Thursday, May 9, 2013

If I Could do it Again

The other day I was thinking “If I could start over again and redo the homeschooling years, would I do anything differently?”  Not that I messed it up (although we all have mistakes), it’s just that I hear from all these new homeschool moms how worried they are. They want to get a jump start and give their children the advantage. So what advice would I give them? What specific items or curriculum would I recommend they use?
First off, if you want to give your child an advantage then LET THEM BE CHILDREN! What I mean by that is that they are only young once; they have many years for formal education with textbooks, workbooks, assignments. There is no need to rush your 3 or 4 or 5 year old into seat work. Let them play, experience nature, learn life skills, bake cookies with you, go grocery shopping, run, jump, climb, use their imagination.
Next advice, do not try to force a child to learn to read. Just because Johnny can recite the alphabet does not mean he is ready to read. There needs to be a certain maturity and skills developed before the brain can actually decode the written language. Guess where they get those skills? From exercising, and playing, and developing their imaginations. Some are ready at age 4, some take until age 10. Don’t panic, try a phonics/reading program and if it’s too painful for the child then he/she is not ready. Wait 6 months and try again. Repeat this until the light bulb comes on and he/she can retain the information of the sounds from day to day and week to week.
As for items I would definitely have in my house for homeschooling right from the get-go – a globe (nothing fancy), and a BIG wipe off map of the world and one of the USA; tons of art supplies like cheap watercolors, paintbrushes, pencils, paper of all sorts, Elmer’s glue, glitter; a good kid-friendly dictionary and a thesaurus; and books – loads of books: story books, nature guides, art books, atlases. The bigger the library you have the more your kids will be invited to read.
Curriculum – this one gets sticky because people are offended if you dislike the brand they use, but honestly, please wait on the workbook/textbook style such as Abeka, Bob Jones, Christian Liberty Press, Alpha Omega, Lifepac… for one subject it’s alright, but for the entire package it is boring for the children AND for the parent. Also when you use these package deals you have separate books for each grade level, so if you have multiple children you are going to stretch yourself way too thin. By choosing a non-traditional style you can school several children with the same books!
Curriculum I would do over again because it was just that good???
Five in a Row (also Before Five in a Row, and After Five in a Row) – a fabulous beginning to homeschooling especially for 4 and 5 year olds. It covers familiar children’s books with fun ideas.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy lessons – when my children were reading-ready they learned quite well from this book. Looking back, I would use a more in depth phonics program after they finish this book just to strengthen their skills.
Miquon Math – this program is great for K-2 and uses Cuisenaire rods as manipulatives. It is workbook form, but it really seems to the kids as if they are playing games all the while teaching them the “why” of math.
Considering God’s Creation by Eagle’s Wing – this was so easy, well arranged and so much fun for little ones grades 1-4. It can be adapted for a co-op very easily also.
American Girl (yes the doll people) History Curriculum – this is a fun way to learn American history for grades 2-4. The library carries all sorts of extra books to go along with it – crafts, cooking, fashion, maps, games. I’m wondering if the boy version, My Name is America, has a history program for their books?
Prairie Primer – based on Little House books, this was great for one year. Again, full of ideas so pick and choose which ones you like – don’t try to do them all!
For math I love two curriculums – Saxon and Teaching Textbooks. Saxon moves a little faster and is more advanced, so if your child struggles with math I would recommend Teaching Textbooks. While it is thorough it does not move as fast and just has a different format.
For writing – anything from Institute for Excellence in Writing. Fabulous program and well worth the money spent. Also if you become familiar with how it works and have the program you can make some extra money teaching classes for other homeschoolers.
My favorite curriculum by far has been Sonlight history and science programs for grades 1-8. It is well layed out without being overwhleming, comes in either 4 or 5 day plans, and is very easy to teach multiple children close in age from one core year. We love literature and it’s a great way to learn. I have not used the highschool levels.
Tapestry of Grace is in a class of it’s own – while it is very thorough especially if your child is college bound, it is time consuming for the parent (or at least for me). I am always revamping because I feel the standards are a bit high if your child is not REALLY advanced. Also I would not use it before middle school level. It’s not really kid friendly for youngsters. Great for a co-op though!!!
My final advice, and this is something everyone hears and never does… Take time for you… regularly! Have a date night with your hubby, go out for coffee with a friend, or just go sit in a park and enjoy the birds singing. As homeschoolers we get so wrapped up in homeschooling that we often forget that we need friends, down-time, quiet time, and bonding time with our husbands. Find someone to trade babysitting with once a month or once a week if possible. Beg grandma to watch the kids for an hour. Barter for babysitting – garden veggies, haircuts, baked goods, housekeeping.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

getting started with homeschooling

Recently there have been many questions on different chat places about how to get started with homeschooling. Really, there is much too much information to post on these chat forums so I thought I would provide some information here.
Step 1 - First you should check the laws and regulations in within your state. HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) should have information on their website to supply you with the information you may need.  
Step 2 - My second suggestion is to find support groups within your area. Remember that not all support groups are created equal, so check the structure of several different groups. Support groups are a wonderful way to meet like-minded people, a social outlet for children, and can help meet the educational needs of your child. However, remember that support groups do not run by themselves – they take work. Perhaps you can volunteer to help out in some way.
Step 3 - Next step is to consider the different teaching philosophies and learning styles. There are different approaches to teaching your child at home. You do not need to stick to just one for each and every subject – in fact I recommend you provide a mixture of styles to meet different aspects of learning. Not all styles of teaching/learning work for every family; it may take some trial and error.
Teaching methods:
Classical education – A Classical Curriculum includes reading of  great works of literature and studying logic and rhetoric, broken into 3-4 levels from elementary(grammar) middle school (dialectic) to high school(rhetoric). The goal of this style is to teach critical, independent thinking and develop communication skills. Most classical curriculum uses various source books. (Tapestry of Grace; Veritas Press; Classical Conversations; The Well Trained Mind)
Charlotte Mason – This is another literature based form of teaching, with subjects taught in an integrated way. “Living” books written in story form are used instead of dry textbooks. The goal of this style is to nourish the mind, soul and body of the child by encouraging spending time outdoors and experiencing nature.
(Ambleside; Sonlight; Simply Charlotte Mason; literature based unit studies)
Montessori method – This is similar to the Charlotte Mason style but is primarily concerned with lower elementary children. The Montessorri style provides the child access to materials, resources and exercise designed to stimulate sensory and motor training by observation. Children are included in on daily life skills. Adults are guides while letting the children explore their interests and express their ideas.
(Whole Child Education)
Unschooling – This is a student-directed method instead of teacher-directed. This style avoids use of textbooks, reviewing and formal testing. The natural curiosity and interest of the student direct their daily activities, with a high emphasis on imagination, nature, and art and music. There are no lesson plans or defined “school time.”
(unit studies of any sort could be a starting place for this style; John Holt books)
Traditional methods – Mimicking public school classrooms, this style of teaching primarily uses textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, continuous review and formal tests. Clear lesson plans are usually provided by the curriculum supplier. Virtual school is within this category, most often requiring clearly defined hours of “school.”
(Abeka, Bob Jones, Alpha Omega, Lifepacs)
Accelerated Learning – This is usually used by homeschoolers who choose a faster pace and see no reason of wasting time in traditional education. They typically graduate from high school very early and go on to do online college courses, or learn a trade skill.
Principle Approach – This is uniquely Christian with the idea that all learning centers around God’s Word. Students learn the methods of the founding forefathers and focus on research, reasoning, and recording.
(Noah Plan; Judah Bible Curriculum)

Now for learning styles:

In a nutshell you can break learning into three basic categories: lookers, listeners, and movers. Most children (and adults) are a mixture of all three, but have tendencies toward one or another. Many parents will make curriculum choices based on what makes sense to them, but if their child is a different learning style, the child may not retain the information or may become bored. It is common to have a math or phonics curriculum that works well for child #1, but child #2 needs a completely different approach. Furthermore, there is no such thing as one “right” kind of material for a given learning style.

Below is a checklist (albeit short) of some commonalities in specific learning styles.

Visual/Spatial learners:
-          Tend to be quiet, observant, and remember where things are
-          Excellent at copy work
-          Can assemble most things without instructions
-          Create well-spaced drawings or graphs
-          Vivid imagination
-          Early readers
-          Doodles on paper when talking
Usually visual students flourish when taught with textbooks, pictures, flashcards, matching games, workbooks, maps, timelines and puzzles; or when the teacher demonstrates the skill to be learned.
Auditory learners (Listeners)
-          “Talk your ear off”; easily express themselves verbally; talk out problems
-          Remembers jingles, poems or television commercials
-          Sing/ pitch memory
-          Sound out words phonetically
-          Tend to be poor test takers (can’t sort out visual material fast enough)
-          Are easily distracted by background noises and have trouble paying attention to detail for accuracy in math, science, and history
-          Enjoy listening to radio, CDs, or books on tape
-          Tend to read aloud when reading to oneself
Usually auditory learners flourish when they are told step-by-step what they are to learn, read aloud to others, and memorize rules, plays and poetry. They tend to do best when using CDs, rhymes, echo games (singing and rhythm), puppets, fieldtrips with interview, and curriculums using integrated content.
Kinesthetic Learners (Movers)
-          Relate to others in action rather than words; tend to show anger physically
-          Rarely sit still; prefer playing, jumping, or wrestling in their spare time; often labeled hyperactive
-          Tend to touch everything as they pass by; use many gestures and facial expressions
-          Often make paper airplanes or fans when listening to lecture
-          Have excellent muscle coordination in sports, dance and can often retain balance while blindfolded
-          Tend to dislike long range goal setting, analytical work and proofreading
-          Excellent in taking gadgets apart and putting them back together
Kinesthetic (hands-on) learners flourish when their learning experiences involve touching and “doing”, demonstrating a task for other students, kept moving with activities including role playing, puppets, tracing, math manipulatives, dramas, timelines and maps that he makes himself/herself. The key to teaching this type of learner is using a wide range of methods with lots of hands-on activities.

Other divisions of learning styles break it down into more detailed groups:
Visual (spatial): students prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural  (auditory-musical): students prefer using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): students prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinesthetic): students prefer using their body, hands and sense of touch.
Logical  (mathematical): students prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): students prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): students prefer to work alone and use self-study.

Step 4 – Send away for catalogues from various suppliers. Some of my favorites are Timberdoodle, Farm Country General, Christian Book Distributors, Discount Homeschool Supplies, Veritas Press, Greenleaf Press, Rainbow Resources, Beautiful Feet. Several unit studies I’ve used personally used are Prairie primer, American Girls history curriculum, Konos, and Weaver.
Step 5 – RELAX. You have 12-13 years to cover all the information necessary. Enjoy your time with your children and have fun.

Here is a list of as many curriculums that I could come up with. (poor grammar ending in a preposition; I must be from the Midwest)
Abeka, Alpha Omega, Apologia, Beautiful Feet Books, Bob Jones, Cardon Creek, Calvert, Christian Liberty Press, Classical Conversations, Covenant Home, Critical Thinking, Diana Waring, Eagle’s Wings, Greenleaf Press, ETA Cuisenaire, Hearthsong, Heritage Institute, Horizons, Konos, Lake Shore Learning, Miquon, My Father’s World, Oak Meadow, Progeny Press, Rod & Staff, Saxon, Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, Teaching Textbooks, Veritas Press, Weaver.