I’m deep into planning out next year’s school plan.   Gee’s decided she wants to continue with us rather than go back to public school so we’ll still have two students in 8th and one in 2nd grade come August 1st. 

Math has always been the easiest subject to plan for.  We’ve used Math-U-See for years now.  I’ve always loved the clean, no frills workbooks.  They give plenty of practice sheets for each skill and plenty more that include review problems as well.  It’s always been easy enough to take a moment to teach the topic (or have the girls look it up on their own),  assign the practice work and be done.  Zee will be doing just that with all the materials we already own.

But now we’re into algebra with the girls.  And the books have gotten darn expensive.  We did a portion of the Pre-Algebra last year and I found the girls were having a hard time.  I ordered and will use Algebra Unplugged as well.  It’s a great take on the subject for kids who are more inclined to wordy, less scientific explanations.  Not my thing, but I think the girls might love it.   Problem is,  it’s missing vital practice problems to help them use what they learn. 

I also want to do some geometry with them this year as well.  We’ve been looking at logic puzzles and I can’t wait to share the neat geometry proofs with them too!   In order to use the Math-U-See I’d have to order both the algebra and geometry books at a cost of $170.  That’s too much to spend when I don’t really even want the DVDs or the teacher’s manual.  I just want practice problems and an answer key.

So what was the easiest subject to plan for has now become the one holding up the whole plan.  I’ll have to look around to see how I might be able to get them practice work… with answers to save my own time and sanity.  Hopefully, there’s a cheaper way to get just that.

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Motivation

February 16, 2011

No one does anything without a motive. 

Short term, my girls are very motivated to make my husband and I proud of their efforts.  Long term, they talk about wanting to do well with school things so they can be well-educated adults.  They recognize this will make them better employees, better parents, better people.  All good.

Zee’s really too young yet to think much on a distant future and what learning his math facts has to do with it.  His motivation is all short-term and much more specific. 

Week to week, our kids work for the pleasure of playing games deemed ‘weekend games’.   All games that come into this house are labeled either school-day or weekend.  School day games usually have some redeeming educational quality about them.  Weekend games are everything else.

The kids are all free to play weekend games as soon as their school work for the entire week is complete.  Most of the time that’s sometime on Friday.  If all the work is completed, the girls can play all day Saturday and after noon on Sunday. 

The system works a bit differently for Zee.  Instead, he earns weekend game time for the weekend by completing his work on time each day.  Chores must be done by 2pm, teeth have to be brushed in the morning, daily school work must be done by dinner, etc.  At the end of the week he distributes the game time he earns over Saturday and Sunday.  Done right, he can play nearly as much as his sisters who get the free reign.  Usually though he misses a few things here and there and has to choose which hours he’ll have to find something else to do.

For now I think our system works pretty well.  Since the kids are working for their own motives I don’t have to fight with them over doing their work.  Most of the time everyone puts a good effort in and we all earn the right to kick back and enjoy the weekend relaxing together 🙂

Autonomy

October 12, 2010

Every now and again you can feel the homeschool boat list and you come face to face with the perilless sea on which we journey.  Students and teacher alike were unhappy.  Pouty faces, complaints, exasperated sighs and endless repeating of instructions were rampant.

Being analytically minded, the first thing I do when things go awry is to stop and analyze.  One needs data to do this and my poor family is all too familiar with the homemade questionnaires I construct to obtain that data.

So the girls answered questions about what they liked, what they didn’t like, how they wanted to see things changed, their motivators, their goals, their suggestions and attitudes.  And then we sat down to go over them together.  Though I’ve not made any actually changes yet, it’s amazing how much tension is eased just by sitting down and all recognizing there is a problem.

Now that I’ve heard their side of the story, it’s time for me to figure out how to change things so we can go back to sailing peacefully on our homeschool journey.  Not surprisingly, I’ve got my own challenges to rise to in addition to supporting the girls in theirs.

One of the biggest for me comes from our very different personalities.  Specifically, I’m a hardcore introvert and my children are all extroverts like my husband.  One of the biggest misconceptions about introverts is that they don’t enjoy being around other people.  We actually do enjoy socializing, it’s just that 1- We prefer it in smaller doses and groups and 2- Unlike extroverts, it wears us out and we have a need for quiet time to recover. 

I have a large family of extroverts.  My husband works mostly from home and 3 of the 4 kids homschool…in other words, they’re always around. It’s no surprise then that I often have a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them all and I wouldn’t have my life any other way.  Any lifestyle choice has it’s good and bad and this is simply the one I’ve chosen.

But it’s still a challenge for me. The number one item on the girls’ wish list is ‘do more school work together’.  They would love nothing more than to do every single assignment at my side as a collaborative effort.  Zee still will sit uncomfortably on the floor next to me rather than work at the table 5 feet away.  I swear sometimes they’d all be in my lap 24/7 if I let them.

Besides my own personal need for some space, there’s the matter of autonomy to consider.  This is something we’d very much like our children to value and become. Working together is fine on some things, but overall I want them to own their work – from start to finish.  For the girls this is 7th grade, time for them to do more on their own, not less.

Like everything, I know balance is the key here.  So I’m trying to figure out how to best fit in more activities together without sacrificing autonomy or my own sanity.  Suggestions?

Link Overload

September 28, 2008

I’ve just finished updating the kids private homepage… for the 5th time this week!

I created the webpage about a year ago to give the kids access to websites we approve of while minimizing the danger of them ending up somewhere they shouldn’t be.  The links are all graphics (most of them the actual logos from the sites) to make it easy for my two non-readers to find what their looking for and to increase interest in what otherwise might be dismissed as just a boring educational site.

Over the past year I’ve added a few sites here and there as I came across them but overall it’s remained pretty much the same.  More recently though, I’ve been finding awesome links everywhere!  Everytime I add a few, I turn around and find a few more.  There were so many new ones I had to start deleting some of the older, less used links to make room.

Even the kids are laughing at me, “Mom! There’s so many new links we can’t even keep up!”   There are now a total of 70+ links on the kids homepage – all ‘educational’ in one way or another.  Once again I’m reminded just how much information is out there (available free of charge) and how many ways there are to learn it all.  Who needs text books?!

Do Homeschoolers Know More?

September 29, 2007

Just read this article.

“With the popularity of home schooling on the rise, the academic payoff may not be as large as parents think. ”

 If you read on you find out that the basis for this statement is test scores.  In Arkansas the homeschoolers have to take the same test that the public school students do.  It’s a simple matter of just seeing who’s score is higher, right? 

The problem is that there are hidden assumptions here.  The first is that this test is able to gauge knowledge.  You don’t have to be an expert to know that these standardized, multiple choice tests are used, not because they’re wonderfully accurate at identifying knowledge, but because logistically, there’s no other way to test so many children across so many subjects.  There are children who have a lot of knowledge but are poor test takers.  There are children who don’t have the knowledge but have the testing skills to be able to guess the right answer.  Which kid is smarter?  Does this test really test knowledge or test taking ability?

The second assumption here is that the test covers what a student has learned.  For public school students, that’s fine.  They’re all using the same curriculum, the same list of skills and knowledge.  Not so for homeschoolers who often, if not always, are learning a things beyond what the public school curriculum offers.  Even the things both public schools and homeschools teach are sometimes taught on different time tables.  

This was the case for us when the girls took a standardized test last year.  Our curriculum had us learning multiple digit multiplication before moving on to division facts.  That’s contrary to most school curriculum.  So on the standardized test there were questions the girls didn’t know the answers to and the test didn’t give them the opportunity to show the more advanced skills they had.  I imagine this happens a lot to homeschoolers.

This would help explain why, as the article states, the top scores changed as the grades progressed.  Public students start out on top, because they’re spending all their time working on exactly what the test will teach.  Homeschoolers end on top because by the time they reach 8th grade they’ve covered everything the pubic school kids have, even if they’ve taken a different path to get there.

Who knows more? Who knows?  My guess is homeschoolers if only because in my limited experience with my girls, they’ve learned (and retained) far more in the past year and a half of homeschooling than in the previous 2 and a half years of public school.  That’s enough proof for me.

Fitness Tests in TX

September 27, 2007

I saw this article and I’ve just got to vent.

Ok, so now we need to ‘test’ kids’ fitness levels.  Yes, subjecting children to a skin fold test presumably performed by a teacher in a public school will definitely help us determine a child’s fitness level.  I imagine it will do wonders for their self-esteem as well.

My biggest beef is that a child’s health should clearly lie solely within the bounds of the parents, no?  Would adults stand for a law that required them to exercise for a certain amount of time each week?  So why is ok to let the government meddle with our kids’ health?  I think it’s just another in a long list of things parents pass off on schools.  The schools, not the parents, are responsible for teaching character, self-esteem, math, reading… and now health and fitness.

How do they support such an absurd law?  There’s a correlation between good grades and fitness.  Hmmm…. could that be connected to the correlation between caring, involved parents and good grades?  Naw!  It must be purely coincidence that the parents who are taking responsibility for their kids’ education are also taking responsibility for their health. 

I love how the article ends… this testing will help teachers design their curriculum.  LOL.  They need to be told the kids’ exact test results – each and every one of the hundreds they teach, in order to figure out what to do next.  I’m sure that will help.  Have you seen some gym teachers?  They could start by being good examples themselves!

If we’re going to have an absurd law to help these kids with fitness problems, I suggest we have all the parents come in and get fitness tested instead of the kids.  Those parents who don’t pass the test can then be required to all the ridiculous things this law expects of the kids.  I’m betting that would do far more for the health and fitness of the children.  It would also send the right message to the parents – this is their responsibility, not the school’s!

We had a visit today from a college student selling educational materials door to door.  She was sweet.  She knew her products and had her lines down pat.  She was homeschooled herself and figured having some inside knowledge of how homeschooling works gave her an edge in selling her wares.  It probably does, with most homeschoolers.

She came to the door asking questions about what ciriculum we used. I explained that math is the only subject we use a prepared ciriculum for.  Even then, we don’t follow it exclusively. 

“Then you’ll love these books!  They can help you study what ever you choose!”  Man, she really memorized those lines!  She had a cute little pie chart of how most homeschoolers have 20% of the student’s grade come from reports that need to be researched.  “Is that how you figure their grades?”  Hmm…. I just kinda make up a grade… for the benefit of the school district that requires me to assign one.  There’s really no need for any strict percentages, exact numbers or red pencils as far as I can see. 

I don’t even recall what the other 80% of the graph represented.  Since she was pedalling mostly research materials, I assume the other 80% didn’t involve research since she didn’t bother to mention it.  If we were to graph the percentage of our learning that relates to research, I’d say it probably makes up a good 90% of what we learn, if not more.  It’s what we do in homeschool.  I really can’t even imagine what that 80% could have been….

Then she showed us her encyclopida-type books.  “Is there a topic you’ve studied recently?” I told her Bee was studying spiders right now.  She showed us all her books had to offer about spiders- two whole pages.  I tried not to laugh as I thought about the 15 library books about spiders sitting just feet away from us at that very moment.  Heck, Bee herself could have taught the poor girl a bunch of facts the book missed.

She tried to get the girls involved in her presentation.  She asked each about their favorite subjects.  Then she asked them if they liked doing school work, but it wasn’t really a question.  It was obvious from her tone and facial expression that what she meant was “Don’t you hate school work!”   I think she was even a bit surprised when the girls said they liked it. (Makes one wonder about her own homeschooling experience, huh.) She went on with her presentation showing them a project suggested in one of her books.  “Doesn’t that look like fun?”  Uh, yeah.  But we do things just like that year in, year out without some silly book telling us what to do or how to do it.

At this point, I just told her that her books couldn’t possibly offer us the depth of infomation that we get from our free library books.  So she swiftly moved on to software.  Like a good salesperson, she started by trying to ease the blow of the prices.  “You spend so much on toys that break and things that don’t get played with….”  Uh, yeah, I guess that happens occasionally.  “You’ll feel so much better about spending money on software they’ll use and learn from!” 

Then she started calculating the price of software.  According to her, parents spend $15 to $50 for a single educational title.  This software bundle has 4 titles for only $80!  Uh, except one of them is a Sponge Bob typing program.  We already own two separate typing programs.  I paid $5 or less for both.  Call me crazy, but I hate Sponge Bob.  It’s one of the shows that permanetly banned in my house.  Not a selling point for me.

The other programs looked ok, but I find my software online or the clearance rack for $10 or less.  I don’t pay $15 for it.  I most certainly don’t pay $50 for it – ever.  I’d write my own programs (and have in the past) before I’d do that.

Needless to say, she left empty handed.  I’m fortunate that I discovered early on in our homeschooling that you don’t need expensive materials to get the job done.  A library card covers 90% of the supplies you need to homeschool.