Homeschooling, Organization

My love/hate relationship

Okay.  I admit it.  There are things that leave me so conflicted, I can’t seem to decide how I truly feel.  My latest hair-pulling is found when I am at my copier.  I LOVE the ease of copying when the masters are spiral-bound rather than the typical glued binding, but then I often forget which reproducibles I have when they are bound that way and miss opportunities to use things that could add just the right thing to our studies.  OR I don’t spiral-bind my books, and copies come out lop-sided, messy, or missing a few letters on one margin or the other.

I think I may have to go to using three-ring notebooks and page protectors, but that gets pricey.  And I will need more shelf space….

What drives you crazy?

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Homeschooling

Let’s DO school!

It’s that time again.  Homeschool conventions, curriculum fairs, and planning.  Lots of planning.  I remember worrying as a young homeschool mom that I wasn’t doing the right thing, or enough (or too much?), or that I didn’t have everything I needed in order to truly teach my children the things that would best serve them for their future.  Now I watch as my daughters and friends do the same thing.  When I began our homeschooling journey in 1991, there were few resources available.  Scraping curriculum together took time and hunting.  Fast forward 24 years. There are so many options available now, it is enough to make your head spin!  Two thoughts I have had in the last few weeks as I watch this dance happening around me:

First-There is no such thing as a perfect curriculum.  Often we think we have failed, when the failure is in the book…or box…or file.  There are very few prepackaged kits that I would regard as safe bets for just about anyone, and often those will still need tweaking a bit depending on the child.  Stop looking for perfection; consistency is what can make the difference!

As plans are made for the upcoming year, take time to DO things.  Math often makes more sense with manipulative use.  Grammar seems plainer with diagramming if you have a visual learner.  Science is more easily remembered, and more enjoyable, if you get out there and experience it rather than expecting facts to be absorbed by simply reading a book. Go to the zoo.  Dig for rocks.  Lie on the ground and observe the night sky.  Experiment in the kitchen.  Go on field trips to make your studies come alive.  Take regular breaks and get the whole gang moving.  Run up and down the stairs as you drill math facts.  Take a walk and practice observational skills.  OUr children need to learn to cook and do laundry as well as diving into academic studies. Jump on a mini-tramp between subjects for a quick brain break. Role-play or act out history lessons. Duck walk as you review spelling lists or phonics rules.    Doing wakes up the brain, increases retention, and the ensuing giggles aren’t bad either.

As you spend time exploring the world and all its wonders, remember to keep active verbs in the mix.  Do. Try. Experiment. Observe. Move. Fail. Laugh. Create things: messes, meals, and memories for a lifetime.  And cut yourself some slack.  It’s not up to you to find the perfect books, or be the perfect parent, or have the perfect family.  The only perfection we will ever attain will not come from us.  It comes from He who wants us to succeed.  Lean on Him, and go DO something!

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

20 Years Later: Things I Would Do Again and Things I Wouldn’t

Things I would do again (and often wish I could)-

  • Read about home schooling, home schoolers, and education theory in general.  Talk to people who have been successful.  Get involved.  Learn enough to have a wide overview of my options- and then choose wisely.
  • Laugh.  A lot.  Find the humor in the hard days, the struggle, and the joy.
  • Find families that have great teens and ask how they got there.  I am so grateful to those willing to share with me.  (Great teenagers do not just fall from the sky that way.)
  • Have absolutes.  No double standards.  Your children will spot hypocrisy a mile away.  It is confusing and frustrating for them.  Help them learn what you value before the world has a chance to rewrite their value system.  Live what you preach.
  • Apologize to your children when you are wrong.  We all make mistakes.  Create learning experiences out of them so that your family can be comfortable knowing that it is okay to mess up.  The problem is being unwilling to work it out.
  • Limit screen time.  For years, our television lived in the closet.  It came out for special occasions, surgical convalescence, and holidays.  The computer was for academics.  It is easier to focus when the distractions are limited.
  • Put a stop sign on the front door.  Ignore the phone during academic hours.  Take the time you have with your children seriously and those around you will learn to as well.
  • Limit the junk.  Life is full of time-wasters, distractions, and wasteful options.  There are not enough hours in the day to waste them on things that do not build, feed, encourage, or edify.  Mere entertainment in not enough.
  • Remember – you are the model your children will follow.  You are the adult with whom they have the most contact.  You must choose to handle stress, the unexpected, the wonderful, the negative, and the shocking, with grace and control.  If you don’t, how will they learn to do so?  (I learned this a number of years into our family life by watching my children be “me”.  Not pretty!)
  • Identify the learning styles and personality types of your children.  We used the information we learned to not only “school” more effectively, but to help communication within our family.  Not everyone sees the world in the same way; recognizing the way others see it is a tremendous tool.  We learned to relate to each other better and be more patient with each other.
  • Have a schedule.  Success is much more likely if you are flexible within a framework than if you have no guidelines or expectations.  People are inherently lazy- adults and children alike.  Self-mastery comes from meeting expectations, having discipline, and consistency.  That applies to the parents as much as the children.
  • Have annual goals: Academic goals, spiritual goals, service-oriented goals, life and skill-related goals for each member of the family.
  • Begin the day with group time.  In our pjs.  With hot chocolate.  (Okay, get dressed if you must.)  But seriously, starting the academic part of the day together with an opening devotional, reading literature and history together, doing drill and memorization work as a group was such a great experience.  Sometimes it lasted for an hour; sometimes much more than that.  Having time with my children every day to discuss things, hear their thoughts and ideas, and just enjoy each other was brilliant.
  • Find a phone buddy.  Having a calm, supportive, and friendly adult to talk to on hard days helped me laugh at myself, see the humor in the struggle, and be a better mom to my kids.
  • Have my teenager’s friends in my home.  Do units in the summer with public school and home school kids.  (We did a few of these and they were SO fun.)  Bake cookies.  Host group date activities.  Feed them.  Even more fun, teach them to cook.
  • Take time for your marriage.  When the children leave home, and they eventually will, it is important to know how to spend time together as adults and communicate.  Nurture each other.

Things I would Not do again-

  • Get caught up in worrying so much.  You are the parent.  Be one.  Take the best from each idea or method you come across.  Leave the rest.  It’s your decision.
  • Spend so much on “stuff”.  I am a home school junkie.  I admit it.  If I had only found companies like Timberdoodle and books like The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (great resource lists) I could have saved a bundle!
  • Begin without any organization.  I overspent and duplicated too much by not knowing what I already owned.  You don’t need things to be perfect, just have a framework, a few ideas, and somewhere to put things!
  • Avoid things I disliked in school.  As I stopped feeling intimidated or disinterested in things, I found I love history, and really enjoyed art.  I can think scientifically.  And my children were more willing to try as they watched me learn with them.  Home schooling has given me a second-chance at my own education.
  • Tell another parent they should be home schooling.  I love to teach people how to do what we have been able to do, but I have learned to wait until asked.  Home schooling takes commitment, time, money, and patience.  It is not for everyone!  As we support others and the choices they make, our children will learn to appreciate and celebrate the differences in people.  What a great lesson to learn!
Home and Family, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

I cannot live without my books!

I live in the land of the American pioneer.  Those hearty souls who loaded up all their worldly goods and took themselves and their families westward to establish a new home.  I often think of them driving the oxen or pushing their handcart across the plains and mountain ranges of this great land.  The fortitude required to press on in the face of all opposition is fascinating to me.  Some came as adventurers.  Some wanted a new life and something to call their own.  Many came for religious reasons to settle in a land of their own choosing to live their beliefs.

In the city where we live, there are museums and displays recounting the trails and trials of their journeys.  Many have reproductions of the wagons and handcarts they used for transporting all they brought to begin a new life.  I sometimes think I could simplify my life enough to fit in a wagon until I look at my books.  I would need a box car on a train! In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without my books!”

I love the public library.  I really love a good book store (new or used).  I can lose myself in them for hours.  One of my greatest joys, though, is to pull a stack of books off the shelves in our home and be transported to another time and place, or to simply find what I need to research the latest idea or challenge.  Yes, the internet has some good information, but I relish the feel of the pages in my hand.  I am definitely hard copy girl!  We currently own over 3,500 volumes, both fiction and non-fiction.  My academic texts are organized by subject. They range from the three R’s to pedagogy tomes.  We have classic literature, comic books, household and gardening reference, books dealing with health and wellness, religious commentaries, and a copy of The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary that has over a dozen volumes and makes me smile when I see it on my shelf.  My kitchen has over 70 cook books. There are books in every room.  You will even find a volume or two on the back of the commode in my bathroom.  (And my amazon wish list has a good dozen or two on it at any given time.)  Can we possibly use them all?  Yes!

Just yesterday, one of my daughters came home with a question about writing goals and curriculum for young children.  Within minutes we had a pile of around  half a dozen books to look through for ideas and inspiration.  I was reminded yet again how much joy and empowerment there is between the covers of a good book.

What books did we use?  Here is a list of what I found (and I am still making a longer mental list for her next visit):

The Educated Mind by William Bennett

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick

Catherine Levison’s books A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education

Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn

Teaching Children by Diane Lopez

She is currently reading The Core by Leigh Bortins.  During her next visit I may hand her Unit Studies Make Easy by Valerie Berndt, Homeschooling by Samuel Blumenfeldt, or books from E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Series.

While I don’t swear by any one of those books, I reference them regularly.  They are all written by articulate, inspiring authors with their own ideas that worked for children who are not the same as my own, but I find great ideas in each, and encouragement in all.  My job, as I see it, is to glean the best from the various methods and texts and create something for my own family which meets our needs and interests.  Without books, I would have a very limited access to these and other minds.  So much would be missed!

So I could probably pare down my clothes, furniture, and even my kitchen equipment to fit into a wagon, but my books?  I don’t think so.

Cooking, Homeschooling

Using the newpaper to the fullest

I recognize that newspaper subscriptions are not as common as they were before the advent of the internet, smart phones, and other new technologies.  Such a shame.  We used the newspaper in so many different ways as I was teaching my own children, and I still use it as I work with young people today.  Here are just a few ways it can supplement your academics:

Discovery learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 26, 2013)

  • Have them identify letters and numbers from the large print.
  • Cut apart the lettering in the headlines.  Have them create their spelling words, or simply assemble familiar words from the letters.
  • Look for the pictures which accompany the stories.  Cut out various pictures which can then be categorized into different emotions.  If you use images from throughout the paper, you may be surprised at the variety of feelings caught on film.
  • Give each child a length of print and have them look for the most commonly used letters.  Make a graph or a chart with tally marks.  Look at other print media.  Do your findings match there as well?
  • Later discovery learners can look for the most important or persuasive words in an article.  Why did the journalist choose those words?  Which other words could they have chosen?
  • Put together a family newspaper.  Have your children play reporter/journalist.  Call extended family members and gather information about each person, then try and write articles that are informative and interesting.
  • Find the weather report and track what is forecasted as well as the actual weather happenings.  How are they the same?  Different?  What other information is included with the forecast?
  • Many papers offer an educational page or insert each week.  Look for them.  They often have games, and activities to make your studies more interesting.  Can’t find one? Call your local paper and ask.

Analysis learners- many of these will work for application learners as well (explanation in my post on Feb. 27, 2013)

  • Give your teen an amount of “money” to invest.  Have them choose stocks to purchase, and then follow the stock prices in the economy section to see how well they did.  Watch the stocks for two months or more to get a clearer picture of what happens with the stock market.  Graph the results.
  • Have your youth clip coupons and use the ads to put together menus and the shopping list for the week.  Go to the store and see how well they can stay within the family budget.
  • Have your student copy a sentence or two from an article of their choice.  Have them diagram it.
  • Look for recipes that feature foods your family likes or would like to try.  Organize them into a three-ring binder.  As you make them, make a note of which ones you enjoyed, what worked well, what might be a way to “tweak” them, or just toss the ones which you wouldn’t make again.  (Often the recipes in the paper are taken from the latest cookbooks.)
  • Look for unfamiliar words to use in a vocabulary list.
  • Read an article looking for a specific part of speech.  Circle or underline the nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.
  • Cut out or copy a comic strip.  Put white out over the text in the thought bubbles/spoken words.  Have your students write their own text.
  • Read the editorials together.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Why?  Can you find a flaw in the argument?  (We did this daily for years.  My entire family became much more competent at putting a well-worded argument together, and were able to discuss current events intelligently with those around them.)
  • The local section of the paper often lists upcoming events.  Plan a field trip as a family.
  • Track your favorite sport or team.  Learn to analyze stats, memorize players and their numbers, or look for the ways injuries, weather, playing fields, or fatigue affect the game.

Application learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 28, 2013)

  • Use the classified ads to look for jobs requiring different levels of education.  Using the salaries listed, have them look for housing, food, transportation, and other living expenses to put a budget together for a month or more.  (You will have to provide utility costs.  Those aren’t in the classifieds.)
  • Keep a notebook of clipped articles dealing with a current event or social issue important to your family.  Watch for changes as time passes, or look for the various biases of different reporters.  After you have taken time to examine the issue more fully, write a letter to the editor explaining where you stand and why.
  • Keep reading the editorials together.  Consider having your young adult write a paper on an issue which they find concerning.  How does it affect them as they move into adulthood?  How might change be accomplished?  What roadblocks would need to be overcome?
  • Look for recent quotations or famous sayings to put in their quote/penmanship books.  Why did they choose what they chose?
  • Do the crosswords puzzle, or at least attempt it.

The newspaper is not as popular as it once was and yet it can assist us in the most challenging part of home schooling- using different media in order to avoid academics from becoming mundane.  It can enlighten, challenge, and shed light on a considerable number of items in our lives.  This list is just the beginning.  Take a minute and spend time in your local paper, and see how many different ways you can use it in your own home!

Homeschooling

Winter learning ideas

This time of year is one of my favorites.  As the snow in my front yard begins to melt, I can see the tiny, new, green blades of grass from the seed we planted last year.  Winter is not over, but the signs of spring are just beginning.  Now is a great time to decide what you still haven’t quite gotten to this winter, and fit in a few more things.  Once spring comes, the garden and outside activities may just take over your schedule.  While winter is not my favorite time of year, these ideas may help us all enjoy the last of the cozy winter days!
  • Learn to bake/cook something new

Winter is a great time to use the oven and learn to make bread, cookies, or something else you have always wanted to try, but just never did. Find a fun family recipe or something you’ve never had before, and give it a go!

  • Up-date your nature notebook

Go back to the places you have sketched in your notebook and record what things look like in cold, dormant weather. It is a great opportunity to study what the “skeleton” of different plants contain.  Or use the “skeleton” as a starting point, and then return once or twice each season to record the difference.

  • Go on a small animal hunt

After a snowmelt, look for footprints and other signs of animal life. Where do you see them? Are there clusters of prints? Why would they be in that location? Food? Shelter? Hunting? Or are they the prey? Plan to go back in warmer weather and see if you can locate the animals out and about.

  • Study ways to stay warm without turning up the thermostat

How many layers does it take to keep warm? Is it better to keep moving or huddle under the blankets? Does food make a difference? Can you find drafts or areas in which to make changes to keep the warmth inside?

  • Have a read-aloud party

Take a day or two and read a great literature book. Take turns reading. Discuss what is happening. When you have finished, write a play or paper on some of the things you loved about the book. Or try to re-write a scene from the perspective of a different character, or place it in a different setting. You can do this with picture books, or chapter books. Perhaps you could try reading a book cover-to-cover and then watching the movie. How do they compare? Which did you prefer?  What would you have done differently?

  •   Plan a game day

When the whole family needs to “decompress” or “chipper up”, have a day to play games. Pull out the educational games in your closet, look for books about games at the library, or make up your own. Have fun. Break out the snacks. Laugh together and relax!

  • Try a new winter sport

Or play a traditionally warmer weather sport in the snow. Tennis, anyone? (If you do this-TAKE PICTURES!!)

  • Plan your garden

When the cold and dark days seem depressing, get out the seed catalogs and gardening books. Plan for a great summer of fresh food. What new things do you want to try? Let each person pick a crop to plant. Or set food storage goals and research what it will take to meet them.