Thursday, February 24, 2011


This week I want to give a few updates on things I mentioned in previous posts. Sometimes I lay out the plans and share them, but forget to let everyone know how it all worked out.

In last week's post, Misconceptions, I shared my feelings about a local radio program on the topic of homeschooling. That night I sent an email to the host expressing my concerns. The next morning, I had a reply asking me to please call the show and share what I had said in the email. I had about 15 minutes of air time to proclaim the joys of homeschooling. I hope that the things I had to say made some people realize that homeschooling, while challenging, is not an impossible or arduous task...most days. ;-)

Two weeks ago, in my post titled Changes to the Plan, I was playing with changing the way we handled coverage of the required subjects. I have implemented two changes since then. First of all, I put together a unit study for health. We will be covering health every day for two weeks straight. Previously, we had health scheduled as a once a week class, but it often got left behind in both planning and implementation. So far the boys seem to be enjoying the change. We are using a lot of websites, including games and activities. Yesterday we took our health unit to the grocery store. I printed out copies of the Food Pyramid at the Kidshealth site. (They also have a fun interactive game with printable results.) I gave each boy a clipboard and a pencil. They had to correctly categorize the foods we were buying. They both did an excellent job AND it kept them out of trouble in the store. Once we finish our health unit, I plan to do the same with music and civics.

The other change I have made is that I am allowing larger pockets of time for some of the favorite subjects. I have reduced grammar and writing to no more than two days a week. I'm also trying to be sure to allow more time for art projects. Free reading time and documentaries are also being used more often.

In a post titled Passion, I said that I was hoping to help the boys be more internally motivated by their own desires, instead of being externally driven by me. This week there have been three places where the boys are driving the day. The picture above shows one of those, JT's obsession with his rock collection. He has been working on the geology activity badge in Cub Scouts. This made him take a closer look at his own rock collection. He decided he needed to identify and label all of his rocks. Although I did my fair share of rock collecting as a child, even writing my first ever research project in fourth grade on rocks and minerals, I am no expert at identification. He's on his own there!

He's also discovered that he LOVES working with animation. My husband is working to help him further his skills. JT has written up a plan for a video game he wants to develop. We ordered this book, Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners today to help him learn more of the basics.

We've also started our cooking instruction that I discussed in Teaching Responsibility. I pulled my Taste of Home cookbook off the shelf and used it as a text book. We went through the beginning sections where vocabulary, common tools in the kitchen, and food safety are covered. Starting with the first tab, appetizers and beverages, we are reading the introduction and then choosing two recipes from each category. So far we made Spiced Pecans and the Old-Fashioned Strawberry Soda. JT pointed out that when we finish going through the book, his final project should be to create an entire meal on his own. I think that is an excellent idea!

Now one thing I am looking at changing before the end of the year. For history we have been working our way through the first book in the Story of the World series. However, in PA elementary students are required to cover American History and Pennsylvania History, but not ancient history. Up until now, I just threw something from our civics unit into the portfolio binder for those requirements. Now I think I'm going to take our two days a week devoted to history and continue with Story of the World for one day and add American History for the other. I'm still not sure if I'm going to look into curricula for that, or just use books from the library in more of a free reading style of learning.

Finally, I just discovered a new blog this week. (Like I need one more RSS feed to distract me from what I'm supposed to be doing!) I read this guest post by Un-schooled blogger, Kate Fridkis, at the OMSH blog. It is an excellent post on homeschool's effect on a child's self image. It couldn't have been at a more perfect time for me. Even though I love what I do with these boys, there are many days I think it would be SO much easier to send them to school. Kate's words (as a formerly homeschooled adult) made me more sure than ever that what I do here will make all the difference for my boys. Keeping my mind on that goal will make it easy to do.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Most mornings, I listen to a local radio talk show. Today I was especially excited because their guest was a homeschool evaluator. The guest was introduced. She has a master's degree in education and did not homeschool her own children. Most advice that I have heard regarding evaluators encourages choosing either someone who has homeschooled their own children, or is obviously very homeschool friendly. So my guard was up from the get-go.

One of the first questions from the host concerned misconceptions about homeschoolers. The evaluator's answer included the statement, "Some people think all homeschoolers sit around in their pajamas until 10am. That is not the case." Hmmm...I looked at my children. It was 9:30am, and sure enough, they were still wearing their pajamas! In fact, so was I! This really started me thinking. What if we do wear our pajamas until 10am? What if we choose to wear them until 4pm? How exactly does that affect my child's ability to learn? Now I do have the boys get dressed before we start the 'structured' part of our school day. But even if I didn't, I'm pretty sure they'd still be capable of learning.

Of course they covered the typical, "Homeschoolers don't get enough socialization". The guest went on to explain how most homeschoolers are involved in a local homeschooling group. Well guess what? We're not. I have looked into the local group, follow their events, but have never really become an active participant. Are my children suffering? Both of the boys are active in scouts, Upward basketball and church activities. No more than a typical public school child. Do they need something to make up for the 8 hours a day they are missing being exposed to group of children all their own age? They seem to be fully capable of responding appropriately in public situations, both with their peer group AND people of all ages. What they are missing is the possibility of bullying from their peers. Honestly, JT is a bit quirky and more than likely would become the object of persecution in a public school setting. We love his quirkiness. We are all a bit quirky in this family. We talk about how we are a bit odd sometimes. In a regular school setting, he would suffer and I am VERY glad he doesn't have to experience that.

I couldn't resist the opportunity to call in to the show. After a brief introduction of myself, the host asked me if I was "formerly trained in education." I answered that I only have a high school diploma, but think of myself as a lifelong learner. I told him that from the time our children were very small, we have always encouraged them to find out the answers to their questions. We pursue answers with a vengeance around here. Of course, what he was really asking is, am I qualified to teach these kids? The answer is, I don't have all the answers to all of their questions, but I do know where to point them for answers most of the time. I know that when we reach more advanced subjects, I am going to need to rely on outside helps more often than I do right now. But you know what? Even though teachers have been trained to teach, they don't have all the answers. And that's okay too.

Finally, they asked the guest about reasons for homeschooling. She told them that almost all of the families she evaluates chose to homeschool for religious reasons. When I called, I was sure to point out that there are plenty of families out there that homeschool for a wide variety of reasons, including myself. We are a family of Christians, but we did not choose to homeschool for that reason. Yes, it makes it nice that we can teach the Bible as part of our curriculum, but it doesn't mean we are hiding our children from the world so that they never hear other points of view.

I felt that the program really showed a very narrow view of the homeschooling community. It was a bit disheartening to see an opportunity to really proclaim the diversity and flexibility of homeschooling thrown away. I hope to be able to continue the conversation with the host. I have sent an email explaining where I felt they fell short. Maybe I'll get my own chance to share our story.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Changes to the Plan

When we started out this school year, I developed a weekly schedule for covering all the state required subjects. Monday through Friday we cover the 'core' subjects on a daily basis. These include reading, spelling, math, writing and grammar. Monday and Friday we have history. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are science days. Health, civics, art, geography and music each get one day per week. I'm starting to consider revising my original plan for a few reasons.

First of all, now that we primarily do our 'formal' schooling in the afternoons, sometimes time flies by too quickly for the number of subjects I would like to cover. If we get hung up on a particular concept in math, we might run out of time for health that day. Then things get pushed to the next day. Before I know it, Friday is packed full of all those things we just couldn't squeeze in the rest of the week!

Another problem I'm discovering is that our one day a week subjects just don't get the coverage they should. The continuity is just not there when we only touch on it once in every seven days. These particular subjects tend to be the ones I have the most trouble planning, as well. I'm not sure if it's because I have fewer traditional teaching materials for these subjects, or if I am just not as comfortable with them at times.

Finally, I'm finding that the need to hurry along causes the boys to need to switch gears far too often in one day. Like many students, they need time to transition from one thing to the next. With some days having as many as seven different subjects to cover, it's just too much to take.

My proposed changes look like this. Some subjects will still be covered daily. Math, reading and spelling will all continue with their usual schedules. I think I am going to schedule history, science, grammar and writing twice a week, in larger portions on the days they are being covered. Right now, grammar sometimes has a tiny pocket of time, often only a worksheet or text book activity. I would like to really develop that time into something more substantial, perhaps with more in depth writing assignments. Art will continue to be a once a week endeavor, but now with more time allotted.

Finally the biggest change I want to make revolves around those remaining subjects: health, civics, geography and music. I think I am going to put together something more like a unit study for each of these subjects. The boys would get a more thorough exposure to each topic. I also think I'll be more likely to invest the time necessary if we are going to be working daily on a particular subject.

As we are about 2/3 of the way through our required 180 school days as of this week, I'm not sure how this will all play out for the rest of the year. I will probably change a bit and tweak our schedule as we go. I am definitely planning to work with more of a block scheduling system for next year. Overall, I have been happy with what we have covered so far this year. I just think we can do it with less stress if we change some of the mechanics.

One final note, Annie from Learn at Every Turn, recently posted a link to a website called iCivics. I can't get over how much I love this site! It has been a perfect learning tool for JT. Today he played the game called, "Do you have the right?". Here's a synopsis of the game from the site.

In Do I Have A Right?, you’ll run your own firm of lawyers who specialize in constitutional law. You’ll need to decide whether potential clients “have a right,” and if so, match them with the right lawyer. The more clients you serve and the more cases you win, the faster your law firm will grow! Can you think on your feet? You're going to have to!

I highly recommend checking it out.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Olden Days

We have a pretty standard routine around here for bedtime. After showering and getting dressed for bed, the boys come to the kitchen to pick a snack. While they are eating their snacks, Daddy reads to them. We try to pick books that are going to be enjoyable for both of the boys (and us!). My husband is an expert at reading aloud. He always does the voices perfectly. I enjoy story time just as much as the boys do. I'm usually cleaning up the kitchen and listening in the background. This tradition began YEARS ago when my daughter (now grown and married) was still at home. It will continue as long as they want to take part. You're never too old to listen to someone read a book to you.

We are currently making our way through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These books are wonderful for many reasons. One of my favorite things about this series is learning how they made do without technology. Our material blessings become so much more amazing when they are compared with what the Ingalls family had. As usual, any deep thinking leads me to...thinking how it fits in to homeschooling!

When I think about what life must have been like for homeschoolers of the past...I am blown away by how easy it is for me! I'm not talking about ancient history either. I'm talking about parents who homeschooled their children a mere 20 years ago. What would I do without instant answers via Google? Where would I find, compare and purchase curricula? Where would I find a video on how to make a wet mount slide for the microscope at 1am so I can be ready to teach my children how to do it the next morning? Most importantly...where would I be able to network with friends around the country and globe who are also teaching their children at home?

I am so thankful that technology is available to allow me to teach my children with ease. But, you know what? Even if it wasn't...they'd still be able to learn! Even if we lived in a time before the library was just a 15 minute car ride away. Even if we lived in the middle of Kansas with neighbors miles away. Teaching happens when questions are asked and answers are found. Sometimes we have to work together to find an answer. Sometimes we even have to admit we don't have all the answers. And sometimes, a little wondering is good too.