Sunday, April 6, 2014

Amazing Homeschool Curriculum

This post is a follow up to my series on the Advantages of Homeschooling, so if you haven't checked them out yet....

Now that I've detailed what I consider to be the greatest advantages to homeschooling, I will outline the curriculum I found most helpful.  I began this series by saying I really over-thought this when I began and it's true.  To get my kids ready to attend a community college (click here for an explanation of that route), all I needed to do (aside from the park days, music/art lessons, sports, etc. - and btw, many homeschool park days offer organized sports) was teach her to read well, write well, learn math and have a basic understanding of history and science.  

This ended up being far simpler than I initially thought.  Teaching kids to read is fun and easy when you work one on one with your own child.  I used a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  I used this book for reading only; I ignored the writing lessons.  I taught my children to read very young (My oldest was 3 1/2 when she began to read) and they just did not have the fine motor skills to write yet.  Personally, I think it's far better not to tie reading and writing together.  Read first and then write.  I only taught my oldest to read at such a young age because she begged me.  You'll know when it's a good time.  We went very slowly and worked through the lessons in "100 Easy Lessons" for about 20 minutes a day.  We also used the Bob Books series and played games to see who got to choose the book for the day.  

That was it.  We read a lot.  I still read aloud to my kids about an hour a day. We love it.  I began when they were babies and never stopped.  It is just part of our nightly routine.  Sometimes they pick the book; sometimes I do.  It opens up worlds of conversations and is one of the best parenting techniques I've used. I highly recommend it.  It doesn't seem "School-ish," but a ton of learning happens.  Once a child can read on her own, regular trips to the library are all you need.  At different ages, I can list our favorites, but the possibilities are endless.  To encourage my kids to read on their own, I'd let them stay up "late" to read with a flashlight under their covers.  When my kids were young, I was a firm believer in the 7 o'clock bed-time (Mama needs a break!) and held to that until they were about 10. But, if the kids wanted to read until they fell asleep, that was fine... they always crashed by 8:30 or so, depending on their age.  They loved it.

When it was time for them to learn to write (5-6), I began with a great series called Draw Write Now that teaches writing through drawing (which is what it really is).  The girls loved this series.  Worked like a charm.  As they got older, I moved them into the Getty/Dubay workbooks: Italics Handwriting.  We went through this entire series.  It takes just a few minutes a day.

For spelling, we used this series: Spelling Workout.  We went through this entire series as well - we did one lesson a week and my kids enjoyed the variety of games used to reinforce spelling rules.

For Grammar/Writing, I used Susan Wise Bauer's books (She wrote The Well Trained Mind --a book that was and is invaluable for me as a homeschooler. Much of this curriculum was recommended by her.  She is an amazing resource!).  I used her grammar series:  First Language Lessons and my kids now have an impressive command of language as a result.  I give her the credit for creating such a clear and easy to follow instruction book.  Her writing series is equally impressive:  The Complete Writer (Writing with Ease). It is wonderful and very thorough. 

For math -- I began by counting and naming everything.  We'd go to the market and count apples to put in our bags.  We talked about the colors of the veggies...  all that pre-school stuff:  shapes, colors, months, seasons, etc. we covered in daily life.  When the girls got to be 5 or so, we used Math-U-See (but I know Singapore Math and Saxon Math are also popular).  Check out the Math-U-See website for a full description. It starts with a kindergarten level curriculum. We moved on to private math tutors by 7th grade.  I didn't love the Algebra in this program.  My 7th grade daughter now sees a math tutor for 30 minute sessions twice a week.  My Dad and step-dad help too.  In fact, when my oldest was in 7th grade, my step-dad was her tutor.  

I also used Susan Wise Bauer's books for history.  She divides history into four periods (classically) ancients, medieval, early modern and modern.  Her series  The Story of the World is great for this.  We went through them once for 1st-4th grades (did the easier activities and quiz questions) and then went through them again for 5th-8th (doing far more advanced work).  Each book in the series has an activity book to go along with it.  These are filled with fun, hands on activities and map work:  The Story of the World Activity Book. There are also test booklets to go with each book in the series: The Story of the World Tests & Answer Key.

Susan Wise Bauer also has a series for high school level that was commissioned and published by Norton too.  The first in the series is called The History of the Ancient World and is great for adults wanting to brush up on history too.

For science, we did a lot of classes.  I also did work at home following the recommendations in The Well Trained Mind.  My kids really loved the Science-in-a-Nutshell experiments too.  In all honesty though, when it came to science, I relied heavily on homeschool learning centers in my area.  The most effective homeschooling parents know their strengths and their weaknesses.  I didn't feel equipped to teach much science.  It's not my passion either and I wanted my kids to work with teachers who lived and breathed science.  They weren't hard to find.

All of it was far easier than I initially thought it would be.  Don't be intimidated by the above list.  I just wanted to mention the things that worked for us.  Each day when they were little, we'd spend an hour or two on school.  20 minutes of math, 20 minutes of writing practice, 20 minutes of spelling, 20 minutes of grammar, 30 minutes of history or science (I switched off each day).  Working one on one, things get done far more quickly.  

Realistically, kids are learning all the time.  Everything is homeschooling.  The formal learning we did each day, was easy and fairly quick.  The big perk to homeschooling is that it allows you to spend so much more time with your child. I know my relationship with my kids is so strong today because we homeschooled.  I'm still a bit astonished that they come to me and want my opinion on things in their lives... friends, boys, things I never would've talked to my Mom about.  My 15 year old wants to know what I think.  It's strange and awesome.  I love it.  At the same time, they're independent.  My youngest, at 11 last year, spent 9 days at fiddle camp on her own.  She did great and can't wait to do it again this summer.  Roots and wings :)  Good stuff.

Anyway, if you're considering homeschooling, bookmark this post as a resource. Many veteran homeschoolers will give you tons of helpful advice.  The books and programs I've listed here are really useful and will at least give you a place to start as you continue to think over what you want to do.  Homeschooling can be very flexible.  Some people try it for a few years, then try school for a year or so, and then go back to homeschooling. Whatever works is what you should do. There are tons of homeschooling charters too that offer great hybrid programs. In California, there are many that offer both brick and mortar full time schools, and independent homeschooling with supplemental classes once a week.

If you haven't checked out my series on Homeschooling Advantages yet, take a moment and click on the links below:

Click here for Part Three:  Socialization


Advantages of Homeschooling - Part Three: Socialization

'Vantage Number Three:  Socialization!  

If you are just joining this post, check out the first post in this series: Advantages of Homeschooling - Part One:  Academic Opportunities!  If nothing else, it will explain Kipling reference above :)   Click Here for Advantages of Homeschooling - Part Two:  Inspiring Teachers!  and Click Here for Amazing Homeschool Curriculum.

As important as academics are to me, I'm always astonished that the first question every asks about homeschooling is... what about socialization?  My kids have more social opportunities than we could possibly ever keep up with. From the time they were toddlers, I took them to homeschool park groups -- they're easy to find in every area.  My kids met other kids and I met Moms who were homeschooling.  We all had fun.  We've gone on week long campouts to Big Bear, 4-night beach campouts and our annual CHN homeschool conference weekends.  We've gone on more field trips with these groups than I can count. Usually 1-2 a week for years.  Museums, universities, hiking trails, boating events, pumpkin patches, botanical gardens, the list is endless.  Right now, my kids have rehearsals at least twice a week with their homeschool orchestra. They just did a performance last week and will do several more at hospitals, retirement homes, churches, malls (anyone who will listen, basically), over the next month.  My youngest daughter goes to a week long fiddle camp every year up north.  

My kids have tons of friends, but..... unlike at school, they're friends are not all born within the same year they were!  They have friends all over the map: older, younger, same age, adults, etc.  They are in the world and not locked in a classroom all day.  They benefit greatly by mentoring the younger kids and being mentored themselves.  Parents are never too far, so bullying, etc. is very minimal, especially the really mean, kind that kids can suffer from in middle/high school. People have told me that shielding my children from this kind of abuse will hurt them because they won't know how to face the "real" world.  This is total BS.  Never, at any time, after leaving junior high or high school, have I ever encountered the kind of petty, soul-shredding bullying that young kids manage to inflict on one another.... not in college, not in the workplace, nowhere.  The real world is not like that at all.  I figure, why not skip that nonsense.  It's brutal if you're at the bottom or even mid-way up the social ladder and if you're at the top, I think it's even worse. 

I talk about this in greater detail in another post, so if you'd like to read more on this topic, click here for "Homeschooling and Socialization."  

Keep reading:  The Follow-up to this series on the Advantages of Homeschooling is a post about some of the great curriculum that helped me homeschool!
Click here for all the info:  Amazing Homeschool Curriculum!

Click Here for Part One of this series:  Advantages of Homeschooling - Part One: Academic Opportunities!

Click Here for Part Two of this series:  Advantages of Homeschooling - Part Two: Inspiring Teachers!

And don't miss my curriculum suggestions.  Click Here for Amazing Homeschool Curriculum 

Advantages of Homeschooling - Part Two: Inspiring Teachers

'Vantage Number Two (to homeschooling): Inspiring Teachers!  

If you are just joining this post, check out the first post in this series:  Advantages of Homeschooling - Part One:  Academic Opportunities!  If nothing else, it will explain Kipling reference above :)   Also, check out Advantages of Homeschooling - Part Three:  Socialization and Amazing Homeschool Curriculum for suggestions.

I must begin by saying, I'm a teacher, and I realize that many teachers are excellent, dedicated, wonderful human beings who do an amazing job of mentoring students, often in difficult circumstances and without adequate support.  However.... many are not.  Both my parents and both my step-parents were public high school and elementary school teachers.  When I told them I was home-schooling, they were all ecstatically in favor of it.  They had seen things change dramatically throughout their careers and wanted their grandchildren to have nothing to do with schools.  They are all staunch supporters of higher education, but had faith I could easily get the kids there.  Some teachers just see it as a job and put in a minimal amount of effort.  Some teachers really hate their jobs.  Some are not well educated themselves.  If you have the bad luck to get one of these teachers, your child is stuck and may lose an entire year.  Even with a great teacher, controlling a class of 30 kids is more than half the challenge.  Most (if not all) teachers resort to busy work far too often. Busy work kills a child's curiosity and by 3rd grade, far too many kids dislike learning. They may like being with friends at school, but their natural interests have been a bit squelched.  With homeschooling, you (who care far more about your child than any teacher) will be able to encourage and nourish their interests.  And it's not just you, grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends all contribute.  My father and step-father (both math teachers) helped tutor the girls. My father-in-law used to do history of the presidents with them.  My mother did religious education with them.  I handled Literature, Writing, Grammar, History and some basic science when they were younger, but my brother who loves geology would take them on hikes and show them everything.  His passion for plate tectonics is crazy obvious, and he was able to get them all worked up and excited about it too.  

That's the benefit of homeschooling.  Subjects can be taught by those with authentic passion for that subject and passion is infectious!  Additionally, my kids have taken supplemental classes at learning centers for homeschoolers in every subject imaginable.  Fun classes, like Animal Care and more academic classes, like history and literature (disclaimer -- I taught the lit classes :) --many of these learning centers operate as co-ops).  My kids have taken tons of hands-on science classes from ridiculously smart parents with far more impressive science backgrounds than I have.  My younger daughter (in 7th grade this year) is taking a class in high school biology, debate, math (Algebra games), and Great Books at 2 different learning centers (each class is once a week).  I'm doing 20th C. History & Lit (with a friend - we created a co-op).  My daughter has read more classic literature this semester alone, than most high school and college students do altogether.  Most important -- she loves it.  She still loves learning.  That's what matters most to me.  She gets ridiculously excited about extracting DNA.  It's adorable.

Advantages of Homeschooling - Part One: Academic Opportunity

A friend recently asked me for advice about how to get started in homeschooling.  Her daughter is just 2, so she's at a perfect spot to begin thinking about this.  

"2 years old?" --  I can hear cries of dismay from readers all over the world, but hear me out.  Two or even earlier is NOT too early because I think the earlier a homeschool parent realizes that the vast majority of homeschooling is simply interacting with your child in a responsive, encouraging and very verbal way, the better.  By the time a child is two years old, a parent has taught her to walk, talk, and a zillion other small, but impressive bits of cultural knowledge. Did they do it consciously?  Maybe... maybe not.  It would be almost impossible to prevent a child from learning these things. 15 years of homeschooling has taught me that much of what we learn is similar.  I am not an "unschooler;" I have followed a primarily classical approach to the formal schooling I have done with my children, but I do think the best part about homeschooling is that kids retain that spark of curiosity that drives learning, compels it.  Two years old is not too soon to start to consciously recognize how your child learns and how much you teach.  I'm a planner though, so when my kids were very young, I wanted an idea of how to do it all.  I will be addressing that too, though in another post here:  Amazing Homeschool Curriculum... or How I Homeschooled my Kids   First though, I thought I'd write down some of my insights into homeschooling, looking back from this end...  you might want to sit back and grab a cup of tea... I could talk for hours about this, and have :)

First of all -- I worried way too much and did far too much that was unnecessary.  My plan had always been to homeschool through 8th grade and then unleash my little prodigies onto the community college system.  I had taken this route successfully and so had my little sister.  We both attended UCLA as juniors before we were 18 and went on to earn masters' degrees in our chosen fields (English for me; Math for her).  As of right now, my oldest daughter (who is technically in 9th grade) has taken classes all year at a California Community College and is well on her way to getting all of her general ed coursework requirements done within the next 3 years.  At that point, she will have some choices.  She will be able to transfer to a 4 year university as a junior, or if she'd rather do a full 4 years in college, she can apply as a freshman and get in practically anywhere -- so far, at least, she has a 4.0.  She will be a very attractive candidate as a freshman.  Her current plans are to transfer as a junior to a 4 year university, but lately she has been thinking more about music schools, like Colburn in downtown Los Angeles.  The main thing is:  she has options and lots of time to consider them.  Her chances of getting into UCLA as a junior transfer student (harder to get into now as a freshman than even Berkeley) are excellent.  UCLA and other UCs take CA community college junior transfer students as a priority.  Even with a 4.0 from a high school, her chance of admission would be very slim. So, Advantage #1. (I feel like I'm channeling Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant Child" from the Just So Stories, so "...'vantage number one" -- I think I'll go with it :)  It works:  Just as the elephant's truck was stretched to great advantage, so a child's imagination and capacity to learn and be independent are stretched by homeschooling). Homeschoolers who go the Community College route have a far easier time getting into college.  It's also far less expensive, if transferring is what they decide to do.  It's nice not to be locked in though, because scholarships may come along.