homeschooling

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: A Typical Day…the rest of the story.

Color of Curiosity

Color of Curiosity

 

 

I hear the question often….

“What does your day look like? or..

” What’s a typical day at your house like?”  or even..

“How do you do it?”

I understand the question, and on a certain level the question is a  good and useful one.  Iron sharpens iron.  We learn from one another.  I get that.

But… It is also a dangerous question.

It really doesn’t matter what a day at my house looks like.  Some days if you had visited my house you would have seen me with beautiful scrubbed children sitting peacefully in a circle working on a craft or listening to a story.  Well,  maybe in my dreams you would have seen that.  Other days if you had visited us,  you could have helped me try to corral the inmates and scrape cheese puffs off the floor.  Then we could arbitrate a dispute between the puppy and the toddler over who’s toy it really was,  all while teaching algebra and reading.  I assure you the reality far exceeded the dream.

A mom with young children recently shared with me that she really wanted to be “good at this”.   I hear her heart.  I think it’s every mom’s heart cry and most especially that of every homeschool mom.  It’s a fearful thing to pull your child from education run by experts and to take that task on yourself.

If you mess up there’s no one else to blame.

It’s a sobering reality.

That is why I took a humorous look at the whole issue in my first “typical day” post last year.  It’s important to know that everyone has those days, and those moments.  Moments that are so bad the word ridiculous doesn’t quite cover it. While my post was intentionally funny, my point was not.  You are primarily a family.

 

If your third grader must concentrate while the toddler hammers on his chair legs, understand that the concentration he learns is a “forever skill” that God can use.   All that comes with learning in a family environment contributes to the richness of the masterpiece God is painting into the life of your children.

I have 28 years of perspective to draw from here.  I have seen all kinds of homeschool families; families with all different methods, styles, and life experiences.  There were many hardworking moms whose educational philosophies and styles I frankly thought wouldn’t work.

And you know what?  Thankfully, I was wrong.

God prospered all of them.

Now none of this is said to excuse any of us from the necessary organization, planning, or child training God calls us to.

It is merely a reminder that while you must work your very best;  it is God who prospers your work.

So what does a typical day look like?

It looks like hard work.

It looks like crazy family life.

Most importantly it looks like line upon line… precept upon precept…

As your children get to walk life and learning with you each day, they learn more than how to read and how to do fractions.  They learn what to do with unexpected interruptions.  They learn to interact across all ages and generations.  They learn that their relationship with God is their foundation, and that it will impact every area of their life.

They learn how to live for Jesus.

You beloved, are an amazing lady doing a great work.    I know it is hard some days when toddlers behave like tyrants, teenagers like toddlers, and math looms like a giant determined to defeat you.

Everyone has those days.  It’s ok.   Just be faithful.   Do what comes next.

God will prosper your work. 

Homeschooling: Especially for First time Homeschool Moms

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I have found that there are three stages in every work of God:  first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.       J. Hudson Taylor

 

Dear First Time Homeschool Mom,

For the last 28 years I sat where you are today.  I remember.

This is scary stuff, and it definitely isn’t as easy as it looks.

I am cheering for you from the sidelines; and since I remember how it feels, there are a few things I want to say to you.

  1. Congratulations.

Whether this is your first year, or you are an experienced homescool mom feeling a little weary, this is the best decision you and your husband will ever have made for your family.   Really it is.

 

 

  1. It is normal to feel overwhelmed.

There are giants in the land.   It seems there are always giants in the land that God sets before His people.   Israel’s giants were literal. Yours are figurative, but nevertheless they are real, and they can be scary.

My very first year, in the very first weeks of homeschooling, 28 long years ago,  I was overwhelmed.  I locked myself in my room and told the Lord that I refused to go downstairs and face those kids. (Ok… I was feeling dramatic, but they were a tough crowd.)   I needed help. I needed encouragement. I needed Him to give me something that would make me able to do this even one more minute, let alone one more day.   He answered and gave me an answer that sustained me to school 7 kids over the next 27 years. I can share my answer sometime if you are interested, but honestly it doesn’t matter.  The point is that the same God who answered and sustained me will answer and sustain you.  He has the help that you need. Ask Him.  He is always faithful.

 

  1. Your children will learn.

This is an important to say, because I promise you it will often seem as if they aren’t, don’t, can’t and won’t.   When they were in school you didn’t see the blank stares, the inattention, the dawdling, the rushing to fill out the paperwork just so they could play on the computer or go out for recess. All those habits are common to children, and yours may bring any or all of them to your homeschool.   Nevertheless, they will learn. You are enough. The same woman who didn’t flinch at teaching her kids to tie their shoes, or eat like a human, can teach them to multiply. God calls, and God equips.

Little progress added up over a year equals great achievement.

Don’t measure your progress by days. Some days the kids are impossible and thick headed. Some days they are distracted and whiny. Some days they are wonderful, attentive, and evidently learning. All the days matter. They are all good. Some days they are learning fractions, other days they are learning persistence. Both are needful. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Plod on. They will learn.

 

 

  1. You are weaving a tapestry, not sewing a simple seam.

I’ve heard it expressed as a marathon, not a sprint. Whichever metaphor works for you, the point is the same.   Homeschooling is a great work, and you can’t see the finished product from the meager beginning. Stitch by stitch, lesson by lesson, day by day you are infusing character, and doing life with your precious children. Remember the goal. Cherish the opportunity. I promise that even 28 years goes by really fast.

 

 

  1. Don’t obsess.

Remember the enemy. He will make you think your mistakes are huge, your accomplishments insignificant, and declare that you are not enough. Resist Him.   Focus on the One who called you to this great work and who is always enough.   He will make your paths straight. He loves your children even more than you do. He knows your weaknesses and your strengths.   The God of the universe will help you explain even decimals.  (I mention decimals because my first year homeschooling, that was the new concept I was responsible to communicate to my then 4th grader.  She proceeded to miss every decimal question that year on her standardized test.  It was an epic fail for me that taught us both persistence and eventually how to win.  Failure is temporary…. quitting is permanent)

He will help you teach them to read. He wants them to read His Word.

He is behind you, before you and all around you and is not limited by your limits.

 

 

  1. Have Fun.

Families are fun places. Homeschooling is learning done in a family. Take time to make it fun for your kids (and you).  Take breaks, laugh, play, do things in a new or different way.  Win their hearts, and you win them forever.

 

Be encouraged brave lady as you continue on this journey with your family. God has your back. He called. He will enable. Don’t listen to your fears, your insecurities, or the kids whining. Listen instead to His voice and believe that the work you do this day, this week, this month, and this year will impact generations to come; because you were faithful.

 

Praying God’s blessings on your homeschool this year. Let me know if I can be of help to you.

Homeschooling : Opening Day

 

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I can feel the excitement brewing in your heart and home. It is almost opening day, the first day of a fresh new school year.

You want your kids to love being homeschooled, and let’s face it they’re bombarded this time of year with all sorts of back to school images that don’t look anything like their school.   The first day is a great time to remind them that homeschooling is awesome, and that family life is fun.

Sounds good but you’re already out of ideas?   Well, here’s a few to help get you started.

 

  1. If you’re really wanting to make a bang, consider having your first day back be a Homeschool Wacky Olympic Day.

We often did this as our homeschool opening day and played all sorts of wild and crazy games.   Race with water balloons between your knees. Blindfold your kids and see how many marbles they can pick up out of a tub of water with their toes and put in a bucket in a minute. On a side note and not to brag or anything, but if this was an Olympic sport, I have a daughter who could whomp them all. It’s a measure of how fun and memorable this is that this very lad- like daughter who is now a mom of many still will brag on her undefeated title.

Take a different color of yarn for each child. Unwind it through the house and outside. Throw it out windows, tangle it through trees, go upstairs, downstairs, under furniture, and around table legs. Wind around every tricky thing you can think of.  Go out the front door, around the house and in through the back door (it is amazing how long a skein of yarn really is). Then let the kids race to roll their yarn color back up in a ball. To be fair make the younger children’s skein of yarn shorter and easier, use the whole skein as they get older, and do some semi- impossible challenges for the teens.

 

  1. Consider a breakfast picnic.   Pack the kids up and take them to a park or outdoor play area, have breakfast outside and play. Or, do it in your front yard and then have….    Homeschool Wacky Olympic Game Day.

 

  1. Set up a treasure hunt. Early that up morning plant clues around the house and neighborhood that end up with some special school supplies, or a special treat for lunch.

 

 

  1. Take a field trip.   While everyone else is loading up on the school bus, pack your kids and take them to the zoo, local science museum, beach, or whatever fun and interesting place is near you. An added benefit is that these places tend to be pretty empty on the first day of school.

 

  1. Have a picnic lunch and fly kites. If you’re feeling adventurous, home-made kites are easily made with garbage bags and dowel rods. Having the kids design a structure that will fly is both challenging and fun.

 

6.  Try Air Force and Navy Challenge Day. Make paper airplanes (there are library books that give design ideas if you aren’t airplane makers)  Have challenges for longest distance traveled (always make it the best out of three tries to compensate for the inevitable occasional bad throw), best trick plane (for the ones that fly wonky no matter what you do), best design or artistry, and best carrier plane (tape pennies or paper clips to the wings).

For the Navy challenge make boats out of aluminum foil. Test them for weight by adding pennies one at a time until they sink.

 

 

The possibilities are endless. Any of these special days also work during the school year to spice things up and add a change of pace. I share these just as a spark your own creativity, and to encourage you in making the first day an awesome memory.

Praying the Lord richly blesses your homeschool this year.

Have an awesome first day back.

Let me know how it’s going, and how I can help you.

Help us all out and add yourfamily’s favorite first day activities in the comments.

 

Homeschooling: Hunting Season

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Hurrah!  It’s hunting season.  I frankly love this time of year.  It’s finally time to get out your catalogs, sign up for state convention and purchase next year’s curriculum.

When I began homeschooling in the ’80’s very little was available to us. It made the hunt easier in some ways, and frustrating in others. If you wanted anatomy for your high schooler, it simply wasn’t available. However, it also wasn’t necessary to sift through mountains of material to find a reading program.  It can be pretty overwhelming to search through everything currently available to find those special books that are going to help you captivate your student.

With that thought, here are some hopefully helpful principles from a long time curriculum hunter, as I sit out the hunt for the first time in….27 years.

 

Curriculum is your servant, you are not its slave.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around this truth. Educating your child at home is a sobering responsibility, and we all feel inadequate to the task. It becomes very easy  to enslave yourself to your curriculum. Remember your purpose is education and mastery. It is not the completion of the book, the video or the worksheet. It is not doing every problem, or project. Choose freedom, use curriculum to accomplish the goal.  Do not allow your curriculum to become a dictator that you serve.  Remember it is just a tool that you choose to use to help you and your child accomplish educational goals.

 

Don’t limit your children by your choices.
Avoid curriculum decisions that will limit your children’s future opportunities. Do not assume that you or your child  know what they will need or use in the future. The future is a big place. Give them everything that you can; so that they have the tools they need to do whatever God calls them to do. You cannot tell at 14 what they will want or need at 24. Don’t decide to limit their math or science because you don’t think they’re inclined that way.  Ignore the whine as best you can and insist.  At the finish line, you will both be grateful for every subject studied and every experience embraced.

 

Feed the spark.
Look for every opportunity to enrich and encourage those things that fascinate your child.   Let them love to learn.  It is a wonderful benefit of homeschooling that it takes so much less time to teach one student a skill, than it does to teach a whole classroom the same skill.   Consequently, your student will have extra hours in their day.  Fill some of that time with with what Greg Harris calls “delight directed study”.  All that means is that you encourage extra learning in those areas that pique your child’s interest.  Use the library, the internet, purchase extra books, take field trips and do some fun projects.

 

 

Don’t forget the fun.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the academics that you forget the experiences that make learning in a family fun.  Include games, crafts, read alouds, field trips, and nature exploration.  Plan for those things, that way they are more likely to happen.  In this area especially it’s so easy to have good intentions; but when school actually starts, your schedule overruns you, and the fun disappears.  If you plan fun into your curriculum it’s easier to make it happen.

 

Remember the goal.

While it is of course essential that you educate your child, make sure in doing so that you win their heart.  You want them to love God and embrace the values that your family holds.  To do that you must win them.  Don’t get lost in endless worksheets and projects.  Have spontaneous picnics.  Read aloud under a favorite tree.  Talk to them about everything.  Share your heart, and most importantly let them share theirs.  Point them to Jesus.

 

Praying you have a fruitful and blessed hunting season.

 

 

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