Thursday, April 25, 2013

be real

Frequently I am messaged, e-mailed, or hailed over at some event and asked a question by moms who are considering homeschooling their kids, and it almost always goes something like this: "Where do you find your curriculum and which one do you use?" I usually name a few popular publishers, maybe send some links their way, give my typical try-it-and-see advice, and leave it at that. But here's what I really want to say.

My number one job as a mother, as a teacher, as a champion for my children's education, is just one thing: leave them with a love of learning.

That's it.

If I manage to do nothing else but leave that natural curiosity, the joy of learning for the sake of finding out new and exciting things that all kids start out with, intact in my children, then I have succeeded. Everything else will fall into place. It's that simple.

We went to an ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders' Association) show a few weeks ago to show a rabbit and try out something new. I figured it would be at least a couple of hours of sitting around and needing to be fairly quiet and still, so I packed a bag of coloring books, paper, and crayons for the little guys, along with two large books for them to balance their papers on a stable surface in their laps. You know what all four kids wound up doing the majority of the show's downtime? Poring over the books, which were something like 100 Facts About the Human Body and Eyewitness Books: Weather. Because cramming facts and statistics and reading to pass tests doesn't occur in their lives, they didn't know they weren't supposed to sit there and enjoy reading and learning.

There are a million programs you can tie into, books you can buy, ideologies you can follow, and websites you can subscribe to as a homeschool family. Usually you begin your journey a deer in headlights, nervous and unsure and buying everything that feels like "real" school. Stop thinking about what you can purchase to duplicate the public school experience, and start exploring the options that will make education a real, meaningful, joyful, lasting impression on young minds. Find the things that connect you with your kids, and inspire them to explore on their own. Nothing is going to be a lasting success if you're not leaving their love of learning intact.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the little things

Coral and I were working on some 4-H paperwork tonight, after I foolishly mentioned tomorrow's agenda right before bedtime. She was instantly engaged and not to be put off, so I showed her what needed attending and she immediately wanted to begin. Now the majority of it is pretty mundane stuff: writing name, age, address, club, and the like down for official records. It would take me about thirty seconds to fill it out for her and be done. Now for a recently-turned-six-year-old, it's a pretty monstrous task. It's also one she's not about to let me help with. This is where I've learned patience is a virtue. She got through name and age on her own, and the address took a bit but wasn't impossible. Then we hit a snag.

See that line there? It's kind of small. Our club name is kind of big. It ran through my mind that she'd have a hard time squeezing it in, but I refrained from mentioning it. She got the first part of the club name in there with no problems: "Osceola." Then she started to realize the dilemma on her own. "Adventurers" is an awfully long word. This is where I could have screwed it up by grabbing her pencil and telling her I'd write the rest.

"I don't think the rest is going to fit in there..." she reflected as she stared down at the line. I waited a moment before making a suggestion.

"You could always make a line underneath for the second word. There's space for one."

She sat thinking and then drew a line under the first, and looked at it for a minute. "Do I have to write the second word on that line? There's still space on the first one."

"No," I answered, "you can keep writing on the first line if you want."

"If I run out of room I can just write the rest of the letters on this second line." That settled, she decided to continue writing "Adventurers" on the original line. She got through the first three letters and paused again. "It's not going to fit but I don't like the line underneath."

"What if you made a little line that curved over the top?" She didn't grasp the concept and handed me the pencil, so I drew it in.

"How will the word go over the line? Can I run the letters up the hill or just stick them on top?"

I replied in an even tone, "Whatever you think looks best."

She tediously fit the rest of the letters on the segmented line, letter by carefully-placed letter, and finished the word. Then she neatly erased the bit of excess line sticking past the end of the word.

Sitting with her watching her writing out those two words probably took ten minutes. I could have had it down in five seconds and been on to something else. Instead, I let her call the shots. It was her paper, and her very real problem. By sticking with her and making sure I valued what she was doing, and letting her maintain control, she was able to figure out a solution. Instead of dreading writing large words the next time she comes across them, she knows she can work it out and I won't get frustrated with her questions or how long it's taking.

Sometimes the little things can be very big.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Time4Learning review

A month ago we decided to check out the website as an option for homeschool curriculum. To be honest I've never been huge on technology for kids (I know, I know) but I really felt like trying something different, and the kids are always game for anything on the computer. Here's my opinion on the program, as a whole and by grade. We tried out three grades for our three older kids: 1st, 4th, and 6th. We did vary on language arts using one higher grade, and math using one lower grade level depending on need.

My first impression was very mixed. I had looked over the website prior to the trial, and it shows an organized lesson plan and an Activity Scheduler. We used a virtual school years ago for my oldest, and I was expecting an actual scheduler that would let me pick and choose lessons set over a specified timeframe, and that those lessons would show up day by day for the student's use. Instead, the Scheduler is merely something you can print out and use as a guide. Not what I was hoping for as an all-inclusive program. Something that Time4Learning does very well is maintain grades and activities for a portfolio. If we were in a state that required overview of those items, this would probably be of great value. Since our situation does not evaluate grades or standards by age, this was not a helpful feature for us.

Coral tried out the first grade platform, with kindergarten language arts since she's still learning to read. I wasn't wowed by it and she quickly lost interest in anything but the science portion. Unfortunately that section is rather slim at just 13 lessons; in 30 days I could only entice her to log on four times and every time, the only thing she wanted to do was watch the animal videos, which were certainly cute but not what we were hoping for as an all-inclusive curriculum. There are many other online programs out there that I felt were a better match for this age group.

Ibis was working on the fourth grade level, with third grade math. She spent the most time on Time4Learning by far, wanting to log in almost every school day to complete the language arts lessons and try out the math. Ibis has a very short attention span and can be a real challenge to motivate and teach, so I was pleased with her interest. Over time she became more proficient with using the program, and I could see her scores improve. One of my favorite aspects of the program is the immediate correction of incorrect answers, and an explanation of why they're incorrect. This quick feedback is excellent for the short attention span. The only negative I saw was the ability for her to quit lessons mid-sequence; about half of her activities are marked as incomplete. This is more due to her personality than the website itself.

Alexei checked out the sixth grade level. He was immediately skeptical (typical twelve-year-old boy) and tried the program a dozen times. He was okay with the math lessons but felt like the language arts were too simple and had no interest in trying science on a computer versus real life. He's much happier completing the free math practice sessions at Khan Academy online, and prefers hands-on for everything else.

In the end, we chose to purchase a monthly subscription for Ibis but not for Coral or Alexei. It meets her needs and personality; it gives her the ability to pursue math and language arts independently, and to feel successful when she answers a question correctly and gets instant feedback. It is exciting enough to keep her focused a lot of the time, which can be difficult with standard books and exercises. However, I don't think Time4Learning or ANY online program should be the only curriculum pursued; doing everything on a computer really sets a child up to miss out on real-life opportunities that can't be duplicated virtually.

The above opinions are entirely my own, and I was compensated with a 30-day free trial of Time4Learning for this review.