Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Finding the Perfect Curriculum

Looking for the perfect curriculum? You will most likely look for a long time, because there isn't one. A perfect curriculum would fit all your children and suit your needs as well. It would be reasonably priced and easy to work with. I'm not sure it's available.

How do you shop for curriculum?
Well, there are lots of ways you shouldn't shop, that's for sure! Imagine yourself walking down the aisle of a homeschooling store. You see a special on workbooks and think they might be pretty good, but then you see a mom and her child digging through a box of manipulatives...that looks like fun...but wait, what about that program the lady in your church mentioned...what was the name of that one?... You get the picture don't you?

You have your check book, you have a budget and school starts in a few weeks. WHAT DO YOU DO??

Back up and take a deep breath. Do you have a budget to stick to? Most of us do and that has to be a priority. Start by asking yourself some questions...

If this isn't your first year...
What did you like and dislike about the previous years selelction? Make a list of what you have, what you have tried. Which one's worked and which ones need to be sold? Are there any programs you can use again? Can some of them be used again in a different way? In another year or two? Would you use it again? If you will use it, you just saved some money. If not, sell it.

If this is all new to you, try starting here...
Which ones should be avoided? Try to avoid programs that require a lot of planning each day, especially if you have several students at different grade levels. If the program allows you to teach several children at once, then the time may be worth it, but if you are teaching 2 grades and 8 different classes a day, you may burnout long before spring.

How much of your time did the programs use for planning and teaching?
Did you find yourself skipping a science lesson because you couldn't find all the materials? What about the days you skipped Geography because you couldn't find the book in the library? Programs that are all planned out are not much use to you if you can't find the materials. Ask questions, check on book availability and do research on a program BEFORE you buy.

Does the program require hours of busy work each week from your children?
This may take up valuable time for your child; time that could be better spent on activities they want to pursue. Why spend 2 hours on a science program about outer space if your child likes to catch bugs and lizards? Sitting at a desk for 6 hours is for a public school, NOT a homeschool. Homeschooling is efficient and should be easily completed in half a day. If the program requires more than that, I suggest you look for something else.

Does the program require you to do every subject, every day?
Try science one day a week and art another. Pursue the three R's each day, but back off on the other subjects unless your child WANTS to do them. Combine spelling with handwriting, reading and history, hiking with science. Put two hours into the basics and then pursue other interests after that. Find ways to pursue your son's fascination with dismantling machines or your daughter's love for horses. You can pursue their interests, spending the money there and they will get so much more out of it. What good is the ability to recite the names of our planets in order, if they would much rather rattle off the statistics of players on a baseball team? How much easier will it be for your children to rattle off those planets after they have honed their memorization skills on their favorite topic, such as baseball or the names of every breed of horse known to man? Foster that love for learning that comes so naturally to most children. Their interests do change and somewhere along the way, the planets will come up and you will get to teach them about it then. Unless THEY are ready, it will go in one ear and out the other. Find those teachable moments and work with them.

Keep your school year's planning loose...
Don't try to plan each day, week or even month at the beginning of a school year. If your son wants to study the Civil War this month, he may move on to W.W. II by next month. Try to plan a general course of study, say 1800s to present, and Life Sciences, but leave it flexible and open to those times when they really want to dig into something. I will never forget the year my daughter wanted to study our solar system. I found a simple program that would last about a month and I thought that would be enough. Boy was I wrong! We ended up on it for over 6 months. I put many of my planned activities for the year aside, and learned right then and there that I would purchase the basics at the beginning of the year and buy the other stuff as we went along.

What did your CHILDREN like and dislike about the last school year?
Pay careful attention to what they like. Did the curriculum and methods(whether at public school or home) fit their learning style? Was it effective in teaching them? Did they do well in those areas? Let them have some input, but at the same time, don't let them make all the decisions. Do their likes match your likes? It is hard to teach a program you can't work with or one that demands an enormous amount of your time. Find something that fits both your needs. We often compromise on subjects. We will choose a program that takes a bit longer in an area they like and something a bit quicker, more cut and dry in an area that they have little interest, like spelling.

Where did you have the most problems?
For us, math was a big problem. I picked Saxon because I heard it was the best curriculum and it was familiar to me, since it was taught the way I learned in public school. We worked our way through Saxon 54 and by the end of the year, my daughter was miserable when it was time for math. It took over an hour each day to do a lesson. We would stop after an hour because I felt that was enough, but it was not fun for her. She scored well on her tests, but what was the point if I was teaching her to hate an essential subject. The answer? We found another program. Now we use Math-U-See. She likes the short lessons, the hands-on manipulatives and the logical (to her) way it is done. I have some trouble with it, but that is because it is different; it isn't something I am familiar with. But you know what? It's all worth it... I am learning something new and she is loving math again. Yes, it was a bit of an expense, but this year, that was our priority; making math fun again. Where did we save money? We bought Considering God's Creation for science. It is designed to teach multiple ages at once and will be useful for 2 or 3 years. A simple compromise and everyone is happy. By taking a closer look at your needs before you go to the curriculum fair or sit down to place your order, you may save yourself some money. Take advantage of situations where you can get your hands on materials and talk to someone who can show you a program they use. Ask if you can come over and "see" the curriculum "in action" when someone tells you they love it. You can learn a lot about it that way, and you will avoid the pitfalls of purchasing something that sounds great in the catalog and is a big disappointment when it arrives on your doorstep.

Keep Learning Fun!
We all know that the basics; Reading, writing and arithmatic are essential. They are not always fun for your child no matter what curriculum you try. You can balance that with the extras that make a school day something to look forward to. If you do math 5 days a week, why not take one of those days and play math games? We have a great book, "Mega-fun math games" that we sell in our store. It is packed full of ideas for games that improve your child's math skills in fun ways. Take the spinner away from a board game and use die instead. Counting those dots on the die and counting the spaces you must move are math skills. For older children, give them a pile of flash cards. If they answer the problem correctly, they get to roll the die. It is easy to make a simple board game in to a multi-level math lesson! Having that one day a week "off" is something everyone can look forward to and you don't have to feel guilty because they will be learning. Reading can be torture for some children. Give them books with lots of visuals. Usborne Books are great at keeping a child interested. Short, information-packed paragraphs surrounded by colorful illustrations. If they don't like books at all, read to them. Historical fiction is a great choice. It teaches and it is interesting. In addition to these great books, we supplement their reading with products like the "Ancient Times Treasure Chests". Our kids dive into these kits and explore time periods they have been reading about. It makes concepts concrete for them and having something they can touch is always a great reinforcement for a lesson. Science is a "hands-on" subject that should be taught with a minimum of text books and multiple choice tests. Get out and explore. I highly recommend "Considering God's Creation" from Kindergarten through 8th grade. It can easily be adapted to any of these grades and our "Nature Hike Backpack" is so much fun to have. We take it everywhere with us and the basic kit easy to expand to any nature studies you are interested in.

On Shopping Day

* Make yourself a list of the subjects you need and some products you want to see "in person"
* Try to go without your kids so you can concentrate and take your tim2.
* Get a feel for costs and write down some prices you see in catalogs. Compare prices and then compare shipping fees. If you can order more from one company and save shipping, then do it.
* Allow a little room for that special tape you just have to have or a craft you know will go great with your studies.
* Remember to check out used materials where it is sensible too. Try looking on Ebay or in stores that have consignment items. Shop at the local curriculum fairs, but make sure you have everything you need. Are all the materials included? If you buy it without them, can you order the missing parts?
* Take your time and don't feel pressured. If you get overwhelmed, go home and try again another day.
* Most important of all, enjoy yourself and have fun _- stop for a cup of coffee and relax --it's going to be a great year :)

Monday, June 30, 2008

To Homeschool or NOT to Homeschool...that is the question

It's been on your mind all school year. Your child's grades are slipping or they have stopped enjoying learning. Maybe they are the victims of harassment and are afraid to go, or maybe they are bright and bored out of their minds. Maybe you object to the secular side of education and private school is not an option. Or perhaps you have a bright little toddler at home and you just can't bear to see them go off to school.

Whatever the reason for considering homeschooling, it's a big decision that should not be taken lightly. It requires dedication, perseverance, most of your time, all of your determination and other words it requires 100% COMMITMENT. Be prepared to give it your all and you will reap so many blessings. This is your children's education you are considering. You CAN do it if you are dedicated to it. Kids are graduating from homeschools and attending colleges every year. Their parents can be college graduates with Masters in Education or they can be high school graduates with no professional training at all. Research indicates that the results are very nearly the same. Your kids can get a good, solid education. They learn things thoroughly before moving on and they have the confidence to excel because YOU nurtured it in them. You know your children better than anyone else! You love them and have the most concern for their well-being. Who better than you to provide daily one-on-one tutoring on all the subjects of life...not just the three R's? You do not need to know everything in order to teach your child. Do you think your child's teachers do? There is no single, perfect resource to teach all subjects to all children. There are, however, plenty of resources to help you provide a thorough education tailored to your child's needs and interests. Your enthusiasm for learning will also motivate and encourage them to learn.

Some concerns you may have

My children would never listen to me...
That is the core of the problem with our society, if you ask me.(Did you ask?) Think about it... If your children don't respect and listen to you how will they ever respect and listen to others? How can they even learn to respect themselves? A future boss?

"Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not stray from it" Proverbs 22:6

Child rearing and training begin at home. What better way to train them then to be their role model, their teacher, their companion for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. That may sound a bit daunting to some of you, but that is what it takes. If your child is spending 40 hours a week with another adult, how can you be sure he/she is learning the values you deem important? How will they learn to listen and respect you if they never spend any quality time with you? If your excuse for not homeschooling is this, perhaps you should be homeschooling for just that reason! The book that woke me up in this area is by Michael and Debi Pearl. You can find it in our store.

I just don't have the patience....
Sometimes neither do I. It is something you have to work on and pray for almost daily sometimes. The rewards for this effort? Well-behaved, well-educated children that adore you. And a special bonus; personal growth and satisfaction. I personally could still use some growth in the patience department. I work at it everyday. My children have nurtured that in me just as I have nurtured it in them. If we were all a little more patient maybe we wouldn't have so much anger in the world today.

I just don't have that kind of time...
Yes, homeschooling does require a lot of time and energy. You have to make that time. But also keep in mind that homeschooling is a lot more efficient than a public or private school. Your children will not be waiting in line for the bathroom, library or lunch. They do not have to wait for 20 other children to get their papers passed out before they can move on. They do not have to wait for 20 other children to understand something before they can begin. They spend a lot less time waiting and a lot more time doing. You can easily teach your younger children in less than two hours what it takes an entire day for a public school to do. Keep in mind that recess is a big part of your younger children's school days. Your older children will need more time, but should easily finish a day's work in 5 hours or less. Depending on the method you choose to use with your children, your days can vary in length. You have to choose what works best for you and your child, but none of your choices will take the time that public school takes.
Another thing that will help you in using your time wisely is a daily schedule which includes chores for you and your children, using charts and/or teaching plans (see our free downloads for charts), keeping good records and a family activity calendar so nothing is missed. All these items can work together to make your home efficient and your life much easier. Take each day as a something that you need to do as well as you are able.

"Do all things unto the Lord

What about Socialization?
Ahhh yes, the dreaded "s" word. Just about every homeschooler on this earth has heard it. The argument will continue on forever. The American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition) has this definition for socialization: 1. To place under government or group ownership or control. 2. To fit for companionship with others; make sociable. 3. To convert or adapt to the needs of society.
Let me just say that number one is scary to me. The government should neither own nor control any of us, ESPECIALLY a child. Number two and three are easy. I can do it and so can you. I can teach my children manners; "please", "thank you", "Yes sir", "No sir", etc. Schools/teachers were once allowed to enforce that. Now it infringes on children's rights if a teacher imposes such rules!! Public school gives your child extensive peer contact during childhood. But is it good peer contact? Are the children your child associates with the children you would pick for them to be around if they were home?

"Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Cor. 15:33)

Does a child the same age as your child teach them how to treat a preschooler, a baby, an adult? Do they show your child how to respect others or how to make fun of others? Do they ban some kids from their "group?" No matter what values you teach at home, it can all be ruined by one best friend at school with the wrong values.

What about bullies and social cliques?
My father once said that "a child needs to experience bullies and name-calling-- It's part of growing up and it's the real world." Things have changed a lot since then, but even now, he's not the only one that feels that way. You will never hear me say, "Boy am I glad I grew up in the real world! I was bullied and pushed around as a child. I would get so upset that I would vomit. What did it do for me? I was self-conscious, I had very low self esteem and I started looking for love and approval in all the wrong places. How's that for socialization?

It was never fun and at times I would have rather died then go to school. Today, kids do die and they kill rather than deal with peers. What harm is there in allowing your children to grow, mature and develop in the comfort of their homes, where they can build confidence, convictions and values? THEN when they enter the "real world" in small "parent-controlled" doses, such as play dates, church and extra-curricular activities, they have something to stand on all by themselves. Isn't that adapting to the needs of society? Being prepared for things that come their way and being able to handle them? My own children deal with these issues, but they don't HAVE to EVERY DAY! They aren't afraid to go to school because their school is safe and warm and loving. It's a learning environment and they can be themselves. In our classroom no one will call them "stupid" or "brain". They can learn at their own pace and they can be proud of their accomplishments no matter how big or small!

What will my family/friends say?
You have to do what is right for you and your family. Once you make the decision to homeschool, stand on your convictions. Fill your critics with information. If your parents don't think it's a good idea to teach your own children, try to show them your reasons for doing so. Is your child doing well? Do you feel he/she is safe? Public school today is not what it was when I was a child and it DEFINITELY isn't what it was when my parents were kids. Make them aware of that then let them watch you make a difference in their lives. People may also question your giving up your career. Ask yourself these questions...What good is a career if your children aren't thriving? Which is more important--advancing in my career or schooling my children? Can your career can be resumed or/started when they are in college? Could you work at home, part-time? What about modifying your job to be more suitable at home? Working from home has its own unique challenges, but it is feasible with creative scheduling and a supportive husband.
Some children do thrive in a public school environment. They handle peer pressure well, fit into the public school format and do fine. Other children get left behind, get hurt, get bored or get into a lot of trouble. Which type of child do you have?

How can I afford it?
A lot of parents question how it could possibly be feasible to have a one-income family when they can hardly get by on two incomes. If you step back and look at your individual situation you may find that it would not be all that difficult. You would be surprised at how much it COSTS to work full time! Consider this worksheet when figuring out whether it is feasible for you to quit working and homeschool your children.

Take your income per month and subtract the following:

* Gas to and from work
* Eating lunch out with co-workers
* Corporate Wardrobe
* Dry-cleaning Corporate Wardrobe
* Meals your family eats out because you don_t have time to cook
* Day care or Before/Afterschool care for children
* Convenience foods to save you time because you work
* Maid service?
* Kid's lunches at school

Now get rid of all those costs and add in these cost benefits

* Your children no longer need "Brand X" to stay cool with their peers
* You can cook from scratch lowering your food bills dramatically
* You can clip coupons and actually use them
* You can shop at a sale because you have the time
* Your tax base lowers

In addition to the cost benefits think about these things

* You have more time for your family
* Your kids spend the day with you instead of other adults who you may or may not know
* Your kids spend less time with unknown peer groups and peer pressure
* You have regular meals at home together rather than on the go in the car on the way to who knows where

In our situation we were better off with me home. My job required numerous lunches out with clients and a horrendous dry cleaning bill. I never would have gotten to know my children the way I have if I wasn't homeschooling them. I can't say that I miss the deadlines, the long hours or the pressure either!

I have 3 children ranging from 6 months to 10 years. How can I teach all of them?
Teaching more than one child can be challenging, but families do it all the time. Keep in mind that you can teach subjects like history, literature, geography, science and the Bible to several grade levels at the same time. Field trips work much the same way. Children will absorb what they understand. Your older children can work independently on much of what they do while you work with your younger children on reading skills and math. When your older child needs help it can be accomplished when the babies are napping and your other children are busy playing or working on something they can do themselves. Babies and toddlers can be entertained in a variety of ways. Can your older children watch the babies for you? Generally they can make great short-term babysitters from the age of 8. My 4-year-old is great at keeping our baby happy for a few minutes while I go over a problem with my older child. If they are sitting right where you can see them, it shouldn't be difficult to allow this. And don't forget, once they reach preschool age they will want to "do school" with everyone else. Until then, new, interesting items that only come out during school hours will extend play time for some children. And if you have one of those babies that just needs mama more than the others, I recommend a baby sling when they are not content to play by themselves. You can accomplish so many things while you wear your child and you will have a happy baby too!