By Ann Zeise
I took the leap. I made the decision to homeschool. Scott had been put in the back of his classroom, near a heating system with a loud fan, behind a box, so he wouldn’t be “distracted.” He had been labeled a “bad boy” and was finding school a torment. I had the feeling I was “springing” him from prison. His esteem was rock bottom. My bubbly, bright, outgoing preschooler had turned sullen. Something was dreadfully wrong.
The temptation was great to duplicate school at home. Some do go so far as to turn a room in their home into a miniature school house, complete with chalk board. I didn’t go quite that far, but I did make a spreadsheet with times and subjects down the left column and dates along the top row, with exactly what we were going to study each moment of the day. I thought I had to. Anything to get our son out of his depression. Routine, I was told, was best for attention deficit disorder children.
Not sure where to turn to when Scott just wasn’t thriving in 4th grade, I phoned the local school district. Mistake #1. The woman handling the district homeschooling program welcomed me with open arms. The district would not only provide me with free books, but also pencils, paper, art and science supplies. What a deal! All I would have to do would be to give them a plan of what I was going to teach for the coming month and then a report of what we actually had done, with any material work Scott had actually performed. Seemed a simple trade at the time.
They wanted their “ADA” or “Average Daily Attendance” money. If a local child leaves the system, the district loses this money. If they stay, even in some kind of independent study program, the district gets about $3,000 from the state per year.
So I brought two boxes full of books and supplies home.
Now Scott had been pretty miserable at school. I had been laid off work when my group had been relocated to Maine. I had started a business at home, creating marketing materials, much as I had been doing before. My husband had gotten this great software contract, but in Nevada, up at Tahoe. Lovely area. Would be fun to drive up there for long weekends. Homeschooling we could do that. It just all seemed to come together.
Scott had agreed to work on his own while I had to work. He went off for the first few days and read the whole reader we had been given for the year. Course, at that speed he didn’t slow down for questions at the end of the chapter or any of the “language arts” materials that were supposed to go along with each lesson. I went back to the district and asked for the 5th grade reader. No, I could not have an advanced text. What would I do with him next year? Besides, they were only allocated so many books. So, Scott started just reading what we’ve come to call “real books.” No watered down versions of classics, as are so often found in readers. We’d get them from thelibrary or buy them at bookstores.
Now Scott loves math. Hard to spoil it for him. The district couldn’t afford to give me a workbook. (Where was this ADA money going? was going through my mind.) I made dittos of all the math sheets, and according to schedule, Scott did one or two a day. Well, maybe we got 15 lessons done a month. We were finding so many interesting places to go!
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California history was all around us, especially as we were driving through Sacramento and the Gold Rush area as we drove back and forth to Tahoe. It was easy to stop off at Sutter’s Fort, the Railroad Museum, or take in old Hangtown and the Gold Bug Mine in Placerville. At the museum in South Lake Tahoe there was an Indian hand drill. Scott made a sketch and we came home and made one. It really worked. Needed to be drilled in the first place as part of the process. “How did they ever make the first one, Mom?” The history book gathered dust as we visited Ohlone shell mounds, Spanish presidios and missions, even unheralded local adobes left from the days of the great Ranchos.
Our Indian Hand Drill has lost its nail on the bottom, but this will give you a general idea of how it was built.
After being told that even in the schools they weren’t using the science text books, just trying to give the kids as much “hands on” science as they could, we, too, abandoned the outdated book. Did glance at the concepts so we thought would know what to cover, and then just started “experimenting.” Pretty soon it became obvious that while there was no squelching our son’s enthusiasm for experimenting, it was also pretty ridiculous to try to study just one branch of science at any one time. How could we not drop biology if there was a comet in the sky? Only problem with science was the cost of good instruments. We figured out how to make some and others we bought. Lots of concepts can be taught using household materials, even toys!
P.E. was the only other state required course we needed to document. Scott joined the local swim team, as he just loves to swim. It was a workout, and he wasn’t used to that. But he did notice he was starting to beat me in the pool, so this really lifted his self-esteem. He looked tan and fit.
There were days, yes, there were days when we were both ready to throw in the towel. Usually they were the days I was trying to jam some knowledge down Scott’s throat. I noticed it was around the time those dang reports were due, and we didn’t seem to have any documented learning.
I started to learn “educationalese” about that time. I’d make a “normal” household routine sound like a major curriculum study! It was great fun. For example, Scott would help test the pool water: he studied “the chemical balance of standing water and compensate with either a base or acid to neutralize it.” He’d spend all day playing SimCity: he was “studying city planning.”
We tolerated this system for two years, when I ran into a California woman online. She mentioned that since she had a CA teaching credential, she did not have to fill out any of those dang reports. No paper work at all! No supervision by anyone! Hey! Wait a minute! I have an old Life CA teaching credential in some file drawer here! Hadn’t taught for years, but this was issued for life, and I’m not dead yet! You mean they really let you do that?
Checked with the Homeschool supervisor. Yes, since I was a certified teacher I could homeschool under the “Tutoring” option, with me as the tutor. I said what amounted to “Nice knowing you,” and we’ve been going our own way ever since.