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Category Archives: My Thoughts on Homeschooling

Real Life… Teaching Around the Mess

real life mess3Have you ever been told, “Oh you homeschool?  You must be really neat and organized.” Or perhaps you heard the popular, “I could never homeschool, I’m to scatter-brained.”

Anyone who truly knows me will understand the word “organized” doesn’t really fit me. Yes, I like to have a plan, but living with children means life is rarely organized.

Since so many blogs focus on the seemingly perfect lives of homeschoolers, I’m creating a Real Life series. This series of posts will focus on the un-organized and somewhat messy aspects of our homeschooling life.

Something to keep in mind while reading the Real Life… series. Our children are allowed to do their school work wherever they are most comfortable as long as they are actually working. Often they will choose to sit on the couch or sprawl out on the floor to do their work.

real life mess4  real life mess2

The above pictures are of the kitchen bar. It seems to constantly be a cluttered mess of finished artwork, Sunday school papers, and just-for-fun drawings. Though we do the majority of our lessons in the living room, the kitchen bar is where most of the paperwork and art projects end up.

I try to clear off the lower counter once a week, but life is busy and this is low on my priorities. Since we’re on a 6 weeks on, 3 days off cycle for our lessons, the children’s work area is cleaned and straightened roughly every 6 weeks.

real life mess5

This last picture is a glimpse of how our living room floor looks most week days. I’d like to be able to tell you it’s back to normal on the weekends, but this post is about being open and honest.

I usually stack up the books at the end of each day just so no one steps on them. More often than not the stack of books aren’t put away at all unless we’re expecting company.

I’m sure I’m not the only homeschooling mom who teaches around the mess. In addition to the clutter of homeschool books and papers, there are mounds of clean clothes waiting to be folded, a floor waiting to be vacuumed, and the list goes on.

I am unorganized, but the children are learning despite my imperfections.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Real Life

 

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Getting Your Child to WANT to Read

Getting children excited about reading isn’t always easy.  More often than not there will be groaning and whining when you ask them to read a book.  Here are some tips to help you encourage your children to read.

luke 8yrs reading

Our 8yr old during quiet reading time.

Set aside a specific time each day for quiet reading.  It doesn’t have to be a long time, just 10-20 minutes for young children, perhaps 30-40 minutes for older children.  Be sure to set a timer, but if one of your children wants to keep reading, by all means let them!  Try to have quiet reading time in the family room. This way it’s more of a family event and they can see you are reading a book (or magazine or newspaper) as well. If your child isn’t reading yet, they can look at a picture book and practice turning the pages from left to right.  You could also grab a book and read it aloud to them while any older siblings are reading to themselves.

Be excited about reading yourself!  Children catch on to excitement coming from their parents.  If you love to read and are seen often with a book in your hands then chances are much higher your children will also enjoy reading.

books luke can read

Example of easy readers geared towards late Kindergarten – early 1st Grade

Buy them age appropriate books.  This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of children who don’t own any books geared towards their age or interest.  Is your child into airplanes, cats or astronomy?  Do they like mysteries, riddles, or ninjas?  Don’t forget about graphic novels, because comic books count as books too!  Browse the books on Amazon.com or at your local bookstore to see what is available for your child’s age-range and interests.  Books make great birthday and Christmas presents and most children have plenty of toys and gadgets already.

Take your children to the library often.  No matter how young your child is, PLEASE take them to the library.  The library is a fascinating world full of books, magazines, audio books, DVDs and more.  Most children love going, they just need a parent to be willing to take them.  If you’re worried about your young child being too loud or disruptive, have them carry a toy and remind them BEFORE you enter the library that only whispers or very soft voices are used in the library.

Take turns reading aloud.  Some children feel really overwhelmed when it comes to attempting to read a book.  Explain that you’re going to read the book together, then take turns reading paragraphs or pages, whichever your child feels more comfortable doing.  Often this will take the focus off of reading the book as a whole, but onto whose paragraph (or page) has the most words.  Continue to take turns and when the book is finished (or your reading time is up) show your child how many pages you read together.

reading prizes

Some of our rewards for reading books.

Give rewards for reading books.  I’m sure you’ve seen the different reading rewards programs where your child can read 6 books and get a free kids meal, pizza, or similar prize from a restaurant.  These don’t always work for children because some children (like our son) don’t want the free kids meal, pizza or whatever the prize is if it means they have to read books.  Talk to your children and come up with prizes in the $1 – $5 range that you know they would be willing to earn by reading books.

Some examples of prizes we’ve used in the past are small games, puzzles, deck of cards, yo-yos, lego mini-figures, and even more books!  Our children are ages 8 & 5, so if you have older children these prizes may not be enough of a pull for them.  Instead try offering a trip for frozen yogurt or to get doughnuts.  I recommend that each small book (non-chapter book) be the equivalent of 50 cents, so a young child would need to read 2 books to get a $1 prize, or 6 books to get a $3 prize, and so on.  For chapter books at the 2nd-3rd grade level I typically count them as being worth $2 each. Though we don’t pay them actual money for prizes (ours would rather have toys or books instead of the cash).

Best of luck and happy reading!

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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling

 

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Overlooked Benefits of Using the Library

The public library has sooo many resources to benefit homeschooling families.

  • phonics blendsEducational DVDs available to rent for FREE (science, history, math, phonics, foreign languages,
    and MUCH more)
  • Music CDs (classical, jazz, rap, country, gospel, etc.)
  • Kids InfoBits – Online resource of reference materials, magazines, newspapers, maps & flags, charts & graphs, images.  (Use password = gulfcoast)
  • Mango – Learn a new language for FREE – up to 14 languages available
  • Inter-Library Loan (ILL) – Looking for a particular book that your branch doesn’t have?  What about a book not available at ANY of the local libraries?  ILL services will try to locate a copy at other libraries across the southeast and have it shipped to the local library of your choice for only $2.  This is very helpful for research and our family has used the ILL services many times.
  • Local History & Genealogy Services
  • Storytime – geared towards children ages 2 – 6yrs.
  • Books on CD with read-along books (perfect for emerging readers)
  • Audio books – Taking a long ride in the car?  Put a favorite book in the cd player.  Everything from Magic Tree House or Beverly Cleary books to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games.
  • Non-fiction books – this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many parents only check out fiction books for their children.
  • Fiction books – Don’t forget to let your child check out graphic novels.  Sometimes they just need a different format to grab their interest.
  • Computers to use while at the library with Magic Schoolbus and other popular learning games.
populargraphicnovels

Popular Children’s Graphic Novels

I’ve heard some parents say they don’t like to take their children to the library because their children are so loud or difficult to handle.  Let me just point out that if children aren’t taken to places where they need to talk softly and not run indoors then how are they ever going to learn these things?  Avoiding the problem is very rarely the solution.  If you’re a parent of 5 or more children under the age of 7 then I’ll give you some slack, but try to find the time to take the older children while someone babysits the younger ones.

Another reason parents seem to have for not going to the library is they just don’t know which books to check out.  The solution is actually pretty simple.  Go online.  Search for books based on subject.  Select the book you want and put it on hold.  Choose which library you want the book sent to and generally it will arrive within 48hrs.  You can also renew your books online.

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Lastly, PLEASE allow your children to check out the books they want.  Don’t stifle their excitement over going to the library and looking at all those books by then telling them no they can’t check one out.  There is a time and a place to tell your child no, but this isn’t it.  If your young daughter wants an inch thick book because of the cat pictured on the cover let her get it.  If your son chooses a book that you know is too difficult for him to read, let him get it anyway.  Children are smarter than we give them credit for.  They KNOW what they’re capable of reading.  Sometimes they just want to look at the book.  Yes, even if it doesn’t have any pictures other than the front cover.  It’s important for children to love books.  It’s not always about reading them.  Sometimes it’s simply about looking at them, or holding them, or smelling them.  (Yes, I said smelling them.  If you read very often you know books have a smell.)

Try to schedule a trip to your local library at least once a month.  Your children may turn into avid readers because of it and that’s never a bad thing.

 

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Keeping it Real – Changing the Pace and Being Flexible

children on aframeWell another year has come and gone.  Once again I have learned many things along the way.  I’ve learned to not push ahead when we’re having a bad day.  Instead it’s better to change the pace and choose a different activity for a while.  Some ways we do this are to play a board game, put together a jigsaw puzzle, do a simple art project, watch an educational show on DVD or Netflix (National Geographic and the History Channel have some great ones).

Another thing I’ve learned is to be more flexible.  Home education requires quite a bit of flexibility because children bring many surprises to life.  Children get sick, have dentist appointments, eye exams, and those dreaded injuries that require a doctor visit ASAP.  (Earlier this year our 5 year old somehow stepped on a rusty nail that went through her shoe and cut her toe.  We had to squeeze in a trip to the doctor for a tetanus booster into our already planned out day.  She was fine, but better safe than sorry!)

Occasionally YOU, the teacher, will have a headache, lose your voice, or get the flu.  These are the days it’s better to just smile, say a prayer, and lounge on the couch.  The children might enjoy reading books to each other or watching National Geographic on these days.  Our 8 year old will proudly tell anyone about the deadliest creatures in the world from watching “The Deadliest Dozen” many times on Netflix.

You may be wondering how to catch back up after taking time off for a prolonged illness, or too many hectic days where things didn’t go as planned.  Well, first you need to think about what are you trying to “catch back up” to?  Are you trying to keep pace with your local public or private school?  If so why?  Are you trying to finish a specific book or curriculum before the end of the school year?  The beauty of home education is you can set your own schedule and even teach year-round if you want.

color puzzleOne thing to keep in mind is the first couple of chapters of the next book will often review what was learned the previous year.  No matter how long you take for a summer break, keep reading to each other and keep talking to your children about all sorts of topics.  Discussing new vocabulary they come across in a book, places you visit, and situations as they occur are all part of the process of learning.  Children are ALWAYS learning, whether you are actively teaching them or not.  Take advantage of this by giving them materials geared towards their interests.  Take the time to answer their billions of questions or point them towards the resources with the answers.   🙂

 

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Are Homeschooled Children Weird?

Boys ages 6-12 eagerly asking firefighters questions.

Let’s face it… many people think children who are homeschooled are weird.

Have you ever heard a 12yr old have a twenty minute conversation with an adult about Amelia Earhart?  What about an 8yr old who can’t stop talking about the vampire squid in great detail?  Would you consider these children weird, or simply passionate about their interests?

First, let’s think about what weird really means.  Weird: Of a strikingly odd or unusual character; strange, bizarre

Next, a lot of parents who choose to homeschool are weird themselves.  Many of these parents were kids who didn’t quite fit in at school.  Whether academically, peer-wise, or both, these weird parents have made a well-thought-out decision to not inflict “traditional school” on their children.

Lastly, who exactly are we comparing homeschooled children with when we determine if they are weird or not?  The public and private school children who spend 7+ hours a day with peers of their own age, most of which time is spent sitting in a desk?  Well, if that’s the case let’s shed a little light on the social differences of the average homeschooled child.

One Fraser Institute study says children educated at home are happier and more social than those in traditional schools.  The study also says the average home educated child participates in a range of activities with other children outside of the family.  A whopping 98% of homeschooled children are involved in two or more extracurricular activities each week, such as music, art, sports, field trips, etc.  The hours spent exploring and having fun while learning just can’t compare to the hours sitting in a desk.

Friends come in all ages and sizes.

Children of all ages can be friends.

The homeschooled children I’ve been around get along really well with people of all ages, not just children close to their age.  I’ve seen middle schoolers willingly taking care of their toddler-age younger siblings in front of their peers.  I’ve heard a 7yr old and 12 yr old enjoying a lengthy discussion about lego design without any derogatory comments or meanness due to age-difference.  There have also been times when a homeschooled child strikes up a casual conversation with a store employee.  Often the parent has to rescue the employee from the conversation, explaining to the child that the employee has a job to do and can’t stop to chat whenever he/she wants.

If all of these behaviors cause homeschooled children to seem weird, then I guess our children will grow up weird.  If not being weird requires hours of peer pressure to comform to the “norm” then we choose to pass.

Our children meet and make new friends regularly.  Some of the children they play with have special needs.  They may talk a little funny, walk a bit differently, or act-out at times, but I’ve found that most homeschooled children are nice and simply go with it.  Our 8yr old son has a phrase he says sometimes, “That’s just the way he is, but I like playing with him anyway.  He’s really cool!”  If only all children had this outlook on children that looked, or acted a bit different.

-Written by a weird homeschooling mom  😉

 
 

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Looking to Connect with Other Homeschooling Families?

children with teepeeHave you found other homeschooling families in your area that you can regularly meet up with?
Do your children get to play and talk with other homeschooled children at least every couple of weeks?
Have you found other homeschooling parents you can easily talk to about homeschool questions and ideas, or whenever you need a little moral support?

If you answered “No” to any of the above questions then here are some things that may help you.

#1.  Your cover school should have someone that you can either e-mail or call with any questions you might have.

#2.  There are numerous online groups for homeschool discussions, curriculum  discussions, field trips and outdoor adventures.  Below I’ve listed some Facebook groups that serve a variety of purposes.

Homeschool Alley Used Curriculum & Encouragement

Lower Alabama Homeschool book sale/swap & field trips

South Alabama Homeschoolers

Free 2 Homeschool

Adventure Club

Classically Homeschooled

Looking for something not on Facebook?  Try out this one…Best friends

Mobile Homeschool

#3.  Be willing to plan a park get-together or field trip yourself.  Even if you don’t know anyone else that is homeschooling, join a few online groups and introduce yourself and the ages of your children.  You may just be surprised to find out how many others have children the same age as yours.  (Side note: Don’t put too much emphasis on age.  Some of our 8yr old’s best friends are a 12 yr old and a 6 yr old.  Age doesn’t matter as much as similar interests.)

 

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Rainy Day Fun – Inside!

The month of July tends to bring afternoon thunderstorms very frequently… as in almost every day.  Our children love to play in the rain or stand on the porch and catch rain water, but with all the lightning and thunder we’ve been having lately they’ve been cooped inside way too much.  So, we’ve used these rainy days to do some fun projects like the ones below.  If it’s not raining in your neck of the woods you can also call these your “Hot Summer Day” projects.

Tie Dye
Last week we tie-dyed shirts and socks.  It was a family activity with the children choosing the style and colors they wanted.  Then they watched closely while my husband and I did all of the twisting and rubber band work.  The finished products turned out great and we can’t wait to do some more.

Volcano
Recently the children and I built a volcano from a kit our son received for Christmas. They enjoyed helping me build the mold, pour in the plaster and then they waited patiently for it to be dry enough to paint.  I led them in the painting giving them as many tips as I could.  (I’m a bit of a perfectionist about some things and not so much about others, but I really wanted this volcano to look good).  The volcano was a long project but it was worth it to see their faces when we erupted it today.  Who would have thought that a little baking soda and vinegar could make two children so excited?

M&M Bingo
One of or favorite games to play is what the children call M&M bingo.  You can play it however you want, but we typically do a math or phonics bingo.  For the math bingo I use math problems that relate to what we’ve been studying making sure there is a nice blend of both challenging and less challenging problems.  For phonics bingo I include letters and combinations that I know they are struggling with and a few that I’m confident they know.
Since the children are at different learning levels each child’s bingo paper is catered to what they know and are currently working on.  I generally make my paper either the same as our oldest child’s, or I’ll make mine a combination of the two children’s papers using both some K5 level work and some 2nd grade level work.  This may not make sense, but hopefully the picture helps.

Reading Marathon
Have you ever had a book reading marathon?  Well in our house it goes like this.  Each person chooses two books they are capable of reading with only occasional help.  We all snuggle on the bed together and usually the youngest starts first (her books are shorter) and then our son reads his book then I read some of my book (usually I read a chapter out of one of the Magic Tree House books).  When I’m finished our youngest goes again with her second book and then our son and so on.  It’s nothing fancy, but focusing on each other and taking turns helps to keep reading fun.

Invisible Ink
Today we tried our hands at invisible ink.  I found numerous ways to do this online, so I decided we could try three different ways since we already had these items in the house.  For the first secret message we used lemon juice.  The second secret message was written in vinegar and the last was written in milk.  We waited a few hours and then checked the three messages.  It was clear right away that you could still see the message written in lemon juice even without applying any heat.  The vinegar message was somewhat visible, but it wasn’t clear.  The milk message was the most invisible, but if you held the paper up to the light at an angle you could see a shiny-like film where the milk had dried.  We then applied heat using a flame gently in front of the paper and the messages were clearly legible after that.  (I hope to add pictures of this soon.)

The next rainy day project I have up my sleeve is baking soda powered submarines.  I remember playing with these in the sink as a child.  I was excited to find these at our local Dollar Tree.  If you or your children are feeling the rainy day (or the hot summer day) blues keep your eyes open and keep your imagination “off leash”.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Fun Projects

 

Educational and Personalized Place Mats

Recently I’ve been trying to come up with fun ways to help our youngest feel special about starting Kindergarten.  She remembers when her brother was in Kindergarten at a private school and all the fun things they did so my goal is to keep her from feeling like she’s missing out on something.  So far I’ve put together a bag of brand new school supplies including crayons, markers, play-doh, a spiral notebook and her very own ruler.  We didn’t really need any new school supplies this year except for maybe the ruler, but I have very fond memories about getting new supplies each year when I was a child.  There’s just something about opening a brand new box of crayons that I love.

Below are pictures of my project from last week.  These are jumbo-sized place mats I made for each child to do their written work on.  I simply used some 11×14 sheets of colorful poster board and some larger sheets of plexiglass from Hobby Lobby.  Then I laid out everything how I wanted it and let the children write their own names on a strip of paper to give it a personal look.  Once everything was taped how I wanted it I simply taped the poster board to the back side of the plexiglass.

Our Kindergartener’s place mat

Our second grader’s place mat

What do you think?  Too much work or a nice place mat that can be re-done for each school year?

P.S. I know it’s difficult to tell, but the numbers 0-9 at the top of both place mats are their touch math reminders.  If you click on the pictures you should be able to see a larger version to see everything more clearly.

***UPDATE*** May 4, 2013
After 8 months of using these place mats I’ve realized the plexiglass just doesn’t hold up.  Our daughter’s has several cracks in the middle from her pressing down a bit too hard (possibly when something was underneath it?), plus a couple of the corners have chipped off.  I think laminating the whole thing would have held up better.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Fun Projects

 

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That Blurry Grey Line Between School-time and Normal Life…

Math & Spanish playdoh activity - larger/smaller & longer/shorter

As I was sorting pictures into albums on my computer this evening I found myself trying to figure out if certain pictures belonged in the “Homeschooling” folder or in the “Family” folder.  Isn’t it funny how so many people look at their day as having “school hours” and normal/non-school hours.  For our family we consider the 8am – 12noon our school time, though I often will leave science, social studies or art for the afternoon.  I’ve been known to give an oral test in the evening before dinner and sometimes we review things out loud on the weekends.  (Children who go to school have homework in the evenings, so I figure me doing this isn’t all that different.)  Learning doesn’t stop just because the school books are closed and the pencils are put away.  Our children read or look at books, draw pictures and play card games on the weekends regularly.  This is where I think the line gets a bit blurry or “grey” so to speak between normal life and a school day.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite books is “Learning All the Time” by John Holt.  There is no switch to turn off learning simply because a child isn’t at school or “doing school” as it is sometimes called when children are educated at home.  I believe in giving children numerous and varied opportunities to explore and learn on their own.  Guide them only when truly needed or when they ask questions.  Don’t underestimate their ability to understand things.

So, that snack that your four year old was sorting and counting… was that math time or just snack time?  When your older child is playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the keyboard over and over and over again… is that music time or is he just playing because he enjoys playing?  Why does it have to be one or the other?  I think it’s BOTH.  I want them to enjoy learning and exploring new things.  That’s what childhood is all about right?

So, when the line gets blurry between school-time and normal life then I say GREAT!  That means the children are learning and hopefully they are enjoying it.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling

 

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Why Do People Underestimate Children?

Parents, teachers and the general public are constantly underestimating the intelligence of children.  Children’s brains are like sponges absorbing information from everywhere and everything.

Here are the 3 main areas where I feel that parents are really letting their children down:

#1  Not Giving Children Enough ResponsibilityHanging on vine

Children as young as 2 years old can be taught to do a simple task around the house 1-2 times a week.  With each birthday that passes increase the responsibility a bit more.  For example, a 2-3 year old could dust with a feather duster or be responsible for using a Swiffer cloth on the kitchen floor.  (Yes, you are welcome to do it again after them, but wait until they are asleep so they don’t SEE you do it and feel as if what they did wasn’t good enough).

Elementary age children can empty the bathroom trash can when they are smaller and then graduate to emptying out all the trash cans.  Save your back and let your child empty the dishwasher for you.  Our 6 year old enjoys his task of unloading the dishwasher.  He puts away what he can reach and stacks the out of reach items on the counter where I can put them away later.

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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in My Thoughts on Homeschooling

 

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