Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Virtual Homeschool Conference at HomefiresJournal

Karen Taylor, the Editor of The California Homeschool Guide and member of the board of California Homeschool Network

Virtual Conference: April 18th - April 20th, 2002

Here are the Logs of Karen's Virtual Homeschool Conference at HomefiresJournal E-List:

Q: Do you have advice for those who are homeschooling an only child?

A: Ah, the only child! Our first child was 18 when our second was born, so in many ways, my husband and I have raised two only children. Our youngest is now 11. There are pros and cons to having an only child, just as there are to having six children. I believe in enjoying the family situation you have, rather than worrying too much about how to make it what it isn't. So, I'm not a worrier about having an "only."

I wrote a little about this in Chapter 8 of "The Guide": Why Aren't You In School Today? That's the chapter where I included some "Homeschooling Moments", "Lessons Learned" and also "A Day In The Life..."

I included homeschooling the only child in there because it's a worry that many people vocalize. If socialization is the worry of the day, then those with one child sometimes really anguish, because there aren't even siblings around. So, the question is, will my child have enough social contact?

My advice or insight? It's not to worry about it. If I went up to my son every day and asked him how happy he was, or if he was lonely today, he'd soon catch on and milk it for all it was worth. I've seen it happen, and it wears parents out! I expect my son to entertain himself, and find fun in life without me for his constant playmate. I'm his mom, I'm always near, but he's independent and happy, and has too many projects to delve into to worry if it's going to be one of those stay at home days. He's content, whether alone or when we go to park days where he can socialize big time. Every child, whether an "only" or one from a big family, should know how to comfortably be alone, since everyone finds themselves in that situation during life at some time or another.

I'm not sure if my child is content because it's his nature to be that way, or because we don't verbalize worries, or give him sympathy for being the only child at home. (I don't think it's occurred to him!) Children differ, and some might truly be miserable being alone, but I'd also suggest that if you ask a child if they are lonely today and do they need you to invite a friend over, if you ask them if they need to go to school because they are alone, then they will catch on that there is a problem here - and there really will be a problem.

Q: Will Kindergarten be mandatory in the fall of 2002 in California?

A: Not this year, in California, since there wouldn't be time to pass legislation and implement it in the next few months. For those of you with preschoolers, this is a question you should be asking every year to make certain that the law hasn't changed.

The California legislature has tried to introduce legislation that would lower the compulsory age in California from 6 to 5, several times in the last few years. California Homeschool Network has spoken out against this because we don't view any increase in requirements to be beneficial to families. Many people don't know that in California, kindergarten is not mandatory, but only customary. Proponents of the legislation have said there would be ways for a child who is not ready to opt out, but our concern along with the increased regulation, is that we don't know how hard it would be to keep a child out of school for a year (lots of intimidating red tape, perhaps), ...and would parents even be informed that they had the choice?

My most politically incorrect, blunt personal opinion of mandatory kindergarten is that it is welfare for working moms. They are the ones who most need all day kindergarten, because it's very inconvenient to send a child to school for only half a day, and the latest legislative proposal indicated that it would be full day kindergarten. How handy for working moms, but how sad for young children. We need to make certain that all decisions are made because they are best for children and not adults.

This is an issue worth staying informed about, no matter which state you live in. The trend is to have schools begin earlier, and after kindergarten will come preschool. In California, you can read about it at a state website: For other states, do a search using the terms "universal preschool". That's a good reason to stop mandatory kindergarten proposals now.

You just asked one of my soapbox questions. It won't impact my own children, because they are past that age, but it will impact generations of future children, and I hope there are enough outspoken responsible adults out there to protect these children from early schooling.

Q: Are you concerned about the growing number of public school home study programs or ISPs? I read an article recommended by CHN called The Seduction of Homeschooling Families by Chris Cardiff at this website: http://www.fee.org/vnews.php?nid=222 This is a very interesting and thought-provoking piece about the concerns about school districts getting into the homeschooling business, the primary one being that, at some point down the road, ISP's could potentially be touted by school districts as the only legitimate homeschooling option. My son has been in our district's ISP for 3 years now and I've been pleased with it, but that article has stuck with me. I live in an area where school enrollment is declining due to high housing costs and budget crises are looming for our districts. It isn't hard to imagine the districts seeing homeschoolers as a new revenue source. Also, the recent incident in the Sacramento area where a district tried to force the parents to put their child into the district's ISP has me concerned. I'm wondering, as a CHN Board Member and homeschooling advocate, what your thoughts are about this issue. How can we make sure that homeschooling families continue to have the freedom to do what works best for them? ~ Patty

A: We have 6 California Homeschool Network trustees, and in times like this, I think it's always better to acknowledge that I speak for myself, rather than the entire board or the entire CHN state organization. Within our membership and volunteers, we have homeschoolers who have chosen the ISP and charter option, as well as those who file the R-4. Although I personally file the R-4, I completely understand the value of ISPs and charters in some situations.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the reason that some Public ISPs and Charters are offering such satisfactory programs to homeschooling parents is because of the competition from independent homeschoolers. That competition is very good, and we want to be certain to keep it, so I'd hope that everyone would continue to support the cause of independent homeschooling even if they personally choose another option.

The reason I believe this competition has helped public programs is because when my oldest child (now 29!) was going to school, school was the only game in town, and it shocked me how little say I had in the education of my own child. They knew I had no other alternative, and they took advantage of that. Today's parent is facing a much more cooperative environment when approaching a school, because those schools know the parent may leave if they don't.

A public homeschool program is ideal for some divorced women, and is sometimes the only way they will be allowed to homeschool. I'm so glad that option is available to them! Others use the public programs temporarily as a bridge to independence. They feel they need the security of a school program since the thought of independently homeschooling is just too overwhelming. That shows what a good job the school system has done in convincing us that we can't raise our own children past the age of 5! Joining a local support group helps many parents realize that they can do it independently, and it's one of the benefits of participating in a local park day group. For those in California, CHN maintains a list of groups on the website at www.californiahomeschool.net/. These aren't CHN groups, but our goal is to make as many groups available as we become aware of, because local support really is important.

Chris wrote about the seduction of homeschooling families, and I believe he is right. Government schools are big business and homeschoolers take lots of money away from this system. Now, of course homeschoolers save taxpayers big bucks, but the massive public school monopoly isn't concerned about saving tax dollars. The controversy surrounding homeschooling is about money. With so many homeschoolers leaving the system, it makes sense that the next step would be for the system to step in with enticements to bring them back. And, it's been quite successful.

You asked about how we can make sure that homeschooling families continue to have the freedom to do what works best for them. As I mentioned, support independent homeschoolers. Join a state organization. Their cause is yours too, and the state groups are for everyone and not just those who file the private school affidavit. The next thing is to not be greedy with all those freebies, and don't allow your public programs to abuse the system. You might consider taking only what you need, rather than all that is offered. Make do with less. Many families have been helped with public programs, but the programs themselves have offered so much in the way of free things that taxpayers and legislators alike are taking notice, and considering it scandalous, and what we're seeing now is increased restrictions every year in these programs. This hurts all homeschoolers.

There's another aspect of the independent vs public argument that doesn't get mentioned as often as I think it should. Homeschoolers who trust the school system too completely sometimes are not getting the full benefit from homeschooling. Independent homeschoolers are so innovative in their approach to educating a child, and if a parent is enrolled in a restrictive public program, it may not completely meet the needs of the child. If you're in a public program, be fully aware of all options, and be a full partner with your child's facilitator, and be the one who determines the education your child will receive. The parents I hear from who are most miserable and thinking their homeschooling is failing, are the ones who are following what the teacher tells them to do - and it's usually boring worksheets. It's not surprising that they are listening to the teacher because we were all taught to be compliant when we were in school.

Q: Does The California Homeschool Guide truly just pertain to homeschooling in the state of California, or can homeschoolers who live in other states benefit from reading the book?

A: Jackie Orsi is a former California homeschooler who now resides in Ohio, and she's read the book. She's the one who first mentioned to me that she thought "The California Homeschool Guide" was good enough to be read nationally. That surprised me, since I really was focused on California, but she mentioned that although there are sections that apply only to California, much of it would be of value to any homeschooler.

Since I edited the book, and didn't write the entire thing, is it ok if I am immodest for a moment, and mention that I love the book? What I love about it, is that there are so many "voices", since many experienced homeschoolers contributed. There are some superb essays, and they are so different, that it becomes quite a compilation of interesting things to think about. During the year I was working on this, I read it many times, and I was personally inspired over and over by the wonderful writings! Sometimes I'd hand part of it to my husband, and tell him he needed to read it now! I really couldn't wait to share the wonderful wisdom of experienced homeschoolers with others!

It isn't just a simple how to homeschool book, but there are writings in there that will stick with you for many years, no matter where you live, and I believe, shape your homeschool years. I love the submissions for the teen years, and it's going to help motivate and help many parents, I think, and help them get through those years. Even now, every time I reread a section, it refreshes my thinking and I have an "ah ha" moment. That, to me, is the hallmark of something that is truly wonderfully written, and there are many such essays in the book.

The answer to your question, I guess, is that it was written for California homeschoolers, and the feedback we're getting from people who have read it is that every California homeschooler should have a copy in their library, and that homeschoolers who don't live in California may want to read it too.

Q: I will soon join a state homeschool advocacy group such as CHN or HSC. Please, could you tell me why you think I should join CHN and what the benefits are of joining any group and this one in particular?

A: I had the same problem when I started homeschooling, and ended up joining two groups the first year. I would love to see every homeschooler in the country join and volunteer for their state group. In California, we have a choice of three groups: California Homeschool Network, HomeSchool Association of California, and Christian Home Educators Association. In many ways, they are akin to political parties, although I think it's worth remembering that we are more similar than different, and that we should try to work together to protect our very important common cause.

We have more than one group because there are those who have differing approaches to coming to the same end. I have personally chosen CHN as the organization that I believe best serves my needs - and that's to make certain I can still homeschool! I can tell you some of the things that I do like about CHN. I like its openness and acceptance of all homeschoolers, that the officers are elected, so that everyone has a chance to jump in and get involved. The members really do have a voice, and they are heard. I think the legal/legislative teams do a good job of protecting, informing, and alerting when necessary. The volunteers attempt to inform so that others can make up their own minds, and they do a good job of that.

As for benefits, well there are the usual newsletters all the groups provide, things like campouts, member discounts on publications and trips, but the most important benefit is that when you join an organization, you support homeschooling! It takes money (and manpower!) to monitor legislation or to inform people about their legal rights and perhaps write a letter on their behalf. It takes money (and that manpower again!) to provide free literature and to answer an 800# seven days a week so that desperate parents receive the correct information that they need.

Supporting any state organization with your dollars and your time is such a worthwhile effort, that it's really hard to go wrong. Belonging to an organization, along with participating, is setting an excellent example for our children. Hopefully they will all grow up to be alert, responsible citizens.

Q: Is there any advice you can give me to help my daughter with her studies and/or her management of time? She is 9, doing fine academically, but completely directionless! She has been diagnosed with ADHD and is very bright, but completely unfocused. It is difficult to start her on a task, and, once she gets on something, she quickly flits from it to the next thing.

A: My guess is that you and your 9 year old probably have different learning styles, and that's where I'd focus - on understanding her, rather than changing her. Her needs and interests are different. It can be hard to understand that our children may not value the things that we value. She has no need to be focused, at least in a way that you would define it. But, that flitting from one project to another suits her, and in the adult world we praise it as being someone who can do more than one job at a time - they multi-task, and do it well!

You might start with a website likehttp://thomasarmstrong.com/, and move on to other sites and books about learning styles, so that you better understand her, and at the same time, yourself. She's happy as she is -- and you will be happy with her too, once you recognize that she has many wonderful interests already!

She's doing fine academically, which is great! Ultimately, how she learns should be up to her, so you might follow her lead and not worry about the process that she uses to learn. How fortunate that she is at home. Children like this face such difficulties at school in the "one way [of teaching] fits all" environment. In time, she will find something to focus on, and it will be recognizable by you, but for now, she's learning and interested, and is able to do it while flitting.

Q: What do you think of the recent pleas by Dr. Dobson and Dr. Laura Schlessinger for California parents to remove their children from the public schools? What impact will it have on the homeschooling community for both good and bad?

A: This is a good question about Dr. Dobson and Dr. Laura. People come to homeschooling in many different ways, and for many different reasons, and for some, Dr. Dobson and Dr. Laura's comments will be the impetus that makes them finally decide to pull their children from school, and perhaps choose homeschooling as the form of private education for their child. Because the majority of these homeschoolers will be Christian homeschoolers, it is likely that those who choose homeschooling over a fee based private school and will also choose to homeschool independently. Already, Separation of School and State (http://www.sepschool.org) has experienced a dramatic increase in signatures to their proclamation. This is an indication that people are interested in separating from government schools, rather than signing up for them.

Karen Taylor is on the board of directors with the California Homeschool Network (CHN). Many California homeschoolers hear from her on a daily basis, as she dispenses homeschooling information to parents who call CHN's 800# or who are subscribed to the CaliforniaHS e-mail list that you can subscribe to by sending an email to: CaliforniaHS-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. A speaker-writer within California, her latest project is the newly published book, The California Homeschool Guide (which, by the way, has tons of good info for those who don't live in CA too!).