Category Archives: Engaged learning

Homeschooling: Not a Sure Thing

Sometimes school doesn’t work out like people expect.

And sometimes homeschooling doesn’t work out like people expect.

When I talk to parents at conferences and workshops, I realize that for some of them, homeschooling seems to be a way to create “a sure thing” — a kid who will be happy, or a kid who will be successful — according to the parents’ particular definition of success.

While homeschooling for engagement can create a lot of learning, it cannot create “a sure thing,” any more than any other approach to education can.

That’s because children are people. 

As Adrienne Jones writes in the most recent issue of Brain,Child:

. . . a child is a person, not a soufflé, and ultimately we come to the place where we can’t control everything. Or anything. (read more at the April 4, 2014 issue of Brain,Child)

Jones is not, in fact, writing about homeschooling, but her observations are apt regardless of how children are educated. Our children are autonomous beings, and they will create their own lives, which we parents may or may not be happy about.

As I’ve written previously, there is no homeschooling guarantee. 

In homeschooling, I’m particularly grieved for the parents who’ve been instructed by leaders of their “brand” of homeschooling that if they do homeschooling right, their children will turn out right. 

In some religious circles, we hear the Biblical scripture from Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

In some natural parenting circles, we hear the dogma that meeting a child’s needs sensitively and without coercion will result in a successful, well-adjusted child.

Among some of today’s mainstream homeschoolers, we hear that committed parents can create a homeschool program that will get any kid to college.

I’ve got news for you. These “sure thing” statements will result in disappointment and even grief for some parents.

How unfair to set the standard that doing everything right or following a homeschooling approach completely enough will have a magical effect. Sure, nurturing makes a difference, but kids come with their own individual hard wiring, and kids intersect with thousands of variables that will affect the course of their lives.

This is not only unfair to the parents, but unfair to the kids.

Homeschooled kids should not have the burden of proving an approach to religious training or parenting or education to be “right” in addition to the challenges of growing up, becoming independent, and being themselves.

Engagement is a powerful attribute, but I guess I’m not cut out to be a guru — because I can’t bring myself to say engaged homeschooling will prevent tooth decay, guarantee religious conviction, stimulate the acquisition of advanced degrees, or create enormous earning potential.

You’ll need to supply your own toothpaste, holy water, GRE scores, and entrepreneurial skills.

I can just tell you that Engaged Homeschooling seems to harness in one model a lot of what makes homeschooling work when it works — and it’s a great way to spend time with your kids.

 

 

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Changing Levels of Engagement

How I wish we homeschooling parents could hit on the magic formula that works for our children and find that it works forever. We’d simply do what engages them to whatever extent we possibly can, and then we would be all set.

tree silhouette

Levels of engagement can change over time. My walks with my camera remind me that seasons occur even in children’s lives.

However, engagement changes over time. This is why homeschooling based on engagement isn’t “just leaving the kids alone” to discover or create or study on their own.

As you detect what interests, activities, and methods of learning engage your children, you will be delighted with what works for them. However, you’ll also recognize that over time, what they are engaged in and how engaged they are can vary considerably.

What causes changes in levels of engagement?

  • Developmental changes. Yes, kids have birthdays. Sometimes we parents forget that birthdays mean changes in how kids want to spend their time and how deeply they want to delve into certain subjects. We can feel “all set” that our child has found what we think will be a lifelong interest or approach to things, only to find that a new stage of life means that the previous interest no longer compels the child. I remember one of my children quite suddenly slid an entire shelf of childhood toys, puzzles, games, books, and projects from a bedroom into the hall — pronouncing himself “finished” with everything on the shelf at once. I was a little heart broken, but he had complete clarity.
  • Self-awareness and comparison. Related to developmental changes, changing self-awareness may affect how children are engaged in learning. A child who has been fully engaged in learning basic arithmetic and science experientially or through game-playing may suddenly want workbooks or a text book because she realizes that this is how many other children learn. A child who was reluctant to learn to keyboard and do internet research may hit a new phase when she sees that other kids her age are regularly using online resources. Kids can also get to the “other side” of these new ways of wanting to learn and sometimes want to return to their former approaches, once they’ve proven to themselves that they can “do it.” Conversely, they will also adopt some new approaches to learning and stick with them because they work.
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The Puzzle of Motivation

When I talk about engagement, I often recommend the book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. It’s a great read, explaining why people are more motivated by autonomy, the ability to seek mastery, and the desire to have purpose, than they are by traditional incentive systems.

It’s one of those books that is not about homeschooling but is somehow still about homeschooling. Or maybe more generally — about our society’s general approach to education and how we frequently ignore what research tells us about how people become engaged and learn.

If you’re interested in stimulating engagement in your family, another resource for learning about Pink’s ideas is his TED Talk (above), “The Puzzle of Motivation.”  He covers a lot of the same material in the talk that he writes about in a bit greater detail in his book, and you can get a good understanding of why you may want to re-think knee jerk approaches to “motivating” your children.

Both the book and the TED Talk are aimed at a business audience, but the lessons are there for educators, including homeschoolers.

You’ll see over in my Tools of Engagement page, that I list Pink’s motivators as among the things that can be used to help develop engagement in homeschooling families. Maximizing autonomy, providing opportunities for kids to gain mastery, and helping them find or feel a sense of purpose, are hallmarks of facilitating for engagement.

 

Gallup Poll: Students are Less Engaged the Longer They’re in School

Copyright © 2013 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. The content is used by Engaged Homeschooling/Jeanne Faulconer with permission; however, Gallup retains all rights of republication.

School students become less engaged with each year they attend school, according to research conducted in a 2013 Gallup Poll:

The Gallup Student Poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in grades five through 12 from more than 1,700 public schools in 37 states in 2012. We found that nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated in the poll are engaged with school. By middle school that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged. (Read more at the Gallup blog post about student engagement). 

Gallup concludes that an over-reliance on standardized testing, the neutralization of students’ entrepreneurial tendencies, little “experiential” and “project-based” learning, and the “lack of pathways” for non-college-bound students are among the reasons for the steady drop in engagement of students over the years.

The good news is that homeschoolers definitely can and do approach education otherwise. In fact, homeschoolers regularly indulge their kids’ entrepreneurial ideas, use all kinds of hands-on and project-based learning, and frequently prepare their kids for non-college vocations as well as for university. Homeschoolers in most states can also choose to avoid altogether or completely de-emphasize standardized testing. Continue reading

Back from the VaHomeschoolers Conference

Thanks to all the folks who came out to the VaHomechoolers conference this weekend. During my Engaged Homeschooling session, I distributed printed handouts. To make it easy for you to read the articles and ideas I talked about, much of the information is included here on the pages of Engaged Homeschooling.

I’ll post soon about the Gallup poll on the level of student engagement in schools, which I mentioned near the beginning of our time together. I just got permission from Gallup to use their graphic here at Engaged Homeschooling. That’s the one where I had the whole audience stand up and then got a percentage of you to sit down, then another percentage to sit down, and so on — reflecting the percentage of students who become disengaged through elementary school, middle school, and high school, as determined by Gallup researchers. Look for that within a day or so.

I’ll continue to update EngagedHomeschooling.com, and I’ll start with responses to some of the questions you asked me at the conference.

I also enjoyed speaking about Phys Ed, Sports, and Homeschooling the Athlete, and presented a session called Homeschooling 101: Homeschooling for NON-Homeschoolers. After the session, I enjoyed following up with many of you, including some grandparents who came out to learn more about homeschooling at the request of their adult kids.

I was touched when one grandmom got a little teary, saying she wished she’d homeschooled her son — who is now homeschooling his own kids.

Thanks to those of you who shared your personal stories with me between sessions and asked your good questions after my talks. I always learn from talking with parents and kids at conferences, which helps me think of new ways to present homeschooling ideas.

Next year’s VaHomeschoolers conference: March 20 -21, 2015!

Homeschooling Kids with Attention Challenges

You can’t talk about engagement in learning without noting the huge number of children who are diagnosed with attention deficits in a school setting.

Alan Schwarz and Sarah Cohen, writing for The New York Times, report:

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (read more of the March 31, 2013 NYT report on ADHD here)

They quote doctors who are concerned that normal childhood behaviors are being pathologized because children acting like children is not as conducive to classroom management as children “sitting quietly at their desks.” Continue reading

Paying Attention vs. Being Engaged


We hear it all the time — kids being told to pay attention. 

From an adult’s point of view, this really means — think about what I am telling you to think about.

And when kids don’t look like they are thinking about whatever is on the adult’s agenda, they are said to be “not paying attention.”

In a school setting, these kids may not fit common descriptions of engagement, such as those offered by school principal Ben Johnson, which I featured on my Rules of Engagement page. I think Johnson makes good points about what engagement can look like in a classroom, but over my years of homeschooling, I’ve become aware that kids can also be extremely engaged in learning even when they do not have the appearance of “paying attention” that adults expect.

I’ve also realized that looking engaged takes its own energy and focus, and that kids in a homeschooling setting can have the luxury of not looking engaged, if their parents allow for it.
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