Convention Time

At the last minute, we decided to attend the home school convention here in Orlando put on by the Florida Parent Educator Association (FPEA). We decided not to attend last year because at this time last year we were still up to our eyeballs trying to sort things out.  We assumed, we think rightfully, the convention at that time for us would have just drowned us.  But this year, we had almost a year under our belt so it seemed like it might be worthwhile.  Even so, we procrastinated watching the price go up as we missed all the early discounts.  I think we literally decided on the first day of the convention to go ahead and attend.

Not to spoil the punch line, but even at the door price, it was money well spent.  I think all of us managed to get something out of it.

Since we did not have a babysitter handy, we decided to haul everyone down on Thursday to see the exhibit floor.  We sent the two older boys off on their own with instructions to come back with “something interesting you want to do.”  Of course, they found the booth with the foam swords and battle axes and the other one with the rubber band guns.  But the also found a conversational Japanese course they wanted to take.

Somewhat surprisingly, our 9th grader actually had conversations with several of the college booths and looked excited by the prospect.  They also both found several Fantasy/Sci-Fi authors they were interested in.  The one author they both agreed on, we went ahead and bought his entire collection.

For the youngest (besides a foam, hand battle axe) we may have found the curriculum we will start him out on.  While I favor the Memoria Press line for the older two, we think we will start our First Grader on the Oak Meadow curriculum.  Like our other two, reading is not the first skill he is developing and the Memoria Press curriculum is pretty reading intensive.  Just looking it over made Jennifer start to panic.  In many ways, this alone made the price of admission worth while.  The decision to start our youngest Homeschooling now was a late breaking one and we were not well prepared for it.

The most surprising thing of all though were the sessions.  Being first timers, we had no idea who all the speakers and personalities were.  So we choose, somewhat blindly what sessions to attend.  Every single session provided us some new insight, or in some cases affirmation.  In one case I walked out thinking “I am a genius.”  Okay, maybe not, but I had been holding back on a few ideas I had, thinking they were maybe a bridge to far, only to sit in sessions not only recommending exactly what I had been thinking, but showing examples of their success.  Had I not attended these sessions, I may never have pulled the trigger on these ideas.

For Jennifer, I think she got a pretty serious confidence boost.  I think of all of us, this last year has been the hardest on her.  While she agrees with the concept, she has lived the last year on the edge of panic that we won’t do it right.  Unfortunately, I’m no help because I have no reasonable sense of fear or caution and I’m afraid I gave her little or no say in how we did things this year.  Our current school year is still in its closing round, but I think she is reasonably confident we are doing well by the older two.  We of course still need to tweak a few things.  But her underlying lack of confidence re-emerged when we started talking about starting our youngest now instead of in a few years as originally planned.  I think the sessions she attended and the curriculum she found gave her the boost she needed to commit.

We still have a bag full of stuff to sort through and since we did not attend sessions together, we need to pow-wow a bit and decide on what to do next.

“Dad, I want to read Shakespeare…”

Dad: “What? You don’t shake your beer!”

Son: “No dad, ShakesPEARE. I want to read The Tempest and Hamlet.”

Okay, so that’s not really how the conversation started. It started by my oldest son asking me how much I’d be willing to spend on a book. This might sound like a strange question, but my kids know, no matter how often I say “No” to video games and other things, I am always willing to pay for new books. However, he was expecting me to say no to this one because it was a very nice, rather expensive, leather bound version (The Tempest and Hamlet).

Now, I’m really hoping he decides to binge read some Shakespeare. Not only is it a good idea on its own, I already have the Memoria Press curriculum for “The Canterbury Tales” and “Henry V.” It would be wonderful to not have to force feed him these.

Of course, at this point you are probably expecting me to high five homeschooling for leading into this wonderfully classical moment. Unfortunately, the win goes to Japanese Anime. A show he is watching has mentioned it several times. Not that I find that odd. I trace my own interest in music, particularly classical music directly back to Bugs Bunny and other Saturday morning cartoons. So I get it.

The cost is not actually a deal breaker here I told him. I then showed him my first copy of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A rather battered set of paperback books. I then showed him the leather bound, slip case versions of the Hobbit and the Trilogy I have, and the 50th Anniversary versions of those, and the soft leather bound version I picked up a couple years ago and the set of soft leather, pocket sized versions in the boxed set. Collectable versions of books we like are also, always acceptable I told him.

So did I buy it? Not yet. I made a deal with him. “I already have Shakespeare in the house. Read from the book I have” I told him. “If you get to the end of those stories and still want the collectible versions, I’ll get them for you.”

So where is the homeschool win? I got to walk over to my bookshelves, pull the book off (all twenty pounds of it) and just hand it to him. I didn’t have to remind him about the book he is reading for English that he hates, his History project or his lab report. Without any caveats what so ever, I simply said here, read, enjoy. THAT’s when education wins in my mind.

Oh, and a shout out to the well provisioned, home library win here. That book is older than he is. In fact, it is older than my marriage. That book has been sitting on my book shelf for thirty years, waiting for just this moment…

Educational Fruit Salad (part 3)

Well Rounded Education

One of the areas we felt was falling apart or downright failing in the public school system was the concept of a well-rounded education.  We, like many others found ourselves massively disappointed with the test-centric metrics for success being used by the schools.  This ultimately meant any class not directly mapped to a government mandated test or other program, was continuously on the chopping block.  The other  programs and classes were underfunded or outright eliminated.   Even within the “protected” subjects, the precise curriculum and activities were focused on the end of year, testable outcome.

As part of our research, we stumbled onto educational methods such as the “Trivium” and “Classical Education.” These seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately, we were a bit late to the party here.  These methods start with Elementary School and we were starting with Middle and High School.  So the question we had (and still have) was, is it possible to jump into the middle of this?  Our choice was ultimately to give it a try.  And our choice of curriculum was the one from Memoria Press. It is the same program (or mostly so) as offered by their brick and mortar schools, The Highlands Latin School as well as the Highlands Latin Cottage Schools (for Homeschoolers) and their online Academy.

In practical application, it meant some things in the standard program will be “substituted” for what they have done in the past or which we have planned going forward. In other cases though, we are just behind and in essence, need to start at the third grade level.  You can’t just start with Latin V because that’s what the program dictates for your age.  This does break some of the continuity and for us, remains to be seen if the disruption is relevant or not.  Our hope is, once we get going, we will be working at an accelerated rate.  Since we have no goal of finishing Middle and High School early, this will create the time needed to deal with the backlog. This is also what we hope will allow us to take additional science and elective courses.

Educational Fruit Salad (part 2)

College Preparation

This really comes in two flavors: College Entrance and College Survival Skills.  This goal is focused on College Entrance.  What things can we do to insure the best possible chances of college entry?  Our research pretty much filtered down to four high level points:

  • Curriculum mapping
  • Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors level coursework
  • Dual Enrollment
  • Scholarships

For the most part, we had very little heartburn with the actual curriculum offered at public schools.  We felt it lacked a few things and that it was implemented poorly. So if anything, we were looking to ADD to the standard schedule, not remove anything.  So having a clear understanding of the required, public school course load was essential.  Fortunately, it was also easy to find. The Florida Department of Education made this easy.  The Lake County District web site had all this information readily available.  I even found a list of text books used.  It became really a straight forward task of mapping the classes we wanted to the particular curriculum or resource I chose for that subject.

Currently, we are using the following:

  • Mathematics – Saxon/Shormann Math
  • Advanced/Honors/AP History/Civics – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS)
  • Advanced/Honors/AP Science – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS), Shormann Science
  • Spanish – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS), Duolingo
  • Fitness/Health – Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS), Community Programs, CoOp
  • Language Arts/Literature/Classical Studies – Memoria Press
  • Latin – Memoria Press
  • Fine/Performing Arts – CoOp, Community Programs
  • Religious Studies – Memoria Press, Church
  • Other Elective – mixed

I’ll talk in more detail about each of these later.

For Advanced Placement and Honors level work this is accomplished through a couple, pretty straightforward means.  Many curriculums have this as a simple option. For the FLVS classes, you simple enroll as Advanced/Honors, then do the additional assignments as you work through the class.  For other curriculums, they include instructions for how to grade or manage the curriculum for an advanced level.  For AP classes, the key is taking the Advanced Placement test, which in Florida at least, is supposedly offered to Homeschool students. We’ve not looked into details for this yet, but it seems fairly clear it is easily available.  Therefore, what we looked for was either an AP option for the class, or the presence of AP preparatory options.  Both the FLVS and Shormann series offer these.

Dual Enrollment (taking college level classes for college level credit while still in high school) turned out to be an unexpectedly sticky widget.  While we are not yet convinced we want to take advantage of this (the whole point was to slow down Middle and High School to get the most out of it, not rush through it even faster), but we did not want to lose the option either.  For Florida Public Schools this is offered free of charge.  It is also offered to Homeschoolers.  However, referring back to my earlier mention of tricky vocabulary, there is a “homeschool” option that by Florida law is not considered homeschooling.  Many Homeschoolers use what are called “Umbrella Schools.”  These offer certain benefits and protections to homeschool families.  However, by Florida Law, these are considered Private Schools and are therefore not offered free usage of the Dual Enrollment program.  The current policy is that Dual Enrollment fees are charged back to the school.  Because most of these Umbrella Schools are nothing more than legal shields for Homeschools, they are not able to afford this option for their members.  Those that do offer this option appear to have adopted a “play it safe” approach and only offer it to Homeschoolers who can provide grades from accepted institutions such as the Florida Virtual School and the county Public Schools.  Because of this, we opted to go with the “Portfolio Review” option even though it puts us at the mercy of “the man.”

The state of Florida has a scholarship program named Bright Futures.  Somewhat surprisingly, this program is in fact open to Homeschoolers.  However, you do have to meet pretty much the same criterion as public school students. For us, the really wasn’t much of problem except to serve as a checkpoint for us as we designed our curriculum. Including things such as a world language, service hours, etc. are the types of things we need to insure we include in their records.  Fortunately, these also align naturally with our plans anyway.