A Perspective on Home Schooling

Good Afternoon,

First, I want to apologize for this delay in post.  It was supposed to come out last week and it did not happen.  We have had some major work done on our house and then a huge leak in the basement and I had to focus on that instead of getting a post ready for you.  I am thankful the things at the house are back to normal and I am able to get back to blogging.  Thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoy this week’s blog.

Casey Lleras has home schooled her three children for the last 3 years and has put lots of time and effort into sorting out the information that is available to parents today.  While I support learning in any way, shape, and form, I wanted to give you a real perspective on a current hot topic.  Thanks to Casey for taking time out of her very busy schedule to help answer questions, give guidance, and tell her story.

Why do we home school?

I never pictured myself homeschooling and neither did my husband.  We had our oldest child attend preschool in our community and then kindergarten at the local public school.  In first grade we met many situations that led us to believe that the school would never meet the expectations that we had for our child’s education.  The discipline for kids that were bullying was not where we thought it should be, and the communication when there were problems was non-existent. We knew that we needed a change and private school was not an option because of finances, so we decided it was best to bring our daughter home and try homeschooling.  We tried it for the first year, holding to the commitment very lightly.  What surprised us is that we fell in love with homeschooling.  Not only that, I got to see the sparkle in her eye for myself when she learned something new.  It has really been a fun experience for us and therefore, we continue.

Homeschooling is not for me?

I always hear this from parents.  All I can say to this is, “You do not know until you try.”  If you have a college degree, I would say you are MORE than capable.  I thought that I could not do it, but I tried and have been very successful.  The pressure of making sure that my kids learned all that they were supposed to learn in a year was a very heavy burden at first.  Instead fearing this pressure and considering it a burden, I have realized that it is a privilege to be home with them.  The pressure that I was feeling was there because I wanted to do a good job.  So to ensure that I do the best job that I can, I get organized, I ask lots of questions to other homeschooling moms and public school teachers and I stick to the plan.  I soon realized that I was able to handle this kind of pressure.  Since I have home-schooled I know exactly where my kids are in all subjects, and it is easier to direct them because I know what they are learning.

Accountability

I also think that it is very important to have some accountability.  We register our kids with an online university.   These online universities are different in every state, so you would have to research them for your area.  We send in a weekly report to a teacher that is assigned to us about what has been accomplished each week.  We also have to publish a monthly report that makes sure we are progressing and meeting the learning goals that are set as a standard by the state.  The standards are the same for public school.  It is a lot of work if you have multiple kids.

Will your kids become socially weird?

This question and thinking cracks me up.  If you stay home and never ever leave your home, this could be the case.  We personally have not met this state of “weirdness” that people describe because we are a very active family.  We are very active in church, sports, and in our community.  If anything, I have noticed that they are more engaged, more interested in talking with people, and they do it quite well.  We have been watching for “weirdness” in our kids because of homeschooling and we have not seen any yet.  I will keep you posted.

We have talked to many people about homeschooling and the weirdest thing that we have discovered is that kids are actually learning something.  They are not getting away with the minimum requirements or effort and their full potential is being revealed.

What curriculum do we use?

History / Reading

·         Sonlight!  They provide books that go along with what you are studying and brings the history ALIVE that you just read about in the history book.  These books have you read the history book, then you read a story book related to the ideas presented. It is wonderful!  The history really comes alive in the story.

Geography

·         Memorized the US states and capitals.  My kids learned two new states and two new capitals every week and then they would review the ones that they learned the previous week.  By the end of the year, they knew them all, no problem at all.  My first grader did this too!  I was so shocked.  I did not learn these until 7th grade.  It was perfect to add to our learning plan for the year since we were studying American History.

·         Memorize 7 continents

·         Memorize the countries in Africa

Handwriting

·         A Reason for Handwriting – This incorporates scripture into handwriting.

·         Handwriting without Tears – This was not our favorite, but a popular option that many of our friends use.

Spelling

·         www.K12reader.com – This is a great website for spelling lists for all grades.  It does seem a little simple for my kids, so we often change words or add works from the dictionary to make it more difficult.  For example, my 4th grader had the word ‘dog’ on her spelling list.  I decided to change it to dogmatic.  It was perfect because she did not know what it meant, so I had her look it up and write down the definition in her own words.

Language Arts

·         www.K12reader.com has great resources for language arts.

Reading Comprehension

·         http://bookadventure.com/Home.aspx – This is a great website that is free.  It allows your kids to take tests on the books that they read, so that you can be sure that they understand what they are reading.

Science

·         http://www.apologia.com – They have great textbooks for kids

·         http://www.gravitaspublications.com– Real Science 4 Kids is pretty good.  We love the chemistry books most.

Math

·         Teaching Textbooks – This is a computer program, but we realized that this is not a mastery based curriculum and the kids seemed to need a little more practice before the next lesson was taught.

·         Horizons – We use these worksheets to ensure that the mastery happens and it seems to work really good for us.

·         www.xtramath.org – This is an incredible website that helps your kids master their math facts!

Foreign Language

·         Rosetta Stone – We are using the computer program that they offer for Spanish.  It is wonderful, even my 5-year-old can do it.  It is pricy, but it is worth every penny.

If you home school or do extra work on any subjects at home, what are your favorite websites and books for teaching and learning?  If you have other questions or would like more information, please email me or post a comment below.

Good Luck,

Katherine

Playing with a Purpose

Good Afternoon,

A few weeks ago the family for whom I nanny asked me to start incorporating more academics into our daily routine.  Their daughter, who just turned 4, is really starting to get excited about reading, writing, and general academic concepts.  Although I have been sneaking in academics all along the way, this request really got me thinking about how to add more focused learning into casual play.

I have concluded that you don’t have to change the type of play, just your focus.  I love Pinterest especially for all the amazing ideas people put up for specific learning techniques.  There are tons of ways to introduce math, reading, and writing concepts to your child and people keep inventing more each day.  I also love that parents can go to a website and access lots of these ideas the instant they are stuck or need more strategies to help their child.  Never before have so many wonderful and unique ideas been at our fingertips.  But I am left asking why?  Parents can easily add academics into everyday life without spending money, and even without referring to a website like Pinterest for ideas.  Here’s how.

Focused play is the idea that you are introducing or teaching concepts through casual play with your child.  You don’t have to get super creative or spend lots of time, energy, or money inventing new ways to learn common concepts.

Steps in Focused Play

  • Before engaging in play with your child, set a goal or concept you would like to focus on.  It is much easier if your choose a very specific goal or concept.
  • Communicate with your child that you would like to work on _____.  “While we play with these blocks I want to work on counting.”  This reinforces the goal for you and introduces the concept to your child.
  • While playing ask age/level appropriate questions related to your goal.  “How many blocks do you have in your hand?” or “How many purple blocks are on the table?”  Keep the questions focused and relate them back to your goal or concept.
  • Keep a mental note of how your child does.  Does your child understand your questions?  Do they know how to respond correctly?  Are they responding with the correct answer?  Are there areas that could use some extra work?
  • Don’t force focused play.  I believe that we achieve the best learning when a child is ready, willing, and able to learn.  If they are not interested in what you are trying to introduce, take a break and try again another day.
  • Always praise your child for trying, participating, or accomplishing the goal.  This will earn you points towards another focused play time later as well as make your child feel like they did a good job.
  • Match concepts with those being covered in school.  This will give your child a double dose of the same ideas and allow them to learn in different settings, from different people, and in new ways.

Parents know what activities and toys their children love.  Use that to your advantage and make up new games and ways to play with the same favorites.  Lots of times this is fun for the child and the parent!

How do you incorporate news ways to learn into everyday play?  Chime in below with your ideas.  Have questions specific to your family or situation?  Ask away!  Questions, comments, thoughts, and ideas are always welcome. 

For more great ideas on focused play, check out these links:

Incentives
Displaying Kids Artwork

Improving Academic Skills

20 Indoor Activities for Kids

Good Luck,

Katherine

 

First Day Back

Good Morning,
For many kids, this week marks the first day back to school, the end of summer, and the return to a schedule.  For me, this week marks my return to this blog.  Over the past several months I have taken a break from writing.  While there were many reasons for the hiatus, mainly I was burned out and wanted to pursue other ideas I had regarding my business.  Now, the time has come for me to get back into the swing of things and return to writing.  I will not be posting everyday, as that is what killed me last time, but I will be posting bi-weekly.  I have lots of topics I want to cover so let’s get started!

Going back to school is tough.  We have created a giant ritual around back to school.  To me it is like a volcano churning until just the right moment.  Shopping for new supplies and clothes, getting classroom assignments, and figuring out which classes friends are in.  The whole thing is tough.  There is so much physical, mental, and emotional effort that goes into the ritual that by the time school actually starts you’re exhausted.

Let me offer a few tips to make this time of year more enjoyable for everyone.

  • Plan ahead (seems obvious, but it is the first to be forgotten)
  • Get your kids to help (make lunches, pick out clothes, etc.)
  • Plan for problems (allow extra time and be mentally ready)
  • Make lists (for everyone in the house)
  • Get enough rest/down time
  • Make a schedule and stick to it
  • Get excited with them
  • Jump right in!

Now that you are somewhat ready for the chaos of back-to-school, look for more ideas on academic motivation, building a routine that works, and getting a head start on holiday preparations in the weeks to come.

Good Luck,

Katherine

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Taking Stock in the Middle of First Semester

Mathematics homework

Image via Wikipedia

Good Morning,

Here we are at the end of October.  The holidays are just around the corner and we are into the second half of the first semester in traditional-calendar schools.  How would you say your child is doing?

So far you should have been to parent-teacher conferences and established a working relationship with your children’s teachers.  You may have already volunteered at the school or taken part in planning a classroom party.  If you have not done these things, it is not too late.  In the middle of the first semester is an ideal time to take stock and set up a plan for the rest of the school year.  Here are the areas to review and ways to make the most of this school year.

Routines
How are your routines?  Are you getting out of the house on time and with all the things you need?  Are there any areas where you can shave off even a few seconds to make things go more smoothly?  Take a look at this morning routine blog to get some ideas.  How is your nighttime routine?  Are your kids getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep?  Have you established a homework and after-school schedule?  At this point, sports should be scheduled and planned for the rest of the school year.

Academic Status
Many parents sit with their kids and help with homework.  If this is the case, you should know where your child struggles academically.  Many kids say they do not need help and therefore parents do not know the state of their skills.  Sit with your child a few days a week.  Go over their homework with them and answer any questions they might have.  One way to break the ice in this area is to approach them after dinner, while they are doing their homework, with some ice-cream in hand.  Be sure to take some mental notes so you can follow up later.  Doing this over the course of a few days (or weeks) will ensure that you are seeing the correct struggles, and not just one tough assignment.

Communication with Teachers
If you have been to parent-teacher conferences, you have a good idea where your child stands regarding the year’s expectations.  If you have not had the opportunity to organize a one-on-one conversation before now, call and schedule a time for you to meet and talk about your child.  Bring up any concerns you have.  You should see if what you experience at home matches what happens at school.  Ask the teacher for a basic guideline for the rest of the school year so you can prepare mentally to help your child.  If there are areas where your child is struggling, now is the time to ask for help either from the teacher or a private tutor.  Many teachers offer private tutoring after school as a way to make some extra money.  This is an easy way to get some personalized help for your child by the person teaching the materials daily.  If you do not love your child’s teacher, ask around for a reputable tutor.  It is well worth the time and money to ensure your child understands the material presented in school.

Behavior
Every time a friend or acquaintance returns to high school for their reunion, I hear the same story.  People haven’t changed and everyone fell into the same cliques and petty behavior.  It is the same for your child.  They return to the same group of kids every year.  You can expect some of the same unwanted behaviors year after year as well.  If you are one of the hundreds of parents looking at your child’s behavior issues and thinking, “I thought we were over this,”  or “I thought they had outgrown that,” not to worry, there is still time to get that issue resolved.  If your child’s behavior concerns you, talk to their teacher or the school’s psychologist, nurse, or counselor.  If you can admit that you have not been the most consistent with behavior expectations at home, now is the time to get on the ball and take control.  If you need help, contact a Family Behavior Coach, such as myself, in your area.  It is never too late to reach out for some support.

The unfortunate truth is that after Thanksgiving break students and teachers relax academically.  The end is in sight and a long two-week break sounds great.  Be prepared for this letdown.  Rev up your support of your children in order to finish the semester strong.  This will allow all of you to transition to the spring semester with confidence and a plan in mind.

Good Luck,

Katherine

Nighttime Routine

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Good Morning,

As a followup to this week’s post about streamlining your morning routine, I wanted to give some equally useful tools for a successful nighttime routine.  Creating a time for your family to unwind and prepare for the next day is essential.  Think of a nighttime routine as the day’s closing ceremonies.  Opposite to being on a schedule and working against the clock, this time of day is more relaxed.

If you have not started a nighttime routine, do not worry!  You can start tonight.  Starting a routine takes some time and commitment, but is well worth it.  If you already have a routine, take some time to examine it.  Make sure your routine is the most effective it can possibly be for your family and allow for change within the routine when needed.

One Possible Nighttime Routine:

Dinner Time
In most families dinner time signals the beginning of the end.  Take this time to check in with your child and talk to them about the day.

Following Day Prep
Getting things ready at night is great preparation for being out the door on time in the morning.  Setting out clothes, packing lunches, finishing homework, and putting things by the door will streamline the morning routine.  This is also a time for your child to tell you what they need.  More school supplies, new socks, or finding a coat are all things that are more easily handled in the calm of the evening.

Bath Time
If your children are young, you might still be sitting beside the bathtub helping them get washed.  Bath toys are a great way to sneak in some extra conversation or academics during this time.  Counting, colors, and shapes are only a beginning to the awesome bath toys on the market today.  I recommend bath time coming right before sleep time, in large part due to the relaxing nature of warm water.  Aromatherapy soap, bubbles, and lotions can further aid in relaxation.  If your child bathes him or herself, take this time to help them for the next day.  Setting out after school snacks, making their lunch and packing their bag is often helpful.  I always advocate for responsibility in school age children, but if there is an area that is frustrating for your child or you are trying something new, help them out.

Reading
Everybody knows that reading to your child is an essential part of good parenting.  Spending between 10 and 30 minutes reading to and with your child each day does wonders for their academic skills. Many parents fit this time in right before sleep time, but often if you are running behind schedule this gets omitted first.  One of the best things about kids books is that they are short and to the point.  If finding 30 minutes in a single stretch is difficult, break the time up and read three times over the course of the day.  Read during breakfast, bath time, or right before bed to make sure your child gets the reading time they deserve.

Sleep Time
Getting to bed is the only thing on this list that is time sensitive.  Everything else can go at a relaxed and calm pace, but getting to bed at the right time is absolutely essential.  If you are running late, skip another item on this list and go directly to bed.  If your child is older, check in with them to see if the temperature in their room is good, if the bed is comfortable, and if their pajamas fit properly.  Simple changes can make a huge difference in your child’s sleeping behavior.  For younger kids, reading to them and talking/acting out good sleeping behaviors helps to get their minds focused.  A dark, cool, and quiet place is perfect for most kids.  If you have other family members that stay up later, the sound of a noise machine or humidifier will reduce disturbance.  Closing the door signals to your child to go to sleep and should stay closed until morning.  I cannot stress this enough.  The only times you should go back into your child’s room is if they are sick or hurt.  Going back into their room teaches your child to expect to be awakened, and therefore they do not go to sleep or fall asleep fully.

Having a nighttime routine will ease the stress of the morning rush.  Transitioning from summer’s late nights to fall’s school schedule is usually very difficult and takes time.  Talk to your kids about a nighttime routine that best fits their needs.  Involving them in the process makes the transition easier.

More articles related to this topic:

A Bedtime Routine that Works
Guidelines for Your  Child’s Bedtime
Our Simple Bedtime Routine

Good Luck,

Katherine