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

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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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Improving Academic Skills

Good Morning,

We began this week’s discussion with routines, online safety, and gadgets.  Today, I would like to provide a set of tools/activities that will easily improve academic skills.  One of the biggest concerns parents have is that they are unable to find enough time each night to help with homework or study with their children in the traditional sense.  Not to worry.  If you are among these parents, you can still find ways to incorporate academic practices into your everyday routines.

Ways to fit academics into your everyday lives:

  • Read everything out loud.  Street signs, menus, numbers, everything.  The more words young children hear, the better.
  • Hold family conversations.  A quick conversation can keep you up to date on what’s new with your child.
  • Help with homework.  This may be a tough one to fit in, so it doesn’t have to happen every night but be sure it happens as often as possible.
  • Be involved at school.  This is another tough one time-wise.  Even once a semester helps.  Make parent conferences, school plays, and parent days a priority.
  • Set goals and expectations.  Tell your kids what you expect of them.  Never assume that they should “just know.”  It is much easier to work towards a known goal.
  • Encourage extracurricular activities.  Everyone knows that sports, the arts, and music help academics tremendously.  They also help with discipline and self-confidence.
  • Take a break.  Vacations and breaks during work times are great ways to fill up the tank for the next task.  Don’t underestimate the importance of stopping, focusing on something else, and coming back to the task.  As little as 10 minutes can do wonders for better focus and a better attitude.
  • Cook together.  This tactic has it all: reading labels, counting, measuring, and conversation.  This doesn’t have to happen every night.  Even once or twice a week will help.
  • Maintain structure.  Routines help eliminate guess-work and keep things moving smoothly.  If kids know what to expect they are more comfortable and confident.
  • Encourage organization.  Help your child by teaching them organizational skills.  Knowing where things are cuts down on frustrating and time-consuming searches.
  • Play games.  This is another all-around great tactic.  Counting, reading, and acting out (charades) encourage quick thinking and sportsmanship.
  • Allow your child to keep a journal.  Lots of kids find it helpful to write or draw their thoughts.  Kids need an outlet for their emotions, questions, and ideas just like adults.
  • Stay consistent.  Keeping routines and expectations consistent will cut down on fights and allow more time to have fun while learning.
  • Enforce discipline.  Natural consequences for our actions are some of the best lessons we can learn.  Establish house and family rules early and stay consistent.
  • Provide support.  Sometimes things do not go as planned.  Support from family is incredibly important for academic and lifelong success.

Many of you reading this blog are already fitting academics into your daily routines and lives.  If it is time to change things up, try a new tactic, or fit academics into an area that you haven’t tried before, the key is to make academics fun for your child as well as yourself.  It is wonderful to be involved with your kids’ learning and to share experiences with them in the process.  As always, if you have further concerns regarding your child or family, please contact me directly.

Sites to check out:
Parental Involvement and Students’ Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis

7 Ways to Improve your Child’s School Performance

How Parents and Families can Help their Children do Better in School

If you found this information helpful please subscribe/like/tweet/pass on.

Good Luck,

Katherine

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

Streamlining your morning routine

Good Morning,

As I mentioned in a past blog, I will try to offer as many ideas as possible over the next few weeks about going back to school.  I believe that the weeks leading up to school and the first few weeks back in school are the most important for setting the tone for the rest of the year.  Getting on a morning schedule as well as a night schedule, starting a communication pattern, and streamlining routines are keys to a path that puts less stress on the entire family.

I have done some research on making this blog accessible and easy to follow as far as the page layout.  Many sites recommend a list as a way to offer concise suggestions to the readers.  This is great for me because I love lists!  My life and thoughts usually end up in list format anyway.  I have also linked this blog to my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  In the coming weeks please feel free to give feedback related to anything on this blog, the layout, content, social media connections, whatever.  I welcome your comments and hope to make this one of the best blogs out there.  Now, on to the good stuff.

As I mentioned, a morning schedule will dramatically cut down on morning stress.  Obvious indicators your child is less stressed: they fight less with you and their siblings, they are ready on time, and they have what they need for the entire day.  If you already have a morning routine, take another look at it this week and see if some new ideas might make it even better.  A good morning routine sets up the entire day for success.

an animated clock

Image via Wikipedia

Competition
Set a timer and have your kids race to see who can get ready fastest (correctly, of course).  Offer prizes or the front seat of the car as incentives.  Daily or weekly incentives are usually sufficient.  If someone is ready first and there are a few minutes left, have a game box by the back door.  Books, action figures, and trinkets are fast and easy toys to keep in the box.  The kid stays in one place and gets to play with the toy until it is time to leave.  Keep it simple.  I would not recommend electronic games here because they can be difficult to put down.

Warnings
Set a timer that goes off 10, 5, and 2 minutes before you have to be in the car.  This helps younger and older kids know how much time they have left.  If there is an issue you can say, “you have 5 minutes to figure this out.”  or “you might want to make a decision in the next 2 minutes or you will have to go without.”  This helps kids be responsible for their actions and stay on the timeline.

Portable Breakfast
Have a drawer in the fridge and in the pantry where kids can grab their own breakfast.  Bars, fruit, cereal in boxes or pre-made baggies, pre-made breakfast sandwiches, shakes, and instant oatmeal are all fast and easy for them to make themselves.  This takes the guess-work away.  It also allows them to eat in the car and spend more time getting ready or sleeping in.

Get ready the night before
Having as much as possible ready the night before will help to make the morning less hectic and more productive.  Getting school bags including lunches, coats, outdoor gear, sports gear, outfits, homework, and planners ready the night before cuts down on the amount of things that can be forgotten in the morning.

Same routine every day
For most kids, consistency in routine is key to making the routine successful.  Doing things in the same order every morning will help kids know what comes next.  Lists in the bedrooms, bathrooms, by the back door and in the kitchen will remind them of the schedule.  If your child cannot read, picture lists work just as well.  Get your kids involved by having them make the lists themselves or finding pictures they like on the web.  As time goes by the lists will become less needed.  At this point you can act from memory or create new and better lists.  Try moving the lists so that kids don’t just see them as part of the wall and overlook their benefit.  Lists will also help you to encourage your child to refer to the lists and not seek you for every next step.

Look for ways to streamline
Take a week to look at your routine and find places where there are challenges.  If your child always gets caught when tying their shoes or picking out breakfast, look for these areas and change those parts of the morning.  If the routine you have now is frustrating or causing tears and fights, change it fast!  Get the family involved and talk about ways to streamline with some ideas listed here.  If everyone is on the same page and you provide mutual support, things will go more smoothly.

Tough Love
I believe that tough love is one of the best tactics a parent can use.  In this situation, use tough love to make a child more responsible for themselves and their things.  Going without lunch, a coat, or their homework one day is not going to kill your child.  However, it will help them to remember the particular item the next day and many days after that.  If you are a parent who feels like a broken record when it comes to asking your child to do something, this technique can work wonders.  Tough love is an extremely effective way to teach your child the reality of consequences, although it takes practice and commitment from the parents.

Finding a routine takes time and patience.  It changes with your family’s needs but is very helpful when taken seriously by everyone.  Following the routine should be important.  Have consequences for not carrying through with it.  Get your family involved with finding a routine that works for everyone and keep the conversation productive.  Bad mornings will happen but a good morning is just one day away!

More articles related to this topic:
Getting Back on Track
Back to school Prep with Simplified Bee
Streamlining!
Back to School Time Savers
It’s Just Routine

Good Luck,

Katherine

Working with your Child’s Teacher

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

Image via Wikipedia

Good Morning,

I love working on the family side of education through my consulting business.  Collaborating with families interested in working with the school system, not just parallel to it, is one of the best parts of my job.  I find that parents who utilize the good ideas from school, in their home, reap the benefits that come with consistency.  Behavior plans, academic lessons, and social skills should be a shared vision between the school staff and the family.  Following my ten years of working in the school system, I have some good ideas about how to bridge the gap between school and home.

Your child’s teachers are some of the most important people in their life.  For nine months, they spend more time with these folks than they do with anyone else.  It is extremely important for you, as a parent, to have a good working relationship with your child’s teachers.  Of course, it will take more effort if you work full-time or have other kids at home, but time spent communicating with those teachers will benefit your child enormously.

Attend school meetings
If you can do nothing else, attend the basic school meetings.  Back to school night, parent-teacher conferences, and school open houses are essential.  Introduce yourself to anyone working with your child (teachers, principals, librarians, specials teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, nurses, etc.) and let them know how excited you are for the upcoming year.  This opens the line of communication between the house and the school, and sets up an ongoing relationship to kick off the school year.

Volunteer
If your schedule allows you to spend some time volunteering at your child’s school, take advantage of this opportunity.  Once a week, once a month, or as availability dictates, your help is always welcome.  However, that does not mean you should show up at will.  After you have penciled in a few days that would work for you, coordinate with the teacher to let them know that you are available to them.  Set up days and times so there are no surprises.  This also allows both of you to plan ahead.  Be on time and reliable.  There is nothing worse than a no-show parent or one who interrupts class.  Most schools have an open door policy, but scheduling time in advance will get you big points.  Be ready to do whatever task they provide.  Many teachers will save up their most boring and mindless tasks for parent volunteers.  Take this time to get to know the teacher as much as possible.  Small talk is a great way to break the ice without coming off as smothering.  Do not gossip about other students or teachers.  This is not the time to gripe about the school or staff.  Stick to questions or concerns about your child only.  Finish all jobs or work until your time is up.

Communicate
An open line of communication with the school can really help at home.  Allow the school to reach you several different ways.  Starting the year with good communication will set the tone for the remainder of the year.  Contact the teacher with any questions you have.  Be available to answer questions, or to hold a discussion about your child.  It is very important you know what is going on with your child’s academics, behavior, and social skills regardless of your personal schedule.  Obviously, you will want to communicate with your child regularly.  Be sure to tell them when you speak to their teacher so they know that you are aware, involved, and that you care about what is going on in all aspects of their life.  Children whose parents have good communication with teachers usually have much better behavior and are more successful academically.

Show Appreciation
Showing your appreciation to teachers and staff at school is a great way to get involved.  However, gift-giving does not mean that you have to shower your child’s teacher with gifts.  I think most teachers actually feel uncomfortable in this situation.  Kind words and a little note go a long way towards showing appreciation.  Be sure to include any positive feedback your child has about a specific experience, task, or study topic.  Also, do not forget the other people at the school that your child refers to or talks about.  Special educators, paraprofessionals, office staff, and specials teachers are often overlooked at holidays or other teacher appreciation times.  If you are interested in providing an actual gift, some easy ideas are:

  1. Send a gift card to a supplies store or their favorite coffee shop
  2. You can bring in breakfast or lunch one day for the classroom staff or school staff
  3. Provide fresh flowers for their desk
  4. If you live close to the school, host a happy hour for the staff
  5. Send a card with a nice note, and offer to volunteer

There are many ways to be involved with your child’s school and, more importantly, their education.  In the next few weeks, as families get back into the swing of school, I will be blogging about how to tackle education issues at home including ideas about an after-school schedule, homework challenges, and improving academic skills.

More articles related to this topic:

What Teachers Wish You Knew
Teachers, Parents, and Students All Working Together

Back to School Prep

Tips for Communicating with Teachers

Good Luck,

Katherine

Back to School Blues

Good morning!

For many students around the country, the upcoming weeks will bring them back to school.  Back to the routine of early mornings, school lunches and homework.  For many kids this is a time of excitement, but for other kids this time of year brings anxiety and fear.  Maybe they had a tough summer or moved to a new school.  Maybe they were bullied last year or had a hard time with academics.  Possibly they did not get into the class of the teacher they wanted or are not with their friends.

For children who are showing signs of anxiety, it may be difficult for parents to connect with or help them.  What does anxiety in kids look like?  Similar to adults, kids can show anxiety in a number of ways.  Changes in sleeping, eating, mood, or emotions are all possible signs of anxiety.  As the first few weeks back to school can set the tone for the entire year, it is important to act fast.

For children that are fearful or feeling negative about school, the key is figuring out the issues, handling them, and moving on.  Skipping school is not an option, and doesn’t deal with the underlying problem.  Dealing with the issues is the only way to get back on track.  Asking questions and providing examples from your own experiences will allow you and your child to put words to feelings.  After identifying the issues you can begin to resolve them.  Even if you can’t resolve all of the issues right away, you now know where your child might need some extra support and conversation.

Good luck to everyone in the coming weeks.  I will be blogging with some tips to make the transition easier for parents and students as well as some ideas for making this school year the best one yet.

– Katherine

More articles related to this topic:

http://www.education.com/magazine/article/School_Refusal/

http://q104.radio.com/2011/07/31/tips-to-ease-back-to-school-anxiety/

http://www.child-psych.org/2011/08/school-refusal-exploring-why-children-and-adolescents-refuse-school.html

Welcome to the blog!

I am finally taking the next step for my business by creating a blog. I am hopeful that this blog will be a tool for struggling parents to get some fast, effective tips on how to handle everything from eating, sleeping, and behavior issues to providing some organizational strategies. I also hope to learn (from parents) what issues they are facing. How are you thinking outside the box in regards to child-rearing? My goal is to work with parents to find strategies that fit within their lifestyle and budget. My main focus is children! Together, let’s help them succeed at home, in school, and in life!