3 Points for Homeschool Planning

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I just came from our monthly parent support night and, as usual, I feel energized. I have written here before about how great these meetings are. The family who shared with us graduated a daughter from high school last year and another daughter will graduate this year. Both daughters were accepted by multiple colleges on full scholarships.

The mom shared 12 points for homeschool success, but she said the three most important ones are:

1. Get involved in 4-H – the opportunities for growth and learning abound in 4-H. Just in case you are wondering, 4-H is no longer about raising pigs and chickens. It is public speaking, government, history and many other projects. The kids get to lead out for most projects, with adult counselors supervising.

And, to quote from the 4-H philosophy, there are no failures, only learning opportunities. Children learn to lose, not just to win, as they get involved in all these projects.

Which is great preparation for when they get overlooked for a promotion as adults, for instance. Or when they don’t get picked for a team. Or when they don’t get the girl. Learning to lose gracefully is just as important as learning to win.

2. Keep good records – the homeschooling mom who shared with us said this was THE most important point on her list. She said, “You can either plan well or you can keep good records. I was never good at planning, but I kept good records.” I think she has a valid point. If I had to choose between making lesson plans and keeping records of what we actually did, I would prefer the latter. It would be more useful, too.

She recommended a three-inch binder per child, per year, with a few notebook pages in the beginning: “Activities,” “Field Trips,” “Books,” and whatever other list you can think of. You need columns for the date, how many hours, the name of the activity and whether it was a solo or a group event.

Use sheet protectors for your museum brochures, tickets and show programs, so that you have a better idea of what you did that day. If you can, get a letter from the organizers that your child was there – this could be, for instance, if your child sang at a political rally, or cleaned a portion of a city street.

3. Take advantage of dual enrollment courses – graduating from high school with an associate degree or, at least, with many college credits, presents so many advantages. Financially, it makes a lot of sense.

Socially, the students get to experience college for one hour a day, then they come home. Then, they can discuss all the college stuff with their parents. They see kids dropping out, failing because of procrastination, relationships that mess up lives or alter the course of somebody’s future, they learn what it’s like to be in a classroom with others and so on.

Academically, they get challenged, but they also get helped. High school courses tend to be harder than college courses. It takes double the time to get an English high school credit than a college one – as crazy as that may seem. Also, just like with 4-H projects, your kids get to be accountable to somebody other than mommy.

The homeschool dad who shared with us summed it up like this: “It goes by fast, it does not last, so make it a blast.” He encouraged us to make it fun. So thankful for homeschooling parents who share their wisdom.


Mom Monday Week 13 – Pretty, Stinky Flowers

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Depending on the weather, I take a walk in the morning. Our neighborhood is 10 minutes away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – a perfect place to homeschool.

Mom Monday Series on Homeschool Ways

I did not learn the concept of a nature walk until two years ago when I was researching homeschooling and fell in love with the Charlotte Mason approach. Nature walks are my time to be by myself, with God and His creation. I ask for clarity on certain issues. He delivers.

Three pine cones, small, medium and large

Pine cones in different stages of development remind me of the growth process we all go through

The other day, I found some treasures that reminded me of a few lessons about life in general and homeschooling in particular.  Continue reading »

First, I found three pine cones, each a different size, each perfect in its stage. Perfection does not mean the end of growth. It simply means organic matter, in its different stages of development, contains everything it needs to function well and continue to grow to the next level.

Children are that way. Perfect at every stage, they have all they need to continue their process of growing, learning and maturing. Are we faithful, like God, who sends sunshine and rain on His creation, to oversee our children’s development?

Small white flowers which smell awfully

Beautiful, stinky flowers from a neighborhood tree

Secondly, I spotted a twig covered in small, white flowers. It had fallen from a tree. I brought it home and my children put it in a small container with water. While having breakfast, my daughter kept saying something smelled bad. I could not smell anything, but children are always right.

I decided to smell the twig. Wrong move. These horribly smelling trees may look glorious in spring, but their flowers reek. Appearances can be deceiving. Let’s make sure that our homeschools look good and smell good, too. Literally and symbolically.


She Wants to Be “Mom”

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My four-year-old daughter wants to be “mom” when she grows up. That’s what she said. I asked her the other day for the first time: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She said, “I am thinking…” I started suggesting things to her. She shook her head no to each one. Then, she smiled and said, “mom.”

You mean, in spite of all my shortcomings she looks up to me? She thinks my job is fun and exciting? She thinks “mom” is a good gig? I am surprised because I grew up not wanting to have children. The culture in Communist Romania did not relish children.

Abortion was illegal, but women risked their lives to undergo illegal abortions. They preferred to die or go to jail than to have another one. Women were overworked, beaten by their husbands, and completely treated as second class citizens.

The last thing I wanted to be was a wife and a mother. And here I am, a homeschooling mom. Who spends more time with her children than a homeschooling mom? It has been quite a journey to get here in my heart.

As a child, I focused on education. That was the way to empower myself to live life on my own terms and not depend on a husband.

I studied for every subject so hard, one of my teachers told my mom during a parent-teacher conference that I make all the other kids look bad. That it is not normal for a child to have a 10 in every subject (that’s straight As in the American system of grading). That I should just pick the subjects I like and focus on those. You know, like what every other child was told to do.

The problem with that approach was that I loved Humanities. I loved to read, to write, and to study foreign languages. But the borders were closed. The same teachers who told me to focus on what I liked, discouraged me from pursuing languages. They recommended I focused on “real sciences.” They said the computer was the way of the future and languages would only put me in this category of people the secret police would keep under constant surveillance. Can you tell the year was 1985?

But doesn’t it sound a bit familiar? Don’t you hear an over-arching emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) these days? Everybody speaks English around the world, so why should American kids learn another language? It’s just a waste of time. And forget music or the arts. The world does not need another starving musician or artist. Let’s all learn to code. Code writers have jobs.

Look, I am not saying don’t learn STEM or coding. I am just saying there are parts in a child that would only be touched by music and art.

And I am certainly not advocating that children be “all-rounded” because that spells mediocrity. But let’s not focus so much on hitting certain parameters in education that we forget education is an art in itself. That learners are persons with feelings and thoughts and real desires and real talents, which must be found and encouraged.

Let’s not tell the children what to focus on. Let them read, explore, and ask questions. Show them how to arrive at answers.

Once they discover what they want to be, by all means make room. Make room for exploration and for delving into it. Make room emotionally and intellectually for their passion to flourish.

My daughter, at four, wants to be “mom” when she grows up. Sure, it might change by the time she is 12 or 18. Or sooner. For now, she is having fun with the idea. She owns her desire. How many adults do you know who own their desires? Their careers?

I am surprised that my imperfections have not given her the message that motherhood is too stressful to take on. Relieved, too.

My daughter may be right after all. Why shouldn’t she be? “Mom” may be the best gig in the world because moms get to influence the world as they raise the next generation of leaders.


Mom Monday Week 12 – Visualize Your Success

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Professional athletes, high-powered CEOs, and the world’s best entertainers know a few secrets to success: passion, perseverance, hard work, a bit of luck, and visualization – among other things. I would like to zoom in on visualization for this week’s Mom Monday post. Homeschooling moms prepare for success, too. Why not learn from these accomplished individuals?

Homeschooling moms can visualize their success especially before a stressful days

Homeschooling moms can learn from successful people who visualize their stressful days ahead in a calm, positive way

First, a definition. Visualization is the formation of mental visual images. You may have seen skiers waiting to start their course visualizing themselves on the slopes, moving their shoulders left and right based on where they see themselves being, and bending their knees accordingly. The night before a big match, tennis players and other athletes also spend time visualizing themselves at key points in the game, applying strategies they have practiced and discussed with their coaches.

Why do they do that? Their muscles are ready. They are preparing their minds. Victory takes complete dedication. Training the muscles is not enough. One must train the mind to think victory.

Mom Monday Week 12 Visualize Your Success

In the same way, a homeschooling mom should visualize herself being successful in rearing her children. I believe prayer and meditation based on God’s Word provide an opportunity for visualization. As we claim the promises of God over our children, we can visualize them accepting Jesus as a personal Savior, passing exams with high grades, and making the right choices in every aspect of their lives. But visualization is more about your own behavior.  Continue reading »

For me, it is important to visualize myself being calm in the midst of sibling rivalry. I practice saying certain things we have established as acceptable discipline. I picture myself smiling in the most stressful moments of the day. For instance, I picture 11:30am, when everybody’s blood sugar is running low. We just finished school and violin practice and the kids have all this pent-up energy which they start using in fighting with each other.

And while all this is happening, I am supposed to prepare lunch. Maybe even accept their “help” in the process. So I visualize myself calmly inviting them to play separately. What about you? What is your most stressful moment of the day? How do you get through it?


Mom Monday Week 2 – Exercise Exceeds Expectations

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Raise your hand if you want:

  • more energy to homeschool your children
  • regulated hormone levels (ahem!)
  • improved moods (my word for 2014 is gentle)
  • better sleep

You can achieve all this (and more) through regular physical activity, a.k.a. exercise.

Purple Exercise Mat and Pink Weights

My exercise mat and weights

Some moms think of exercise as just another chore to do. But exercise can be fun. In fact, if you don’t make it fun, you won’t do it. It’s that simple.  Continue reading »

Becoming a mom throws one into a new reality. The baby’s needs come first. As baby grows, mom must make a super-human effort to take time for her own needs.

Besides food and sleep, exercise constitutes one of those daily needs a mom cannot overlook without getting into trouble.

Moms are physical beings, not just spiritual, emotional and intellectual beings. Moms must address their own physical needs if they want a successful motherhood.

Exercise Exceeds Expectations

So take two minutes and answer the following questions to establish or improve your exercise routine:

  • How do I like my exercise? In the swimming pool, indoors with a workout DVD, on the ski slopes, in the park, on a treadmill on the back porch, jogging through the neighborhood?
  • When do I have a 30-minute block of time in my daily routine? The kids should have a care-taker available so your mom mind can be at peace.
  • Do I have fun exercise clothes? Sometimes dressing up to exercise motivates you to do it. Exercise clothes don’t have to be expensive to be attractive.
  • How should I exercise indoors when the weather does not cooperate? My routine is a 3-mile morning jog through my neighborhood. When the temperature drops below 35F, I use a workout DVD from The Firm.

Stop reading. Get your planner out. Add exercise to your calendar now. Homeschooling can wait a few minutes.


Mom Monday Week 1 – Children Change the Status Quo

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It’s the first Monday of 2014. Is it already a busy, manic Monday? Or is it slow because you are experiencing the post-holiday letdown? Homeschool Ways will help you every Monday in 2014 through a new series called Mom Monday.

Please take two minutes to read some encouraging words or to find a few tips. These short articles will fall in one of five categories: spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and fun.

Children Change Everything - Week 1

My life changed 100% when I became a mom. Yours did too, probably. I’m not just referring to the amount of laundry, cooking and cleaning I have to do, now that I care for two extra bodies. I also care for two minds and two spiritual beings.  Continue reading »

Personal devotionals and attending church took on a new depth. Working outside the home lost its appeal. Priorities changed. My worldview changed.

Baby boy getting dedicated in Protestant church

Our son’s dedication in 2008

A gentleman who is childless by choice asked me, “Is it a different life, now that you are a mother?” I replied, “It’s not just a different life. It’s a different planet. I experience life with a different focus.”

My life, in fact, is made up of two eras: BC (before children) and AD (after delivery).

Psalm 139:13 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Becoming a mom inspired me with awe and transformed me. I pray I don’t lose that awe when I deal with my children daily.

If you have not signed up for my weekly newsletter, you can do so on the right hand menu – you will also receive my free 34-page devotional workbook, 21 Days to Jumpstart Your Homeschool.


Learning Styles

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Children fall into two categories: those who like school and those who hate school. The reason why some children hate school is because traditional classroom environments do not cater to their learning style.

That is why Mark Twain wrote, “I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

A book I possess, treasure and refer to on a regular basis is Cathy Duffy’s “101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.” Here is a summary of chapter four, on learning styles.

As a homeschooling teacher, you will make your life easier when you grasp three concepts:

A. Learning modalities

B. Learning styles

C. Teaching styles

A. Learning modalities

There are three types of sensory input, or learning modalities:

  • auditory (hearing)
  • visual (seeing)
  • kinesthetic (feeling or experiencing with one’s body)

People lean toward one more heavily than the others. Modalities help, but they are a bit too simplistic, even if you realize your child is 75% kinesthetic and 25% auditory. That’s where learning styles come in.

 

B. Learning styles

A learning style is the way a person most easily learns and processes new information or skills. A preschooler does not have a learning style yet and a five-year-old might change his learning style by the time he is ten. Up on your toes you go!

There are four learning styles:

  • Wiggly Willy (WW)
  • Perfect Paula (PP)
  • Competent Carl (CC)
  • Social Sue (SS)

Don’t worry about male/female names. Focus on characteristics. A girl can be a Wiggly Willy and a boy can be a Social Sue.

Wiggly Willy would rather play and have fun than work. He dislikes paperwork and record keeping. He leans toward the fine arts, physical education and activity-oriented classes. This student must be taught using hands-on activities, multi-sensory audio-visual aids, short, dynamic presentations and learning games. Variety is key.

Perfect Paula likes planning and following schedules. She is not very good at coming up with creative ideas. She gets upset easily when others don’t cooperate. PP is more comfortable with “cut and dry” subjects than those which require exploration with no clear answers. Best methods for this child: workbooks, consistent structure, lectures that follow an outline, drill and review, and time to prepare for any discussion (remember, she has a hard time with creativity).

Competent Carl likes to be in control. He thinks and acts logically and has trouble understanding others’ feelings and emotions. He prefers math and science rather than language arts. Methods to use with CC: independent work, logically organized lessons, clear sense of purpose for lessons, long-term projects, problem solving, brainstorming.

Sociable Sue worries about what other people think. She is idealistic and interested more in general concepts rather than details. Social Sue prefers language arts, social studies and fine arts. When teaching SS, use real books, unit studies, discussions, social interaction, public presentations and situations where she is personally recognized and valued. Sociable Sue needs repetition for detail and help with self-discipline.

 

C. Teaching styles

Think about how you like to learn. That’s also the way you like to teach. The above four learning styles apply to teachers as well. In His wisdom, God gives a Sociable Sue daughter to a Perfect Paula mother to help both of them develop their characters. Don’t you love it!

 

Winning Formula

Put learning modalities together with learning styles for a winning formula. An example should help. Your child might be a kinesthetic Sociable Sue. As such, she prefers more project-oriented learning. If you had an auditory Sociable Sue, she will lean toward sedentary, read-aloud activities.

So should we pamper our children by catering to their learning styles and modalities and never push them outside their comfort zone? Not at all. Use your knowledge of their particular learning style to introduce new and difficult subject matter. Once they have grasped a concept, use other more challenging methods. Case in point: a very active Wiggly Willy can learn math by using objects, without paper and pencil. Once he has mastered a concept, have him do a worksheet of review and practice.

Teach to their strength and review through their weakness, thus helping them grow not just academically, but in self-discipline as well.

Your next job is to match learning styles to curricula and fine tune the motivation process.

Finally, if you have tried everything and your child still does not “get” it, he might have a learning disability. Your local homeschool support group can recommend a professional in your area who will help you determine what is going on.

For extra credit, read Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson’s book: “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.”

Leave me a comment below about your experience with learning styles. Have you figured out your child’s learning style yet?


Homeschooling 101

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You have decided: you will homeschool. Now what?

Let me say this: if the “why” is big enough, the “how” will follow. In every aspect of life. Homeschooling is no exception.

Researching how to get started takes time. Don’t let it get you discouraged. Take it in stride.

Here is a checklist for you to follow, based on what I did:

1. Find out the deadline for registering in your school district. This determines how much time you have to do research and it will keep you focused. I had eighteen months, but a friend of mine said, “That first day of kindergarten will be here before you know it.” She was right.

2. Familiarize yourself with the law in your state. The HSLDA website should give you a great start to this process. There, you can locate your state’s homeschool organization and work with them directly. Whatever you do, don’t rely on word of mouth. Do you own research.

3. Plug into a support system – locally, there should be a homeschooling group you can call upon with questions. These families are usually generous with their time and knowledge, but you must remember that they will tell you what their experience has been. It may or may not apply to your family. Weigh the answers.

4. Gather up all the documentation needed to register. Depending on what you find in the previous steps, you might need a lot or a little. While you’re at it, get organized. Prepare a file strictly for the legalities of homeschooling and keep it where you can easily access it. Guess what? You would have to take this step even if you put your child in a traditional classroom.

5. Read up on homeschooling approaches, curriculum choices and learning styles. Get used to the lingo. Don’t get intimidated. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. This friend of mine told me about her first days of homeschooling: “I kept asking myself, ‘What do I do?'” She had the jitters. She also had a master’s degree in education and several years of classroom teaching experience. It is normal to feel nervous, but don’t let nervousness stop you from enjoying this exciting time.

Even if you are short on time, read the first few chapters of Cathy Duffy’s “101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.” Do you have to read all the reviews? No, you don’t. Thank God. That’s the beauty of this book. Do your homework in the beginning of the book and then you will only have a handful curriculum choices to review.

6. Get curriculum, either new or used. Get school supplies. Don’t shop till you drop. Newbies usually get too much. Rainbow Resource Center, Amazon and homeschoolclassifieds.com are great places. Your local bookstore might have a homeschooling section. Visit the bookstore to hold the book in your hand before you order it online. Used curriculum fairs happen regularly in your area. Check with your local support group.

7. Plan your school year or, at the very least, the first month of teaching. Donna Young will help you there with free planners, lesson plans, nature journals, notebooking pages and any other type of form you can think of. Did I mention they are free? Notebooking Pages might be of interest, as well.

8. Sign up for newsletters and magazines. These resources can get overwhelming. I signed up for three magazines, for instance, and realized I only read two of them. Also, if you find they do not fit your homeschool, unsubscribe. Look for a better fit. Homeschooling happens in so many ways. You will eventually find your style and your clan in the beautiful world of homeschooling.

9. Register.

10. Relax. You are home free.


Spell to Write and Read

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As I researched spelling curricula, I bumped into Spell to Write and Read. It was love at first sight.

From what I can tell, my children like it already, too. You see, for preschoolers or non-readers, Spell to Write and Read (SWR) offers a variety of games to develop phonemic awareness – the key to good spelling and reading skills.

On pages 20-22 of the Teacher’s Manual, Wanda Sanseri, the author, offers several games to play with preschoolers. I have already done some of these at random times of the day. They don’t even know they are learning because I took the work out of it by saying, “Let’s play a game.”

One such example is “Run around the clock,” an exercise used to teach the directional orientation needed for writing. I made 12 3×5 cards with numbers 1-12, as suggested, and placed them on the floor of our living room like the face of a clock. I asked the kids to stand at number 12 and then I gave them directions: “Run to 6”, or “Walk to 3” etc. They loved it. They asked to switch with me and they gave me commands, too. I walked or ran as they gave me my marching orders, no pun intended.

When I got a chance, after they slowed down their excited comments, I told them: “This direction is called clockwise because this is how the clock hands move. When we learn to write though, we will move in a funny direction called counterclockwise”. I said that several times. They blinked and listened.

Most of what I do with them now is quick and painless, fit for their attention span. I just drop concepts into their receptive minds and let it go. When they hear about it again, it will sound familiar. Hopefully.

But the greatest moment for me was when my son took the game one step further. After playing it for a few minutes, he ran to the table, grabbed a stack of construction paper and several markers and made 12 different drawings which he placed next to each number card. He drew several types of trucks, a teddybear, a ship, a volcano, an ambulance, a map… you get the idea. Things a 5-year-old would draw. Then, he asked me to go to the truck and run to the map. Or walk from the map to the teddybear.

He was having so much fun, he asked me not to put the clock away overnight. He wanted to play some more the next day.

Another SWR game we play (sometimes even in the car) is vowelizing words. I was trying to teach them to count the syllables in a word, but found that they started prolonging vowels and so they would end up with extra claps and extra syllables.

So he said “CAT!” and clapped once. He knew that was one syllable. Then, he said “CA-A-A-AT” and the result was confusion.

His younger sister started imitating him, as she does in everything. From my reaction, she realized she would go down the wrong path. She went back to her clapping the word and not exaggerating the vowels. She takes her learning seriously, even though everything else in life is a game for her. She is my happy-go-lucky child, but she shows a lot of maturity when it comes to learning. Meanwhile, my son got stuck.

My strategy was to get him to hum the word (as suggested on page 21 of the red SWR Teacher’s Manual). That way, he could not go wrong. I asked him to say “CAT” with his mouth closed tightly. He went, “Hum!” That was it. One syllable. Once I showed him that, I could tell he was relieved he had a tool.

This spelling curriculum, like many others, is all about giving children tools. Wish me luck as I delve into it more and more.

What about you? Have you looked at Spell to Write and Read? Have you attended any of their training seminars? Have you used it in your homeschool? Why? Why not?