Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Difficult First Year of Homeschooling

Whether your kids have attended school somewhere else, or you’re starting to homeschool in the preschool or kindergarten years, adjusting to a homeschooling lifestyle does take some time. It’s often said that the first year of homeschooling is the most difficult.

It helps if your kids are happy about being homeschooled, and often the younger they are, they more accepting they are about homeschooling. If you’re pulling the kids out of public school because of a substandard school district, you might meet some resistance from them over missing their friends. It depends on the kids and on your individual situation.

Finding the perfect curriculum for your family may take some time too. Quite often, what a family starts homeschooling with has changed by the end of that first year. The process of trial and error means that what you thought would work well for your kids somehow didn’t live up to your expectations. Luckily, there are so many different forms of curricula out there, with a little patience you’re sure to find the right fit.

It’s also important to note that homeschooling affects the whole family because it really isn’t just a choice of schools, but a way of life. Give yourself plenty of time to adjust and keep reminding yourself that the hard part is in the beginning and it will certainly get easier.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Attending a Homeschool Convention

If you belong to a homeschooling support group, either in your local area or online, you’ve probably heard about at least one homeschool conference or convention. They’re fairly popular events, and for good reason. Usually a registration fee is involved, but once you gain admittance to the event, you’ll be able to hear guest speakers on a variety of homeschooling topics, and participate in workshops to help you become a better teacher.

The speakers at many conventions include authors of popular books on homeschooling, professionals in the field of education, and homeschooling parents who’ve enjoyed a great measure of success and are willing to share their secrets. Just listening to some of these speakers can be a very uplifting and motivational experience, and just what a struggling homeschool family needs to jumpstart their learning again.

In addition, many conferences include vendors who set up booths to sell their wares. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, walking among the vendors and being able to see their curricula and other products in person before buying. So often, we shop online or base our buying decisions on the recommendations of others, and it’s great to test-drive some of the products in person at a homeschool conference before buying.

Check with fellow homeschoolers, or with your local or state homeschooling association for find out about conferences near you, and when they’re held.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Teaching to Different Learning Styles

Many books have been written on the subject, and it seems everyone has an opinion on what the different learning styles are and how to best teach each type of learner. Often a child will take after their parent, so if you know you’re a verbal learner, perhaps your child is too. Knowing what type of learner your child is will help you teach material in a way they are able to learn with the least effort.

Verbal students do well in traditional school settings. They are good readers and writers, and in general are excellent students because so much of school is geared toward this learning style.

Auditory learners need to hear things to understand. So explaining a concept to them is easier for them to retain than if they must read it to themselves. They learn best by listening and repeating the information back to you rather than reading and writing the material.

Kinesthetic learners are very hands-on and learn best with things they can touch and feel. Math lessons should involve lots of manipulatives to handle, and science of course can be accomplished with plenty of experiments and physical demonstrations. Many kinesthetic kids would rather tour a historical museum or participate in a historical reenactment than read a history text, and reading in general is not one of their favorite activities.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Homeschooling a Gifted Child

Each family has their own reasons for choosing to homeschool, but for many parents of gifted kids, homeschooling is an excellent option. Public schools are stretched with tight budgets and overcrowded classrooms, and even those with gifted programs have likely had their budgets cut in recent years. Besides that, gifted programs in public schools are limited by what the school district considers appropriate materials to teach, and curious, intellectual children may want to explore something completely different. Instead of pushing a child in a certain direction, as happens in public school, homeschooling allows a gifted child to explore their interests in depth. As we all know, kids learn best when the material is interesting to them!

Whatever curriculum you choose, the basics will still need to be covered. Math, reading , spelling, writing, science, and history. These are the staples in any student’s life. But the manner in which you teach these subjects, and the speed at which a gifted child is able to master a lesson and move on to the next one, varies a great deal.

There are plenty of optional activities to help a gifted child excel. Things like extra science classes at a local museum, or foreign language classes, for example, can give a gifted child an edge. Homeschooling gives families the individual freedom to find ways for their gifted child to succeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elementary Enrichment Activities

Homeschooling is one thing, but what about after school hours? What can homeschoolers do as enrichment activities to further their education? One thing parents often overlook is the contribution that art and music make on a growing child’s brain. Kids need a chance to explore their artistic, creative side too. With that in mind, art classes, music lessons, and drama clubs are excellent choices for homeschoolers.

In addition, parents can easily find ways to enrich the academic side of homeschooling by supplementing their regular curriculum with additional media resources, hands-on experiences, and learning activities. Book learning is no fun all the time, so shake things up a bit and come at difficult concepts from a different angle to drive home the point. If the same material is presented in several different ways, it’s more likely to make sense to a child. So it pays to supplement your curriculum in areas you feel your child could benefit.

Enrichment activities that teach kids to apply the knowledge they’ve learned are also quite helpful. For example, after several lessons about counting money, have your child help you add up your purchases at the store, or help you make change. Or perhaps after learning about weather, have them read the weather forecast and let you know if you need to cover your plants to protect them from frost. Even the act of helping you to cover those plants will help them understand the concept. Enrichment activities don't have to be complicated, just activities that can help give some depth and understanding to an otherwise mundane school lesson. Make your school day fun by going above and beyond your curriculum!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Using the Computer in Homeschooling

So much of our lives is handled through computers these days, from scheduling our days to storing family photos, so it’s no wonder a vast array of options for homeschooling has developed utilizing computers. There are several publishers that market CD-ROM programs with everything you need for a given grade. The student can sit at the computer and work almost completely on their own.

Of course, the parent will still need to help out, particularly if the child finds a particular concept difficult. Homeschooling parents can also choose to supplement the curriculum with other materials of their choosing, as needed. This is a great option for parents of multiple children or those homeschooling with a baby or toddler who also needs their time.

Websites for kids abound that can help with a particular concept, such as those sites that offer math games or online phonics flashcards. Even websites that look like nothing but fun can also have an educational component. It helps with visual and spatial skills too! When kids are a little older, they can type their essays and papers on the computer, learning typing skills along the way.

Computer skills are an invaluable part of modern society, and starting kids on the computer at a young age can be quite beneficial to their long term education.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Teaching Your Child to Read

One of the main challenges of preschool is developing pre-reading skills so that when the time comes, children can succeed at reading. What are pre-reading skills? Letter recognition can be accomplished by seeing, hearing, and beginning writing of the alphabet. How about “A is for apple, B is for bear, C is for….?” Talking to your child about everyday objects and what letter they begin with is an easy way to work on letter recognition.

Reading to your child will also help them understand that text is read from left to right, and books are full of pages that need to be turned, etc. Phonemic awareness is another important skill, which just means learning which letters make which sounds. Learning about words that rhyme is also a great idea and helps kids understand letters and their sounds. Nursery rhymes and silly children’s songs are great!

When your child gets a little older, you can begin teaching phonics. There are many phonics programs on the market, or you can design your own. The idea is to make the it automatic in a child’s brain to see or hear a certain sound or letter and be able to piece those bits together into a word. In other words, teaching phonics teaches decoding skills. Suddenly, that jumble of letters on the page makes sense to a child, and then the world of books opens to them!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Homeschooling Year-Round

The first several weeks of public school each fall are spent reviewing the previous year’s material, and this trend is evident in some homeschooling curricula as well. So while some school districts have gone to year-round schooling just to help eliminate the expense of empty buildings and downtime in the summer, you have to wonder if maybe some of them figured out it was more efficient for the kids too! Kids learn better in a continuous fashion, not with starts and stops in their education.

Homeschoolers have wonderful flexibility in their schedules. Sometimes it may be necessary to take some time off due to family issues, or travel, or maybe just whenever that burned out feeling sets in and everyone needs a break. It’s much easier to take some occasional time off when you’re not worried about falling too far behind, and if you’re homeschooling year-round, you have plenty of buffer time to allow for breaks.

Of course, some of those breaks ought to be in the summer so your kids can still enjoy the typical summertime activities like swimming, setting up a lemonade stand, and of course, family vacations. Homeschooling year-round is a low-stress way to make sure you can accomplish a year’s worth of schoolwork and still have plenty of time off when your family needs it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Using Holidays in Homeschooling

Most families use a planned curriculum of some kind, or at least plan their own several weeks in advance. But you’ve probably got a little time here or there where you can fit in some activities about upcoming holidays, and doing so will add a little spice to the day for your kids.

The big holidays are easy enough. Spend an afternoon making Christmas cards or valentines with your kids, or maybe preparing some green food to eat on St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone will appreciate a change of pace from the usual math, reading, and science, and a short activity interspersed with regular schoolwork can really help to make the day pass more quickly. Arranging a few arts and crafts projects around holiday themes is a great way to mark the time, and even teach the kids about calendars. Counting down how many days until Easter gives everyone something to look forward to.

Some often-overlooked holidays are the smaller ones, and they can be even more fun! How about Flag Day, Columbus Day, or Presidents’ Day? There’s lots of potential there for craft projects and learning activities. Kids will also enjoy celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday and reading his books while eating a breakfast of green eggs and ham! Sometimes the more insignificant holidays can be the most fun!

Some sites have great seasonal or holiday learning resources.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Homeschooling with a baby or toddler in your way!

How can homeschooling mothers still accomplish their goals for the day with a baby or toddler needing their attention? If you have several children, you’ve undoubtedly dealt with this issue. You can either choose a curriculum that requires very little input from parents, or you can find ways to keep your little one(s) occupied during school time.

You could try conducting lessons with a baby or toddler in your lap, while they perhaps play quietly or eat a snack. There could also be a special box of favorite toys that are only allowed out during school time, to keep little hands busy.

Scheduling your day with the hardest subjects for your older kids occurring during the little one’s nap time may also work. If they take several naps a day, take advantage of it, even if only temporarily. This idea could also be combined with an early bedtime too, by doing math with your 4th grader during the baby’s nap and sitting down for a quick spelling lesson after the baby is in bed, for example. Some desperate parents may opt to put on a cartoon for toddlers, at least for a little while so you can accomplish something with an older child before turning your attention back to the younger set. Used in moderation, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Socialization for Elementary Homeschoolers

One of the biggest complaints about homeschooling that you’ll hear from folks who don’t understand it is the issue of socialization. How can your kids socialize with their peers if they’re stuck at home all day? They’ll grow up in isolation and their social development will be delayed. Right?

Wrong! Homeschooled kids are some of the busiest around. There are so many activities available in most communities that if you did all of them, you’d never be at home to do any schoolwork. The YMCA often offers homeschool classes, such as swimming lessons, and depending on the YMCA, they may offer even more. Some have computer and foreign language classes for homeschoolers, and even art and music lessons. Your local community center probably has planned activities too, and these things provide time for kids to learn and interact with others. Many homeschoolers also belong to homeschool support groups that have field trips, play dates, and other activities for kids. There are also co-op classes in many areas, where parents take turns planning the classes to be taught each week. Even if your kids play in the afternoons with other kids in the neighborhood, you've accomplished socialization. It's that easy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trips to the Public Library

A big building full of books! Of course, it’s a great thing for homeschoolers! Some families have large bags they bring to the library, in order to carry home all of their treasured finds, and others may even bring a laundry basket to haul away their checked-out books. If there’s one thing homeschooling tends to encourage, it’s reading.

Learning how to use the library resources is a great idea for any homeschooler, and these skills become more and more important as children get older and more independent. Learning about the Dewey Decimal System, how to find things in the library’s catalog, and where different sections are located in the library are all invaluable skills. You could even consider getting each child their own library card and teaching some responsibility that way.

Even if your chosen curriculum doesn’t specifically recommend utilizing the library, you can certainly do so on your own to supplement the materials you use as part of homeschooling. Kids benefit a great deal from free time to do independent reading, so letting them choose some books to check out is a great bonus. For younger kids who aren’t reading yet, let them get comfy and read them a story! It’s wonderful quality time for parent and child, and it builds those phonics and pre-reading skills that will come in handy later on. Everyone loves the library!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homeschooling Multiple Kids at the Same Time

Many homeschoolers belong to large families, but even moms teaching just two children can be challenged by the needs of each child being so different. This is especially a problem if both kids need lots of one-on-one time to accomplish their work. The problem only worsens if a baby or toddler needs mom’s attention too. What’s a busy homeschooling mom to do?

The more kids you have, the more difficult this will be; there’s really no way around that fact. If your children are close in age, you may be able to adapt the curriculum to meet both of their needs at the same time. You could also move toward getting your kids to work more independently so you aren’t needed as much. In fact, there are some types of curricula more flexible on this point than others. Unit studies, for example, tend to be very adaptable to different ages, and of course computer programs encourage independent work. If you can get one child set up on a computer project, you’ll have time to help another with their math assignment.

Solving your problem might be as easy as scheduling a reading assignment for one child during the other child’s geography lesson, or having one child work on their own with a handwriting workbook while you do math with their sibling. Some subjects lend themselves more easily to independent work, and you can take advantage of that in your planning.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Using Unit Studies in Your Curriculum

There are as many methods and styles of homeschooling as there are homeschoolers, but unit studies is one of the more popular these days. There are several brands of curricula that focus on unit studies, like Five in a Row and Konos, but even without a prearranged program, unit studies are easy for moms to set up, fun to teach, adaptable to different ages, and kids love them.

You’ve probably even done a unit study without knowing it. Have you ever read a book to the kids and enjoyed the illustrations so much that you taught the kids a little about oil pastel drawings? And maybe the story was about a little boy at the beach, so you checked out some books from the library about seashells and seagulls, to go along with it? And taught the kids the tongue twister about seashells on the seashore? Or made the kids fish or clam chowder for lunch, since it was mentioned in the book? If you’ve done anything like this, you’ve already laid the foundations for a unit study!

A unit study is simply learning about a particular subject, whether it be grasshoppers, ocean currents, or a particular book. A unit study could be about anything, as long as you’re able to cover the material in depth and from different angles. This method is great when you’re homeschooling multiple children, because the older kids can learn about predicting weather from ocean currents, for example, while the younger ones learn about the life cycle of a fish. It’s all connected as a unit study about oceans!

Unit studies allow for superficial review of less interesting aspects of the subject matter, while allowing kids to explore particular areas they enjoy. A unit study on oceans should probably include some geography, but could be expanded to include things like scuba diving and deep sea drilling too. The flexibility appeals to moms and kids alike.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Using Manipulatives in Math Curriculum

Most homeschool math curriculum is in the form of textbooks or workbooks, which doesn’t give kids much experience with hands-on math skills. Even if you do an online math program, the images on the screen are still two dimensional. Some children learn great that way, but kinesthetic or “hands-on” learners can really benefit from math manipulatives.

Manipulatives are things like base-ten blocks to learn about decimals, or a pretend pizza pie to teach about fractional parts, or a toy clock with moveable hands for learning to tell time. Real objects that can be touched, counted, or moved can really help reinforce the lesson. Even something like a thermometer is easier for some kids to understand if they can hold it and look at it up close, rather than seeing pictures of one.

Interactive games are sometimes helpful, especially online, but there's nothing like holding something in your hand to help you understand it. A great example of this is the quasi-holiday of the 100th Day of School, widely celebrated in elementary classrooms everywhere. It's fun for kids, but also a great learning tool. One of the more popular activities is for each child to collect 100 items, such as pennies, bits of cereal or candy, sunflower seeds, etc. Seeing, feeling, and touching the number 100 in this way really drives home the concept.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Homeschool Science Fairs

We all remember the dreaded science fair projects from our own childhood, right? But for most of us, the science fair was part of a traditional public school experience. How can we give our kids a science fair experience they’ll enjoy and learn from, if they’re homeschoolers?

Many homeschool support groups put together small science fairs for their members. Some of the larger groups have quite elaborate programs, with judges and prizes for the winners. Sometimes state homeschooling organizations will put together something similar. It can’t hurt to ask around and see if other homeschoolers you know have some leads. If not, consider starting your own!

However, a science fair project doesn’t need to be in show-ready condition to be a great learning experience. Less focus on competition and more on learning is certainly a viable alternative. The point is that homeschooled kids can learn about science and the scientific method without all the fuss and showiness of a big display. For the younger ages, easier is often better.

Some simple ideas include growing vegetables from seed and varying the amount of water, or light, or perhaps the temperature, and learning what effects this has on plant growth. This is easy enough to do in the family’s backyard garden! You could also design a new invention, a favorite with elementary kids, like building a robot from Legos that can push on a domino to start a chain reaction. Just be sure to find a variable to test, like measuring how hard the robot has to push, or testing to see which size legos to use, etc. Kids love this kind of stuff, and with a little gentle guidance, a science experiment is born!

Be sure they learn how to record their methods and data, because the mark of a successful experiment is when another scientist can come along and repeat your work with the same results. Even if you don’t participate in a science fair, the work itself is valuable as a learning experience.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recess for Homeschoolers

Every homeschooler knows someone who hears they homeschool and responds with a smirk and some comment about permanent recess. Some people really think homeschooling is all about sleeping late, watching TV, and playing all day. Real homeschooling families don’t work that way. But on the other hand, public school kids get breaks for recess, so shouldn’t homeschooled kids be able to play outdoors for a bit?

Schoolteachers know it helps kids’ performance and ability to learn if they have breaks in between lessons. Playtime lets kids clear their heads and come back to their desks ready to focus again, and homeschooled kids benefit in much the same way. They can shake off the bad vibes from that math lesson they didn’t like, and be ready to attack their spelling words after playing outdoors for a bit.

Industrious homeschooling moms know how to multitask and combine recess with something else. Maybe collecting rocks out in the backyard can double as time to run, jump, and play while also gathering the supplies for the upcoming lesson about geology. Or have the kids do jumping jacks and then throw in some math to have them calculate the number of calories they just burned, or how much force their feet hit the ground with. Even a playground slide is useful to teach about gravity.

By all means, let your homeschooled kids run and play to take a break. Their schoolwork will benefit, and mom gets a break this way too!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hands-On Science for Elementary Homeschoolers

If you’ve found a science curriculum you love, it probably covers the basics of what your kids need to learn, at least from book-based learning. But what about hands-on learning? The hands-on approach lets children apply what the textbook says to real life situations, and it lets them figure out how to use the knowledge they’re learning. Science experiments are in invaluable part of school, and they should have a role in homeschooling too.

If you aren’t using a book that includes experiments to go along with the lessons, you can always design your own. Especially at the elementary level, this isn’t a difficult task. Just figure out how the material applies in real life. It doesn’t need to be a formal experiment, with a hypothesis to test, and variables to control. Young children just need some hands-on reinforcement of what they’re learning. If they’re learning about weather, for example, how about measuring the temperature outside on several consecutive days and learning how to graph that data? Measure rain with a rain gauge. Look for trends in the weather over a period of time, and maybe let the kids pretend to be a weather forecaster to give the day’s weather report. Make it fun!

Perhaps a short trip to the park or a nature walk could help kids learn about evergreen trees. In the middle of winter, which trees still have their green leaves, and why? That’s so much more fun than reading a book about trees! Even if your chosen science curriculum covers everything a homeschooling parent ever dreamed of, you can always add some hands-on science to enhance the experience and make the book-learning more enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Teaching Music

Not many homeschool parents work as music instructors on the side. So how do those of us without music backgrounds teach our kids about music? Many parents choose to enroll their child in music classes or piano lessons, not at all unlike what their public school counterparts would do. You don’t have to be a homeschooler to take piano lessons, after all.

There are some music programs for young children that provide a wonderful mix of music and movement, such as the Kindermusik program. While expensive, most children really love these classes, where they learn about rhythm and moving with the beat. What 5 or 6 year old doesn’t like to jump up and dance? They even learn to use basic instruments, like a drum, whistle, maracas, and xylophones, and have fun doing it.

But if you’d rather take a do-it-yourself approach, just playing a variety of types of music for your kids is a great start. Kids who are exposed to all types of music appreciate music more than kids who only hear mom’s favorite radio station. When you get in the car, play a different CD each time. You can check out music CDs from the library so your kids can hear classical, reggae, Celtic music, and maybe even songs sung in a foreign language. If you throw in a few short sentences where you explain to the kids what they’re hearing, or perhaps a little about the artist or time period the music is from, it’s more like a school lesson. All these little bits of music exposure add up to some real learning!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Elementary Foreign Language Curriculum

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an Italian grandmother at home to teach them Italian, or Russian immigrants a couple of doors down who love the idea of sharing their language and culture with neighborhood kids. How about the rest of us who want our young children to learn a foreign language, and in particular, the homeschooling families who don’t have public school resources to take advantage of?

There are several options for parents seeking to teach their homeschooled kids a foreign language, but they do require some research first to find the best fit for your family. The best way to develop fluency is for the child to speak and hear the language daily, but that isn’t always possible. If relatives of yours speak Spanish, then obviously this is an easier choice to teach your child over French, which the child would never have a chance to practice.

Along those same lines, speaking the language with another person is much preferable over speaking it into a computer. Many of the available computer programs are excellent, but reciting vocabulary words to yourself or the computer just doesn’t give the same quality of feedback as if you were speaking them to another person.

If you or someone in your family isn’t a fluent speaker of the language you want to teach, and you can’t find a native speaker to tutor your kids either, the foreign language computer programs are your only real alternative, and while not ideal, they do get the job done. Check your local library also for language resources to help along the way, and above all, stick with it! Persistence is the key to learning another language.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Importance of Field Trips in Homeschooling

Public school kids have field trips, so homeschooled kids should have them too! Field trips are a fun way to get out of the classroom, or out of the house in this case, and experience a bit of the real world. Even things that don’t seem terribly educational on the surface serve a role in teaching kids about the world. The end of the year picnic for your homeschool group is just as appropriate a field trip as a trip to the zoo, because it gives homeschooled kids a chance to engage their peers in social situations and have some fun.

Ideally, a field trip isn’t just a break from the daily grind of schoolwork, but it gives kids a chance to learn even more from real-life experiences. Trips to an art museum, for example, don’t just teach about art. Kids also learn what a museum looks like and feels like, and they learn about the expected behavior in art museums, like not touching the artwork! Some museums don’t allow photography of their art or exhibits, and it’s important to explain these things to children. These are lessons that could never be learned just from a book.

Field trips are also helpful to add depth to subjects covered in school. Learning about steam locomotives is great in the classroom, but seeing one in person at the local museum is even better. Learning about the behavior of bees in colonies is interesting from a book, but enthralling to kids who are learning the art of beekeeping from a real bee keeper. Field trips like this help to round out the incomplete parts of homeschool lessons, so get the kids out of the house and let them benefit from the great learning opportunities available with field trips.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Elementary Homeschool Sports

If you’re a homeschooling parent of elementary aged children, letting them play in the backyard or with their friends in the neighborhood, left to their own imaginations, is probably enough exercise for them. As long as you’re minimizing how much TV they watch, and “screen time” in general, there’s very little else that can keep kids sedentary. They’ll be up and moving without another thought because they won’t be able to stop themselves!

If you’re looking for a more formal physical education program, you can sometimes find homeschool gym classes in your community. They usually meet for an hour or two per week, and often involve group sports like soccer or basketball, and games such as kickball, flag football, and tag. The kids can also benefit from the use of the facility where the classes are held, like running on an indoor track, playing on the soccer field, or using a climbing wall, for example. Check with your community rec center or YMCA for these homeschool gym classes.

Another option for getting your child some exposure to organized sports would include things like Little League baseball, or Pee Wee football leagues. Many towns have softball teams for kids, or cheerleading, or any number of other options. Just because they’re homeschooled doesn’t mean they need to miss out on sports and fun!