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NGHS Journal: Elections night party and the morning after

8 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

Another national election has come and gone: The results are in, and today, we move forward. For me, this election was significant not just because I had strong personal convictions about the issues our country faces, but because I was able to share that passion with my daughters and see them learn so much along the way.

Just a few days ago, I shared what it was like to get “up close and personal” with this year’s election process with our daughters by our side when we attended local rallies with the candidates. They watched as we parents filled in our ballots and went with me to drop them off at an early voting site. We put signs in our yard for the first time — actually the kids led that initiative with the help of their neighborhood pals.

We made elections lapbooks using a free election lapbook template, and we regularly discussed the significance of issues, amendments, and the local and national officials on the ballot. We even had our “color in” 2012 electoral map ready so we could fill in the projected results first, and then fill in actual results in real time for comparison. We weren’t going to miss a beat!

Fueling our family’s excitement this year was the fact that many of the neighboring families were equally engaged and passionate about the elections — kids included. We even decided to have an Election Night party together so that all of the kids could share in the fun, while we parents could count on each other for moral support if needed (and unfortunately, it was needed). The party included a blown-up version of our real-time electoral college map and electoral votes tally chart, patriotic hats, balloons and streamers, and of course, lots of snacks to hunker down for a long evening if necessary.

I have to admit that involving the girls so closely in the election process was as equally risky as it was educational and fun. The kids had to learn what it means to “respectfully disagree” when discussing politics with others, and, of course, how to handle disappointment with unwanted results. As election night progressed and we adults realized we were going to have to turn those “what if” conversations into “what happened is” explanations, I started to second-guess myself for getting the girls so involved. That feeling turned into absolute nausea as the girls prepared to fill in just a few more states, heard the news that they were not going to be coloring them in red, dropped their markers and left the room. Yikes!

Then I remembered that true growth, the real education of life, is never easy. It’s messy, complicated, and unpredictable. In fact, it’s impossible to fully comprehend with our darkened human understanding. However, that reality doesn’t have to consume us or destroy us, praise God! As an adult, I know this all too well. But would my young daughters be able to trust me on this one?

After we returned home, the house was quiet for a while as the girls prepared for bedtime. I resisted the temptation to turn news coverage back on to satisfy my own analytical inclinations so that the girls could go to sleep in peace. My 11-year-old daughter Audrey came into the room with her Kindle in hand and a smile on her face.

“So this is what I’ve decided, Mom,” she began. “I have decided that even though Obama won, we have a president who is a human being created by God, loved by God, who I can pray for, and that overall, God will always be King.”

WOW!

My big girl — the intellectual perfectionist and the girl who shared my lot in life as the first-born child — was wiser than I could be in that moment.

Lesson learned after all! My heart was deeply blessed. What a gift to be the mother of this precious child of God!

So we did pray: All three girls and I gathered in my room and prayed for the hearts of individuals in our country and our leaders. We prayed for God to equip us for His service, to purify us so we can shine more brightly with His light, and to lead us in sharing His love with others.

This morning, we opened our elections lapbooks and pulled up the latest news online so we could fill in the rest of those uncolored states according to the morning’s tally. Other than a few murmurs like “Florida’s still gray, really?” and “Colorado? Ugh!” the girls were generally in a good mood about it. They completed the fill-in-the-blanks on an electoral votes chart and elected officials list, folded the books back up and filed them away.


Without skipping a beat, my 10-year-old Claire wanted to talk about “next time,” of course — because she’s the talker.

“Mom, once you’ve run for president, are you not able to run again, like on American Idol when you make the Top 20 and you can’t come back the next year even if you don’t win?” I explained the details.

Next question: “Who do YOU think should run for president next time?” Hmm…

Statement of fact: “Ugh, I can’t believe I will only be 17 two elections from now and Audrey will be 18, so she can vote but I can’t!”

Big sister gloats a bit. Little sister makes a sour face because she’s realized big sister will once again be able to do something she can’t do that she really wants to do — even though it’s eight years away. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I remind them. “Why don’t we just enjoy the beautiful, sunny 70-degree November day that we’ve been given today, OK?”

And let’s eat that leftover Red Velvet election party cake after lunch!

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” — 1 Timothy 2:1-3

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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NGHS Journal: Up close and personal with the elections

5 Nov

By Renée Gotcher

This weekend I came to a better appreciation of living in a swing state: It can be pretty exciting and fun the week before a national election if you stop answering your phone and watching live TV, and take advantage of all the live appearances instead. Swing states get lots of “love” from the candidates in the form of additional visits, some in more intimate venues. This provides a unique opportunity to get your children up close and personal with the election process.

This weekend, my two older daughters were able to attend Romney-Ryan events here in Colorado. Saturday my 10-year-old Claire attended a huge rally at the Comfort Dental amphitheater (formerly known as Fiddler’s Green) with some close family friends. She got a chance to sit in a special VIP section close to the stage and hear presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann address the crowd of approximately 17,000 people.

Claire’s play-by-play of the event goes something like this: “It was really loud and then his country singer sang for a long time, and then a few different people talked, and THEN Mitt Romney and his wife finally came on stage!” She did remember a few key points, though, like “something about how Romney helped Staples do better in business,” and “Mitt really loves his wife!” But the real highlight of her evening was stopping at Jimmy John’s for sandwiches on the way home and getting a “Vote Jimmy” button. Love that girl!

Last night, my husband and I took our eldest daughter, Audrey (11 1/2), to hear Romney’s VP running mate Paul Ryan speak at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where we were pulled out of the crowd and asked if we would like to sit right behind the stage! This was a much more intimate venue than Fiddler’s Green, and the crowds of people that didn’t even make it in the arena faithfully stood outside to listen from speakers in near-freezing temperatures.

It was nice to be out of the cold (somewhat – it was an open air arena!) and be able to sit in the bleachers while waiting for the big event. We were so close that we actually made it on the NBC affiliate news coverage in the background while Ryan was entering the arena! We’re on the top left corner of this video freeze frame: Audrey is the smiling girl in striped shirt with thunder sticks waving, while I’m the one standing next to her holding my iPhone, of course…

It was exciting to have such great seats for the occasion, but I was especially grateful because it gave Audrey — who was attending her first political event — a chance to feel like she was part of history in the making, no matter what the outcome. She had educated conversations with adults sitting around us, and she really paid attention to the speakers. She was engaged, excited and thankful to witness a part of the election process firsthand. As a “tween” she already has very strong personal convictions, and it’s a privilege to give her as much opportunity as possible to gain more perspective on what it means to be an American.

Maximizing the weekend’s election excitement, we decided to make facts about the election process the subject of today’s lapbook. Earlier this month, another mom in our homeschool support group shared a free election lapbook template from Homeschool Share, as well as a “color in” 2012 electoral map that the girls could use to first fill in the projected results, then flip over and fill in the actual results for comparison.

We spent most of the afternoon cutting, coloring, and researching answers (and yes, that’s Claire using her iPod Touch to browse the Web). I am really glad I saved this project for today, because after their experiences this weekend, the girls were so much more connected to their work. It was fun to overhear them comparing the two events they attended, as well as chime in with their opinions and projections as they filled out each section. They were very pleased with the finished product, especially the electoral map we’ll be coloring in tomorrow night as the results start coming in.

I want to be clear that I’m not writing this post to advocate any political party or voting decision. On the contrary, I believe what’s important is that parents not only be responsibly engaged in the election process and do your due diligence in sifting through the political “marketing” to make educated voting decisions, but that you also invite you children to join you in this journey.

My earliest childhood remembrance of anything political was when my second grade public school class wrote letters to President Carter. I can’t remember what I wrote, why we did it or if the letters were actually mailed or just an assignment. We didn’t talk about what the president stood for, just what he did. But I do remember recognizing the significance of a president and thinking that it seemed like a pretty important job, and I wondered why I would really have anything to say to him.

Oh yes, and I do remember learning a thing or two since that time from Schoolhouse Rock

Our household wasn’t very engaged in politics when I was growing up. My mom was born in Mexico, had a Green Card, and didn’t become an American citizen until after I was in college. My stepfather was a citizen but never shared any political feelings with us kids. My birth father (a longshoreman and longtime union man) was a Democrat and I knew that, but I didn’t know why. In fact, my dad and I didn’t really talk about politics until I left home for college at age 17 and registered to vote Republican two years later, when the 1992 election loomed on the horizon. As you can imagine, he wasn’t happy about it, but that’s another story for another day…

My point is this: The limited time we have with our children, even when homeschooling them, is a vital preparation time to equip them for the future. I want them to learn now what it means to be a U.S. citizen, how our government works, how we are different from other countries and why, and how they can be engaged in the democratic process. And I’ll be happy if that means simply voting in every election they are eligible to vote in.

I have to admit that although I registered to vote in college, I didn’t take my vote seriously until years later. I took AP government classes in middle school and high school, and I understood quite clearly the logistics of our government and the basics of the party system. However, I didn’t appreciate how politics actually did apply to me and had always applied to me: From my mom’s citizenship status and my dad’s union-provided benefits that put braces on my teeth, to buying our first home as a couple and navigating the ups and downs of our economy (including a layoff) and being able to choose what we believe is the best option for educating our three daughters.

So I am especially grateful to be able to include my girls in this year’s election journey, especially now that they are old enough to think critically and understand that elections are about more than just campaign slogans.

I’m also making sure that they know I believe no matter who becomes president, God is still King. That means we can trust Him with any outcome, believing that “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). So I place my hope in Him, and this is the hope that keeps me from becoming jaded and cynical during these divided times.

Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Ask a NextGen Homeschooler: What about “co-op” schooling?

14 Sep

Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!

This week’s question is: What about cooperative — aka “co-op” — homeschooling? The “co-op” homeschooling landscape has changed significantly since we were all homeschooled. Back then, we were fortunate to have occasional park days and group field trips with other homeschooling families. Today, “co-op” opportunities are more prevalent than ever as the homeschooling community has grown — especially in populated areas. With so much available, what do NextGen Homeschoolers choose to utilize and why?

NextGen Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Son (6) and daughter (4)

After attending two different co-ops in the past two years and learning about how several others work, here are my personal opinions regarding incorporating a “co-op” into your homeschool plans:

1) Decide if you are joining the co-op for social or academic reasons. Ask yourself: Am I joining because I’d like my children to learn how to interact with other kids? Or am I joining because I feel like I could really use some more support in a particular academic area?

If it’s a social reason, be ready to train. There are great Christian moms out there — myself included — who still don’t have their children’s behavior down to a science. Be prepared for many learning experiences alongside your kids in loving, forgiving and saying “no” when necessary.

If it’s an academic reason, just make sure you are aware of the responsibilities and expectations of the group. There be a lot more work than you are ready to take on. Or it might be the push you needed to get some science experiments done!

2) Establish common goals. A co-op can be anything from meeting for a park day once a week to meeting twice a week to cover history and Spanish in a group setting. The most important thing is that you and the other moms are on the same page as to what you’d like (or not like) to accomplish. When more moms start to join your group, be prepared for more ideas — which could help or hinder your co-op. Keep your co-op goals in focus.

3) Lay the foundation first. Whether you are starting a co-op or joining an existing co-op, it’s important to know things like, “will this be a Christian co-op or open to all homeschoolers?” Again, you might think this is a given, but it’s not. And there’s no right answer, only the one that works best for you. Do you want to be a part of a mixed group or do you feel spiritual agreement is important to the education of your child? If these questions aren’t addressed from the beginning, they will likely play a role later when subjects are brought to the table on which you have different worldview perspectives, and this can cause division in the group.

4) Smaller is better. Large co-ops are great, as long as you are breaking up into smaller groups at some point — not more than three or four children per adult for most teaching situations. There should be clear parameters as to how many kids and what ages you’d like to join. Not to be exclusive, but to ensure the time is productive and organized — accomplishing what was expected to be accomplished. I think there has to be a really strong leadership group with a vision to pull off seven or more family groups without details falling through the cracks.

One-on-one groups are still my favorite. Find one family whose kids’ ages are in common with yours and take turns covering subjects such as art, art history, science projects, etc., and meet once a week or every other week. The ideas are endless — and it gives your kids something to look forward to during the week.

5) Seasons in your life change. What was a great idea one year may not be the next. Don’t feel bad about changing course: Do what’s right for you and for your kids.

I am the first to say “yes” to everything. I like meeting new people and getting in on what’s good to get in on. But there comes a point that it truly does more damage than good. You are tired by the end of the week, your kids are tired of you yelling at them to get in the car because you’re late once again, and you find your whole goal of homeschooling — to establish good character, consistent rhythms and routines in your home, and reading all those great books — has gone out the window.

I can say that being a part of a co-op has never failed to allow me to be in touch with other great moms. But once you meet some families that work well with yours, joining a co-op simply to hang out with them is not your only answer, though it might be a good start. Impromptu visits to share curriculum and drink coffee once a month or fun picnics will do just as well — and sometimes save your sanity.

NextGen Editor Renée Gotcher
Was homeschooled in 11-12th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Three daughters ages 11 1/2, 10 and 5

Back when my mom started homeschooling in the late 80s, I only had two years left of high school. Most of my college requirements (especially in math and science) were completed already, so I don’t remember my mom looking for co-op educational opportunities as much as social ones. We did attend park days and field trips with other families, and our support group even had a “promotion night” at the end of the year to celebrate graduates at all ages.

When I started homeschooling, I was really excited to learn about the vast opportunities available now. In fact, the support group I joined was offering weekly co-op classes for elementary ages & teens taught at a classroom-like location, covering subjects such as art, language, music, geography and writing. I dove in right away, because in my mind this was the perfect blend between the mostly solo homeschooling I had experienced and the traditional school atmosphere. Even though it was nice to have subjects like art and music covered by parents who excelled in these areas, I was really looking to fill our social needs more than anything.

However, our support group had grown so much that year, the formal weekly co-op wasn’t going to be sustainable for the future without a major shift in the group’s mission and administration. So in our second year of homeschooling, I had to look outside our group for existing co-ops other than the field trips and monthly activities provided by my group. In the end, our only weekly co-op was an organized homeschool PE program, and once a month we did elementary presentation day with our support group. We also did weekly AWANA at our church, and the girls had lots of friends they enjoyed spending time with there.

It was an easier schedule to maintain, for sure, but I found that I really did miss the regular social interaction with the other homeschooling moms. Plus, my eldest two daughters were entering the “tween” phase, and I could tell that they needed more opportunities to develop healthy friendships. The final straw that broke this mama’s back was when the homeschooling family around the corner — who also had three daughters of similar ages to mine, making playdates and impromptu social times a snap — moved to Wyoming in the spring. All three of my girls were losing a close friend, and I was losing a mama friend too!

This year, our homeschool support group decided to hold a co-op workshop over the summer to introduce the idea of establishing small co-ops on our own within the group. We currently have more than 70 families in membership, and the idea was that if we could help connect families with common goals and children of common ages with one another, co-ops could flourish in a more organic way. I knew I really wanted a co-op for myself and my girls, so I was really excited about this idea.

At the same time, I had been feeling a nudge from the Lord to do a tween girls book club, both to give my girls a good social opportunity and turn them on to books with Godly character focus. I shared the idea at our co-op workshop, and before I knew it, I had a handful of moms of tween girls interested in starting the book club with me! God is awesome that way: He really brought a wonderful group of moms and girls together with a common mission and focus. Getting the logistics into place has been a breeze because we’re all on the same page.

The co-op is a little larger than I had planned: We have 13 moms, and more than a few have more than one daughter participating. At our first mixer yesterday, I counted 33 total moms and daughters chatting up a storm in my house — and that wasn’t everyone! We decided to split up the girls into three small discussion groups by age, and every meeting will conclude with at least an hour of social time and snacking. Moms will be taking turns providing snacks, supervising the younger siblings during discussion time, and hosting at their home. We’re reading the “Secret Keeper Girl” fictional series by Dannah Gresh first, and many of the moms will also be doing the group activities from Gresh’s “8 Great Dates for Moms & Daughters” together as well.

I completely agree with the advice my sister Cristina shared. Co-ops can be such a blessing when they meet the needs of your family! But they can also get you off track, keep you too busy, or distract from what you personally want to accomplish as a homeschooling parent. I do think that it’s vital to find some form of support with other homeschoolers in your community, though. Pray about it, and I believe that God will open the right doors for you to find the support you need.

NextGen Author Rosanna Ward
Was homeschooled since 8th grade
Began homeschooling in 2005: Two homeschool graduate daughters & two sons (7, 1)

In the past, I have been a minimal homeschool group participant and never did formal co-ops (unless you count the days we school with my sister and her girls). My girls were middle-school age when we started homeschooling, and they didn’t really like going to new things. They had their neighborhood friends and church friends already, so they didn’t feel the need for anything else.

We did participate in one small support group, but we barely met once a month and did about three field trips a year together. I enjoyed the fellowship with a few other moms, and the girls got to spend some time making new friends. But that group disbanded years ago, and we never bothered to try again. We were busy and hanging out with my sister’s family — along with weekly PE class, a random homeschool skate day and some family field trips —  and that was enough to get us through.

But this year, I felt a major change was in order. Joel is the only one I am schooling at this time. He is in 2nd grade work, and he needs lots of activity to stay busy or else he just wants to play video games and watch cartoons on Netflix. We already meet with my sister’s family twice a week for joint schooling and go to a weekly PE class, but I felt that wasn’t enough this year.

So we signed up for soccer and piano. So far so good. So I decided I’d also join the Victory Homeschool Group and enroll Joel in their Monday co-op classes. He will be taking art and science, as well as participating in a Lego Club, on Mondays. And I must admit, I am feeling isolated and in need of friendship.

Already I am starting to feel too busy. Monday is co-op from 1:00-4:00pm. Tuesday is soccer practice. Wednesday my toddler Leif is at Mother’s Day Out. Thursday Leif is at MDO again, and from 10:00am-2:00pm my sister Liz comes over here, plus we have 2:00pm PE, 4:30pm piano lesson, and a 7:00pm soccer practice. Friday we are at Liz’s house from 10:00am-2:00pm. Saturday there are soccer games. At least soccer is over at the end of October!

Joel is loving it all right now. He has also had a chance to go skating twice since school started. We went to Homeschool Skate Day a couple of weeks ago, and a week ago we went to the Victory Group Kick-off Party at a skating rink inside a large church.

Yeah… So attending that kick-off party reminded me why I didn’t like joining groups in the past. It is excruciatingly painful trying to meet new people — for me anyway. I’m not exactly shy, but I’m not very outgoing and I just felt very awkward all night. The boys played and made new friends, but I just stood on the sidelines watching and trying to find someone I thought I could start a conversation with.

The biggest problem I realized right away was that I was pretty much the only one there without her spouse (and it wasn’t publicized that this was a bring-your-spouse event). Add that to the fact that most of the people already knew each other and had things to talk about. I’m not saying people weren’t nice: They said “hi” and welcome, but then they moved on.

At one point I went to the bathroom and checked the mirror to make sure my clothes were straight and that Leif hadn’t left stains on my clothes, my hair was still in place (somewhat), and that I still had makeup on — so that wasn’t the problem. I tried to smile friendly and I even stepped outside my comfort zone (even more) when at one point I started a conversation with someone who I thought might have a friend in common with me. Nope — that conversation lasted about two minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging the people there for not inviting me in or being more friendly. I have been where they are, with all my friends around me and so much to talk about and catch up on that I totally didn’t realize there was a new, nervous person in the room. It is hard to think about drawing new people in when you are in your comfort group. Especially if that new person looks awkward and you aren’t sure how to approach them. I just hope that once Joel starts class and we are around the parents a little more, things will get easier. Because I don’t think I can handle another night like last night.

We attended our first co-op day this past Monday afternoon. I took Leif to the childcare, then found Joel’s art class. After taking care of that, I ran a quick errand. I was back by second hour, when Joel had science class. I had a conversation with a couple of moms about curriculum before I picked up Leif, and that was enjoyable.

During the third hour, there is no childcare available so Leif and I tried hanging out in the cafe. After chasing Leif around for 30 minutes, I finally gave up and went to Joel’s third hour class, which was Lego Club. He was having fun and I discovered there were other moms sitting in the back of the room talking, so Leif and I joined them. I talked for a bit with a mom I somewhat knew. By now, the fact that Leif hadn’t had a nap and had eaten very little lunch was quite apparent so we left as soon as class was over.

Overall a good first day, and I will be better prepared with lunch and activities for Leif next week to help make it a more enjoyable experience.  🙂

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How do you view co-op homeschooling opportunities? What do you utilize and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic!

We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to nextgenhomeschool@gmail.com or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!

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