Take a Break… read a book!

My life is usually the definition of busy. Even when I purposely try to slow things down, they still seem to whirl out of control. Yet, during the summer… we do slow down a bit… and in between visiting relatives… I like to take a little vacation at home. I sometimes call it my “book-cation.” I just gather all the books that I have been wanting to read all year… and take time off to read them!

This isn’t just for me though, I try to get the kids all into the reading mood as well. We try to gather their favorites and make sure they have a comfy place with no interruptions and just dive in. It’s a great way to encourage them to read and relax. It’s also a great alternative to the heat.

If there’s no room in your budget for a vacation… try this! A book is an awesome way to visit new places, participate in exciting adventures, and even visit other worlds. There is lots of great literature out there. In fact, there is a ton of great homeschool literature out there. You can join homeschool literature’s online book club and even access lists of great literature written by homeschoolers. A great place to jump start your little “book-cation!”

Early Learning Anxiety

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked by a worried parent where their preschooler should be developmentally, and what they should be learning educationally! To be completely honest, this really bothers me… can I tell you why?
You see preschoolers are by nature – learners. That’s why they ask 100 questions all day long. They learn by doing, by playing, by asking. These little people have learned an amazing amount of stuff since the time that they entered this world. How did they do it? Did you sit them down and try to teach them the 1, 2, 3’s of walking? Of course not, they did it on their own – through experience. That is how they were created to learn. By playing, feeling, doing, seeing, asking, wiggling, they learn what they need to know about the world around them. Learning this way develops and encourages a love for learning, and these little ones see learning as fun!
If we approach early childhood learning in a formal way, they are forced to conform to something that they are not ready for. We all know these little guys are designed to move… can we make them sit still and learn their numbers/letters/writing etc. for hours on end? I guess we could, but it would have devastating effects on how they would view learning for the rest of their lives.
Yet, teaching these early learners through doing, feeling, and playing is another story. They can learn well, when they experience it. Let your little ones color, paint, play with play dough… because they are learning while they are doing this. They are learning how to hold a pencil and their fine motor skills are being tuned to be able to do a multitude of things that will prepare them for formal education in the days to come.
Don’t stress over where your preschooler is… let them learn the way they were made to learn!

Art can Bring You Together…

I love doing art, crafting, and sewing. There is something about getting those creative juices flowing that really helps me relax and de-stress. Over this past school year, I have made it a point to have a weekly art class with my children. I wanted to go to art school… but, I chose teacher ed instead… hmm….  anyway… I love teaching it and doing art. So, we gather all the kids together and break out the art supplies.

I cannot tell you how much fun it has been. Even the most reluctant drawers in our family have gotten in the habit of spending an hour together just creating. It is so relaxing and all 7 of us enjoy this time every Friday afternoon. Yet, besides the relaxation and destressing… we start to just chat. Getting to know each of my children in this new way has been awesome.

I know not everyone can teach their children art. Yet, there are so many SUPER self teaching art books out there designed for every age, that makes this endeavor possible for everyone. You may not be able to draw anything but stick figures, but sitting down and going through an art book or using an online art curriculum with your child… just giving it your best shot… will allow you to enjoy each other’s company and find an amazing new way to channel your inner creativity!

Do “perceptions” influence school achievement?

That is truly a debatable question… but I believe they do.  For most children their thoughts about something are influenced by their success or failure or even by their parent’s opinions.  Children will often think they can’t succeed in something simply because their parents didn’t.  Recently, I have been working with my son – trying to get him interested in reading for pleasure.  He reads… when he has to.  I asked him why he didn’t want to pick a favorite book and get comfy on the couch and read.  He just flat out responded with a “I hate reading.”  Wow… that broke this homeschool mom’s heart… so I asked him why.  What he told me next really made me think.

“Daddy doesn’t like to read because everytime he opens his book he falls asleep, and reading is for girls.”  Oh… my… goodness… I was shocked. I had no idea that he had been feeling this way. Yet, this proved that what he “thought” about reading affected his desire to read.  He saw my husband (really tired from working all day) fall asleep reading, and saw his sisters with their noses in books all day and assumed that reading was not for him.  We are currently working on changing this perception… but I do remember tutoring a little girl who hated math.  I asked her why she felt this way, and she told me that her mother did not like math and never did well in it, so she didn’t like it either.  After I worked with her for a while, she started enjoying much success in math.  The success brought her confidence and eventually she began to really enjoy math.  Her thoughts about math changed from hating it – to liking it.

So do our perceptions or thoughts about something affect how we achieve? What do you think??

Web Winks…

I thought that I would take a moment to post a few of our favorite homeschooling web sites.  We use many and hope that some of these may become your favorites as well.

Today we are participating in a online math contest with others from all over the world at www.worldmathsday.com.

We like to use this site for online learning games.

I enjoy this web site for articles and encouragement in homeschooling along the way.

For the big people at our house we use Academic Earth to take FREE courses on things we are interested in.

We like to use Librivox for online classics – you can listen while you work.

See stars with this great astronomy resource.

Use Whyville to play games and earn “clams” to purchase online incentives.

Great for beginner preschool phonics and letter recognition is Starfall and we also use Time4Learning Preschool.

For your teens that need writing and grammar helps Grammar Girl and Time4Writing are great tools!

For great spelling word help… try Spelling City.

Of course, these aren’t the only ones we use – maybe I will post more later –

Do you have a favorite homeschooling website?  Please share!!!

Part 3 – Testing Series – College Entrance Exams

We had recently been reviewing the different types of scores that we find on standardized tests.  The two most common the percentile, and the grade equivalent were discussed in two previous posts.  There are other types of scores that are used on standardized tests, however, I feel that the two we discussed were the most common.

To finalize our series, I would like to bring a few thoughts about standardized tests themselves.  Of course, some of the most common grade school tests are the Stanford, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and Wechsler’s series.  However, one of the most important tests that we take before going to college is the college entrance exam.  The two most common of these tests are the ACT and the SAT.  Depending on where you live you may only have testing centers for one of these tests.  The southeast region where we live, uses almost solely the SAT college entrance exam.  These tests are comprehensive tests designed to let prospective colleges now how and if you are prepared to begin formal study with them.

Sadly though, students today have developed great anxiety and fear associated with these tests. There’s really no reason for this.  The SAT and ACT can be retaken several times if the scores are not acceptable.  So many young people are given heavy expectations to perform a certain way, or to enter “ivy league” schools.  Having high goals is not wrong, but it is a sad day when we have teenagers dealing with huge amounts of stress because of them.  If you are in this situation now, take a moment to step back and see the big picture.  If it really is your heart’s desire to attend a college that requires very high scores on college entrance exams.  Just relax, and start preparing. 

There are many stress free ways that a student can prepare for these tests – but it takes time. You can begin by purchasing the test prep books from the test developers, you could hire a tutor, or find a few great online sites.  There are several that I use to help students who come to me for “test prep.”  I like  A Major tests for word lists and short practice tests, Time4Writing for essay prep, and many other sites to download and print out practice tests.  Start early, prepare thoroughly, and refuse to allow stress to hinder you from performing at your best!

Stressed and blessed?

Doesn’t it seem like those two words should  be considered antonyms?  I know when I am feeling stressed – I don’t feel very blessed… But sadly my stress is almost always – my fault.  I know – you are probably thinking – what in the world??  I have to admit, it isn’t the typical psychotherapeutic terminology.  But it really is true.   My children – each one – so different yet so wonderful, so intelligent, so special – – but in a heartbeat can turn me inside out.  They have demanded so much of us since the moment they arrived and naturally there is going to be a bit of stress involved with that.  I think we all know that having children is definitely hard work – I am not talking about that stress. I am talking about the unecessary stress that we put on ourselves through our perceptions or expectations.  The perceptions that I had about motherhood, being a wife, running a household, and even homeschooling  put alot of stress on myself.  I tried for a lot of years to live up to this standard of perfection that I had.  All the while making myself miserable.  Sound familiar?? Anyone else do this??  Now, I know having goals is a good thing even a necessary thing, but I had to get to the place that I saw those as just desires I had for my life – not the standard of my success or failure.  I think having six children made this a necessity – I came face to face with the fact that I could not do it all. 

I had to see where I was – stressed out with trying to be all that I “thought” I had to be – and to take a step back.  I had to do this in almost every area of my life. I wanted the “Better Homes and Gardens House”, the wonderful husband, the perfect marriage, behaved children, on and on it went.  Of course, the most important was my relationship with my family.  So, I made myself stop and examine what I was doing – to see how I was teaching them and training them.  At the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I had the idea that to be a success I had to teach them like I did in the classroom – spoon feed them EVERY tidbit of information that they would have gotten in a typical classroom.  There was just NO  WAY with six children, that  I could do that and do it successfully.  I had to realize that  “I” was stressing myself out. Who said I had to do it this way – who said that I would be a success if it all happened just as I “thought” it should?  I had to step back and see that not only was I stressed, but so were the children. They did not enjoy our days – they were bored and aggravated.  I really was so very blessed – God had given me a wonderful family – but I was the problem! 

There were many areas that I had to deal with this in –  but after I realized that our “stress” in the homeschool area was a product of my insane desire to be perfect…. 🙂  We were able to reevaluate what we were doing and change some things for the better.   We had always used the ABEKA curriculum, and to be honest that is what I had used throughout elementary and high school.  I understood it – I had taught it for 10 years – I believed it was the best for our family – but trying to teach it “classroom style” to 6 children was killing me … I had to make some changes. We took what we thought were  the most important elements of that curriculum, and then used some other types of curricula for reading – science and even history.  But then we added an “online program” to give the children some excitement.  I know every family is different, but in our house – if it has to do with the computer – it has to be fun!  This simple change – has been amazing!  But I didn’t stop there – I had to accept that my house was just not going to “beautiful” every moment (maybe not even clean most of the time).    BUT    I have 6 children – I am blessed!  I guess just applying the question – am I  making this stress?  Helped me to evaluate my life to see that there are so many beautiful, precious things in life  that merit our focus – not our misguided perceptions.

Do you have trouble with “stressing” your self out?  Take inventory – look at your life from a different perspective – it might make all the difference.

Where in the world is Tonga?

Did you know that this week is Geography Awareness Week?

Well, I sure didn’t – at least not until I had to search for some geography facts for my children. This prompted me to think about how much (or how little) focus I put on geography education for my children.  In my search I saw that there are many statistics out there underlining America’s apparent neglect of geography, which obviously supports the need for a Geography Awareness Week.

Some of the blame for America’s shortcomings in this area is due to the fact that most people think geography consists of naming the continents, countries, oceans, rivers, capitals, etc. But that is just the “tip of theiceberg.” Here is a quote that I love from iGeo:

“Geography turns out to be much more significant than many of us realize. It is much more than knowing facts and figures. Geography is about spatial patterns and processes. It is about frontiers, centers and peripheries, about tourists, terrorists and refugees, about trade of food, clothes, drugs and digital data, about population growth, El Nino, tsunamis and earthquakes. It is the fascinating story of an ever-changing world. Without geography you get lost.”

Wow! from that description it makes me feel like I am not even scratching the surface with geography. Ok – this really got my attention.  So, I began to look for some online resources that might help us put some oomph back into our geography time.

First of all, online education literally puts the world at your fingertips. (I know – corny joke…:)) What more could you want when your subject is geography? Here’s a small sample of some of the “treasures” that I found:

  1. Use Google Earth to visit any place you are currently studying.
  2. Check out Geography Awareness Week at MyWonderfulWorld.
  3. Test geography knowledge here.
  4. Check out this really cool clearinghouse for all things geography.
  5.  Play geography games at Sheppard Software.
  6. How about an online textbook written just for kids about geography!
  7.  Check out the really cool Rader’s Geography4kids.

We had such a good time looking and “playing” with each of these sites… so take a minute or two or an hour and participate in Geography Awareness Week by spending some time learning about our wonderful world!

Oh, and by the way… in case you were really wondering where Tonga is – Tonga is located east of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. (I just learned that in my online travels!)