stubborn personality will allow him to  resist my pressure or society's pressure to LOVE school or get a degree IF there are more interesting and relevant things he wants to do.

Thank you Matt. Love you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Just When I THOUGHT I Had Entered Homeschooling Mom of Fame...

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at

Yesterday was one of those days. He spent all day avoiding work and pushing my buttons. I spent all day trying to balance work and homeschooling. I looked forward to the nice, long quiet ride home. It is the one thing I can count on.

"Why do they take that word out?" I looked down at the control panel. "B***h Move Out The Way" by Ludacrus was playing.

Robert complained, knowing that I would think it ridiculous that he cared about it and wanted to hear the word in the song and DARED to bring it up.

My feathers already ruffled by a tough day, I almost snapped. I breathed deep. He was not going to push another button.

"Well, lets talk about word choice. Does it make the song different? Does it really matter?" I challenged him, turning on my teacher voice and using my secret power to turn anything into a lesson. I expected an eye roll, but he persevered.

"Well, yeah it is kind of dumb. They replace it with glass breaking. That is stupid. It is more powerful sounding with the "b" word. Other stations play it with the b word."

I made a mental note to listen more carefully to the radio and explained the term radio edit. Hmmm...he wanted to say the word, I could tell.

"Do you know what the word bitch means?" I said looking straight ahead.

I could see him break out into a surprised grin and hear the giggle.  I explained the definition.

"So technically, Molly is a .... BITCH" he finished loudly. Smiling. I could tell that finding a way to use the word and not get into trouble was exciting for him. OH NO. He was not winning this one.

"Yes so think about what that means when somebody calls another person that....what are they really saying? Why don't radio stations want to play it?"

No response. At that point I think he realized his teacher mom had just manipulated the entire conversation about the b word into a teachable moment and it got quiet.

My chest puffed up with pride and I thought about the awesome blog post I could write all about how I managed to turn my kid's NOT so innocent question into a teachable moment. Trumpets played. The "Queen of homeschooling" banner fell from the sky.

"So what does the "F" word mean then?"

Radio Silence.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ending the Year Strong (Without Killing Your Kid or Burning Out)

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at Links will take you to her Google Docs Assignment sheet. Others are linked to a private Facebook Page for PACT parents.

The end of the year creeps up on me. It is that awkward time when I am kind of tired and "done", but if I don't plan something engaging it will drag on and on. If I try to worksheet it, Robert rebels. If I try to do something super creative and time intensive, I burn out and nothing gets done. I also want to get rid of and return my curriculum in May so that I don't have to worry about it in June.

To keep us both  motivated and engaged, I try to pick something with a goal. Something to work towards. here is what I have come up with for the rest of this year.

What dog should we get? My friend's dog is pregnant. I want one of her puppies, but my Mastiff loving husband wants another Mastiff. Robert agrees with me (or did agree with me- he has since changed his mind). So, for Language Arts Robert had to create a persuasive presentation answering the question, "What should we get? Another English Mastiff or a St. Bernard?" This involved identifying who his audience is, researching, and creating a Google Slideshow. He learned to do this in Mrs Chapman's workshop this year!

I also had him write a compare and contrast paragraph about the two breeds. Next week, I am going to teach him how to screen cast using screencastomatic so that he can publish his entire presentation online with a voice over. I fully expect this to turn into creating screencasts of Minecraft and a dedicated You Tube Channel. I plan on quitting my job when he starts making enough off of the channel to pay the mortgage.

This picture was in the Sac Bee! 
Community Service:
I recently moved to Oak Park and have identified a few different groups that are working to improve our community. I drag Robert with me. We attended a community dinner at McClatchy park as a community show of force the shooting at a little league game. Two weeks ago we helped Oak Park Sol with a community beautification project and last weekend he went along with me on a street audit walk. The purpose of Social Studies and history should be to create active, engaged citizens. So instead of reading about it, we go out and do it. Every time, it has resulted in conversations about social and political issues that never would come up if we were studying from a text book.

I may have him create another Google Presentation to show off at the Open House Exhibition. This provides an "audience" for his work and a goal for both of us!

Math is a hard subject for me. We never found "just the right" curriculum. We use an online math program called Adapted Mind. It has instructional videos and follows a curriculum path that aligns with my educational goals for Robert. I log on weekly to see what he is having problems with. I go to Math Mammoth and print out worksheets for the trouble areas and post videos from Learn Zillion on his lesson plan for us to watch together.

Science: Thank goodness for the Biology workshop at PACT and Susie Clark! Robert attends that once a week. We finish the assignment at home. Then, I go to Brain Pop and look for videos that are related to what he is learning. I assign him one video and quiz a week. Then, I will have him do any additional activities or readings that look like fun.

Reading: We just finished Dr. Doolittle. I was having him take a quiz at the end of each chapter (I
Hey, reading can happen anywhere! 
found free online) until he surprised me by finishing the book a week early. So, I have returned to the handy dandy Journey's curriculum. We skipped ahead a few units to the story about Working Dogs. I knew he would buy into it and I found videos on You Tube about working dogs. (More social studies) We did the corresponding workbook pages. Next week, if we need another writing activity he will write about the importance of working dogs and maybe interview a few friends of mine who train or use working dogs. My plan for May is to let him read what he likes. Yep. That is it. 

Play Hooky: My husband had a business trip to San Jose last week, So Robert and I played Hooky and went with him. One of the draws of homeschooling is the freedom to do this...but life always gets in the way and we rarely do. This time we did! I knew we would be going to the Tech Museum (science DONE!) but I also knew we would be hitting up Psycho Donuts! So I wrapped English and Social Studies into our donut visit by creating a unit that asked the question, "Is Psycho Donuts Offensive and Should People Go There?"

Make Chili and Become Someone Else!  Last year we were spectators at the Living History day. This year, I hope to participate! Choosing a person or character from history and learning about them is great, but  knowing that they will get to become another person and speak to an audience is very motivating! We still have not picked a person to research, but I am considering doing it with him. I will be entering my famous chili into the competition. I dare you to do the same! I am pretty lucky to have a staff support my crazy ideas. I am sure that a Chili Cook Off was NOT part of the original vision!

Keeping Up the Easy Stuff: I have established a routine that includes handwriting, studying root words, silent reading and grammar. They are easy for me to prep (worksheets) and help keep the momentum going. I intend on doing them up until the very last day.

How are you staying sane these last few weeks?