Monday, August 31, 2009

Do I LOOK like Superwoman?

Homeschoolers encounter a variety of attitudes regarding their educational choice, ranging from curiosity to outright disapproval. In most cases, I am prepared with a calm, rational, often-used response. We're accustomed to answering questions, and this becomes a normal part of our day.

One comment always stumps me, though. "You must be Superwoman!" an acquaintance might gasp, upon hearing that I homeschool six children. Although some people assume super powers are necessary to teach your kids at home, a glimpse into my closet will quickly reveal that I don't even own a cape.

The "Superwoman" comment is often followed by the reasons this person could never homeschool. "I can't teach all that stuff, because I don't know it myself," is a common observation. How do I admit that, in many instances, I learn right along with my children? This isn't a secret to my kids. They like it when I pause in my reading to them and exclaim, "Wow, I never knew that!" I'm modeling a love of learning for my children, but would a stranger understand?

"I just don't have the patience," a parent might lament. This is probably the most important example of something I've learned through homeschooling. The homeschooling parent is forced to practice patience . . . or else! Practice makes perfect and, while you might not end up with patience to spare, you'll soon learn to be "patient enough".

"I'm not organized enough," is another excuse, to which I reply, "HAHAHAHAHA!" Did this person notice that I blocked her view of the interior of my home when answering the door? I didn't want her to see the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, the socks left on the rug or the BANANA peel draped over the sofa! I prefer to teach in a tidy space but, when things get bad, the important things get done. Our Time4Learning lessons are our lifeline during our busy, disorganized weeks. It's a matter of setting priorities, another skill I've honed during our years of home education.

The saddest comment is, "I couldn't teach my kids, because they don't listen to me." How could I tactfully suggest that the parent-child relationship might improve if they spent more time together? Homeschooling parents learn to observe their children carefully and get to know them very well.

If you think it sounds like Mom learns more than the kids, you could be right! The truth is, it doesn't take a Superwoman to homeschool. Homeschooling isn't for everyone. There are a lot of reasons people choose public schools, and I'll fight for your right to choose your own child's educational method. If you DON'T want to homeschool, just say so. If you DO want to homeschool, don't think you can't take the plunge until you become a perfect parent. That hasn't happened to me yet, and my kids are just fine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Don't Want Well-Rounded Children!

“Children won’t remember what you bought them, taught them or did for them, but they will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel” Michael Pearl

The “2007/2008” school year was an incredible year of GROWTH for our family! It was our first time ever using Time4Learning and all four of my children went up more in math than EVER before. They made great strides in all the subjects, but MATH was definitely our SUPER STAR that year! All five of us walked out of the testers office with big smiles plastered on our faces as we reveled in the success of an amazingly productive school year!

Then just a few short months later along came our state homeschool convention and as I walked the vendor hall, sat in workshops, listened to speakers, talked with friends and fellow homeschooling moms, I began to get sucked into the world of peacelessness. I was no longer focused on all the success we’d had. Instead I now believed that there was something..., BIGGER and if I worked HARDER we could do even BETTER!

We enrolled the oldest in a homeschool program that revolved around higher academics. Everything came to a screeching halt as we realized that “bigger” and “better” takes “LONGER”. Our days started early and went late. Though he learned a lot about goal setting and personal organization, he became bogged down in the day to day requirements and responsibilities that were so very time consuming. Soon he began to forget all those things that had made him unique and special, as I tried to help make him well rounded. (sigh)

Half way through the year my husband and I began to see differences in his personality. Within just a few short months this child went from loving EVERYTHING about life to now becoming very discouraged. I continued to push, thinking “bigger”, “better”, “longer” would show up positively in his test results.

Imagine my surprise when we had his year end testing and though he did fine, he HADN’T made the incredible progress we’d experienced the previous year. I’ll never forget my tester looking me in the eye and asking me why we stopped using Time4Learning. I didn’t have an answer for her. Bigger and better hadn’t given us the hoped for results.

So, as the “2008/2009” school year came to a close I headed off to our state convention once again. From the time the schedule came out I found my heart pulled to a specific workshop called, “Strength’s Defined” which was all about Strength’s Based Living! It was LIFE CHANGING!

The entire message revolved around letting go of the idea that we need to create “well rounded” children. Instead, Linda Werner talked about the unique opportunity we as parents have to help our children find out what their God-given strength’s and passions are and then how to bring them to LIFE! By the time Linda (“Strength’s” speaker) stepped away from the microphone there were over one THOUSAND of us parents on our feet clapping, crying, cheering!

Since we’ve decided to begin living a “Strength’s” based lifestyle I now love the quote even more:

Children won’t remember what you bought them, taught them or did for them, but they will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel”

You see, I want my children to always remember that I made them feel successful, valued, cherished, important! I never again want to aim for “well rounded”! Instead lets help our children become PASSIONATE, purposeful adults who are going to leave their mark on this world! What makes YOUR child get out of bed with a smile on their face?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Why" Do You Homeschool?

Last week there was an article entitled, “My Top “10” Tips For A Successful Homeschool”. My favorite part was the insightful comments left by our facebook and twitter fans. I LOVED seeing how different and eclectic each of us are. It brought home the important truth that there are no wrong or right ways to homeschool your children. Every family has to find their own standards and values and walk in them.

We learned that we have incredible families who homeschool from a secular perspective and at the same time amazing families who teach from a religious viewpoint. Isn’t it interesting how we can all use the same curriculum even though we are so vastly different? Well, that leads me to today’s topic! How do “YOU” homeschool?

Some of us have been doing this so long that we’ve found a pretty good groove, (though I hope to always be teachable and open to new idea’s as my children and seasons change) others are still figuring it out. Here’s the deal though, we can’t really figure out what works for us until we know “WHY” we homeschool!

Why do “you” homeschool? What drew your heart in the first place? For some it was dissatisfaction with the school situation they were in. For others it was a quest for higher academics or personalized learning. Many began homeschooling for religious reasons. The answers vary and every single one of them is valid!

Once you understand “why” you homeschool you can begin your quest for “how” to make it successful in your home. How do you choose curriculum that lines up with your goals, belief’s and seasons of life? That question can only be answered by taking note of who you and your children are, then writing down those observations. Here are some questions I have had to ask myself that might be helpful to you:

1- Are you a recorder or a planner? Do you like to write lesson plans ahead of time or record once you’ve completed a task?

2- Where are your children academically? Are they gifted? Do they learn typically or differently?

3- What type of learners do you have? Do they work well independently or do thrive in more discussion/relational type situations? What is their learning style?

4- Are your children plugged into academic or extra curricular activities outside the home? How does that impact your week? (practice, homework, etc)

5- Why Do YOU Homeschool? Is it religion, higher academics, dissatisfaction with the public schools, health, learning differences?

Once you know your reasons then it’s important to put those in order from highest to lowest priority. This information is vital in making a curriculum work for you long term.

According to our comments from the “Top 10” thread last week, one mom loves using Time4Learning for Math and Language arts, but used something totally different for history and science because she wanted to teach from a different worldview. We saw lots of secular homeschoolers who use and love ALL components of Time4Learning. In another article entitled, “Should Christians Ever Use A Secular Curriculum” there were christian moms who strongly believed in evolution and loved using the very science portion that our mom with a different world iew couldn’t use to meet her families goals.

Here’s the point, we truly are “Better Together”. The beauty of homeschooling is the FREEDOM we have to personalize our children’s educational experiences to line up with our goals for "our" homes! So here's today's big Question....., Why has Time4Learning worked for "you", in "your" home, for "your" learners?

New Homeschooler's Vocabulary List

Like medicine, firefighting, stamp collecting, or auto mechanics, homeschooling has its own lingo. Here is a handy introduction to some common terms.

School - For a homeschooler, "school" is an activity instead of an object. Traditionally educated students "go to" school. Homeschoolers "do" school, as in, "Mom, can I ride my bike after I Doschool?"

Lunch Money - Change that collects beneath the sofa cushions. If you find enough of it, your mother might take you for burgers.

Curriculum - Anything a student uses to Doschool.

Teacher - A homeschooled student might use this term to refer to his Sunday School teacher, Scout leader, coach, music instructor, camp counselor, or an animated cartoon character in his online lessons.

Classroom - The world, and all that is in it.

Pop Quiz - What strangers feel compelled to give children when they find out they're homeschooled.

Recess - A little dent in something.

Home Ec - Mom's excuse to make you cook dinner.

Socialization - A word guaranteed to break the ice during any homeschool gathering.

Homework - The worksheets you didn't finish before lunch.

School Clothes - Any garment that passes the sniff test.

Oral report - "Look, Mom . . . no cavities!"

Try this site for some seriously fun vocabulary practice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Did You Just Call Me Eclectic?

The first time I heard the term “eclectic”, I probably balked a little.  Wasn’t that like the old woman who buys smoked salmon for her cat at $20 a pound??

No?  Oh.  That’s ECCENTRIC.  Gotcha.

So what in the world does it mean to be eclectic then?  Well, let’s put it this way: if you look it up in the dictionary, there is likely to be a picture of a homeschooler there.

Basically, calling oneself an “eclectic homeschooler” simply means that you pick and choose the materials, curriculum, and teaching methods that combine to create the best possible educational scenario for each of your children.

Cool, huh?eclectic

It’s like winning one of those shopping sprees in a department store, where you  have $500 and you’ve got to plan, and plan, and plan exactly which stuff you are going to get the most mileage out of (or get the most for on Ebay!).

When you first begin homeschooling, you might be the shopper who just throws the shiniest, most expensive looking stuff into your cart and heads to the counter.  The brands have a good reputation, so they are bound to be just what you wanted, right?

Not necessarily.  The bright shiny stuff with its well-known brand name may end up clashing like crazy with the linoleum you’ve always had. And the one-size-fits-all dress just, well…doesn’t. It won’t take you long to figure out that you’ve got to look long and hard at what you already have before you head out to make your choices.

Every child is completely unique, with different learning styles, different strengths and weaknesses, and different paces of learning.  What works for your oldest, probably won’t work for your youngest, and visa versa.  And even the homeschool curriculum that has helped your son excel in math, may be completely useless for him in science. 

One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling is being able to hand-select the programs and materials that fit best with the unique needs of each child. Unless you just happen to have a one-size-fits-all kid, you probably have discovered that you can’t just close your eyes, put your finger down on a page in a curriculum catalog, and order. 

It is OK  - - even preferable - - to be ECLECTIC.  And hey…eccentric isn’t all that bad either.

What makes YOU an eclectic homeschooler??

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Angry Homeschooler

There are those of us who always knew we'd end up homeschooling our children. We're the ones who took our kids to the library more often than we took them to the park and who made sure the nursery blocks were the kind with the alphabet printed on the sides. Some of us might appear rather opinionated and independent, and it didn't surprise anyone when we chose the homeschooling route. Often, our circle of friends is populated with many homeschoolers, so that option enjoys acceptance and maybe even a bit of status in our crowd.

I suspect we're in the minority. Most people grow up assuming their children will attend the public schools. Since that is how the majority of students are educated, parents don't often consider that they have a choice . . . until something goes wrong.

"Accidental homeschooler" is a phrase coined by Time4Learning to describe these disappointed parents. Perhaps their child had special needs that weren't being adequately addressed by the school system. Maybe there was a personality clash with a teacher or principal. Often, their very typical student just didn't fit in the "average student" mold that government schools are based on. Some parents say their methods of dealing with a child's unacceptable behavior weren't being reinforced at school. Others tell stories of very bright students who aren't being challenged, or of nightmarish social experiences with cliques or even gangs.

Whatever the reason, the parent's expectations of the public school system weren't being met. They're angry and disappointed. They might feel betrayed. They aren't prepared to teach their student, but they see no other choice. They make the decision reluctantly, and with much trepidation. Friends and family may have blamed them for their child's challenges to begin with, and now they face criticism of their decision to homeschool. No wonder they can seem defensive at first!

In chatting with many accidental homeschoolers on Time4Learning's parent forum, I have noticed an interesting thing. The angriest homeschoolers usually end up as the most joyful homeschoolers! Where we who have homeschooled from the beginning only have memories of endless days of home education (and, face it, anything gets old after awhile), the accidental homeschooler has something for comparison. In most cases, the contrasts between the days of public school and the days of homeschool are strikingly apparent, and the accidental homeschooler is in the position to thoroughly appreciate the change.

I've enjoyed reading the homeschool stories on the parent forum over the past few years. New stories continue to be posted on a regular basis, from parents who are eager to tell "their side". I've especially enjoyed the opportunity to maintain contact with many of these families and see the positive impact homeschooling has had on their lives. Time4Learning's founder is correct when he claims that accidental homeschoolers have much in common with those who intentionally set out to home educate. We all just want the best for our kids.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Top "10" Tips For A Successful Homeschool!

One of the greatest tools to higher education is learning from those around us! I have gained so much information and inspiration while hanging out on the Time4Learning Forums. My sweet cyber friend Melissa, though new to homeschooling, has jumped in with both feet! She started a thread over on our parents forum asking each person to share ONE homeschool tip. I LOVED the idea because I really believe that, “We’re Better Together”!

I am going to share my “TOP TEN TIPS” I’ve found that work in my home. Many of these I’ve learned through trial and error over the last several years.

Here are MY Top 10:

1- Start Every Single Day reading my bible and talking with the Lord.

2- Prepping the night before. (clothes, school supplies, house)

3- Keeping It Simple.

4- Noise Reducing Headphones for Time4Learning Lessons.

5- Keeping small dry erase white board and marker near computer with an eraser for note taking.

6- Plugging into my local support group.

7- Staying Active in cyber communities.

8- Reading blogs from other homeschoolers.

9- Reading Aloud each day.


How about YOU? What is at least ONE thing that YOU have found makes your homeschool program more successful? Enquiring minds want to know!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The PERFECT Schedule!

The PERFECT Schedule?! That got your attention didn’t it? Well, if you’re anything like me it did. It doesn’t matter how long I homeschool I am always looking for the perfect schedule, the perfect planner that will bring life, peace, structure and purpose to our days.

Not only have I purchased the M.O.T.H. (Managers Of Their Homes) book twice. I actually had Steve and Teri Maxwell come to town and do a workshop for our support group. If you’ve not heard of M.O.T.H. or the Maxwell’s, they are the SUPERSTARS when it comes to helping homeschoolers organize their lives! However, no matter how hard I tried to implement their schedule in my home I could never seem to make it work for me?

Yet, I have a precious friend whom I love and adore. We are so completely different. Her name is Kim and I will never forget how she had the complete opposite experience......, She read the book, followed the instructions, put together her schedule and Wa-La.... PERFECTION! She has practically every moment, of every single day planned out beautifully and here’s the kicker, she actually follows it? (shaking my head in wonder and disbelief)

Then one day another girlfriend bought me a cute little To-Do List and I began jotting down things I needed to accomplish each morning while savouring my morning cup of Joe! WHOA! I loved it. A simple to-do list gives me a feeling of success like no other. Neither way is better or worse, just "DIFFERENT"! (smile)

Let me switch gears and talk about lesson plans? I LOVE lesson planners! I can't tell you how many I've purchased over the years. Always thinking that the planner itself was going to make me successful. Here's the problem...., no matter how many times I try to plan out our lessons ahead of time it never seems to work long term? I’ve tried doing a year at a time, (hee hee) a month at a time and even a week at a time without much success. OTOH, my friend Kim not only schedules her school in six week increments she actually follows through? (I know some of you are loving my friend Kim and others want to kick her to the curb!)

Finally years into our journey, I woke up one morning and finally realized that I needed to stop looking at KIM'S success and to begin looking at what works for ME! Plans make me feel smothered and take away my flexibility. However, I love the feeling I get when I jot down the things we've accomplished or cross things off my handy dandy daily to-do list. This brings a smile to my face and adds a bounce to my step!

Upon reflection I made a huge discover! I feel successful and productive when I record and my friend finds success when she has a plan in place to follow. Neither is better or worse, right or wrong. Just what’s right for “us”. It’s important to figure out what makes "YOU" tick by reading books that help to identify your strength’s and individual preferences. Then begin to observe how those findings line up factually with your life.


Recently at our homeschool convention in Orlando we had a speaker encourage homeschooling moms to take a test from Strength Finders 2.0 to find out who we were and who are children are. One interesting discovery I made was that one of my strength’s lie in Adaptability and my girlfriend Kim’s strength was Discipline.

Let’s take a look:

Adaptability - You live in the moment. You don’t see the future as a set destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans. You probably do. But this theme of adaptability allows you the flexibility to respond willingly to the demands of the moment.

Discipline - Your world needs to be predictable. It needs to be ordered and planned. So you instinctively impose structure on your world. You set up routines. You focus on deadlines and timelines. You break long-term projects into a series of specific short-term plans, and you work through each plan diligently.

When I read both of these understanding like never before took place. Kim is beautiful when she walks in her strength of "Discipline" and I am extremely successful when I walk in my theme of "Adaptability" Neither is better or worse, right or wrong, but they are different. Have you been trying to model your day, your schedule, your homeschool around a friend who is just gifted differently than you? I give you the freedom to let go and enjoy who YOU were created to be.

I love examples to illustrate points and coudn't help myself when I thought about two active posts going on right now over at the Time4Learning forums. We all use the same curriculum, we all LOVE Time4learning, but each of us finds success differently. I thought I would share a couple of topics which illustrate this beautifully....,

Scheduling Your Day

Which Lesson Plans Do You Print?

Have FUN homeschooling your children. Don’t let the details bog you down! Remember, "The death of contentment is comparison!" How about you? Are your a planner or a recorder? Do you err on the side of Adaptability or Discipline?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Should homeschooling be regulated?

Wary of relying on ten-year-old statistics, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) released new findings regarding homeschoolers' academic achievement on August 10, 2009. The report states, "Overall the study showed significant advances in homeschool academic achievement as well as revealing that issues such as student gender, parents’ education level, and family income had little bearing on the results of homeschooled students."

Public school students scored at, of course, the fiftieth percentile in all subjects. Homeschoolers' scores ranged from the 84th percentile in math to the 89th percentile in reading . . . significantly above average. The study found that, "The extent of government regulation on homeschoolers did not affect the results.

Low state regulation—87th percentile
Medium state regulation—88th percentile
High state regulation—87th percentile"

HSLDA has asked, “If government regulation does not improve the results of homeschooling, why is it necessary?”

The author of this satire compares government regulation of home education to government regulation of a parent's menu choice. It's food for thought. How do you regulate something like a "healthy diet" or "appropriate education" when there are so many variables?

Those in favor of homeschool regulation sometimes suggest that oversight of children by a third party (the school system) is necessary to detect signs of child abuse. Yet, ChildHelp statistics show that three out of four children who die as a result of child abuse are under the age of four, which is younger than any state's mandatory education age requirement.

Each state has its own regulations concerning homeschooling. Some require nothing more than stating the intent to homeschool. Others require standardized tests or portfolio evaluations. A few insist that the homeschooling parent is a certified teacher.

How closely should a state monitor its homeschooling population? A little? A lot? Or not at all?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Should Christians Ever Use A Secular Homeschool Curriculum?


When Christian families first begin the homeschooling journey, they often rely on the advice of other Christian friends about which homeschool curriculum they should use.  The majority of Christian homeschoolers rely on a few select Christian publishers for their curriculum needs.  Companies such as Bob Jones, A Beka, and Alpha Omega are familiar names among the homeschooling community because they have a reputation for reliable, structured, and Biblically sound materials. 

The downside of these companies is that they are somewhat geared to a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching.  The average student will probably do just fine with one of these programs, but just how many of us have “average” children?  I myself have struggled to fit into an average person’s skin, with somewhat disastrous results.  Unfortunately being “average” just doesn’t work for me, or my kids.

The purpose of Christian homeschool curriculum is to educate a child within the framework of a Christian worldview.  This is an incredibly noble goal for a publishing company, and Christians respond with gratitude and support for their efforts.  But if all our focus is on the curriculum or the theology behind it, our children’s educational needs can often get lost in the process.  The truth is that each of our children were created with incredibly unique bodies, minds, and spirits, and one of our jobs as parents is to guide our children into the one-of-a-kind people they are meant to be.

So, in making curriculum choices, we must take many things, beside just our child’s spiritual growth, into account.  Things such as . . .
·    What type of learning do they most enjoy?
·    What is their learning style?
·    Do they have any special learning needs?
·    What reasons made you start homeschooling your child, and why do you continue?

The answers to these questions can and should greatly influence your curriculum choices.  For instance, if your child is a visual learner, he may do poorly with a workbook-style curriculum.  If your daughter learns best by demonstration and hands-on involvement, she will probably not excel with a video-based curriculum.  If your child enjoys delving deeply into subjects that interest him, he might find unit study curriculum much more helpful than a simple textbook overview. 

And what if your child struggles or excels in a given subject?  Most standard Christian curriculums don’t make allowances for varying achievement levels within subjects.  Does your child work a couple grades ahead in math?  Has he or she been diagnosed with dyslexia or another learning disorder? In those instances, an eclectic choice of curriculum can make the difference between homeschool frustration and homeschool success.  Fortunately, there are an incredible array of well-designed, educationally sound, and interesting secular curricula for both the gifted student and the struggling learner. 

If your main objective when choosing to homeschool your children was to instill a Christian worldview into their lives, there are so many opportunities beyond math and science to do that.  Opening up your homeschool day with prayer, discussing how the stories you are reading together demonstrate or contradict Biblical principles, and leaving time in your homeschool schedule for ministry to others are all wonderful ways of educating your children in a Christian manner.  Whether or not you are using a specifically Christian curriculum for every subject, each homeschool day will present new opportunities for interweaving your faith into your studies.

One thing for sure about your child’s homeschool curriculum - - it can either enhance or dampen their love of learning.  Therefore, it is a choice of great importance in the long run.  By opening up to the idea of using secular curricula when necessary, you are opening up new possibilities of exploration and individuality for your child.  You are allowing them to become the unique person they were created to be!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Up to My Ears in Curriculum

I've often referred to myself as a curriculum junkie! When I first decided to homeschool my children, thirteen years ago, I came home from town with two sacks full of department store workbooks. Then, I discovered curriculum catalogs, and I was hooked!

It all looks good. Some of it looks GREAT! With so much to choose from, it's hard to decide which math or phonics program will be a perfect fit for a certain son or daughter. Trial and error at our house has resulted in the sale of a lot of "gently used" curriculum on eBay.

Accompanying each student text is a hefty teacher's manual. These are approximately three times the price of the student book and take up proportionately more room on your dining room table. I got by without the teacher's manuals in the early years but I eventually became unwilling to work each math problem in order to correct my children's papers.

That's what a curriculum junkie does after her children are in bed, you know. She no longer plays Scrabble with her husband. She doesn't curl up in a favorite chair with a good book. She never goes to bed early herself.

She corrects papers. Lots of them.

I've spent many evenings at my dining room table, bent over a stack of workbooks and teacher's manuals. This was in stark contrast with my earlier visions of the perfect homeschooling family. I thought home education would bring our family together. Instead, we were all engaged in separate activities . . . and I was stuck with the task of grading papers. Need a little more guilt in your life? Try neglecting the grading of your children's work! I got behind once, and I wasn't going to let that happen again.

Fortunately, my obsessive search for the perfect curriculum led me to Time4Learning. Of course, nothing is really perfect, but much has been said about this program's ability to eliminate a student's boredom and improve retention of concepts studied. Not so much has been written about how it benefits the parent! We can now eat at our dining room table, because it isn't forever covered with school books. The program grades the work for me, so I again have time to beat my husband during our nightly Scrabble games. The printable reports are concise and customizable, to contain only the information I really need, so I have far less filing to do.

I used to imagine having time to take nature walks or get involved in creative art projects. I wanted to add some good, old-fashioned fun to my kids' school years, but my good intentions were lost in the rush to get one more workbook page completed, and under an avalanche of paper. I put aside my desire to provide an old-fashioned educational experience to try a modern, online homeschooling method. Ironically, this "modern" method resulted in more time for old-fashioned pursuits!

These days, online curriculum figures prominently in our homeschool program. My younger children can't remember a time when their core subjects weren't done on the computer. Unlike my older kids, they'll also have memories of the field trips, nature walks and craft projects that I was too busy to juggle along with piles of books.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What Type Of Learner Do You Have?

One of the biggest learning curves I had as a new homeschooler was understanding how differently each of my children learn. My first little homeschooler was my "relational" learner. He LOVED to interact, to discuss, to follow rabbit trails. My next little learner was the exact opposite. He loved to have a list, a well lit area and a deadline. He THRIVED when given a schedule! He was my "independent" learner! Though I understand and appreciate this today, I remember how confusing it could be in our early years.

Some of my favorite “first” homeschool memories revolved around my relational learner and his experiences. I remember reading a biography on Helen Keller as we studied the “Five Senses”. This child could not WAIT for me to do fun little object lessons with him! If I close my eyes it seems like just yesterday that I was making a mock blindfold so he could experience what it must have been like for Mrs. Keller as she washed dishes. Later that week we picked up some old biographies from the library that had actual pictures of Helen, her family and her dogs. She loved Boston Terriers and owned many over the years, this was a huge hit since we also own a Boston. We closed out our week snuggling on the couch watching The Miracle Worker over a big bag of piping hot POPCORN! My relational learner made me feel successful because he allowed me in and shared his experience.

So Imagine my surprise when my next little learner began his homeschooling journey and I found him not having the same experience as his older brother? He did everything asked and always had a good attitude, but he didn’t seem to have that same “spark” when I would pull him close to discuss or do projects. I noticed that when trying to get his feedback it felt like I was pulling teeth and he would often guess at the answers he thought “I” wanted to know. My independent learner worried me that I was doing something wrong because he didn't need me to be a part of his experience.

Fast Forward a few years to when I became pregnant with our third child, we were forced into a new and extra busy season of life filled with doctor appointments, remodeling and hospital stays. Everything I had ever known went flying out the window as the boys needed to step up and work more independently in this short, fast paced season of life.

My young little independent learner lit up like a Christmas tree as he pulled out his list, prepared his schedule and grabbed his workbooks. He couldn’t wait to sharpen his pencil and get going. When he was done with his school he practically skipped into the living room to show me his completed work and while I was concentrating on checking his answers he would begin to process and share all that he had learned! I couldn’t get a word in edge wise. He THRIVED through contemplation, whereas his older brother thrived through DISCUSSION!

That was the day that the light bulb came on for this mama and I began to understand how very different my learners are. Neither is better or worse, right or wrong. It's not about 'ME" needing to feel success, but about what works for them, what makes information click in their brains and stay put! It’s not my job to make my relational learner more independent or vice versa.

Time4Learning has helped me to meet all four of our children’s learning styles! My relational learners THRIVE with the interactive lessons while my independent learners FLY because they are able to work independently. How about you? What type of learner do YOU have?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Homeschooling Children Who Learn "Differently"

I LOVE homeschooling my children! I consider it an honor and privilege to raise up four sons who learn both typically and differently. It is such a JOY to watch them have their “AHA” moments. However, I remember a time where it didn’t feel so joyful because there were not many “AHA’s” taking place in our home.

You see, early on in our home education journey my two oldest sons were diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder or "CAPD" for short. "CAPD" simply means that a child struggles to process and organize information in the brain appropriately when taught auditorily. The good thing is that most "CAPD" kids have an incredible "visual" learning capacity! Where auditory learning coats information w/ teflon, visual learning adds VELCRO! (Dianne Craft)

Just this past year I had a personal experience that really helped me to grasp what my children with "CAPD" go through when trying to learn. Our support group was preparing to host a big homeschool conference. As the weekend drew closer I noticed my computer acting funny. I had e-mails and details that needed to be taken care of and every time I would try to look up a document I would get a prompt that said, “File Not Found”. It was so frustrating. (We were to later find out that it needed to be defragmented) The next morning during my quiet time, I realized that this was a perfect example to show me what my boys have had to go through. How frustrating this must have been for them. I knew that the information was in the computer; I remember putting it there, but for the life of me, I could not find it.

I have found that my boys THRIVE when I read books containing lots of beautiful illustrations. They grasp material when they read information for themselves, because as they blend those words it adds the visual velcro they so desperately need. But the one medium that meets all their needs, whether they learn typically or differently is on-line computer based learning. The strong interactive graphics immediately pulls information to the appropriate part of the brain and the strong visual graphics help the information STICK and STAY PUT! They are able to build upon previously learned concepts like never before and their year end test results are the best they’ve ever been!

As I prepare to graduate my first born son my heart is overwhelmed at how quickly this time has gone. Things that I worried about at the start of our journey seem so insignificant. I wish I could back and do it again, knowing all the things I now know, things I learned the hard way. I am forever grateful that even through my own learning curve as a homeschooling parent, I was able to be a part of their “AHA’s” and will carry my memories in my heart forever.

Do you have a child who learns differently? Take heart knowing that “you” are their “perfect” teacher! No one loves or believes in them more!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What IS "socialization", anyway?

"Wow, you can't even tell that your kids are homeschooled!" commented an acquaintance, with admiration in her voice.

She meant it to be a compliment, but I was slightly disappointed. If we're honest with ourselves, those of us who have chosen to home educate are usually hoping our kids will be "different" than they might have otherwise been: A little smarter, a little more spiritual, or a little happier, depending on our reasons for choosing to homeschool.

What she meant, of course, was that my kids aren't "weird"! She believed the myth of the unsocialized homeschooler.

While I, personally, believe people with unconventional personalities add a lot of color and interest to our world, I do understand a parent's fear of turning their child into someone whose presence immediately causes raised eyebrows. We want our kids to be accepted. Some people value acceptance more than they value education. How often have you heard a parent say, "He's having trouble at school and his grades are terrible. I would homeschool him, except I'm worried about socialization!"

The truth is, how well we fit in with our peers has to do with far more than where we are educated. I've seen a lot of lonely kids in public schools.

Many children (including some accidental homeschoolers) are brought home for school specifically because they were unable to cope with the social aspects of a traditional classroom. It's wrong to consider these kids examples of unsocialized homeschoolers. The public school failed to prevent their difficulties.

I like the fact that my kids can relate to individuals of all ages. That's the kind of socialization I've aimed for. I'm puzzled at the mindset of those who believe students who aren't comfortable with anyone but their peers are "socialized".

"Home" school is a misnomer, anyway. You'll find most homeschooled kids at Scouts and VBS, participating in team sports, taking community classes, and volunteering at the hospital or library. If our family is an example, they usually arrive home from these activities with an extra kid or two . . . friends, invited for dinner or just to hang out for a while.

Nontraditional choices are often blamed for any failure. If a homeschooled child tests poorly, has social difficulties, or encounters other typical human challenges, it MUST be a result of homeschooling! This would only be a reasonable argument if public schooled students weren't subject to the same kinds of problems.

Human beings aren't the product of one parental decision. Our choice of home education won't make or break our child. The sum of our experiences contributes to our personality. There are parents who hope homeschooling, alone, will turn their child into a super achiever and there are those who fear homeschooling would be the cause of social ineptitude. Both sides are assigning too much responsibility to a simple educational choice.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When Your Family or Friends Don’t Support Your Choice to Homeschool

In the ten years I have been homeschooling, I have heard stories from disapproval homeschoolers that have absolutely broken my heart.  One of the ladies in the support group I belonged to years ago actually had to move to our state from her home five states away because her parents and siblings were giving she and her husband constant grief about their choice to homeschool their child. Another acquaintance of mine, who was a former school teacher, had been ostracized by all her former colleagues when she pulled her daughter out of school and began to teach her at home. 

And the story that has touched me most of all is a dear lady from my former church whose husband divorced her because she insisted on homeschooling their three girls - - two of which had special needs that were not being addressed in the public school system.  He so resented the loss of her income, that he said she had to choose between being married to him and homeschooling their children. These stories wrench me because going against the educational “grain” of society is difficult enough for homeschooling families without having the added disapproval of close family and friends. 

The truth is that almost every family who chooses to homeschool a child has seriously weighed their options and decided that teaching their child or children at home is the best choice for them. Some families believe that home education is the best way to instill their personal or religious values in their children, others recognize the failings of their local school system and know that they can provide a more adequate education for their child, and still others are “accidental homeschoolers” who have tried and tried to fit a square peg in a round hole, but have come to realize that their child’s particular special needs simply cant be met with the school options available.

If you are a homeschooler who has felt the friction from family and friends because of your choice to educate your child(ren) at home, you are certainly not alone.  Even today - - when there are more homeschoolers than ever before - - there are still people who are predisposed to think of homeschooling as either arrogant, foolish, or even damaging to children. 

The most important thing to remember if you are in that situation is that no one can fully understand your family and your children better than yourself.  No one - - no matter how much experience they have with public education - - can say with certainty that your child would get a better education in a classroom setting than they would in the intimate setting of your home.  And you can remind people who doubt your ability to teach your own child that you, yourself were educated in a classroom, and if you aren’t able to pass on your knowledge, then the school system might not be as successful as they thought.

Finally, if your closest relatives, or even your spouse, worry about the effect that homeschooling may have on your children’s social skills, tell them you will be glad to talk to them about it - - AFTER you have gotten back from your playdates, co-op classes, music lesson, volunteering at the local nursing home, and intramural swimming time at the Y!

I have yet to meet a homeschooling family that simply woke up and decided to teach their children at home.  Homeschoolers think long and hard about every aspect of their decision - - from what homeschool curriculum to use, to how to schedule their day, to how their children learn best. 

If you are dealing with the disapproval of family and friends with your choice to homeschool, be sure to surround yourself with a strong support system, including a local homeschool support group if it is available, friends you know who have been successfully homeschooling their own children, and even online help in the form of homeschool parent support forums and email groups.  These people can provide you with advice, experience, and the affirmation you need to continue on in the path you have chosen - - especially when the people closest to you oppose your decision.

The “naysayers” may have plenty of opinions about what you should and shouldn’t do regarding your child’s education.  But whether homeschooling works out for you and your children or not, the only ones who will be dealing with the ups and downs of each day of learning together are you. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Read and Regurgitate" Learning

Need a quick cure for insomnia? Grab almost any textbook and start reading it. Chances are, you'll be yawning before you've finished the first page!

My public school education consisted almost solely of what I've heard called the "read and regurgitate" method of learning. That's a colorful way of describing what happens when a student reads from a textbook and then answers questions taken directly from what he has just read. Because these questions only require the material to be committed to a student's short term memory, they are often an exercise in futility. How many of us could pass our high school social studies tests if we were to take them ten years later?

I was in my thirties before I realized I loved to study history . . . a subject I had avoided during my school years. Preparing to home school my first child, I discovered a curriculum that used "real books" instead of textbooks. My son was going to be reading colorful, engaging stories instead of dry narration. In previewing his lessons, I was embarrassed to realize I was learning a lot myself!

We've experimented with textbooks, and I suppose there is a place for them. I put them in the same category with dictionaries and encyclopedias. They're great for a brief introduction or to fill in the details of a story with which the student is already familiar. They're fine as an additional source for research. But, to truly understand and appreciate history, one has to almost live it . . . which is what we tend to do when immersed in a great storyline!

Fifteen years after being introduced to my first alternative curriculum, I still have an aversion to textbooks. I probably take it to extreme. Our homeschool curriculum consists of story books, animated computer lessons, DVDs, hands-on activities, and field trips. At some point, everyone has to learn to attend to boring tasks, but I don't want to teach that lesson in combination with American history. Learning is more effective when lessons are fun and engaging, and this mom has continued to learn, right along with the kids!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting Real!

The Learning Lifestyle

When I began my homeschool journey back in 1998 I had visions of my children and I curled up on the couch reading-a-loud from Moby Dick as we would sip our hot cocoa. I could see them leaning forward in rapt attention, eyes wide in wonder, hanging onto every word. When we were done I would usher them outside to our beautiful garden so we could begin our daily nature study. (btw, I’ve never gardened in my entire life) Afterwards we would come back inside to my spotless home where the smell of Downy Fabric softener would be permeating from each and every room. Close your eyes and imagine Better Homes and Gardens. Perhaps I watched too many episodes of Leave It To Beaver?

As funny as that is now, for years this vision cost me dearly. It was the beginning of my quest for something that could never be. I went from curriculum to curriculum trying to find the one that would help me walk out this picture I carried in my subconscious mind. Yes, I really believed that a curriculum would help me look more like June Cleaver. One day I woke up and realized I needed to GET REAL! I realized that my children were missing out on real life while I was busy trying to create something that could never be.

I took a long hard look at my homeschool and realized that somewhere in my quest for perfection I had forgotten my main reasons for homeschooling my children in the first place. For us, in our our home, Biblical Worldview was at the top of our list, yet my curriculum was taking me so long we never really had time to sit and soak in God’s word. Teaching my children to be lifetime learners wasn’t happening because I kept purchasing programs that required my boys to be dependent on ME. Serving others was not happening because I was too busy trying to check all the boxes in my teachers manuel.

Our main homeschool program is now an amazing on-line curriculum that I adore. It makes me want to wake up and KISS my computer! I no longer feel bogged down with lesson planning or even record keeping, though if I am feeling creative I certainly can. I now have time to snuggle with those precious little ones who are growing up way too fast, and together we read great stories from long ago. We have time to enjoy our bible study and scripture memory. Some amazing discussions ensue as we talk about current events and pop culture and how that lines up with God’s word.

We are able to run errands together, go to park days, plug into our co-op, work on the yard, sit and talk. I am able to stay on top of my house, though you might not smell downy permeating from every room. (grinning) A recent favorite memory is that of my boys and their daddy helping to care for a friends yard while they were out of town for her dad’s unexpected funeral. When we were trying to create formal learning these things caused me great stress and now they bring about GREAT JOY!

Oh how I wish I had understood that Lifestyle learning would give us far better memories than that silly picture I carried in my head for all those years. How about you? What does Lifestyle learning look like in your home?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Teaching Our Children To Be Thinkers!

Preparing Our Children To Be “THINKERS” instead of FOLLOWERS!

"Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire." William Butler Yeats

When I began my home education journey twelve years ago I had this unrealistic picture in my head that I would be able to balance homeschool, homemaking and outside activities ALL with a smile on my face and a spring in my step! I quickly found this was not possible on a consistent basis. Especially as we added more children to our home. Life got busy and things began to fall through the cracks. I was so thankful that there were homeschool programs available that my children could do independently. However, I vowed that we would only use them until things settled down, because I wanted to be a part of my children’s learning experiences.

I quickly changed my mind as we began our journey with Time4Learning, a student based program that allows my boys feel successful as they work on their own. I fell in LOVE with watching my sons become Self Educators! No matter how crazy and full my calendar gets I am able to keep my priorities in place. What I couldn’t have known was that even more important than time management, my children were going to learn how to become “Thinkers” instead of “Followers”

Let me share a perfect example from the other day. My son Seth walked up to me out of nowhere to tell me about the sun....., "Mom did you know the sun was a star?" (Big Happy Mama Smile) I asked him where he learned of this and he said, "Time4learning". (He looked at me as though I was a little slow on the uptake, grin) He began telling me fact, after face, after fact. You see, HE became the teacher and I quickly became his student. This is what SELF education is all about.

Don’t misunderstand, I LOVE snuggling together to read-a-loud rich literature! I LOVE occasionally hunkering down and doing a unit study! I LOVE watching educational shows together as a family and letting those be the springboard to dig deeper, BUT at the end of the day I want my boys to know how to think for themselves.

As the years have gone by we have found that we LOVE plugging into our local homeschool co-op. I have found a passion leading our monthly homeschool support group meetings. We’ve added children and taken care of our ailing Grandmother, but no matter how busy or full life becomes my sons simply pop on their headphones, type in their username and password and begin their wonderful journey of self education.

In the midst of LIFE, on-line education has allowed our homeschool program to keep going STRONG! Yes, I still have to (want to) be available to answer questions, to have discussions, to check their work and to cheer them on, but I can let go of having to make lesson plans, pull things together, to sit down and do the teaching.

The truth is my heart is at war with my goals at times because I want to be a part of everything they are reading, thinking, learning and doing, but I have to tread cautiously as I don’t want to teach them to be dependent upon ME. One day they will leave my home and I want them to forever be....., LIFETIME learners!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's Incidental About Learning?

Homeschoolers are in a position to maximize incidental learning. Incidental learning takes place outside of formal lessons or study time. Incidental learning happens when the baby discovers that some of his bathtub toys sink and others float. It occurs when a toddler realizes a puzzle piece only fits one way. It happens when a preschooler suddenly realizes he knows the alphabet, thanks to hearing the ABC song over and over. It can even happen during the course of your school day when Little Brother overhears Big Brother's online homeschool lessons.

Incidental learning tends to be retained more effectively than material presented formally. I compare it to a volunteer plant near your garden. No one intends to plant a seed in that particular spot, but a plant grows there anyway. It does so because conditions are perfect for it to thrive. Incidental learning occurs when a student is primed and ready to learn that particular concept at that particular time. Of course, the seed must be present and water must be provided, even if it happens casually instead of on a strict planting and irrigation schedule.

The homeschool lifestyle itself tends to maximize incidental learning. An obvious example is when younger children take an interest in their older siblings' lessons. They might enjoy watching science experiments, listen to computer classes or courses on DVD, or overhear brothers and sisters discussing what they've learned with Mom and Dad. Because homeschool parents know exactly what their children are studying, they are able to provide practice during the course of everyday activities. When baking cookies with a child who is learning fractions, it's only natural to point out the relationship between your recipe's half cup of sugar and that morning's math lesson.

Parents can do many things to encourage a seed of knowledge to take root. A big map, posted in a prominent place, is a valuable geography aid. Be subtle in demonstrating its use. When discussing vacation plans, point to your location and the intended destination in a matter-of-fact manner. If a news story catches someone's interest, wander over to the map and find the appropriate region, as if you are doing it for your own information. Your children will come to see maps as everyday life tools, instead of associating them with "school".

I like to display small posters, without comment. Within a month, everyone in the family knows at least some of the material on that poster! Those laminated placemats that are printed with U.S. Presidents, states and capitals, and other educational concepts make terrific posters. Put one in a busy location. (Eye level in front of the main "seat" in the bathroom is an excellent place to display these.) Don't overdo it. One poster at a time is plenty.

If you want your child to memorize something, don't assign it as a lesson. Read it to your family every, single day for a month. Chances are, it will be memorized effortlessly. The key is daily exposure to the material, whether it's a poem, a Bible verse or the Preamble to the United States Constitution (which I recently "tricked" three of my kids into learning).

My preschooler's room is decorated with posters intended for the classroom. This type of poster is much less expensive than posters designed for bedrooms. (Mine came from the Dollar Tree.) They are a great way to attractively present concepts like color, shapes, numbers, and letters. Of course, you don't want to deny your child his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine poster, but try sneaking in a few alphabet pictures, too.

This is a small sample of things that have worked well for my family. I'm sure you can think of examples of incidental learning from your own experience. Please consider sharing your examples in your comments, for others' benefit and enjoyment!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Can Every Family Afford To Homeschool?

A USA Today article recently made its way around the world wide web and created some interest.  The article stated that American families who homeschool are increasingly white, wealthy, and well-educated.  While it is true that homeschooling might be easily accessible to those making at least $50,000 or more salary a year, it does not necessarily follow that if your family doesn't meet that quota, that you cannot successfully homeschool as well.  Many families of various level of financial security are homeschooling their children - - even in these tough economic times.

A family's reasons for homeschooling usually do not have to do with money.  Many homeschool for religious reasons, others want their children to avoid the negative affects of the school environment, and still others believe they can give their children a better academic advantage in a homeschool setting.  Some parents of children with special needs or learning differences try out homeschooling as a way to provide more resources and support for their child.  None of these reasons is tied in any way to a family's income.  So, just because a family doesn't fit the category of "white, wealthy, or well-educated" doesn't mean that they have any less desire to homeschool their children.

Families that are struggling to make ends meet have found creative ways to continue homeschooling.  Many homeschooling moms have explored their "creative" side, and have taken up side businesses using websites like Etsy to sell their homemade crafts and artwork.  Others have started scouring local yard sales and flea markets for great bargains that they can then resell on Ebay or locally via Craigslist.  Moms who enjoy writing have found ways to turn their blogs into extra profit, or have begun creating product review blogs to add to their monthly income.

Of course, working from home is an ideal option for homeschooling moms and dads, but even a second job outside the home can be possible in many instances.  Jobs with some flexibility, such as caretaking, pet or house sitting, and childcare often have the added benefit of allowing you to bring your child or children with you to work.  Other families are making the sacrifice of family time by finding jobs for both parents on different shifts.  Although this is probably the least ideal way of earning extra money, some families feel that homeschooling their children is the current priority, and try to make the most of the times they do have together.  Families with older children and teens who can work independently even decide that both parents can work at least part time while the children focus on their schoolwork.  This situation only seems to work for mature, self-motivated students who have the ability to manage their time well.

piggy bank Even if earning additional income is not a possibility, many families may still be able to homeschool their children by cutting costs elsewhere.  Although it might seem impossible, many homeschooling families are surviving - - even thriving thanks to online viewing options - - without cable or satellite television subscriptions.    Other budget items to take a second look at include health club memberships (outside family time is more fun anyway), haircuts/grooming (community college cosmetology students will provide the same service for half the cost), pet care (put Rover in a big Rubbermaid container and suds away), and energy costs (following simple energy-saving guidelines really makes a difference in utility bills).  And even though it can be a lot of work, make an effort to have a yearly yard sale.  Not only will it provide some extra bucks, but also provides a terrific excuse for some spring cleaning and organizing!

And don’t underestimate the importance of finding inexpensive homeschool curriculum.  Purchasing materials from used curriculum sites, attending local homeschool book fairs, and taking advantage of free online resources and low-cost online homeschool curriculum are excellent ways to reduce the overall cost of homeschooling.

Making the decision to homeschool is not an easy one, and many factors such as faith, educational standards, local school systems, and individual needs of the child play into it.  The financial situation of a family should not have to be an issue when a family is making the choice of how to best educate their child.  By looking at alternatives such as sources of additional income, budget reevaluations, and costs of curriculum, almost any family can put financial concerns aside and focus on the important task of homeschooling their children!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Writing Instruction: Where's the Answer Key?

How do you teach what you've forgotten? As a homeschool mom, I've spent many evenings reviewing what I intend to teach my children the following day! In several cases, our curriculum has introduced me to a concept for the first time, and I've learned right along with my children.

If I'm unfamiliar with a topic, I can still correct the kids' work, thanks to a teacher's manual and answer key. Even when I think I know the answer, it's reassuring to be able to look it up, just in case.

Evaluating a child's writing assignment is a little more challenging. If you aren't confident in your own writing ability, it's very difficult to give appropriate feedback to your budding writer. Quality feedback is essential to developing a student's writing skills.

Parents who are writers themselves question their assessment of their own child's writing. It's such a subjective evaluation, and we suspect our ability to judge is clouded by our relationship with our child. Oh, for a second, more objective, opinion!

Three of my kids have used an online writing program called Time4Writing. Time4Writing's teachers provide almost daily, personalized feedback. After reading two comments, my kids were hooked! The first thing they wanted to do each morning was check to see what their teacher had to say about their writing.

The feedback is very encouraging. Correction is offered in a positive way and improvement is congratulated. The specific comments make it apparent that the message was written directly to the student by a real person. Students who have questions can communicate directly with the teacher via an integrated messaging system.

Unlike most online classes featuring live instructors, students can begin as soon as they sign up. Considering the level of service we received, I was very pleased with the $99 price tag. I would expect to pay much more for such personalized tutoring.

Time4Writing has many writing courses to choose from, beginning with young third graders and continuing through high school. There are writing classes designed to acquaint younger students with basic sentence structure and courses to help older students prepare for standardized tests. With classes for all ages, our family considers Time4Writing an essential part of our curriculum.