Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Homeschool Nostalgia

Many of you who have gone on to graduate your homeschooler have moments of nostalgia that make you stop and sigh. I had one such moment today while watching a Youstream video of my daughter dancing in the Miss Georgia's Outstanding Teen pageant.

I watched the video below, and reminisced. Not only was I reminded of this special moment of accomplishment, but I thought of all the hours I put into my child's education, passions and heart. It seemed endless, those years, those months, weeks and days. Even the hours and minutes could feel like a heart-wrenching hike through six feet of waist-deep snow, attempting to keep everyone alive and well to reach the summit.

During those homeschooling days, you question why you're doing it. What it's all for. Whether you're actually doing more harm than good. You worry. You wonder. You fear.

As one who has reached the summit and come down the sunny side of the mountain, I can honestly say, your sacrifice is worth it. Give it all you've got. Allow your child opportunities. Let them pursue their passions. Help them find and fulfill their dreams. You'll never regret the hours you put into parenting, loving, nurturing and developing your child to fulfill God's purpose for them.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

How to Homeschool Part 3: What Do I Teach and When?

Just starting out and not sure where to begin? You're not alone! For me, the hardest part was figuring out exactly what I needed to teach my child. What subjects were required for a homeschool education? What year should I teach each subject?

Well, I found out it’s a lot simpler than I thought. Just focus on the basics until you get your feet wet. After you get a handle on the three R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic – launch into other fun activities and extra-curricular classes/courses. Essentially, begin with the basics then add on electives from there. Electives are courses that come after the basics. They are courses that you would love to teach and would love for your child to take, but they contain information that is not really needed at this point in his education.

For every year of a child’s education, there will be different basics. The basics for a high school student are different than the basics for an elementary student. In fact, the basics for a first grader and a fifth grader are different as well. 

Below are the basics for each grade level and suggested electives. Please be aware that your state may have additional requirements.

Kindergarten Basics
Phonics- Learning to read is the only true requirement for this age. You can expect that very bright children will read fairly independently during this year. However, some children are not ready to learn to read in kindergarten.

Kindergarten Electives
Math readiness- learning numbers and basic adding
Art and crafts readiness- learning to use scissors and glue and following basic instructions
History/Science/Geography readiness- being exposed to these subjects through read alouds, media, and field trips
Lots of outdoor playtime

First Grade Basics
Introductory Math

First Grade Electives
History/Social Studies
Foreign Language audios or videos

Second Grade Basics
Reading (for some)
Math (including math facts)

Second Grade Electives
History/Social Studies
Typing (should be taught early but need not last an entire year)
Foreign Language audios or videos

Third and Fourth Grade Basics
Grammar* (phonics for late readers)
Math (including math facts)

Third and Fourth Grade Electives
History/Social Studies
Foreign Language study

Fifth Grade Basics
Math (including math facts)

Fifth Grade Electives
History/Social Studies
Foreign Language study

Sixth Grade Basics
Math (including math facts)

History/Social Studies
Foreign Language study

*It's important that the child learn the basic grammar concepts for common knowledge and standardized tests. However, the purpose of grammar is to teach proper writing format. If a child reads a lot and proper grammar is used in the home, the child need not spend years on the study of grammar as its proper usage will come naturally. 

Seventh Grade Basics
By seventh grade, the student’s basic work increases significantly, but your teaching time decreases. Most students are able to learn independently.

Pre-Algebra (or complete review of basic math)
History and/or Geography

Seventh Grade Electives
Foreign Language study

Eighth Grade Basics
Algebra (or Pre Algebra)
History and/or Geography

Foreign Language study

Ninth – Twelfth Grade Basics and Electives
*See my College Crash Course posts for more information about high school.

English- 4 years (Literature and Composition)
Math- 4 years  (Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, plus another math)
Science- 4 years  (Biology, Physical Science, plus two more)
History- 2 years (American, World)
Government- half year
Economics- half year
Foreign Language- 2 years
Fine Arts- 1 year
PE- 1 year

Remember that your measure of success as a homeschool mom is not how many presidents your child knows or how much Latin he can recite, or if he’s reading high school level texts at seven years old. Your measure of success is your child’s heart–his heart for God, the confidence he has as a child of God, and his attitude. This should be the focus of the early years. When your child’s obedience and love for God are strong and secure, he will have the maturity required in middle and high school to take responsibility for his academics and pursue his passions with purpose.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Homeschool Part 2: Homeschooling Methods

There are various philosophies and methodologies that homeschoolers utilize when educating their children. Some people choose one and follow it all the way through, while others mix and match depending on what they want to accomplish. Still, some homeschoolers begin with one then change their methodologies as the years wear on and they begin to understand more about their family and philosophies. Below are the most common homeschooling methods used today.

Classical homeschoolers follow the classical Greek model of the trivium. They divide learning into three stages based on an average child’s cognitive development. Grammar stage children (K-5th) think concretely and are taught facts and rote memorization. Logic stage children (6th-8th) begin to think abstractly, using principles and ideas about which they enjoy arguing. They are taught to analyze with logic at this stage. The high school years are focused on the rhetoric stage where true thinking, dialogue, composition and oration are the focus. Classical homeschoolers often study Latin and Greek to improve their logical thinking skills and to aid them when studying books written by classical authors, such as Caesar, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and many more. Children are encouraged to consume classic books throughout the high school years and think critically about them. Science is not a focus in the elementary years though one author, Susan Wise Bauer, suggests a science sequence. History has become a strong emphasis for classical homeschoolers, and they generally focus all their reading and learning around a historical time period. It’s an orderly method of studying history and students come to understand the historical time periods based on the sequence by which they study history. This is very much a liberal arts/humanities education.
Search terms: trivium, trivium pursuit, Well Trained Mind

Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason was a learned educator in the late 1800s who through learning and experience developed a method of educating students, which she implemented in her school in Ambleside, England. Her students became mature and scholarly, possessing a true love for knowledge and learning that was evident to others who sought Ms. Mason for the secrets to her methods. She wrote a series of books detailing her philosophies so that others could implement them in their homes. These were the original homeschooling books, the first of their kind ever written. Her methods focus on literature as a means for acquiring learning, whether it is science, history or myths. She believed in short lessons for the younger grades, nature study, copywork, dictation, the pursuit of excellence, good habits, notebooking, unstructured time out doors and free time to pursue one’s interests. Charlotte Mason was against the use of textbooks, a practice just beginning to take root in the education movement at that time. She called textbooks twaddle. She was also against workbooks, or lessons, as she called them and felt they did not improve the child’s education or light their love of learning.
Search terms: twaddle, living books, notebooking, copywork, nature study, nature notebook

Using traditional textbooks or “boxed curriculum” like those from secular publishers or Christian homeschool publishers is commonly known as the textbook approach. Textbooks are typically characterized by dry facts written in uninteresting prose, with the use of workbooks and tests. However, today some of the common homeschool textbook publishers have hired writers that make their textbooks interesting and engaging. The use of tests and worksheets is the most common factor with the textbook approach. Most homeschoolers begin with textbooks and later feel more confident to pursue other methods.
Search terms: Alpha Omega, Abeka, Rod and Staff, Bob Jones

Unit Study
People who choose to teach with unit studies select an area of interest or a theme and build all their academic subjects around that topic. Every child in the family learns together, each working on his own academic level while covering the same subject. The traditional scope and sequence is not the purpose, rather “learning to learn” is the goal. An example of a unit study would be the topic of baseball. History would center around the history of baseball and what was happening in the world at that time. Language arts would cover all the vocabulary and spelling associated with the topic and would include writing and grammar assignments related to baseball. Math would center around batting averages and distances from the bases and such. Science might deal with the physics of baseball or perhaps the botany of keeping a field covered with grass. Most people using the unit study approach choose topics that interest their child and make up the course of study as they go along. Some who use unit studies simply read a great book of literature and center all their learning around what they discover in that book.
Search terms: Konos, Ignite the Fire, Learning Adventures, Amanda Bennett

Unschooling is often referred to as “delight directed learning.” The child decides what to learn, when and how. The parent only provides the means. This type of schooling is based on the assumption that children are naturally curious and will undertake studies, become proficient and even excel in those areas if they are simply encouraged and left alone. On one extreme of unschooling, the child doesn’t have to learn anything he doesn’t want to learn, including math. On the other extreme is the unschooler who requires only one or two subjects, math and english, and everything else is up to the child.
Search terms: unschooling, delight directed learning, relaxed homeschooling

An eclectic homeschooler does not embrace any one philosophy or methodology. Instead, he looks at the different approaches and takes the best from each, forming his own scope and sequence and choosing curriculum that fits his needs.
Search terms: eclectic homeschooling, relaxed homeschooling

I have dabbled in many of these methods over the years, using what was right for each child and for me in that particular year. Don’t allow yourself to become pigeonholed. There is no such thing as the “perfect” homeschooling method. And that’s the beauty of this wonderful educational opportunity we’ve been given. Each homeschooling family has the freedom to choose what is best for their unique family, customizing an education that will mature and develop their children into the men and women God has called them to become.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to Homeschool Part 1: Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Homeschool

Because homeschooling…

Builds Family Unity and Bonds Siblings
Though it can be tough some days, in the end, homeschooled siblings are closer and have better friendships as adults.

Tailors Each Child’s Education
Fast learners can move through the materials at lightening speed. Slow learners can slow down and take time to grasp the material before moving on.

Creates an Atmosphere of Discovery that Encourages a Love for Learning
Without the intensity of peer and academic pressures, children can enjoy the acquisition of knowledge and learn without worrying about how they will perform or if their fascination with a subject will make them look like a nerd. They enjoy learning for the sake of knowledge, not to score well on a test.

Gives the Gift of Time That Allows Children to Discover Their Gifts, Interests and Passions
Because so much more can be accomplished in less time, children have an opportunity to follow their own interests, hone their skills and pursue their passions, becoming quite experienced in a subject at a young age. This gift of time opens up windows of opportunity for them.

Encourages Children to Grow in Confidence Without Peer Motivated Labels
No one tells them whether they are cool or not, whether they are ugly or beautiful, smart or dumb. They are allowed to be whomever they choose without fear of ridicule or fear of being pigeonholed. No one makes fun of them when they are in an awkward phase or if they make mistakes. They are free to develop and grow at their own pace and in their own way. 

Stimulates Character Development and Nurture
Under a watchful eye, a child’s character can be shaped and molded with the gentle hands of a caring parent. Values and beliefs are set in the elementary years. A homeschool environment isn’t just about education, it’s about shaping the whole child and giving him a strong foundation so he can be all he was made to be.

Imparts an Excellent Academic Education
Because of the plethora of high quality educational materials available for homeschoolers, a higher quality education is easy to provide. It is not a standardized, low quality, common education. Homeschooling imparts a specifically tailored, high quality, uncommon education.

Enables Children to Pursue Knowledge Independently
Homeschooled children learn how to learn and are given ample opportunities to independently discover new interests and knowledge. They are not spoon fed an education. Most are given books and encouraged to learn from them. This provides a strong foundation for college – where independent learning is vital to success.

Provides a Relaxed Atmosphere That Breeds Creativity and Self Knowledge
Avoiding the hustle and bustle of going to and coming from school, doing homework, studying for quizzes and tests and dealing with social drama, homeschooled children are able to let their creative juices flow. They are able to discover what they really like and don’t like, the things they enjoy and don't enjoy. Homeschoolers find their personal style in everything. They get to know their unique place in this world without the influence of critical peers, teachers and administrators.

Creates Lifelong Memories
Homeschool families gather memories of books read aloud, field trips taken, projects done together and unique family habits expressed. These serve as markers and fond recollections for the family. A sense of identity is developed and rich family discussions are shared when the children are adults.

Monday, September 29, 2014

College Crash Course Part 17: Let Them Go

So you’ve survived the College Crash Course and know everything you need to know to help your homeschooled child find the college of his dreams. Wew! It’s been quite a journey, but you’ve been faithful and you’re almost there!

Sending a child off to college can seem like a scary thing. We as moms know there are potholes out there and lots of problems to be tackled. We wonder if our child is fully prepared. We know him better than anyone – his strengths and his weaknesses. And it’s those weaknesses that keep us up at night worrying about the day we release him into the world.

Well let me assure you that you are not alone with these concerns. However don’t let these worries handicap you. Your child will probably learn some lessons the hard way in college. That’s part of the experience, and we must trust that God’s got this. He’s going to guide your child, protect him and possibly let him stumble a little so he grows mature and strong. God is more invested in your children than you are. He loves them more than you ever could love them. He wants more for them than you could ever hope for them. He has plans for them that you couldn’t possibly dream up. And He knows exactly what needs to happen for them to overcome their weaknesses and become all that He created them to be.

Take a deep breath and believe God has been a part of your parenting all these years. Believe He’s led you like a shepherd leads his sheep along the way. Believe that your choices in education and parenting were God-inspired and will reap a harvest, even if you know you made some mistakes in your approach, philosophy or beliefs. God knew all that and accommodated for it. You may have failed, but He didn’t. He will use everything for His purposes in the future He foreordained for your children. You planted the seeds, nourished them with fertilizer and watered and watered and watered. Now release them to grow – knowing you’ve done all that you could. Even if you think you should have done more or have regrets about some things, it’s okay. God allows everything to happen and uses it to accomplish the plan He has for their lives. You weren’t perfect, but you were perfect for your children. It’s time to let them go. Let them grow. Let them become who God created them to be. 

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6   

Be expectant and hopeful. You’ve done a great job! Your child will become all that he is meant to become. Be of faith, trusting that God has gone before him and will pursue and bless him as he travels the journey God has for him.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

College Crash Course Part 16: Easy Admissions Essays

Most every college application asks for a personal essay. The purpose of the admissions essay is to:

  • Get to know your child better
  • Find out what makes your child tick
  • Hear your child’s story
  • Understand the “why” behind your child’s “what”

No matter what anyone tells you, the essay is not the most important piece of the college admissions puzzle. It won’t make or break your child’s chances unless it’s horribly written with glaring grammar and spelling errors.

Though it’s not the golden ticket to admissions, the essay can be a place for your child to set himself apart, tell his story, explain his life, and show who he is – especially if your child has an unusual life compared to the average American kid. The essay can help your child sparkle!

Additionally, the essay could prove valuable for an "iffy" applicant who doesn’t quite have the courses or test scores admissions counselors like to see. It can open the counselors’ eyes and the schools' doors if your child is teetering on the edge of being admitted.

Your child’s essay should:

  1. Tell a story that highlights the essence of who he is.
  2. Grab the attention of the weary admissions reader. The biggest problem with most essays is they are boring. Your child should avoid a boring essay at all costs! Humor is always appreciated if your child has it in him.
  3. Not be written by Mom! Even if writing is not your child’s strength, he is unique and the school wants to hear his 18 year old voice, not Mom’s 40 year old voice. He should have help with the editing of his essay, but the original ideas and expression should be his own. Please do not edit out your child’s voice – even if it sounds snarky. Colleges love real people. They can spot the robotic, boring, parent-driven, pretentious essay a mile away!
  4. Respond directly to the prompt if there is one.
  5. Not be predictable. Now is the time to be creative and think outside the box! Admissions counselors are looking for a diverse group of students. Your child shouldn’t use the cliché about how he hit the winning run. He should show how he’s unique.
  6. Not be a story about someone in the family. It should be about YOUR CHILD. Admissions counselors want to know more about him, not grandpa who discovered the cure for cancer.
  7. Start with a hook. Use a quotation, irony, an amusing anecdote, or a play on words. The essay should entertain the reader!
  8. Detail only the most unique or important accomplishment – maybe something that isn’t in the list of accomplishments in the admissions folder. Your child shouldn’t just repeat the stuff he’s already told the admissions counselors unless he can add something of value to it. If he simply gloats over his accomplishments, it will make the essay boring and redundant.
  9. Be a place where your child explains his situation if he has something negative in his record.
  10. Give some insight into what your child hopes to do or be as an adult if he knows.
  11. Possibly mention why this college is a good fit for him. *Be sure to change the name of the college on each essay!
  12. Be edited by someone with good grammar.
  13. Not cause undue stress! The essay most likely won’t be the deciding factor that gets your child into college. In fact, the essay may not even be read – especially if your child has the test scores needed to get in. 

So how important is the admissions essay, really? Well that probably depends on whether or not your child is an iffy applicant (an applicant that doesn’t quite meet the grades or test requirements). If he meets the advertised averages for GPA and test scores, the admissions essay isn’t crucial. It’ll probably just be skimmed. Remember, admissions counselors have thousands to read and very little time to read them.

Iffy Applicants

After watching insider videos of admissions counselors discussing applicants, it was obvious the information they were using to determine whether or not to accept an iffy applicant was data they learned through the student’s admissions essay. Hard luck stories were given the greatest consideration.

The Story

The essay should tell your child’s story but not his entire life story. It should convey a single event or piece of who he is.

So what’s your child’s story? How can he turn it into a great essay? Here are some tips to help your child discover his story. Have him:

  1. Ask his friends what stories they would tell about him.
  2. Ask his friends to describe him and give examples of why they think he’s that way (There might be some good stories here!)
  3. Ask parents and grandparents what stories they would tell about him.
  4. Ask family members to tell about something he did when he was little that gave clues as to who he would become.
  5. Think of his biggest hardships in life – even if they involve personal stories about you or your family that your friends don’t know about. These types of stories are beloved for admissions counselors. Don’t worry! The essay will not be kept in your child’s permanent records. It will be discarded after he has completed the admissions process. If there is a personal tragedy in his life, it would be wise to share it – especially if it’s an elite school with tough admissions.
  6. Tell what he wants to become. When did he decide this? Was there an event that occurred? How has he pursued this?

Our Example Essay

My daughter used a play on words and a little shock value in her essay. She played on the word “bar,” combining the ballet barre with the Bar Association for lawyers. She spent fourteen years at the ballet barre. As a Mock Trial student, she sat for the Georgia Junior Bar and passed with honors. Her goal was to go to Law School.

She began her essay this way:

It may sound sketchy, but I spent most of my childhood at one bar or another – bars in San Diego, bars in Georgia. My favorite bars were in San Francisco. But I really got to know myself after six months at the Houston bars. Believe me, bars taught strength, balance, and perseverance. Standing at the bar, I willed every muscle in my body into position and attempted to master the perfect arabesque – hoping it would look like that on stage.

The essay followed with a revelation of her intense ballet and mock trial training, her desire to go to law school, and how this college would be her next step in fulfilling her dreams of joining the American Bar Association as an attorney. The essay tied up nicely by referring back to her hook.

Although I’ve never been in a pub, you could say I’ve been obsessed with bars.

I hope this post helps clear up the mysteries of the College Admissions Essay! Please post any questions you have below or share any insight you may have.

If you would like your child’s essay professionally edited, please email me for a reference to an editor that edits college essays.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

College Crash Course Part 15: Visiting Colleges

College visits are an important part of choosing the right school. They help your child get a feel for the campus, the students and professors, and the overall atmosphere of the institution. Visiting colleges inspires your child to finish strong while looking forward with anticipation to the day he moves into the dorm.

Start Early

It’s best to visit all your child’s colleges of choice during his junior year. That way, if your child is accepted to several schools and is still undecided, he can make return visits his senior year to help solidify his decision.

Schedule Online

It’s a good idea to plan your college visits. Universities have online scheduling for their campus tours, but be sure to schedule your visits early as spaces do run out. If your child already knows what he wants to study, call to schedule an interview with the head of that department. A friend of mine’s daughter is interested in studying piano in college. She got a head start and scheduled a tour with her college of choice’s music department the summer after her 9th grade year. She interviewed with the dean of music and got a lot of important information needed to help her prepare for the school’s audition requirements for admissions. Music and sports are two areas that often require specific requirements for entry. 

See the Students

It’s important to visit during the school week when classes are in session and students are on campus.  Here’s why:

We were very interested in Furman University when my daughter was applying to colleges. However when we visited, the students appeared somber and serious as they moved about the campus. The tour director focused on Furman’s academic achievements and was quite serious herself.  Since my daughter is exuberant and vivacious, she immediately sensed a disconnect with the students. On our way home, we visited Clemson. The minute we stepped out of our car, a whole different vibe greeted us. During the tour, it became evident that Clemson was a school dedicated to school spirit and F. U. N. Our tour director was jovial and animated as he told story after story of the entertaining and exciting traditions of the school. My daughter ended up at the University of Georgia, which was perfect for her—a happy mixture of serious and fun.

Choose Walking Shoes

Though some tour guides drive you around campus in a cart, most campus tours require a lot of walking. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. The best time to visit campuses is in the early fall or spring when the whether is nice outside.

How about a Road Trip?

Many families plan college visits around vacations. This is an efficient use of time and money and enables the entire family to be part of one of the most important and exciting decisions of your child’s life. Why not plan a “college road trip” and visit all your child’s colleges of choice in one week? It’s a good way to focus in on the various schools, comparing and contrasting the positive and negative qualities as you travel to and from the campus visits.

Don’t be Shy!

While on campus, be sure to take time to talk to other students, asking them about their experience at the school. Do they enjoy their classes? How is the campus life? What’s their favorite thing about the school? What’s their biggest complaint? Do they plan to transfer to another school? If so, why? You’ll be so glad you took the initiative to talk to people who are neutral and aren’t trying to convince your child to come to the school.

Read Up

Be certain to find a student newspaper and have your child read it from cover to cover. He’ll get a real flavor for the campus, students, and attitudes. He might find important hidden information that isn’t advertised by the school like crime reports, student concerns, and issues—as well as lifestyles, events, and policies. You may be able to find the college’s newspaper online as well.

Note It

While there, and especially if you are visiting several other schools, be sure to take notes. It’s easy to forget important information, especially if your child has scheduled multiple college tours in one week. 

Go to Class

Most college tours will give you the option to attend class. Choose a course in your child’s interest. This can be very inspiring for your child! It will also give you greater insight into the school, the professors, and the character of the students.

Question Time

Before your visits, help your child formulate important questions to ask about the schools. Write the questions down so he can ask them during the tour. What does he need to know about housing, dining, academics, extra curricular activities, parking, transportation, or sports?

Ask what they are looking for on the college application. What matters most to them during the application process? How safe is the campus? What is the neighborhood surrounding the campus like? Every student has different needs. Be sure you get clarification on those particular needs:

Is your child athletic? He should ask about club and intramural sports. Is your child introverted and used to a quiet environment? Ask which dorms are traditionally quieter and which are more active. Write it down! It’s easy to forget all those dorm names. Does your child want to be in a Greek organization? Ask about the membership process. Does your child long to travel? Ask about the study abroad programs. Is your child academically motivated? Ask about the honors program and its benefits.

Money Matters

If you are in need of financial assistance, schedule an appointment with a financial aid counselor to discuss scholarships and ways to increase your financial aid package.

Almost There

This is a very exciting time in your child’s life! You and he are heading down the home stretch of his education. Make each college visit an adventure, enjoying this unique time with your child. This could be one of the last opportunities you’ll have to engage with and build into him before he flies the coop. Be intentional, but have fun on the journey!