Choosing Curriculum

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I have to confess I love to buy curriculum. I have about as much resistance as people do at an extraordinary food bar.  I’ll have one of each please.  Over the years I did find that some basic principles applied to choosing the best of what was available.  Knowing that many of you are still mulling over choices for the upcoming year, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

 

Choosing Math

   Choose a spiral approach.  That means there is constant review of previous skills woven into the daily work.   Chapter approaches look appealing, but children forget math skills easily and require continual practice to cement them.  It is definitely less painful if the necessary review of previously learned skills is already built into the program.  Children are seldom thrilled with extra practice sheets on top of their daily math work.  Since the goal is to have them love learning (even math) don’t shoot yourself in the foot right from the start.   A chapter approach generally means a constant need to reteach previously  covered concepts, breeding frustration for both of you and perpetuating a serious distaste for math.

Look for a program with some room to work problems on the page.  Unfortunately, I’ve never seen one that I thought really addressed this adequately, but I mention it here in the hopes that curriculum producers will take heed and produce a page with space for kids to work the answer.  I personally loved Abeka’s elementary math, but felt they could improve on the space given.  (I also did not require them to do every problem on every page… Abeka has a multitude of problems to work each day so that you can pick and choose what your child needs.)

Remember:  curriculum is your servant; you are not it’s slave.

Whatever you choose, do math daily.  Kids need math for so many higher level subjects, that just like reading it’s fundamental.  Let them whine, but do it everyday.

 

Choosing Science

I prefer a standalone science rather than a more integrated unit study approach.  This is probably because my kids loved science to such an extent that they couldn’t get enough of it. I’d have had to write so much of the unit study in order to get enough new information in it for my older kids that it just wasn’t practical to use a unit approach.  Go for colorful material rich in content.  The more the better, and do every experiment that you can fit in your busy life.  Your kids will remember them all.

In elementary school, explore nature voraciously.  Kids love everything about nature from bugs to clouds.  Let them have bug zoos, spider pets, weather charts and gardens.  Teach them about winds, seas, rocks and creatures.

 

Choosing Reading

There are so many approaches to teaching reading that I think it’s better to cover that as a specialty blog post.  However, once your child can read fluently, make sure they read daily.  For most homeschool kids this isn’t an issue, but it bears saying if you have a reluctant reader.

 Read aloud to your kids.  All through their school years, read aloud to them daily.   In high school you can read books together, alternating paragraphs or chapters, but don’t stop reading aloud.   It makes wonderful memories through shared experience.  Good literature provides opportunities for open discussion about almost every imaginable topic, and when you read it together the values you want to share are naturally and easily communicated.

If you can’t think what to read here are a few suggestions to get you started  (any of these also make great read alone material for your kids)

Elementary:

Owls in the Family, Hank the Cowdog series, The Derwood Series (BJU press), Chronicles of Narnia,  Little House Series,  Boxcar Children,  Grandmother’s Attic Series,  Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Caddie Woodlawn,  Number the Stars, The Sign of the Beaver, A Bear Called Paddington,

Cat of Bubastes ( and other novels by  GA Henty),  The Red Knight,  Men of Iron,  The Little Princess, Across Five Aprils,  Midshipman Quinn, The Lost Baron,

David Copperfield, Olver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and on and on  and on.

Since we are talking about reading aloud, let me also put in a plug here for Five In a Row (http://www.fiveinarow.com ).  This is my all-time favorite curriculum for Kindergarten or First Grade.   Five in a Row is a unit study program based on a different read aloud each week.  It is rich both in content and fun.  If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out; you and your kids will love it.

 

Choosing Unit Studies

Many people like the flexibility of unit studies.  They provide a way that the whole family can be learning about the same subject at the same time, just each at their own level.  The weakness here is for the oldest children.  There is a real danger to guard against in not moving the material to a difficult enough level for them.  Make sure you choose to teach to the highest grade in the unit study and let the information trickle down to the younger students rather than trying to take a basic elementary study and enrich it for high school.

Unit studies can be labor intensive for mom.  Probably one of the best I’ve seen and used is Tapestry of Grace.  The author took the time to actually put the information in the teacher’s manual so that mom didn’t have to go out and search for it.  This was especially helpful for me, since history is not my strongest area, nor my strongest interest.

Unit Studies tend to be very strong in history and some language arts areas.  I’ve never seen one that covered science to the level needed, and suggest again that you use a standalone science program.

 

Choosing Spelling

Everyone in my family is now laughing uproariously.   I think spelling must be genetic.  In fact, I’ve decided it just has to be.   I’ve tried almost every spelling curriculum available and the reality is some of my kids can spell like champions, and others need to wear the t-shirt that displays the slogan

 “Bad Spellers of the World”

“UNTIE”

  I won’t even begin to give advice on spelling curriculum.  I just included it so that you’d know I knew that the subject existed, and as a disclaimer if some of my kids ever write you a letter without spell check.

 

Choosing Writing

Most of the language arts curriculums available address writing adequately in the elementary grades.  Choose one with a good balance between grammar and writing.  I did find though that I loved the Institute for Excellence in Writing (http://www.iew.com ) for middle through high school.  It’s a little bit pricey, but the DVD’s are wonderfully engaging and the writing portions are solid instruction for college prep.

 

If you just feel like browsing curriculum, check out  https://www.christianbook.com  or http://rainbowresource.com

 

Happy hunting. As always if I can be of any help to you, just let me know.

Homeschooling: What about money?

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It worries me a little that if I was a Mom today in the circumstances I was 28 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have considered homeschooling.    I wouldn’t have thought I would fit.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought I had enough money.

 

Nobody likes to talk about money.  It seems tawdry somehow, but I see lots of wonderful people who begin the homeschool journey, are passionate about it, yet eventually abandon it for monetary reasons.  I can understand it.  It is almost impossible to make it on one income today.  Unless your spouse makes serious money, and frankly most people don’t; it takes real sacrifice.  But homeschooling is not for the elite, the financially well-heeled, the talented or the exceptionally   educated.  It is for families passionate about raising their children to love and serve Jesus.

Homeschooling originated as a move of the sacred.  Faithful church families from the previous generation were losing their kids to the world in droves.  It was frightening to watch and sobering to consider.  A revival of God brought families home.  He brought them home to school, home to live and learn life together as believers.  The vision was to create a firm foundation to launch mighty men and women for Jesus to be lights in a very dark world.  The focus was on character, separation from the world, and service to the Lord.

 

The only thing early homeschoolers had in common was a deep desire to raise their children for God. 

 

When I pulled my fourth and second grader from public school to begin homeschooling them in the 1980’s, my husband was an E-5 in the military.  (For those of you non-military people, that translates to….didn’t make much money)  We had 5 children under the age of 10, and no money in the bank.   We didn’t even own a car.   I think we were minimalist before it was trendy.    There wasn’t any gross mismanagement of money or circumstances; frankly there just wasn’t enough money to manage.   We were obviously poor.    My husband rode a bike to and from work.  Believe me we stood out.  While we were in these very circumstances, God called us to homeschool.  Even I didn’t think it would work out.

 

I’m concerned that today homeschooling more and more gives the impression  that it is for the elite.   Everyone has expensive clothes, music lessons, gymnastic lessons or special sports coaching.   Our ranks are filled with high paying professions.  Please don’t misunderstand me here.  I’m not bashing  any of those things.   It is the very fact that God blessed homeschooling so strongly, and gave such outstanding results to so many very ordinary parents, that created the draw that fills our ranks.   The problem that concerns me is that as the ranks fill with more and more financially successful families, the percentage of middle and lower income families diminishes.  Each year I watch that percentage get smaller, and therefore the feeling of belonging gets weaker for those who are on the lower end financially.

 

The influx of financially prosperous families brought changes to our community, and it’s time we thought about those changes. Some have been wonderful.  Prosperous families invested in the start-up costs for programs(especially sports) that have in turn blessed many.  Other changes are not so wonderful.   In the beginning most if not all homeschool events were free.  Now in contrast…. EVERYTHING COSTS.  The fees are often perceived as relatively small, but we are often comparing them to what similar activities cost in the secular arena.  The flaw in that reasoning is that most families in the secular arena are dual income, and the government is paying for the children’s education.  They have more discretionary money.

 

 Let’s only charge for what’s necessary, and let’s  only charge what it costs.

 

So….what’s my point? Mostly, I guess I want to encourage those families that think they don’t fit financially.

 

Homeschooling is a move of the sacred not the secular.

 

God blesses homeschooling.  God will honor the fact that you do it in spite of your financial challenges.  My husband rode a bike to work for about 10 of our homeschool years.  He would do it again.  We have wonderful memories from those very financially strapped years.    If you are tempted to quit because of money, I beg you to reconsider.  God did not care where we were financially.  He cared about our faithfulness.    Don’t wait to homeschool until you can afford it, because I don’t think that day ever comes.  Homeschool because God calls you to it.  Extras are nice, but they are not necessary.

 

For the rest of us, let’s never forget our roots as homeschoolers.  God calls among all economic situations.  God uses the poor or the less prosperous to test our hearts and our generosity.   May the test find us open-hearted, open-handed, and embracing the opportunity to learn from those whose struggles are different than our own.

 

Fridays are Fun: Welcome to Oklahoma

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Fridays are just for fun on the blog.

I love my adopted state.  I am originally from New York, so almost everything about Oklahoma was new to me when we moved here with the army some 20+ years ago.

From greeting everyone with a hug (whether you’ve ever met them before or not), personal conversations with total strangers ( I am still so amused when a checkout person  comments specifically on my purchases or tells me their life story) , tornadoes (which come with magnificent skies that look like the clouds are upside down), rodeo (where bulls sometimes have more sense than cowboys),  a plethora of Indian names and places (I thought Western New York won in that race… but it’s definitely a runner-up);  Oklahoma makes me smile.

So, this week I share that smile with you.

 

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Yes, this is Cinderella’s carriage, the same that you might see in any major city, except in OKC; the coachman is a cowboy, complete with boots and hat.

 

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If I were designing a city that sees regular tornadoes, there would be no high rises.   This tower stands in the middle of OKC and thumbs it’s nose at the wind and skies.

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Yes, that board says, “wagons, teams, mules” ; and no it’s not in front of a museum or a historical building.  It’s just an old board, on an old building that still sits there; waiting for someone to come hitch their mule.

 

 

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It is sunny here almost all the time.  I have to admit that it is one of my favorite things about  Oklahoma.   As a bonus, All that sunlight makes for some of the most amazing reflections in the water that you could imagine.

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This statue of the Abernathy boys about sums it up.  Only in Oklahoma would you celebrate the cross country journey of two boys aged six and nine who traveled alone on horseback from Frederick, Oklahoma to Washington DC.  Sons of famous Oklahoma marshal “Catch-em Alive Jack” Abernathy their journeys are chronicled in “Bud & Me”  by Alta Abernathy.  It’s definitely worth the read, though I imagine it will spark some interesting conversations with your sons.     Have a blessed weekend!

Battles and Behavior…. What’s a Mom to do?

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There was a battle.  (Actually, there were lots of battles.)

It was ugly.  (Battles are always ugly.)

I’m not sure how the spaghetti reached the ceiling.   I mean, after all, how far can you realistically throw at fifteen months?

How can a child whose favorite food was spaghetti until ten minutes ago, suddenly decide that they will never eat it again????

Or, there was a silly dollar toy in the grocery aisle off-handedly denied; and it was my toddler laying on the floor kicking, screaming, and thrashing.  I stood  completely bewildered by the moment, unbelievably mortified.  I tried pleading quietly with a beyond-reason, pint-sized tyrant while smug shoppers stared, passed by, and gave each other the “look”.

We’ve all been there, (probably both on the smug side and the bewildered side if we’re honest).

The most frightening of the battles comes with the cold, steely-eyed stare, and frozen jaw from a teen with a rebel idea locked between their teeth. You wonder….. how did we ever get to this place?

The truth is we’ve all experienced the tyranny of the urgent, the embarrassment of the behavior, and the capitulation of defeat.  Sometimes it helps just to know that you aren’t alone.

But…

What’s a mom to do?

What really matters?

When do you plant your flag, and refuse to move; and when do you retreat to return and fight another day?

Before we start, it’s important to note that a lot of toddler issues are just developmental.  Occasional meltdowns are normal.  Ignore the looks.  I guarantee you there isn’t a mom alive whose children haven’t mortified them at some point. If your child is embarrassing you, all it means is that you are in good company.  Toddlers teach us all humility.  Repetitive behaviors are the issue to be concerned about, not the occasional dramatic performance.  I was convinced that some of my children were destined for the stage.

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It seems to me by definition that most of these “moments” occur when it’s least convenient, or when you really really really need your children to behave.  The best preventative for this is…..

  1.  Prepare them ahead of time.

Whenever you can, prepare your kids for what they are going to face.  Let them know that you are in a hurry, or that they will not be getting anything on this shopping trip etc.  Explain to them what is expected of them before they are confronted with a new situation. Don’t just arrive at the dentist and expect them to open their mouth.  You may find them afflicted with “lockjaw”, also known as …. these are my teeth and I don’t show them to people with sharp instruments that smell funny.  (No I’m not poking at dentists,  I love my dentist.  But dental offices often smell of cloves from dental medications and you can bet your kids notice)

Explanation and preparation seems especially important for cooperation in preschool years, but it really matters all the way through.  Even your college kid will benefit from preparation for the onslaught the college environment will present to their faith and core values.  Actually, they will benefit from everything from what to do when their roommate gets lice…. to an introduction to Mr. Washing-Machine (if they aren’t already aquainted).

Prepare… prepare… prepare, and….

Always deal straight with your kids.  Be reliable and consistent.  Tell the truth.  In order to ensure that your preparation works, kids need to know that what you say can be trusted.

 

2. Be flexible.
  Remember the only non-negotiables are Scriptural .   Don’t plant your flag over unimportant things, or dramatize the harmless.    It is so tempting to make rules around the rules so that your kids are “protected” from their choices.  Resist that temptation, stand firm on the Scriptural issues, and prepare to negotiate the fringe ones.  After all, matching socks are the norm, but hardly critical to function.
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3.  Teach your children to listen to God’s Word.   The most important question kids need to know to always ask themselves is,
“What does God say about _________?”
Teach the Word to your children faithfully.
Teach them what God’s Word means, and teach them how to apply it to their daily life.  Make decisions (and teach them to make decisions) based on what God has said in His Word.   Be consistent with this pattern.  Let them see and know that you and your husband live with that question always in front of you….
What does God say?

 

4.  Love them lavishly.

Remember how hard it was to be a kid?  How scary it was sometimes, and how much some things hurt?  Remember how hard it was to fight temptation, and how easily you could be confused?

Love your kids.

Love them lavishly.

They need it.

Love soothes the hurts, imparts courage, and most of all it ties the heart.  It’s easy to get distracted and start thinking that child rearing is primarily about obedience.   It’s not.  Child rearing is about the heart, and winning their hearts.  It takes lavish love to win a heart  and hold it.

That battle for their heart is the one you really need to win.

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Homeschooling: Free and Easy, or Count the Cost?

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One of my daughters is crazy thrifty.

Actually they all run in that particular race; she just happens to be the winner of cheap.

It’s her superpower.

If we’re honest, most of us can relate.  Who doesn’t love a bargain or even better…. free?  I think everybody loves free.

Just try to get in line for one of those promotions that offer a “free” ten dollars to the first hundred customers.  I’ve tried.  To get in line early enough, I’d seriously have to skip sleep.   It seems the entire town is in line long before I ever get there.

How about easy?

Everyone loves easy. Diet books and programs keep themselves in business by telling people how easy it is to lose weight with their book.  Face it, you can’t sell gym memberships by telling the truth about how hard it is to work off even one donut.

 

When the homeschool movement presents itself to those considering whether this is what God would have their family do, we’re doing them no favors when we present it as easy, low cost, or even free.  The truth is that homeschooling is hard work.   Curriculum costs money, and teaching people to read, write, and compute is hard work.

I’m seeing more young moms discouraged and disenchanted with homeschooling because what was presented to them is not what their day to day reality looks like.

 

Better we should tell them the truth.

Homeschooling is hard work.

Homeschooling requires sacrifice.

Homeschooling bites into your budget.

I admit that those things are not very appealing, but they are true.    I could easily say the same things about vacations and it wouldn’t deter anyone from taking one.  Why not?  Well, because people already know that the payoff is worth it.

 

 

Better we should tell people that homeschooling is worth it.

 

Homeschooling is one of the most powerful and life-changing decisions you can make for your family.  It gives you the opportunity to truly teach and mold your children’s values. It enables you to have that Deut. 6 relationship with them, teaching them about God while sharing day to day experiences together. It gives you the opportunity to raise them free from peer dependency.   It creates close sibling bonds and allows them the time to grow deep friendships with each other.

Most importantly, God honors it.

Is it free?  Nope

Is it easy? Nope

Is it worth it?

Absolutely without a doubt…..and that my friends, is the point.

 

Don’t homeschool because you think it is convenient, easy, or cheap.  Homeschool because the opportunity to raise your children with a foundation and mindset that is established in God and His Word is priceless.

And….. the fruit is eternal.

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