Thursday, January 28, 2010

Handwriting Without Tears - A Review

Handwriting Without Tears is a great handwriting program that takes the worry out of handwriting. For many parents and teachers handwriting can be a daily struggle. With this program your children are sure to come to you begging to do their handwriting for the day.

The above is just one of the many books available and as you can see they are extremely affordable. There is also a vast amount of support online for this program and the teacher's guides are the greatest because they take the guesswork out of how to present concepts and in what order to give things to the student.

Jan Olsen founded this method in 1977 in an effort to help her own son overcome his struggles with handwriting in the first grade. She was then asked to help the other students because of the level of success. Now we have a complete program for all ages that works like a charm. They also hold training events and more to help those that are using the program. It is excellent to have so much support.

If you are having doubts on which handwriting method to use this is a great one to try. It takes the guess work out of things and the curriculum is low cost. It has been proven to work for so many that chances are you will find great relief and success here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Homeschool Handwriting

Some homeschool families may from time to time have problems with handwriting curriculum and/or getting your students to cooperate and write in a tidy manner. In my own homeschooling experience I have one out of three that has developed good handwriting and it isn't one of my daughters!

Here are a few great handwriting programs that may help you. Some cost little to nothing and then others are pricey. This is one of those issues where you simply have to think about what your specific needs are and what your budget is when considering.

The Writing Road to Reading by Spalding - This is for grades K through 6. The greatest part about this program is that it is easily adaptable for all ages and all grades. Another great aspect is that unlike most phonics based programs this program covers ALL the sounds that letters make. For example, the letter "A" actually has three different sounds in our language. This program addresses this and helps children decode our language readily once they learn all the sounds. It ties in excellent handwriting technique that is very specific and easy to teach and easy to learn. This program is very affordable. There is one main book that you need and then they ask you to have composition books for the student that meet certain requirements.

Sing, Spell, Read and Write - First off, this is a great program. With that said, be careful to shop around and not pay more than you have to for it. I have personally used this program and the child in my house that did it has the best handwriting and spelling. This is a fun and motivating program that puts learning to music and helps the child see their progress. They get up excited every morning for this program and it's all about having fun and enjoying learning. Truly a great time and so nice that it covers so many educational aspects in such a small amount of time each day.

These are just two ideas. There are many handwriting programs and if you use box curriculum you will find that each company or school uses their own method.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Homeschool Weekends

When homeschooling it seems hard at times to draw the line between school and the rest of life even when it comes to weekends. For my kids we are lucky that they are in a program that has set guidelines so that weekends remain family time to do with as we please. However, even using our current coursework we had one year where there just didn't seem time during the week for the music and art subjects in the curriculum.

The teacher that I correspond with suggested using these as a good Sunday activity. While that idea was a good one, it didn't work for me. I need two days off from school just as much as any student. It can also be a great thing for students to take a break and come back to their lessons with fresh eyes.

Naturally this really only pertains to homeschool families that use traditional school curriculum or a "school" schedule. For those that unschool or use other methods it may not be as much of an issue.

Some things you can do on the weekends that may enhance your homeschool experience are:
  • Visit local historic sites.
  • Visit local museums.
  • Visit nearby state and national parks.
  • Visit nearby bodies of water and study the ecosystems there while playing.
  • Work on family history, kids love to know where their ancestors are from.
  • Play games like Scrabble, Pictionary and Cranium that develop skills as well as let students express themselves.
There are so many things to do in a week that it is nice to have a day or two totally dedicated to fun. That doesn't mean that learning does not happen but it doesn't have to be full of text books and worksheets.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Homeschool and Technology

Depending on your method of homeschooling you may use anywhere from no technology to having 100% online based curriculum. Every family is different and has different needs and since you are the expert on your child you know what they need better than anyone. This isn't to say that those with teaching credentials do not know a lot or have things to offer but generally if parents choose to be involved and care, they know best.

A startling statistic I heard on the news the other day (can't remember the source) was that kids spend 7 hours per day, outside of school, using some form of technology. This took in texting, computers, video games, television, mp3 players and other forms of technology. I was astounded at this number. Either these kids get up really early or they stay up very late. My kids are all put to bed at 8 p.m. The older children have reading time but no video games aloud. If they finish school work at 3:00 p.m. that only leaves five hours. They are only allowed video games on the weekend and the four children share one cell phone. Hopefully my own situation will not become one of technology saturation.

On the flip side, as pointed out on the news, if parents learn to text they can have opportunities to be closer to their teens and tweens. It was also pointed out that if parents will sit down with children of all ages and watch television it can be the subject of some great conversation and teaching moments.

Video games have their place and their is even a pilot program school that just started in New York that is 100% technology based, using games to teach kids their usual school subjects. I suppose it is how you use technology.

The same news segment pointed out (I now believe that it was the Today Show) that we needed to help our children to have face to face conversation and interaction so that they are well rounded. Because some technology is so new, we cannot know the true consequence of the many hours spent say - texting.

Personally I believe that "everything in moderation" is a great way of thinking. I know families that ban video games (which is great, to each his own) but when the student goes to a friends house that is what they want to do, like forbidden fruit! I know parents who are 100% anti-television and then I think about my own children missing the PBS virtual field trips from Colonial Williamsburg and it's hard to imagine not having had so many hours of fun with them and even learning a lot myself.

Most things have their good side and their bad, this can even be said of homeschooling. As we consider the fact that we are in a technology saturated world we may want to consider making sure that our students are at least somewhat fluent in word processing, browsing the internet, using a cell phone at times and perhaps even playing a video game or two. You never know where their passion will lie and what job skills they will need and you surely want to help them be prepared.

For our family we are lucky. Our children are part of a homeschool program that has some online schooling and some text. The teachers involved do virtual classroom activities as well as face to face activities. Today my boys came home from a technology class (held once or twice a month) where they learned how to put a slide show together starting with taking the digital photos right to saving it to a thumb drive. Some of the slide shows were even set to music. They were so excited to share their creations and to show off what they did. It was a fun day for them and for me.

I guess the bottom line is the same as most of my posts: do what works for you and meets your families needs. I will say though that you should be careful of being too close minded and therefore cheat your children out of some wonderful things that were put here for us to enjoy and learn.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Homeschool Organization

Anyone who has homeschooled for long may likely tell you that organization is an ongoing effort and sometimes a huge struggle. Just like most things in life there will be times where you are very devout about keeping all your supplies, texts, misc. books and more organized but then there will be seasons where you will fall of the wagon. No worries, just get back on when you can and enjoy the organization while it lasts.

Here are a few things to help you be organized, remember these are just suggestion and not things you have to have to homeschool or to do a good job.
  • Plenty of book shelves. This sums up a lot because on these shelves you can put your books but you can baskets and plastic containers with supplies and other objects. For example on my shelves I have three tubs of science lab supplies, a tub of crayons, a caddy for other art supplies, texts, stacks of lined paper, folders, a caddy of pencils, a bin for math manipulatives, etc.
  • Tubs, baskets, bins and caddies. By reading the above paragraph you can see why you may need these.
  • The Rubbermaid (or other brand) plastic drawer sets that are on casters are very helpful. This is a great way to store school supplies and such.
  • Plenty of supplies. Part of being organized is to be well stocked so that you are not making haphazard trips to the store. Planning ahead and preparing will ultimately save you tons of time as well as money.
  • Make zones. Being organized with everything in one place can be difficult if you don't have an area large enough for an "all in one" school center. You can divide the home into zones where there is a computer lab, a place set apart for science, a corner that is well lit and quiet for reading, a place for desk work (make sure the table is not to high), and a place where maps can be on the wall for reference in history, geography and more.
These are just a few tips to help you get started on homeschool organization. Different ways of doing things work for each individual. Most would agree though that being organized and knowing where things are takes a lot of the frustration out of educating your children.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Extra Curricular Programs

Do you as a homeschool parent start to wonder if your children are doing too much? Or do you wonder if they aren't doing enough? I think that perhaps all parents, no matter how their children are educated, come to this crossroads more than once in the child rearing process. I for one am someone who has a hard time balancing things and am all or nothing so I am always seeking for that fine balance between work and play, even with my kids.

My children do a full day of coursework as well as their individual reading and their music practice (30 minutes per day minimum). They have a great neighborhood social life, a church social life and my boys are both in the Boys Scouts of America and very active in that. My oldest just signed up for a basketball team which should be fun.

I guess that at any given point in time the needs of the child are different as are the opportunities! I have a three year old that is definitely waiting for preschool in the fall but she will go. Despite my homeschooling efforts for all other grades, preschool is something I just don't do. I have a seven year old that I think should finally get into music lessons, possibly dance and we are looking into Girl Scouts for her. She needs more social interaction. Not because she is "backwards" or socially impaired but because she thrives in social situations and I want to foster that. She is also very artistic and I want to plant her in places that she can bloom. She is my third child but she is the first that I wasn't quite sure if we should homeschool all the way. We take it year by year, month by month. I am ever evaluating our children's needs to see if a change is in order and I am very open to the thought of it.

The most important thing that experts warn parents about is finding that balance and not over scheduling our children. It is a very fine line we walk as parents between giving our children opportunities and helping them develop skills and talents and then over scheduling. It takes a lot of time, thought and energy. I hope that as your year continues you are better able to find this balance and I hope we can bring you more postings with information on ways to do that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When Reading Progress Halts!

What do you do when you are on the path of teaching a young child to read and all of a sudden the child has no interest in reading at all. Do you push, do you manipulate, do you entice? What is the right way to approach such matters?

One way of looking at this issue is to see that not all children are the same and even most public school teachers will tell you that in general some things will work for all children but that each child has unique needs. When it comes to reading this can be very true. It may be wise to back off a bit for a while but to keep in mind that putting off progress for too long can be risky for the child in terms of test scores or their learning ability in other subjects. Taking a week or two off of being pushy about reading can be a welcome break to both you and your child if you are a homeschool parent.

You may also want to look at the curriculum you are using and see if maybe it is too dry and down right boring for the child. This is not to say that everything should be vibrant or exciting (in fact, some methods of homeschool do not believe in anything "fluffy" or "dumbed down"). You may also want to consider how the curriculum or program you are using is progressing. Is it giving the child the necessary tools to be able to make the appropriate progress? Is there a foundation in phonics and knowledge of letter blending, etc. to help the child build upon? If not, it may be time to switch things up.

From experience I can tell you that Sing, Spell, Read and Write is a great program for such a time. I have used this on two out of four children who hit this wall during the learning to read phase. You can buy it new but you can also find it on EBay and other homeschool "used curriculum" sites.

Another great program that teachers a great foundation and can be used for years in the elementary level is the Writing Road to Reading. Both of these programs mentioned are wise in that the incorporate handwriting, reading and spelling. They are all so interconnected in our lives that it seems silly to disconnect them in a curriculum.

If you are having this issue with your child we wish you the best of luck. When you teach a child to read you truly hand them the world because they can go so many places and have so many experiences through the joy of reading. It can be magical and yet frustrating and it is hard to know just how to tackle it with each individuals learning style. Best wishes in your endeavors!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Homeschool Incentives and Rewards

In a perfect world we wouldn't need to entice our children to do what is simply expected of them and hopefully this is usually the case. Many child psychologists are against rewarding good grades in school and think that a child's education is just what their work is during childhood. While I agree with that to an extent and will not be rewarding a child's grades I do know that it is hard to keep up self motivation while homeschooling. This comes from homeschooling my children since Kindergarten (I now have a 7th grader).

We all become disenchanted with our lots at some point and we need some sort of change of pace and incentive to get us through at times. With this thought I started a new program with my kids today that I thought I would share. We came into this new year behind in science so I was trying to find a way to get my kids excited about catching up because quite frankly, the idea of just being caught up isn't doing it for them any longer.

This morning I made a list of this weeks educational goals and told them that if they achieved these (music practicing included) that we would go to a movie at the end of the week. When I say movie I should clarify. We are lucky enough to have a $2 per seat theatre in our town and so for under $15 we can all go to a movie at a theatre. And we were lucky enough to get gift certificates for Christmas.

The goals for this reward were not just science related. As I noted, we added music practice in but they also had all of their other daily assignments as well as personal reading time included. This means that they have to stay up on current work and get an extra science lesson in each day to get their reward. It will also be a reward for me! Win - win!

For those the unschool or don't do a boxed curriculum as I do you can do your own incentives. I'm sure there are many ways to mix things up for just about any homeschool style. I am a fan of just about all methods of homeschool and have tried many but I know the reality that we all at some point get bogged down in how large the task seems. It is good to have something to look forward to and it is always good to go do something fun as a family. The reward does not even have to be called a "reward" and most definitely wouldn't have to cost a dime. My children would be just as thrilled if not more so if I told them we would spend an hour or two at a park for an outing. Children of all ages are generally pleased with the more simple things in life, it seems that the adults tend to complicate things.

So what will you do when you are in a bind? Will you entice your kids by having something to look forward to?