Speaking at a homeschool conference

In the last two weeks our family has celebrated some significant milestones, in the midst of the craziness of a drama production. I want to write about those milestones - an 18th birthday and a high school graduation - but first I need to tell you that I'm speaking at a homeschool conference next weekend.

It's not a big gig, it's a one hour workshop at a small conference. But it's still a strange turn of affairs for me.

I'm not a homeschool convention person. I've gone to 2 homeschool conventions in my homeschooling career, motivated both times mostly by curiosity. The first conference I went to was in Maine, I think Celine was 8 years old, so that would have been 10 years ago. I went for the day and I enjoyed the outing but the experience confirmed my gut feeling that going to homeschool conventions was not something I wanted or needed to do on a regular basis.

After we moved to Montreal I learned that the Association of Christian-Parent Educators of Quebec holds their yearly conference locally in Laval. This local part intrigued me, though I was not so keen about the Christian part.

Can I be really honest? (And I'll try also to be kind.) Christian homeschoolers, as a group, make me a little anxious. I don't want to stereotype people but I do have a bias, based on some experience, of Christian homeschoolers (as a demographic) being more uptight than I am comfortable with. And that "uptightness", or perhaps it's their zeal - to change culture, to raise "Godly" families, to prove something to the world - makes me anxious.

I sense an undercurrent of fear in many Christian homeschooling publications, presentations, and gatherings. (For me, fear is the anti-thesis of Christ's message and life.) Because of my own issues with generalized anxiety I need to put up my guard within the Christian homeschooling context to protect myself from unwarranted and unwanted extra anxiety in my life.

"Don't lose your children to the world" is a huge message in the Christian homeschooling community. I understand the heart behind that desire, but it feels like a fear-based motivation.

Damien and I have endeavoured, in spite of all our failures and hang-ups, to raise our children in the love, light, and freedom of Christ. If we have an overarching agenda or message to our homeschooling that would be it.

A large gathering where I feel the need to protect myself from fear-based messages is not something I'm eager to sign up for. Whether this is a political rally, church, or a homeschool convention.

On a very practical note, I don't "get" the whole curriculum vendor thing. In my twelve years of homeschooling I've used very few packaged resources and the quantity of material available and presented at conventions alternately overwhelms, bores, and makes me feel insecure about my own methods. I appreciate that these are useful tools for some people and I'm grateful these resources exist, but so many? Really?

Also, I don't fit the mold of the homeschool parent who plans the next school year in the spring and goes to a conference to buy the resources she needs to fit that plan. I don't plan our school year till the summer or September or October. And I informally revisit those plans in January or February, and my plans always change anyway. I just pick up what I need when I need it, and I don't pick up all that much.

The gatherings I am most drawn to, but have never attended, are the unschooling conventions and the Wild & Free meet-ups. Wild & Free is a relatively new thing. If I was just starting out I'd be trying to connect with those folks. (These groups seem helpful for families with elementary aged kids but where are all the teens?)

The advent of the internet and homeschool and parenting blogs changed the way people find out about homeschool resources and materials. I am much more apt to trust a favorite blogger's review of a product than I am a company rep at a homeschool convention.

I'm also not a good "join-er" of homeschool associations and groups, HSLDA and the like. My kids need the community at the homeschool coop we belong to so I have committed myself to being a part of that group, and I am deeply grateful for the experience and friendships, mine and theirs. But I am reserved about group membership in general, for a myriad of reasons.

What I appreciate about the politically-minded homeschool organizations is that they help represent homeschoolers in legal situations. I can get behind that, but even then, it's hard to join and belong because some parts of the organization, and the values they represent, make me twitchy. Again, I think it's the fear; my fear, the collective fear. I'm not trying to justify or excuse my choices, just stating where I'm at.

And so it's somewhat surprising that I'm presenting at a homeschool conference.

Last year I attended the local homeschool conference mostly to scope out the graduation ceremony, to see if it was something Celine might want to participate in when she graduated (this year). The ceremony wasn't her thing, but our kids volunteered last year and they loved it - meeting up with friends, expanding their social network, contributing. There was also a very helpful workshop on getting into university without CEGEP (a schooling situation unique to Quebec). Those two things alone were worth attending the conference.

But I wasn't necessarily planning on going back this year. I can always just drop the kids off for their volunteer shifts. (They really want to go back.) Then this winter I was asked by the conference co-ordinator, who is part of our homeschool co-op, to teach a workshop on project-based learning. And after some deliberation and thought I agreed because I want to help other homeschoolers and I want to help the local organization build a good conference with a variety of presentations.

I have nothing to sell. I don't get paid. It's not that kind of gig.

Not selling something or getting paid is very freeing. I had reservations about doing this, mostly because this is a very busy time of year for our family and for all the reasons stated above. But when there's no payment or strings attached I worry less about the outcome. It's like going to talk with friends. I have no need to convince anyone of any method or strategy. Like I said, nothing to sell. It's basically community service, which is a stronger motivator for me than getting paid.

I'm going to talk about our own experience and offer some practical tips, as well as some philosophical foundations to the methodology of project-based learning.

Here's the workshop description:

Homeschooling presents families with the unique opportunity to both think outside-the-box and live outside-the-box of standardized education; to build a family culture, lifestyle, and curriculum around the family's values and their children's needs. Project based learning is a methodology that facilitates an individualized and interest-led approach to education. Join us for this session as Renee Tougas, experienced homeschooling mom of three teenagers, shares the story of her own family's interest-driven homeschool journey. Come learn how project based learning, among other methodologies, has been a great tool for living and learning outside the box of textbooks, scope and sequence and standardized tests.

(You can read more about the conference and register here.)

The biggest challenge in preparing this presentation will be to edit it down to one hour. Teaching a how-to in one hour is going to be tricky. It will be an introduction and an overview more than anything.

I hope to line up a video camera so we can record it and make it available digitally.

Ironically, after everything I just said, I'm actually interested in speaking at homeschool conventions (the Wild & Free type). But I want to be an experienced mother/homeschooler when I start exploring that option. I want to have a few kids graduated and launched so I have some cred. Ha!

I'd like to be a seasoned practitioner of a freedom-based education before I consider teaching others in such a formal setting. I'd also like to have my treatise written and published (as a course or a book), and that work is completely on hold right now.

I'm going to be honest about something else. For the last few years, since hiking the AT, I've been kind of holding my breath on actively teaching and coaching other homeschoolers, formally or informally. I don't even blog very much about homeschooling.

There have been a few reasons for this.

I went through a personal crisis in which I lost my confidence about a lot things, including my ability to help other people, and I lost all desire to promote myself online. I still have no desire for self-promotion.

At the same time I have been raising and homeschooling teenagers and these are tricky years for a family. My kids need safe space to grow into themselves and I think I've been waiting to see how things turn out before telling the story. I need safe space to grow into myself and I think I've been waiting to see how things turn out before telling the story.

I can't script a path for others to follow. The outcomes in our family may not be acceptable outcomes for other people. I can't promise love, happiness, success, wealth and well-being for your children. I don't have a university-bound student to hold up as a model. I can't offer guarantees, I've never been able to. All I can do is tell what I know. Share my own story and experience.

It's very freeing when you state that all upfront. Which is pretty much what I did when I was asked to make this presentation. Even with all those disclaimers they still want me to share.

Alrighty then.

I've been holding my breathe, but it's time to release that breathe.

Being asked to present at this conference, and saying yes, has been a gentle nudge in a positive direction. I'm probably never going to feel ready or experienced enough, or have all the "cred" I want to feel fully secure in stepping out, once again, to share a message of freedom and courage to be your own family, to be your own learner.

I may never have a book table, a large audience or following. But neither really matters to me. I don't have the desire or drive to pursue either of those things. What matters is that I live true to what I feel called to do. I don't have a vision to make a career out of homeschool writing or teaching but I'm interested in exploring both, as they relate to my key vocations and relationships.

So, in spite of my homeschool convention reservations I'm excited to present next Saturday.

When I went to the farm this spring I had a conversation with Joanna (you'll learn more about her in my continuing faith series) in which I told her I feel like I'm being called into freedom. She insightfully asked, "Freedom from what? And freedom for what?"

The freedom from was easy to answer - freedom from fear of course. I had to think a little harder about the freedom for, but once I got there it was obvious. I am freed from fear so I can serve other people wholeheartedly and without reservation.

When I'm freed from fear my ego doesn't get in the way of loving people. I don't have to worry about my reputation or my cred. It's not about me. I can trust God to provide all things I lack (in parenting or presenting). I don't have to "be" anything special I just have to do the work.

This is the confidence I have in moving forward into territory (a Christian homeschool convention) that feels uncomfortable and a bit twitchy for me. I'm free, and I'm teaching my kids to live and learn in freedom, so we can serve and love with our whole hearts and minds.

On a somewhat related note, I took these photos of my 14, 16 & 18 year old last week. Nana bought flowers to present the girls after their play and Laurent got a Tim Hortons gift card.

I asked them to humor me with this photo shoot and they did so willingly. They're such great kids. I'm so proud of them. And I will be sharing some of their teenaged high school stories, the one's I have permission to share, in the coming weeks, months, and years. Laurent and Brienne both enjoy Instagram and have YouTube channels. You can follow them as they tell their own stories.

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  • Julie C Currier

    Julie C Currier on June 6, 2017, 12:09 p.m.

    Hi Renee, I have no doubt that your experience will be shared beautifully in your presentation! I would love to see a digital copy, you have a lot of wisdom to offer. My kids range from 7-12 so we are just embarking on almost teenhood so I always appreciate the perspective of a mom who is there and a little bit ahead of me!

    I love Wild + Free and have attended several of their conferences! I am on a journey of slowly making my way to homeschooling more wild and free, but the fear is real.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Julie


  • Karen Toews

    Karen Toews on June 6, 2017, 1:28 p.m.

    I am excited for you as a passionate home-schooler and skilled communicator, and feel confident your listeners will be interested in and benefit from what you will share. Whether, if, how - this launches “something” new for you - my hope is that in due time you will know fully the joy and contentment in your calling to freedom - your style! xoxo Mom PS Those are great kids.


  • Angi Schneider

    Angi Schneider on June 6, 2017, 1:47 p.m.

    Renee, I'm very excited for you and for your community. I'd love to see a recording if you're able to get one. I share a lot of your feelings. I've been homeschooling for almost 20 years and I've only been to 2 conventions. They are super overwhelming for me and no one really homeschools quite like I do. I felt like everyone was trying to convince me to homeschool like them - usually to sell me their curriculum - instead of supporting me where I was. Our fourth child will graduate next May. Our older three are all following their dreams and in spite of not using a boxed curriculum they have all gotten into the colleges and universities they wanted to attend. I'll be praying for you this week as you encourage other homeschoolers.


  • Annie

    Annie on June 9, 2017, 12:09 p.m.

    I am so glad you agreed to speak at our little local conference. Your insight is going to be a breath of fresh air, I am sure! (And I remember your children being such nice and helpful volunteers.) I used to read you from now and then on fimby, I didn't know you "moved." I am glad to have found you back!


    • Renee

      Renee on June 9, 2017, 12:18 p.m.

      I'm looking forward to it. Preparing for this presentation has been a great way for me to do some mental organizing and writing around project based learning. Teaching something helps you increase your own understanding and skill. So, this has been a great learning opportunity for me, before even getting to the actual presentation, which itself will be a learning experience. After getting over my initial reservations and fears I appreciate having this opportunity.


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