Category Archives: Parenting

A Follow Up on Acellus

My post about Acellus continues to get the most hits on this blog consistently. I want to say a few things about it.

This is an extraordinary time that may call for unusual solutions.

First, I wrote that post as I was frustrated with trends in homeschooling way back at the start of the year. Little did I know that the homeschool landscape was about to radically change. There are now a LOT more people engaged in home learning. There are a lot more families doing this who simply did not want to be. One of my premises in that post was that unless your child was in an unsafe situation at school or had another unusual circumstance, you’d be better off leaving them in school than using these inexpensive online programs. Well, surprise! In person school is now an unsafe situation for nearly everyone in the United States, at least for now.

With that in mind, I want to emphasize that for anyone who is stuck doing this, no choice about curriculum that you make is going to “ruin” your kid or your kid’s education. And especially, I want to emphasize that if you need to use a basic computer learning system to get through a single year, then please do it. In my original post, I talked about circumstances where it made sense to use these sorts of programs in the short term, such as a mental health crisis or a student with an outside job. Well, add the pandemic to that list.

Acellus is still the worst of the bunch.

However, if I was going to pick an online program for you, I would still strongly recommend against Acellus specifically.

They aren’t the only bad player out there. In fact, several of the Christian specific programs are just as bad if not worse. However, since that’s where my hate mail seems to come from and since that’s what’s churning up dislike of me, I’ll just keep singling them out.

A lot of US school districts chose Acellus as their virtual platform to use during the pandemic for the 20-21 school year. And very quickly, one state dumped it.

You can read the summary of what happened in Hawaiian schools here or here. The tl;dr is that parents quickly took screenshots of eye raising content they witnessed in Acellus. That included racist content, sexual innuendo in an early elementary video, and a teacher showing off a gun to a class.

They also started looking much more closely at the founder of Acellus. According to the articles I linked above, Roger Billings “doctorate” was awarded by an institution he founded and there have been allegations for years that he leads a cult. He also has tweeted some disturbing things, such as that everyone who has died of Covid “would have died anyway.” The articles linked above also link to more sources, including Twitter screenshots of some of his acolytes and more of his now removed Tweets, all of which have a very strong political bent that goes outside the mainstream. This is not a man qualified to create curriculum for children.

Several districts in Hawaii have already dumped the program, less than a month into the school year.

As I wrote in my last post, I’m very concerned about corporate influence in education right now. It’s across the board, in homeschool and public school arenas. Acellus is one really blatantly bad example. But I’m also unimpressed by everything I’ve seen from companies like Edmentum and Pearson. None of these are great systems for kids to truly learn. I’ll say it again. Education is slow and labor intensive and requires a human connection.

Some people complained I didn’t give advice.

Look, I can’t tell you what the right solution is for you if you need to homeschool suddenly. I strongly believe in personalized solutions in homeschooling. One size does not fit all in education at any level. I have literally built a business founded on that idea. There are programs that I might offhandedly call “meh, light” or “way too overplanned” or “weird book choices” that, when I meet the right person I have to say “perfect fit for your student struggling with that subject” or “this will lay it out for you step by step like you like” or “oh, I’ve got the perfect book based program for a kid with those unusual interests!”

If you want to know what I used, it is literally all over this blog. The “Our Curriculum” tab on the blog links to posts that tell you what I used with my own kids from K-7th grade. Those won’t necessarily be right for you or your kids either! But they were things we mostly liked. And there are lots of new programs available now. When we started out, Acellus didn’t even really exist as an option, but neither did rich book based secular programs like Build Your Library or Blossom and Root. The whole marketplace is different now.

If you have a K-2nd or 3rd grader, I beg you to try and keep them off the computer for at least a chunk of their learning day. Little hands need small motor practice that they won’t get there. Little brains need less screen time. If you have a kid who is older, I would also say that there are lots of options for paper based curricula that you can use. Online is not the only solution. Try to accomplish math, reading, and writing. Everything else is icing on the cake.

However, if I had to hold my nose and recommend an all-in-one inexpensive online program for you… I’ll suggest Time 4 Learning. I named them in my original post and I’ll stand by the idea that I don’t think any all computer based program can really be the best choice in normal times. But I’ve known a lot of people who have used Time 4 Learning to start out, to tide over, or to get through something. Most people I’ve known move on from it after a year or so, but some stay with it and supplement and enrich, making it just one component, which would be the ideal way to use any online learning system. They have extra modules for English that include reading actual books. I’ve never heard anything really negative about the content in the vein of the examples of racism and downright cringeworthy questions that I posted above about Acellus.

I’ll also recommend seeking out individual teacher-led classes online, especially for older students. If you’d like to just try this method of learning out, there are inexpensive options on Outschool. However, there are much more complete, challenging courses out there as well.

My last word about this is that I one of the best books I’ve read exploring the ideas involved in online education is Sal Khan’s The One World Schoolhouse. If you are going to stick with online based learning, it’s definitely worth a look. Sal Khan founded Khan Academy. He writes a lot about mastery based education and how online, computer based education can support that. The book is more exploratory when he talks about what to couple with the sort of work a student can do on Khan. But he recognizes the need for interaction, innovation, and hands on exploration for students.

I’m worried about corporate influence in education. You should be too.

I’ve continued to get a few serious hate messages (none posted) from my post about Acellus and other low end homeschool online programs. Once you’ve decided to use the b-word in calling names, you’ve definitely undermined your whole position (and shout out to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s brilliant speech about exactly what’s not okay about that). But let’s put that aside for a moment.

Several people have said to me that this pandemic must be great for my business. I’m an independent educational consultant now. I work with homeschoolers – particular middle and high school parents – on how to homeschool and with students and families trying to get their homeschooled students into college. It’s true that we have had a bump in business. However, what we offer isn’t easy solutions. Our intention was never to work with parents who didn’t want to home educate. I absolutely believe there are lots of ways that home education can work, which is why my business doesn’t have some single system we’re selling. We get to know each client personally then try to tailor our suggestions to their needs. Even if business were booming beyond belief, we help people on an individual level. We have a pretty small limit on the number of clients we can take.

The people who are making huge sums on this are large educational corporations. Those include Edmentum, the company behind Monarch and the new Calvert; Pearson, the company you probably know as an educational textbook publisher; K-12, the company that runs online charter schools in most states; and Acellus, the company behind Power Homeschool, which I singled out previously because of its growing popularity and because they have had some very dirty marketing tactics in the past, including posing as homeschoolers with fake accounts on forums.

These large businesses are getting a larger share of the educational pie than ever this year. I’m concerned by that. I think you should be too.

I’m not saying that some of these companies don’t provide useful products. However, in the end, education is slow and personal. It cannot be downloaded into your child’s brain via computer. It’s also not a product. Education is a process. These corporations treat education as a product. They treat your children as products. In fact, they see your children as money to be made.

When you educate your child at home, you have their best interests at heart as a growing person in need of education. When you send your child to a small, nonprofit, private school, they have a mission statement that guides how they educate your child. They have teachers who are there to care about your child. When you send your child to a public school, you’re sending your child to an institution filled with people who are driven to care for you child’s education, overseen ultimately by the public and your votes. I’ve been involved in all of these at various times. They can all be good models of educating children.

When a corporation educates your child, they care about the money that your child represents. They cut corners whenever they can. Corporations do not have your child’s best interests at heart. Their core mission is always to make money on a large scale.

There will always be people writing books, creating educational software, teaching kids, making enrichment camps, tutoring, and making money in education in various ways. I do that too. But there is a difference between being paid for your teaching, your creative work, or your labor and paying into the profits of a large scale company that does not pay teachers very well. Everyone should be paid for their expertise and labor. But that’s not the same as amassing a fortune and making decisions that are about selling and marketing over quality. That is what Edmentum, Pearson, Acellus, K12, and so forth do.

If you’re in the pandemic, home educating unexpectedly, then you should do whatever you need to do to get through this. If you have a high school student and your easiest path to getting credits is one of these corporate options, they’re cheap and you should do what you need to do. I understand why people feel pressed to look at these options more than ever. These are big questions and forces, bigger than any one person’s individual decisions about their family’s needs. But that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned.

With so many families taking students out of the public system because of the pandemic, I’m very worried about access to schooling that is above and beyond this cheap online model. Both new homeschoolers and school districts are turning to corporations to solve their education problems during the pandemic. Maybe that’s a good stopgap? But what happens if we move so far away from the human-centered, human-delivered, mission-driven model of education and toward a model where money is key? It will exacerbate big gaps in access to quality education between rich and poor, and often along racial lines. Some states are even planning to use pandemic emergency funds to encourage parents to abandon public schools. Many of them are using funds to expand the corporate role in your child’s education.

There are no easy answers for education during a pandemic. However, I don’t think parking American kids in front of low end learning software long term is going to be a good outcome. Maybe it’s better than the alternatives for now. But then what?

Why You Shouldn’t Use Acellus (among others)

Because this post continues to receive a ton of attention, I have written an addendum to it. It’s available here. Below is the original post, unaltered.

Psst… I know I’m not around here very often. Mushroom and BalletBoy are working their way through homeschooling high school with some live online courses, some dual enrollment at a local community college, and some courses at home. I’m busy running things over at Simplify Homeschool. If you need help with homeschooling, especially with planning high school with college acceptance in mind, you can find me there.

My social media and search feeds are bombarded with ads for really bad homeschooling programs and well-meaning homeschoolers recommending those programs. If you’re new to homeschooling, there’s a good chance you’re being bombarded with them too.

Time4Learning, Acellus/Power Homeschool, Mia Academy, Calvert Homeschool, Monarch… and the list goes on. You probably also see ads for K-12, Connections, and other programs typically provided as part of online charter schools. Plus you likely see ads for math and individual learning programs such as Adventure Academy, Elephant Learning, IXL, ABC Mouse, and others.

In the last several years, these programs have come to dominate the homeschool conversation and scene. They promise that for a low monthly fee, you can have everything you need to homeschool or that for a monthly fee they can enrich your homeschool through digital learning.

Let’s look at one of the most popular options, Acellus, which is sold mostly through Power Homeschool. I’ve been around long enough to remember when Acellus was an upstart provider getting banned from multiple homeschool groups for running sock puppet accounts to post fake testimonials about their product. From that beginning, and a lot of money spent on advertising, they have grown to become a huge company, providing credit recovery classes, homeschool “courses,” and other software based education services. They’re a private company, so I can’t say how much they make, but suffice it to say that it’s a great deal.

On the Power Homeschool site, they use the word “complete” to refer to their product in several places. They offer various “reports” such as attendance and progress reports, just like a school would. Under the section on parent responsibilities, it only lists that parents must follow state laws and “supervise” their students. It makes no mention of doing any outside teaching, enriching, or even homework support. Sounds like a complete program, right?

Nope.

In actuality, Acellus quietly places a disclaimer that it’s meant to be “part” of a program. What’s the rest of the program? There’s no way to tell from their website materials. It’s really up to the parents. However, parents choosing Acellus are typically thinking of it as everything they’re doing for school. Because they aren’t immersed in a homeschool community where parents talk about enriching ways to approach education, they come to think that choosing this self-paced, video-based, multiple choice program, they’ve done their duty.

Most families turning to software based solutions for homeschooling as their primary teaching method would be better off leaving their kids in school.

I do think these online, software-based programs can have uses. Sometimes, you just need to check the box for a subject, especially for a student in high school who is busy with another subject or even a non-academic pursuit. Other times, parents use programs like these to fill in the gaps when someone in the family, either the student or parent suffers from a chronic illness or is going through a rough year, perhaps with a major life change. There are worse ways to deal with that than relegating a year of learning to a computer program. A few families do enrich these programs, though in my experience, they tend to use them briefly then move on in dissatisfaction because they realize how bare bones and boring the programs are.

What is the purpose of homeschooling? Sure, some people turn to it out of a specific need — a child’s physical or mental health issues, a child’s career such as in acting or the arts, a situation with severe bullying. However, typically, it’s to provide a superior education to our kids. The core of these programs is videos plus multiple choice and other very basic questions. That’s it.

Learning happens through interaction. It happens through experience. It happens by testing and trying things out. The idea that a student can learn how to write by choosing the best option for a sentence on a multiple choice quiz is preposterous to me. Many of these programs do offer ways for students to write paragraphs or essays. However, they don’t provide much, if any, feedback. What use is that? Sometimes they do ask students to read books for literature, but there are no opportunities to discuss. The overall emphasis isn’t on reading at all, but on information given in little video chunks. Even for a subject like math, where there usually is a single correct answer, the process of understanding how to get that answer is often too complex to be learned solely through multiple choice questions.

I’m hardly a Luddite and I’m a huge advocate for using screens creatively as well as using live or asynchronous classes with a teacher as part of your homeschool. However, parking a kid in front of a screen without even a human to talk to on the other end for their entire education is soulless, empty, and bereft of meaning. Education is more than a few facts. It’s a process that should be at the heart of a child’s life. Homeschoolers used to talk about raising lifelong learners. These computer programs don’t care about anything other than checking off a box.

They also take away the beautiful flexibility of homeschooling. Why should a kid have to learn American history one year if they’re obsessed with medieval knights? Why should a high school homeschooler emerge with a transcript that looks just like a public school student? Shouldn’t they aim for more individualized work? Of course there are “elective” options on these sites, but they’re often relatively limited. The array of electives on Power Homeschool is fewer than what the large public schools offer here.

I sympathize with parents who are pressed for time and money but want to homeschool. I would ask them, if the education your child will receive through a computer is inferior to the one they’ll receive at school, then is it worth it? Homeschooling takes work. It takes your time and effort. If you don’t have that time or energy, that’s okay! It doesn’t make you a bad parent. If your child really needs out of a bad school situation, then maybe it’s a temporary solution until you find a better one. Maybe that’s another brick and mortar school. Or maybe you seek within yourself and your community and find those reserves to be able to help your student at home with interaction and work that does go above and beyond what these programs offer.

There are some amazing teachers out there teaching online and some great little curricula written by homeschoolers and teachers. Everyone deserves to get paid for their labor. However, the found of Acellus or Time4Learning do not care about your student’s education. They are looking to make a dollar. They have no philosophy beyond simply sales. Money and corporations have become the biggest force in education these days. I see it and weep because it is not helping homeschooled kids receive a better education any more than it helps kids in traditional schools.

In the end, I know these companies are going to continue to prey on homeschoolers. They’re going to continue to make it sound like it takes no effort to homeschool. They’re going to continue selling you snake oil.

I’m going to continue to rage about them, because I hate what they’re doing to a group of people who used to really care about the best way to teach our kids.

The Pop Culture Education

Are you watching “The Good Place” with your teens? Seriously, I want to take this show apart and assign a credit in philosophy for watching and discussing it.

But more on that in a minute.

Realistically, I preen a little when we go to a gallery and my kids can recognize an artist or when BalletBoy can name a ballet or Mushroom can cite a playwright. Highbrow culture is what we tend to value in education and I do think it’s important. I’m glad my kids know some Shakespeare and aren’t strangers to the symphony. I wrote a whole post about what great museum goers they are. Their favorite art museum is the Hirshhorn, which, hey, is not the favorite museum of someone who knows nothing about art.

But also, Mushroom stayed up late not long ago to watch the Video Game Awards on streaming and root for various titles, about which he had a multitude of opinions. BalletBoy made sure I saw the new Avengers trailer the minute it came out. Popular culture is alive and well in our house. And, honestly, gets more airtime than the other stuff, the stuff we’re supposed to value, at least if we want to be impressive academic superstars.

I can’t always seize on the things that the kids enjoy and turn them educational. Besides, sometimes it’s okay to just enjoy your junky television or movies. That said, when there’s a great discussion about morality, classical music, politics, history, or design arising from pop culture, then I’m on that.

Which brings me back to The Good Place. If you watch it, you already know, but ostensibly it’s a show about a group of people who die and go to… well, is it heaven, hell, or something else? However, underneath the over-the-top humor, it’s really a show about philosophy, making constant references to people like John Locke and Immanuel Kant. Don’t believe me? There are tons of articles exploring it – try this one, or this one, or this one.

Watching episodes like the one that explores the trolley problem or the most recent one that asks if it’s possible to even be a good person in a complex modern world with my teens is one of the highlights of my homeschool week. No credits being given as yet… I think I’d have to make a selection of readings and more in depth discussions to do that. But connecting with something that has the potential to be both fun and deep is one of the  best things about having teenagers.

The “Say Yes” Mentality

Years ago, when my boys were toddlers, I read an article where the mom resolved to try saying yes for one day to everything her very young child asked to do. There were limits, obviously. Kids need to be safe and it’s just not possible to get a pet unicorn (unfortunately!). But the idea was to say yes whenever possible to see how it felt.

That concept really stuck with me for a long time. We spend a lot of time telling young children “no.” I have definitely sat in the park and listened as a parent just said “no” to a 2 or 3 year-old over and over. “No, it’s not time for snack.” “No, not up on the big slide yet.” “No throwing.” “No, that’s not your ball.” “No, we can’t go over there now.” And so on, ad infinitem. Sometimes I see parents of young children telling their children “no” even as others say yes. I remember seeing a parent tell a child they couldn’t disturb a pile of mulch at a park once, only to have the landscaper turn and say, “It’s okay. I’m just going to spread it here in a few minutes.” The parent still led the frustrated child away.

The benefits of saying yes seem really obvious to me. Yes respects children as individuals, respects their wants and needs. Yes allows children to learn to self-regulate. Yes gives children the freedom to learn. Yes improves our relationship with our kids. It gives our no more weight because they recognize that it’s not empty and given in reflex. Sometimes you have to say no. But I like the impulse and stop and examine. Make yes the default.

As my kids have grown up, at some point, I thought, I have this “yes” thing totally down pat. Also, now that they’re teenagers, who cares? They know I respect them. They know I give them leeway. We’re all good.

Then, the other day, BalletBoy asked if we could start school a little late and play a board game.

I’m SO BUSY, I thought. I’m SO TIRED, I thought. Why THAT game, I thought. You have SO MUCH high school work, I thought.

And then I made myself say yes.

The yes mentality is something that I still have to relearn sometimes, I guess. But I needed the reminder that it’s still important.

It just changes. I don’t have to trail after my kids telling them no, no, no anymore lest they accidentally stumble into the mortal dangers of traffic or that mysterious thing on the ground that somehow looks appealing to stick in their mouths. Now that they’re teens, the dangers are so much more complex and so much more long term. You can’t just pull them back from the road like toddlers and know that they’re fine. They have to figure out how to approach first loves and complex friendships. They have to come to their own understandings of why they need to work hard or engage or have goals. And there’s not one moment when it will go right or wrong.

It’s as key as ever that I say yes so they can figure out their own boundaries and trust that when I say no, the no has weight. Just like when they were little, I still have to say no sometimes.

But the moments when they want my attention, advice, or my ears are also more precious and fleeting than ever. Yes, you can tell me about that video game strategy. Yes, you can play that song in the car. Yes, we can go for a hike instead of finishing up math.

So this is a reminder to myself. Say yes.

 

 

 

Cover and Title Reveal

Okay, it took awhile, but I have a title for my forthcoming book. I hope it sums up the middle school years. They go from tweens to teens. They rarely have smooth sailing throughout. They also tend to have big leaps in critical thinking and creativity that are very much worth celebrating.

More importantly, I also have a cover! This cover is really brought to you by Mushroom, who refused to take credit for it, but who did most of the heavy design lifting by altering the images and doing the basic layout. I swooped in and finessed some things, but I’m mostly just bursting with pride for him. I have no idea how to do half the things he did with the software he was showing me. This is middle school, guys! It’s kids who suddenly know more than you about something that isn’t just dinosaur names or video games, but something super useful!

Expect to see it on Amazon as both a paperback and an ebook in the next two weeks!

Our Beloved Co-op

Our tiny co-op had its final meeting last week and I’m still a little weepy when I think about it. It was time to end. Several kids are headed to school. My kids are starting high school, which brings with it some specific challenges in terms of getting in academics. But this co-op has been in existence for an amazing nine years, which is a really long time for a small, family based co-op.

We ended with an overnight camping trip that the kids planned. The kids planning it was pretty essential. Since its inception, this has been a child-led co-op in various ways, becoming more and more child-led as they grew and matured.

I keep meaning to write a more detailed post about our co-op. I don’t think this is that post. But it’s been a really amazing ride over the years. When we started, the kids picked the topics and the parents taught the lessons. We rotated houses week by week. We made decisions based on consensus, a habit I picked up working in Quaker schools. They learned about things like dinosaurs and history. When they were really little, we used to operated the “Co-op Time Machine,” a pillow fort in the basement that traveled in time to visit the Big Bang, among other things.

At some point, we transitioned to asking the kids to plan the units and decide exactly what they wanted to do. They put on a play, made a movie, staged a fundraiser, wrote their own roleplaying game, and many other projects.

Over the years, there have been all kinds of co-op experiments. The kids played with “co-op money” one fall, playing an elaborate game of trading goods and services. The kid who sold muffins every morning was the winner, I think. There was a co-op yearbook several years, as well as a co-op newspaper created by BalletBoy that ran several editions for a couple of years. Kids came and went over the years, though a few families remained the same.

Co-op has been a hugely stable force in our lives for so many years that it’s staggering. Most schooled kids don’t get this type of stability in their peer group. I feel so lucky to have gotten this experience for them.

As we left the campsite for the final meeting, it was us and the other original family who had been there since the beginning. That’s it,  I realized. There’d be no more co-op. In the fall, the kids opted to do a STEM-centered day of classes once a week.

I feel like nowadays, if a co-op doesn’t have a slate of classes, a rented space, and an official nonprofit designation it’s not a co-op at all. However, this little, free endeavor has been perfect for us. It took the parents sharing a powerful vision for the kids. It wasn’t without its rocky moments and the kids are hardly perfect to each other. Many of the projects fizzled into nothing much. However, this is what homeschooling can, especially for the K-8 years. Cheap and child-driven. Filled with play and friendships.

Finding Empathy

One of the amazing things about watching kids grow up is watching them evolve as aware humans. Little kids are, by their nature, mostly self-centered. They have these moments of deep kindness, but also moments of sheer lack of understanding of others’ emotions or views.

One of the most beautiful things about having adolescents is seeing them fully emerge from that younger, naturally narcissistic viewpoint, to becoming kids who can really appreciate others, and empathize with them.

I feel like with teens, they can be moody, prickly, and self-centered at times. It can be easy to fall into this trap of seeing them as uncaring or unfeeling toward others. But the reality is that they’re not. One reason that young adolescents sometimes seem extra concerned with their image is that they can suddenly see that not everyone sees the world or themselves the way they do.

I think, as a parent, you have to catch them being their best selves. You have to catch them when they’re coming out of their shells to do kind things.

BalletBoy spent all year volunteering at his ballet studio, teaching a class of little kids. He did several volunteer stints at a soup kitchen by his own request. When he passes homeless people on the street, he stops and gives them his own money.

Recently, our lives were upended very briefly when we rushed to be at my grandmother’s side as she lay in hospice, dying. Every time he came into the room, Mushroom went to her side and greeted her. Even after she lost consciousness, he spoke to her and told her he was there and that he loved her. He didn’t shy away from holding her hand or touching her.

You guys, teens are the best. Young kids are special and wonderful too, but teens have so much more understanding and nuance. We’re really just at the start of the teenage journey, and I like to gripe about it sometimes. They are moody and sarcastic and all the things teenagers are. They ignore me and roll their eyes too. But they also have these moments of empathy and caring that go beyond the gestures I saw from them when they were little. It’s so beautiful and I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow.

The boys hugging their great-grandmother last fall.

Middle Schoolers

I mentioned before that I’m working on a book about homeschooling middle school. Then I joked on social media that another one of the things I’m not doing is blogging, but I really am working on this.

It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more resources targeted to homeschoolers and prospective homeschoolers about how middle school is the right time for homeschooling. I believe in homeschooling these difficult, glorious, crazy years so much! They’re so rewarding. The relationship you’ll have with your kids is so rewarding. The teaching and learning you’ll do is so rewarding. I know it’s not for everyone. Homeschooling never will be. But middle school. Think about it.

Anyway, with that in mind, below is a little except of what I’ve been working on.

Look at those grown up kids!

The kid you start middle school with will not be the kid you finish with.

The kid you start sixth grade with will probably be short. They will probably still have toys and enjoy some imaginative play, even if the toys are now more collectables and the imaginative play is sophisticated. They’ll still love playgrounds and enjoy children’s museums. Your son will still have a little kid voice. Your daughter may not be wearing a bra yet. They’ll probably be comfortable in their bodies and confident on the playground. Most of them will be natural early risers and may even get up before you if you’re not a morning person.

They’ll start out in all different places academically, but it won’t be unusual if your new sixth grader can’t yet write an essay or a short story on their own or still struggles with things like operations with fractions. Even your gifted writers will probably sound young in their writing. They’ll often be more focused on facts and trivia than deeper analysis. A lot of them will still be very black and white in how they see the world, with everything either good or evil and not a lot in between. While they’ll be well past learning to cut a straight line with scissors, a sizable number may still struggle with small motor skills that you keep thinking they “should” have mastered by now, like neatly measuring the flour or not overusing all the glue.

The kid you graduate eighth grade with will be tall. Your daughters will likely be close to their adult heights. They’ll look mature and be able to wear adult clothes. They’ll be ready to start shaving if they choose. Your sons will still be growing, but many of them will be taller than their mothers with shoes as big as their father’s. A few of them may have even shaved for the first time. Their bodies will surprise even them sometimes. Your boys may bump into things because they don’t realize they take up so much space. Even your girls may seem to regress in their physical abilities for awhile. Hopefully, they’re starting to be comfortable in these new bodies by the time they head to high school, but it’s not unusual for many of them not to be completely at ease yet. They’ll like to sleep in and may even need to be prodded out of bed every morning to ensure that they don’t stay up half the night.

They’ll mostly be finished playing with toys and make believe. Their interests will feel more grown up. The kid who loved to play will be channeling it into sports even more than before, the kid who loved imaginary games will be playing roleplaying games, the kid who loved to color will be doing art with more serious materials, the kid who loved to tinker will be building things that are more sophisticated. It’ll be a subtle difference, but their interests will seem serious and not like childhood fancies.

Academically, they’ll still be all over the place, but the leaps in skill you’ll see will be stunning. Barring learning differences, your student who struggled to write a paper will sort of have the hang of it. Your student who kept forgetting how to add fractions will be puzzling out algebra problems. Your students who started out ahead of their peers may be dipping into college lectures and work worthy of high school credits. The students who seemed to revel in trivia and expertise will have mostly moved away from listing fact after fact to ask you big questions. In fact, they’ll all be asking these big questions more often, and be more interested in questions that don’t have easy, black and white answers.

Like I said, the kid you finish middle school with won’t be the kid you started with.

In It for the Long Haul

We’re cleaning off the shelves as part of our break, filing work away and updating portfolios. I told Mushroom and BalletBoy that if they wanted to consider high school, that this was it; they needed to speak up now.

It’s never really been entirely up to them. I wouldn’t have allowed them to go to middle school barring a very good reason. And I’ve been pretty sure we were going to go all the way through for awhile. However, they’re about to be teenagers. I think they should have more of a say at this point.

It’s not that high school would be impossible down the road if our circumstances changed. I know that in some states, once you start down one path for high school, it’s almost impossible to switch, but in the District, there are flexible options for high school credits. However, once the deadlines for applications to charter and selective public school programs have passed in the winter, a lot of doors will close. If we were going to even consider that, I explained, I needed time to get things in order, let them tour schools and research options, and create applications. This is eighth grade, I said. Tell me now.

BalletBoy, no surprise, answered immediately. No way. He wants to homeschool. It’s an easy answer when you know it’s enabling your passion. His ballet moves to six classes this year. I can’t imagine managing that plus school, much less more classes and high school.

Mushroom dithered. Would missing out on high school close off any job options or college options down the line, he wanted to know. That’s my long term thinker. I reassured him. No, absolutely not. I couldn’t promise that he absolutely would never run into a hassle because he was homeschooled, but it is pretty unlikely overall.

The thing is, I am almost positive at this point that I can give them a better, richer experience for high school than school can. I used to teach high school and I’ve never found it as intimidating as some people seem to. I know many people get nervous about high school, but right now, I’m in the midst of planning our eighth grade year and looking ahead to future possibilities and I’m not nervous, I’m excited. Neither of my kids are ever going to be the sort of kids who pull in high test scores and piles of AP exams and honor roll awards. They would just be mediocre in school. Mediocre and worn out by the long days and heavy amount of busy work. But at home, we can do targeted work and make time for passion projects and intense extracurriculars where they really do get to show their best selves.

Mushroom has a real interest in design and I tried to explain how excited I am to push him to do certain programs and internships in high school, how he can really pick and choose the sort of university he wants to attend. How doing high school at home won’t hold him back from that. In fact, the opposite, it might enable it.

“I don’t really want to go to school,” he admitted. “Then don’t!” I said. So we’re decided for sure.

Whew. And with that off my plate, now to focus on being in the moment and getting the most out of the end of middle school. After vacation, that is.