Getting Back to School

homeschool puzzlesThe holidays are such a wonderful time. In fact, for me… an oasis in the middle of the year.  I love just enjoying each day without the heavy duty schedule that we keep on a regular basis. This year, like any other it is hard to get back to the routine. To make things a little easier on “re-entry” I thought we’d have a warm up day. When we start back to homeschooling again this week, we’re going to begin with a day full of the fun homeschool activities that we rarely make time for.

1) Creative Writing – I thought it would be fun to use some figurative language prompts to get us writing creatively. We really enjoy fun writing, yet lately we’ve been all “business” with science projects and research papers.

2) Art – My children love for me to have a dedicated art class. Since, I almost became an art major – I LOVE it too… I just too often put it on the back burner!

3) Board games – these are our homeschool board games – they include games that help us learn multiplication tables, phonics blends, etc. We have a lot of these fun games, but again… put these on the back burner.

4) Critical thinking skills puzzles… my kiddos love these and I have a ton of books that I used when I taught school. I simply make copies and we do them together!!

5) Mazes. One of my all time favorite puzzle games… I have two very cool books filled with black line masters of the most awesome maze puzzles you’ll ever see. We are definitely doing some of these this week!

Too much of a good thing?

The controversy about education continues to rage in our country. As we, in our complacency, continue to rank lower than most modernized countries around the globe. As a proponent of homeschooling, many would tell me to mind my own business. Yet, as a patriot of our great republic I want to see America’s children grow up to be global contributors. Yet, with all the money, dialogue, effort, laws, and standards that we are throwing at public education… it still continues to limp along.

Thomas Jefferson warned against too much government control of education. He realized that if education was completely controlled by government it would be badly managed. “The key to local school districts, according to Jefferson, is that they give parents direct and ultimate control over how their children are educated…Elementary education should be the concern of local communities under the supervision of parents; it should not be controlled by the Federal or State governments.” (See Thomas Jefferson on Education)

Talk about having prophetic vision. Thomas Jefferson truly could see the future. I am thankful that our founding fathers had enough insight to “build in” some safety features in the form of government checks and balances. Though over the past decades these limiting walls to our federal government’s extent of power have been crumbling. We are now looking at the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) as the future of education. The Federal government without directly requiring it, will bring the US States games into one arena. If unanimously adopted the CCSS will allow the government even more control. Simply put… it translates into more government control over education. Everyone answering to a common rule or standard. How can that work? The local communities, individuals, and parents are what make our nation great and what can once again bring education around.

Though there are a myriad of pros and cons of homeschooling, the easy thing to see here is that homeschool can play a huge part in bringing the level of education up in the US. I understand that many people feel it isn’t a big deal to lag behind these other countries. Why should it be when we are still a global leader in many areas? The issue is, we may not have that privilege forever. As a result of our complacency in this area we may quickly lose this privilege before we realize it.

What are your thoughts about education in America? What is the answer?

Homeschool Resource List… my online favorites!

homeschool resourceHi guys… Just thought that I’d take a minute to share some of my favorite online resources. Most of these are free or fellow bloggers that share what they are doing in their homeschool. I’ve used alot of these to supplement what I do in my homeschool…

Awesome Fellow Homeschool Bloggers

In Training For Him

MomSCHOOL

Dee-Lightful Moments in Life

Homeschool Curriculum

Who’s Learning? Who’s Teaching?

You.Me.Us.

PreSchoolers Day by Day

Adventures of  a Homeschool Mom

Web Home School

Panda Honeybee’s Homeschooling Adventure

Homeschooling My Three Sons

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Handmade Homeschool

The Army Chap’s Wife

Layered Soul

The DaisyHead

HodgePodge

Faith and a Full House

FREE website resources

Let’s Homeschool High School

Learning Games for Kids

Vocabulary Games

Homeschool College USA

Homeschool Legal Defense – great site for learning about state laws

Sheppard Software – great for geography learning

Spelling City

Online Courses for High Schoolers

Paid Homeschooling Websites that are great curriculum or supplements

Time4Learning

Time4Writing

ABEKA Academy

Making Homeschool Grading Work

I know homeschooling is a full time job – maybe even with tons of overtime!! It isn’t easy always being on duty for these precious kids we have, but top that off with being responsible for their grades… well… now that’s just really rocking the boat!

While it is true that most homeschooling parents really hate to assign grades, it is a necessary task. Our children need the feedback that grades will give them. Grades do let our kids know if they are really understanding the material that they are learning, they allow them to gain confidence that they are learning and growing, and they also allow us as parents to see if we have been hitting the mark. All of these things while not earth stopping… are important to the learning growth of our children.

We have studied everything from earth and space to art curriculum… while each one has it’s intricate differences they all are teaching our children something. In this learning, grades can play an important role. Even though we may understand this, many homeschoolers still struggle with how to grade objectively and appropriately. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Have a settled grading scale for your homeschool

2) All grades should correspond to your goals and objectives for that course for the year. We should never grade on something that we didn’t study!

3) Grades should always be given objectively… you can do this by having a checklist for a particular project or report that needs grading, by using rubrics, by setting predetermined guidelines that both you and the student understand.

4) Always let students know the fundamental criteria that you have for grading their work.

5) Of course, once you have grades you must keep records. It is very important that you keep good records and record the grades that you have taken. These can tell you and your student a world of information if used properly.

Using Games to Motivate…

home school gamesI know… schooling isn’t always the most exciting part of our kiddos’ day.  Well, I may think so, but I know that they have a different opinion. I have learned though, if I make school ALL hardcore learning then it WILL be the worst part of their day every day. I have had to make myself think ahead to include fun things into our daily routine. If I can include games and other types of fun learning exercises through out the day, MORE learning actually takes place. Over the years, my thinking has evolved. I have to admit I was the hard nosed “teacher” homeschooler.  However, today and six children later… I am more the “let’s make this as fun as we can” homeschooler.

Here are a few of my favorite choices to make learning as fun as possible.

1. For History I like to use the Time Traveler’s Series. It includes fun games and projects that we make every lesson. My kids love history because of this! Also, trivial pursuit is a great board game to play and try to integrate a little history.

2. For Science, we use the Apologia Series. We make scrap books of our science learning, and do all types of experiments. This year we studied Botany, and we did alot of our lessons outside with real live specimens from our backyard!

3. For English, I love to use online teaching writing games along with grammar games and worksheets. For spelling I enjoy using spelling games as well as vocabulary matching. Scrabble, boggle, and other such word games are great for reinforcing what you are teaching!

4. For math, we use manipulatives (beans, pencils, clown counters, base ten blocks, etc.) as well as games like multiplication bingo, match ups, and anything else that I can think of!

What are your favorite games to get your children interested and LEARNING?

Super Heroes of Elementary Homeschool Curriculum

I know,  everyone has there favorites. I do too. I’m really not trying to play favorites, but there are just a few homeschool curriculum that really stand out! I’ve homeschooled for many years with six children and there are some curriculum that are good, but just don’t work for big families. There are others that might be easy for big families, but I just don’t feel like they work for us. So, without further adieu here are our “super heroes” of Elementary Homeschool Curriculum.

Bible –  We enjoy Five J’s Free Bible Curriculum and Harvest Ministries also has a free Bible curriculum that’s great!

Math – Our favorite of all time is Saxon Math – though it isn’t free… it’s still a superhero. We also have used ABEKA for elementary math and it works great for us too! As a supplement to our curriculum we also use Time4Learning for math and Language Arts.

Language Arts – We have up until this year used ABEKA for language arts, but recentlys switched to Saxon for this as well. We have been enjoying it! Again we use T4L to supplement, and our spelling curriculum is ABEKA put into Spelling and Vocabulary City.

Science is definitely Apologia. We use this curriculum provider from Kindergarten through high school. It is written specifically for homeschoolers.

History is a mixed bag. We use Time Travelers History for the little guys, and a mixture of free online college courses for our high school history!

Foreign language is Latin by Memoria Press with the DVDs for elementary school, and Rosetta Stone for our high school students.

We just started a new writing focused unit using the two books…Rip the Page and Don’t Forget to Write!

This year has been a great year so far, I feel the kids are learning a lot!

What are some of your favorites?

New Year’s Resolution… friend or foe?

New Years Resolution HomeschoolThe New Year is a great time for reflection and review. I usually spend some time, reviewing the previous year and mentally making note of how I could have done better or differently. I try not to beat myself up over things that ended badly.  I personally like to review the fall term of homeschool and see if there are things that should be changed to make our homeschool adventure even better. I usually look at every aspect from our spelling lists by grade to whether or not we need a writing tutor. A little introspection is good for the soul, but too much can often lead to depression. So, take it easy on yourself and let 2012 lead to ways you can make 2013 better!

After reading a little on the internet about how to make New Year’s Resolutions that actually stick, I realized that as we make these resolutions we often reach too high. We want to make a giant leap of faith, when we are really only ABLE to take baby steps.

1) When making a resolution resolve to do something that you are able to do. Take a baby step toward your ultimate goal, and practice that baby step every day until it actually becomes a HABIT! We all know about habits… they are certainly hard to break. So, the resolution that sticks is the one we turn into a habit!

2) Remember the rewards that your resolution will bring… when the going gets tough! Don’t focus on how hard this your resolution is, focus on the great reward the resolution will bring.

3) Allow yourself to be accountable to someone. When we make resolutions that only we know about, they are so much easier to break. Yet, when we let others know about our resolution – that adds an element of accountability and everyone can use a little accountability!

4) Use tools to help you successfully navigate your resolution. There are some super apps that help you stay on task, stay focused, and organize your life. Find tools that will help you in your quest to change.

Homeschool Math Doesn’t Have to be a Headache!

Homeschool math drill and practiceAh… the infamous math class… a bit disturbing even for the veteran homeschool parent! But don’t despair there are some awesome homeschool helps out there that really make learning/teaching math a cinch.

First of all… keep a good attitude about math. Your child imitates everything you do… even your attitudes. So, if we have a bad attitude about math that can easily be transferred to our children. When in reality math hatred isn’t genetic… your child could be a physicist even if you hate math! 🙂

When you set out to plan your math instruction, you first need to be aware of how your child learns. Designing your math study around this can make all the difference in the world. If your child does well with abstract thinking, you may be able to use an independent study math program. However, if your child needs a little more interest led learning using a hands on program such as Math-U-See may help. Finally, if your student just gets bored and easily distracted with learning math a curriculum that is highly motivating, engaging and fun might be the answer… and Time4Learning has you covered with homeschool math.

When I teach math, and I teach it in many ways and using several different curriculums… I usually want to include some drill and practice. Just writing down math facts or answering questions with a pen and pencil isn’t fun. Yet, doing some computer math drill and practice can make a big difference. For some reason, when a child is playing a game… they really don’t feel like they are learning or working. This is my favorite way to teach… be sneaky! Sneak in that learning while they are having fun and it is all relatively painless… even enjoyable!

Making a Case for Spelling

Spelling and Vocabulary is often put on the back burner…

Sometimes, whether you’re homeschooled or not… spelling just isn’t top priority. In fact, many people view spelling as simply a side note to the bigger skill of writing and possibly reading. However, I submit that spelling is actually a study in and of itself. You may wonder why I seem so passionate about this? Well, to be honest when I was teacher I saw how spelling truly interacted with almost every subject. The fact that students could achieve at a higher rate through the study of spelling and vocabulary was simply astounding to me. It didn’t coincide with how most teachers, students, and even parents viewed the practice of the subject. Yet, it made sense.

You see spelling and vocabulary are at the heart of all learning whether it is math, science, or even history. If we can encourage children to understand concepts and meaning of words through the study of vocabulary and spelling then the actual  participation in a subject is easier for the child. They already have an understanding of the concepts. So, my methodology would be to use a spelling/vocabulary introduction to a subject presenting all the vital words and concepts and then have the child use spelling drill and practice with those words before beginning a formal study of the concepts. Your drill and practice could include everything from word analogies, definitions, to segmenting. This method actually aids in comprehension and in building connections to prior experiences.

Spelling Builds Good Readers…

Secondly, instead of putting spelling on the back burner it should be an integral part of learning because it not only builds a foundation of understanding it also builds better readers. Yes, we all know spelling is the support structure of good reading. Yet, truthfully it goes hand in hand with it and I would press further to say that a good speller is a good reader. The more a child works with words – whether it is through spelling/vocabulary, writing, reading, etc. the better that person will be able to use words appropriately in speech and language. A systematic approach to teaching spelling is efficient at enabling students to understand our complex language and to become masters at communication. Don’t wait until problems arise – teaching spelling  in a “correct the errors” manner does nothing to strengthen or build the student’s understanding… it simply adds confusion.

Technology to Teach Spelling…

Finally, using multiple methods to teach spelling and vocabulary instruction can make all the difference. Children who are learning spelling through a fun and engaging method will not find the practice dull. The key to motivation is finding a way to enhance learning through meaningful methods.  It is key that as students are practicing vocabulary and spelling that they receive feedback and success. The use of technology in spelling and vocabulary can be a most effective method of teaching for success. Spelling  – in almost every subject area – spells out success!

A few tips to get you headed in the right direction:

1) Spelling in other subjects. – Mathematical spelling lists, science spelling lists, history spelling lists

2) Teaching spelling systematically – usually using a phonics based approach

3) Use interactive spelling games and other fun resources to make spelling and vocabulary rewarding

Making Confident Speakers

Most children shy away from speaking or performing publicly… oh yes, of course there are those that are never shy… 🙂 Yet, what do we do to encourage those that would rather eat rotten eggs than speak publicly? Simply put… start early!

1) Begin when they are young by giving them an outlet to perform or speak publicly and regularly. This must happen prior to the age of self-consciousness. Allow them these opportunities before they care what people think of them!

2)Give your children authentic settings in which to speak.

3) Allow your children to take part in programs and plays.

4) Encourage efforts to affect others in positive ways.

5) Enter spelling bees, grammar contests, and even debate teams.

Language arts is a skill that by practice at home through study, grammar worksheets, spelling lessons, and speaking lessons will be a benefit to every child. These skills while practiced at home, and given a public outlet will grow through time and allow your child to become an effective speaker.