Iowa homeschooling mom, Michelle Andersen, is also an Iowa library director, which explains her enthusiasm for sharing the many incredible FREE resources available at and through your local public library.
Check out this list from Michelle!
1. EXPLORE BOOKS, MAGAZINES, DVDs, AND AUDIOBOOKS
All kinds of reading material are available to enjoy or to support your curriculum. Your local library may even have collections of puzzles, games, kits, and other items that can be checked out.
2. UTILIZE INTERLIBRARY LOAN
Even if your local library doesn’t have the book you want, you can request it from another library. Some libraries may charge a fee to cover postage, but it is still far less expensive than purchasing the book for a one-time use.
3. DOWNLOAD BOOKS AND MORE
Bridges (bridges.overdrive.com) is the all-Iowa online resource with over 30,000 e-books, e-audio books, and even downloadable films. The OverDrive app is accessed by signing in with your local library card.
4. ACCESS RESEARCH TOOLS
Whether for personal edification or homeschool assignments, you can use two new Iowa library online research tools, Credo Reference and Gale Pages. Links are provided below to the home pages for these sites, but both are accessed using login information provided by your local public library, or through a State Library card.
Credo Reference is like having a super-charged reference shelf at your fingertips. Think of it as an exhaustive set of dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, and more. There are even topic pages and mind maps to aid you in your search. Each article comes with a prepared citation for those using it for academic purposes.
Gale Pages is a periodical search tool from trusted sources (not filled with ads like generic internet search tools). Searches can be wide-ranging or limited to pictures, graphics, or videos, depending upon what is needed. With a variety of collections to explore and special sections set up for elementary users (KidBits) and middle school users (Research in Context), students will be amazed at the reliable information they will find! Gale resources also come with prepared citations for use in research papers and other such academic pursuits.
5. LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE
Transparent Languages is another new statewide resource available through your local library. There are many languages to choose from and a variety of ways to learn…including using the app on your phone for convenience. Contact your local library for login information.
6. PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
Learning Express Library is an interactive tool designed to help students prepare for college entrance exams, explore careers, and even learn how to use computers. This incredible resource for kids and parents even provides skill practice tools for developing the core subject skills of upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.
CHECK OUT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY
The best way to start exploring your local library's resources is to introduce yourself to the library staff and ask what your community library has to offer. I requested a one-to-one session to teach my son how to research periodicals, and they were happy to arrange it. My friend asked if a computer skills class that was being offered after school could also be offered during the day for homeschooled students, and it happened. Librarians are helpful folks with a lot of knowledge and creativity. If you have something that you don’t know how to do or find, ask your librarian!
Michelle Andersen has homeschooled 4 boys (ages 8 to 17) for nine years, and also serves as an Iowa public library director. She is excited to share with other homeschooling parents some of the many benefits that Iowa public libraries can provide to enhance and encourage learning.
November 6, 2017
As the January 8 opening of the 2018 Iowa Legislative Session approaches, anti-homeschool rumblings can continually be heard.
High-profile individuals and organizations are calling for increased regulation and oversight for homeschooling families.
In a recent public forum and in a published editorial, the American Association of University Women addressed the topic of homeschooling in Iowa – especially Independent Private Instruction (IPI).
Some quotes from the AAUW position paper:
“Every child deserves to be safe and to receive a quality education. IPI is a homeschooling option that fails to guarantee either. Legislators created this problem – only they can fix it.”
“School-age kids have no political power and no voice. Responsible adults need to speak out on their behalf and demand repeal of IPI, or at a bare minimum, require health and safety visits that should cause no concern for a parent who is doing the right thing.”
The Des Moines Register has also called for the repeal of IPI – describing it in an August 4, 2017, editorial as the “fringe homeschooling option.”
Citing results from a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll of 800 Iowa adults (93% of whom reported they had no experience with homeschooling), the Register seeks increased oversight of Iowa homeschooled students.
Some Results from the Register Iowa Poll of Persons Mostly Inexperienced with Homeschooling:
Over 90% of the poll respondents thought that students being homeschooled in Iowa should be tested every year in reading and math.
Almost 80% supported requiring homeschooling families to review their lesson plans with local public school homeschooling coordinators.
Slightly under 70% favored requiring parents to take their homeschooled children to their local public schools for quarterly welfare checks.
Other than citing poll results and poll respondents' individual opinions, the Register did not provide additional evidence supporting its position.
For example, there were no statistics cited to show that annual testing of public school students ensures quality educational results. There was no evidence presented to justify the imposition of public school "welfare checks" on all homeschooled students.
In the August 4 editorial piece, the Register editorial staff opined:
“State lawmakers should recognize the overwhelming public support for minimal monitoring of home-schooled students — support that transcends religion, political affiliation and geography. Leaders should reverse a recent change in law that allows some kids to never learn a thing, let alone ever be tested.”
Iowa Legislation Targeting Homeschooling
Legislation was filed in the 2017 Session that would, if adopted, enact increased regulation and oversight of homeschooling families. At least one bill calls for the complete repeal of IPI and parent-taught driver education.
Because the Iowa Legislature operates under a two-year General Assembly, these bills will still be available for consideration by Iowa lawmakers when they convene their 2018 Legislative Session.
Anymore, I don’t run errands during the daytime with my children, mostly because schoolwork and activities have increased as my twins have gotten older.
I have also become more conscious of the attention we draw. If I am with only one child, it seems that onlookers assume my child is out of school for the afternoon because of a doctor appointment or some other issue. However, two or more children together with mom somehow seems to attract more attention.
All of this circled through my mind recently as I made the decision to head over to Walmart at 1:00 p.m. Offering a little pep talk to the kids, I strolled out of the house with confidence.
Along the way, my attention was attracted by a pumpkin stand selling big, glorious pumpkins for an amazingly low price.
A list began to form in my head: Grandma, the elderly couple down the street, my aunt, my best friend who has lots of little ones under 4 years old. All of them needed – NO, must have – a bright, cheerful pumpkin.
We pulled up alongside the stand and started our search in and around the large wagon stacked high with shining orange globes for the best pumpkins to give to our friends and family. Focusing on my list, I allowed the children to explore.
There it was! The perfect round pumpkin for my beloved aunt. As I was completing my inspection of this successful find, a gentleman walked up to me.
"Is that your son over there?" he asked.
"Umm...yes..." I answered, not sure what was coming next and struck by the sudden thought that perhaps I should have just stayed home. Why had I thought it necessary to go to Walmart before the afternoon rush instead of ordering online?
Interrupting my thoughts, he said, "Your son is the nicest young man. I asked him if he was in school, and he said, 'No, sir. I am homeschooled.' That just made my day."
"Oh. Well, um, thank you," I replied.
As my defenses came down, I extended my hand and introduced myself. We chatted for a few minutes. He shared that he had been a school principal and taught wrestling for over 30 years. Conversation flowed easily, and as I wished him a good day, he pulled out his wallet. I raised my hand in protest, but he insisted.
"How many pumpkins are you getting?" he asked earnestly.
"Ummm...just a few," I hesitated.
Strolling quickly past me, he went straight to the attendant and said, "That young lady is buying five pumpkins."
I know I muttered some type of surprised and shocked “Thank you” and continued making our remaining selections.
As the attendant loaded my van with the generous gifts, the gentleman was loading his. Once again, he said that we made his day, and we exchanged a few pleasantries before departing.
I continued to ponder this random act of kindness throughout the afternoon. I have never been on the receiving end of a “pay-it-forward” gesture.
What struck me most was not the monetary value of his generosity, but, rather, the significant differences in our “school” experiences.
He was a retired professional educator with many years of experience in the public school system. I am a young homeschooling mom, who was homeschooled in my youth. Yet, despite those polar-opposite differences, we both were a blessing to each other.
How quickly our walls can come down.
With all the negative attention that has been directed at home education in the news this year, I know lots of homeschooling parents are asking "What can I do?" How can I change the situation? Maybe, for most people in most situations, the answer is simple: Be a positive example, show respect, and don't be afraid of who you are as a home schooling family.
Jennifer Ciha is an Iowa home-educated graduate who is currently homeschooling her two children. She shares practical advice and inspiring images to encourage families to learn and explore across Iowa on her blog fieldtripiowa.com.
October 2, 2017
“Oh, look! The school district included the NICHE IPI form in the information packet they sent me. I’ll just fill it out and send it in.”
Sounds simple; right?
And how nice that the school district used a NICHE form; right?
Not so fast. Let’s take a closer look at the form.
A careful inspection of the NICHE IPI Response Form (above left) indicates that it includes spaces for only the information that is required by law for an IPI provider to give to the public school.
The form that was sent out by an Iowa school district (above right) was the 2013 version of the NICHE IPI form, and it had been altered. Under each line provided for the IPI student’s name, a school district staff person had typed in “DOB” (date of birth) and “GR” (grade) – neither of which are data required by law.
The NICHE copyright notification was left at the bottom of the form.
Some homeschooling parents in this district completed the altered form and submitted it before NICHE became aware of the situation.
Immediately, upon discovery of the altered form, NICHE contacted the school district. It required more than one communication attempt, but we did receive a response that the form had been changed back to the original format.
NICHE informed the school district that it should notify the parents who received the altered form that it was not the original NICHE form and that it had been changed to include requests for information that is not required under Iowa law.
When we asked the school district if this had been done, the superintendent replied that they had not contacted the parents who had received the altered copyrighted form. NICHE is taking steps to inform homeschooling parents in the school district about the altered form.
What can we learn from this?
We cannot assume that everything we receive from the public school accurately reflects the current homeschool law and rules.
We need to be well-informed as to the requirements for the homeschool legal option we select.
We can use resources like the NICHE website Homeschool Options page to find details about homeschool legal options.
We can be sure we’re using a genuine NICHE copyrighted form when we download it from the NICHE website Homeschool Forms page.
September 18, 2017
Who knows your child better than you; right?
Perhaps you're fairly confident that you already know what your child's primary learning style is.
Even so, you'll benefit and enjoy the process of taking just a few minutes to bop through this concise learning styles checklist.
You're likely to immediately identify a predominant style for your particular child.
Then take note of the helpful suggestions provided to assist you in adapting your homeschool instruction for optimum learning.
Are quick imitators, copying what they “see” demonstrated
Are distracted by visual stimuli (e.g., a bird outside the window)
Notice printed or pictured details
Can often find or see things that others might miss
Are particularly aware of spatial relationships
Can remember where on a page or in a book they saw something
Often quickly build a sight word vocabulary at a young age
May use sight clues when learning spelling words
Will often doodle or write additional notes on worksheets or handouts
Processing math word problems
Forming a hypothesis and testing it with experiments
Thinking or reading beyond the literal or obvious
Learn well with:
Wall charts and visual handouts
Timelines, maps, charts, and graphs
Workbooks and “how-to” books with illustrations
Videos that present illustrated instruction
Are enthusiastic verbal communicators and love to chatter
Can easily remember song lyrics, poems, and television commercials
Often tap out rhythmic patterns and can replicate them effortlessly
Sound out words and are phonetic spellers
Tend to solve problems by talking their way to solutions
Enjoy listening to the radio or recordings
Often sing well and express themselves well verbally
Sometimes start vocalizing when instructed to reading silently
Can follow directions presented orally
Editing and correcting written work
Reading technical or non-fiction writing
Paying attention to details on written work
Distractions from background noise
Learn well with:
Freedom to subvocalize and point to words while reading
Verbally delivered instructions
Field trips with oral descriptions or interview opportunities
Plays, poetry, and memory work
Recordings, music, rhymes, and echo games
Will immediately jump, run, and move when given opportunity
Explore new things by touching and feeling them
Tend to be in perpetual motion and are often labeled hyperactive
Display muscle coordination in movement and sports
Have excellent balancing skills
Love to take things apart and attempt to reassemble them
Tend to dislike long-range goal setting and complicated projects
Relate to others more comfortably in body and action than in words
Become distracted when they are required to sit still or be quiet
Concentrating on phonics, spelling, grammar, and math rules
Reading for information
Doing analytical work or research-related writing
Completing long-term projects in science and history
Of course, most children will not demonstrate all of the characteristics or qualities listed in each category, and you should encourage your child to experience learning using all three learning approaches or styles.
Embrace the learning style with which your child is gifted. You’ll be rewarded with a happier learner and more effective instruction.
September 4, 2017
“Can the school require me to provide that information?” “Do I have to file that form?” “Is that a legal mandate?”
NICHE receives questions like these all year long – but especially at back-to-school time.
One of the many services we provide is assistance in clarifying and meeting homeschool legal requirements in Iowa.
While the Iowa law and rules governing home education clearly specify certain requirements for the provision of information, at times, school officials exceed the legally-defined limits.
Here are some of the common requests along with recommendations as to whether or not they are applicable:
Not required initially for students under IPI, but if a written request for information is received from the school district or the Iowa department of Education, required to provide these specific items:
• the name of the primary IPI instructor,
• the name and location of the authority responsible for the IPI, and
• the names of the students under IPI.
Parents using IPI who receive a written request for information can download and use our NICHE IPI Response Form. Some school officials are asking for additional information, such as IPI students’ birthdates and grade levels. Parents providing IPI are not required to provide this information. In at least one case, a school district altered our NICHE form, adding requests outside of legal parameters, and distributed it while retaining our copyright notice at the bottom. Download the form from our website to ensure you are providing only the information required by law.
• PERMISSION FROM AEA SPECIAL EDUCATION DIRECTOR TO HOMESCHOOL A STUDENT IDENTIFIED WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Not required unless public school special education services are desired and requested via the filing of CPI Form A.
• INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM (IEP) FOR HOMESCHOOLED STUDENT WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Not required unless public school special education services are desired and requested via the filing of CPI Form A.
• HOME LANGUAGE SURVEY
School districts are required by Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act to distribute to enrolled students, but no sanctions or penalties for recipients who do not return a completed survey.
• PUBLIC SCHOOL SCREENING FOR K-3 READING OR READING READINESS
School districts are required by Iowa law to offer, but notcompel, CPI dual-enrolled or HSAP-enrolled students to participate.
• PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENT FEES
Required for dual-enrolled students accessing classes or activities for which fully-enrolled students pay fees, but only for the classes or activities in which the dual enrolled students participate.
• EVIDENCE OF SPORTS ELIGIBILITY
Can be required for dual-enrolled CPI students who participate in public school sports sanctioned by the Iowa high school athletic unions. Sports eligibility form available.
What’s the #1 topic among inquiries received by NICHE this time of year?
You guessed it! It’s Iowa homeschool legal options and all of the many details that accompany each.
Every Iowa homeschooling parent has to choose a homeschooling legal option.
Some of you have been homeschooling for years using the same legal option every year. Some of you have utilized a variety of options during your homeschooling years. Some of you are just starting to homeschool and are facing the decision for the first time.
Regardless, you can use these key determining factors when selecting your Iowa homeschool legal option.
FREEDOM FROM GOVERNMENT REGULATION
If you want this, you’ll need to use one of the legal options that does not include requirements for submission of paperwork at the beginning of the school year and mandates from the public school system as to the functioning and oversight of your children’s educational programs – either Competent Private Instruction (CPI) Option 2 with Opt-Out or Independent Private Instruction (IPI).
ACCESS TO PUBLIC SCHOOL OFFERINGS
If you want access to public school services, activities, or classes available to fully-enrolled students, you’ll need to use one of the Competent Private Instruction (CPI) options that require the filing of CPI Form A – either CPI Option 1 or CPI Option 2 with Opt-In. When you file the CPI Form A, you’ll mark “Yes” on Item #9 requesting dual enrollment.
If your high school student wants to access Senior Year Plus options, you’ll need to choose one of the two options listed above that require the filing of CPI Form A, and you'll need to select the dual enrollment option under Item #9. The only exception to this would be that IPI students can access concurrent enrollment community college classes.
If your student is under age 6 or age 16 or over, however, you can file the CPI Form A with only Items #1, #2, and #9 completed to access dual enrollment, which provides public school services, activities, or classes and all Senior Year Plus options. Since these students are not of compulsory school attendance age, the additional requirements for CPI with reporting (e.g., filing a plan of instruction, meeting with a supervising teacher, or submitting annual assessment results) are not required.
PARENT-TAUGHT DRIVER EDUCATION
If you want this, you’ll need to use one of the Competent Private Instruction (CPI) options. The current Iowa Code section governing Parent-Taught Driver Education was created in the same legislative action as Independent Private Instruction, so IPI is not mentioned (as it did not exist when the Parent-Taught Driver Education bill was drafted).
SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS
If your student has been identified by the public school system as requiring special education services, you will need to decide if you want to continue to utilize the public school system to meet those special education needs or if you want to provide for those needs privately.
If you want to continue to use public school special education services (including those through the AEA), you’ll need to use one of the Competent Private Instruction (CPI) options that require the filing of CPI Form A – either CPI Option 1 or CPI Option 2 with Opt-In. When you file the CPI Form A, you’ll answer the questions under Item #8 and mark “Yes” on Item #9 requesting dual enrollment. You’ll also have to receive permission from your AEA special education director to homeschool your special-education student.
If you want to opt out of public school special education services (including those through the AEA), you can do that in one of two ways depending upon the legal option you've chosen. If you've selected an option that requires CPI Form A filing, you simply mark “No” on the second questions under Item #8 on the CPI Form A. If you've selected an option that doesn't require CPI Form A filing, send your resident public school officials a simple written notice that you will be providing for your child's special education needs privately and you no longer desire public school special education services.
OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE OR SUPERVISION
If you want this, you can use any of the options. Some homeschooling parents believe that they have to select CPI Option 1 in order to receive the assistance of an Iowa licensed teacher. While CPI Option 1 requires a specified schedule of oversight meetings with an Iowa licensed teacher, homeschooling parents using any legal option can make private arrangements to receive outside assistance or supervision.
HOMESCHOOLING UNRELATED CHILDREN
If you want to homeschool unrelated children, the Iowa Code specifies that up to 4 unrelated children can be instructed under the Independent Private Instruction (IPI) option.
As you read through this list of factors, consider whether or not you have selected the best possible option for your homeschooling family.
Find complete information about Iowa homeschool legal options here:
In the flurry of back-to-school preparations, we’re presented with many “doors” to homeschool success.
Buy this curriculum and your child will succeed. Use this method and your child will flourish. Try this resource and your child will excel.
Whether we’re just starting the homeschooling adventure or we’ve been on the journey for years, we’ve all stood before many of these doors.
One of the beauties of home education is its uniquely individualized approach. There are doors that can and should be opened by one homeschooling family that should perhaps not be opened and entered by other homeschooling families. Part of the adventure is discovering and discerning which doors are right for your particular family.
Even so, there are a few doors that lead to success for every homeschooling family. Here are two of them.
Even as we are all journeying on our own unique homeschool adventures, we all have one thing in common. We all want our children to become passionate about learning and discovering. We all want our children to grow toward stable and mature adulthood. We all want our children to sense that we are cheering them on in their homeschool adventures.
We want our children to know that we love them and that we’re on this journey together as a team.
Before we try out the different doors to various curricula, methods, and resources, we should open the door to relationship.
We can think about how to build into our home schools the means to connect and bond with our children. We can seek to create an atmosphere of family unity and teamwork in our pursuit of knowledge.
When our children look back on their childhood educational years, what will be most important? Curricula? Methods? Resources? Or relationship?
Another door we all must walk through for homeschool success is commitment. Without it, we’re destined for failure.
Why did we sign up for this homeschooling adventure? What is the source of our inspiration and strength to continue the journey, even if it’s difficult?
For me, the answer is God.
It was He who called me to begin homeschooling almost 30 years ago. It is He who continues to be the source of inspiration and strength to finish the journey well.
Find these two key "doors" to homeschooling success. Open them and walk through with confidence and hope!
July 17, 2017
Our 25th year marks the beginning of a new NICHE homeschool networking effort!
We're pleased to introduce our Homeschool Iowa regional representatives to help support you and your family on your home education adventure.
We've divided the state into 18 regions and sought out seasoned homeschooling veterans with extensive practical skills and wisdom that come from years of experience to serve as the regional representatives for NICHE.
Their duties will include:
helping NICHE identify the needs and concerns of homeschooling families in their areas,
facilitating communications with local homeschool support groups, and
providing counsel to new home educators in their regions.
In a few of the regions, we have a pair of representatives serving.
Regional Representatives Coordinator Polly Lilly
Our amazing team of regional representatives is led by NICHE board member Polly Lilly, whose gifts of teaching and encouraging, combined with her many years of experience as a homeschooling mother, support group leader, and supervising teacher, make her an ideal coordinator.
We invite you to check out the biographical information and photos we've provided in an introductory article about our Homeschool Iowa regional representatives. You'll find it in the 2017 back-to-school issue of Homeschool Iowa magazine. (Not on our mailing list? Sign up on our home page.)
A complete listing of all of our regional representatives and their contact information is available here.
July 3, 2017
“Summertime, and the living is easy.”
So go the words in the well-known song. But in our often hectic modern times, summertime is anything but easy.
Many of us take a break from homeschool academic pursuits during the summer months. What happens as a result to our family life and focus?
We know you’re busy trying to pack into your summer months as much as you can, so we’ll get right to our 6 suggestions for SUMMER sanity. Here they are:
1. Seek Family Focus
While this one might seem obvious, please take a moment to run everyone’s activities and schedules through this filter. Are your family members scattering in different directions? Identify and reduce outside activities that divide or isolate family members.
2. Utilize Longer Evenings
Take advantage of the extra daylight hours on summer evenings. How about planning a family stroll about the neighborhood or a hike on a nature trail once or twice a week in the evening? Remember Deuteronomy 6:7. How can we accomplish this important parenting role unless we intentionally devote time to walk along the way with our children?
3. Maximize Use of the Outdoors
The summer months provide the perfect environment to move activities outside. Consider relocating some of your family meals outdoors. Get out the yard games. Put up a tent or sleep together out under the stars. Have some water fun (turn on the sprinkler, enjoy a squirt gun battle or a water balloon activity). Plan a family bonfire with time to sit around the fire at night sharing stories and memories.
4. Make Time for a Family Get-Away
Some families schedule a vacation trip. Others use summer weekends for excursions. In whatever form is best for your family, make deliberate plans for at least one family get-away this summer. Aim for family bonding and relationship building, not entertainment, and you’ll reap rewards.
5. Encourage Informal Routines
Experience the benefits of simple summertime activities built into your schedule. A regular read-aloud time is an incredible learning tool that also strengthens bonds between parent and child. How about a summer reading club? Or a regular family fun night? You might choose a particular day and time (e.g., Sunday afternoon) to devote to a continuing family pursuit (e.g., visiting different city, county, or state parks throughout the summer).
6. Rest & Restore
Remember that God calls us to come away with Him and rest. We need time to restore and maintain a close relationship with Him. Let your summer include quiet times devoted to these important objectives as well.
Instead of letting your summer activities and pursuits rule you and your family, causing wear and tear upon your sanity, use these 6 suggestions to be intentional as you enjoy these blessed summer months of opportunity gifted to us by God.
June 18, 2017
The devastating destruction resulting from a violent storm that struck our farm last week has caused me to think of how quickly life can change.
On Thursday afternoon, our crops were healthy and growing.
My garden looked beautiful, full of well-tended plants, already yielding produce.
On Thursday evening, all was destroyed.
Our crops were decimated. My garden was devastated.
What does this have to do with homeschooling?
As I consider the hard work and effort that went into the planting and care of my farmer husband's crops in the field and my own garden in our yard, I can easily liken it to the hard work and effort that has gone into homeschooling our nine children over almost 30 years.
We started homeschooling when home education was not even formally recognized in the Iowa Code. We, along with many others, spent countless hours at the Iowa Capitol, at the Iowa Department of Education, and elsewhere advocating for homeschool freedoms in our state.
Yet, just as our crops and garden plants were wiped out in a few minutes of a violent storm, so too can our homeschool freedoms be quickly destroyed.
Can it be that the freedoms won through years of dedicated effort have resulted in complacency?
Have we begun to take them for granted, assuming that they will always be as they now are?
Take another look at that devastated tomato plant.
On Thursday afternoon last week, I never dreamed it would be so instantly reduced to shreds. I took for granted that it would keep growing and thriving as it had since I planted it.
While one cannot protect field crops and garden plants from ferocious straight-line winds and hail, one can guard against the loss of homeschool freedoms won over many years through diligent efforts.
Please consider joining NICHE as one way to do just that. Our board, volunteers, and legislative liaison work hard to advocate for and protect homeschooling freedom in Iowa.
If you were at our 2013 Homeschool Iowa Conference and heardTodd Wilsonspeak, you know he's a very funny guy.
His comical drawings are always good for a laugh, too, like this one:
Ha! No wonder this guy is the author of Help! I'm Married to a Homeschooling Mom.
You know, Todd might have been looking at the photo taken at our 2013 conference (see header image) when he penned this comic – except that, instead of a speaker presenting the many reasons that algebra can be fun, the speaker framed above the couple's clasped hands was ... Todd Wilson.
And there was a reason that couple was holding hands.
They were soaking in the words that were touching their minds and hearts.
Yes, homeschool conferences CAN build marriages.
Beyond the edifying workshops on topics well beyond teaching algebra, there are so many other ways that this can happen.
- Sharing a meal, perhaps with another homeschooling couple, and enjoying fellowship.
- Making joint excursions through the exhibit hall to collaborate on purchases.
- Spending some break time together on the hotel terrace.
- Comparing reactions to what you're seeing and hearing.
In fact, many homeschoolers refer to couples attending homeschool conferences as weekend dates!
Are homeschool conferences marriage builders?
The answer is "Yes!"
And the exciting news is that one of our most popular keynote speakers, Todd Wilson, will be featured at this year's conference.
May can be a defining month for your homeschool year.
Because it's often the last month you devote to scheduled studies before a summer break, it can leave you with either a sense of satisfaction or defeat.
Here are 5 steps to help your homeschool year end well:
Yes, summer break is beckoning, but we're not quite there yet. Press on toward the goal.
If there are still assorted loose ends and vital uncompleted work that could be finished before summer, stick with it. If you give up and quit early, you'll likely be disappointed with yourself later, and baling out isn't the best example for your kids either.
The end of the school year is a great time to examine your school year while it's all fresh in your mind.
What did you accomplish this year? Have you met some of the goals you set at the beginning of the school year? Did your chosen curriculum work for you? What skills do your kids need to hone next year? Which of your kids' emerging interests do you want to pursue further?
Ask for input from your children and enlist their help in assessing their school year progress.
Use the results of your evaluation to do some preliminary planning. You don't have to formulate your entire outline for the next school year, but you can begin shaping its basic framework.
If you're heading to the exhibit hall or used curriculum sale at the Homeschool Iowa Conference, you'll want to identify some of your essential curriculum needs so you can complete your major purchases by early June.
Although you might be running out of steam at this time of year, you won't be doing yourself any favors by leaving piles of papers, books, and supplies strewn about when you finish your school year.
Enlist your children's help in getting materials put away in their proper places. Briefly summarize and chronicle your school year accomplishments and completions.
You'll experience a wonderful sense of closure when you finish this step.
Once you've crossed the finish line for this school year, it's time to commemorate your success. Plan something fun and enjoy it with your kids.
Have a Grandparent Day, where your children can share examples of the work they completed during the school year. Schedule a backyard barbecue or enjoy a picnic in the park. Invite your homeschooling friends to expand the festivities.
Avoid disappointment and defeat at the end of your school year.
Follow these 5 steps to help you finish with a sense of satisfaction and success.
April 17, 2017
It is, perhaps, an inherit trait of homeschooling moms to love homeschooling curriculum.*
In fact, some homeschooling moms refer to themselves as homeschool curriculum junkies.
We love to research, purchase, and use homeschool curriculum. And when a new school year approaches, we're ready to do it all over again!
Yet, one negative result of being a homeschool curriculum junkie is that we often end up with shelves, closets, storage boxes, and even just piles of homeschool curriculum.
If we're not at the end of our homeschooling journeys, we can, of course, inventory our vast array of curriculum to determine what can be used in the future. Yet, let's be honest. We all end up with some stuff that, for whatever reason, is not going to be of use.
What can we do with the curriculum overflow? Here are some suggestions:
Used Curriculum Sales
You can regain at least a portion of your original expenditures by reselling your used materials at an organized used curriculum sale.
Some homeschool support groups sponsor such sales, and often members can obtain tables from which to sell their items at a reduced rate or even as a member benefit.
Another means of gaining income from your curriculum excess is to offer your materials for sale on an online marketplace. There are many possible platforms to use (e.g. Amazon, Homeschool Classifieds, Vegsource, etc.). You can find others with a simple online search.
By the way, the same copyright cautions mentioned above also apply to online sales.
Swaps or Donations
If you are not concerned about obtaining cash for your leftovers, you might also consider swapping or donating them.
Perhaps you can connect with another homeschooling mom who might want to trade something you don't want for something she doesn't want. Or maybe you know another homeschooling mom who would welcome the donation of your castoff curriculum.
Say Goodbye to Curriculum Clutter
Yes, we all love our homeschool curriculum when we're researching and purchasing it, but let's avoid letting the accumulating results of our enthusiasm overwhelm us.
Send that curriculum overflow on to others (even if it's just to make room for the next installment)!
*Yes, we know that the plural of curriculum is curricula. However, we defer in this article to common usage that has become recognized and familiar.
April 3, 2017
While scrolling down the Facebook news feed recently, an old, familiar image appeared.
It was a grainy version of the group pictured above.
Our first NICHE Graduation in 1995
One of those seven graduates, Amber Smith (the broadly smiling young lady, slightly tilting her head at the front left), had posted the photo on her Facebook page.
Here are the quick comments she included with the picture:
"22 years ago I stood on a stage with 6 total strangers at the first NICHE homeschool graduation."
"In two months, my oldest 3 will be doing the very same thing. Who would have thought?"
"Looking forward to meeting the end of this road and passing these three on to their own goals, hopes, and dreams. Looking forward to many more graduations in the future."
Are you as blessed to read those words as we are?
Homeschooling the Next Generation
In this, our 25th anniversary year, we look back on many accomplishments, but few are as gratifying as this.
We are thrilled to know that one who graduated in our first ever homeschool graduation is now a homeschooling parent who is rejoicing to see her own children graduate in our Homeschool Iowa Graduation this year.
In this, and in all we do, we give thanks and glory to God!
NOTE: Amber Smith writes a blog about her adventures as the mother of 10 called 200 Fingers and Toes.
March 20, 2017
Due to several recent highly-publicized cases of heart-rending child abuse, some have advocated for restrictions on homeschooling – including regular "safety and welfare checks" of all homeschooled children. Are these measures warranted?
Between 4 and 8 children experience tragic deaths in America every day from child abuse and neglect according to the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF).
The U .S. Congress created and funded CECANF to analyze this critical problem like never before, on a national scale, and to come up with effective solutions.
After 2 years of intensive study, holding nationwide hearings with top experts and investigating the issue on an unprecedented scale, CECANF determined the best way to reduce deaths was to focus efforts on well-documented risk factors.
CECANF specifically identified a number of risk factors.
Homeschooling was not identified as a risk factor.
CECANF reported that the single strongest predictor of a child's potential risk for injury death is a prior report to social services. Children for whom such a report has been filed are 5.8 times more likely to die from intentional injuries.
CECANF highlighted two vivid success stories where communities dramatically reduced neglect and abuse fatalities.
--After a spike in childhood deaths in Hillsborough County, Florida, officials vigorously examined all open social services reports. Intensive help was afforded to families with multiple known risk factors. Abuse related deaths dropped to zero among the families identified. (Pages 38-41 of CECANF's report)
--In Wichita, Kansas, an intolerable upswing in child deaths galvanized the community to action. Data showed that most deaths came from specific zip codes. In response, extra energy and resources were devoted to those zip code areas, with eventually over 60 community organizations combining efforts to help. As a result, in 2011, 2012, and 2013, there were no maltreatment deaths. (Pages 70-73 of CECANF's report)
Child abuse is an intensely emotional subject, as it should be. But, emotions provide a poor foundation for solutions.
Effective responses are based upon well-documented facts.
Wichita and Hillsborough did not base their response plans on emotional appeals, grand-standing, scapegoating, or fault finding. Nor did they create divisions within their communities.
They started with a solid foundation of facts. This allowed them to create common-sense plans that saved lives.
In the recent highly-publicized abuse cases involving Iowa families who were said to be homeschooling, the families had been the subjects of multiple prior reports of concern. Yet these cases did not receive the kind of extra attention and resources that saved children’s lives in Hillsborough and Wichita.
This is a crucial time, when caring people are spurred to action to prevent future deaths from abuse and neglect. Directing energy and resources at the choice to homeschool—as though this were a risk factor—does a terrible disservice to children who are at serious risk of abuse and neglect right now.
All Iowans who sincerely want to reduce child abuse and neglect deaths should urge policymakers to start with the risk factors that CECANF identified, and to build a strategy from there.
I had an Iowa State University degree in child development with emphasis on pre-school and kindergarten. How was it, then, that my daughter could not read in kindergarten or first grade?
She had a good basic understanding of phonics and had picked it up very quickly, but when I put the word “cat” in front of her, she would say, with deliberate phonetic enunciation, “That says kuh-a-tuh.”
Long after other children her age were smoothly sounding out words and starting to read, my daughter remained at that same stagnant level, mechanically breaking words into disconnected letter sounds.
Then, one morning, while we were on vacation at the family’s cottage, she woke me up at 6:00 a.m. to ask if the box on the dresser said, “Queen Bed Set.”
The "Light Bulb" Moment
I was awake in an instant, ecstatically doing the happy dance!
It had clicked for her! Apparently her brain was finally ready to blend the phonetic sounds. She not only read every billboard we passed as we journeyed home from vacation, but, in that 2nd grade year of school, she progressed from “kuh-a-tuh” to reading adult classic literature.
Patience Has Its Rewards
She has loved to read and learn ever since that day.
I am so glad I had read Dorothy and Raymond Moore’s Better Late than Early. It encouraged parents to NOT push or worry. Every brain develops uniquely at its own pace and in its own unique way.
I was so thankful I had chosen to homeschool her. If she had been attending school, she would likely have been placed in the remedial reading group.
Because of my no-push approach, she had no clue that she was “behind” and, to this day, has no self-image issues due to it.
If you have a “stagnant learner,” take heart. Wait patiently for the “light bulb” moment.
Polly Lillyand her husband, Dan, successfully homeschooled their four now-adult children and are currently NICHE board members. Polly is the Homeschool Iowa support group and regional representative coordinator, and she also has a speaking and counseling ministry.
February 20, 2017
It was time for me to fetch my daughter for her English work – because we all know how important English is, right?!
I found her sitting in her favorite chair in the sunshine making a list of all the books of the Bible. And, not only was she going to list all of the the books of the Bible, but she was planning to add up all of the chapters in all of the books of the Bible.
So, at this moment, I could:
1) pull her away, inform her that someone else has already done this, tell her I'll find her the list (with all of the chapter counts) later, and press on with English.
2) I could embrace my role as a homeschooling mom, encourage her eagerness to explore, relish the freedom to bend our schedule, and allow her to finish her quest of discovery!
Which do you think I chose?
You'll know the answer when you view Exhibit A, the photo in this blog graphic, which I snapped of my daughter immediately after I made this decision.
This photo illustrates just one of the many benefits of home education, and it makes my homeschooling mother's heart glad when I look at it.
And, by the way, we won't "skip" that English lesson, we'll just get to it tomorrow – because, today, we're enjoying a learning excursion!
Jennifer Ciha is an Iowa home-educated graduate who is currently homeschooling her two children. She shares practical advice and inspiring images to encourage families to learn and explore across Iowa on her blog fieldtripiowa.com.
February 6, 2017
Earlier this week, I enjoyed the incredible blessing of spending time with my 4-month-old granddaughter, including the precious moments while she fell asleep in my arms.
I can’t even begin to comprehend harm ever coming to her – or fathom someone purposely hurting her in any way.
“But Jesus called them to him, saying, Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:16
The recent tragic death of West Des Moines teenager Natalie Finn and the reported abuse of Malayia Knapp from Urbandale both serve as heart-rending reminders that each of us has a responsibility to look out for vulnerable children in our communities..
However, one of our state senators is trying to use these two youths and their heartbreaking cases as "examples of homeschooling gone wrong," suggesting that ALL home educating parents should be uniformly suspected as abusers and, therefore, their children should be subjected to individual investigation.
The senator recently introduced a bill that would require school districts to conduct quarterly "health and safety visits for the protection of children placed under competent private instruction or private instruction.” Please see our Legislative Updates page for more information.
The Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators is opposed to this bill, based upon reasoned principles and documented research. Please see our response and recommendations.
We, at NICHE, believe that parents have the God-given mandate and responsibility to oversee the discipleship and education of their children
“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:7
During this, our 25th anniversary year for NICHE, I encourage each of you to recognize the dedication and efforts that homeschooling pioneers in our state devoted to gain the legal recognition of our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms to home educate in our state. Further, I urge you to commit to do what it takes to maintain those freedoms – for our children, and for our children's children.
In His service,
Tom Krueger NICHE President
January 16, 2017
I reacted with surprise when I saw the name appear on my phone as I reached to answer it.
The call was from a homeschooling friend – one who had started homeschooling when I had, back in the 1980's. I hadn't seen her or talked to her in years.
She sounded just the same as she cheerfully chirped, "How'd you like to join me for Mom's Morning Out?"
Ah, Mom's Morning Out!
In those early years, when home education was so new, and when communication tools like email, texting, and Facebook messaging were totally unknown, Mom's Morning Out was a scheduled event, often once a month, for our homeschooling moms' support group to gather for fellowship and encouragement.
"Mom's Morning Out? Tomorrow morning at 10:00am? Sounds great!" I replied.
When I walked in the tiny local cafe, I spotted my friend sitting at a table in the back of the room. As I walked toward her, I passed a group of about eight young women sitting around two pushed-together tables, enjoying their breakfasts, coffee, and conversation.
I thought to myself, "Well, the next generation can enjoy 'Mom's Morning Out' too!"
The Divine Appointment
My friend and I hugged, exchanging pleasantries, and just as we had taken our seats, another member of our old group of local homeschooling pioneer moms walked in to join us. More hugs ensued.
We draped our coats over our chairs and walked together up to the counter to place our orders.
At that moment, one of the young moms in the group of eight turned and said, "Are you Julie?"
When I replied that I was indeed "Julie," she introduced herself as the contact person for the current local homeschool support group!
Immediate introductions were made all around, and we had a delightful time chatting. My friends and I shared how we were having a "Mom's Morning Out" reunion, and the young moms shared how they were holding one of their twice-per-semester planning meetings.
Even now, as I think back on that pleasant experience, I am awed by how God brought together two generations of local homeschooling moms – on the same day – in the same little cafe – the seasoned veterans, through a spontaneous invitation on the night before – and the youthful successors, by scheduled appointment on that particular day only.
And, this is not an isolated incident!
God is at work, always and everywhere, designing his divine appointments.
They may not always be as obvious as this one, but they happen continually.
Ask God to open your spiritual eyes to see them – and to give Him the glory!
January 2, 2017
As I prepare to resume our homeschooling life adventures after Christmas break, I'm reminded of the thoughts that ran through my mind almost 30 years ago when I first considered home education for our oldest child.
Taking the Step Without Certainty
Homeschooling was unusual back then. Homeschooling was an unknown back then.
In fact, homeschooling was essentially illegal back then.
What was I signing up for? Where would it lead? What would it mean for my child?
Taking the Step Without Perfection
I remember feeling very unqualified. I remember feeling unprepared.
In fact, I remember feeling woefully inadequate for what appeared to be a monumental task before me.
Didn't I need more patience? Shouldn't I have more plans in place? Wouldn't all of my flaws and weaknesses result in failure?
Taking the Step Without All the Answers
As I began this homeschooling journey almost three decades ago, I started out with many questions unanswered.
And, on each new day, through each new struggle, in each new challenge, with each additional child, homeschooling required taking another step...
Taking the Step of Faith Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
You don't need certainty. You don't need perfection. You don't need all the answers.
You only need to take the step of faith in our awesome God who supplies all the rest.
December 19, 2016
It's very likely that the hustle and bustle surrounding the Christmas season has affected your household as well – and, like many homeschoolers, you are taking a long anticipated Christmas break.
Yet, you're still, after all, a homeschooling mom – and, as such, your mind tends to wander to the ever-expanding list of things that you could be doing during Christmas break instead of... um... actually taking a break.
This Christmas season, just say "No!" to these 3 homeschooling mom tendencies:
1. Striving to Win the Spectacular Holiday Mom Contest
All of the other homeschooling moms are making advent calendars, creating stunning holiday crafts, baking yummy Christmas goodies, and more, right? You see it posted on Pinterest and Facebook.
Well, you could kick into gear and pour all your time and energy into trying to keep up, or you could kick the guilt and enjoy your family while being who you are instead of comparing yourself to a friend or a social media ideal.
2. Attempting a Major Homeschool Makeover
Perhaps this works for some homeschooling moms, but designing an updated homeschool schedule or researching new homeschool curricula just doesn't seem appropriate during the Christmas break.
We encourage you to focus on the reason for the season instead. Concentrate on our Savior's birth and celebrate it in meaningful ways with your family.
You'll be surprised how God will bring forth blessings when you focus on Him. You might even find that, as a result of dedicating time to the Lord, your schedule will improve and the curricula you thought you needed to replace will start working for you.
3. Endeavoring to Complete a Homeschool Catch-Up Plan
We know. You're just feeling like you've fallen a bit behind where you'd like to have been at this time of year. It seems wrong to take off some time for Christmas break when you could be forging ahead with schoolwork. The kids really don't deserve a week or two of time off when they haven't made it to Point A in the curriculum, right?
Resist this one, please. It almost always ends badly.
It's time to remember that homeschooling is so much more than bookwork. And, the Christmas season is the perfect time to concentrate your homeschooling efforts on discipling and building family relationships.
This Christmas break, avoid these homeschooling mom tendencies, and focus instead upon Christ, the reason for the season.
Christmas blessings to you and your family!
December 5, 2016
It's been just over two years since the State of Iowa officially opened parent-taught driver education as a means of preparation for homeschooled students to obtain an intermediate driver's license.
We know that numerous homeschooled students have successfully completed the process and obtained their licenses.
Prescribed Procedures or Over-reaching Oversight?
After the parent-taught driver education law passed in 2013, the Iowa Department of Transporation (DOT) promulgated implementing administrative rules that were adopted in late 2014.
Although the law did not mention an "approval" process for parents who want to teach their children to drive, the DOT instituted this procedure.
Their cited reason was to avoid the possibility of parents devoting time and effort into monitoring student driving and overseeing the completion of curricula only to discover that they did not meet the qualifications (e.g. clean driving record, etc.) required to be a parent-taught driver education instructor.
The DOT also developed a student driving log, which it has modified a number of times over the past two years. Further, communications from the DOT staff on required procedures and processes have not been uniform during this period.
What's Your Story?
NICHE is reviewing parent-taught driver education to determine if there are concerns that need to be addressed with the DOT.
If you have completed the parent-taught driver education process – or if you're in the process – we'd love to hear from you. Send your briefly described experiences and succinctly stated concerns to us at email@example.com. Please include your contact information so we can communicate with you, if needed.
If you'd like more information about parent-taught driver education, you'll find it here.
November 21, 2016
In our busy homeschool lives, we sometimes spend too much time complaining about the things we do not like or do not have. Today, and every day, we need to take time to be thankful for the blessings we do have. Dedicate a few moments to pray your way through this list of 8 things for which you can be thankful:
1. Be thankful for family.
God used your parents or guardians, and perhaps siblings and extended family members, to shape your life. Now, He has graced you with a family of your own. Give Him thanks for the blessing of family!
2. Be thankful for friends.
Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you likely have at least one dear friend. (Keep in mind that we all have the Friend who knows us better than any other.) True friends encourage us, motivate us, and urge us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Take time to thank your friends for the ways God has used them to touch your life. Show your gratitude by also being a great friend to others.
3. Be thankful for home.
Large or small, stylish or spartan, messy or neat, your home is a blessing from the Lord. It offers a place of safety and shelter – a haven in which to gather your family. Give gratitude to God for your home!
4. Be thankful for laughter.
Laughter is a gift from God which can bring great joy. Be thankful for the laughter of your children, your spouse, your friends – and join in to receive the blessing that the Lord designed into this gift.
5. Be thankful for homeschooling.
Even when it is challenging or frustrating, homeschooling is an incredible blessing. Consider how God uses the discipleship tools intrinsic to home education to shape both your children and you! Give thanks to the Lord for homeschooling!
6. Be thankful for freedom.
Bear in mind the many freedoms you enjoy that others do not have. Consider the price that those who came before you paid for those freedoms. Be grateful for those sacrifices, and allow the Lord to use you in any way He desires to protect and preserve those freedoms.
7. Be thankful for life.
Stop and think about the wonder of the breath you just took. The Author of life gives you that breath. He created your body – every amazing detail and inner working. Turn away from the temptation to focus on various physical failings and determine instead to be thankful for the tremendous gift of life and breath!
8. Be thankful for your Savior.
Our list culminates with the awe-inspiring blessing of our Savior, Jesus Christ. How amazing that our omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God would love us to such a degree, even when we were lost in sin, that He would send His Son to rescue and restore us to Him! Give Him thanks and praise!