Mistake #2 in the Series: 5 Homeschooling Mistakes that you don’t know you are making.

How to encourage reading

How to raise a reader.

We all want our children to be good readers. We want them to love books!  A child who loves to read has a huge advantage in life.

But there is one common mistake parents make that can quickly turn your child off to reading. That mistake, pushing them to read harder and harder books.

I see this all of the time in bookstores and at the library. A mom is standing with her 8-10 year old child and the child has picked a book. The mom looks at it and says, “No, this is too easy for you, go pick another one.” Or the parent picks a book and shows it to the child who says, “No, there are too many words on the page.” Sound familiar???

It seems obvious that if we want our children to get better at reading, we should push them a bit to read harder and harder books. Let me explain why this backfires.

In order for your child to enjoy reading, they have to be able to follow the story. I’m hoping you have all had the experience of becoming lost in a book. The world around you fades away, and you are living in the story. This is a wonderful experience, and it’s addicting, in a good way. If we want our children to get addicted to reading they need to have this experience.

Now imagine yourself reading that fabulous book but every few words you have to stop and struggle to sound out a word. With determination you make it through the page, but because you have been reading in stops and starts, you could never really enter into the flow of the story. Your enjoyment, no matter how fabulous the book was, would be limited. More than likely, your comprehension would be less than perfect as well.
I’m hoping you are seeing the problem. If a child is always pushed to read at the top level of his ability, he will never be free to enjoy the book. The result is that your child will not see reading as enjoyable but as work. For some kids, if they are constantly pushed, they will begin to feel frustration every time they pick up a book, this frustration can quickly turn into statements such as: “I’m not a good reader.” “I hate reading.” or “I’m stupid.”

So, what can we do to insure this doesn’t happen.  We let our child read books that are too easy, lots of books that are too easy. For a couple of years, we let them read books that are too easy.

The idea is to let them practice, practice, practice until reading is as effortless as breathing. When they no longer need to think about reading, but can concentrate on the story, they discover the wonder of books.

Another reason to have children read lots and lots of too easy books, is that it is estimated that a high percentage of our written language consists of the same 1,000-2,000 words used over and over. Once your child masters those words, they are well on their way to becoming accomplished readers. Not surprisingly, those are the words most commonly used in children’s books.

We’ll close this topic with one more point. There are some fantastic books for kids these days, really wonderful books. However, we can ruin an awesome book by giving it to a child who isn’t ready to read it. The whole experience can sour a child on an author or an entire genre of literature. It’s better to wait.

Too often we make childhood, and reading, a race.  In that race, your child is the loser. The best way to raise a reader is to instill a love of books in them. We want to nurture that love, so when a book is too difficult, read it to them, or save it for later. In those years from 2nd to 5th grade, follow your child’s lead.

I hope I’ve convinced you to let your child read lots and lots of books, for years and years, that are too easy.

If you missed my post about the first mistake homeschooling parents make, you can read it here.

Is there a mistake you have made, that made you a better educator? Let us know in the comments so we can learn from one another!

 

 

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Mistake 1 of our series…5 Homeschooling mistakes you don’t know you’re making!

Mistake 1 of our 5 part series!

 

The first and biggest mistake many of us make is teaching a curriculum, not a child. 

Let’s take math. Our child needs to learn mathematical concepts, so we choose a math program. Then, almost universally, we become focused on the curriculum instead of the student.

Have you ever become hyper focused on your child finishing that day’s math page.  We hound them by saying,  “Pay attention, we have to finish this!” We threaten and bribe to keep them on task.

The shift is subtle, but the math lesson is no longer about the child learning the material, it’s  about getting the lesson done. After all, our accompanying teacher’s manual says we need to do 4 lessons a week, with one day for testing! The curriculum has become our focus.

Completing the lesson, or the entire book, is of no value if your child didn’t master the concepts in the lesson. This shift in focus is sneaky, we don’t recognize it happening until 3 months down the line we realize our child is hopelessly lost.

As parents, we are not the only ones who get caught up in this trap. Our students are even more likely to commit this mistake. Unless you have worked hard to convince your child that the purpose of the lesson is to learn the material, and they have bought into the idea, they will likely rush just to finish. Most kids work as quickly as they can so they can be done.

Your job, as a parent and a teacher, is to help your students see that finishing is not the goal, learning is.

I understand the anxiety that comes when we know we won’t ‘finish’ in a timely manner. However, the world will not end, your child will not be a failure if they don’t finish their 4th grade math program while in the 4th grade. What will create problems is your child being pushed through a curriculum ‘on schedule’ but with little comprehension of the concepts they needed to learn.

Our focus needs to constantly be evaluated…are we developing our child’s understanding or working to finish a program. We need to stay focused on the purpose of education. Our child is the focus of our educational efforts. Their development and understanding is what matters.

Curriculum is a tool, nothing more.

Don’t allow the curriculum to become the mini dictator in your school day. Use the curriculum as you would any tool, to aid you in accomplishing your task, but don’t become so focused on the curriculum that you inadvertently switch from teaching your child, to teaching your curriculum.

When we really grasp this concept and apply it to our homeschool, it can change everything.

The pace that is pre-set in a curriculum is, to a certain degree, arbitrary. It will work for a percentage of children, but there will always be those who are bored because they are not challenged, and those who are frustrated, because they can’t keep up. As homeschoolers we can relax a bit. We can slow down when our child is struggling with a concept, and speed up when they are ‘getting it’.

So, as you begin this homeschool year, re-orient (or re-center if you use google maps) your teaching, so that your child is the focus and your curriculum is your tool.

If you don’t want to miss the next four mistakes that homeschoolers make, be sure to sign up for my email list. I’ll be sending out links to the other post in the series when they are all up.

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Advice for getting the most from those Junior High Years

What you need to cover in each subject area

So Just what do your kids need to do in Junior High?

What your child needs to cover in each subject area

In elementary school our children are learning the basic building blocks of education; reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their understanding of basic science concepts and vocabulary are growing, and  they are gaining a sense of the flow of history. Make this framework strong and solid so our children have a good base upon which to build advanced knowledge and wisdom.

In high school course schedules are basically set

In high school our children’s studies become more focused and intense. If they have that solid foundation they will be able to move, rather painlessly, into these more focused studies. Students at this age are expected to be able to work independently through material, to read, absorb, and analyze new information. By high school we should be past the ‘hand-feeding’ stage where a teacher is needed at every step. New concepts may well need explanations, but students have come to ‘own’ their education.

So, what about Jr. High?

Jr. High is a great opportunity to evaluate our child’s progress and to take 7th and 8th grade to fill in any gaps or weak points our child has. If we use a building analogy, in elementary school we are laying a solid foundation and getting the framing up. In Junior High we are making sure that all of that is solid and that the hidden systems, like electrical and plumbing all work seamlessly. If all of this is in place, then the finish work of High School will be solid, we won’t have to tear out walls to repair electrical connections that don’t quite connect.

I like to think of Junior High as an inspection stop. We have two years to make sure our child has all that they need to move on into the more advanced course work of high school. Of course, we will still be moving forward and adding new ideas, but we also have a bit of breathing room to evaluate and strengthen any weak areas.

So let’s examine each subject area.

Reading

By Jr. High your child should be reading fluently and comprehending most of what they read. In elementary school it’s important to give your child adequate practice at ‘easy’ reading so that they develop fluency, but in Jr. High it’s time to challenge them.

Think of the reading they will be doing in high school – Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald – you don’t want them to jump from easy reading straight into these authors. In Jr. High ease them into classic authors and more difficult essays. Reading challenging works will improve their critical thinking skills and increase their vocabulary.

If your child is still having trouble with the basics of reading, it’s past time to have them assessed and give them the help they need. You might consider doing an intensive phonics review. I’ve used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with great success with older students.

Spelling

By Jr. High your child should be spelling most words correctly. Let’s be honest, many spelling errors are nothing more than laziness. If that is the case with your child, crack down now. If there are multiple ‘lazy’ spelling errors in their work, make them rewrite the entire piece. I’m normally all about making school enjoyable, but your child needs to give it their best effort. A few rewrites will usually work a quick cure (not erasing and fixing the word, a complete rewrite).

If the errors are a lack of knowledge you have two years to teach spelling rules and move quickly through a program like Spelling Power, Fourth Edition I like Spelling power because it can be used by any level power. It is more expensive, but it a comprehensive program that can be used from kindergarten through high school. Well worth the investment.

Writing

By now your student should be able to write a clear and concise paragraph that communicates clearly. They should be skilled  at writing summaries, book reports, letters, and fiction. Most Jr. High students need to improve these skills before entering high school and one of the best ways to do this is to get them writing.

I had my sons writing for 30 minutes a day…minimum. Much of that time they could write what they wanted, although sometimes I would assign a report to focus their efforts. If you use narration in your school day you should be requiring that some of their narrating be done in writing rather than orally.

There are many excellent writing programs if you feel this is not your best subject to teach. I would recommend looking into Susan Wise Bauer’s writing programs. They were designed for homeschoolers and are easy to follow, while holding up a high standard.

Math

I cannot stress this enough, your child’s basic math skills (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, and place value) need to be absolutely solid by the end of Junior High.  It is best to stop for a period of time and really master these skills if your child is struggling.

Beginning Algebra or other high school math programs before basic math skills are automatic will cause unnecessary struggle and frustration. A solid foundation cannot be overstated. Every concept they will learn in the coming years will be dependent upon these basic skills.

If there is any chance your child will be moving back into the public school system during high school, you need to seriously consider using a Common Core edition of your math curriculum. Otherwise, the transition will be very difficult. Also, the SAT and ACT tests will be re-configured with Common Core standards as an element. Homeschoolers are often dependent on these tests scores for college admission. I’d recommend looking into Singapore’s Common Core series.

I understand that many parents wish to avoid Common Core altogether, but you need to be realistic. At the very least, educate yourself about the changes and how you can prepare your child for these future challenges.

Science

Hopefully, your child’s elementary school years were filled with exploration and wonder as they discovered the world around them. A nature walk, gazing at the stars, growing a seed, all provide a good foundation for high school science courses.

Curiosity is one of the marks of a great scientist, and all children are curious, so science is a natural subject for them to enjoy. This exploration should continue in Jr. High, supplemented with lots of hands on experiments and field trips. A carefully chosen text is helpful…just be sure you remember you are teaching a child, not a textbook. Adapt the textbook to fit your studies.

Very soon students will not have a choice and will have to work through a Biology or Chemistry book from start to finish…but for these years you still have a lot of freedom, take advantage of that. Personally, we moved into the Apologia Jr. High books. They provided a nice bridge between the exploration of elementary school, and the more stringent work of High School.

History

Often, even with our best efforts, history is a mish-mash in kid’s minds. While they have studied different periods, they are likely still fuzzy about where everything they’ve learned fits.  Jr. High is a great time to lay out a framework to organize all the knowledge they have been accumulating.

I would suggest making a timeline and laying out some of the key moments in history (there are a few excellent ones that are bound into books like the Homeschool History Book of Centuries: A Portable Timeline for Charlotte Mason and Classical Education Students (Real Life, Real Books, Real Learning Series) (Volume 2) ). Taking some time out to construct a time line and add in what they already know, including scientific advances, famous artist, writers, and composers will give students a better grasp of the flow of history.

Taking a few months to work on a timeline is well worth the effort.

Working Independently

My goal was that by Jr. High my sons would possess the skills to work independently. I wanted to be able to give them an assignment, and leave it to them to do. More and more the goal was for them to manage their own time, and when things were due.

If  your child is still dependent upon you sitting with them as they do their schoolwork, it is time to wean them off of your presence. Our goal is to have independent learners who will continue to learn for the rest of their lives. In High School, in many subjects, I gave my sons a syllabus, much like a college professor would do, and left them to it. Of course, I checked in, but I no longer micro managed their school time.

If this is new and/or difficult for your students start small. Give an assignment that can be done in 15 minutes, make sure this is an assignment that they won’t need you for, and tell them they have 15 minutes in which to finish. Giving a time limit does a couple of things, it gives them an ending time…they know they won’t be sitting there for hours…so they are more willing to focus their attention, and it lets them know that they don’t have time for staring off into space, sharpening their pencil, or texting a friend. Gradually increase the amount of their day they are working alone, offering encouragement and support when they need it.

Research and Study Skills

Often we overlook these basic skills that are going to be a key to success later in life. Our kids need to know how to study and how to discover information. Again, this topic deserves it’s own post, but for now let me just point out that your child needs to be doing their own research. Specifically assign projects that will require research, point them in the right direction, and let them do it. This is a crucial skill for life, too much help at this juncture will cripple your students later on.

Embrace the Argument

Your greatest asset during these years is your child’s curiosity and desire to argue…yes, argue. During the Jr. High years your child begins to develop a sense of self outside of family and they begin to question…well, everything. Oftentimes this can come across as argumentative, and while I’m not suggesting you should allow your child to be disrespectful, I am saying that this questioning is a natural part of their development. It is also a powerful learning tool; play devil’s advocate, make them defend their positions, and get them used to using those critical thinking skills.

They will enjoy expressing their opinions and having them heard. Engaging with them in this way develops their skill at expressing themselves, thinking logically, and lets you know some of what they are thinking.

Jr. High is an exciting and fleeting time, enjoy it.

Have you been teaching a Jr. High student? What challenges have you faced and how did you deal with them? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

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New Homeschool Year Checklist

With free printable

Homeschool Checklist!I LOVE September.  Forget the whole ‘January is a new year’ business, it’s the start of a new school year I love. So here is my list of what needs to be done as you begin the new school year.

1.  Evaluate 

Most of us want to jump straight into ordering curriculum, but there is some important work to be done before that. Arrange for some quiet, distraction free time and grab your notebook and pen. Go to a park, the library or Starbucks and think through the following:

    • What are your goals for the year for each of your children?
    • What are your child’s strengths…where do they struggle?
    • What worked last year that you want to build on this year?
    • What didn’t work last year?
    • How has your family’s needs changed…financially? Ages of children? New High Schooler?

2.  Make an ‘overall’ plan.

  • Decide on what curriculum you need to purchase this year. (If you need ideas for elementary school children you can check out my post here.)
  • Make sure you’ve covered the basics: Reading, writing, math, history, science.
  • Decide on any classes your children will be participating in, either with your homeschool group, music lessons etc.
  • Are your children going to be playing sports? If not, how are you covering PE?
  • If you have High Schoolers, make sure your students are on track to have the necessary courses to graduate in your state.

3.  Purchase Curriculum

  • If saving money is a priority check into used curriculums on Craigslist and ebay. Also, ask around in your homeschool group…perhaps you can purchase used, make a trade, or borrow.  Instead of purchasing readers check out the library. I’ll be posting an article soon about how to save money on curriculum, if you want to know when it’s posted you can subscribe to my email list, or like me on Facebook. New articles will be there.

4. Plan for the next 3 months

  • Dividing up specific assignments for the entire year is a recipe for disaster. Trust me, and the legions of other homeschool moms who’ve slaved over constructing year schedules. Schedule is done and then, bam, in Octobe a bad case of the flu worked its’ way into your household, and now you are hopelessly behind, and you have dates and plans and pages to finish. There are too many variables to be sure where you will be next February so hold off on a whole year plan.
  • 3 months is a doable option. You’ve planned ahead, but adjusting isn’t a mammoth task.
  • So for now, look at your curriculum and figure out what you want to have done by Thanksgiving and then break it up for each week. I find breaking it up into days is just too tedious. If I know what I need to get through this week, I’m good.

5. Enroll your child in any additional classes, music lessons, sports they will be participating in.

6.  Join HSLDA. Just do it. Even if you never need their services, you are supporting other homeschool parents who are fighting for their rights to homeschool…and those cases protect your rights. (For those who don’t know HSLDA is the Home School Legal Defense Association. Your membership is basically legal insurance. The attorneys at HSLDA do a phenomenal job fighting for the rights of homeschoolers. Check them out.)

7. Set up your ‘homeschool’ area

  • It’s fun to surf Pinterest looking at people’s homeschool rooms, HOWEVER, a dedicated room is not necessary!
  • I never had the space for a homeschool room, so we homeschooled at the dining room table and the living room couches. We had bookshelves of books sprinkled throughout the house, and each child had a box that contained all they needed. In the morning they could grab their box and get to work.
  • So organize what spaces you have to accomodate schooling, but a fancy set up won’t make your school any more or less successful.

9.  Find a support group

  • I think it’s best to find a local group of families that you can join. Having a support network, a place to go with ideas, friends to call who understand the frustrations is critical for success.
  • If you can’t find a local group, find an online community of homeschoolers. The key is to have a place to go for encouragement, ideas, and

Get New Homeschool Year Checklist 

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Homeschool Vs. Charter School

Know the difference between the two

Homeschool vs. charter school, good explanation of the difference between these twoThis has been a difficult article for me to write and one I have put off repeatedly.  I was asked again today about Charter Schools and I decided it was time I address the issue.

First, and most importantly, I fervently believe parents should be able to determine how best to educate their children.  We (not the government) will answer to God for the choices that we make regarding our kids, and, therefore, we should be free to make the one that best fits our family, convictions, and beliefs.  That choice can legitimately be public, private, charter, or homeschool.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options, and it’s up to you to decide where your family fits.  In this article I am not looking to argue for one over the other, or to make anyone uncomfortable, but to address my concerns regarding the confusion between homeschooling and Charter Schools.

The survival of the homeschooling movement, from a legal perspective, may come from making a clear distinction between homeschooling and Charter Schools.  Choosing to use a Charter is a viable alternative, but it is not homeschooling.  This line is becoming very blurred, and I believe this is intentional.  It is one way to reclaim lost revenue and undermine the homeschooling system that has developed over the past 20 years and to regulate and control what is taught in our homes.  If parents do not recognize the dangers, we may lose our current freedoms.

Like many of you, Charter Schools were one of our options.  In my case, I wasn’t just contacted by Charter Schools that wanted me to enroll my sons, but I was also contacted by schools that wanted me to combine Grace Prep with them or who wanted me to teach there.  Obviously, there are many financial incentives that would make that very appealing…and believe me, we could have used the money…but we chose to remain independent for a variety of reasons.

At a cursory glance it appears that the government has recognized the advantages of homeschooling and has jumped on the bandwagon by establishing independent study programs and charter schools.  These options allow parents to ‘homeschool’ while having the government pick up the tab.  It can appear to be a win/win situation.  I want to point out some of the ways we, as parents, can lose in this scenario.

Before we go any further, let me clarify my definitions to avoid confusion.  Charter Schools are public schools that are funded by the government with tax dollars. When you join a Charter school, you become part of the public school system.  While a student in a Charter may be doing the bulk of his/her work at home, he is a public school student.  School authorities have the final say and oversight. I am not questioning the value of Charter, Online Schools, or other public school options that allow students to do their work at home; I am simply stating they are not the same as homeschooling and they should not be called homeschools.

Homeschooling, as I’m defining it, means you and your children pick the resources and curriculum you will use.  Parents are in charge and have authority and the ability to change the curriculum and schedule at any time, and they pay for their own materials. Homeschools are free and separate from the state system.  Homeschoolers have freedom to integrate their Christian worldview into their teaching and to use curriculum that expresses a Christian viewpoint.  Traditionally, homeschooling has been defended in the courts under the First Amendment. It is part of our freedom of religion to educate our children in accordance with our religious convictions.  Secular homeschooling has it’s place, but it is harder to defend from a legal perspective.

Once a third party starts paying the bills, it’s their schooling not homeschooling. They now have the right and the responsibility to regulate, restrict, and monitor what happens in the homes of those who are enrolled.  Tax dollars are being used, and with that many conditions come into play. Now, many of these state-funded educational options are billing themselves as ‘homeschooling’.  This has the potential to create a serious legal problem for those homeschooling outside of government programs.  We have already seen more of these types of cases popping up.

According to the “We Stand for Homeschooling” website,

The very nature, language and essence of homeschooling are being challenged and even co-opted by a vast array of emerging educational programs which may be based in the home, but are funded by government tax dollars, bringing inevitable government controls….There is the profound possibility that homeschooling is not only on the brink of losing its distinctiveness, but also is in grave danger of losing its independence.

We can see this happening with school board members who refer to these programs as ‘bringing home schooling under the state’s umbrella’.  Many leaders within the homeschool movement have worked hard to obtain and maintain our freedoms and are now warning of the danger.  As Charter schools become the norm, homeschoolers who resist state regulation will be considered a fringe group.  Since public schools have provided the ‘homeschool’ option, many will not see the need to preserve the rights of parents to homeschool independently.  Already we see homeschooling undergoing an ‘institutionalization’ and losing much of what made it distinctive and attractive in the first place.

As HSLDA has warned, programs receiving government funding can be (must be) directly regulated by government standards. To date, most Charter schools and all public school independent study programs have been enacted with restrictions regarding religious education.  That means it is unethical and possibly illegal for any religious instruction to occur during the process of teaching an academic subject–even in the home.

While many people seem unconcerned by these developments, they should be. Charters have gotten into trouble in the past few years for not abiding by these rules and for misusing funds (eg. allowing parents to purchase Christian curriculum with school monies.)  These irregularities could lead to new calls to regulate homeschooling more closely.  If the line between homeschool and Charters becomes blurred, it will be difficult to fight those regulating efforts for those of us who wish to remain independent.

At it’s core, homeschooling is about freedom.  It is about the right of the parent to be free to make decisions without the interference, oversight, or regulation of the government.  Organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association have fought diligently on behalf of homeschoolers, and because of them we are not required to submit to invasive home visits, standardized testing, or limited curriculum choices.  Both in court and in studies, parents have proved they are competent to teach their own children and do not require the oversight of credentialed teachers or government agencies.  Our reputation as a viable alternative to government schools has solidified.  Homeschooling has not just survived; it has grown and flourished.

As this has occurred, government schools have looked for ways to control what happens within homeschools.  HSLDA has, thus far, been successful in their defense of homeschooling.  In recent years the attack on homeschooling has switched from a head-on attack, to an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach.  By offering financial incentives through  Charter schools, the government has made significant inroads into the homeschooling community.  Parents are being seduced back into the government system.

Note: Before I continue let me again be clear, I strongly support our public school system. Homeschooling is not for everyone. I know, love, and am related to many dedicated, wonderful public school teachers. The work they do should be applauded and supported. That is not what I am taking issue with. Nor am I taking issue with the Charter Schools: they bring in fresh ideas and approaches that our educational system needs.

I am taking issue with the confusion between homeschooling and Charter schools. They are not the same. Besides the legal issues this confusion potentially raises for those of us who wish to remain independent, I see several other issues.  One of the more disturbing ones is the undermining of parents and parental authority I have witnessed.

Over the past few generations, the boundaries and responsibilities of our public schools have expanded.  As parents we have relinquished our position in our children’s lives and have accepted the propaganda that we cannot be trusted to raise, educate, or socialize our children–that we need professionals.  Too many of us have become unhealthily dependent on the opinions of ‘experts’ and decisions made by committees of professionals.

If you think I’m overstating the case, consider this: many parents I talk to panic at the thought of teaching their children kindergarten.  They have so bought into the message that they honestly feel they are incapable of teaching early elementary skills.  Parents believe it takes a graduate degree to teach counting and the sounds of the alphabet. The ramifications of this are staggering.

The control and power this hands over to the government cannot be overstated.  Stalin once said, give me your children and within one generation I will control the nation.  I am not looking to explore nefarious conspiracy theories, but we have to stop and ask ourselves some serious questions: what is the role of parents in child raising and what is the role of government?  To what degree are we ‘handing over our children’  and in what ways is the government sending a message to families that is destructive?

I have found that the marketing for charter schools (beyond the financial incentives) often uses fear to convince insecure parents that the government can provide a ‘safe’ way to homeschool.  They will provide a ‘real’ teacher to meet with your child every week, and they will provide a curriculum that meets ‘state standards’.  Parents are subtly sent the message that they are not competent and that the overseeing charter will protect their children from them.

Another concern I have is that the homeschooling movement has provided a much needed revolution in curriculum and teaching methods.  Some of the most creative and successful options out there have been created by homeschooling families looking for a better way.  The movement has been led by passionate, pioneering individuals who have had to fight for the rights we now enjoy.  Our passion, vision, and progress have become diluted as the homeschooling movement has grown and expanded.  As homeschooling has become more commonplace, many families are entering the ranks without a real commitment to the lifestyle.  They are merely recreating school at home–not a bad thing, but not really what homeschooling is about. Complacency has crept into the homeschooling movement.

I am very concerned that we are being seduced into an alliance with government schools that we will regret in the future.  I want my children and grandchildren free to homeschool if that is what they want.  I want them to be able to incorporate a Christian worldview into their teaching. I want them to be free from the tyranny of standardized testing. I want them to be able to make free choices without government interference. If the current trend continues, the homeschooling ground we have gained over the past decades will quickly erode.  We are selling our freedoms for a free computer and some curriculum.

 

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8 steps to choosing the best extracurricular activities for your child

Gaining clarity in choosing activities for my child

Every year we are faced with amazing opportunities for our kids: sports, theater, music classes, co-op classes, art programs and more. These opportunities can be awesome, but if you aren’t careful,  they can also take over your life!

How do you choose? I came up with a few ways to winnow our choices down to what would be best for each of our kids, and ideal for our family. These strategies served us well for years.

With 4 kids there was a constant tension between being involved in productive, fun activities and being over committed and stressed. Sure, we wanted our boys to be well rounded, have friends, explore interests, and have fun…but how to choose when there are so many really great options. With a few simple steps I’ll help you narrow down your list to a manageable, focused few.

Step 1: Recognize you can’t do it all.

Wait, stop, read that again…you can’t do it all. I often find I ignore the basic laws of nature. I think tomorrow I will have more hours in the day and I’ll get it all done. I bet you’ve been there too. Fact is, we all have multiple commitments; family, work, church and laundry. (Does anyone really keep up with the laundry?) Resources like time and money are limited, sad, but true. Be realistic.

Imagine a giant buffet. Everything looks good, parts truly amazing. Some of those dishes you could never pull off at home in your own kitchen. You begin to salivate. Then you are handed a plate. It’s a medium sized plate, not a platter, imaging you are holding a platter will not magically make your plate larger. Sorry. And, you are only allowed one trip through the buffet. I know, life (and a buffet) is not fair. You might try to pile food high, and likely,you’ll make a spectacle of yourself trying to get to your seat as food slides and spills. Or, reason prevails, and you scale back, recognizing the limits of your plate, you select the best the buffet has to offer.

Overindulging when it comes to a buffet might be embarrassing for a moment, but over committing your families time and money is serious business. Yes, it’s your job to provide quality enriching experiences for your child, but children only get one childhood. Protect it, because you can’t do it all!

Step 2: Don’t compare, really, stop it!

The dangers are real. Comparisons steal joy, instill insecurity and take on a life of their own.  Parents are especially vulnerable to the trap of comparison. Homeschool parents…well, multiply that by a zillion (in the words of my favorite preschooler).  Comparing yourself to that model family in your head, or your high school friend on Facebook, is a recipe for disaster.

Your family is unique, your child is unique.

Collect ideas, input, and advice from your friends and family. There is wisdom in that, but sift those ideas through your budget, your time constraints, your family make up. Avoid the trap of allowing comparisons to push you past healthy engagement to unhealthy ‘we can do it all’.  You’ll crash and burn and take your loved ones along with you.

Step 3: Know your parenting endgame.

Early in our homeschool journey I sat down and wrote out what I wanted our sons to ‘look like’ when they became adults. It was the most valuable exercise in parenting and homeschooling I ever did. (You can read what I came up with here.)

We gain clarity when we know what we are aiming for.  Having a clear picture of where you are headed can serve as a litmus test when it comes to making parenting choices. It’s a great early step in our decision making process to ask, does this activity reinforce our families values, does it move my children toward the adults I want them to be.

One of our goals was children who were active in the local church, so participation in church programs was a priority. There were times church schedules conflicted with sports schedules. In this case, we also valued the time our children spent in sports, but it fell a bit further down the scale. This made making the decision of which activity ‘won out’ easy.

Going back to our buffet example from above, keeping your endgame at the forefront of your decision making process allows you to easily eliminate much of what is on the table. With this one step you can narrow your choices down significantly.

Note: I’m not saying that your child will never participate in an activity just for the fun of it. On the contrary, protecting the fun in a child’s life is one of the jobs and joys of a parent. Providing opportunities to develop social skills and friendships is also a key responsibility of parents and a side benefit of many ‘just for fun’ choices. What I am saying is those commitments that eat up a significant amount of time, money and effort should be intentionally evaluated and assessed.

Step 4: Evaluate your family’s stage of life.

Are your kids in preschool… or high school? Do you have multiple ages? Did you just have a baby? Are you caring for a sick parent? The demands of family have an ebb and flow. I remember as a mom with 4 kids under 7 feeling like it took super human effort to get us all out the door with all of the gear we needed…the reality of life with little ones. When the boys were in high school I felt like a taxi driver. Every year of parenting brought changes and I had to stop, re-evaluate, and make adjustments. Parenting is all about growth and change, what was a perfect fit last year might be way to tight this year. Realize that family, by definition, is in flux and you are going to have to be flexible and make adjustments…all the time.

Step 5: Factor in your child’s age.

The younger your children are, the more carefully you should consider outside activities. Preschoolers should have hours of free play to build cities in the mud and curl up with books. Seven year olds should not have a schedule that rivals an overworked middle-aged executive. Children need time, time to be loved, time to explore, time to play. A hectic schedule robs them of some of these most precious years. There will be plenty of time later on to involve them in outside activities, they don’t need to ‘do it all’ in kindergarten.

High school students have a totally different set of needs. They are becoming independent, developing their own interest, spending more time with friends.  In high school my boys had pretty full schedules. Time with family and at church remained constant, but they were eager to expand their horizons. I found it healthy for them to develop varied interests and to keep their minds productively occupied.

Step 6: Ask, does this activity provide a skill or experience that your homeschool can’t provide.

I homeschooled our 4 sons from kindergarten through high school, I love homeschooling…but there are trade offs. There are school programs I can’t duplicate.  My boys wanted to play competitive sports. That’s a relatively easy gap to fill. With community and club sports readily available we could check that one off.

What things might YOUR child miss by not being in school? When your comparing and evaluating the vast array of extra activities you could choose, this question can point you in the right direction.

Step 7: On a related note, are their subjects you are not qualified to teach or are best learned in a group setting.

I truly believe that with all of the curriculum choices available to homeschool parents now, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can teach any subject you want on your own. The reality is, our resources are more wisely used by ‘outsourcing’ some of our children’s learning. For instance, I am not musical, all of my children are…so I paid for music lessons. All four of my sons play multiple instruments.  Over the years we spent a great deal of time, money and commuting to get our kids to music lessons, band practices, and gigs. It was totally worth adding lessons into our schedule.

I teach co-op classes for our school group. Generally these classes are chosen because they are in subjects parents either don’t feel qualified to teach, like Latin or Chemistry…or they are subjects that lend themselves well to a group setting like Shakespeare or Speech.

In these instances, opting to involve your children in an extra activity frees parents up to focus on teaching fewer subjects. Only you can decide if the trade offs that classes offer is the best choice for your family

Step 8: Will participation in this activity provide my child with a chance to make healthy friendships?

While I believe that the non-homeschooling world is far too concerned about the socialization of homeschooled students, we still want our children to interact with age-mates and make friends. In particular, children who are transferring from a traditional school setting to homeschool are concerned about when they will be able to see friends. Knowing that each week they will be in classes, sports, and activities where they will see other children makes them less resistant to the change, and provides times each week they know they will see their friends.

If your child struggles to connect with other kids in large social situations, like a church youth group or large class, finding them a group centered around a common interest can be a life line.

 To sum it up, we found that adding outside activities was a crucial and fun part of our homeschooling experience, adding a depth and breadth to our years that we would have missed without them. We also found that saying ‘yes’ to everything quickly led to frustration and stress.  Search for the balance that meets your families need and reevaluate regularly.

How do you decide which activities to participate in? Love to hear your thoughts!

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My Greatest Homeschooling Fear

My greatest fear when we began this homeschool journey was not that the boys wouldn’t get into college, or even I would miss some crucial bit of information, (that was inevitable); it was when they finished high school, they would breathe a sigh of relief and say, “It is finished.”

Over the years I’ve met many frustrated and discontented 20 somethings who felt completing high school meant they knew all they needed to know. Post high school, many of these kids never read another book, and what passed as intellectual stimulation came in the form of reality TV. In talking with these young adults, it became evident their world was very small and self centered. Frequently, they struggled with issues of identity and worth, but didn’t know why.  The lessons they had internalized were; school is a waste, reading is a chore, teachers are uncaring, and history is irrelevant…the school system had failed them and it was not just their education that suffered.

When our minds and spirits are starved of good healthy ‘food’ we don’t function as we were meant to, our growth is stunted and every area of our life suffers. This is not what any of us want. We want our children to live the full life God created them for. We want them to enjoy life, to excel in what they do, to find satisfaction in relationships, and to contribute to their communities. When we make homeschooling and parenting decisions we need to keep these goals in mind. Proficiency at math and reading are a start, but we also want children who are prepared to take on all the challenges of the next stage of life.

What do you want for your children? How can you help them get there? Philippians 4:8 gives us a beginning point. This verse points out that whatever is true, right, beautiful is about God, and it would benefit us to dwell on these things. As I consider this verse I am struck by how inclusive it is…all that is beautiful is worth studying, not just what makes a profit. All that is just, true and right should be our focus…not only what is expedient or has an immediate application.  By providing a ‘diet’ for their minds and spirits of the beautiful, the just, the excellent, we give our children a strong foundation, a good beginning…and instill the desire to continue to learn and experience what God has for them.

For me, I wanted my children to love art, and to play music. I wanted them to be in awe of the beauty in nature. I wanted them to be curious about past civilizations and engaged with current events. I wanted them to experience other cultures and to appreciate diversity. I wanted them to have an education rich and full, an education that encouraged curiosity and critical thinking. I was less concerned about the answers they knew and more concerned about the questions they asked.

As a teacher, or parent, approaching education this way is both exciting and uncomfortable. It’s exciting because it’s alive; changing and challenging us. It’s uncomfortable because very little of it is going to come through on some standardized test. It’s hard to measure the ‘educational’ benefits of art, or where enjoyment of a nature walk fits into a science scope and sequence. How does reading a great work of fiction that brings us to both tears and laughter, translate into a grade?

Embrace the discomfort. The most important aspects of educating your child are not measurable, at least not by a multiple choice test.  We want children who are excited about life, lean into challenges, and are confident they have the tools to deal with life in all of it’s complexities.

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What homeschooling (or parenting) fears to you have? Let’s talk in the comments.

 

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Coming Soon….

We have been busy revamping the site, be patient – Great content is on its way!

Summer News

Time to order curriculum and enjoy these last weeks of summer!

What’s New???

Well, if you are reading this, you’ve found what I’ve been working on this summer. The website will be up and operational by the beginning of the school year. This is a sneak peak before I have all of the links working and content up.

Content, in various forms, will be going up on the website 3 times per week, come Sept.  In August I’ll be adding content constantly to get the basics covered. If you want to keep up with what is being added, sign up for the newsletter…there on the right…and I’ll be sending out a letter every week or two with a list of new content that has been added.

I would love to get input from you in the comments. The idea of the blog is to cover topics that will help you, as parents, develop confidence as educators. If you have a particular concern about homeschooling, let me know! I want what I publish to be helpful.

Also, in these first months, I’m sure to make some techy mistakes, so if you find links that don’t link, or if navigating the site is difficult in anyway, Let me know. It will probably take me a few days to fix it…but I’ve been learning a lot and I’m becoming a WordPress expert. (Total exaggeration).

With all of that out of the way, let’s move on to next school year!

Raging Waters

Tuesday, August 23rd

$29 per person, $15 for parking

 I need a headcount ASAP, and  the money for this trip to  me by August 16th. (Yes, I can add more on at the park, but I need to make sure we meet the minimum for a group rate.) You can drop a check or cash off at my house, or pay via Paypal. This is one of the field trips that inviting friends and family to is encouraged. The more the merrier!

If you have curriculum questions or questions about this next year, I’ll be hanging out by the River, and we can chat. We can also chat about non-school related things, I’m good at chatting.

Registration

A quick reminder of what you’ll need when you register.

  • Shot Records, or updates for current records.
  • If you are a new student, a Request for Records, I will have the forms at the first parent meeting.
  • Registration form
  • Course of Study (a simple summary of what subjects and curriculum your child will be doing this year.)
  • Fees – Registration and Tuition Fees.  Class Fees if applicable.
  • If your student is a high school student, be sure you get a copy of high school graduation requirements.

Fee Schedule

Full Time Students ($35 per child to register, $30 per month for the first child, $5 per month for additional children)

Full Time – includes record keeping, curriculum counseling, activities, school photos, field trips etc. Classes for full time students is $15.)

Part Time Students (Does not include record keeping. No registration fee, tuition is $20 per month. May participate in Field Trips, classes are $20 )

Adjunct Students (Students whose only involvement involves taking classes)… each class $30 per month

 

First Parent Meeting

August 29th 7:00

We will be meeting at Kelly’s House, 30750 Montgomery Ave., Nuevo, CA 92567

Friday Classes

All classes will be held at Kelly’s house.

Warning: I have an unfenced pool in the backyard. We are working on fencing it, but currently, it is open. It is an above ground pool, and while all of the students in classes are tall enough to stand in it, both the pool and the deck  will be completely off limits to all students, regardless of age or swimming abilities.

Also, kids can use my refrigerator and microwave. However, food, glasses, silverware etc. is off limits.

8:30  Exploring Creation: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day  This class is for students in 3rd grade through 8th grade.

Along with the text, students will also need the notebook journal. There are two of them. This will take you to the one for older students. And HERE you’ll find the Junior Notebook.

I realize that is a wide age range, but the book and notebooking journal is written to accommodate this. This course is a bit more intense than the Astronomy that we did last year, so appropriate for Jr. High students. I will expect that their notebooks will be filled in more completely and the quality of the projects that we will work on will be more involved. Younger students will need help with the notebooking, perhaps using Mom as a scribe for portions.

We will be going on a variety of field trips that will add to this class: Sea World, Tide Pools, and Whale Watching.

Here is the syllabus. This lays out the work that will be done at home for the year. In class we will be adding in some additional books, experiments, videos and dissections. Love the ocean, so this is one of my favorite classes.

9:30  Boot Camp – this class is a bit of a everything…but a bit of everything with a purpose. All ages welcome. There will be a $10 curriculum fee. I’ll be providing the curriculum, so there is nothing for you to order.

This course is open to all ages, provided students can read and write on their own. Students will be creating their own reference notebooks that they will be able to refer back to for years. Our class time will consist of a short lesson, and then work in stations.

I will have a sample of the book students will be working on at the first parent meeting. I will also be posting the syllabus for this class soon.

Math  – (Note – this is not meant to be your child’s math program. Our time will be spent primarily on rote memory drills, which, adds to a solid foundation so your student can concentrate on more important aspects…but, a good math program is going to be concerned with concepts, reasoning etc.)  We will be using speed drills, games, crafts etc. to master basics of  addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, reducing fractions, converting improper fractions, converting between fractions and percents. Older students can move on to drill some algebraic concepts. Students will all begin with the basic drills and then progress at their own rate.  We will also cover some geometry, perimeter, area etc

Vocabulary – a portion of each week will be spent on vocabulary and spelling development. The focus will be on learning Greek and Latin roots and building from those. I know many of your students have done some of this already, so they can zip along quickly.

Grammar  – Students will get lots of hands on (literally)  practice. Reviewing the parts of speech, punctuation, graphing sentences, and common errors.

History – We will be doing fun activities to learn portions of important speeches and documents. We will also have activities to hone students ability to place major events into the correct time period.

Art & Music – We will develop our ability to recognize famous artists and composers and their works.

Very excited for this class!

10:30 Greek Mythology and Percy Jackson

The Percy Jackson books should appeal to students from 4th grade on up. They are fast paced and offer plenty of humor, excitement, and a creative perspective on the Greek gods. A thorough understanding of mythology has long been considered a necessary component of a good educations. Allusions to myths are frequently made in novels, plays, and articles.

This class will provide a thorough grounding in the myths and the classic story, The Illiad and the Odyssey by Homer. While studying the Percy Jackson books we will explore literary themes, terminology, plot construction, characterization…and have a ton of fun.

I’ve been having a great time planning this course this summer and a reading syllabus with preliminary notes about some of our projects can be found here.

Here are links to the books we will be reading. The Percy Jackson books must be purchased, and I STRONGLY recommend the D’aulaire book, but there are numerous links on the Internet that also tell the stories.  Note: The books about The Odyssey are part of the Magic Tree House series, they are obviously written for younger children, but provide a good basic retelling of the stories, for an good price. Jr. High and High School students may want to actually read The Odyssey, I’ve included a link to a good translation.

Greek God’s and Goddesses byD’aulaire

Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1 by Osborne

Tales from the Odyssey, Part 2 by Osborne

If you have older students, they may want to read the full story.  Here is a good translation of The Odyssey.

Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, this link is for all 5 books.

11:30  Geography – 4th grade and up can handle this class. Parents are welcome to join us.

We will be learning the countries of the world, major rivers, mountain ranges, seas, and other features. We will work continent by continent across the globe.  A syllabus will be available later this month.  It’s great to have kids do this or a similar program several times during their school years. I had mine do it in elementary, Jr. high, and again in High school. They have told me this served them well in college.

Along with gaining an appreciation for the physical and political features of the globe, we will also delve into a few different cultures to get a feel for the great diversity of God’s creation.

This year we will be working in this Geography Coloring book, instead of a collection of copied maps. I really like this book, and think it will serve the kids better than what we have done in the past. They will be able to keep their books as their own personal Atlas.

12:30-1:00  Lunch

1:00-2:00  Shakespeare  This class is primarily for Jr. High and High School Students. Motivated upper elementary students have also enjoyed this course, but that age will not be the focus. Parents are welcome to join us.

We meet 35 times during the course, so that will give us 7 weeks per play. The plays are 5 Acts long. The readings will generally be one Act per week, with the additional two weeks to memorize portions, to prepare re-enactments of scenes, or to do a written project. A syllabus will be posted in the next few weeks.

I have chosen a Tragedy, 2 Comedies, a History, and a Romance.

We will be starting the year with As You Like It, as there is a performance of this play being done the beginning of October in Pomona. You will note, that I have two books per play. The first book listed is the play in the language we think of for Shakespeare. The second book listed ‘Shakespeare Made Easy’ has the original play, and next to it a translation of the play into modern English.  If you think it would be helpful for your student to have the modern English to refer to, then get that edition. Just to be clear, you only need ONE copy…choose which one will suit best.

As You Like It 

or

As You Like It  Shakespeare Made Easy

Julius Caesar

or

Julius Caesar  Shakespeare Made Easy

A Midsummer’s Night Dream

or

A Midsummer’s Nights Dream, Shakespeare Made Easy

Romeo and Juliet

or

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare Made Easy edition

The Tempest

or

The Tempest, Shakespeare Made Easy edition

2:00-3:00  World Religions  For Jr. High, High School Students and adults/parents

I’ve been doing quite a bit of study to get ready for this class, and it’s been fascinating. Kudo’s to Desiree for suggesting it.

We live in a community of diversity. The U.S. has always been a melting pot of nationalities, it’s one of the things that defines us. That, combined with the mobile nature of the world we live in, means that many cultures now live in our neighborhoods. There was a time that Christ’s commission to go to the ends of the earth spreading the message of the gospel, meant being a missionary and traveling. There is certainly still a need for that in our world. However, in this mobile age the truth is the world has come to us. This is a wonderful opportunity to extend God’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, and I place myself in this group, many of us are woefully ignorant of the world’s religions. I had a rudimentary understanding of Islam, but almost no knowledge of Hinduism and Buddhism. While I understood Judaism up through the time of Christ, I was less familiar with the modern day practices of Jews.

As I studied this summer I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words that he had become all things to all men so that he might save a few…and also his speaking in Athens to the crowd and using a statue to an unknown god to tell them the truth of the one, true God. In order to be lights in a dark world, we need to know our audience, to connect to something in their world to reveal to them our faith.

I am a firm believer that we do not ‘argue’ people into the kingdom of heaven. We do not open their eyes to truth by insulting their culture and beliefs. No, when we respect and understand other’s beliefs, when we treat them with the same respect we would want an unbeliever to treat our faith, we open the door to honest dialog.

And so, this year we will be going on a journey to understand the wisdom traditions and religious beliefs that have shaped our world.

Students will be keeping a journal, (like a Mead Composition book currently $.50 at Walmart)l. Each week students will read a section of the text and write a reflection (or more) in their journal. This tool will be useful for processing the information, recording questions, areas of confusion, etc.

Students will also need to purchase the text. This book includes great photographs of sacred texts, artwork, and the buildings associated with each faith. This text, in a condensed form, has been one of the leading works on this topic for 50 years. In a recent Anniversary update, the author (yes, he’s in his 90’s and still writing) wrote this shorter version with beautiful illustrations. This book is a bit (well, quite a bit) easier to read than the original. If you wish to read the longer version, it is this one.

I would suggest parents read along with us so that they can discuss the chapters with their kids.

 

See you all at Raging Waters!!!!!

SummerNewsletter2016 

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