Homeschooling, Parenting

Why would anyone decide to home school?

As the public school year draws to a close, many parents are considering their options for the up-coming year.  If they are homeschoolers, they may be looking for curriculum resources, or possibly investigating a local charter or public school.  Those whose children are in the public school system may be revisiting that option.  Many wonder why homeschooling is so popular.  Others are curious, but intimidated.  Here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of taking the leap into homeschooling.  (Obviously I am biased in favor of homeschooling, but it is important to understand both sides of the story!)

Reasons you may want to think hard about homeschooling before your pull your children out of the public school system

This may well be the hardest thing you will ever do!

Your life is not your own.  You will need make teaching your children your first priority.  Your time, as well as your nerves, are stretched tighter than ever.  Schooling is vital, but the house still needs to be cleaned, meals still need to be cooked, and your spouse needs a spouse.  The community will ask for your time, and your church family will still hope for your involvement.   And time for you needs to happen as well.  (Prayer helps when deciding what to focus on when!)

Your house only stays clean for five minutes at any given time.  (Unless they are all at the park or the library.)

Money that could be spent on household fix-up and decorating may now be needed for books, science kits, and other supplies.

Your neighbors think you’re weird and your family is now sure of it.

Reasons to homeschool

You love your children more than a school teacher can, or ought to, really.

You will be sowing seeds that will sprout abundantly in the future.

You didn’t have children to make your life easier anyway.

You can learn with them and grow together.  Our family is so close, and have weathered a myriad of storms because we learned how to be together and love it!

You can choose what they study and when they study it.  If you want to ensure your children learn about patriotism, Christ, and how to think, you can.  What they receive is up to you.  (That can also be a bit of a stress- knowing it is all on your plate, but what a fantastic opportunity!)

You have always wanted to learn how to get clay, mud, paint and flour paste out of your carpet.

Home decorating is so much simpler!  You don’t need pictures or knick-knacks for your shelves or walls.  You just need to buy more book shelves as your library increases!

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You don’t have to send them off so that someone else raises, teaches, influences, and nurtures them.   You get more than the “crumbs” of their time!

You want to be there when they learn to read, find Europe on a map, write their first poem, ask questions about the latest news story, and have their first crush.

In summary- they are your children and you are their mom. Homeschooling is the adventure of a lifetime, and I would do it again in a heart beat!

Homeschooling

Handcard list- history box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on history and various ways to expand your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

All levels

  • A timeline- timelines allow for review each time they are used.  They organize  human history into an intelligible series of causes and effects, and allow for connections to be made.   There are some massive pre-printed timelines available for purchase (and they can be very helpful).  I recommend creating one as you study.  Whether it is on your wall or in a binder, building a timeline as you learn about people and places takes on the feeling of putting a great puzzle together.  Take apart old books, and encyclopedias which have boring texts, and use the maps, pictures, and documents to add interest to your timeline.
  • Biographies- learn about the heroes who made great decisions and, consequently, changes for the better throughout history.  Read about their less-than-stellar decisions and the resulting effects.  We need to have an understanding of the principles of this life, not just a knowledge of celebrities.
  • Well-written history books- textbooks are a dry, uninteresting way to learn history.  Look for books with great narratives, engaging photographs, and accurate information.  Read primary source materials, and draw your own conclusions.

Discovery level

  • Books by Genevieve Foster- I have never found one of her books that was not worth reading.  Foster’s writing style is easy-going, and informative.  Definitely a favorite among my family members!
  • The Story of Mankind series by Olive Beaupre Miller- currently out-of-print.  I have found copies of the series at used book sellers and on the internet.  Another good narrative.
  • America is My Country  by Brown, Guadagnolo-  found this at a used book clearing house.  Great information on American symbols and patriotic themes.
  • Books from the Childhood of Famous American series- written for middle grades, but my teenagers loved reading them “just for fun”.  Focuses on the early years of men and women who accomplished great things for America.  Some have been republished; many are out of print.
  • Books from the If You Had Lived….. series- published by Scholastic.  This series asks and answers questions about various time periods, and events in history (What did they eat aboard the Mayflower?  Did the pioneers have fun? Etc.)  Informative, and engaging.
  • Dover history coloring books- Dover Publishing produces lots of coloring books in various subjects, but my favorites are those relating to history.  I use them in conjunction with historical read-alouds.  Photo-copy a picture from the book (I only use the books as a master) and the kids can color while I read.  Great for visual, and kinesthetic learners!

Analysis level

  • 1828 Webster’s Dictionary- the first dictionary published for American English.  When you are reading original, founding documents and speeches it is invaluable.  The definitions of words change over time, and having a source that references how those who helped create our nation understood things makes all the difference in the world.  It is also very helpful when reading scriptures.
  • The Story of Mankind series by Olive Beaupre Miller- (see note in “all levels”)  These books cover early human life through the explorers.  I like the narrative style in these books.  I use the portions that apply to what we are currently working on; I do not read them straight through as read-alouds.  They do require something like the Eyewitness Books from DK publishing for visuals.  There are few illustrations to accompany the text.
  • Books from the American and World Landmark history series- written for late elementary and junior high school-aged youth.  These books are interesting, well-researched, and much-loved.  They cover both historical events, and individuals in history.  Some are back in print currently.   I have found many of them through second-hand sources.
  • DK World History Encyclopedia– Great overview for world history.  Does contain some evolutionary information (we simply start further on in the text).  Use the two page spreads for outlining basic information, and supplement with biographies, maps, and other sources for in-depth study.
  • Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury- Love this book!  If you have ever wanted to understand the basics of economics, this book covers it in a simple, easy-to-understand format.  Ten year-olds can understand the information, but Maybury’s writing style is interesting enough for adults to enjoy the books (see below) as well.  A MUST READ!
  • Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard J. Maybury- Same style as above.  This book explains the genesis for common law, and how our legal system has evolved including the difference between scientific, and common law.  Fascinating!  *NOTE*  Richard Maybury has written numerous other books.  I enjoyed the first four in the Uncle Eric series.  The later ones are interesting reads, and thought-provoking, but not as highly recommended (at least, not by me). Maybury has decided views on history and I disagree with many political, and social stands he takes, i.e. we should have stayed out of WWII, etc.
  • Sunday Editorial page (newspaper)- Read with your youth to help them as they become more aware of current issues.  Discuss the views expressed, and help your young people develop the ability to express a well-worded opinion.

Application level

  • A Basic History of the United States  by Clarence Carson- currently out-of-print.  I have found it on Amazon, and Ebay.  Carson’s history is clear, politically incorrect, and well-written.  There is a teacher’s guide available which I found helpful for discussion. (Often I don’t bother with teacher’s guides.)   While I do not endorse everything this author has written, I found this set to be helpful and easy-to-use.
  • Are You Liberal? Conservative? or Confused? by Richard Maybury- Not sure what all the labels in our political system mean?  This book explains the labels, and the philosophies of past, and present parties, and potential effects for businesses and the economy.
  • Evaluating Books: What Would Thomas Jefferson Think About This? by Richard Maybury- Learning to be a discerning reader is vital for everyone.  This book deals with the various philosophical slants of different writers, and gives suggestions of things against which to guard as you choose books for yourself and your family.
  • The Making of America and Study Guide number one, published through the National Center for Constitutional Studies.  The book is divided into halves.  The first half discusses the Founding Fathers; the second half discusses The Constitution.  If you are interested in what the writers of The Constitution thought, wrote, and said, this book is for you.
Homeschooling

The reason we study history

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided and that is the lamp of experience.  I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.   –Patrick Henry

I hear from so many moms who dread history.  I remember taking it in school, and it was definitely on the bottom of my list of preferences!  Here are some thoughts that might help make it FUN! (If you are unfamiliar with the different learning stages, check out my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

History is the story of anything that has ever happened.  Science, art, music, religious history, family history all contribute to the history of the human family.

Use good books-real books-rather than textbooks for your history study.  Biographies, auto-biographies, family histories, scriptural history, historical fiction, maps; documents and speeches are great places to find inspiring and edifying stories.  Scour second-hand stores, grandma’s attic, sales, etc. for great finds.  Before you spend money, ask around or check resource lists to find history worth reading and re-reading.  Some older books may have uninspiring texts but wonderful pictures.  Save the pictures for a time line and discard the text.  Look at maps, atlases, photographs, literature, or the arts and music of the period and/or region you are studying, or the books will have great information but no illustrations.  Find related pictures in other books and combine them to help bring history alive.  Help your children see that all people are worth our understanding and respect.

Many have found it helpful to study history in a four year rotation.  Ancient history, medieval and renaissance/reformation, early modern history, late modern is a fairly common division.  Our family adds summer units on anything not given enough time during the school year.  Constitutional studies, worldviews, religious history are just a few things we have found can use extra attention.  Having a plan lessens the probability that one time period will be studied at the expense of another.  (i.e. American history without world history, or getting stuck on the Civil War and never moving on to the 20th Century, for example.)

All levels

Memorize poetry, speeches or short documents.   Perform scenes from history in period dress.

Play the games of previous eras.  Try foods from different ages and cultures.

Study the origins of the holidays we celebrate.  Study the special celebrations of other cultures and times.

Cook unfamiliar foods.  Listen to music that corresponds with what you are studying.  Learn to identify different cultures and periods through the senses.

Interview someone with a first-hand account of events you are studying.  The Depression, the Second World War, the home front during war-time.  Write it down!  Take pictures!  Or make up questions to ask those in the more distant past and research to find answers.  Hold a Q &A dressed in the costume of the time.  What did they learn?  What was hardest?  What do they miss?

Keep a written time line to help younger children understand the passage of time. (Grandpa, Martin Luther and George Washington did NOT all live at the same time.)  It also orders events as you learn, helps you understand how events relate to one another, and is a way to review what you have covered in a moment.

Discovery level

Dress up and re-enact famous (or not so famous) events of the past.

Read biographies.  Our children need more heroes!  We live in a day of celebrities; we need to find true heroes to learn about and emulate. Helping them see what made great people great can encourage correct choices and character development.  Help them start their autobiography.

Study maps of various times.  Draw some with changes in political divisions or include voyages, battles, etc.

Focus on the basics of the history.  Save negative or controversial topics for older learners!

Analysis level

Now is the time to begin writing papers and researching events in history.  Begin by aiming for two-three pages per week (or so) of researched, relevant, cohesive writing.

Look for documents, drawings, and maps in their original form.    Writing and printing changed over centuries.   Try reproducing some methods used in the past.

Study maps and geography as you study history.  Political boundaries change.  Our world evolves in surprising ways.

Outlining a short section of a book helps with study skills and retention.  The two page sections in a DK or Kingfisher History book are great for this.

Look at relationships between events in history.  Discuss how they interrelate.  (Example-the American, French and Russian Revolutions are all within a relatively short time.)

Have a history notebook with a time line and a place for longer reports and papers.

Get and use a copy of the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.  Definitions change with usage.  Some words fall out of use.  To read what Washington really meant in his Farewell Address you may well need it.  Scripture study reaches new depths as you use it!

Study current events.  Introduce the “tweenies” to the world around them and some of the issues they will face.

Remember how young these children are.  Use wisdom in introducing troubling events-the Holocaust, the terrors of war, the darker side of slavery, etc.-to your family.  It may be wiser to save these topics until your children are a little older.  There will be time.

Application level

Read primary sources from the various times and place.  Use an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.

Read the literature, mythology, and poetry.  Read speeches and philosophy.  And talk, talk, talk.

Write papers using argument and opinion.  Learn to make comparisons and to express viewpoints with clarity.  Write a letter to the editor or become involved in cause you feel strongly about.

Learn about our Constitution, and the laws of other lands.  Read the Richard Maybury “Uncle Eric” books if you haven’t already.  Become aware of how government works and what our part is in it.  They’ll be voting soon.

This is the time for your adult-in-training to internalize the deeper lessons of history.

Home and Family

Today’s library adventure

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We had such fun at the library today.  In our county there are branches of the library which all connect to the same system.  On our library day, we can walk to the branch nearest our home, or we load up my daughter’s van and try a different branch which is what we did this morning.  Such a good idea!

We discovered that a recently opened branch has a great children’s librarian, and attended one of the best story times in the valley.  So fun!  There were puppets, stories, songs, and handouts.  We also found a pile of picture books in the book sale area to supplement our home libraries for $1 each.  There is a large children’s section which has bean bag chairs, benches, a couch, and other fun places to sit, and- best of all- a children’s restroom entrance in the children’s section of the library.  No more running across the building to make a quick “potty stop” with the potty-training three-year-old. When I asked for help locating a specific section, one of the librarians smiled, and gave me quick tour of the entire area. And they placed over-sized cubes with beads and mirrors in the check-out area to keep the children busy while you get your books ready to take home.

The boys had a great time.  We had time to relax and enjoy being with them. A good day for everyone!  Next time, we’ll have to take a picnic lunch and enjoy the tables just outside the building!  WIN!

Homeschooling

Curriculum planning rant

It is that time of year again.  Now is often when homeschool moms get into the books for the coming year, and put an academic plan together.  If you use a programmed curriculum, it is fairly straight-forward.  You buy their books, and use what works with the learning level for your child.  It may require a tweak or two, but nothing too crazy.  Then again, if you are trying to assemble curriculum on your own (as we did), it can get confusing.  Let me explain.

Obviously you need math, language arts, history, science, and some fun stuff for the year.  Add in critical thinking, cultural arts, religious studies, life skills, and a bit of this and that and it can look undecipherable.  Let’s try making sense of it.

Math.  Pretty clear.  You have a text-book, flashcards, and maybe some math songs for learning basic skills.  Done.  But what about games and activities like tangrams, pattern blocks, or other math-related critical thinking options?  Is that math?  Is that critical thinking?  Is it just for fun, and not recorded at all?  Is cooking math, science or life skills?  Hmmm…

Let’s try it with language arts.  This generally includes reading and literature, spelling, vocabulary, penmanship, grammar, and writing.  Oh, boy.  Do you do spelling and vocabulary together?  One list for each?  Isn’t that a lot of writing?  If so, does it also count for writing?  Not really.  Oh.  Okay.  Grammar could be done in your best hand, and then it may also count for penmanship…or not.  Reading.  Simple enough.  Pick a book and read.  Literature means find a well-written, classic work.  Read and talk about it.  Okay.  If we are reading The Door in the Wall, is that literature?  Do we count it as history?  It does provide a great jumping off point for a discussion about life in medieval Europe. If we are reading Bible stories is that literature, history or religious studies, or something else?  If you teach them to outline on the computer, is that writing or computer skills?

Enough of that.  Let’s look at history and social studies.  History- the story of what has gone before us.  Social studies- the lives of people throughout the world.  Sounds pretty basic.  Where do you add geography?  Or is that a subject on its own which deals with different cultures and covers also orientation and map-reading skills?  If you study specific countries around the globe, and include commonly used phrases and a titch of their grammar, has that just become a study of foreign language or language arts?  What about political studies and law?  If you include a study of your nation’s founders, and the creation of your government is that history?  Law?  Or does it get a more specific title such as Government Studies?  Then there is economics.  It generally falls under the social studies umbrella, but does it count for math if you are working on interest rates, checking and savings accounts, and such?  Or do we call those things life skills instead?  Perhaps some of each?  And is the study of art and/music history part of history or cultural arts?

Is science any easier?  Are we simply working on a specific branch of science such as physics, or biology using reference materials and experiments?  What if we begin studying about Newton, and Darwin?  Is that still science?  Has it just become history?  Or if it is a classical work they have written, are we now doing literature (which is language arts)?  Do we teach evolution or creation science as science or do we create a comparitive study of them as a critical thinking exercise?  Is growing a garden and preserving the surplus considered botany and chemistry, or should you call it life skills?

You get the idea.  In all seriousness, Mom, don’t over-think this!  The answer to these questions if YES;  you can place this material where ever you see fit.  Set your goals.  Choose your materials.  Put your plan together, and get to the exciting business of learning as a family!  If you have high-school age youth who will need a transcript, you may find it helpful to use more diverse labeling for their studies in order to include what they will need for college admissions.  (Just ensure that you cover enough information to be able to claim completion of that subject!)  What matters most is that your children receive a broad, well thought out, and challenging education that provides them with the knowledge base, discipline and study habits to serve them throughout their lifetime.  However things were categorized when they were children, they will remember it as part of their education.  Isn’t that what really matters?

Homeschooling

Handcart list- preschool

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners.  Today’s portion focuses on early learners (birth to preschool age).

  • Board books-I admit to a bit of an attitude when it comes to board books.  If there is as much text as you find in a picture book, get the picture book.  Board books should have fun, interesting pictures, minimal text, and if there is chewable handle or other tactile addition, so much the better!  Sandra Boynton, Jan Brett, Winnie-the-Pooh, and so many others are great.   Non-fiction is a great way to go as well.   It is a waste of time to bother with odd or harsh illustrations, and bad text.
  • Bath toys i.e. cups, bowls, boats, funnels, rags- Bath time was one of my favorite times of day as a young mom.  Not only were my kids in a confined space, they were able to experience things in the tub that got them in trouble anywhere else!  Water is a fascinating substance.  Let them splash, play, and experiment in it.
  • Music recordings and songs sung by Mom- Lullabies, folk songs, children’s favorites, religious music.  Expose your young children (and the rest of the family) to a variety of musical genres, and arrangements.  Orchestral, choral, solo, barbershop, silly, action songs (i.e. Eensy, Weensy Spider), and Mom singing to them all help them experience the wonder of music in a different way.  Take them to live concerts (outside at the park, or at the local school where you can leave when you need is best).  Play recordings at home, in the car, or sing as you work. Try to vocalize various instruments.  Add harmonies if you can.
  • Basic toys i.e. rattles, balls, blocks, dolls and stuffed animals, cars, shape sorter, stacking cups, something with buttons to push and knobs with which to play, lacing cards.  There is such a variety of textures, materials, colors, and sounds that can be explored  through toys and play.  Have fun with it- just be sure to purchase things that will not break with the first use.  Cheap toys are not just a let-down, they can be unsafe.  Often you can create your own.  Use fun pictures glued or laminated onto cardboard for lacing cards.  Re-use clothing fasteners (from discarded pieces) to produce a practice board for buttons, snaps, velcro, buckles, etc.  Look around.  You may be surprised by what wonderful things are available.
  • Give them time with clay, sand, salt dough, mud, etc.- make a mess.  Let them pound, stomp, squish, spread, and generally get dirty. An old shower curtain or some newspaper makes a great drop cloth for easy clean-up, or go outside and have fun there.  Large and small motor skills can be developed as they try making snakes, crude pots, and other objects.  As they grow older, form letters, numbers, maps, etc.  Work with them.  Children love to participate with the adults in their life!
  • Basic art supplies- crayons, watercolor, large pencils, chalk, paper.  They will need supervision while they learn how and where to use these supplies, but early exposure with no expectations of neatness or or quality of work allows them to freely explore these media.
  • Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready  by June R. Oberlander or Teach Me Mommy by Jill W. Dunford- not sure where to start, or looking for a more structured approach?  These books are full of great ideas! 
Home and Family, Parenting

Bring it on!

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

– Helen Keller

This life is a testing ground.  As we raise our families, we need to remember that our job is not to avoid every storm, but rather, to prepare ourselves and each other to meet them.   Every person of great strength and integrity I have ever known has become who they are by standing firm and facing what life throws their way.  And those who are best at this are the most joyful people I know.

Some of the challenges I see around me include large families, couples who want more children but have been unable to bear them, military deployments, health challenges, financial problems, children with learning difficulties, and too-much-to-do-too-little-time.  I don’t know anyone who has an easy life.  If we are looking for one, we will miss so many of the greatest lessons we can learn in this life.

There are challenges which may enter our life through the poor choices of others, but they need never define who we are or what we can accomplish.  Our goals, habits, and pursuits are up to us.  I have chosen to become the woman God sees in me regardless of what others do, and I hope to be able to give that gift those with whom I come in contact.

We can do hard things.