Getting “Out of the Box”

Education in America is compartmentalized, regulated, standardized, and even (I feel) dehumanized. When I hear the words public education, I almost cringe. In the context of public or government education it conjures up images in my mind of our teachers putting children into labeled boxes. Predetermining for them what they are and how they will succeed. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some great teachers in the public school system… my own sister is one of them… but just because the teacher is good – doesn’t mean that the system is.

If American public education is packaging our children into tidy little boxes…then what is homeschooling doing? My thoughts are this… homeschooling is the banner cry for freedom within education circles. Children over the past few decades that have been homeschooled have gone on to prove this point. Homeschool statistics demonstrate that it works! Childhood learning – with all of its amazing intricacies – can be experienced to its fullest within the freedom of homeschooling. The opportunity to educate your child the way that you deem appropriate and according to your own personal beliefs and preferences is the epitome of freedom… this isn’t home school fiction… this is the real thing!

If your child just hasn’t fit into the box of government education… it just may be time to give homeschooling a try – and get “out of the box!!”

It’s January… thumbs up or down?

Yep, here I go stating the obvious again. I am curious though, is January going well? or is it a serious thumbs down time?

As home school moms, we all know January can go either way. I usually try to end the previous year with some down time, hoping against hope that it will renew my outlook and refresh my attitude toward my children and homeschooling. It’s tough though, it’s the middle of the year and there are a lot of issues that could get me down. Most often I’m beating myself up about not accomplishing everything that I had wanted to accomplish thus far, and that always gets me down. Over the years, I’ve tried to manage these struggles because as sure as it will rain – these struggles do come. There are a few simple things that I do that tend to help me combat those “thumbs down” times.

  1. You home school, you are the teacher and principal… a lot depends on you. No one else is going to make sure that you are ok… so YOU make sure. Take time off. No you don’t HAVE to get that project done this week, and believe it or not you can even cancel those extra music and art lessons.
  2. Do something that heals your heart. It’s different for everyone. Sometimes reading a book will help me, sometimes I need to pray, and sometimes I need to go away for a day or two. Sometimes just going to the mall alone or with a best friend will work wonders. Whatever your happy spot is, take a day or two to relish in it and allow it to feed your soul. Mom, you cannot help your children or your spouse if you are empty.
  3. Take a day to rearrange your school room. Change always brightens my perspective. I always think better in a neat and organized environment. So, I take a day or two to empty out, clean, and refit our schooling area. This really works wonders on my psyche. I find myself with my interest piqued once again, and ready to dive in.
  4. Take a day to enjoy your children without “requirements” or “being the teacher.” I know we, as parents, never truly get the day off… but take some time to just enjoy them…their smile, their laughter, their silliness… It just might be catching!
  5. Review the things that require your attention and time. Take a fresh look at your schedule. Is there anything that you really don’t need in your life? Cross it off… is there negativity that just brings you down? Cross it off. Surround yourself with things that encourage and motivate you. (Of course, we all know that life hits… and it just happens. But, the regular unnecessary negativity that we CAN do without – do without!)

For Homeschoolers on the Verge of Calling it Quits

Image result for quittingPiles of books, completed tests waiting to be graded, notebooks full of to do lists, scraps of paper, and pencils… all the miscellaneous daily products of homeschooling. As a “neat” lover, these bits of disorganization and mess just really push me over the edge at times. This is not to mention the daily stress of making sure that work is completed, books are read, and multiplication tables practiced. Sometimes, it just puts me in a… bad mood. It’s overwhelming, and seriously intimidating.   I have to admit, there are many times that I want to act like our youngest and sit on the floor and cry in a heap of pity party. Or. Maybe. just maybe… quit.

Then, as I sit and look at the mess surrounding me, I see the note placed on my desk earlier by my next youngest daughter. A note that expresses her love for me and thankfulness that I love her and take such good care of her. She’s thankful that we spend all day every day together, and she loves me even when I’m frustrated and grumpy. Wow. It’s clear she doesn’t see things the way I do… she sees it from the eyes of a child. The important things aren’t necessarily the cleanliness of our school room, or that her tests from 3 weeks ago aren’t graded. She sees the important things counted in minutes and days… time spent together. That’s exactly what homeschool is, and investment of time.

Forget the minor details, choose the things that will last and provide joy and amazing memories in days to come. Choose laughter, and take the time to purposely invest in your children. The tests that need graded will wait… in fact, they can wait awhile!

Isn’t it amazing how one little note of love and gratitude from an 11 year old can change your whole perspective?

Popcorn Month

I love using special days as a way to jump start an “interest study.” The month of October is Popcorn Month, and would make a perfect reason to study popcorn in a variety of ways.

History

PBS History of Popcorn

Small portion of fresh homemade Popcorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create a history of popcorn timeline along with loads of fun!

Geography

Take time to research which states are the top “corn producing” states in America. It’s great to know where your popcorn comes from!

Science

Exactly what is it that makes popcorn pop? Find out the science of popcorn.

Measure the popcorn prior to popping, after the corn has been popped, and calculate the difference in weight. What is missing?

Watch a video showing just how corn pops.

Video Showing How Pop Corn pops

Video on Popcorn from field to table.

Literature

As a creative writing exercise write an essay on the chronological story of popcorn from the field to your mouth!

 

Summer Learning CAN equal FUN!

Summer… I look forward to it all year. I know, I am supposed to  be the mature one around here. Yet, I think I look forward to the more relaxed lifestyle that we lead during the summer than the kids do. It is just a much needed break that really renews and invigorates me. If it wasn’t for a bit of time off in the summer, homeschooling in the fall would be impossible.

Even though I like to take a break in the summer, I still try to keep the kids learning. Their little minds are so active and really are constantly learning in some way. Why not maximize on their cognitive interests? I try to organize several websites that I want the children to visit over the summer break to catch up on math or vocabulary. To make it as simple as possible, I add them to my favorites bar so all the kids have to do is click on each site I want them to visit.  These sites range in interest from vocabulary games to math and science fun. The kids usually have a great time playing and taking a break from the heat… while I sit back with a contented smile knowing that they really are learning through all that laughter!

Our Summer Homeschool

SUMMER LEARNING

Yes, we are… most homeschoolers are asking the big question right now. Should we homeschool during the summer or not? Well, personally… I need a summer break. Yet, for my kiddos I know that they need to give their brains a bit of a workout during the summer or when we start up officially in the fall… it will be a very. very. bad. day.

So, even though I plan on requiring a little brain work this summer… it won’t be alot and hopefully my kids won’t be forced to rebel!

1) Each morning, I plan to have them start the day with some lessons in Time4Learning Summer. Once they completed about six lessons (2 in each math, LA, and 1 in science and 1 in history). The lessons are typically funny and engaging and the time really flies by for the kids.

2) We’ll use Spelling City for their summer learning program that also includes fun games and interesting vocabulary lists.

3) And then we’ll read -read – read!

Getting Ready for Summer Learning

Cozumel, Mexico - Going here in January! Hope it is as beautiful as this picture suggests. :DI know, this post just might not be the most popular post – especially with the kiddos. Yet, this year I am realizing that I need my children to keep on working through the summer. There are alot of areas that I feel they are slack in and could use the extra work. We’ve talked about it this week, and I must admit I felt as if their stares would burn a hole right through me.

Though my children do school just about every single day, there are still some gaps that I have noticed. So, our goal this summer is to fill in the gaps and get ready for the next “official” grade.

My first grader has a bit of dyslexia. She is struggling with reading, and is getting pretty frustrated. I plan on keeping her working on basic phonics skills and small readers throughout the summer. We will use the first grade language arts lessons from T4L to help her review what she has already learned. I also love Bob books, and will use those in conjunction with a Disney princess early reader. (simply because she adores Disney princesses!)

My third grader does well with her writing and grammar… however, at our house this is the pivotal year for multiplication tables. She understands multiplication, but just doesn’t have the “facts” down. We will be working through those during the summer- getting them to the rote memory stage. I love using kids learning software along with other math learning games.

My seventh grade twins are both doing fairly well. They are currently writing their first research paper (translate- I’m losing my hair). They also have begun learning some basic algebra. So, during the summer we are going to continue using Time4Learning as a supplement and reviewing the spelling lessons through Spelling City’s customizable lists.

Homeschool Standardized Test Options

♥ TruthAs one of the fastest growing methods of education, options available for homeschoolers are growing accordingly. Over the years, the availability of different types of standardized tests has made testing our homeschool children much easier.

Getting Started with Standardized Testing

Standardized Test requirements by state is the first place you should look. It’s vital that you know and understand what your state requires from you as a homeschooler. Once you’ve determined if your state requires you to administer a standardized test to your children, you can move ahead with complying.

Which Standardized Test is Best

While there are many different tests available as options. There are a few that stand out simply because they are tried and true. A few of those are:

The Stanford 10 – We’ve used this test for many years. It’s a good option and one that can be given easily with a group of students. Typically this is a group administered test, however there are 3rd parties who allow for you to purchase this test from them and administer at home.

The Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – This is a great test that I’ve used many times. This test cannot be administered by a parent, it requires that a professional with necessary qualifications administer the test. This test is great for students who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia. The proctor can account for those differences in each situation.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills – another “oldy but goody”… I took this test as a young child. Though updated several times since then, this test is definitely a good example. This test is also typically group administered, but is available through many different 3rd party test providers.

The OLSAT and CogAT tests test School Ability Index or what used to be known as Intelligence Quotia or IQ.

Where’s a Good Place to Take the Test

While some people have begun to take their standardized tests online, I do prefer tests of this type to be done in person. However, ease of use makes the online option very desirable for most homeschoolers. You can usually take standardized tests with your local homeschool co-op. There are also 3rd party testing centers where you can test.

Which Tests Should We Take

There are two types of standardized tests that are most commonly given to school aged children. These consist of achievement tests, and ability tests (IQ). Achievement tests test what the child has been able to achieve or learn over the course of the year.   If you test every year, you don’t need to test IQ (School Ability Index-SAI) each year. The SAI tests a child’s innate ability to learn. Most often when taken together the tests compare the child’s abilities to what they are actually achieving… letting us as parents know if they are really applying themselves.  The School Ability Index doesn’t change dramatically over a year. I would suggest that the SAI test be given once every 3 years. In our state of GA, testing is only required once every 3 years. So, when we do test – I usually do a combo test. This year we will be using the Stanford10/OLSAT for the last time. The Stanford will be retiring after this year.

Should we take different tests for different grade Levels?

Whether your child is using elementary homeschool curriculum or high school you can use the same “brand” of test. In fact, I would suggest sticking with that brand of test as you school your children. It’s not a huge concern, but each test is a little different and staying with one style of test will help you compare their achievement more acurately.

How to Begin Homeschooling Online

Did you know that statistics relate that 5% of all school aged children in America homeschool? With the numbers of homeschoolers growing rapidly, many of them are choosing the online option. While there are many incredibly different yet viable methods of homeschooling, the online option is definitely one that is attracting more and more attention. What makes homeschooling online such a viable option? For each family, that would be different but here are just a few reasons…

  • Ease of Use
  • Burden of Teaching isn’t on one person
  • Reaches varying learning styles
  • Keeps students engaged
  • 24/7 access to courses
  • Immediate feedback/grading
  • Records are usually kept
  • Organization/Lesson plans are pre-made

Before you begin homeschooling or before you choose a specific curriculum, check with your state’s requirements for homeschooling. Make sure that you have fulfilled or can fulfill those requirements with the curriculum that you choose. As online homeschooling has grown so have the resources that help you accomplish it. In just the past few years, this area of homeschooling has grown exponentially. There are a myriad of varying resources that you find in one google search. Yet, in your decision making process just take a minute to write down the characteristics of the curriculum that you think would fit your family. There are so many different “kinds” of online homeschool options, I really could write a book! But to make this post short and sweet (and hopefully helpful) I’ll limit it to a few bullet points.

  • Video streaming
  • Animated teaching, songs, games
  • Complete curriculum
  • A la carte curriculum (choose what you want or need)
  • Text and Online curriculum combination
  • Online testing (provides immediate feedback)
  • Virtual school (connected with the public school – accountability to them)
  • Interactive games

It’s pretty easy to implement an online homeschool curriculum. You typically will have to sign up or register and pay a fee. Once you’ve got “log in ” information, it’s simply a matter of learning. Some parents will still want to set up some type of schedule and accountability measures to make sure that a progression of learning is made. However, some of the online programs will have a complete set of lesson plans that are premade. This allows the parent to simply schedule the particular lesson on a certain day. While every homeschool family has different tastes, homeschooling online is very flexible. Many curricula have created apps that allow the student to continue working while traveling. This makes doctor’s appointments a breeze! Since we have highschool as well as fourth grade online curriculum we’ve got alot to keep track of. At our house we do maintain a semblence of a schedule which keeps us moving forward.  Here’s what I typically do when I begin a new year:

  • Check with my state – to make sure that we are still in compliance
  • Review what my children have already learned and then research and discover what they need to learn next and set goals
  • Research curriculum that will help me accomplish their goals
  • Purchase curriculum
  • Review scope and sequence
  • Align our calendar schedule to cover the scope and sequence for the year
  • Set assignments for the kids and set up any type of record keeping or grading that I plan on using (some online curriculum will do this for you)

Tips for Working at Home WHILE Homeschooling

Ever since we started homeschooling about 10 years ago, I’ve worked at home. When we made the decision to homeschool, I was a principal at a local private school. I love working in schools, and I love making a difference in children’s lives. However, seeing my own children sacrifice things to attend school, made me realize that they are my number one priority and that I needed to make a difference in their lives first!

However, working at home and homeschooling is never a breeze. There is always some type of major incident, someone who needs help with math, a dog that thr   ows up in the floor, or a drink that has been spilled on a math paper… there is always something. Yet, that’s part of the “wonder” of raising children. I know that one day I will miss all the little catastrophes that each day brings in the life of a child. In the meantime, I’ve learned some survival skills that really do help to make working at home a little less crazy.

1) Review your responsibilities – eliminate the things that are not NECESSARY. Which means – prioritize your life!

2) Establish a schedule, and use planning resources. I often print out about 6 months of calendars and post them on the fridge. We write all over them. With six kids, there is always a scheduling issue, and this common calendar does help. I also use Google Calendars and thanks to my friend Kerry – I have set up text alert notifications as well as email notifications of each event on my calendar. This is definitely a huge help – it reminds me every day of the upcoming tasks that I need to complete.

3)Anticipate change, life happens! Of course, right after I tell you to establish a schedule – I tell you to break it. LOL!! Really, the schedule is there more “as a guideline.” If have a basis, and your children get used to it, it really is easier to go about your day. Especially if you are distracted by something regarding work – the kids are in the habit of following their schedule.

4)Use a homeschool curriculum that enables you to work while they are learning. An intensive curriculum that requires a lot of teaching might not be a good choice for someone who has to work everyday. There are tons of great resources out there that really help make it easy to work and homeschool, from online spelling program s, video courses, and high quality online curriculum. We tend to use an eclectic mix of them all!

5) Use downtime like breakfast and lunch to catch up on work tasks, and make phone calls while the kids are busy and engaged with something. I find it is useful to have a “talk” with them before I actually make the call. They understand why they have to be quiet for a few minutes.

6) Use your kiddos to help you work. I love to include my family in as much as I can. So, if the opportunity ever arises I try to get them involved in what I do.

7) Organize your homeschool and work area to facilitate efficiency. I have found that keeping my kiddos stuff in “workboxes” or those craft drawers. This help s them keep all of their school stuff in one place, and in order. I don’t have to look for missing school books everyday. Keeping it in one localized area helps alot! (See #10)

8) Use automated record keeping or keep school records on the computer. I know the online curriculum that we use has an automated record keeping system that really makes this easy!

9) Schedule fun things into the day. I have found that my kids love art and music. However, I have realized that it is one of those things we will always skip if we run out of time. Make it part of your weekly schedule and it will happen!

10) Have a dedicated area for homeschool. I find that this is one of the most important things for me. Homeschooling and working is stressful, but wonderful. If I can close the door and leave that area, it makes me feel as if I have “gone home” from work and can relax.