Thursday, August 30, 2012

Five Tips For A Good Beginning

Many homeschool families school year-round, and many follow a calendar similar to their neighborhood schools.

Those who take a summer break probably have or are gearing up to start a brand-new year.  Here are some ideas for a positive  beginning:

1)  Be excited, and let your enthusiasm show.  Attitudes are contagious, so be sure your children are catching all of your good feelings.  Marketing is very important!

2)  Prepare several weeks of materials ahead of time.  My family uses a packaged curriculum, so a great deal of the organization is done for me.  I typically use Sunday afternoons as my preparation day, but when we first begin I like to have looked over and gathered the enrichment materials for the next month or so.  This allows me to focus on the children rather than the material.

3)  Do something fun or unusual during your first few weeks.  While everyone is readjusting to your routine, add some favorite activities (or some new ones!) to keep everyone feeling excited.  In our first few weeks, my oldest son started band classes at our local public school, I took the children on a 'book scavenger hunt' at our library, and we went with cousins on a field trip.

4)  Talk about what everyone is learning.  My children love to talk. Period.  I encourage them to tell others (like their father, other family members, friends and interested adults) about what they are studying.  It helps with their retention, make them feel proud of their work, and can be a great tool to show individuals without exposure how effective homeschooling is.  Discussing what they are learning with you helps them practice for whenever those opportunities arrive.

5)  Take it easy.  Don't try to get everything done.  Freeze some meals ahead of time or plan on grilled cheese and soup for supper.  Watch your children instead of your curriculum.  It is your prerogative to avoid the pressure and stress that children face in institutional schools so take advantage of it.

And don't forget to take a few pictures!  Best wishes on your new year from all of us here at Growing Your Homeschool.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our Evolving Homeschool Style

Today, I am excited to introduce you to Laura, a blogging friend who also happens to homeschool.    I met Laura earlier this year through her blog, Freedom at Home and School.  She shares about striving for a simple life, but one rich in adventures and relationships.  Laura's words of wisdom and experiences will encourage both new and veteran homeschoolers.

We will soon begin our sixth year homeschooling our two children.  Lydia is 13.  Lyndon is 11.  I am not a veteran homeschooler, but I have learned what works best for our family at this season of our lives.  When you homeschool, you spend enough time with your children to truly learn what makes them tick.

Homeschooling has benefited our lives in more ways than I can count.  It brought our family closer.  Our children are ahead of their peers in many subjects (and we're not even trying).  I would love to share everything I have learned that makes homeschooling work for our family.  But I was asked to write a post, not a book.  So in keeping with a major theme in our lives, I will keep it simple and share what works for us.

ECLECTIC.  That's our current homeschool style.

Webster's Dictionary defines eclectic as "selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles."  Exactly!  That's what we do.  We try to incorporate into our schooling only that which works the best (curriculum, styles) and toss the rest.

We began homeschooling in 2006.  I was so structured, I could barely move.  Hourly schedules, daily schedules, weekly schedules, annual schedules, schedules, schedules.  Good grief, I was so rigid.
I used the Sonlight curriculum for a couple of years.  (Sonlight, by the way is a super homeschooling resource.)  Sonlight's scheduling notebook is huge and it is full of schedules; hourly, daily, and weekly.  I took great comfort in this structure when I first started out.  If I didn't have the Sonlight scheduling notebook to hang onto during those first years, I might not have had the courage to seek out different formats that work better for our family today.  Those highly structured years helped train me.  I learned so much about how I teach, how our children learn, and how we work best together when we "do school." 

Today, however, I find highly structured schedules too restricting.  Rigid structure took away from the spontaneity that I find to be such a delightful part of homeschooling. 

Structure is important.  I get that.  But the backbone of how we homeschool is much more flexible today.  We bend deep trying new things, but we don't break.  We are solid on the basic subjects every child should know; math, writing, reading, history....  I know what I want our children to learn each year.  And we get there.

That said, here are a few guidelines that have worked well for us on our homeschool journey. 

*Have fun!  Be flexible!  Enjoy your children.
One of the most difficult things I had to learn as my childrens' teacher was to laugh with them during school.  Somehow I thought if we were silly when we were learning something, the kids wouldn't take learning seriously.  Was I ever wrong!  When we laugh together we bond.   A good belly laugh releases those wonderful endorphins that make life less serious and more fun.  It actually becomes easier to refocus and learn when your heart is light.  "A cheerful heart is good medicine."  Proverbs 17:22

When you're not rigid with your schedule, you can marinate in a subject that catches your childrens' fancy.  Last year we spent an entire day making crystals.  It wasn't planned, but it was one of our best days.  Our study on the Early Roman Empire was put away until the next day because learning about and making crystals is so fun!  We spent the day covering the house with our experiments.  Borax crystal ornaments, alum crystal geodes, and sugar crystal sticks.  We took pictures and videos.  The pages of their science journals were being filled and we were laughing a lot.  I loved that day.

*Be sneaky!  Teach them subjects that you've always wanted to learn.
When you are having fun, your children will have fun.  They will feel your excitement and internalize it.  It will energize them.  Think about a subject that interests you and learn about it together. 

I don't remember learning much about the Civil War in school.  I decided that since my children need to learn about the Civil War at some point, why not now?  From the library we borrowed some lovely coffee table books on the Civil War and left them out for the children to peruse at their leisure.  We dug through letters written by my great-great grandfather while he was a commander in the Civil War.  We watched movies and documentaries.  We memorized the Gettysburg address.  We read novels and biographies.  I loved that time. 

*Be creative.
Any subject can get boring.   When the kids are struggling with a particular concept (often in math), we'll get out our huge eraser board and some colorful markers.  I'll ask the kids to switch roles with me.  They teach me what they know and I try to coach them through it.  Finding a good video online explaining a certain discipline also helps.  The web site is a great resource for just about every subject.

We are not above enticing our children with money to learn something beyond what we are currently studying.  Money motivates them these days (we don't do allowance.)  Once in a while, my husband and I will put together a list of a dozen things the children can learn with a dollar amount attached to each.  The list magically appears on the refrigerator and stays up for just one week.  Once the list is taken down, so is their opportunity to make some extra money.  Five dollars to memorize the name and location of each European country and capital (spelling counts.)  $3.00 memorize the three branches of government and explain the function of each.  Our kids have spent entire evenings devoted to learning from that list in order to earn some money.  No TV.  Just learning.  It's heaven.

*Be fearless in the face of a newly purchased curriculum.
After hours spent researching a curriculum and investing in its purchase, I found it difficult to acknowledge that it was not working for our kids.  In spite of our best intentions, sometimes, you and your child will not "hit it off" with a particular curriculum.  If you see your child's eye's begin to glaze over and your child does NOT want to work on that particular subject, then toss it!  Your child does not have to endure a boring curriculum when there are scores of choices available online.  When we end up with a dud,  I have learned to move on quickly.  Resell it.  Give it to a family whose children find it enjoyable.  But move on! 

*Be organized.
It sounds like a contradiction.  Being organized does not equal being rigid or super-structured.  It simply means that we can quickly find what we're looking for.   It saves time.  It makes life less complicated.  I reorganized our homeschool closed this year.  Each shelf has it's own subject.  Each child has his/her own shelf.  There is a special box for their laptops.  We can locate a pencil sharpener and our writing curriculum in a heartbeat.  Less physical clutter means less clutter in our brains.

*When you want to give up.... DO!  (But only for a little while).
When things get hard (and they will), don't be afraid to take drastic measures.  Just quit... for a while.  I don't always take our family's "emotional temperature" before we begin our day.  I may start the day intending to finish a difficult chapter in math followed by a long chapter in history.  But if the kids wake up exhausted from a long week of swim practice and 4H activities, they may not share my energy.  Never be afraid to cancel school for the day, the week, two weeks...  Do something out of the box.  Go see a matinee (when all the other kids are in school!), ride your bike, play a game, hunker down and read books for pleasure.  Whatever caused the difficulty will soon seem insignificant as you wind down and school can begin again when you've got your equilibrium back.  A rested and relaxed child can do twice the work in half the time.

*Don't try to recreate a public school in your home.
We rarely sit at a desk for school.  More often than not, the kids are stretched out in the living room.  We break it up by writing an essay at the kitchen table, doing geography in the master bedroom (we have the world map tacked to our bedroom wall), watching our writing DVD snuggled on the couch together.  As long as the kids know where to find their stuff, they can work wherever they feel comfortable.  Both of my children are kinetic learners, so there is a lot of moving around in our house.  A physical change of location can alter the atmosphere and make learning easier.

*Talk about Him throughout the day.
"You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."  Deuteronomy 11:19

Bad moods?  Arguing?  Take a break, sit down together and talk about what King Solomon said: "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" Proverbs 12:18.   "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control." Proverbs 29:11  There are endless moments to bring God's word into your day.  Often we'll just go off on rabbit trails and end up with a Bible study for the morning.  "Who wrote Proverbs?"  "Who was his father?"  "What great feat did his father do as a child?"

FINALLY....  Don't forget the excitement of new school supplies.  Especially in the middle of the year.  Fresh pencils, erasers, and journals?  An inexpensive boost of adrenaline; a renewed excitement for learning.  I don't know why.  It just works.

I love being a homeschool mom.  I no longer cringe when I hear someone ponder about the "waste" of my legal education.  Even on days that I feel like throwing in the towel, I know that I'm doing the right thing and tomorrow will be a better day.  I know that what my husband and I have chosen to do is making a positive difference in all of our lives. 

Time is passing so quickly.  Our children are with us for such a short while.  The world will have them soon enough.  In the meantime, pour yourself and your values into your kids.  Pray for them.  Pray with them.  Have fun with them.  

If you're still reading, you must have a heart to homeschool your children.  You are not alone.  There are millions of homeschooled kids around the world.  Our numbers grow every year.  Why?  Because it works! 

Never, ever give up.  There is always something new to try.   There is always encouragement to be found from a friend or an insightful blog.  There are as many different styles of homeschooling as there are children.  Find what works for you.  You will never regret homeschooling.  Even if you homeschool for a year or two, you will be giving your children a gift most kids never get; time with you. 

Homeschooling is one of the best decisions my husband and I have ever made.  We have no regrets.  None.


About Laura:
My husband and I have been homeschooling our two children for six years. Lydia is 13 and Lyndon is 11. We moved to Montana from the big city 21 years ago looking for a more peaceful life. Earlier this year I began a blog, Freedom at Home and School, to journal about our attempts to simplify the very hectic lives we had somehow managed to create.  Many of my posts involve homeschooling because it is such an important part of our lives. I practiced law until our children were born. Now my days are spent taking care of my home and family. I enjoy gardening and couldn't survive without a pile of books on my bedside table. Being a stay at home mom is much more difficult and infinitely more important than my law practice. My husband is a business owner. His work creates a schedule that allows him to spend time with us each day. We love hanging out with our family. We see the speed at which our lives are passing. Our primary focus is God and family. We are blessed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quick Ideas for Times of Chaos

It feels pretty ironic to write about homeschooling when I'm 15 days postpartum, starting 'school' with half our books lost in the mail (seriously!), barely able to feed everyone, and sure to be late.  Anywhere.

But hey, anyone can homeschool when life is calm and the waters are quiet, right?  It's keeping the ship afloat when the storms are swelling that tends to keep the homeschooling mama awake at night.

I may not be a veteran homeschooler, but in just a few years, I've schooled through more than a bit of chaos.  In this quick, nursing-at-keyboard post, I'd like to share my personal sanity savers- the ones that have seen me through my times of trouble.

1) Books on tape (or CD, but we still have tape players, and tapes are really cheap when you can find them!).  Almost any book, classic or crazy, can be found.  Our favorites are Radio Theatre recordings from Focus on the Family.  Watch vocabularies and grammar skills grow effortlessly!

2) Ed Emberley drawing books.  Don't have time for handwriting?  Worried your son will never be interested in writing legibly?  Ed Emberley to the rescue!  These books don't feel like work, but they work magic in the handwriting department.  "Accidentally" leave a couple out on the breakfast table and see what happens!

3)  Math games.  If math is the thing you put off when the going gets rough, then be sure to supplement your environment with a supply of sneaky math fun.  ABA-CONUNDRUMS will teach anyone to do speedy math on an abacus (a REAL abacus!), but don't say so; the game is too fun... dads especially will get into the challenge.   Pattern Blocks  in a pretty basket on the dining table are addictive! 

4)  Mad Libs.  Remember these?  These are probably why half the adults of generation X can tell you the difference between an adverb and an adjective.  Still more effective than a dry grammar workbook, and way more fun!

Look- you just covered the 3R's right there.  So go ahead, snuggle up.  Babies don't keep!

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. 
~W.H. Auden
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. 
~Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five Life Skills Every Homeschooler Can Learn NOW

One benefit my family has noticed since we moved home for school is how much my children can contribute to and learn about the running of our house and business.  Our youngest was only three at the time, and she has been able to learn and experience so much more in the areas of "basic life skills" than our older two children simply because she has never spent her days away at school.

Here are some great examples of essential and confidence-building skills your homeschooler can learn, no matter how young they are:

1) Sweep the kitchen

You can show your child how to begin at one end of the room and sweep toward a central location.  My kids still want to be the one who 'gets' to sweep because they love using the dustpan.

2)  Make a sandwich

Younger children may need the ingredients laid out for them ahead of time.  It can be fun to make a "sandwich buffet" for lunch one day, laying out many different ingredient choices and letting each person build their own meal.

3)  Fold laundry

Our routine began with younger children folding napkins, facecloths and hand towels.  Now each person folds and puts away their own clothing and we all work on the community pile (the same towels and napkins!) together.

4)  Make a phone call

Whether you have a home phone or are cell-phone only, your children can dial up a relative.  It's such a pleasure for them to repeat the numbers back as they press the buttons, or follow the directions to scroll through a menu.

5)  Wipe down surfaces

Sinks, furniture, mirrors, windows, countertops...The list is longer than my arm.  It can be such fun to get a cloth (especially if it is one you folded and put away yourself!), wet and squeeze it out, then wipe away a visible mess.

These skills become especially handy to your children and incredibly helpful to their mother once they get closer to double-digits.  Parenting a homeschooler creates endless opportunities for learning; take advantage of this and give your kids a head start on the nuts and bolts caring for themselves and their things.

What skill have you been surprised by one of your very young children performing?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Creating a Homeschool Space

When we first started homeschooling, we lived in a house with less than one thousand square foot living area. We were very limited on space.  Our homeschool area consisted of a shelving system, our dining room table, and the living room sofa.  That was all we needed.

Fast forward eight years, and now we live in a house more than twice that size with a designated room for homeschooling.  It is a blessing.  However, you might be surprised to know, I don't think it is essential for homeschooling.  No, indeed, I know you don't really need a specific homeschool room to successfully teach your children.  And, you definitely don't need the cutest, most current organizational methods and devices which 'guarentee success.'  For I have witnessed many families homeschool with so much less, and dare I say it, perhaps have done a better job than those with so much more. 

The truth of the matter is...

To homeschool, you only need a few things in regard to physical space. 

Perhaps your homeschool area is a designated room or part of a room.  Maybe you see your whole house as a homeschool setting.  Or, for your family, the world is your classroom.  Regardless of your situation, you still have a need for a physical space for homeschool supplies, books, and important papers.

Three Essentials for a Homeschool Space, Area, or Room...

  • Shelves or Storage Area - I think we can all agree that some kind of housing or location for all your books and supplies is needed.  Whether you store them all in one room or throughout your house in convenient point of use locations, this is one way to personalize homeschooling.
  • Place to Work - Depending on your homeschool style and preferences, this place to work could be a desk, table and chairs, clipboards, sofa, or bean bag chairs.
  • Box, Drawer, or Binder - Important papers like state regulations, lesson plans, attendance records need to be kept in an easy to find location.  You may never need to prove your child's homeschooling experiences, but having the documents in a secure, easy to find location, can be a benefit if you do.

Four Things to Remember When Creating a Homeschool Space...

  • Organize your space to respond to the needs of your family.  Don't try to copy someone else's space.  Try any organization method you think will work for your family, but don't keep using it just because someone else recommends it.  If it doesn't work for your family, try something else.
  • Remember why and how you homeschool.  These two factors will greatly determine how you set up your homeschool area.
  • Your homeschool space can contribute to the success of your homeschool, but it does not determine it.  It can be wonderful to create an organized space or room of beauty and comfort to use for homeschooling.  It is a blessing to give our children {and ourselves} this, if we are able.  However, many homeschool families successfully homeschool with less.  The latest organizational gadgets or the biggest homeschool rooms do not guarantee homeschool success.
  • What works this year, may not next year.  Homeschool situations change.  Circumstances, the number of children you homeschool, or the way you homeschool may change over time.  Your space might need to be altered to accommodate these changes.

Five Fun Extra Items to Consider Adding to Any Homeschool Space...

  • Color and Patterns - Make your space a little more personal and fun with color and/or patterns.
  • Containers - All sizes and shapes can help organize almost any homeschool area.
  • Pictures, Posters, and Children's Art Work - Decorate your area with visual aids, pretty pictures, or original works of art.
  • Animals and Plants - Live plants and animals can add vitality to an area.  Most children are fascinated with observing living things. 
  • Unexpected Items - Just because a space is designated for homeschooling, doesn't mean everything in it has to be functional. Some items may be included for fun or beauty. 

Dorie enjoys being outside, photography, art, writing, a strong cup of coffee, and good conversations seasoned with much laughter. She and her drummer husband, Jerry, share a life built on faith in Jesus, love, and grace. They have been blessed with four active children. Each day, whether easy or trying, is a wondrous part of this grace filled journey, and Dorie blogs about them all at These Grace Filled Days. Their homeschooling adventures can be found at Homeschooling Just Next Door.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Academic Progress at Their Pace

There is freedom in homeschooling.  We choose curriculum, or opt to use outside resources like classes, tutors, or co-ops for some subjects.  When needed, we can alter lesson plans to suit our families, or change directions when something isn't working.

In any given school year, many choices and decisions are made, but probably one of the most daunting responsibilities is determining the pace a child progresses through their academics.  As a homeschool teacher, you can allow a child to progress at their ideal pace for them, but what if this is far outside the norm? 

Typically, a child finishes the school year and they are promoted to the next grade.  They have completed satisfactory work and progress to a harder level.  However, not all children do. 

A child who struggles greatly may need remedial work or increased tutoring time over the summer break.  Perhaps, they need a different academic approach or some specific interventions throughout the coming year.  Lightening their academic load by concentrating only on core subjects may help.  Sometimes, they may even need to repeat a grade level in one or more subjects.

On the other hand, a child may excel quickly through their academic work.  This child sails through all your lesson plans, completing near perfect pages with very little evidence of effort.  Perhaps, they need a more challenging approach or a few extra courses in the coming year.  Sometimes, they may even skip a year to reach a more challenging level.

No matter what the situation, both children need their academic progress paced in some fashion. 

Regardless of what curriculum or method you use, the pace you employ is vital. 

A child who struggles should not be expected to complete as many lessons in as short of time as a child who excels academically.  We all understand this innately.  However, what about when your child only struggles with one aspect?  Maybe multiplication or sentence diagramming presents difficulty for your otherwise good student.  Do you progress at the child's pace, slowing down for their understanding, or do you press forward, trying to complete the curriculum on someone else's schedule?

Recently, I was reading through a book which cited the literal meaning of curriculum as 'to run a course.'  Wanting to determine the validity of that statement, I checked out the definition from Oxford Dictionaries on line.   This is what I found.

Curriculum - noun (plural curricula or curriculums): the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college; origin - early 19th century: from Latin (see curricle)

Curricle - noun historical: a light, open, two-wheeled carriage pulled by two horses side by side; mid 18th century: from Latin curriculum 'course, racing chariot', from currere 'to run'

{definitions from Oxford Dictionaries}

Curriculum is the course set before the student.  There is an end in sight, but there doesn't have to be a standard speed.  Children walk it at their own pace, finishing as they are able.  As parents, who happen to be teachers, may we continue to encourage and lead them along the way to progress at their own pace. 

Dorie enjoys being outside, photography, art, writing, a strong cup of coffee, and good conversations seasoned with much laughter. She and her drummer husband, Jerry, share a life built on faith in Jesus, love, and grace. They have been blessed with four active children. Each day, whether easy or trying, is a wondrous part of this grace filled journey, and Dorie blogs about them all at These Grace Filled Days. Their homeschooling adventures can be found at Homeschooling Just Next Door.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A New School Year

As a new school year approaches, homeschool parents busily plan lessons and activities for their families.  It can be a great time of anticipation!  Here at Growing Your Homeschool, we are busy planning for the start of a new school year, as well. 

Over the summer, we added a few pages to help readers navigate our site more easily.  For those who are contemplating homeschooling or are just about to begin their first year, we created a Starting Out page.  Veteran homeschoolers, who are further along on their journey, may appreciate our Need Encouragement page.  Both include links to past articles.  However, we don't believe we have all the answers!  We are homeschoolers on the journey as well.  Many of our readers have a wealth of information to share.  We wanted to include a place for you to add a link to your blog on a Growing Your Homeschool Community page.  We look forward to sharing your site and your wisdom with others.  So, please feel free to add your blog link to our Community page.

Recently, we were blessed to have several guest writers.  We hope to introduce you to a few more in the coming months.  Until that time, did you miss any of these incredible articles?
Me Time? by Janet
You Want Me to What...? by Brooke
Crazy Quilts, by Kim

Finally, to all of you, thanks for reading, and we look forward to the start of a new school year with you.
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