As HEM moves into our exciting future in full support of each person – whether child, teen or adult – creating thoughtful, electric, passionate, peaceful, wild, innovative, unique, serene, exuberant, productive, caring lives … each in our own way, we invite you to take a look at a preview of what’s coming up in our next issue, below.
Please Note: Print subscriptions begin with the upcoming May-June 2014 issue. Digital subscribers have access to the March-April 2014 issue as well as the previous year of the issues in our digital archive.
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May-June 2014 Table of Contents
The Unsupervised Warrior, by John Taylor Gatto
As a longtime public school teacher, I ended my teaching career as New York State’s official “Teacher of the Year” in 1991, voted that honor by the state education department. Prior to that award, I had, on three occasions from 1989 to 1991, been named New York City’s “Teacher of the Year” by three different organizations. Why me?; what exactly did I know? The same thing I’m trying to teach you now, that if you restore dignity and meaning to children’s lives that algebra will take care of itself. The young most of all need vitamin L (for Liberty). What success I enjoyed as a public school teacher came from being powerfully goaded and inspired to self-examination by two enlightening stimuli: 1) from reading John Holt’s most radical book, Escape From Childhood, (hey, I bet you read it too) where he calls into question the absurd idea that confining students to chairs has any educational value, and 2) from having the good fortune to personally know two homeschooling families who had the courage needed to “unschool” their children, allowing the young to decide what to study, when and how to study it, “making it up as they went along” in the memorable words of Chris Mercogliano, co-director of the private Albany Free School, in his book of that title. Read it to learn how you’ve been flummoxed, euchred, suckered, and bamboozled by school propaganda into thinking, delusionally, that your sons and daughters must have what John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison knew they did not need. What fools our masters made of us!
Bike Camp: It’s Better when it’s DIY!, by Mary Krawczyk
children have a DIY education. As part of an unschooling lifestyle, we teach ourselves skills that we use to keep our family healthy and happy, to save money, and even to earn an income by selling products or services we create. We help our children find the resources they need to learn what they want to know. In my community there are a lot of offerings specifically for homeschoolers. It’s not a question of what to do, but rather to be careful not to do too much. As unschoolers, we strive to protect blocks of unstructured time. In choosing our activities, we try to be mindful of how we’re spending our time. Sometimes we learn through trial and error. I have put my children in activities that cost more time or money than we thought the activities were worth. Maybe the structure or instructor for a particular workshop or event did not fit the needs of my family. So then we make the decision to discontinue that activity or to do it ourselves in our own way. Sometimes we need to gain confidence and trust in ourselves, because we don’t think we have the knowledge or experience to meet our children’s learning interests or needs. More often than not, we can create or facilitate the experiences our children want or the experiences we’d like them to have. And we all––adults and children––gain so much confidence by doing things ourselves.
Illness and Transformation, by Seres Kyrie
And then, she got sick. At first, it was low-grade fevers and dizziness. She had recently slammed her thumb in a car door and, swollen and bruised, I aligned these two maladies with a low winter immunity. We had every confidence that the illness would soon pass. But days dragged on and she still would not budge from her bed. We are not usually a hospital-going family––both our kids were born at home and had never taken any medications before. So we dug deep into our prayers and our medicine cabinet and prepared teas, administered tinctures, coaxed raw garlic and lavender baths. Still, she moaned in pain until, scarily, she stopped moaning. Our daughter had become almost listless and we became very concerned about possible severe dehydration. Taking note of her very, very red face and a tongue lined with a thick white substance, I continued to research possible illnesses and remedies.
As she perked up dramatically, something very interesting unfolded: she could read. And not just Dr. Seuss, she was reading herself Little House on the Prairie. As she recovered, she devoured book after book, finishing about one Box-car Children chronicle each day. She had clearly traveled to some deep place in her illness and returned with a new awareness.
Radically Different Learning Styles: My Adventure into Learning, by Rebecca Pickens
I’ve lately been interested in considering the role our physical environment has in shaping the ways our children learn and grow. In my family’s case, my husband and I decided to leave our home in Washington, DC when we felt ready to start a family. We traded access to world class museums, theatre, and restaurants for 87 acres, long winters, milk goats, wild blackberries, Amish neighbors and home cooked meals.
Even before my three sons were born, I longed to watch them grow amid the abundant wildlife and stunning landscapes that so stir my soul. I imagined their red little cheeks flushed from the excitement of discovery and abundant fresh air. I could see perfectly their plump muddied toes sunbaked from a day of play in our garden. I believed that the skies, fields, and forests would become important teachers, influencing my children in wondrous ways akin to that of a loving parent or favorite uncle.
When my oldest son, Elias, turned three he announced it was “time for school to begin.” The decision to homeschool was natural and inevitable and one that my son adapted to with deep joy. The first idyllic year felt like it had been copied from the pages of a story book, complete with breathtaking illustrations depicting each scene. Most of the time was spent in hands-on nature activities. Elias gathered plants for sketching, crafting, medicine making and dying play dough while I carried his baby brother Jo Jo on my back.
A Road Might Lead You Anywhere, by Jill Swanson
So, why did we do it? Why take eight weeks of my daughter’s junior year in homeschooling high school, and check out of town? What did we do with our time, and what did we gain?
First was a strong desire to seize our last opportunity to take advantage of homeschooling freedom. Greta is the youngest of four. I’d noticed that as her siblings grew older our whole family had less flexibility because of the kids’ increased commitments. Youth orchestra, sports teams, work schedules, all meant that we were not free to take off for several weeks of camping right after Labor Day, when the North Shore of Lake Superior was at its most glorious and everyone else was tucked away in classrooms. Some of the best perks of homeschooling–the freedom to explore, the exposure to the wide world, the moseying, unscheduled days, the expansive sensation of hiking up Eagle Mountain at the very moment you might be sitting at a small desk–these were imbedded in my older kids’ psyches in ways they were not for my youngest. She was too small to remember. Her homeschooling experience was less than what I wanted it to be, because part of what I long to give my kids is a sense that the sky is the limit. I wanted this for her, this one last abandoning of structure before the intensity of dual-enrollment classes, college applications, and years of increasing responsibility landed on her.
My Self-Made, One-Episode Donahue Show Unit Study, by Penny Tuggle
I’m not really into pre-packaged “unit studies.” I don’t even particularly like the term. I chafe at people telling me what to do curriculum-wise, and I’d probably find myself making my kids do the stuff in the package just to get my money’s worth. I’d be working for the curriculum instead of helping my children learn, and they’d catch onto that fast. No, I prefer to scour the library and bookstores, to visit museums, to buy the equipment my kids need to follow an interest for as long and as deeply as they want.
Homeschool parents find tremendous joy in underwriting their children’s learning, but I’d like you adults to think about pursuing your own learning trails. Don’t do it as an artificial means to “model” learning. Delve into something that sparks your imagination, for the sheer joy of it. Sharing what I discover with my kids is optional, but I’ve found it to be enlightening for both the kids and me.
As I was checking out the Home Education Magazine website [
Go To Burning Man!, by Forest Chang Turpen
Before I ever went to Burning Man I had very little interest in the event. Looking back, I have a hard time understanding why. Maybe it was because I had no idea what it really was; it turned out to be a huge expression of freedom, art and a culmination of incredible energy brought about by the collective momentum from artists working for years to make it the biggest party on the planet, energy to be focused and redirected by any individual who needs it. Luckily for me, one of my very good friends knew the truth. It was the best place in the world to be that week.
Out of the sixty-five thousand people at the event I immediately recognized the one person I was corresponding with that said he might be going. I hopped out of the moving vehicle and ran barefoot on the burning hot ground (bring good shoes and plenty of socks) to catch up to him while he was riding his bike. He was shocked to see me, said he was on his way to meet somebody and that he’d see me around the fire spinning camp later. I ran back to catch up and jumped into the open door of the still moving RV. My heart rate was up from the run and I don’t think it went down for the next six days.
Unschooling School, Sometimes a step back is actually a step forward, by Suki Wessling
Despite our rich unschooling life, she never lost her fascination with school. Partly, I know it was Harry Potter’s fault. Every time she went through a phase of reading and rereading Potter, she asked to go back to school again. Yes, she knew that she wouldn’t have potions class, but she was interested in this right of passage that has such an important place in children’s literature.
But last summer, something happened: she became unwilling to back down, cheerfully adopting a positive point of view on all the negatives: Get out of bed? She’d get more done! Have to bring lunch to school? She wouldn’t have to figure out what to eat every day! Get locked in a room with 31 other kids every day? At least she wouldn’t have to be home with mom, dad (who works in a home office), and brother–she’d make new friends.
I knew that her unusual interests and choice to dress in boys’ clothing could make her a target for bullies. I knew that her considerable strengths as a homeschooler would seldom be highlighted in a classroom. I knew that what school education does value–following directions, writing neatly, finding the “right” answer–was not her forte.
In my family’s unschooling life, however, one principle is paramount: we honor our children’s goals and see our role as providing support to achieve those goals. She wanted to go to school–who was I to tell her that this wasn’t a goal worth pursuing?
Playing Our Way to Learning a New Language, by Jenny Lantz
Learning English. A new language for my kids whose native tongue is Swedish. As English is a language that is spoken in so many countries we feel that it is important that our kids grow up fluent in English. And in our early home ed years I have wondered about how to do it. How do you teach your kids a new language? For us the answer was: Not at all. They learned through the assistance of Harry Potter, Minecraft, maps and… Pokemon. And Doctor Who. Doctor Who has been the absolutely best English teacher we could have had. But let’s go back a few years in time. Six, maybe, or seven.
That was when my oldest son was six years old with a new interest. He got hold of some old secondhand Pokemon cards and got lost in the world of Pokemon. He’s still there, thirteen years old with bags full of the cards. Stupid and expensive cards. That was my first opinion about them. That did change pretty soon though, when Lukas started to ask me about the short one liners on each cards, describing the Pokemon on the card. Full of English words. Long and tricky words, many as new to me as they where to Lukas. So I started to translate the cards for him, using dictionaries together when we needed them. We could sit for hours reading about the special powers of Ivysaur and Magnemite, and the descriptions of Charmander: “The fire on the tip of its tail is a measure of its life. If healthy, its tail burns intensely”…
John Holt, on Living and Learning with Children, by Patrick Farenga
My first teaching job was to tutor an otherwise interesting and bright teenager whose school skills were at about second or third grade level. Top specialists had pronounced him “brain-damaged.” In spite of the label, he wanted to read, write, and figure like everyone else, and wanted me to help him.
Not having studied “education,” I had never heard of “brain damage,” didn’t know enough to know that it was just a fancy way of saying, “We don’t know what the trouble is.” But it was clear to me that brain damage or no, it was my task and my responsibility to find out what was keeping him from learning and to figure out something to do about it. Working with him, I found out that he had a very precise, thorough, and logical mind, and had to understand a thing thoroughly before he could move on to the next. He asked hard questions; to find answers to some of them took me many years. But if I did not solve his problems, perhaps my belief that they could be solved was enough. Some years later, while in the Army, he wrote me, and told me what books he was reading–serious, adult books. He had clearly solved his problem himself.
Being a Family, by Kate fridkis
As a homeschooler, family was where everything began. Family wasn’t a separate, private space, it was the active hub of daily life where learning and elaborate play intertwined and friendships automatically involved siblings and siblings’ friends. I never understood why other kids were sometimes embarrassed to be seen with their parents or little siblings. Those are your people, I thought without ever actually articulating it. You belong together!
God, I was thankful for my parents when my daughter was born. I was thankful for their proximity.
And also, I was a little frustrated. They had their own ways of handling the new challenges of parenthood. Their own (strong, clear) ideas about what is best. Even when they didn’t say anything, I felt I knew what they were thinking. When I gave Eden a pacifier out of desperation, in the depths of her raging colic, my mom left the Dr. Sears book open to a page about the dangers of pacifiers. My bold, pioneering, tremendously dedicated mother is not an easy parent to compare myself to. I don’t have her intense focus, I am scattered and dreamy and I haven’t read very many books about child psychology.
How Do You Know if Unschooling is Working?, by Barb Lundgren and Mark Hegener
How do you know if unschooling is working?
I judge that by a simple test. Are your kids curious? I never stressed over what my kids were curious about, I just found comfort as long as they were wondering how things worked, or why something happened or what would happen if…
Sometimes it was easy to see that curiosity. Like when there was a fort, or a submarine or a catapult being built, or an endless stream of questions. But it is not always that easy to see. Days and weeks of daydreaming can require a leap of faith.
Curiosity was a critical factor for me too: are my kids engaged in their worlds, asking questions, experimenting? It didn’t matter what it was. I also was sensitive to how happy they each were: was it apparent to me that they were enjoying their lives? If it wasn’t, if there was an abundance of lethargy or complaining, for example, I knew something needed to shift and I’d gently brainstorm with myself or my child on what she’s ready for: maybe more or less time with friends, new project ideas, new skills, new ways of communicating, a shift in schedule. This was an ongoing process for us and it made life rich, often challenging and very interesting.
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