Monthly Archives: February 2011

Homeschooler of the Week – Maya M.

Name: Maya M. Age: 15 Homeschool Group: Northland Families Learning Together ( Homeschool Type: Unschooled Educational Background: Montessori school for six months of Kindergarten, then homeschooled. Currently attending a community college and continuing her unschooling studies. Interests/Subjects of Study: Music, … Continue reading

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Kid ‘isms’ – Baby Talk or Just Plain Cute?

I love them, the just between words that children utter from the time they first begin to speak until they are four or five or so. From both of my daughters I have some favorites…

Danielle, now 22, would point to a plane in the sky and scream “Wahgah” at 15 months. It was adorable. So much so that her dad, who was into designing and flying R/C planes, created one and named it Wahgah in her honor.

Later, as her language developed, two more kid ‘isms appeared: Spaguito and Justappeared. To this day I cannot hear that first word (mosquito) without thinking of a vicious spaghetti noodle with a dab of marinara sauce hunting for its next victim. The second word, justappeared (disappeared) became a joke, “So if it just appeared, where is it?”

To which my tiny daughter would shrug expressively, eyes round and say, “I dunno, it justappeared!”

At four, Emily’s kid ‘isms are quickly vanishing. When she first began to speak, ‘kitty’ became ‘kiki’ and even we referred to the cat as such.

Later, much later, Emily became enamored with firefighters. Perhaps some small memory remains of them crowding into our house, all five of them, when she was 15 months old and had gotten into a bottle of Excedrin.

These days, when asked what she wants to be, Emily says, “I want to be a fighter fighter, a doctor, and a mom!” She usually says ‘firefighter’ these days, but when excited, the ‘fighter fighter’ just jumps out first.

The other day she had a play date with one of my client’s children, a little girl just a few months younger than her. At the end of the visit, the little girl kept slipping and calling Emily “Lemily,” which I and her mom found terribly cute. As we cleaned up after blueberry muffin snack, the mom repeated it, smiling.

Which made me wonder, what is the difference really between baby talk and kid ‘isms? I questioned myself for a moment, was I deliberately encouraging my child to not know the right word? How many times have I said ‘fighter fighter’ because I found it cute?

Both of my children have always displayed ahead of the curve speech patterns. From a young age, they impressed strangers with how well they could speak, and the telegraphic speech patterns (what a child uses first – “Me want cereal” instead of “I want a bowl of cereal”) disappeared quickly and were replaced by full sentences early on.

I credit a great deal of this to always talking to them in what I would refer to as ‘full human speech’. Yes, I did let the kid ‘isms slip in, but I would also say the correct word at the same time. It was an internal battle for me, the battle of pragmatism over cuteness, and often the cuteness won. No one ever babbled at them or made up ootsie cutsie wittle wordsies. And language flourished as a result.

A few months ago, Emily spent most of a week with a little 21 month old who was just barely learning language and didn’t say much. The language of the day was still grabbing, pointing, and crying.

When your own kids progress past this point you quickly learn to forget how frustrating it can be to suss out what another child is trying to convey. I had a tough enough time of it, but Emily apparently took it as a cue to get more attention. She must have figured it kind of like this, “If I act like a baby, and just use one word sentences, Mama and Daddy will pay more attention to me and ask me questions and try to figure out what I want.”

Sorry kid, but your plan was flawed. We knew her better and could usually tell right away what she wanted at that age, than a child that was just visiting. And the startling reverse in verbal abilities was just plain frustrating. Three months later we are still dealing with the vestiges. Now when she begins to act like a baby and point or use one word answers I say, “Full sentence please or I’m off to do other things.”

I guess I have essentially answered my own question. Baby talk is what adults sometimes do with babies and toddlers, which does not serve to educate or prepare them for speech. Baby talk is also what kids do when attempting to retrograde themselves back to the ‘good ole days’. Kid ‘isms are what children do by mistake, and adults do out of humor and love for their children and their special little quirks.

I would say that kid ‘isms, if used in conjunction with the real world equivalent, are perfectly okay to use. In many ways I consider it a bonding experience.

I would love to hear of other kid ‘isms – anyone have any favorites they would like to share?

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The Choices, The Choices! Which Curriculum Do I Choose? – Secular or Faith Based

Of the many choices and questions that confront homeschooling parents, whether they have been homeschooling for a while or are just getting started is that of curriculum.

When I began homeschooling my teenage daughter I felt that I was very lucky. She already knew how to read, do basic math, et cetera – for us it was simply a matter of building on those skills already learned. For parents of younger children, however, the choices and decisions may seem overwhelming.

  • Should I choose a secular or faith-based curriculum?
  • How do I make sure I’m teaching “Johnny” something from each area (math, language arts, science, history, art, etc) each day?
  • Should I pick an all-inclusive curriculum, or piecemeal from different sources?
  • Should I unschool?
  • Do I need to have my children tested to make sure they are on track?
  • What are the laws regarding homeschooling in my state?

We will be taking these questions in order over the next few weeks.

So, today, let’s take the first question – secular or faith-based?

A great amount of the homeschool curriculum out on the market today is faith-based. This is to be expected when you consider that faith was one of the main motivators for parents who chose to homeschool early in the homeschooling movement. Nowadays, there are many families choosing to homeschool for many reasons that have nothing to do with faith.

If incorporating faith in your child’s daily education is important to you, then consider doing an internet search under a parameter that suits your needs, for example, ‘catholic homeschool curriculum’ or ‘christian homeschool curriculum’. I also used ‘jewish’ and ‘baptist’ and ‘lutheran’ in the search engine and found sites that supported all of them, although in some cases (Lutheran) there was not a specific curriculum for Lutherans listed. There are even results for ‘pagan homeschool curriculum’.

Take some time to visit these sites and talk about it with your spouse/partner and your children.

If you would prefer religion to remain separate from your homeschooling experience, then simply type in ‘secular homeschool curriculum’ and see what comes up.

In all of these cases, ask the curriculum provider for a brochure or a list of included books in a particular grade curriculum. You don’t have to buy something sight unseen.

Homeschool conferences are a great way to see the massive variety of choices available to you. I will be adding an Homeschool Conference page soon to this website to aid you in finding a homeschool conference near you.

In my browsing I noticed that there is a Midwest Homeschool Convention being held at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati, Ohio from March 31 – April 2nd. This appears to be a strictly faith-based conference and you can find more information by visiting them here. This same affiliated group is also holding a conference in Memphis, Tennessee, March 3rd – 5th. Information on that conference can be found here.

Another conference in Spokane Valley, Washington is being held on 3/25 – 3/26, more info is here.

That is just a sampling. There are many more happening around the country.

Another great way to help make the choice between faith-based and secular curriculum is to join a local homeschool group. Again, the faith-based are more numerous, but secular, unschool, and pagan homeschoolers are popping up all over the place. Also, some homeschool groups are deciding to be secular even with faith-based members – the combinations are endless!

By joining a local homeschool group, however, you can often ask for guidance in curriculum choice. Other members will share with you what they used and what worked for them and why. In many cases a homeschool group also has an active online forum that allows members to stay in touch with each other and discuss pertinent information, challenges, and achievements.

Stay tuned next Thursday when I address the following question…”How do I make sure I’m teaching “Johnny” something from each area (math, language arts, science, history, art, etc) each day?”

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Last week’s discussion about the dinosaur and modern bird link was really between my husband and I, but Emily was apparently listening closely.

She interrupted our discussion, a shocked expression on her face and asked, “WE have DINOSAURS?” I wish I had had a camera nearby, her mouth was a round ‘o’ of surprise. Dinosaurs in our garage? Really?

It was a perfect example of how normal everyday things can provide learning opportunities.

Take our chickens for example. (No really, take them, we have too many!) Now over a week old, all but one (a different breed from the rest) have well-developed wings and have actually begun to fly short distances.

“Emily, did you know that some scientists believe that even the Tyrannosaurus Rex might have had feathers?” Dave asked Emily.

Emily’s eyes grew bigger, “Tyrannosaurus Rex was a BIRD?!”

“Well, no, he was a dinosaur. But birds are the direct descendants of birds.” Dave explained, “Here, come see this on the computer.”

After half an hour on the computer, much to our chagrin, Wikipedia had cast doubt on T-Rex having feathers, but we had found a couple of other sites of interest for Emily.

Dinosaurs and Extinct Animals Preschool Crafts

Dinosaur Eggs (great for older kids as well)

This also morphed back to a discussion about how all of our chicks were female (unless some mistake had been made) and that they would lay eggs.

Later as I cracked some eggs to add to a recipe, Emily eyed them apprehensively and asked, “Mama, are we going to eat baby chickens?”

That spawned a discussion regarding fertilized versus non-fertilized eggs. These eggs, bought from the store, were non-fertilized, as our chickens eggs would be. “Without a rooster, the hens lay eggs, but they can never develop into baby chickens.”

This seemed to allay her fears about eating the eggs. Now I’m waiting for her to put two and two together and ask about all of those chicken breasts we like to eat for dinner!

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“Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto – Chapter One

As promised, I am continuing my report on John Taylor Gatto’s “Weapons of Mass Instruction” which you can find through all major booksellers including this one:

Tuesday will be Book Review day here at the Homeschool Advocate, so check in each week for a new installment. I doubt that most books will take a chapter a week to complete, but Mr. Gatto’s book is packed full of information.

As I finished reading Chapter 1 – “Everything You Know About Schools is Wrong” – I began to get angry…and resentful. The picture that Mr. Gatto paints of the origins of our educational system, from its creators’ own damning statements to the plummeting literacy rate that has followed, created an anger in me that I cannot properly convey.

Here are a few statistics on just how badly our literacy rate has fallen in comparison with rates from earlier in the 20th century:

1935 – overall literacy rate of 98%

1945 – overall literacy rate of 96%

1952 – overall literacy rate of 81%

And this was from the Army testing out soldiers for war drafts and refusing them on the basis of their being able to read at a 4th grade level.

There were racial divides as well…

1940 – 96% literacy for whites, 80% for blacks

2000 – 83% literacy for whites, 60% for blacks

The plummet in literacy rates is alarming. By 1952 it was so alarming to the Army (who were convinced people were cheating on the tests in order to get out of serving) that they hired a brigade of psychologists to expose the purported mass fraud.

The psychologists reported back, there was no mass cheating, the Defense Department said nothing, and life went on as usual, with literacy rates continuing to plummet.

What is particularly alarming are Mr. Gatto’s quotes from the coordinators and developers of our modern education system. To hear (well, read) what they thought and what their intentions for millions of future children were, was beyond upsetting. Here are just a few Mr. Gatto listed in his book:

1928’s book, “A Sociological Philosophy of Education” claimed, “It is the business of teachers to run not merely schools but the world.”

Edward Thorndike, creator of a new specialty called “Educational Psychology” said, “Academic subjects are of little value.”

And Mr. Gatto found this little gem in a 1906 document by Rockefeller’s General Education Board’s Occasional Letter Number One which states:

In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [of intellectual and moral education] face from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen – of whom we have an ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

I don’t know about you, but I’m neither grateful nor responsive. The thought of purposefully creating an curriculum to dumb me down does not encourage happy, thankful thoughts. And no one is going to parent my child for me, or ‘organize’ or ‘teach them the perfect way’ either.

The date on that document gave me hesitation. After all, it was 105 years ago, surely things have changed. But then I thought back to all of the experiences I have had in public schools, as well as some private ones, in which even the secretary’s demeanor is one of condescension and superiority. Almost an “Ah the great unwashed, uneducated and technically useless parent has arrived. I’m sure it is to interfere with their children’s education yet again.”

Perhaps I’ve just had bad experiences…over and over again…perhaps I’ve had truly bad luck in schools. But that condescension starts with the secretary and then moves up a notch, with every teacher and principal and counselor I have ever had to deal with. As if they knew, better than I ever will, about how I should be raising my own child and telling me with every uplifted nose and condescending look to just leave the education of my child to the experts.

And for those less strong, for those who suffer from crises of confidence, it makes schools especially difficult places to assert your rights and fight for the rights of your child and a good education.

Here is one more quote that Mr. Gatto found…

Andrew Carnegie, when writing “The Empire of Business,” declared that educational schooling, “gave working people bad attitudes, it taught what was useless, it imbued the future workforce with “false ideas” that gave it “a distaste for practical life.”

And if you think that big business is not heavily invested in the business of education, think again. What better incentive? You need a worker to know the basics, nothing special, so that they will happily stock shelves and serve coffee for the rest of their lives, without wondering if they could have been something more. Mr. Gatto advises in the book to “keep that uppermost in your mind as you read my book.”

Now here is a small step sideways…

In the late 80s and early 90s there were several rather public scandals about how our tax dollars were being used for the nation’s defense, $600 toilet seats, $50 wrenches, et cetera. Mr. Gatto points out that the school’s are doing much the same thing. When buying 100 copies of a particular book for his class, he learned that the bookseller only extended him a 25% discount, instead of the 40% discount offered to the general public. When he complained, the clerk pointed out that that was the discount the Board of Education had negotiated, so that is what he would get.

He also mentions the Har-Brace Handbook affair in which the school board voted to buy 5,000 copies of the Handbook for $11 a copy even when they knew that it was being remaindered for $1.00 a copy – a difference of $50,000. Imagine what they could have done with that extra $50,000? More computers? A bigger library?

And while others were buying blank paper at $1.50 a ream, the school instead paid $2.50.

My mother-in-law, who works for a school district in California, commented once to me when bemoaning state budget cuts, “We just need more funding.”

I am sure I did not win any points by pointing out to her that the United States has the highest per student funding in the world, and the worst literacy rates in the first world, and in many cases, less than some 3rd world countries.

Money isn’t the answer. A change in approach is.

Mr. Gatto ends this chapter speaking of how our youth are being trained to consume. It reminded me forcefully of The Story of Stuff, a short presentation that I point all of my organizing class attendees to, it really paints a clear picture of how we have all been trained to consume and the negative effects that it has had on us as individuals and as a nation.

As Mr. Gatto says in the last paragraph of Chapter One, “But when the young were assigned to consume, not produce; when they were ordered to be passive, not active, as part of the general society, the schools we have were the inevitable results of this transformation. As soon as you understand the functions it was given to perform in the new corporate economy, nothing about school at all should surprise you. Not even its Columbine moments.”

I can’t wait to get started on Chapter Two…

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Homeschooler of the Week – Birke Baehr

Name: Birke Baehr Age: 12 Homeschooled: from age 9, in public school prior to that I just finished watching a TED talk by Birke Baehr. If you have not heard of TED, I encourage you to go and browse the … Continue reading

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Strawberry Soup – the Power of Pretend Play

I was lost in my computer, fumbling over the unsavory task of learning just enough of the WordPress functionality to put the final tweaks on my new professional blog when Emily appeared next to me. “I made you some soup, … Continue reading

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“Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto – Prologue

I’ve begun reading John Taylor Gatto’s “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling” and would like to invite you along for the ride.

I’ll be taking this bite by bite, starting with the Prologue and posting on it every other, or every third day or so, as time allows. Order the book and read along with me if you like.

But first, a small introduction. For those of you who have not heard of him, John Taylor Gatto, as the title indicates, was a schoolteacher in New York for nearly 30 years. He was highly recognized, yet controversial, and has written several books about (and against) the public school system since his retirement from teaching.

In WMI’s Prologue, Mr. Gatto jumps in, touching only slightly on his struggles within the school system (in which they at one time deliberately tried to fire him by covering up all evidence of a medically approved leave) and goes straight to the nitty gritty.

Do we really need school? I don’t mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary?

Mr. Gatto doesn’t hold back when he points to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as examples of individuals who did not spend 6-7 hours a day, five days a week, for twelve years studying away. In fact, all of these individuals were essentially homeschooled.

He goes on to introduce, for those who do not already know, that our American system of education is based on the Prussian model of the early 1800s, in which he writes:

But what shocks is that we should so eagerly have adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens – all in order to render the populace “manageable.”

Scary stuff. Look around you, at the complacency, the eagerness to ‘go with the flow’ and the lack of innovation and willingness to take chances – this is what public education (among other things) is doing to us.

What I found interesting was the connection Mr. Gatto later makes between consumer consumption (and runaway consumption, which our country’s citizens still do whenever possible) and public education when he writes,

…mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn’t actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn’t have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all.


I teach a class locally, Get Organized, Stay Organized, based on my book by the same name. You can find a Kindle edition by clicking on the link below or contact me if you are interested in taking the class or buying the book.

One of the main points I cover is to avoid over-consumption, this runaway trend of spending, collecting, keeping, and overfilling our homes and lives with STUFF. So Mr. Gatto really touched a nerve there!

He finishes off the prologue with a very important point…

…wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands…[mandatory education’s] real purpose is to turn [children] into servants

And with this closing quote, I will leave you to think about what thoughts and challenges Chapter One will bring:

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt.

Look for a review of Chapter One in a few days…

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The Side Effects of Homeschooling – DIY, MYO, and an Entrepreneurial Drive

Warning: For those contemplating homeschooling, be aware, there are side effects you may be exposed to. Proceed with caution. You HAVE been warned! Now with that little warning out of the way… I often say that quitting my cushy job … Continue reading

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This is an AMAZING Book

I’m keeping this post short and sweet today… The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn I discovered this book in 2003 and read it cover to cover before handing it to my then teenager daughter, Danielle. It was truly inspiring, … Continue reading

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