I have attended several VaHomeschoolers conferences and events since I committed to homeschooling when Rhiannon was 2. This year, they had a new venue, a little bit closer to home for me, at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center. It’s a beautiful location, and it was even easier to find my session locations than it was at the Science Museum in Richmond in previous years. I also want to mention how wonderful the conference is for kids, even though I didn’t bring them this year. (Robert and the kids went up to D.C. instead.) Jim Wiess, storyteller, and Barefoot Puppets performed again and they had a theatre workshop and sessions with Legos, Robotics, and more. (Friday night’s talent show and ice cream social was a hit with the kids too, and in my next post I’ll share Rhiannon’s performance, with her permission.)
As usual, the conference was very very inspiring! I’m going to share reviews of the sessions I attended. Every session I attended has a well designed handout. I especially like the ones that are copies of the visuals projected on the screen. It’s easy to add notes to those. As in previous years, we again received bags of flyers/offers/ ads too, and there were two rooms of vendors and a used book sale. I like how the vendors were less of a focus at the Glen Allen location, although they might not have. At the Science Museum you could not avoid walking past the colorful enticing products when you enter to check in and when you leave, but at Glen Allen the vendors are tucked away inside rooms you can completely avoid if you want.
I did buy though. At the used books sale, I found some workbooks I thought the girls might like. Indeed, Rhiannon has already filled in several pages of a third grade spelling workbook. We all laughed at the funny storybook version of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, called There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow by Lucille Colandro. I picked out a few other used books too, and decided to buy new ($5 convention discount) The Story of the World volume 1 on CD, which I found at Jim Weiss’ table. I usually get a couple more of his story CDs every convention because we like him so much, but I decided I want to try playing SOTW on upcoming long drives. I also bought one of the Horrible Histories books. (The US vendor is here.) Such funny titles!
One of the great ways the convention has improved over the years is that there is more time between sessions to visit the used books sale and vendors. In addition to lunch between sessions 2 and 3, there is another long break between sessions 4 and 5. The first session began at 9:00 and the last one ended at 5:15, and each session was an hour. I think an hour is rarely enough time, but I think I’d rather have the opportunity to cover more topics, so I’m happy with the current format. I have trouble, when registering, choosing between the several options for some session time periods. I have to remember, like we were reminded in the Field Trips session, that there is always next year!
Session 1 — Field Trips for Fun and Profit(able) Learning by Maureen Moslow-Benway and Kristi McCullough
This well organized discussion took us step by step through the why and how of planning field trips, comparing benefits of small group trips with that of large group trips, and shared tips on making the most of them. One big idea that was emphasized is that it’s a good idea to be picky. There are far too many possible field trips– you could never do them all — so focus on ones that are most suitable for your current studies and interests. And while planning group trips, consider whether age limits, group size, etc, are important. The handout also lists a page and a half of field trip ideas in the categories of science, history, and government. Blogs were also shared as examples of another resource for getting field trip ideas. Toadhaven is an awesome blog full of homeschooling adventures, categorized by subject area.
Session 2 — Keynote, by Linda Dobson
The Wonder Years: Loving and Learning from the Homeschool Journey
Extremely inspiring, very sentimental (I nearly cried) and funny, Linda Dobson talked about how homeschool families are “always together” and that love and learning is “reciprocal. ” She pointed out that children spell love t-i-m-e. She shared stories from her family — her sons are grown up now — and gave us a peek into what we can expect in the future, when done with homeschooling. She didn’t just talk about homeschooling, but parenting as a whole. If I had heard nothing else but the talks given by Linda Dobson and Jeanne Faulconer (session 5) today, I would have had a very fulfilling day.
p.s. Check out Linda Dobson’s website, Parent at The Helm.
Session 3 — Creating Your Family’s Personal Education Philosophy (PEP) by Linda Dobson
The biggest inspiration I took from this talk is what I learned about Thomas Jefferson’s vision of public education. I’m already a believer in the TJEd model of mentor/student, but today I learned that Jefferson had just 6 simple ideas for public education — info for running business, calculating, reading, neighborly duties, rights, and social knowledge — and he figured, even in that agrarian time period when kids stayed out of school to help on the farm much of the time, that all this could be established in only 3 years! Also he said, “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated than to shock the common feelings and ideas by forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”
Linda also pointed out the root of educate means “lead out” and said schooling is not educating. Education needs to be individualized, and something achieved, not received.
As for the creating of a philosophy, I didn’t hear anything new really: throw out your old useless ideas, sit down and brainstorm goals and possible activities, include your children, and then use those ideas to make plans. I don’t know if she ran out of time, or what, but I didn’t feel like I gained any insight into creating a philosophy. Or maybe I already have one, but don’t realize it because I haven’t formally written it down with goals and activities outlined. So I am inspired to think more on that one.
Session 4 — Helping Our Children Become Independent Learners by Nancy Renwick Clendenon, mom of 4 kids 4-11
In the previous session, very timely, Linda Dobson suggested that we not only seek out information that sounds right to us, but also listen to other points of view. That came in handy in this session, which turned out to be disappointing for me, but I listened, asking myself why I was feeling the way I was. I think I misunderstood the description because I quickly felt odd and out of place there. While the handout has many good ideas to think about such as considering how reasonable our expectations are and some possible strategies for supporting independent work, that was reviewed in about 5 minutes and then the floor was opened. We sat in a circle and for the rest of the hour I listened to people talking about things like how they can’t answer the phone while their children are working at the table or chaos will ensue and ideas for bribing children to do work. I was very glad to have the next session…
Session 5 — Unschooling Unzipped by Jeanne Faulconer mom of 3 sons 21, 19, 12
Jeanne Faulconer is another excellent speaker I’d heard before so I knew she would be inspiring. I didn’t know before how much of an unschooler she is though, and I am so impressed by the balanced and thorough talk she gave, fitting it all into one hour! And she addressed everyone, from those just considering the idea of unschooling to those who have been committed to it for years. I’m of the latter group, though I still consider myself to be deschooling. I have been reading a lot on the topic and have spent much time in unschooling groups online so I could see from Jeanne’s handout (3 pages, 2 of which are two-sided, and three of those sides are the resource list of books, websites, and magazines) that she was addressing everything about unschooling. Her spoken words filled in the spaces and gave it color. She was quite thorough, but I still wanted to hear her more, so I stayed a half hour longer listening to her address individual questions and speaking with her a bit myself.
There is so much information she so skillfully addressed in that hour, I’m not sure I can summarize it in this short review. First of all, if you have barely considered unschooling, as Jeanne said, your “homework” is to read John Holt. She addressed the reasoning for unschooling, what to do instead (in two layers: techniques, then lifestyle), advantages, concerns, and challenges. Some words I wrote on the handout that stand out are choice, be responsive and present, we’re co-travelers. … Of course, I have shared unschooling stories here before, and I will share more in the future. You can find some of them by clicking on unschooling to the right —>.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference. I hope you find something useful in my reviews. Let me know.