March 8, 2018

A Birthday for CHO and The Roadmap!

As I've mentioned a few times, in addition to homeschooling my children; moderating The Christian Homeschool Oasis (CHO) and a couple of other homeschool groups; and writing here and elsewhere, I own The Homeschool Resource Roadmap. And today - March 8, 2018 - is The Roadmap's (and CHO's) fifth birthday!

I started CHO on March 8, 2013 - asking Nikki to join me right away - in response to news earlier that week about a couple of well-known homeschool publishers choosing to align or correlate with the common core standards (CCS). The original group members and I determined to learn what other providers were choosing to do about the CCS, and I began sending letters to all the companies any of us knew about. That effort produced what eventually became The Roadmap, which currently lists and categorizes more than 3,200 resource providers in multiple ways.

CHO continues on as well; in fact, the nearly 7,000 current members and I are having a big "birthday party" in the group today.

If you're looking for an active, encouraging online support group, join us there. And if you're seeking any information at all about any homeschool-related resource you can think of, take a look at the free portions of The Roadmap and then consider a subscription. In fact, if you want to subscribe today - on March 8, 2018 - you can get the Deluxe subscription for a special birthday celebration rate.

February 12, 2018

Reading is the Key

Whoever first said these words uttered one of the greatest educational truths ever spoken.

The fact is that, if a person can read well, he can learn about nearly anything else in the world, as needed. There are, of course, other wonderful ways to learn - i.e., learning by doing (hands-on, project-based activities) and learning by direct experience (i.e., travel). But most of us won't travel as extensively as we'd perhaps like to and even many hands-on projects require some reading as well. Thus, being able to read well enough to enjoy doing so is an educational hallmark.

As I've pondered this concept over the years - while concurrently seeing myriad homeschool moms fret over what subjects to cover with their kids and even thinking about that for my own children - I've come to a strong conviction about the foundation of our home education endeavors: If my kids can read well (which means that they'll be "thinkers" by default), communicate clearly (orally and in writing), and competently manage computational math (not necessarily "higher math," depending on the child), all the rest is gravy.

In other words, those "basic" skills (the old-fashioned "3-Rs") really do provide the foundation for all other learning. It's not that we shouldn't address other content areas like history, science, the arts, etc. In fact, I believe we do well to find engaging ways to expose our kids to an overview of those various "subjects" before they reach adolescence in order to build mental "hooks" on which they can hang all that they'll learn through the rest of their lives. And then in adolescence, we should endeavor to maximize the development of the unique gifts and abilities we begin to see in each child, diligently working through a wholly customized plan for each one (i.e., there should be no such thing as a "standardized curriculum" - where every young person has to learn all the same content) in order to prepare them all to confidently launch into adulthood. But when it comes right down to it, once a child has learned to read well - or, if true reading disabilities exist, to employ very helpful technology such as audiobooks - his educational toolbox is ready to tackle any cognitive endeavor he seeks to pursue for the rest of his life.

In reality, if we give our kids "only" the 3Rs - a rock-solid foundation in readin', (w)ritin' and 'rithmetic! - and then commit to a fully personalized plan for other content areas (purposing to eliminate every vestige of "filler," material we think kids should learn only because "everyone does," and busywork), we have given our kids everything they truly need to engage well in any life endeavor each might choose to pursue.

Nurture kids into becoming strong readers and everything else in the world will be open to them.

February 11, 2018

The Homeschool Resource Roadmap: Why Subscribe?

Nikki and I have previously mentioned that I own The Homeschool Resource Roadmap, a database of information about homeschool-oriented resources. The Roadmap's Common Core Project has always been free - and remains so - but the site now offers extensive subscription-based content as well.

Since the Common Core Project lists and links to each one of the site's 3,200+ researched providers, some wonder why paying for a subscription would be beneficial. I've answered that question on The Roadmap's new blog feature HERE

January 27, 2018

Homeschooling High School: Is this enough?

photo credit: StephhyBby
Lately, in CHO (Christian Homeschool Oasis) questions about high school are popping up and they all seem to have a common theme: My teen is not savvy in this subject and is it okay to not do these courses.

It seems I or Tina or others have been typing out the same response over and over, so I figured it was time to publish it here. It doesn't matter if the subject is math, science, social studies, history, art, etc. The response is typically the same.

First, know your state's homeschool laws and if laws actually dictate or outline actual graduation requirements. Are there requirements that state homeschool students have to do 3 years of math, 3 years of science, 4 years of English, etc.? Most states do not have graduation requirements for homeschoolers. Often when people share the graduation requirements are x many years of this subject matter they are are actually quoting public school requirements and those requirements do not apply to homeschoolers. So the first step is knowing what the laws are your state. In most cases, there are no preset requirements to meet so it's okay if your teen does only 2 years of math, 4 years of science, 1 year of this or that. The number of years for each subject is left totally up to you.

Second, seeing the public school requirements do not matter, do not look to them as your measure of what your teen should be doing or needs to be doing to meet graduation requirements. You set the graduation requirements and they can be whatever you want. You can and should, however, look at your teen's POST high school plans. What are they going to do? Where are they looking to go? What do they feel they are going to major in? Look at what the colleges they may or may not be going to want in terms of admittance. What does the college want to see on your teen's transcript? What does the trade school want? What does the technical college want? If their plans do not include post-high school education what do you want for them? What would, to you, be a well rounded and completed education? These are the measures that you should be looking at.

Which brings us to the third point: Courses.

I see often homeschoolers feel like they need to do biology, chemistry, physics -- but their teen has no interest in science, not science minded and these are a huge drag. Or in math, they have to do the courses that will get them to calculus and like the sciences, this is a huge drag and struggle because the teen is not math-minded. Why make them push through something that they don't want or may not need?

This is when it's okay to know that based on their post-high school plans that 2 years of a particular subject matter is enough or know that's its okay if it's not the "traditional track" I see many homeschoolers get stuck on.  Science is an easy one to point out and expand on what I mean.

As I said, I see many homeschoolers feel like they have to do biology, chemistry, and physics and they get stressed out when their child doesn't do well with these courses or feel obligated someway to these courses. -- you don't have to be tied to these courses.

Even though public school should never be our measure, I do like to point out that even in public school circles not all students do these courses and meet the public school graduation requirements and go on to colleges and other post-high school plans just fine.  This is when I like to point out my son's choices. He, against my wishes, is at a local public high school. He is a junior this year, will be a senior next year and looking at colleges. For science, he has done a year of biology, a year of Earth science, and a year of horticulture. He only needed 2 years of science to graduate and so the biology and Earth science full filled his graduation requirement. He added in the year of horticulture because he wanted it. He has already picked his senior year classes and will have ZERO sciences.  This is just one example of how even in a public school setting that not all students do the biology, chemistry, physics route. I think it's important to keep that in mind, only because it does help calm many homeschoolers when they hear this and help them realize that it's okay to go beyond the 3-course materials homeschoolers often feel "trapped" into doing.

I'm unsure why homeschoolers feel they must tackle these three courses. Maybe it's because they are the most common? Maybe they just seem to be the most logical? Maybe they don't know that courses can go beyond those three choices?  There are many courses and studies in science and you don't have to limit your child to biology, chemistry, physics. You can do other course studies with them. They can do horticulture, Earth Science, life science, zoology, forensic science, geology - just to name a few. It's also acceptable to do only 1-2 years of science if that meets your child's post-high school plans.

This was just a more detail science example but the same can be said for math courses, history courses social study courses, etc. Bottom line is unless your state has specific graduation requirements you must follow you have control over your teen's high school education and can make it be whatever you feel is best to meet their post-high school goals.

In conclusion, know your state laws and unless your state has requirements you must follow you have control for your teen's graduation requirements and they can be whatever you feel is enough! It's okay to have only x many years in a particular subject matter and it doesn't have to be these courses. It can be whatever you feel is appropriate to meet your teen's post-high school plans.

If you still have doubts read Tina's thoughts: Homeschool Through High School? Absolutely!

January 23, 2018

I'm Back

Nikki and I launched this blog just about a year ago and started out great-guns, in large measure by migrating some very relevant posts from our personal blogs over to this new venture. I know we both had the best of intentions and planned to write regularly. But then...well, life happened for each of us.

In my case, I became crazy-busy working on a major upgrade to my database, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap. It had taken me most of 2015 and 2016 to catch and then map out a vision for the expansion I wanted to make. And - with more than 3,000 resources to thoroughly catalogue - I knew implementing the plan would be a major undertaking. How major, though...well, I had no idea!

I didn't keep track of my hours. But I do know - and my extremely gracious and patient family can attest to this - that in 2017 I sat behind my laptop nearly every waking hour I was home and not needed by my kids for their educational endeavors. Blessedly, my daughters both like to cook, and they volunteered to make a good many dinners while I toiled away. But we ate a whole lot of take-out, my preferred housekeeping routine became a joke, the front desk people at my gym probably thought I had died...and blogging disappeared from my radar screen.

I don't regret the project at all - in fact, I'm really proud of all the detail, which I believe will be a tremendous blessing for home-educating parents for years to come, and I joyfully celebrated when I launched the newly expanded and improved Roadmap on January 21. If you choose to subscribe, I have every confidence you'll realize you've made a very wise investment.

And I knew I had to buckle down to finish the task as quickly as possible rather than let it lay partially finished for a couple of years, doing a little at a time. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to breathing a deep sigh of relief now that the bulk of the work - aside from spreading the word and adding new resources as needed - is now complete. I'm so looking forward to getting my regular life back - blogging included.

So...I'm back. And looking forward to Nikki's return as well.

March 25, 2017

Luke's Lists: A Framework for Any Child's Complete, Holistic Education

Because even we who eschew it have been (sadly) indoctrinated by the system of mass institutionalized schooling, home-educating parents regularly ask about resources for checking to see if a child is "on track" with learning. I actually use that opportunity to share a gentle reminder about how every child has an individual rate of learning/mastery - i.e., there is no age (or, heaven forbid, "grade level"!) by which anything "must" be mastered by every child - and about different kids having different overall interests and abilities. But I also know that having a trustworthy resource that provides a general overview can be helpful and reassuring.

Unfortunately, most of the resources I've seen are secular, promoting what is taught in government schools as "the standard." And now - even more unfortunately - even some of the few Christian resources I had sometimes recommended have a connection to common core in one way or another. So, because the philosophy inherent within institutionalized schooling - including but not limited to common core - ought never be our model or measure as home educators, I cannot in good conscience recommend them.

But I recently happened upon information about Joyce Herzog's LUKE'S LIST BOOKS, which offer a biblical perspective (i.e., based on Luke 2.52) for what children might know and be able to do in all areas of life - academically/intellectually, yes, but also in terms of their "moral, spiritual, cultural, emotional and...physical development" - from BIRTH through at least AGE 14. The books do not recommend any particular curricula or suggest that there's a certain age by which anything "must" be mastered "or else." As Mrs. Herzog says, they simply provide "a framework to assist [a parent] in setting the direction of [his or her] child's [holistic] education." They should "provide direction without confining."

The books are best used as a companion set. Luke's Life List focuses on a "cradle through adolescence checklist of skills" in terms of spiritual, physical, social, and emotional development, as well as important life skills and knowledge of civics and economics. Luke's School List details the academic/intellectual in terms of all areas of language arts (reading, penmanship, spelling, composition, elocution), math, history, science, geography, music, art, and literature. Each book is organized around a series of detailed, rubric-style checklists with space to add notes or comments so that they might serve as a complete summary of everything a child has learned and is able to do from birth on.

In fact, though Mrs. Herzog suggests that the books are for use from birth through about Age 14, I feel that - with the exception of most secondary-level math, which she does not address, and, perhaps, some higher-level science - they're appropriate for continued use with high schoolers. Indeed, any teen who could demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the majority of what Mrs. Herzog details would be far and away more highly and holistically educated than the vast majority of adults.

I sincerely wish I'd known about these books when my children were young. If I had, I'd have used them as the foundation of their education from the beginning. In fact, I now recommend them to parents of young children and those beginning to homeschool regardless of a child's age, and I'm using them with my own (high school-aged) children for the next few years.

Over the years, I've come to see the futility of using school-style methods, including even the "package programs" of (well-meaning but misguided) homeschool-oriented curriculum companies. More and more homeschooling parents are seeing the same reality and want desperately to stop bringing dysfunctional schoolish practices into their homes, yet hesitate to get rid of dry, boring textbooks and rigid, "grade level" scope and sequence charts for fear of failing to provide a "complete" education for their kids. The Luke's List books can help such families make the transition from school-style to true, holistic education by providing a type of "safety net" for reference. Likewise, "relaxed," "eclectic," and even "unschooling" home educators would benefit from the flexible guidance offered in the Luke's List books as they use a wide variety of resources to educate their kids. A parent with just these lists, access to reliable research tools and quality literature, as well as  - in due time if necessary for a particular child - secondary-level math books can easily provide for every child's complete education and happy, healthy, holistic development from birth on.

NOTE: This endorsement is not written for affiliate purposes. I have no connection to Ability Based Learning and, though Joyce Herzog is a friend via social media, I am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of the books. I share simply because I believe the books are an excellent parenting tool.

March 14, 2017

I Want to Homeschool. Now What?

A local friend recently asked for my advice in response to questions she'd been receiving about getting started with homeschooling. I also answer such questions on a regular basis in my role as "new member liaison" for my local homeschool group. And within the homeschool group Nikki and co-moderate, we regularly receive the same request, either from new members ready to take the leap or from others wanting to encourage their "newbie" friends. 

Of course, heading into the adventure of private home-based education ultimately requires a step of faith - we must be willing to take the chance without having all the answers ahead of time - because it's only as we actually begin the journey that we'll learn the twists and turns of the path. But this is what I start with when someone says to me, "I want to homeschool. Now what?" 

First, you should understand your state’s homeschool law. You are not ultimately beholden to state bureaucrats even if you happen to live in a state with a draconian homeschool law; at root, you are actually responsible only to your children (i.e., to see to their long-term well-being) and to God, who calls parents to this journey. But as things stand now, many states (sadly) regulate homeschooling in one way or another, so you need to understand the law where you live in order to avoid legal difficulties. And, since homeschool law is set at the state level, the best place to learn about it is via a good state-level organization, such as WPA in Wisconsin, or from experienced homeschoolers you know or might contact through a local organization. You can also check with NCLL, which seems to provide accurate information. But you should definitely never take the advice of public school officials or websites (i.e., the state DOE or DPI) because their expertise is in regards to public school, not homeschool. Thus, they will inevitably provide inaccurate, unhelpful information even if they mean well.

When you discover what is required to begin homeschooling in your state, follow the procedures to the letter...but provide 
nothing more to bureaucrats or agencies than that which is explicitly required by law. Choose the least invasive option - for example, in my state, I can legally tally children via a broad "grade level" range rather than by one specific "grade level" - and do not volunteer any information beyond what the law clearly mandates. The goal is to jump through the regulatory hoops while preserving your family's privacy and autonomy. Obey the law but, again, always remember that your ultimate responsibility is to the much higher authority of your children's well-being and God Himself. In other words, if you obey God and aim to discover and then meet your children's real, holistic needs, state-level mandates will take care of themselves.

As soon as you officially do what is needed to start homeschooling in your state, find a good local support group. With the possible exception of very rural areas, homeschool groups of various types seem to abound, whether faith-based or secular, whether for loosely organized social gatherings or highly structured academic co-ops and everything in between. Investigate the options and choose one that seems like a good fit. You can also find local/regional online support (i.e., via Facebook), and national groups like the one Nikki and I run. But don't skip real-life connections; you (and your kids) need to build relationships with other homeschoolers in your local community.

Then - if your children have been in any institutional school (public or private) for any length of time at all (even just part of one year!) - you must spend time (perhaps significant time) on deschooling. In fact, even if you're starting to homeschool "from scratch" (i.e., with your little ones without having to pull them from a school), I urge you to take time to at least deschool yourself since you are undoubtedly influenced (unconsciously and negatively) by having been schooled yourself. If you skip this – because you feel it’s "not really school” - you’ll end up making life much more difficult for yourself and your kids. These articles explain deschooling; read them and follow their recommendations:

Deschooing is an exhilarating and liberating experience...and it's an active process. During your deschooling time you will be purposing to observe, understand, and relate to your children in a whole new way while also beginning to free yourself from school-style thinking and figure out an educational philosophy and curriculum options that might work for your family.

My recent piece, How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum: A Quick Primer, may help with that latter part of the endeavor. And while you deschool, you can also read and ponder these other helpful, encouraging articles:

When you're done deschooling - remember what the author at Educated Adventures says about that, above - you'll be ready to "officially" begin home education. Of course, by that time you'll realize that you've actually been on the journey for some time already and that your "official start" is really just a new bend in the road. But you'll be ready for it when you see it coming.

Of course, as I mentioned above, the only way to really begin learning to educate your children at home is to step out and do it. You will feel at first as if you're groping in the dark - goodness, even experienced homeschoolers trip and fall sometimes! - and you won't be perfect. But I promise you won't damage your children. Since you are the person who knows them better than anyone else in the world and because you love them more than anyone else ever could, you will pour yourself into the process. If you do that - if you commit to diligence and perseverance along the way - you will succeed, bumps in the road and all. 

So are you ready now to take that first step?

Photo Credit: Joao Santos

March 12, 2017

The Mystery of History

Back in the summer of 2011, I was in a panic. I’d recently launched into the third installment of a multi-year, multi-subject packaged curriculum – a program I’d initially believed would be our curriculum “for life” – and we absolutely hated it. After adoring the first year, we’d struggled quite a bit with the second because several of the resources were not engaging or age-appropriate for my children. But I’d made adjustments and substitutions, believing that once my kids got a little older, the third year would be just fine.

It wasn’t. And I knew there was no way I could continue to use it for even one more week, let alone a whole year or more. But I had no idea what I’d use instead and, despite all the substitutions I’d made the previous year, I doubted my ability to abandon a package program.

Enter my friend Debra, whom I’d met in an online homeschooling forum. As I vented my fears, Debra convinced me to let her “talk me off the ledge.” Calling from 1,000 miles and two time zones away, she described a history curriculum she was certain would suit me to a T.

Fast forward six and a half years.

We worked our way through all four volumes together, and then both of my daughters chose to use the series as the spine for their high school world history studies as well. In fact, each recently wrapped up her independent study through Volume I, earning a credit in Ancient World History, and both are now moving on to Volume II. And I am convinced that choosing to listen to Debra’s counsel was one of the very best decisions I’ve made in my home education journey.

The Mystery of History by Linda Lacour Hobar is a “chronological, Christian, complete world history for all ages.” Volume I begins with biblical Creation dated around BC 4004 and continues through 108 lessons to the Resurrection of Christ. Volume II picks up the story with narratives surrounding the Book of Acts and journeys through 84 lessons to Gutenberg and the printing press. Then Volume III starts with the advent of the Renaissance and continues through 84 more lessons to the very beginning of the 18th century. And, finally, Volume IV continues over the course of another 84 lessons all the way into 2014, ending with a glimpse at what is to come via the prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

The program is unapologetically Christian; in fact, it is Christ-centered, and Mrs. Hobar notes on occasion in each volume how Jesus Christ is the actual “Mystery of History.” But it doesn’t just cover Christian history. Rather, the series fills a unique niche in that it surveys the history of the world – including coverage in Volume I of all the well-known (and some lesser-known) ancient cultures and discussion in the other volumes of many other-than-Christian people – through a distinctly Judeo-Christian (ultimately Protestant) worldview without denigrating other perspectives. Mrs. Hobar simply presents the world’s story as she sees it through the lens of her faith and invites interested readers along for the journey.

The curriculum is family-friendly because it’s designed so that almost any aged child can comfortably participate on one level or another. In fact, every lesson includes follow-up activities for younger, middle, and older children, and Mrs. Hobar explains in the books’ teaching notes how to adapt the readings and other activities for various ages. Thus, a five-year old can listen along while coloring and then share a short summary sentence to use for copywork. A nine-year old can create a multitude of hands-on projects, a 12-year old can take on some detailed geography study, and a high school student can tackle in-depth reading of primary sources – all after engaging together around the same key narratives as shared in the student readers.

Also noteworthy is the fact that through the readings and various activities, all eight multiple intelligence strengths are addressed at regular intervals. For example, a picture-smart child will enjoy the coloring sheets and geography activities. A music-smart child will resonate with suggestions to listen to various eras’ music. And a body-smart kid will love the many activities that call for re-enactments of particular historical events. Since each reading includes three possible follow-up activities, every child should find opportunity to express his top strengths on an on-going basis.

I started Volume I when my children were nine and 10. Using Mrs. Hobar’s helpful scheduling suggestions along with my own plan to work through all four volumes before my kids started high school, we employed a brisk but not overwhelming pace to finish our first round through the books when they are 13 and 14. And, as mentioned above, we are also using the books in high school, with each of my daughters now studying independently.

We homeschoolers are blessed with a multitude of excellent resources, so I know other good history programs – from a variety of worldview perspectives – exist. But if you’re looking for a solid, engaging, Christ-centered option, consider The Mystery of History. My friend Debra was right; it is the one for me.

NOTE: This is not an affiliate post. I have no professional connection with the author or publishers of The Mystery of History and am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of every volume of the curriculum. I'm sharing simply because of the very high regard I have for the program, believing that many other home-educating families would enjoy and benefit from it.

March 10, 2017

The Picture-Smart Bible

I had heard about The Picture-Smart Bible when it was first developed several years ago. Then, in May 2010, I had the opportunity to see the program at a homeschool convention, and I was hooked. In fact, I took advantage of special convention pricing and purchased the complete set for our family.

So, what is The Picture-Smart Bible? According to the program website, it "is an innovative approach to 'seeing' Scripture as a total entity. This Genesis-to-Revelation course is designed to help participants learn, remember and teach the themes and concepts in each book of the Bible...and have fun in the process!" In other words, it's a complete Bible curriculum presented in a unique format that will engage young children, youth, and adults alike in such a way that they'll actually remember key scriptural ideas. And The Picture-Smart Bible is unique because it's been designed to appeal directly to the powerful picture-smart element in every person's brain.

Specifically, Dan and Juanene Peters, the creators of the program, have developed a one-page blackline drawing to represent each and every book of the Bible. Each drawing incorporates images for all the key events and concepts presented in the book, and detailed notes help a parent walk his or her children through a systematic, engaging study of the text. As the parent explains a particular idea, children activate their brains by tracing and/or coloring the appropriate parts of the drawing until the entire page is colorized as directed. If desired, a child can then use the completed illustration to explain his understanding of the book in his own words, and, thus, activate another powerful memory tool. And, when pictures for every book have been finished, each child will have an illustrated, personalized summary of all of Scripture.

I found with my daughters - who were eight and nine when I first used the program with them - that taking several days to go through each book was most conducive to absorbing and remembering. We chose to incorporate it as an occasional supplemental activity, though others I know use it daily and, thus, produce completed keepsakes after just a couple of years. In either case, children can look back to a book's summary sheet at any time when they're engaged in other Bible study, so it's a tool they can use for a lifetime.

NOTE: This is not an affiliate post. I have no connection with the publishers of The Picture-Smart Bible and am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of the curriculum. I share simply because I think this is a helpful resource.

March 8, 2017

The Homeschool Experiment

Have you recently launched into the adventure of homeschooling? Are you a homeschool veteran who enjoys reading positive portrayals of your lifestyle choice? Or, on the other hand, are you looking for a great gift for a friend or relative who homeschools? If so, I highly recommend The Homeschool Experiment: A Novel, published in 2012 by Charity Hawkins.

Experiment is not a how-to book. And, as a young mom with very young children, the protagonist's specific situation won't match every reader's current season of life. Instead, this book is a fictionalized account of one new homeschool mom's first year "in the trenches." But, in its short chapters - which address everything from homeschool conventions to doubting family members and meltdowns (by both kids and mom!) - any real-life, Christian homeschool mom will find nuggets of truth, good ideas, and sage advice, along with encouragement to persevere in the worthy calling to educate one's own children. Even as an experienced homeschooler, I gained valuable insight from every chapter both times I read it. And all 24 women in the two book clubs I ran using Experiment as its study guide for the year - whether newbies or women with years of experience - found it equally as enjoyable.

The book's appendix contains study questions and memory verses that can be used for individual reflection or group discussion, as well as a list of recommended resources. And this is also just a good "fun read." The writing flows nicely - members of my book clubs and I all found ourselves wanting to read several chapters in one sitting - and it's both amusing and touching. As a result, it's a very beneficial book on many levels.

NOTE: This endorsement is not written for affiliate purposes. I have no connection to Charity Hawkins and am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of the book. I share simply because I think it's a positive resource.

March 6, 2017

Our Do-It Door

When we first started using Sue Patrick's Workbox System, we also introduced the DO-IT DOOR, our family's version of a chore chart.

For a couple of years before that, I'd thought that some kind of visible chore chart would be helpful to my children. But I didn't have a clear picture of how to put it together...until I read the workbox book.

Sue's ideas inspired me to develop a chore chart that was similarly visual and hands-on. So I brainstormed a list of morning and evening routines and chores, all of which my girls were already doing or could easily take on to be active family "teammates." I typed it up, plugged in clipart pictures my graphic artist husband supplied, and - in true workbox fashion! - affixed a velcro dot next to each task.

Each night after my children went to bed, I attached little laminated X's next to the chores and routines I expected them to do the next day, leaving blank anything that needn't be accomplished. Then as soon as their feet hit the kitchen floor - by 7:30, as that became the first "job" of the day - they removed the first X and proceeded through the morning list (Eat breakfast. Clear the breakfast dishes. Get dressed. Put away pajamas and unders. Make your bed. Brush your teeth. Brush your hair. Do your assigned chore.) all the way through to the last item - Be ready for bookwork by 8:45 - which effectively marked our transition over to the workboxes until lunch. And at the end of the day - sometime after dinner - they followed a similar pattern of removing plastic X's from the evening list: Straighten the living room. Straighten the dining room. Do your assigned chore. Change into your pajamas. Put your clothes down the chute. Brush and floss your teeth. Choose a bedtime story.

As you can see, directives to do some simple but helpful household tasks were intermingled with routines on both the morning and evening lists. For example, the evening list included assignments to straighten the living and dining rooms, two areas where toys often accumulated through the day. Similarly, there was a spot on each list that said, "Do your assigned chore," tasks which varied from day to day. Typical morning chores involved wiping out the bathroom sink and helping to load or unload the dishwasher. In the evening, chores included emptying litter boxes or taking out the garbage, and every Sunday night the girls tackled a "big clean" on their upstairs playroom. I simply attached a post-it note listing the day's assigned chores onto the bottom-right corner of the chart so the kids could breeze through the list even if my husband and I were otherwise occupied.

Just as the workboxes helped our official academic time to run much more smoothly, so, too, the Do-It Door - so named because the charts were affixed to a door in our kitchen, though we could have had something like a "Work-It Wall" if we didn't have the door - transformed how we managed mundane self-care and household jobs. The girls were actually excited to get through each list, yet they also did their work well because they knew they'd have to repeat anything that wasn't done diligently enough. They gained a huge sense of accomplishment via the simple task of removing the velcro markers from finished jobs, and they could also see their progress as more and more X's disappeared. My husband and I soon found that we rarely had to monitor the girls through the activities, because having the chart gave them an intrinsic sense of ownership. And they actually did more than they'd done prior to instituting the charts because the assigned chores that used to be hit-and-miss became normal expectations.

A lot of families institute something like this from the time their children are toddlers; I wish I'd done that, too. However, this was definitely a case of "better late than never," and it was well worth the time and effort to create the lists and train the girls to use them. As I said, I have Sue Patrick to thank for the motivation and inspiration. Her workbox idea transformed our home environment in many ways beyond formal academics.

March 4, 2017

Wonderful Workboxes

Back in 2009, I caught a comment in a homeschool forum about something called "workboxes." Being the organizational junkie that I am - my husband (appropriately) calls me "Rou-Tina" (!) - my interest was sparked, and before long, I jumped on the workbox bandwagon.

So, what exactly is this workbox thing?

Simply put, it's a brilliant organizational system developed by a woman named, Sue Patrick, a homeschooler who first came up with the idea as a way to manage her own children's learning. She started telling others about how well it worked and began to do some consulting with families she knew. Eventually, she put her ideas into book-form and started speaking to larger audiences. One thing apparently led to another back in 2009, when word of the system began to spread like wild-fire among homeschoolers.

At the end of March that year, I ordered the book. I wasn't completely sure the concept would work for us, since my children were quite young and seemed to need almost constant guidance from me with their bookwork. But I was willing to give serious consideration to anything claiming to increase learning while also fostering independence.

And the book - a quick-read which paints a much clearer vision of the system than anything on the website (or any Pinterest images that seemed for a time to multiply like rabbits) - convinced me to give it a whirl. So I ordered supplies from Sue and headed out in search of two reasonably-priced metal racks, two big storage bins, and 24 plastic shoe boxes. As a nice bonus, I found the bins and boxes in my girls' favorite colors.

Then I spent the next week setting everything up and briefing the girls on how things would work once we started. I was surprised at how intrigued they were; they kept saying, "Is today the day we start the boxes?"

I admit to some trepidation on my part the day we did begin; after all, I'd invested some money and considerable time and effort on the set-up and wondered what I'd do if the whole thing flopped. But I should not have feared! It really isn't hyperbole to say we very likely had our best academic week ever to that point - and I'm sure the girls (and even my husband, who saw the outcome when he came home from work every day) would concur.

Just as Sue Patrick says, my kids were actually excited to "check in" to start on academics each morning so they could investigate what each of their 12 workboxes held. As I arranged things, our first box each day typically consisted of our group work, usually history. From there, the girls simply proceeded through the other boxes, which I pre-filled each evening with a balance of "work with mom" and independent tasks (i.e., file folder games, penmanship practice, reading to or playing a game with the toddlers for whom I babysat, journal-writing, etc.). My job each day was to supervise all the activity, of course, while alternately sitting down with one girl and then the other on reading, math, or spelling.

Because different tasks required different amounts of time and the girls worked at different paces, it wasn't unusual for both girls to come to a "work with mom" box at the same time. At first, I'd wondered how I would handle that scenario: Would the girls whine and complain? Would one insist on doing nothing while she waited for me, thus delaying the "flow" that should accompany the boxes? But my fears were unfounded because I discovered that with just brief explanation, they happily did just what Sue said they should: While one girl started the work with me, the other simply skipped that box for the time being, grabbed the next independent box, and got back to work - as if being patient and productive were as natural to them as breathing!

During our first week, we started promptly at 8:45 each day (which was, in and of itself, a major accomplishment!). On Monday, things took a bit longer because it was our first day on the new system - so we didn't have lunch until 1:00 and even after that each girl still had one box to finish. However, we got more efficient as the week progressed. So by Friday they were done with all 12 boxes before 12:30! And that sort of efficiency became our norm.

Even more amazing was the fact that the girls never rushed just to get things done. Instead, they completed the activities in a quality manner - including some new and challenging tasks and a whole lot more independent work than they'd ever previously seen in a day. So finishing at 12:30 was finishing well - accomplishing at least twice as much in that timeframe as we ever had before and doing so in such a way that they really did learn and practice more age-appropriate content while also gaining a new sense of healthy pride in being appropriately independent.

And me? Well, I did more than ever - with both girls and with the toddlers - and I began to arrive at the end of each day amazingly, wonderfully (seriously!) refreshed! The girls made undeniable progress. For the first time in a long time on an academic day, they got to mix in "fun stuff" (a craft, puzzle, or coloring page) with the "real learning." And I could engage with the toddlers beyond diaper changes and snack breaks. So my stress level throughout each day was almost nil.

It worked so well that we continued the system for years, eventually commissioning a woodworker friend to build a cabinet to house the boxes.

In fact, though my daughters are now teens - and are, thus, almost entirely self-directed - the patterns we established by using the workbox system are still evident in our daily routine. I can see very clearly that the time and effort I took in 2009 has paid great dividends in our family. It's not at all too much to say that launching the workbox system was actually a key factor in bringing us long-term success and joy as a home-educating family.

NOTE: This endorsement is not written for affiliate purposes. I have no connection to Sue Patrick and am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of her materials. I share simply because I believe the system is so helpful.

March 2, 2017

Homeschool Made Simple: An Important Resource

I regularly see articles that define and discuss various "homeschooling methods." And every so often someone in my Facebook group posts a survey asking which method(s) we all use. I've even found a rather thorough and accurate quiz we might take to get a handle on the question.

When I took the quiz, I wasn't surprised to discover that I had almost identical scores in several categories. I've known for some time that I'm an "eclectic" home educator - which basically means I employ the whatever-is-best-for-each-individual-child-at-any-given-moment (WIBFEICAAGM) approach! - so it makes sense that I'd resonate with techniques and styles from across the spectrum of defined methods. In fact, I strongly urge all home educating parents to follow WIBFEICAAGM rather than jamming their children into the constricting box of one approach. After all, curriculum should always be kept in its rightful place - i.e., as tool, not master.

But a while ago, I just about jumped for joy when I learned that Compass Classroom had produced Homeschool Made Simple, a DVD "lecture" featuring homeschool veteran Carole Joy Seid. I'd not thought directly about Carole Joy for quite some time, but that's not because I'd forgotten her. Rather, just as with How Am I Smart?, the precursor to Dr. Kathy Koch's 8 Great Smarts, I had so absorbed Carole Joy's wisdom into our daily home learning life that applying the ideas she teaches had become almost as natural to me as breathing.

My local homeschool association actually hosted Carole Joy for a full-day seminar when my daughters were just toddlers. I resonated strongly with her ideas, and I even remember being greatly relieved. I'd been feeling internal pressure to imitate all the "experienced" moms I'd begun to meet even though the method many of them advocated at the time made me ill at ease. But after the seminar, I felt I had "permission" to trust my own instincts and go against the "expected" flow.

From there, I've taken her ideas and have (of course) adapted them for our particular needs and wants, but I've often wished I could easily introduce others to them as well. Carole Joy offers audio seminars on her website, but there's something very helpful about being in the same room with - or at least being able to visualize - a speaker. And Carole Joy doesn't travel all that much so she's not making the rounds all across the country every year. But now her DVD seminar is out, and it serves as an excellent introduction to her simple approach to home-based education.

In a nutshell, Carole Joy promotes a history-centered, literature-based approach and even explains how it's entirely possible to provide a rich, complete education if one simply has a Bible, a library card, and math books. She also discusses the importance of including work and service - not just study - in a home education program, implores parents to limit children's exposure to media, and advocates strongly for waiting for demonstrable, true readiness before launching into formal academics.

As I mentioned, I took Carole Joy's ideas and made them my own over the years, so we didn't do things exactly as she outlines even in her full seminar. And in that same vein, I do suggest some alternatives to what she mentions in the DVD as well:
  • For reading/phonics, Carole Joy touts Sing, Spell, Read & Write (SSRW), which I did try. However, SSRW was an abysmal failure for my kids, primarily because the "readers" were largely non-sensical collections of "target words," lacking plot or characterization. Instead of SSRW, we used the delightful Amish Pathway Readers, which are - in my opinion - a much better fit with Carole Joy's educational philosophy;
  • One of Carole Joy's history recommendations is V.M. Hillyer's A Child's History of World. However, Carole Joy admits that Hillyer approaches history from a secular, old-earth perspective, and I see no need to risk subjecting impressionable children to such notions. Instead, I suggest the engaging narratives found in The Mystery of History or Guerber's Histories and/or the excellent living books collections in All Through the Ages or TruthQuest History. Similarly, All Through the Ages and TruthQuest would work very well if Carole Joy's suggestion of Turning Back the Pages of Time becomes unavailable.
Embracing our own version of Carole Joy's philosophy has brought great peace, success, and joy to my family's home learning endeavors. When I was starting out and feeling pressured and overwhelmed, I needed Carole Joy's simple message, which says at root that home educating families "are [simply] doing life together." That message still holds true even (and especially) in the face of today's more complicated homeschool resource landscape, so I believe that Homeschool Made Simple ought to be on every new home educator's must-view list.

NOTE: This endorsement is not written for affiliate purposes. I have no connection to either Compass Classroom or Carole Joy Seid and am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of the DVD. I share simply because I believe Carole Joy's ideas are important and helpful.

February 28, 2017

Class Dismissed: A Must-See Movie

Some time ago, I heard about the production of a new movie about homeschooling. I bought a copy when it was first released, but didn't watch it immediately. However, when I finally did make time, my first reaction was a strong and unequivocal, "Wow!"

Class Dismissed advertises itself as a movie that "challenges its viewers to take a fresh look at what it means to be educated and offers up a radical new way of thinking about the process." And, even though those who have already embraced homeschooling realize it's actually not "a new way of thinking" - after all, parent-led, home-based education is as old as time, while institutionalized, assembly-line style schooling is the real social experiment - the movie certainly challenges the average viewer who considers homeschooling to be "unusual," and it very accurately introduces the wide range of options available beyond the current cultural norm. In fact, the movie is, at root, an unapologetic endorsement of the unmistakeable benefits of private, independent home education.

By shadowing one family for an entire year as it makes the transition from public/government school to homeschooling, the film pulls viewers in immediately, giving a very real "face" to this notion of home education. Along the way, it also demonstrates what research has proven - i.e., that choosing to get off the institutional school treadmill is possible at any phase of a child's life and within a wide variety of family situations.

Another plus is that the movie focuses on the positive - homeschooling as a viable option for everyone - rather than dwelling on the negative. Of course, parents do need information about the very real problems inherent in institutionalized schooling, and thankfully, several such resources - Indoctrination, books by John Taylor GattoCommon Core: From Farce to FailureThe Children of Caesar, just to name a few - are readily available.

But there was a great need for an alternative to all the appropriate alarm-ringing resources - one that would demonstrate to parents from all walks of life that homeschooling is here, that it's good, and that it's available to all - and Class Dismissed is that resource.

If you're a veteran homeschooler, I urge you to purchase at least one copy of the film in order to support the wonderful work the movie's producers have done; after all, money talks, and if we want such positive endeavors to continue, we need to clearly demonstrate our support. I also suggest that you consider buying multiple copies if your budget allows so you might readily bless families you meet who would like to consider homeschooling and/or so you can offer copies to your local public library and church library. Alternately, you can watch it by renting a copy, and then share the rental information with interested friends and family.

If you're new to homeschooling - or are investigating the possibility - you should consider Class Dismissed to be your primer - i.e., the first and primary introduction to homeschooling that you need. The amount of information available about all aspects homeschooling is vast - in fact, the overabundance of resources can even feel paralyzing - but if you start with Class Dismissed, you'll feel encouraged and excited to begin exploring those options as you take the leap into private, independent home education.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This is not an affiliate post. I have enthusiastically partnered with Class Dismissed through my website, The Homeschool Resource Roadmap - and I'm excited that the producers are promoting The Roadmap on their sister-site - but we don't have an affiliate relationship, and I don't earn any money or other "perks" by promoting the film. I endorse it simply because it's excellent and because I firmly believe that all current and prospective homeschoolers need it.
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