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!