Now that my job titles include “teacher” for our homeschool classroom, I enjoy attending homeschool conventions to gain new information and insight on home education. In Virginia, there are two main groups that provide homeschool conferences, the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and Home Educators Association of Virginia. Both groups have some universal aspects that serve all homeschoolers and, whether I want them to or not, both groups end up speaking on behalf of homeschoolers when it comes to various legal matters. I like to stay in touch with both groups to know what they are thinking.
In general, VA Homeschoolers tends to be more secular and has a larger contingent of “unschoolers” who like self-directed child learning. HEAV has a more religious orientation and serves a primarily evangelical Christian audience. Last year, I attended the VA Homeschoolers conference. This year, I was unable to attend that conference due to scheduling conflicts so I decided to attend the HEAV conference.
It was an interesting and enriching experience for me and I wanted to share some of that experience with anyone else who is curious about the conservative homeschooling community in Virginia.
The HEAV conference started early on a Friday morning. We left the house at 6:30 a.m.
We arrived in the rain at the Richmond Convention Center.
First, I registered and then dropped my eldest children off at the children’s program about “Heroes of the Faith” which I had registered them in for the day so I would have a chance at actually paying attention in the conference sessions. I had a brief conversation with my children before I dropped them off that if they felt weird or uncomfortable at any time, they could ask to have someone call me and I would come get them. I had visions of them being quizzed on Bible verses and failing miserably. These fears were unfounded, however, as the kids program was just a fun, open space staffed by teenagers who helped the kids do arts and crafts and jump in a bounce house. My kids liked it and had a lot of fun.
The children’s program volunteers took their jobs very seriously. They wanted to make sure I saw this notification warning about potentially objectionable content in the films they would be showing.
The children’s area was also guarded by what appeared to be military troops in uniform. It gave you a good feeling to know that your children were under such excellent protection. When I went to pick up my children, I asked one of the guards what military affiliation they had. He said they weren’t U.S. military but instead part of the International Alert Academy, a Christian-based organization that primarily focuses on disaster assistance.
My son and I went to go find the line for the keynote session of the morning featuring none other than the Duggar Family! There was an enormous crowd waiting to hear them first thing Friday morning, perhaps 2,000 people and possibly more! This is the largest homeschooling conference I have ever attended. I was not expecting to see so many people, and particularly so many men! Most conference attendees came as whole families. It appeared that most of the dads had taken the day off of work to be there. This conference appealed to many groups. There were a good handful of Amish and many African American families. I spotted an Indian couple in one of my workshops and even a woman in what appeared to be an Islamic headdress. While HEAV presents the conference as a Christian conference, it seemed to me that many people interpreted it to be a “faith-based” conference.
We waited in a line that snaked all the way through the convention hall. I was concerned we might not get a seat but we did manage to get one off to the side near the back.
The conference began with a prayer, then a military color guard, the Pledge of Allegiance, a recognition of active duty and veterans present in audience, and the national anthem. A short film was then presented about the history of homeschooling in Virginia. The history was going by fast but the gist of it was that religious families were being sued by the state for violating compulsory attendance laws. Through a series of court cases, Virginia finally acknowledged the right of families to homeschool in 1983. There continue to be legislative fights between the school system and homeschoolers about subjects taught and academic standards. Homeschoolers over time have carved out quite a lot of flexibility in Virginia to teach as they see fit. Current legislative initiatives are to allow homeschooling families a tax credit for homeschooling expenses. A couple of announcements and a hymn transitioned to the keynote speakers.
Keynote: The Duggar Family
The audience was expecting a keynote from Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of the reality series 19 kids and counting. When the Duggars took the stage, the speaker announced that not only were we going to hear from Jim Bob and Michelle but they had brought 17 of their 19 children with them! Anna, wife of eldest son Josh had just delivered her third child a few days before and daughter Jill was studying to become a midwife. The adorable family came on stage and the children sang, played an impressive string ensemble and recited Bible verses. There is something magnetic about the Duggar family. If anyone else’s family came out and made this type of performance, people might feel insecure or jealous that their children cannot do the same. When the Duggar family does it, people just sit back and enjoy. There were a few squeaks from some of the string instruments and you could hear the distinctive sound of missing teeth from some of the younger children during the songs. It was pretty charming.
Jim Bob and Michelle then spoke for about 30 minutes, giving the history of their relationship. It turns out Michelle is the youngest of 7 children and was a high school cheerleader who had a religious conversion at age 15. Jim Bob was raised by a religious mother and met Michelle when proselytizing with a member of his church. Michelle remembers the early Jim Bob as being short and extremely shy. They were engaged just after high school. Jim Bob purchased a small $19,000 house with a 30-year mortgage for them to live in. He was bagging groceries while Michelle stayed home and helped to run their used car business on the side. In 1997, they brought one of their children in for a corrective surgery in Little Rock, Arkansas and then attended an anti-abortion rally at the state Capitol. The rally inspired Jim Bob to run for State Representative and then a failed bid for the U.S. Senate. It was an article during his failed Senate run in 2002 that ran in The New York Times that launched the Duggars’ current celebrity status.
My son fell asleep for most of the keynote address. HEAV has a very mother-friendly policy of allowing you to bring young children and babies with you in the conference sessions so long as you take them out if they make noise.
We then went on to the first workshop. There were about 100 different workshop offerings over the course of the entire conference. I tended to pick the ones with the most secular focus. Below are highlights from my notes. Note that if you want to listen to the full workshops, you can purchase an audio copy of the conference at this link.
Workshop: “Training Your Child’s Photographic Memory” (Dianne Craft)
I made the mistake of giving my son his cars to play with during this workshop and his car noises meant that we had to make an early exit. Before I left, however, these were some of the takeaways:
Dianne Craft developed her methods by working with kids in the public school system who had above-average IQ who still had difficulties with basic skills.
She said the typical teaching tricks for kids like this are “slower, louder, repetition, and smaller groups” but she found that none of these were effective.
She recommends DHA supplements (found in fish oil or mother’s milk) for all children and especially those with any sort of learning or attention deficit problems. She claims that DHA is better absorbed in girls than boys and that boys tend to need 3 times more DHA than girls.
She found that it was identifying missed connections between the right brain and the left brain that caused most of the problems in these children and her methods introduce more right-brain/visual and doing techniques to supplement the primarily auditory and concentration techniques used in most learning settings.
We broke for lunch at this point. Outside food was not allowed in the convention center. We had packed a lunch that we left in the car. So, we scooted out through the rain and had our lunch in the car. My daughters used this time to take a quick nap as well since we had been up so early.
In the afternoon, my kids went back to the children’s program and I went on to more workshops. This post is already lengthy so feel free to skim!
Dysgraphia: When Kids/Teens Won’t Write (Dianne Craft)
*Signs of dysgraphia: reverses b and d, writes letters or numbers starting at the bottom rather than the top, poor spacing between words, has trouble lining up digits in math problems, lays head on the desk or turns paper whenever asked to write, prefers capital letters to lower case, writes o’s the wrong direction for their handedness (lefties usually write clockwise o’s, righties counter-clockwise), doesn’t like to write lower case letters that go below the line
*Any reversals after age 7 ½ are a concern. This is not just a normal stage of development that kids will grow out of. Most kids will correct reversals relatively quickly, usually by age 6.
*Therapy for this is relatively simple and consists of a “Writing 8” handwriting exercise done 4 times a week. You can find this exercise and more information at her website. Benefits of therapy are not just in the school context. This therapy tends to help kids develop better total spatial awareness and has shown benefits in helping kids do better in sports and at physical activities like riding bikes as well.
Workshop: Courtship and Dating (Anne Miller, Israel Wayne, Dennis Gunderson, Mike Farris, Kathy Morrissey)
This was a panel discussion about dating and the “courtship movement,” which I had never heard of. The discussion tended to assume you already knew what courtship was but from what I could make out, courtship is very committed dating. The children choose who they want to date but they date them in a very committed way, with the expectation that they will probably marry, and their parents are involved. Not all courtships are successful. One panelist spoke of two “failed courtships” in her family. The panelists included pastors, the head of the Home School Legal Defense Association and mothers. All of them had large families, ranging between 4 and 10 children.
“There are no rules for courtship. There are broad principles but no rules.”
“Romance is connected to marriage. Anything else is illegitimate.”
“Dating is preparation for divorce. Courtship is preparation for marriage.”
“Save yourself for ‘the one.’”
“Marry a Christian.”
“Keep your crushes to yourself.”
“If a man does not know what he is doing in his life and is not clearly on a path to a career that supports a family, he has no business dating your daughter.”
“Only friendships are permissible in the teen and young adult years.”
“The person you marry defines and shapes everything. It is very important. From a faith perspective, courtship is even more important than homeschooling.”
“Parents should be a guide and not a barrier in your child’s courtship. Don’t count on your children to have the wisdom to know what type of activities to choose.”
“Young men’s physical desire is God’s wake-up call for you to get ready to get married. Hard work for young men is exactly what they need.”
“Parents are attracted to courtship because they are control freaks. We already know this about you because you are homeschooling. If you want to pick your child’s dates you are looking for trouble. . . . You have to develop a relationship of trust with your children with open communication.”
**As a parent of daughters, I have to say some of this discussion sounds very reassuring and a good idea. However, if these same standards were applied to me and my husband, we would never be together! The thing I find missing from courtship is a belief in the power of love to transform people. In my own family there are numerous examples of people marrying people quite different from themselves with wonderful results. Love is the great adventure of life. You don’t know exactly where it will take you. However, some of this courtship discussion when it applies to setting dating parameters for teenagers and young college students makes a lot of sense and has given me a lot to think about.
Keynote: HEAV’s 30th Birthday Celebration
For this keynote section, the families who helped establish homeschooling rights in Virginia were brought on stage to be honored. Many of these families were sued by the state for failing to send their children to public school. Through their courage and persistence, homeschooling laws were established. Delegate Brenda Pogge was also honored for her work in the 2012 Virginia legislative session championing the parental rights amendment.
A speaker from HEAV then took the microphone to indicate that there are several issues HEAV is focused on at the moment: the common core standards and the national student database.
It was interesting to learn that Virginia is one of only 4 states that has refused to adopt the federal common core standards for student achievement. We share that distinction with Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas and Puerto Rico. The speaker claimed that Virginia did not adopt the common core standards because it believes that the Virginia Standards of Learning currently in effect are a higher standard than the common core standards.
The national student database is some sort of initiative by education researchers to compare students across states, across grades and I suppose through different methods of learning, such as private schools and homeschoolers. The database will track students from birth until entry into the workforce, cross-connecting data on things like access to preschool, disciplinary or criminal records, college attendance, etc. So far, 9 states have adopted this database. HEAV finds this a gross invasion of privacy and a step toward mandatory curriculum requirements, which they strongly oppose. So far, Virginia has not adopted the national student database primarily due to a lack of funding.
At this point, my son informed me that he had had enough of the convention so we went to pick up my daughters from the children’s program and went home for the day.
On Saturday, I returned for the second day of the convention alone while my husband watched our children at home.
Saturday Keynote: Michael Farris
Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s session. He was introduced as “the single most influential person in the world for homeschool freedoms” and received a standing ovation from the audience. For a lawyer, to be viewed as a hero by your constituency is probably the ultimate goal of your career.
Mr. Farris gave an overview of his latest case, the Romeike family.
The Romeikes are a German, evangelical Christian family who want to homeschool their children. According to Mr. Farris, Germany doesn’t permit homeschooling and even has a standardized curriculum that must be taught to all children, regardless of whether they attend public or private schools. The purpose of this mandatory curriculum is to avoid the development of divisive religious and philosophical minorities within Germany and to promote tolerance. When the Romeike’s refused to put their children in German public schools, they were threatened with jail and the loss of custody of their children. They came to the United States seeking political asylum. Their first request was granted. The request was then appealed by the Obama administration and was overturned on appeal. The Romeike’s are currently appealing that decision. Mr. Farris made the bold statement, “It will be over my dead body that [the Romeike’s] go back to Germany.”
Mr. Farris then spoke about the phrase “best interest of the child,” which he defined as “the government gets to decide what is good for your children.” Mr. Farris was especially concerned about the U.S. adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. While these conventions generally are designed to ensure that each nation provides certain fundamental rights to their children, Mr. Farris views these conventions as being more of the mindset that “You have to believe what [the government] believes or [the government] will use [its] power to crush you.” This is viewed as a serious threat to religious freedom.
Because of concerns such as the Romeike case and the U.N. conventions, Mr. Farris is a big supporter of the parental rights movement, which aims to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that clarifies that parents have the ultimate right to make decisions on the care and education of their children.
He expressed frustration that homeschoolers are often assumed to be uneducated and are not taken seriously by people in power.
“They get their kindergarten teacher voices out and talk down to our community of homeschoolers.”
He also expressed a view that homeschooling is consistent with American liberty and not a form of insurgency to be feared.
“Our kids believe in freedom because they didn’t get their education from the government. Our goal is to raise our children to be warriors for the cause of Christ and for the cause of American liberty.”
*I enjoyed the intellectual rigor of Mr. Farris’ speech and wished that my constitutional law professor could have been there to debate him so I could better evaluate his various legal claims. Mr. Farris is a very well-spoken, intelligent conservative. His keynote gave me a lot to think about.
Workshop: ADHD Unlocking the Mystery, (Kenneth R. Westcott, O.D., Developmental Optometrist)
This workshop explored whether some types of ADHD might be the result of vision (or other) sensory deficiencies that leave a child so frustrated with what he or she comprehends through sensory input that behavioral problems result.
Dr. Westcott indicated that a child with ADHD has difficulty prioritizing central activities from peripheral ones. For example, ADHD children cannot tune out background noise very well when listening to a teacher’s lecture. Medications are the most common treatment for ADHD. These medications generally tend to work by raising the brain’s threshold for interest – i.e. peripheral activities have to be more interesting to grab the brain’s attention.
Possible sensory issues that trigger ADHD-like symptoms include: Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which is where the child’s hearing tests normally but they have difficulty understanding what is heard; Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID), which is where a child either has an extremely high or extremely low activity level and needs a lot of structure and routine to cope with stimuli; and Learning Related Vision Problems (LRVP) where a child’s vision tests fine through standard optometric tests but the child is not processing correctly what is seen.
Dr. Westcott went on to detail that there is much more to good vision than just being diagnosed as 20/20. There are aspects to eyesight, such as fixation and eye teaming that are never checked in a standard eye exam. “No other sense in the body requires more accurate movement.”
We know that a large majority of people are visual learners. Dr. Westcott indicated that if you are a visual learner but there is something wrong with your visual system, you will switch learning styles (such as to auditory or tactile learning), which may not be to your advantage.
Signs of visual problems include holding a book to one side, having your child indicate that the words are moving on the page or your child having eyestrain or headaches when reading. Dr. Westcott has a checklist that is generally a reliable indicator of vision problems for children in third grade and above.
Vision therapy is a sort of physical therapy for the eyes and brain that involves performing various eye exercises, including some that are computer based. A typical course of vision therapy lasts about 11 months.
**This seminar gave me a lot to think about. I have had to learn a lot about children’s eyesight through my daughter’s experience. I am interested to learn more about vision therapy but I will note that some ophthalmologists find vision therapy controversial so it is best to check with your own doctor about this.
Lunch/Film Screening of “Indoctrination”
I grabbed a quick snack in the cafeteria and went to see a screening of the film “Indoctrination.” This film explores the history of the public school system in the United States from a religious point of view. I don’t know enough about this area of history to comment on the accuracy of what was presented in the film. The main complaint with conservatives about the public school system, however, is that schools do not allow for any kind of prayer or religious instruction, while requiring teaching of topics that they find offensive to their religious beliefs. It seemed to me that it was the general principle that there was no give and take in the content that was the biggest problem rather than any particular subjects. Some people are concerned about “sensuality, sin, temptation” and “lack of authority for parents and teachers.” Some are concerned about physical safety and the film poignantly profiles the father of a child killed in the Columbine High School shooting who feels that his son’s death was God’s punishment for sending his child to the public school system. The film concluded with a strong message that “No Christian can be in the public school system.” and the film calls for parents to homeschool their children.
I found the message a little shocking. While there might be many people who homeschool for the reasons stated in this film, my own experience has been that most families just prefer to homeschool in order to control the content or level of study their children receive and to school on their own schedule. My comic relief came from the teenage boy in front of me who kept falling asleep during the film and his father sitting nearby who kept nudging his son to wake up.
Workshop: Getting Back on Track, Kathie Morissey
Kathie Morrisey, mother of 8, 28 year homeschool veteran and author of numerous books on character building, gave this workshop about how to pull your life back together when you have fallen far short of your goals, are off-track from your usual routine and just generally feel disappointed with your achievements.
She indicated that when her own father was diagnosed with cancer, became ill and passed away, “Our homeschool fell apart. Our house was a mess.” Reality happens to all of us.
“It is common to feel like you are not getting it all done.”
Her steps for getting back on track:
1) What is really bothering you? Write it down.
2) Make a list of your goals and priorities. “It is easy to get distracted by things that don’t matter.”
She also suggested that homeschooling parents take time to write down goals for their children up to age 18 and write down what you are going to do to get them there. This is daunting. She indicated that for her family, the primary goal was to “give our kids a hunger for God.”
She also noted that it is an unrealistic expectation to think that once you have a learning pattern down with one child, the others will just repeat that pattern. You have to constantly take time to adjust your teaching style to each child. “Even with my 8 children, I never felt like I knew what I was doing. Each child was different.”
“How do I get it all done? . . . I don’t. Accept your limitations. After conferences like this, moms think they need to do more, compare, and get discouraged. It is a dangerous time.”
“Routine/flow works better than a rigid, timed schedule.”
“Make a conscious decision to be in charge of your children and home.”
When you are in “crisis time” and you have to make choices about how to spend your time, “The house goes first. Laundry and food have to be kept up. Sleep is very important.”
“It’s easy to think we are good parents because we are giving, giving, giving, but if you burn out, all of that is for nothing.”
*I found Ms. Morrissey refreshingly honest in her presentation. I thought it was going to be a workshop about how you could do more if you just became more organized. Instead, she indicated that the most important skill seemed to be dropping things from your radar that aren’t important at that moment and staying focused on the most important overall goals.
Workshop: Three Keys to Great Art Education by Artistic Pursuits, Inc.
This workshop was given by the vendor Artistic Pursuits, Inc. for general information as well as to promote their homeschool art curriculum.
The three aspects of art education that are the most important are: awareness, creativity and technical skills.
Artists need to spend a lot of time observing things and making visual comparisons.
Looking at finished works of art is also important because it teaches you how other artists selectively edit visual information.
Drawing things from memory is also an important skill because it develops your visual recall and also “builds the habit of living life with eyes open.”
“As we progress in our skill our observations become more sophisticated.”
“Being creative requires a great deal of personal confidence.”
An important part of art education if you intend to study art at the college level is showing “competency in a variety of different mediums. The artist has to think different to use them and must know where to use each medium effectively.”
*I have been looking for a good art curriculum for my daughter for some time now and I fell in love with this one. I like how it weaves together art history and art, encourages individual expression and has a curriculum you can progress with through the high school grades. We bought one year of the curriculum and the associated art supplies and will be trying it out this year.
This was the end of the workshops and presentations. Just a few other notes in closing.
I spent a little time browsing the huge vendor arena. Although the majority of the vendors were religious oriented, there were a good handful of vendors with more general information. Here are a few that I found interesting:
- A+ TutorSoft online math curriculum – If you like teaching via the computer, this looked like a well-thought-out and challenging math program for grades 1-7. It claims you don’t need to purchase any other materials, just the computer program.
- Professor Carol Reynolds had a fascinating curriculum on the humanities for high school students. I had a brief second to chat with Professor Carol and when I expressed regret that my children weren’t old enough to take her courses yet, she recommended the Maestro Classics CD collection to introduce young children to classical music.
There were several music-oriented programs that looked interesting.
- The Violin Book system – “provides the educational materials needed to assist a parent (even one with absolutely no musical training or skills) to easily teach his or her child the violin, viola or cello at home.”
- The Piano Bench – “play, count and compose BEFORE reading music learn how to read music the easy way.”
I should also note that several homeschooling families use the vendor marketplace as training ground for teaching their high school age students to become entrepreneurs. There were several teens selling homemade confections and even one who had self-published a fiction book and was doing author signings! Impressive.
There was also this interesting book about the organization of large families. I have such a huge reading stack at the moment I couldn’t justify buying it.
Used Curriculum Sale
Another feature of the convention is a large used curriculum sale. Think of this as a huge communal garage sale for learning items. About half of the materials were curricula on every subject like reading, language arts, spelling, grammar, math, science, history, foreign language, etc. etc. The other half of the sale was fiction and non-fiction books and this seemed to be the most popular section. There was also a good selection of sheet music and music books. HEAV issues timed entry passes to the sale and give first shopping rights to those who volunteer at the convention. By the time I got to the sale it was well picked over. But I did find several treasures to take home, including one workbook that I needed for my younger daughter’s curriculum.
There isn’t a dress code to the HEAV conference per se but here in Fredericksburg every once in a while, I run into people with strong opinions on dress code. I wasn’t sure exactly what to wear. First, I did a “What would Michelle Duggar wear?” inquiry. Mrs. Duggar seems to prefer short sleeve polo shirts with collars with either long pants or skirts. My outfit for Friday tried to emulate a Duggar look. I found a floral-printed shirt (that my daughter tells me is not fashionable) and a pair of khaki slacks. (By the way, for anyone who is curious, Michelle Duggar actually wore a bright pink shirt with long sleeves and black pants.) In general, most conservative women seem to cover themselves from their shoulders to their knees. Long skirts were the norm. The few tank tops that I saw had unusual 5-6″ wide straps on them.
For Saturday, I was in a bit of a rush getting dressed so I grabbed a long tank dress from my closet and put a blazer on top. As I walked into the conference on Saturday morning, a young man in his 20’s stopped to tell me, “Your skirt is very pretty.” I was shocked and flattered.
If you have read all the way this far, I think all I can say at this point is “God bless you!” 🙂
Please feel free to share in the comments or reflections you have.
*I am not affiliated with HEAV or any product or service linked to in this post.