Monday, July 23, 2007

Homeschool Conference Notes

Well, we survived the 2007 VaHomeschoolers conference!

Emily helped me with registration setup on Friday and then gave the attendees their registration packets and cool tote bags stuffed with brochures and fliers from different vendors.

As registration chair, I was a bit stressed out that there would be a major snafu because I had forgotten something really key, but that didn't happen. I haven't heard back from the attendees' survey how their check-in experience was, but nobody was yelling, so that seems positive. We had a lot of walk-ins (not pre-registered), which is always great, but also more time-consuming. My volunteers did a really great job. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have managed.

Because the volunteers had it all under control, I was able to go hear Dr Thomas Armstrong speak. He was our keynote speaker and talked about "Awakening the Genius in Every Child." From his talk and from the site linked above:

Every child is a genius. That doesn’t mean that every child can paint like Picasso, compose like Mozart, or score 150 on an I.Q. test. But every child is a genius according to the original meanings of the word "genius," which are: "to give birth" (related to the word genesis) and "to be zestful or joyous," (related to the word genial). Essentially, the real meaning of genius is to "give birth to the joy" that is within each child. Every child is born with that capacity. Each child comes into life with wonder, curiosity, awe, spontaneity, vitality, flexibility, and many other characteristics of a joyous being. An infant has twice as many brain connections as an adult. The young child masters a complex symbol system (their own native language) without any formal instructions. Young children have vivid imaginations, creative minds, and sensitive personalities. These youthful traits are highly valued from an evolutionary perspective: the more species evolve, the more they carry youthful traits into adulthood (a process called "neotony" or "holding youth"). It is imperative that we, as educators and parents, help preserve these genius characteristics of children as they mature into adulthood, so those capacities can be made available to the broader culture at a time of incredible change.

I have to say that everything he said in his speech really struck a chord with me. It was surprising and refreshing to hear a person who is not a homeschool author speak so openly about the damage that schools are doing to our children.

And he warned us of recreating at home the school atmosphere that does this damage. The four main points on this topic, which he calls "Dysteachia" (from his handouts) are:

  • testing and grading,

  • talk and tedium,

  • textbooks and worksheets,

  • and tracking and labeling
These are things the school do to excess, but which homeschool parents should be aware of and try not to repeat. He made the distinction between testing and assessing. Testing is harmful, while assessing what your child knows or needs to learn is not, when it's done just in day-to-day interactions. Labeling, such as saying your child is ADD or learning disabled, will follow your child around, and affect how others interact with him.

I loved his discussion of "Media-ocrity:"
  • mind-numbing violence,

  • trivial content,

  • insipid language,

  • and stereotypical images
The last part of his talk was on how to create a genial climate for your children:
  • freedom to choose,

  • open-ended exploration,

  • freedom from judgement,

  • honoring every child's experience,

  • and believing in every child's genius
If you have the opportunity to hear Dr Armstrong speak, I would really encourage you to do so, whether you homeschool or not.

Friday night there was a talent show at the hotel. There was a great variety of performers, and it was fun and encouraging to watch all the kids get up in front of an unfamiliar audience and do their best. Emily decided to play a song on the recorder. There was Irish dancing, Hawaiian hula dancing, improv on the keyboard, a comedy sketch, violin, and more.

I felt like Saturday was a total whirlwind of activity. I started out at registration, then headed to the second session talk (Dr Armstrong), then lunch and sprinting over to the Support Group Council Meeting that Jeanne Faulconer led (support for support group leaders!).

I went back to Eddie and the kids. Eddie was a panelist for the "How Father Figures" talk. I took the kids to see the "Trickster Tales--Puppet Show," while he was doing that, and it was fabulous. Then I stayed in that room for the next session, where I was one of the panelists for "Passport to the World: Homeschoolers and International Studies."

During the 45 minute break between that and the final session of the day, I visited as many of the vendors as I could, including the used resource fair. I was a panelist for "Homeschooling Outcomes: But Will They Get Along in the Real World?" Finally, you would think the day was over. But no.

Back to registration to collect the money from walk-ins, sales of Armstrong's books, and the used curriculum sale, plus some treasurer duties to fulfill. Eddie and the kids were ready to go, and kept a close eye on me, lest I start talking to someone and get distracted!

I wish I had had more time to talk to friends who came to the conference, and to talk to the other speakers and key leaders of the conference. The planning took months of effort from a lot of volunteers, but the 2 days went way too quickly for me.

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