Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Year End" Curriculum Review

As we wrap up our "year" I'm taking a moment to give ratings to the curriculum we tried, toiled with, and loved.  Every homeschool family is different.  Each child requires different learning sets, so while something didn't work for us (or did), I'm hoping that you will put it through the filter of your child and make the best informed decision for your group.  I will give each program two ratings.

1)  An teacher perspective on ease of use, implementation, and feel of the overall curriculum
2)  How it worked for us, specifically to Izzy

B+    I loved the easy to follow teacher manual, minimal student materials, and guided writing portions.  The publishing crafts were crazy, but we adapted to them.  Great for the creative writer.

C-    Izzy did not do well with this program.  It was too creative for her 'black and white' personality.  She became too dependent on my help with the guided writing so she wouldn't want to write on her own.  The writing prompts were not enjoyed by either of us and required too much adaptation.

Christian Light Education Math 200 (CLE)
A-    Easy to use.  Everything flows very well.  Love the tight spiral.  Lessons can get a little long with too much review, but we adapted.  Some story problems are a little strange due to the farming/mennonite culture.  I like the way they teach math in the classic way, include plenty of real life story problems, and focus on basic facts.  The workbooks are great to be able to finish and get a fresh new one every 17 lessons!

A    We tried another math program for 2 weeks and went running back to CLE.  Izzy loves that can now do Math almost 90% on her own and is thriving in the independence of it.  She likes that she can skip problems that I cross off.  The tight spiral has built her confidence because she doesn't have time to forget anything.

CLE Reading
C   I could see how this program would work wonderfully if you started with it from the beginning as it  builds on previous skills with phonics and language.  However, the stories I find are quite boring and there are not enough basic comprehension questions.

D  Bored.  Bored her to death. We had to skip much of the workbook because of her lack of phonics education at public school.  Just wasn't worth the tears.

All About Spelling
B-   This program is very teacher friendly and easy to use.  I could see its high benefit for kinesthetic and tactile learners with the magnet pieces.  It also breaks the rules down very well- even I learned something!  It is a little overwhelming with all the pieces and cumbersome to get through, but adaptable to what your child's needs are.  I can't imagine trying to do this program with more than 2 or 3 kids- it would take forever!

B   Our goal was that this program would help Izzy build her phonics (reads above grade level but no phonics understanding at the start of the year, thus terrible at sounding out words and spelling) to help with spelling and reading.  I can say that this program has for sure met that goal and got us back on track for keeping up with new vocabulary and spelling.  However, the words I found were not high use enough for what she was using in her writing, therefore we aren't seeing the application or retention as much as we'd like.  Sticking with it at least for the remaining of level 2 and through 3 and then will reevaluate.

Progeny Press
C  Not memorable.  Not growth inducing.  Way about grade level mentioned.  Adaptable and there are some good bones there.  PP has a great selections of books to choose from.

D  Ineffective at meeting our reading goals.  It did not provide enough meat in return for investment of time in our day.  Needed something more encompassing of language arts as a whole.  Did not fit us well.  Did not like the font or layout of the booklet.

Abeka- Social Studies and Science
A-  (on both counts).  We utilized just the student books as general readers for some of our science and social studies.  They were a great asset.  It was nice to allow Izzy to practice "reading to learn" with these readers.  While we did supplement and these subjects were not as core to our year as the other subjects, these books fit the bill nicely.  They give a nice little taste for each subject.  They also helped wet the appetite to learn more about different matters.

A-  We used lap books to help us study Bangladesh (in preparation for a missions trip), 1904 (as we read through the Samantha series from American Girl), Addy (to add to throughout the book series).  We also did mini versions for penguins and rainbows.  We enjoyed the hands on and review aspect.  They were a lot of fun to put together.  Though, some aspects took a long time and my daughter focused more on filling each line or paper in a template rather than just expressing what she was learning.

Self Written Samantha Reading and Language Arts
I just wanted to mention that after trying CLE and Abeka for reading, we ended up tying together language arts, writing, and reading through the Samantha book series by American girl.  We focused on dictation, copy work, vocabulary, adjectives, adverbs, similes, comprehension, and forming predictions or opinions.  This worked very well for us and I believe helped give a reason for learning and spawned a desire to write which was needed.  It was more 'fun'.  It became the highlight of our day, but was very teacher intensive, especially since I had to write everything ahead of time.  Hoping that next year's choice of Total Language Plus will bring us similar results without so much time on my part.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Response to Mr. L

There was an interesting conversation happening on my husband's Facebook friend's page.  A homeschooling dad sharing a great article on raising our children to be independent, critical thinkers with freedom in their learning.  A friend of this friend, whom I'll address as Mr. L, responded very critically.  It was both ignorant and intolerant at the same time.  While spewing "facts" based on his "experience" he had made a stereotypical judgment about the vastly diverse homeschool world.  

Here were a few of his statements:

"I've always been against homeschooling. 99% of the time it's done for far out religious or anti government beliefs. School is less about the work itself, and more to do about social interactions and how to make your way in the world. Throw out the old timers, and show me a top salesman, CEO or sucessful businessman who was homeschooled. You won't find any. Almost every homeschooled kid I knew growing up has the same job: "youth minister". I'm not saying home schooled kids aren't smart, they're just behind the 8 ball when it comes to the real world."  
May 19 at 11:51am

"In the Huffington Post (A counter response given to Mr. L's statements) article I only
found one person, and that was Condi Rice. The rest were either 100 years ago or pro
athletes, and who knows where they would be if they had to rely on brains instead of
athletic talent. And I'm sure everybody knows somebody or two that is the exception,
good for them. But that's a few out of how many million?" 
May 19 at 1:09pm

I'm not saying they're not smart enough, I'm saying most of the time they can't handle doing 
the job in the real world making real money. Getting along with co-workers, having to play
office politics,navigating the world. Most of the time the church is happy to have them there
working for peanuts so they don't give them a hard time

...but out of how many tens of millions of kids who have been homeschooled over the past
20 years or so, do you think there are more hits or misses? For every homeschool kid who
"makes it" there are a few hundred who were homeschooled because they're parents
didn't want the "guv'ment brainwashing their kid" and doomed them to a cycle of failure.
Give me ten thousand kids raised by wolves and I could probably find a dozen that ended
up okay. Does that mean letting wolves raise your kids is a good idea? No.
"  May 19 at

So after shaking my head in shame on Mr. L's behalf of his attitude and responses, I decided to respond.  

Dear Mr. L,

I'm so thankful your public school indoctrination of tolerance is serving you so well in this issue.  It is also interesting to see your knowledge of statistics, propaganda, and forms of logic and reason being used so effectively (hope you are catching on to my sarcasm).  

I am a successful product of the public school sector and proud homeschooling parent.  While I know those who preach "tolerance" tend to be the least tolerant of opinions they disagree with, I hope you will at least see the invalidity of your arguments against homeschooling.

First of all, homeschooling branches history from ancient times to modern.  In America, it has a strong backbone in the founding of our country and many of our early heroes.  However, with the modern institution of the government school system, homeschooling became an abnormal or even illegal form of receiving education.  It wasn't until 1992 that homeschooling was finally recognized as a legal schooling option in all states once again.  One of the reasons to invalidate your "claim" of minimal "successful" adults whom were homeschooled in our current era goes back to the fact that many homeschoolers in our modern age are still coming of age and beginning to make their impact on society.  I would argue that if you look at the span of history, students who are given the freedom to learn and develop in ways that do not put them in the box of the median end up being some of the most impactful and brilliant minds of their era.  

Your argument also breaks down because of your minute definition of "success".  It appears from your statements that in order for one to be heroically successful they must become president, cure a disease, or end a war.  While I note that those positions are successes, you exemplify ignorance to the fact that the backbone of America, the heartbeat of the nation's innovation, and the soul of its ideals often does not inhabit those on the front page of the press.  They are in the small businesses of every town, the boards of every non profit, and reaching the third world with life saving innovation, training, and discipleship.  Success is beyond titles, awards, and letters behind your last name. It is becoming the person you were Designed to be, making the most of every moment, impacting your community with your skills, talents and abilities, being a productive member of society,  and doing it with a humble and compassionate heart. 

Your argument breaks down further with the idea that the government school system breeds great success.  Yes, it can.  I was one of those who fit perfectly in the box designed by the standards and organization.  However, you do not take into account the number of failures the government school system produces.  A better statistic for your mathematical argument would be comparing homeschool and public school numbers of graduation, retention, productivity, and fulfillment.  I'm reminded of the story of Dr. Ben Carson.  The youngest pediatric neurosurgeon at John Hopkins ever.  Innovator.  Life saver.  He took on the cases other doctors thought were hopeless.  Now, you may say, "well, see, another public school success story!".  I would argue that Dr. Carson would have been in the category of public school failures.  As Dr. Carson neared the end of his elementary years, he was self admittedly the worst student in his class.  He was failing everything.  The system was doing nothing to save him.  They did nothing to bring him out of the mire and onto the road of success.  It was his Mother who did.  It was his mother who wouldn't let school be a failure for her sons.  It was in the home that Ben flourished.  By her enforcement of reading library books, writing reports, and staying inside to do homework- Dr. Carson finally made progress and became "successful".  I would venture to say that Dr. Carson would not thank the public school for setting him on the path, but actually thank his mother for what she did at HOME (I've read his books and heard him in person and this was important to his message).  How many other "successes" would actually praise the public school system?  I bet many had a parent, a mentor, a coach, or a single experience that set them on the road to success.  The public school more a means to an end, rather than impactful experience.

Most of what makes the public school has been built on meeting the median need and what was the most accommodating for the administrators and teachers.  (with a BA in elementary education, I know how this works).  Schools were sorted into grade/age levels due to the growing population of students entering one room schoolhouses after the government mandated education for all children.  It was deemed the most feasible to sort children by age, rather than any other way.  It seemed best for the teacher to teach kids who were all the same 'grade' so they didn't have multiple age levels in the same room to work with.  The standards that are required by teachers to teach each grade level are determined by govnerment boards and politicians who often do not have teaching and development backgrounds and have not engaged inside a classroom since their school years.  The corruption of education has seeped from  from the federal level down.

Every homeschool parent comes to the decision for a different reason and in a different way.  So whether the parents decide they don't want to force their child into the box of public school expectations, are tired of interference from people who don't know their child, want to engage their child to be a life-long learner in ways that work best for them, have more intentional influence on their child, or just simply like being with their kids- they are expressing their free right as that child's steward on Earth.

And your ignorant socialization point?  As seen on a blog recently, and I paraphrase, "To call the best form a socialization putting a child in a room with 25 of its same age peers is like saying we should learn table manners from a monkeys"  Do I really want my kids learning respect, kindness, play, and problem solving from kids who are in the same maturity scan of them?  My almost 8 year old is getting more socialization now than she did at public school- and I can guarantee it is higher quality and preparing her more aptly for 'the real world'.  She socializes with her babysitters, her grandparents, her family, the cashier, the dentist, the librarian, her ballet class, her sunday school teacher, her classmates at church, her neighbor friends, and the list goes on.  Compared to the 6-8 hours a day she used to spend sitting at a desk quietly, walking the halls quietly, trying to eat her lunch in 20 minutes or less, and spend countless minutes, perhaps hours, a day 'transitioning', she is actually socializing in a way that makes practical sense.  When adults look to grow in a life area- they don't look to people who are at the same level- they look to those who are older, or wiser, or more experienced to provide advice.

Now all this to say, I'm not an anti-public school.  I have a teaching degree.  I went to public school 2-12th grade.  It works great for many families.  For some it is the only option.  I respect their choice, they have made it freely and have done what is best for their child at that time.  Perhaps even someday we will send our daughters back.  

When you can have a healthy and balanced discourse without spouting from the hip imaginary statistics and practice your brand of 'tolerance' than perhaps we can have a more profitable conversation.

What arguments have you faced in the world of homeschool vs public school.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Intentional Influence at Convention

As previously mentioned, my husband and I recently returned from our first trip to a homeschool convention.  It was a fantastic trip and I cannot rave enough about the uplifting and enriching experience it was.  

One of our reasons for homeschooling our children is to be making strides towards intentional influence- making  the most of life's opportunities to shepherd our children's hearts and minds towards Jesus and as productive members of our society.

As I prepared for convention I planned on going to sessions that would review (I have an elementary education degree so many pedagogical ideas are not completely new to me) or teach me how to engage my girls in math, reading, spelling, and WRITING (still the thorn in our flesh of homeschool at the moment).  

I highlighted sessions that I felt would train me to be the best teacher I could be to my children.  Then my husband encouraged me to look at the bigger picture.  I am their teacher of the three r's, yes, but I am first and foremost their mother.  I am their caretaker.  I have been given charge of these children, on loan from God, to train up in the ways of Him.  That is what the heart of intentional influence is all about after all.

After a disappointing first session on writing strategies, I shifted my strategy towards sessions that attracted me from the standpoint of a mother, wife, or Christ follower.  By enriching those areas of life, I knew that it would surely filter down and affect my role as teacher.  

I am so thankful my husband's wisdom was better than my surface desires.  I was so incredibly blessed by the sessions that engaged my soul, quenched my spiritual thirst, and encouraged my endeavor as a mother.  I know that these sessions while not "academic" in nature will have a profound impact on the environment of our home, our school, and our family's trajectory.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

First Homeschool Convention Trip Tips

At the end of April, my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend our first homeschooling convention.  Back in October I heard about Great Homeschool Conventions and found out that in Cincinnati Dr. Ben Carson was going to be speaking.  It was an experience I didn't want to pass up!

While utterly overwhelming at times, our experience was absolutely fantastic.  I highly recommend the GHC to anyone.  It was like a wonderful marriage and parenting conference through the lens of homeschool, though not always the focus.

Here are a few takeaways I wish I had known before my first homeschool convention.

1)  Wear comfortable shoes!  With the massive exhibit hall with concrete floors, walking to food establishments, and even the walk between meeting halls, comfortable shoes are a must.  I tried a cute pair of sandals one morning but quickly went back to my new go to comfy shoes- my Skecher Go Walks.

2)  Wear Comfortable Clothing!  I was not really sure what to wear to an event like this.  While you do have a wide range of clothing from the religious perspective, the general rule of thumb is go comfy and modest.  Sitting in chairs, walking a lot, and changes in temperature from varying rooms requires layers and easy clothing.  I found wearing a modest pair of capris (it was quite warm), nicer plain t, and a scarf were perfect for most areas.

3)  Look more at session leader descriptions instead of session titles:  I preplanned my sessions based more on session titles.  I wish I had paid more attention to the biographies of the speakers as I missed out on some key sessions because I didn't think the title meshed with my purpose.

4)  Look beyond academics.  I went to 1, count it one, purely academic session (and it ended up being my least favorite).  The others were more geared towards parenting and marriage.  I had not planned it that way, but that is what ended up enriching my time the most.  I left empowered, encouraged, and uplifted as a parent and wife which I believe will transcend into my teaching.

5) Be open about Curriculums.  I found that I gleaned a lot from talking to booths of curriculum or programs even if it was just to get a solid "not for me" in my head about the option.  That is just as confidence boosting as a "yes" in my mind.  I also learned about some options to keep in mind for the future when my kids are older or more multi level learning compatible.  I had some fantastic conversations from very passionate people that were enriching (even if I didn't end up being 'sold' on their product)

6)  Schedule breaks.  Sessions are great and can be tempting, but schedule meals, downtime, and even hall shopping or you will find yourself rushed, hungry, and so tired you can't even pay attention to any of the other sessions.

7)  Only buy if you are sure.  So much money could be so quickly spent on all of the wonderful educational and toy materials offered.  Only buy if you are sure you want to use it.  I knew exactly what I wanted for math and kindergarten programs so it made sense to buy to save on shipping costs (some booths offered small convention discounts as well as free shipping).  If you aren't sure on pricing comparison (especially on things like manipulatives) come back after you've done a price check back at your hotel room or on your smart phone.

8)  Bring Your Spouse.  My husband had a fantastic time.  He wasn't too sure about the whole homeschool convention as the idea of learning about writing strategies and building math fact fluency isn't his cup of tea.  We were so blessed to experience some of these great speakers together, talk about how to apply them in our marriage and general parenting, and just spend time together.  The couple sessions we separated were not nearly as fun as the ones we went to together.

9) Ask Others.  Two of our favorite sessions ended up by being referred to the speaker through stranger we met at convention (one eating at a shared table at lunch time in the hall the other in another session).  Use other attenders as resources.  Ask if they had any favorites as you wait in line at the gumbo station or stand on the escalator.  If nothing else, it may help you decide if you want to purchase the cd of the session.

10) Pack Extra Grace.  There will be long lines at lunch time.  There will be busy check out counters at your favorite booths.  There will be pushy sales people.  There will be crying babies in a session you are trying desperately to hear.  There will be packed full meeting rooms.  There will be sugar hyped children wielding swords.  Shower it all with grace.  Empty the expectations of perfection and go forward with the understanding that sometimes things don't always go as planned.  Remember you've had those days as a parent as well.  Grace abound will change your attitude and may make their day.

*Bonus #11, Meeting Dr. Carson and hearing him speak was pretty awesome!

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