Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To The New Homeschool Parent

We are about to enter our 6th year of homeschooling.  As we start to venture into junior high, I've met several families who are just getting started on their homeschooling journey and are asking for advice.  Here are some of my top suggestions to the new homeschooling parent.

1) Plan
    You can get by just fine without a plan.  You can take the year day by day or week by week.  We did it for several years, it can work.  But as we've trended towards more organization, our days have been so much easier.  Now I sit down in the summer and make a rough plan of what each child should accomplish each week in each subject.  I don't get anymore detailed than that because life gets in the way, but I have my spreadsheet on the computer and I mark off each square as those lessons are accomplished.  It helps me see where we're on track and where we're a little behind.  It prevents me being all scattered and looking for worksheets on Monday morning and it prevents the kids from feeding off my stress.

2) But don't be a slave to the plan
    A plan is great, but only if it's flexible.  Doing "school at home" rather than homeschooling misses out on a lot of benefits of homeschooling.  It's okay if you get behind in a subject, there's time to catch up.  It's okay if you have the unexpected opportunity to take a week of vacation, there's time to catch up.  Don't pull your child away from a subject they are enthralled by because the schedule says it's time to move on to something else.  This is why you homeschool, so you can individualize their education.  Also, don't get married to the idea of a certain curriculum.  Be willing to admit it's not working for your child.  Even if it looked great when you ordered it, even if your friends love it, even if it was perfect for an older sibling.  Be willing to set it aside and try something different.  If money is an issue, try to find someone you can borrow from for a couple of weeks until you see if it's a good fit for you and your student.

3) Read everything you make your kids read
    Yes, this takes time, but homeschooling is not a "set it and forget it" endeavor.  You are your child's teacher and that means more than just following along in a guide.  I firmly believe you should be capable of sitting down and having an unscripted conversation about any book you've assigned your child.  More importantly, some of the standard reads are just plain awful.  If you are following a curriculum that assigns certain books, I can assure you not all of them are really worth reading.  Even if you like the curriculum overall, sometimes you need to make changes to individualize it for your family.  A certain Egyptian mythology book from Sierra's history curriculum last year stands out to me.  That was the most boring, dense book ever.  I couldn't get through it, so there's no way I expected my fifth grader to.  We dropped it and she learned a lot of her Egyptian mythology from the Rick Riordan Kane Chronicles books.  Not quite standard classroom fare, but we don't have a standard classroom.  Between those books (which I also read) and her text book readings, she more than got the idea and enjoyed learning too.

4) The one curriculum I regret not ordering from the beginning is All About Reading/All About Spelling
     I didn't think I needed reading curriculum in the beginning because Sierra was an early, strong reader.  For spelling we started out with an awful "list a week" program that just focused on rote memorization.  AAR/AAS would have been beneficial to her even as a strong reader and definitely would have helped her spelling.  Sedona is a different type of learner, but it's great for her too.  I can't say enough good things about the multi-sensory approach and the lessons taught in this program.  I've learned things with this program too.  Spelling words I'd just memorized throughout school make sense to me now. I understand why words are spelled the way they are and that helps me with sounding out new words, even in jargon-heavy scientific articles.

5) White boards and dry erase markers have been essential
     The one school supply we couldn't get by without are decent quality lap size white boards and lots of different colors of dry erase markers (Expo brand, anything else makes me want to throw it against the wall after a week of use).  Rather than using up tons of paper, I teach most lessons with these white boards.  I have several so if one child needs to keep an example to look at, I can use another one to move on with teaching someone else.  Different color markers are wonderful for grouping together or separating concepts so the kids can more quickly visualize what I'm explaining without being so overwhelmed about where everything is coming from.

6) Later Alligator
    Sedona saw a therapist for a while to help her with attention span and focus and on her advice, we instituted "later alligator".  It's just a simple clip art laminated and stuck to the wall near our school desk, but it's a free pass.  When one of the kids gets frustrated and their brain is "stuck" and unable to grasp a new concept, they can put down a later alligator.  This is a cue to me that they've really hit their limit.  They're not just having trouble remembering or not eager to do school, they are completely overwhelmed, "lost", and unable to take in new information on that topic right now.  We set it aside and do a different subject, then come back to it later after they've had a break.  In earlier days, I was recognizing their frustration as a "no new information is going to stick in that brain right now" point, but I was sending them off to do something totally different and then (due in part to my lack of organization) often not calling them back to finish the assignment that day.  Kids, being smart like they are, learn to manipulate that pretty quick.  Later Alligator puts them in charge of recognizing their own emotions/limitations without letting them get out of doing the work.  It's a good visual cue for both us to not only take a break, but to pick up that later alligator and get it back on the wall before the end of the school day too.

7) Keep records
    Even in places where you aren't legally required to keep detailed records, keep records.  I've gotten tired of having lots of pieces of paper every where, so I do this electronically now.  I scan completed worksheets and tests into the computer and from there it's saved on my computer, an external back-up and also a USB drive (multiple copies, multiple places....I do the same thing to back-up all of our curricula on e-books, they're too expensive to lose!) You never know when you might need to prove to someone that you are actually educating your children.  I figure it's one of those better safe than sorry things.  It also helps with planning for future children.  You may not remember what books the first child read in 3rd grade by the time the 2nd child gets there.  You do not need to follow the same plan for each child, but having a rough guideline is helpful for avoiding starting all over every time. Lastly, if you homeschool through high school, chances are you'll want to create a transcript for college and you need records for that.

8) Be brave
Sierra making a model of blood
    This one takes practice, but it's the most important of all.  Stop trying to make your homeschool kid's experience look the same as other kids' experiences.  It's okay to be different.  It's okay if they learn specific topics at a different age.  It's okay if other people in your life don't "get it".  Tune them out and help your child find their own path and the confidence to walk it.

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