Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reading - that in between stage

My 6yo is at that awkward in between phase, when she knows basic phonograms and rules, but putting it all together into real reading is intense work. Phonics readers are too long and labor intensive. She doesn't know enough sight words to work through most easy readers (and we tend to tackle sight words phonetically, anyway). Reading becomes a chore. Progress halts. What's a homeschool mom to do?

This is the stage when repetition, repetition, repetition is key. I own the book called Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books, which has this gorgeous list of repetitious children's picture books in the back. Some books are still too hard and some are too easy. I order massive amounts of these books from the library, and we tackle each one in our own way. We aim to read each book 3 times. The harder ones we tag-team read, and I model the phonics skills for her. 

I also took her phonics lesson book (we're using 100 Easy Lessons, though I don't swear by it) and typed up the stories in normal font, with a capital letter to start and ending punctuation. I put it in a binder and she practices reading the story over the course of 3 days. I put the phonics needed for review and some sight words on flashcards to practice and help with the story reading. Then, we pull out a whiteboard and copy 1 sentence from the binder. This method seems to be working well: we'll see if it gets us over the reading hurdle. Our schedule is: binder, flashcards, and sentence writing during our school day (20 mins tops), and picture book reading at bedtime.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

It's not about the books, part 2

In my last post, It's Not About the Books, I talked about group class situations, and how the books do not reveal the real nature of the class.  Here, I'll give solid examples from our own program (Challenge) of how the books do not equal the sum total of what we actually get from these classes.  I'll also include important things to look for in a class, rather than judging it by its books.

Saxon Math
The Challenge program uses the Saxon Math series to teach Math.  Challenge A uses Saxon 8/7, Challenge B uses Algebra 1/2, Challenge 1 uses Algebra 1, and so on. This is where anyone that might entertain Challenge stops.  "Nope.  Not gonna work.  We hate Saxon.  We use XYX Math.  My child is 2 levels above Saxon 8/7.  My child is 2 levels below Saxon 8/7."  You might be surprised to know that all of the Challenge students come to class having used whatever math program and level is right for them.  For instance, while the class used Saxon 8/7, my daughter used Math U See Algebra.  In fact, all of the students were in different levels, different programs, or both!  The tutor's aim, however, is to use the Saxon 8/7 lessons as a launching board for class discussion.  This would involve math laws, different ways of tackling a math problem, speed drills, games, and sometimes the students even brought their own problems in and taught it to the class.  Was reviewing fractions, decimals, pre-algebra topics, and math laws a detriment to my daughter?  Not at all! 

If you are researching a similar class and the math does not quite match up with your student's needs, make sure you ask the teacher more about the dynamics of the class.  Will this particular text and level be used, or is it open to each student using their own math?  Most people recognize that each student is unique in their own math skills and text preference.  Make sure you find out, first, before writing a class off as not a good fit.

Lost Tools of Writing
Challenge A, B and 1 use Lost Tools of Writing, published by Circe Institute.  It can be hard to understand the basic tenants of a writing program just by perusing the book, especially if there is a "method" behind its madness.  In some ways, I have a preference for IEW; however, the in-class implementation of Lost Tools, and the 5 Common Topics are amazing!  (I believe the 5 Common Topics could be used to solve all of mankind's problems...) This is definitely a case for "don't judge a class by its books".  If you have concerns about a class's writing program, don't bother too much looking at the books used.  Instead, ask the potential teacher to demonstrate the method to you, or ask if she'll let you borrow videos, or in some way give you a crash-coarse in its implementation.  Find out skills your student will develop through participation in class and writing assignments at home.  Also find out what your expected role is in the given writing assignments (do you need to learn the method, too?  will you be editing your child's papers and giving a final approval?  will you be holding their hand and practically writing their paper at first - modeling - until they catch on? will you be responsible for reading, marking, and grading the paper, or will the teacher provide this?  If you give the grades, will the teacher provide a rubric to help you grade fairly?)

Physical Science (or whatever science)
This was one of the biggest areas of disappointment for people when I presented the whole "hey, are you interested in joining Challenge 1?" idea; and it could apply to any science at any level or class.  Why?  In this case, in particular, Physical Science is often completed by 8th grade students, but used as a 9th grade credit.  Following the credits system, and the current trend in modern education, students begin counting some high school credits in 8th grade, with the hope of early graduation, or dual enrollment (high school and college courses working toward an associates degree).  If a student has already completed Physical Science satisfactorily and earned that credit for their transcripts, why on earth would they repeat it for your XYZ program?  The answer: because the skills learned through the class may be more valuable than the transcript credit.  I know, I know.  On paper, credits are everything and we race to get those credits done so that our student can move on with life.  However, consider the skills that might be gained from repeating Physical Science: really delving into the textbook, and learning new, different, or better study methods and textbook skills; having comrades to study and share ideas with; and researching deeper subjects while reviewing previously learned lessons (Challenge 1 has a giant research paper).  However, if you truly do not want to repeat the same textbook at home the following year, ask the teacher if your student could use their own level of science, and then review enough of the class text in order to participate in classroom discussion.  I've heard of Challenge students doing this.  If your student needs to go into Biology while everyone else is in Physical Science, perhaps your student could research a biology topic for their project.  If credits are important, ask the teacher how you might tweak the science to meet your high school credit requirements.

In conclusion, ask the teacher first before you disregard a class's values based on its books.  Consider the deeper values gained using the less-loved, or already-studied, or different publisher/level books in a classroom setting.  Ask the teacher for the value that extends outside of the books themselves, or ask ways that the books could be interchanged or tweaked for your particular student.  Chances are, the teacher will believe in the class he/she teaches, and will have good ideas to make the overall experience worth the price tag and time investment for your child.  Or, a teacher will tell you that it isn't a good fit, when considering all of the pieces.  Last, when you sit with the teacher to find out more - LISTEN!  Rather than explaining all the things that are better than her program, find out more about the value of her program.  Put away any preconceived notions.  Yes, it may be a bit of a sales pitch and an infomercial.  Listen, and then look past that - ask questions, explain your unique situation, and give her time to respond (she may need to mull it over and get back to you with ideas).  And, ask for a list of skills that your student will gain from the class.  Consider that the skills gained may far outweigh the books used.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

It's not about the books

We homeschool moms tend to get pretty wrapped up in Curriculum.  And by "curriculum", I mean "magical box of books that's going to radically change our homeschool."  So, when we look at "curriculum", what we really want to do is flip through books on the curriculum list and see if it's a good fit for our family.

This isn't a terrible approach, until that "magical, radical" thing that was supposed to happen, didn't.  It's not terrible, until we see it sitting discarded, unused.  It's not terrible, until we realized the time and money spent agonizing over the decision to buy it, fretting over the implementation, and mourning over the disappointment of failure.

"Curriculum" defined means "course of study", which can mean just about anything.

Once I figured out that curriculum isn't a magic bullet, I was sort of depressed.  I mean, "what now?" Over the course our homeschool years, I've redefined curriculum, gone off on my own limb of trial and error, and eventually put my trust in another product provider.  But this time, it's different.  It's no longer a magic bullet.  And although I look at the booklist, I know that's maybe 1/3rd of what I'm actually getting when I buy that curriculum.  What's the difference? I have a group of people doing this with me.

If you are looking at any type of "group curriculum", whether it's online classes, co-op classes, or classes with an independent instructor, it's a different ball game.  It's no longer about the curriculum (i.e., magical books); it's now about the course of study with a dynamic teacher, and very real students interacting with each other.  In other words: it's not about the books.

I've held several information meetings in an effort to drudge up interest in a Challenge program for my eldest daughter.  The single most obstacle in these info meetings is the books.  It's not that the Challenge level books are bad; it's that the books themselves speak very little of the program.  And the books might not be where your student is at right now.  Or, maybe you don't like that specific book.  Or maybe you did that book last year.  Again, I'll say: it's not about the books.

Yes, look at the booklist.  But also consider that the booklist is 1/3rd of the program, maybe less.  If you were doing Sonlight or Abeka or any curriculum provider that uses books, and you plan to use those books independently, then the books are 75% of the program (25% is you and your student's implementation).  However, in a group setting like I described, the dynamics are far greater than the sum of the books.  Your child may get so much more out of the class, than you see in the book.

What might you see in a class dynamic, that you wouldn't see in the books?
Tutor/teacher mentoring and relationship
Interaction with fellow students
Positive peer pressure to get work done and contribute to the class
Learning how to argue/persuade (this takes practice, so give a little leeway)
Due dates and work completion
Time management (there will be failures, so give a little more leeway)
Study for tests or other performance type situations
Basic study skills and notetaking
Finishing a program within a frame of time (am I the only one that struggles with this at home?)

In my next post, I'll talk about some of the books/products we've used in a group setting (Challenge) and how the books themselves do not add up to the sum total of the program. Read Part 2 here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Happy 6th Birthday

Georgie is turning 6!
Just 6 years ago, she was born at 30 weeks gestation, weighing 2 lbs 14 oz. She stayed in NICU just under 1 month. I learned a difficult lesson with this one: not all preemies are the same. While her big sister was a sleepy preemie that was hard to wake, Georgie was the opposite: she did not sleep and couldn't settle down. She was just a bit "more" than other babies in the personality department. She screamed. She wailed. Car rides were miserable.

She was held and cuddled and deeply loved. She had spunk and energy. Once she caught on to nursing at 2 months old, she plumped up into a roly poly baby. She was always a happy baby until she became tired. Sleep was the enemy. Learning how to rest and let go was a tough lesson to learn! 

I knew she was our last child, and I held on to every day, every new milestone. She grew into a fiercely independent toddler, ready to tackle tasks far too big for her. Even now, she knows exactly what she wants and doesn't wait for anyone to get it for her! Our biggest challenge lately: those temper tantrums are huge! Lol. Sometimes hunger, tiredness, or a full bladder sets off a storm, or sometimes she simply won't take no for an answer. It's quite a job for Mom to sort out which it might be, and respond in a firm, loving manner to address the not-so-obvious problem.

I know parenting in these early years with such a strong, determined young lady is a challenge. However, I know that she will grow into a strong, determined seeker of Christ, following him alone, and standing firm in the face of adversity. 

She has a deeply loving, soft side, too. She's super cuddly. I know our cuddle time is limited and I will miss those times of snuggling together with a good book. She's a hard worker, spotting what needs to be done and pitching in to do it. Without a word, she might pull a chair up to the kitchen sink and hand wash my dirty dishes, or grab a bag and clean up dog mess in the yard. I'm amazed at the many ways she finds to bless us.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wrapping up 2014-15

Our 2014-15 school year is drawing to an end like a card game of Go Fish.  It was an incredible year!  Our year was everything I wanted for my children and more.  Here's a recap:

14 Year Old - Challenge A
My 14yo has 3 weeks left of Challenge A.  Her accomplishments:
  • She's finished Algebra I, and began Geometry. 
  • She's memorized 54 catechism questions relating to earth science and biology,
  • memorized countries and capitals around the globe and can draw them freehand,
  • has read 10 good books and will have written 10 persuasive essays on an ethical issue,
  • will have completed 15 lessons from Henle Latin, with a solid understanding of the vocabulary, rules, and grammar.
  • Researched, sketched, labeled, and presented biological topics and the 8 body systems for science
  • Learned multiple fallacies used to persuade and manipulate thinking
  • On the horizon is a dissection (which she will sit out, thank you very much.  Her 12 yo sister will take her place!), Blue Book assessments and a celebration, and delivery of a Christian Apologetics paper.
12 Year Old - Foundations and Essentials
My 12yo has 1 week left of Foundations and Essentials.  Her accomplishments:
  • Memory Master - Yay!  (throws confetti in the air) (this deserves a blog post...)
  • part way through Math 8/7 in Saxon (yes, we switched.  This deserves another blog post...)
  • Completion of several IEW style essays, including a biographical essay, Faces of History
  • 24 weeks of English grammar
  • Foundations: 24 weeks x 7 subjects = oh-my-goodness, this kid knows a lot of stuff to mastery!
  • On the horizon: a summer of math.  (booo! lol).  She'll sit in place of her sister's dissection (some kids like seeing guts, some kids don't). And I'll probably give her a heads up on a few things for Challenge A next year, knowing how she doesn't handle time-pressures well and large workloads.   
5 Year Old - Foundations
  • Seeing her sister pass Memory Master was good for her soul.  She has a renewed desire to be quizzed and to keep learning.
  • 3/4ths through her BJUP Kindergarten math book; learned counting to 100, skip counting by 5s and 10s, can write and identify numbers to 100, basic adding and subtracting to 6, calendar, telling time to the hour.
  • learned how to write all upper-case alphabet letters and numbers
What's in store for next year? This is still in the works:
  • 14yo would like to continue CC, but will probably jump up into Challenge 1 (skipping B).  I'm not opposed to Challenge B for her, and this has caused me some waffling.  It's all amazing, and I don't want her to miss a single thing!  However, I'm really thinking Challenge 1 for her, given her age, maturity, and academic abilities. We're not sure what campus, yet.  I'm still talking to oodles of people and finding out what our options are.  I'm willing to tutor it, but would need a campus that needs a Challenge 1 tutor and students to fill it:)  If not, looks like my daughter will be traveling 1+ hours away to make this year happen for her.
  • 12yo will be graduating into Challenge A at our local campus. Yay for simple things!
  • 6yo (currently 5yo) will attend her 3rd year of Foundations (Cycle 1) at whatever campus we're at.  Most likely this will be our local campus; however, if I tutor Challenge at a different campus, then she'll go with me.
The hardest thing about CC for us has been finding the Challenge levels when we need them.  Sometimes, the levels we've needed have been at least 1.5 hours away (given that Michigan = icy roads, then double that in a snow storm).  I have offered to start and run the Challenge levels here, but CC has not taken off yet in the general homeschool arena; therefore, we have not had the student interest needed for it to run.  I predict that in 5 years time, CC will take off like wild fire, here, and the problem will then be finding parents willing to head up Challenge. However, this doesn't help me now, in my time of need.  I'm sure, though, that someday I'll look back at our overall jr high and high school experience and say "God has provided when the time was right".  I look forward to seeing what that means for the 2015-16 year, lol!

Thursday, February 19, 2015


I'm not sure how I will organize literature on my daughter's transcript. For now, I will make a list of academic books she has read. I will categorize them later.
Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy (complete series) by Douglas Adams - Science Fiction
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - British literature
Emma by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Challenge A literature:
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis
Carry on Mr Bowditch
The Magician's Nephew
Number the Stars
Amos fortune free man
The Secret Garden
The Door in the Wall
A Gathering of Days
Crispin and the Cross of Lead
The Bronze Bow

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


The trickiest part of a homeschool parent is finding balance, amidst a myriad of subjects and tasks to manage.These tasks, as homeschool parents, is like carrying a big load of laundry in your arms up the stairs. You grab a big handful of clothing, but articles casually spill over, under, and out of your arms as you take each step upward. There goes a sock. Next, your 4 year old's undies (of course there are undies in the livingroom. Do I really need to explain this?) And then a few more socks and a pair of pants. There's a t-shirt at the top of the stairs and a toy car falls out and hits your toe (why is that in the pile?). At first, you keep grabbing things and stuffing them back into your arms, but eventually you just keep trucking, get the mass into the washing machine, and vow to pick up the trail of articles later.

So too is our homeschool year. I've learned that a lot of little things will drop out along the way. In the past, I've moaned and fretted at each lost item. I caught up things as they fell, only to lose something else. Now, I think I've found a good (relatively decent) way of balancing things:

1. Aim high. If you don't shoot for the stars, you'll never reach them.

2. Celebrate what you *have* accomplished (and don't worry about all the little things that didn't happen).

3. If gaps or problems arise from the things that fell out of your grasp, you can go back later and make those the central focus. But until then, don't worry about them.

If you follow these steps, you should be celebrating more, right? And these successes should spur you onward! It's the focus on failures, or that we can never measure up that prevents us from doing great and amazing things. But if we tweak our perspective a bit, we can focus on all the things we can do, will do, have done, and suddenly, we're unstoppable.


Yes, even in laundry.