Mom’s Weekend Out: My First VaHomeschoolers Conference


Submitted by Janell E. Robisch

 

 

Recently, I had the good fortune of attending my first ever statewide homeschooling conference. I’ve been homeschooling for years and always wanted to go to the annual conference of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, but with life as a mom, something always came up to prevent me from going.

This year, I volunteered to help out at the conference at the first available opportunity. When I feel committed, I am much less likely to back out and let the day-to-days of life take over, and sure enough, it worked!

When the day came, I felt a little like I was back in college, with roommates and some time to myself, as I enjoyed good food, good friends, and lots of late-night chatting. My husband stayed at home with our three kids, and I shared a hotel room with a couple of my area homeschooling friends, Adesa and June. We arrived Friday afternoon and headed over to the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center to drop off Adesa, who was the volunteer coordinator for the conference.

Sightseeing

June and I took advantage of Friday afternoon to enjoy a couple of the local sites. Our first visit was to the Crossroads Art Center in Richmond, which was a short drive away from the conference center. The gallery, located in a strip mall, was a delightful find. It had a surprisingly large collection of paintings and photographs, with each artist or group allocated a mini-gallery in a cubicle-like space. We enjoyed musing and wandering the collection, but of course, we still thought and talked about our kids (as if it’s possible for a mom not to). I was inside only for a few minutes before I had picked up an art print card of a cute kitten for my cat-loving son.

Next, we drove deeper into Richmond, and June visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum while I took a much-needed break to hang out, read, and touch base with the family via cell phone. The area downtown is chock full of attractions, especially for the history buff, including the Museum of the Confederacy and the Virginia Historical Society. I definitely want to make time to take the kids to the Science Museum of Virginia and maybe the Children’s Museum of Richmond either through a co-op field trip or during next year’s conference.

Conference

I did not attend the Friday sessions because I have been homeschooling for years and have not really gotten into the sports debate, but I was happy to see that those sessions on beginning homeschooling and the Sports Access Bill were available. I was happy to take time later on Friday afternoon to visit the vendors and the Used Resource Sale (URS). I picked up a couple of books on CD for our long drives to field trips (we go on so many field trips, we may as well say we are fieldschoolers or maybe tripschoolers!). I also bought a book for me and some choice items from the URS. We do a lot of strewing in our house, and I wanted to get things that I knew would match my kids’ current passions, so a book on cats, an animal coloring book, an art journal, and a few other things were perfect finds! I also picked up loads of informational brochures, which are sitting behind me right now in a tote bag waiting to be sifted through.

Even before I went to the sessions, I found that the conference had been worth the 3-hour trip from Luray, but I’d go just for the sessions as well. As a seasoned homeschooler, I did make the mistake of going to a couple of sessions that I could have presented instead of attended (although I’m almost afraid to write that because someone is going to respond, “Great idea, Janell. We’ll sign you up for next year!”). My husband and I have been working and homeschooling together for years, and I’ve also started a homeschool co-op in my area; those sessions ended up being geared more toward beginners. While I was happy to learn how others were handling these situations, I guess I was looking for more meat on the nitty-gritty problems and details that arise when you are deep in the muck! However, I felt that the sessions were well done, and I was glad to share what I could in the hope that it might help a fellow homeschooler or two get through the growing pains of learning to make it work.

The remaining three of the five sessions that I attended were quite useful to me, and I don’t feel like I could have gotten the same information in such a short period of time anywhere else.

First was Sherene Silverberg’s session on “Homeschooling Your Gifted Child.” Boy, I really wished I had attended this session about 9 years ago when my 3 1/2 year old was reading fluently! There was still a wealth of information in her session as well as common sense and some really valuable advice. Sometimes you know that your child (whether gifted, special needs, or both) is different, but you continue to look for solutions in all of the “regular” places. Having Sherene point out some places to go for children like mine was immensely helpful, and I’m looking forward to exploring those resources.

Next was Jeanne Faulconer’s session on “Unschooling Unzipped.” What a terrific session! I would probably consider myself an eclectic homeschooler, but I’ve definitely always had elements of unschooling in the mix; sometimes, it’s been full-on unschooling (unschooling and its flexibility can be the perfect solution when both parents work full time). It was great to hear about the ways that Jeanne and others have used unschooling to nurture their kids’ interests and give them the kind of education that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional school or with traditional curricula. She also acknowledged that unschooling is a spectrum, just like so many other endeavors. I think my favorite quote of the session was the definition of unschooling attributed to Patrick Farenga: “allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”

In common with Sherene, Jeanne also introduced the concept of finding mentors for children to teach them beyond the levels that are possible for parents. As my oldest child nears the teen years, this is definitely something that I want to consider in a more conscious way. I realize that he already has mentors in our community, who have sort of become his mentors by accident, but having attended these sessions, I will be keeping my ears perked for other opportunities to help him and my daughters grow through official and unofficial mentorship opportunities.

The last session that I want to mention is “Real World Math: Making Sense of Algebra and Middle School Math” by Karim Kai Ani. Ani is a charismatic speaker and teacher, and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one in the room wishing that he’d been my math teacher in school (although I’m sure that he is younger than I am!). I also liked the way that Ani targeted the tweens and teens in the room before the adults and that he was not afraid to concede when they got one up on him. His approach to middle school and high school math problems was not only concrete, with real-world applications, but also fun. As my son moves from middle school level math to algebra, I will be taking advantage of this approach (and Ani’s web site, Mathalicious, I’m sure) to first introduce the concepts as real-world applications instead of just abstract formulas and variables in a way that I hope my kids will find fun and engaging. All learning should be this awesome!

And those were only the sessions I was able to attend! I’m sure that I missed many more great ones. I hope that at some point VaHomeschoolers will be able to record and sell the session audios, but for now, I am happy to have gotten a copy of Stephanie Elms’s handout for her session “There’s an App for That?” and to have a great homeschooling community here in the Shenandoah Valley and in Virginia in general. We’re a lucky bunch of homeschoolers.

See you at next year’s conference! I’ll be back.

Volunteer Spotlight on the Phaup Teens

Let us introduce you to the fabulous Phaup teens. These cousins:Tyler, Ryan, Adrienne, Susie, Elizabeth and Abigail Phaup, and family friend Cheyenne Greene (whom we count because the Phaups do!), are the offspring of former board member Karen Phaup and her husband Bruce, and Bobbi Jo and Jay Phaup(one of our founders). Our conferences would never come off so smoothly without this great group of young people, and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them.

 

This adolescent powerhouse has toiled for years now lugging most of the books for the Used Resource Sale, book fair and the heavy boxes of fillers for the tote bags (that includes picking them up from UPS and FedEx, putting them in and out of storage, and loading and unloading the family vehicles). They’ve also helped out at registration, the VaHomeschoolers information table and with lunch distribution. In 2012, the cousins also did all the decorating for both the teen party and the post-conference party.

 

VaHomeschoolers president Parrish Mort is used to seeing the group at every conference. “The Phaup clan is always at the Cultural Arts Center from beginning to end. They unload vehicles, stuff all the tote bags, act as greeters, and work at the Used Resource Sale. One of my favorite memories is seeing them all sitting around a big table with other teens at the teen party laughing and playing Uno or some other card game.

 

Phaup kids make hard work feel like fun. As the manager of the conference book fair in 2012, board member Kendra Niehaus observed their charms first hand. “Tyler and Ryan (along with Kaila Nathaniel) helped with book fair set-up last year.  I began the day totally wound up, but those boys managed to put me at ease and make me laugh, while still being efficient and adding a creative flair to the design that I wasn’t expecting.  The following day, Abby was lovely and well-spoken as she rang up sales. She handled customers with a maturity I’ve rarely seen in a young teen. The only thing that disappointed me about the conference this year was that I didn’t get the chance to work with the Phaup teens again!”

 

The Phaup boys also helped to look up key items for the URS last year to help us better price special items, then made unique price tags for them,” remembers Vice President Leslie Nathaniel. “Last year, the Phaup girls kept an expert eye on the line at the ice cream social– they gauged scoop sizes to match the number of people we had without anyone telling them. They were speedy, friendly, and super-efficient so that everyone had a wonderful time. Yes, the Phaup crew is awesome. We are all so lucky to have them!

 

We would never have been able to pull off that party [the 2012 post-conference party]without the hard work of the Phaup crew,” says board member Ann Clay. “Bless those Phaup kids with their adolescent energy! They got the whole place decorated, the food arranged nicely, and the atmosphere set. Two of the cousins took coffee, cream and sugar around to each party guest, looking and acting like real wait staff. Later in the evening, Ryan and Tyler did a fantastic job giving away the door prizes. They were a riot!

 

The thing that really struck me was that I offered them free pizza and a dip in the hotel pool as a reward for helping us out, but their mom Karen said they didn’t need motivation. And she was right. They were happy, enthusiastic and helpful the entire evening, all the way through cleanup. They helped me load up my car too, before I staggered up to bed.”

 

One of our most treasured volunteers, Barb Benfante, regularly runs the VaHomeschoolers table at each conference. “Adrienne is an invaluable helper at the VaHomeschoolers table. She has a great attitude and she works hard at any job she is given. She is always smiling and looks happy to be there even when there is a lull and not much to do!”

 

Jeanne Faulconer says, “Tyler has always been that take charge guy. I have often thought he reminds me of my oldest because he has that “LET’S do it” leadership style that I recognize is kind of that ideal that they hone in Scouts. He jumps in and invites others, which makes the work so much easier, and people have no idea that Tyler is ‘leading’ them to do something. How often have I wished in my life for bosses like that! I have noticed this in Tyler many, many conferences back.”

 

Even behind the scenes, these kids are ready to help. Ryan took it on himself to learn Microsoft Excel so that he could assist the volunteer coordinator with her spreadsheet problems. He made it much more functional and beautiful. She tried his patience mightily, but he held it together.

 

Newest board member Pamela Schmidt says, “Ryan is one of my favorite homeschool conference memories. Last year he was so open and well-spoken, and I was grateful to meet another teen boy like (my son) Parker. He helped me work on my moonwalk in the parking lot (much to the utter embarrassment of my children). He’s awesome!”

 

We wholeheartedly agree. The Phaup cousins spread cheer and fun everywhere they go. They help the first time we ask, and they never need reminding. We at VaHomeschoolers are very proud to have this family and their great example of what homeschooled young people can be. Thanks, kids!

 

We need more people like the Phaup cousins! Do you have a simple skill, something you really enjoy doing? You’d be surprised at how much you can help us out, even by volunteering only an hour here and there. We especially value our teen volunteers, and we can help you with your college and career goals by giving you a great letter of recommendation. Read about our current volunteers needs at http://vahomeschoolers.org/volunteer/ or email Volunteers@VaHomeschoolers.org for more information. 

Resources for Finding Apps for Homeschooling

Resources for Finding Apps for Homeschooling – Submitted by Stephanie Elms of Annandale

I’ll admit it. I can be a bit of a geek at times, especially when it comes to “new shiny things” related to technology. So I jumped at the idea of creating an Apps for Homeschooling session for the VaHomeschoolers Conference this past March. Based on the positive feedback from attendees, I want to continue to share what I learned with homeschoolers. So over the next several months I will be blogging about some of the more creative and useful apps and digital books available.

Apps to Enhance Your Homeschooling

Given the number of apps out there, it can be a bit daunting to sift through the less than stellar apps to find the gems. I have included some of the more interesting apps that I found in the handout:

Apps to Enhance Your Homeschooling (pdf).

You’ll find organizational apps (for tracking and organizing your homeschooling), educational apps (broken out by subject matter) and digital books. For those who are unfamiliar, digital books are different than ebooks. While ebooks are electronic versions of print books, digital books are highly visual books which take full advantage of the digital aspects, often including animations, stunning graphics, videos, and weblinks to enhance the experience.

There is a little bit of something for everyone with a variety of apps for a variety of ages, so check them out. To learn more about these apps, you can google them or look them up in the iTunes App Store or on Google Play.

Resources for Finding Apps and Digital Books

Websites abound with promising titles such as “Apps for Smarter Kids.” Unfortunately, more often than not, they fail to live up to their name and the apps listed seem fairly run of the mill, more like glorified worksheets.

One exception is Apps for Homeschooling. In depth reviews as well as a good selection of apps for older kids (many app websites seem to focus on apps for young children and it can be hard to find apps for older kids) make Apps for Homeschooling an incredibly rich resource. You can search based on age, device, subject and price.

GeekMom and GeekDad cover all things geek-y and tech-y as it relates to moms, dads, kids and families. In addition to app reviews, you will find articles on projects, tips and other technology oriented information.

There are also several good places for finding good digital books for kids:

I hope this gets you started on your way to finding some of the fantastic apps that are out there. I will be back over the next few months to review some of my favorites. In the meantime, feel free to share some of your favorite apps in the comment section!

Enjoy!

Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. Stephanie also volunteers as a member of the VaHomeschoolers Board of Directors and is the VaHomeschoolers website administrator.

If You Show a Child a Homemade Hovercraft

If You Show a Child a Homemade Hovercraft – Submitted by Kelly Muzzin of Manassas

 

Finished Hovercraft

 

If you show a child a homemade hovercraft, she’s going to want to make one herself.

She’s going to need the balloon pump, which she didn’t put away the last time she used it. She’ll ask you to help look for it.

 

After 30 minutes of digging through cupboards you forgot you had, you’ll finally remember that it was last seen in the big craft basket. The child will play with her hovercraft in the bathroom sink while you forget why you got the basket out and instead sort all the craft stuff.

 

In the craft basket, you’ll find a metal straw, an empty tape dispenser, three reams of random paper, two dozen projects in various stages of completion, but no balloon pump. But that’s ok, because after the hovercraft performs spectacularly poorly in its maiden voyage in the sink, the child will remember that the pump is probably with the pool toys.

 

You’ll tell her to check the shelf in the garage, and she will proclaim you a genius. You’ll bask in the glow of appreciation, but not for long, because the pump is not on the shelf. The child, however, will see the bicycle pump and bring that in as an acceptable substitute. 

 

The bicycle pump will be used to inflate many balloons, which are now being used to create animals instead of to power hovercrafts. At this point, the other child will come in and find the metal straw. He will use it and the air-filled balloons to propel random tiny objects around the room. The first child will approve heartily and suggest using broken glass next.

 

You will disagree and distract the child by sending her downstairs to get more balloons. She will come back with a large container of corn kernels. These will be used to see what happens when you put corn in a full balloon and then let go. The dogs will approve heartily.

 

As you note the unlikely path this morning’s creativity has followed, you will get the very original idea to turn it all into a “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” story. You will decide to make a hyperlink to a YouTube video so that your readers can see the hovercraft.

The second child will wonder what you’re doing, and join you to watch the video of the homemade hovercraft. So he’s going to want to make one for himself.

 

A Day in Our Homeschooling Life

Post submission by VaHomeschooler’s Regional Coordinator in Boston, Virginia, Jennifer Wheelock.

 

It’s Monday, so we’re in a rush to get our work done. We have to finish early so we can get to the high
school when it lets out to pick up our companion for French class. Eventually we find her; she’s the
one with the cartoon blue hair. Although she is a former homeschooler, she now seems adjusted to her
high school environment. The busy high school is a little intimidating to my homeschooled daughter.
She’s had plenty of social interactions, but it is hard for her to imagine rubbing shoulders with that
many people every single day.

When we get home we get out the French books and make mugs of tea. The girls decide to whip up
some no-bake chocolate cookies for a treat. It’s an admixture of French class and a Bravewriter style
poetry tea. All those years of stopping for a cup of tea and some together time seem to have left a
strong imprint. Soon the girls will be memorizing French poetry, but first we have some grammar and
vocabulary to master. Stories about Marc and Julie and the dog Chouchou aren’t very exciting, but we
hope to get to more complicated stuff soon. If we get too impatient we might try a little of Le Petit
Prince for a change of pace. I am looking forward to French poetry!

This is our new adventure for this term. After years of studying Latin and Greek, my daughter really
wanted to study some live languages. We’ve had some trouble incorporating the lessons into our busy
schedule, so we decided to create a little weekly class to make sure it happened. It really matters to us
that we anchor things into our schedule. So far so good! We look forward to our weekly French
lessons and are making good progress. Soon we’ll be able to do the whole class in French, we hope.
And they’re planning a trip to France for homework. . . . you know, just in case we figure out a way to go. . . . .

Family Camp at Holliday Lake State Park

Family Camp at Holliday Lake State Park

Holliday Lake 4-H Education Center  in Appomattox, VA

“What a great week of fun for such a low price! And the setting is just lovely. We took a side trip to Appomatox Courthouse for the history.” ~ Ann Clay

Family camp offers the chance for family members to bond with each other while at the same time experiencing their own level of independence in a safe environment. Participants (youth and adults) may take three classes a day, one of which is specifically designated as a family activity. Classes offered include swimming, theater arts, nature, canoeing, forestry, archery, and more. Afternoons and evenings are filled with special activities such as hikes, canoe trips, and campfires. 

This year it will be held May 27-31, 2013!
If you have any more questions or need more information please visit their website  or contact  Heather Benninghove, Program Director for Holliday Lake 4-H Educational Center @ (434) 248-5444 or www.holidaylake4h.com 

Upcoming Programs - Click for more info!
Benefit Trail Ride
Traditional Flintlock Rifle Workshop
Christmas Camp
Primitive Bow Workshop
Natural Resource Weekend

A Special Volunteer Spotlight on Liz Ebel-Nuwayser, Conference Chair 2012-2013

 

While you enjoy your time at the conference this weekend, be on the lookout for Liz Ebel-Nuwayser, our outgoing Conference Chair, and take a moment to thank her for pulling off such a great event! Liz, who resides in Alexandria, is just completing two consecutive years as head of the conference and is looking forward to volunteering in new ways for VaHomeschoolers.

I think people don’t realize that the VaHomeschoolers Conference actually takes a year to produce,” writes Jeanne Faulconer, “from the first signing of contracts to taking down the signs when the conference is all over. There is a brief ‘After the Conference’ moment, but then the planning and work are well under way for the next year’s VaHomeschoolers conference. This kind of long term commitment is what we have to thank Liz for. She has shared her talent and organizational skills for these year-in-the-making projects — it’s sort of like she’s carried for months and then birthed these big conferences for the rest of us. I’m so grateful for her amazing commitment to VaHomeschoolers.

Liz has been volunteering for VaHomeschoolers for many, many years. President Parrish Mort remembers, “I have had the pleasure of working with Liz for over seven years. She has been a volunteer in so many capacities–as Site Manager for the conference multiple years, as one of VaHomeschoolers’ newsletter graphic designers, as Conference Exhibit and Advertising Manager for the two years prior to her chairing the conference. With each position she has demonstrated a commitment to not only the organization but to professionalism. She is a person you can empower and know she will do a fantastic job.”

One of the neat things about Liz is she doesn’t seem to allow herself to get bored or ‘burned out’ by the jobs she takes on for VaHomeschoolers,” observes board member Theresa Munt. “Her commitment to the organization has remained strong over the years. She steps up to handle critical jobs that need to be done, and when she gets things in a certain ‘department’ under control, she passes the baton to another volunteer, so that she can take on a new role supporting the organization.”

Liz is always ready to answer questions and reassure volunteers that they are on the right track,’’ says VaHomeschoolers Secretary Kendra Niehaus. “She has such an excellent grasp of both the VaHomeschoolers message and what’s needed to run a huge event like the conference that she instills confidence in both the board and the speakers & vendors. She is a powerhouse of boundless energy!”

Vice President Leslie Nathaniel adds, “Liz is always ready to pitch in and help, and she does it all with a smile and an encouraging word. She is always a great source of new ideas and energy and we are so lucky to have her efforts!”

I like the way Liz has made me feel totally competent and up to learning new skills,” writes board member Ann Clay. ”In 2011 she asked me to handle Facebook posts for the 2012 conference, but I was bit uneasy about my abilities. Here I am today Social Media Director for the organization—all because Liz had faith in me and set me on my way to learning to do something valuable.”

Lois Curling, former board member, agrees. “In the two years that Liz has been Conference Chair, she has been a wise, balanced, decisive leader, while being extraordinarily diplomatic and open to suggestions.  She makes volunteers feel like a team, encouraging communication and feedback”.

I see Liz as such a calming force,” says Karen Phaup. “As conference chair, she handles multiple tasks with ease. She has a special talent for staying cool and collected during times that would cause others to panic. Her personality has been a perfect fit for the Conference Chair position.” Jeanne Faulconer adds, “Organizing a conference is a big undertaking. Liz has used her professional-level skills on a volunteer basis to create a gift for homeschoolers around the state. That gift has been a well-run conference, where Liz has created an atmosphere for homeschoolers to learn more about their trade, meet and socialize, have a good time, and get the tools they need to homeschool. Pulling this off takes a special blend of detail work and diplomacy — the push of deadlines along with the necessary soothing of other volunteers, who are sometimes brand new to doing big jobs to produce the conference. 

Liz seems to keep a living timeline in her head while somehow managing not to freak out the people she is working with who aren’t so prone to timelines – and somehow managing to coordinate it all.”

We need more people like Liz! Do you have a simple skill, something you really enjoy doing? You’d be surprised at how much you can help us out, even by volunteering only an hour here and there, or by being a part of our 2014 Conference Team. During the conference, there will be a special volunteer table next to the VaHomeschoolers table in the lobby where you can meet our Volunteer Coordinator Ann Clay and get some ideas of where in the organization you can help and feel a part of this incredible ‘machine.’

Please visit our website Volunteer page http://vahomeschoolers.org/volunteer/ and fill out the online application form, or email Volunteers@VaHomeschoolers.org for more information. 

Volunteer Spotlight on Connie Duncan

 

  

     “It was perfect timing for me to step into the job.”

 

 

Connie Duncan of New Market, is one of our most essential unsung heroes. Connie has just been elected to the Board of Directors and now serves as Board Treasurer.

In 2012, Connie volunteered to assist our then current Treasurer, Lois Curling, with a few tasks, such as sending receipts for donations. After a few months, she agreed to join the Board of Directors and became our Treasurer in January 2013.

Former Treasurer Lois shares, “Since then, Connie has patiently and diligently learned what is required of a treasurer of a non-profit organization, not only becoming acquainted with the software we use for recording income and expense transactions, but also helping to draft a budget for the Board of Directors to approve, providing financial reports to the BOD, assisting with fundraising, paying bills, reimbursing volunteers, acknowledging donations, and learning about the various forms that a non-profit must submit each year to state and federal agencies.

Connie has an amazing capacity to quickly absorb a huge amount of information and put it to use. VaHomeschoolers is especially fortunate that she has many years of work experience in the accounting field, as well. Being treasurer of an organization as dynamic as VaHomeschoolers is a big job, since there are so many service programs to keep up with, but Connie is up to the task and VaHomeschoolers finances are in good hands.”

Even though she resides in Shenandoah County, Connie was raised in Springfield and graduated from George Mason University with a degree in accounting. She and her husband have one child who just finished homeschooling last June, and he is studying now at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Last year we attended the annual homeschool conference and I learned that the treasurer was ending her term at the end of the year,” remembers Connie. “At the time, my son was going through the college application process. I knew that I was going to miss homeschooling and I was dreading the empty nest syndrome. With my background in finance, I thought it was perfect timing for me to step into the job.”

Connie has been a VaHomeschoolers member for many years. “I appreciate that this is an inclusive group. My family benefited from the information that they provide, the important work that they do with our state legislators, and from the conferences that we attended. I am grateful that this organization is here to support homeschoolers and I want to use my skills to give back to this group. I want homeschooling to remain an option for other families and possibly someday my grandchildren.

Connie is a wonderful addition to the board and has made the transition to treasurer seamlessly,” says VaHomeschoolers President Parrish Mort. “She was able to train with Lois Curling, our outgoing treasurer, for most of a year. It is always tough to join a new board and Connie’s start was even more challenging since the first month included drafting a budget, filing government paperwork, paying first quarter bills and handling conference registration that just opened. Yet she has made it appear effortless. Treasurer is not a job that just can anyone can handle or would want. We are so fortunate and grateful to have her volunteering her talents in this position.”

We need more people like Connie! Do you have a professional skill, something you really enjoy doing? We’re in need of people with experience in graphic design, public relations and fundraising. You’d be surprised at how much you can help us out, even by volunteering only an hour here and there. Please email Volunteers@VaHomeschoolers.org for more information. Check out our webpage for ‘Help Wanted’ notices. Even if you don’t find a particular job that suits you, go ahead and fill out an application and we’ll help you find your perfect slot!

A Newbie at the Conference

Submission by Adrienne Rivetti Jense

When your oldest child is only in preschool or kindergarten, navigating the social waters of the homeschooling community can be rather intimidating. Never mind the fact that you don’t have any “real” experience with this homeschooling thing, but can you really, legitimately even call yourself a “homeschooler” yet? Not only will some parents of older children actually shoo you away until your kids are “official”, but calling yourself a homeschooler  might conjure up images of a 3-year-old slaving over workbooks all day. And so we follow it up with the ever-popular caveat: “She was begging me, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. Of course I would never push her if she didn’t want to do it.” (Step one toward becoming a real homeschooler: release yourself from the need to explain yourself to people.)

 

For those of us who make the decision to homeschool long before our children come of age, it’s a strange limbo to be in for a few years. For me, I was so enthusiastic about the whole idea of homeschooling that I just couldn’t wait to get started. I devoured books on homeschooling, I frequented homeschooling blogs, I joined the list serves. I preschooled the heck out of my house—file folder games, fishy magnets, pom pom patterns, you name it.

You can imagine my excitement when last year I finally had a rising kindergartner (I know, I know, some people consider kindergarten optional, but can I just have this, please!). I was official. Unfortunately, I have since realized that I could have been enjoying the conference even sooner!  Have you seen Marjorie Cole’s session, “Homeschooling Preschool”? That’s a pretty blatant invitation to the prematurely homeschool obsessed parents out there. Why, oh why did I not attend a conference sooner? Anyway, when I walked into the conference center last year, I felt like I had arrived—I mean, really arrived.

The conference did not disappoint.

As a newbie with severely limited prior experience with homeschoolers, I loved the Friday night talent show. My very limited perspective makes it hard to know what kind of long-term outcomes to expect from educating my kids at home. But seeing those talented, self-assured teenagers perform for us really boosted my confidence in my choice. If that’s what my kids can become, sign me up!

Of course, the meat of the conference is the breakout sessions. As I mentioned before, I have read a lot of homeschooling literature, and I have stalked a lot of web forums and listservs.  Those tools are so incredibly valuable and informative, but none of them can match the motivation and reassurance that comes from listening, in person, to homeschool veterans distill their hard earned wisdom. Jeanne Faulconer taught me how to balance my kids’ learning styles with my teaching style (and how to be realistic about it!). Parrish Mort taught me how to have fun in my homeschool. Ann Clay taught me how to remember myself and build my resume while homeschooling.

Now, if I’m going to do justice to the value of the VaHomeschoolers conference, I can’t forget that Used Curriculum Sale. Holy schmoly, I scored some smokin’ hot deals there. And since I was very obviously pregnant, one of the polite teenage volunteers even hauled my loot (a couple boxes) out to my car. Did I mention how impressed I am with those homeschooled teenagers?

(Speaking of how pregnant I was last year, I am so happy that I get to bring my little nursling along with me to the conference. VaHomeschoolers means it when they say they’re “all-inclusive”. Babies are welcome here, too! No excuses for me not to get my fill of inspiration and camaraderie. )
The best part of the conference, though, was just the energy.  It’s the result of wisdom, experience, hope-filled naiveté, enthusiasm for a new journey or a new school year,  laughter,  internet friends meeting face to face, the thrill of a killer bargain, and the new confidence that comes from someone making themselves perform or present even when they’re  terrified of it.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

 

 

 

Adrienne Jensen lives in Reston with her husband and three small children. Most days, you will find her locked in her bedroom while her dear, sweet children pound on the door.

 

 

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My Brief Experience with MOOCs

Submitted by Ann Clay, Manassas

Some of the latest, most exciting offerings for homeschoolers are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These courses are meant for large-scale participation (most courses have hundreds, if not thousands, of students). They are the newest development in what is commonly called ‘distance education.’

MOOCs can be very useful to the homeschooling community. 1) They are a great tool for furthering your own education as a parent, so that you can serve as a better facilitator of your child’s learning. 2) Some of the courses are user-friendly enough for students as young as 9 or 10, depending on the person and the topic. It really depends on your child’s interest and learning comprehension levels. 3) MOOCs can be used by teens and college level students, not to earn credit (as yet), but to prepare for advanced placement tests, CLEPs and the like. Some courses offer a certificate of completion.

My experience has been limited to Coursera, but you can find MOOCs in many places: Udacity, Academic Room, Canvas Network and CourseSites by Blackboard. Coursera is easy to navigate and has hundreds of offerings.

 I’ve used MOOCs for supplemental material in homeschooling my two middle school-aged boys, but I have gotten a lot more out of them simply as an adult lifetime learner. So far I’ve studied World History, Astronomy and Philosophy. I feel like I’m getting to take all the courses I didn’t have time for in college!

My two boys and I enrolled in ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue,’ an offering from Duke University. The instructors in this course, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Ram Neta, have been engaging and easy to understand. They use lots of visual aids and funny cartoons and pictures to make their points. We found them entertaining as well as instructive.

However, my experience so far with the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ has been less than thrilling. To be fair, the course just began, and there are seven instructors listed who will share the duties. Up to now, all the teaching has been from a single man standing against a white backdrop, talking at me—not my preferred method. I’m hoping the other six will be more dynamic.

Just as in an actual college classroom, satisfaction with MOOCs will vary according to teacher and subject matter. These are university level courses, but they are open to anyone who wants to take a shot. You sign up for free, giving very scant personal information, and you can stop following the class if it doesn’t suit your needs, with no consequences. On the other hand, if you want to participate to the fullest, they come with quizzes, discussion boards and suggestions for papers to write. These are shared with other participants, rather than the instructor, so your feedback is from peers.

From the Coursera Blog:
Five Coursera MOOCs have just been approved for college credit. The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated and recommended college credit for five courses on Coursera.

ACE CREDIT is a recognized authority in assessing non-traditional education experiences, with more than 2,000 colleges and universities considering ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

The five courses approved for college credit recommendation include four undergraduate credit courses:

And one course approved for developmental math vocational credit recommendation:

  • Algebra from the University of California, Irvine

Over the next months we will work to receive ACE CREDIT recommendations for additional courses.

If you’re interested, go to Coursera and peruse their list of offerings. Courses start at all times of the year. My husband and two gaming sons are already signed up for ‘Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative’ which starts in July!

This is a screenshot from a game featured in the ‘Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative’ class.

 

Ann Clay lives in Manassas with her husband, two sons and five cats. Her hobbies include procrastination and goofing off. She is a member of the Board of Directors, is the Volunteer Coordinator, and the Social Media Director for VaHomeschoolers. Ann has been homeschooling since  2002.