Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Treasures: Good King Wenceslas

I'm to the point where I hesitate.   Majorly.   Before any given homeschool purchase.  Even if said purchase is something as innocuous and non-space-guzzling as a book.  And the longer I homeschool the more wary I become of recommending "things"- any  "things"- to any one.  I'm a minimalist, to be sure.  Plus there are only so many slots in any homeschooler's library!  And I think we all hold our wallets just a little tighter these days. 

So when I call something a treasure, I don't do it lightly.  Let alone a book!  Books.  Books.  Books.  There are so many.  Good ones.  Bad ones.  Sometimes I think I'll write one but then every time I go to Barnes and Noble I get sort of sick looking at the sea of books... only a small fraction of which are worth anybody's time.  Too many books.

We have a treasury of Tomie de Paola'sw Christmas books which we lovingly display and read each Advent.  We don't need any more Christmas books!  But I couldn't walk by this one.  I had to stop and look.  Then I had to read it.  Then, well, I had to have it for our collection; despite all my misgivings, I just couldn't pass this beauty up.

The book tells the story of St. Wenceslas with exquisite illustrations.  And his story couldn'y be more apropo  for the children of our time.  I don't want to tell you the story in case you've never heard it.  But King Wenceslas embodies the spirit of giving in a concrete way that really sinks in for children.  So if you only buy one Christmas book this year, may I be so bold as to say, this should be it! 

God bless, and happy reading.

Good King Wenceslas

"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers.  My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.  There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." 
~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Working and Homeschooling

I am one of thus lucky moms who found jobs working part-time from home so that I can still be here for my children every single day.  I am completing the work for my doctorate in Special Education, writing curriculum for a NGO here in Zambia, teaching a course at the local university (which does actually require me to leave the house for a few hours each week), and writing articles for education journals with some colleagues back in the US.  In total, I work about 25-30 hours a week.  I am still learning how to make it all work for my family, but I have found a few tips that I would like to share:

1. Plan your day. Schedule in time for homeschooling, housework/cooking, and working.  Then, stick to the schedule (as much as dirty diapers and children refusing naps will allow).  To account for the unpredictable, plan in more work time than you actually need.

2. Do some of your work while your children are doing independent work activities.  Then, you can all work together.  It can be beneficial for children to see that grown-ups have to sit down and work too.

3. Be willing to work nights and weekends if necessary sometimes.  I am lucky that my girls go to bed very early (about 7 pm) and I work for a few hours each evening and often work several hours on the weekends.  I consider my jobs (which I LOVE) as my "free time activities".

4. Be honest with yourself and say "no" when necessary.  There are countless cool projects that I have turned down so that I can focus on what is most important - my family.  It can be hard to know your limits, but trying to do too much will be harmful to you, your family, and your employer.

5. Reevaluate the decision to work and your job on a regular basis.  If working and homeschooling is not working for you, change what you are doing!

While I am still figuring things out, these tips have worked for me.  Do any of you have other tips for working from home?

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Changes in Our Homeschools

It is the season of change. Autumn leaves change and fall. Trees begin to lay barren to the chilling air, and no one can deny, another season will soon be upon us. The same may be true of our homeschools. There may be change in the air there as well.

Depending on when you started your year, your family may have already completed 1/4 to 1/3 of your school year. Is there anything that you had to change or adjust in that time? How did you know a change was necessary?

AurieWe haven't changed too much since we started in September. We have a basic schedule that we follow {bible, language arts, math} and then fit in other areas as needed. Since we are interest led, I only plan 2 weeks ahead, which has really helped me not feel bound to a schedule or plan.

BethYes, we have had to change since the beginning of the school year. Having children with special needs, I have to look for creative ways to teach them because in our house, traditional methods won't always do. And, I am okay with that. We are focusing less on seat work and more on hands on learning. Because ultimately, everything we are teaching them is preparing them to DO something.

JessicaWe took a day for student-teacher conferences after the first quarter of the year. Based on our discussions, we changed several things. Two children are now using different math and language arts programs. We also devised a new way to organize materials for my sixth grader so he can have more autonomy in managing his own work. It's been several weeks since those changes and they feel like good decisions. One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling has been the ability to change what isn't working. I can't imagine all the learning that could have been lost if my child were suffering through a year of poor fit in a classroom setting.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Growing Independent Learners

In parenting, it seems like you almost immediately begin working yourself out of a job.
First there is potty training, independent eating, and simple chores.  Then, soon enough, your child is bathing on his own, making sandwiches, and completing helpful tasks around the house.  Each of these successfully learned lessons leads to increased responsibility and independence for your child. 

It is the goal.  Each child needs to become responsible and independent of you, because eventually your child will be launched into adulthood.

The same can be said of homeschooling.

From the first few months of homeschooling onward, you are working yourself out of a job. 
  • Teaching a child to read and comprehend leads to individual pursuits of books and processing of ideas.
  • Teaching a child to add and subtract leads to life skills necessary for budgeting, handling money, and business.
  • Teaching a child how to write letters and words leads to creating reports, resumes, business letters, and essays.

So, why, when it comes to homeschooling, do many of us cringe at the idea of giving our children more responsibility for their own education?  Is it the regulations which clearly outline what has to be done and sometimes when?  Is it our own educational backgrounds which deemed the teacher responsible until graduation?  Is it fear of failure on our child's part?

Moving Children Toward Independent Learning

Teacher Led or Directed Learning -  In the very early stages of education, all learning is teacher led or directed.  You provide the lessons, materials, time, or experiences for your child to learn.  Maybe your child has some say over when he does math, or which books you read to him, but ultimately, you are still in charge of all his learning.  Lower elementary grades are filled with a lot of this type of learning. 

Teacher Facilitated Learning - After the child matures and learns to read, the teacher's role, while still important, lessens slightly.  The child is now able to read and understand increasingly harder works.  However, the child still needs you to facilitate his path.  You are still in charge of all his learning, but he is beginning to work on some of it by himself.  Maybe he reads a few of his lessons on his own and you help him through the troublesome areas.  You, his teacher, are facilitating his lessons, making sure he remains on task, and helping him progress.  Typically, the upper elementary grades are when a child starts to slowly take more responsibility for his own learning.

Student Led and Teacher Supported Learning - Once the student is able to begin directing his own learning, he should start.  He will still need guidance and accountability.  There will still be times when he has questions and needs taught.  You are not giving up your role as teacher.  You are simply allowing him to navigate through his lessons with your support.  Middle school is a perfect time to start transferring responsibility to your child.  Perhaps your child will begin using a syllabus for a course.  He begins to check his own listing daily, instead of relying on you to lay out his work.  Maybe he will transfer to weekly assignments where he must decide what is done on a specific day to meet these weekly deadlines.  Maybe instead of walking him through every step of a research paper, you simply assign the paper with a due date.  There are many different ways your child can begin to take the lead in his own learning.  However, your role is still vital.  You will need to hold him accountable, and when necessary help him get back on track. 

Independent Student - Eventually, this is the goal for all individuals.  An independent student is able to look over an assignment or course, break it down into smaller tasks, schedule the tasks, and complete them.  He can study for a test on his own.  He can research the answers to his own questions, checking various sources, navigating through propaganda, and discerning author's intentions and motives.  He can analyze statistics and studies, recognize when a publication is simply promoting an agenda, and realize which sources are dependable.

These stages of independent learning can be progressed through at different paces depending on the student, style of learning, method of homeschooling, etc.  Regardless of when or how your child becomes an independent student, who is able to learn on their own, it should be the goal of every homeschooling parent.  Someday, they will no longer be in your school.  Someday, they will need to teach themselves.  Helping them learn to become independent students now, while in your homeschool, will help them greatly.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Seeds of Wisdom - Favorite Field Trips

Field trips add something special to well crafted lesson plans.  For history, they can help a child recognize that the people or event really happened.  For science, a field trip may help a student understand a concept or apply a theory better.

So, today, we are asking: What was your favorite field trip?

Jessica ~ Our favorite field trip was to the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. We were studying the same time period in history so the children were even more interested than they would have been otherwise. We have never had a field trip we didn't love, but those that are closest to things we are working on are always the "meatiest" in terms of take-away value.

Beth ~ At the time, I didn't really consider this a field trip per se. But it was! We were in a transitional time and so we did a lot of education on the go! When we first moved to Hawaii, we got to visit the Waikiki Aquarium. This is a link to my post which has pics and info about our visit, but is actually a science experiment post!

Dorie ~ Our field trips are always a highlight of our school year. We look forward to the planned time of hands on learning and personal observations. Even just seeing a historical location in person puts a more personal spin on what we are learning. However, one of the best for all of us was an unplanned day. In September, we went camping for a weekend and ended up with a surprise field trip as we covered history, geography, and science in one day. The children navigated our hike, we observed flora and fauna, elevation, rock formation and erosion, evidence of glaciers, and even learned about the CCC.

Now we are wondering, what was your favorite field trip?

Friday, November 2, 2012

What I Wish I Knew

Earlier this week, Dorie posted about the 5 things she wishes she had known before she started homeschooling.  Today, I am excited to share my 5 things.

1. You can never be fully prepared (but that is ok).  Before I started teaching my girls at home, I assumed that I was completely ready for the challenge.  After all, I use to be a teacher.  My career was teaching children!  As it has turned out, I don't know everything that I thought I knew, but that is fine.  I am learning as we go.

2. It is ok to ask for help.  You don't have to be Supermom (as much as I want to be, I can't!).  You can ask for teaching/parenting ideas from others and doing so does not make you a bad mom!  

3. Homeschooling is popular!  Before we started homeschooling, I thought only weird people did it.  I have since learned that a lot of really cool people homeschool their children!

4. Homeschooling is not an all-or-nothing decision.  You can homeschool for part of a child's education and do public/private schools other years.  You can enroll your child in a private school that allows partial homeschooling.  Currently, my daughter attends Pre-K in the mornings (primarily for social development) and we do academics at home in the afternoons.  Even though she goes to a school, I still consider us to be homeschoolers.

5.  And, lastly (and most importantly), homeschooling is fun!  It is really fun to watch your children learn every day.  I knew that I would like teaching my girls, but I had no idea how much I would like it.  Seeing them learn new things is so cool!  I feel so blessed that I get to teach my girls!  

What do you wish you had known before you started homeschooling?

Marla is a former special education teacher and current PhD student and stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two little girls (ages 2 and 4).  She blogs about homeschooling at Marla's Motherhood Musings and her family's experiences living in Zambia at Our Life in Lusaka.
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