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Thursday, November 18, 2010

K12: Final

Well, it is done.  After several letters plastered with warnings, I decided to break the news to the teachers that this was just not working out for our family.  The children have lost initiative and I have lost desire.  I knew (and so did you) that we were wrapping things up with K12, but I have been trying to keep using some of the curriculum.

I sent emails to the teachers and went online to try to buy the books that we loved--and will have to send back.  Once again, the hope of getting some of the benefits of public school has wavered.  I guess if you don't jump through the hoops, you don't get the doggy treat.  Oh, well.  I'll remind myself that my tax money is going to educate children whose parents can't (or don't) choose to teach primarily at home.

It could be worse, right?

I'm pulling out my Thomas Jefferson Education book and reminding myself of the good that I've seen in my home over the past seven years--without the dollars/books/darling bulletin boards of the public school.

It feels good to come back to myself.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Photo History

We were studying history and began talking about the evolution of photography; specifically, it's place in historical record-keeping.  We looked at the first deguerreotypes and photos of stiff people--stiff because they had to hold perfectly still for the twenty minute exposure.  We watched the pictures change with the clothing and height of the buildings.  We saw the quality improve to the point of photographers capturing fast-moving battle scenes and tennis players.  We saw moments in time during the Civil War, World Expos, day-in-the-life of average people and more.  It was fun and interesting to a group of people who are so used to the commonness of pictures.  We are even spoiled to the point of knowing almost instantly whether we captured the desired shot.

I made an assignment to the children.  I asked them to take five photographs.  These five should be things that help define their lives in November 2010.  Anyone should be able to get a glimpse of their lives just by looking at the shots they choose.  They then learned how to edit the pictures and make a simple collage from my photo editing software.  The result is almost like a time capsule.  It was interesting to me to see what they think defines them right now.  

Here are their results, created, edited and captioned entirely on their own.

 (Daughter, age 9)

(Son, age 11)

What would your collage look like?  What would your children's show?  Are you sure?


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Time Lines

I love history.  It is my favorite subject because it encompasses nearly all others.  One of the most effective ways of cementing historical people and events in the mind of a learner is through the use of a time line.

For example, we are studying the decade of the 1880's.  (Because history rarely defines itself in neat, ten year increments, I added five years to the front and back of that decade.  It gives us a little more wiggle room.)  Our family knows the Little House on the Prairie stories.  If they know that Laura was a child when the Kodak camera was invented, when Garfield was assassinated, and when Krakatoga blew creating a tsunami that killed over 36,000 people, then those seemingly random events gain meaning.  When we study Edison and Bell with a time line, we can see that they were contemporaries, but they were twenty years away from the Wright brother's feats.  And knowing that Mark Twain was writing about Jim it was only a dozen or so years after the Civil War, clarifies the racial prejudice outlined in Tom Sawyer.

If your house is like mine, you already have maps and letters and bookshelves filling up your walls.  Where do you put a time line?  Especially one that includes world and US history, literature, science and inventions, math and anything else that you could want to place.  Here is one idea for you.

I took a roll of simple ticker tape

and drew lines the thickness of my ruler.

The children folded the ticker tape on the lines, accordion style, and wrote the year on the line.

Folded, it only takes up a small space.

Once it's unfolded, you can see history happening.  This is a newly made timeline, so we only have a couple of events, but we plan to fill it over the next few weeks.

Using different colors for different topics (Blue = US history, Green = Inventions, Orange = World History, Math = Purple, etc.).  As we study a topic, we put it on our timeline.  Today we studied decimals and the base ten Metric System (LeGrange lived during this time).  By relating decimals to the invention of Coca-Cola to Nellie Oleson, memory connections are sure to be stronger than if we had just learned how to figure decimals.

Try using this small time line tool to make history come alive in your home school.

By the way, this is a great resource for creating your curriculum based on a time line.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writing Your Own Curriculum

Now that I'm back to writing and compiling my own curriculum for the pods, I thought I would let you in on the process.  How does one create a curriculum?  Here's how I do it.

Make a plan. Sit down by yourself and write what you would most like your children to know. Then, consult with your husband about things that are really important to him. After you have come up with those things that, as parents, you feel are most vital, sit down with each child individually. Ask them what they would like to learn. Kindly explain the things that YOU, his parents, feel are the most important. Make exchanges, "We will learn more about dinosaurs and airplanes because that is important to you. Would you be willing to learn some things that Dad and I feel are really important (like penmanship or spelling or math)?" Usually, when they are given the option to be involved in the planning, they are more willing to give and take.

Then, I take these interviews and we make a list. At some times and with some kids it is easy to compile a list of goals. At other times, we have to struggle together to decide on a direction. We make quarterly goals and try to cover many areas. A list may look like this:

  • Learn to write my name and the names of everyone in the family
  • Master the letter sounds
  • Learn more about dinosaurs
  • Go on a field trip to find fossils (or go to a museum to see some)
  • Memorize five scriptures
  • Clean my room every morning before breakfast
  • Learn the names of all the continents, major oceans and hemispheres
  • Count by two's to twenty

or something. I just made that up, but could be about right for a kindergartener. If we get stuck, I might say, "We have reading, writing, scriptures, helping around the house . . . what about learning some things in the kitchen?" To which you and the child can come up with a plan to learn some things in the kitchen.

  • Learn to make toast, crack eggs and do simple kitchen measurements (one cup, one teaspoon)

"You know, we don't have anything on here for exercise. What kind of exercise goal would you like to make to keep your body healthy?"

  • Ride my bike every day for at least one hour

And so on until you both feel like you have a well-rounded, interesting outline for the next three or four months. You can then create that curriculum based upon the list you compiled together. You won't need to force because he had a hand in choosing what would be studied. If he decides after one month that he's had enough of dinosaurs, change it up. Do not force yourselves to be bound by this list. It is only a guide.

How do you do this with more than one kid? Well, you make a list like this for each child. You do the things that are important to him, but you will find the lists meld quite easily. It is fun to change up the lessons to make them harder for the older child and easier for the younger. If you are learning about reading a thermometer, you might just teach the younger child how to read the mercury. He will lose interest and run off and you can teach the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit, where those names were derived, do labs and measure cold water, hot water, boiling water, cooking candy, the freezer, etc. You can do the math and figure out how to figure the C if you only have the degree in F. See how this becomes fun family time? Also, you don't really understand something until you are able to teach it. That goes for the kids, too. If your older child can teach something to the younger, he really understands it--and it cements itself in his memory better than if he had just done a worksheet on the topic.

Finally, be an interesting teacher by teaching things that are interesting to you.  Make sure that you get your own study time in. It is HARD to find that time for yourself, but it is most vital. I have friends who do this and friends who don't and you can tell, really tell, in the education of their children. I think it is mostly due to example and to the fact that you are loving your own learning. It makes you excited to teach them what you are learning. And an excited, passionate teacher is contagious to their students.

You can do it!  After having done it for six years and then letting someone else do it for two months, I will never go back.  A personalized approach is, I think, the most effective way to learn.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

K12: Going Back

This morning as I was getting things ready for the kids's K12 curriculum, I said, "I hate this."  I decided then and there to leave the Virtual Academy.  I know, you could see that from the beginning.  I could too, but I was hoping to make it jive with what we already had going.

I hated having to do it their way.  I hated having to answer to someone ALL OF THE TIME.  I hated having to push the kids to do work for which they had no passion.  (I'm not about to argue that you have to study only things that you want to study, but I think it is fruitless to study only things in which you aren't interested.)  I long for the freedoms we had before.  If my son reads something about immigration and finds it interested, I hated having to tell him to stop looking into that and go on to the next chapter.  Silly.

I sat down with the boy and explained my feelings.  He told me that he likes being busy.  He says he is more responsible with other things when he has a full load.  I agree, but I don't want him busy just for busy's sake.  I want him busy because he loves what he is learning.

A misconception I had from the beginning about K12 was that it would be easier on me because I didn't have to create the curriculum every day.  I found that I was just as busy, if not more so, trying to keep up with checking all of their boxes.  It was so frustrating to think we had had a great school day to go online and spend an hour, literally checking boxes.  I would rather have spent that hour learning and preparing to teach.

So, we're throwing in the towel.  I'm going to keep using the parts of the K12 curriculum that I like as long as I can--until they demand I send it back.  It is the first time I've ever been able to take advantage of my contribution to public school's tax revenue.

Can I just tell you how much relief I feel?  As I write this, I have my Pandora's Dance station playing.  The kids are dancing behind me and I'm going to join them as soon as I hit "publish."  You know it wasn't a good fit when we have a party after making the decision to end it.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

K12: 8

Last week, I felt we were doing pretty well with school.  My pods were zooming through assignments and were catching up to where they are supposed to be.  I was beginning to think maybe we were figuring this thing out. . .

when I got two emails from two different teachers.  Both were concerned with the progress my children have been making.  They threatened to send "letters."  Having never had students in public school, I'm not sure what that means, but it sounded shameful.

Here's the thing:  I am pretty happy with the curriculum.  Most of the things my children are learning are things I am happy for them to learn.  I don't agree with the amount of work, the amount of sit-at-the-table kind of work and the regimented style, so I suppose I have been rather non-compliant.  If I had money, I would buy the curriculum without being a part of the school.  Alas, I have non.

I'm going to keep going as I like and just wait for the "letters" and whatever that implies.  When they say, "You are shaming the whole school by your lack of dedication to the public school way of life," I suppose I will leave.

Oh, well.  It was a good experiment.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

K12: 7

After so much frustration and anger vented here about K12, I could only be fair and write about when things go well.

Today was one such day.  We are still way behind, I am still struggling with a lot of issues and my laundry pile is, once again, enormous, but today was better.  Assignments seemed to come one after the other.  We broke for lunch, but I was able to corral them together again to finish things up.  The fourth and sixth graders are not done, but I'm pretty sure they will be soon.  (Cross fingers vigorously.)  I did have a mini-meltdown this morning, but recovered quickly and persevered.

One of the things I really like about K12 is the boy's math (the younger grades' math is lacking, but not severely, at this point).  He is in sixth grade and working a pre-algebra book.  I am pleased with the rhythm of the program and they seem to have him do just enough practice problems.  Some of the math programs try to make the kids crazy with doing thirty problems when they have mastered it after completing ten.  I know different kids learn at different rates and I have, on occasion, had him do more or less than assigned.

Can you handle one more positive thing?  The first grader FINALLY had some independent work.  There was a history lesson that had an online, read-aloud story.  I put on her headphones and she was able to work without me.  What a nice twenty minutes.  We could use some more of that.

Looks like I must lash the whip to get the hated grammar finished.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

K12: 6

I had one child begin to read in the middle of first grade.  There wasn't much interest before that.  I had another child reading before the fifth birthday.  I have a six year old first grader who is reading, but not completely independently.  She, apparently, is failing.

Problem number twenty-seven with public school:  everyone must meet the same standards at the same time.  You cannot be ahead of the class or you are "gifted."  You cannot be behind the class or you are "slow."  This is where the keeping up with the Jones' mentality begins!  Who freaking cares where you fall on their sliding scale? My kid who read "late," read picture books for about twenty minutes then went straight for Roald Dahl.  My "early" reader stalled when book sizes looked intimidating.  Does that mean the slow reader is now gifted and the gifted reader was suddenly slow?  They both read all of the time and can tell you what they read, how it applies to their life, and if they would recommend it to you.  For crying out loud!  Why do we insist on a nation of mediocre; a people all the same?  My daughter, who is apparently behind in her reading scores, actually loves reading and carries books around, but hasn't had the transformation from unsteady to sure.  Does that mean that she is really behind?  I have a feeling that when reading clicks for her she will be one of those that leaps from Fancy Nancy to Ramona .

In defense of school teachers, they have a lot of kids that they must teach and he can only spread himself so thin.  I understand that, but there are not twenty-eight children in my classroom and I do not have to bow to the publicly drawn standards of average.

We aim to be extraordinary.


Monday, September 20, 2010

K12: 5

In my old way of doing things, a missed day here and there was no big deal.  We would just start up where we left off--even if it was a day or two later than it should have been.  This online school business is not like that; yet another symptom of the overkill of public school.  Now, some things need a lot of work.  Math takes practice and constancy, reading, on the other hand, happens all of the time around here.  Why, for goodness sake, does my son read a 700 page book then have to read his literature assignment and fill out the literature assignment forms?  Frustrating for both of us.  I am not sure how to rectify this situation.  We can have an in-depth conversation about the state of the United States economy (the report came out today that the recession ended in June 2009, yet many people are still out of work), but that doesn't count for anything.  We have to go to the textbooks and fill out the workbook about whatever time in history the public school curriculum writers decided sixth graders need to know.  Ineffective!  If he wants to learn about the Civil War, he'll learn about it.  If he doesn't, well, he won't.  Maybe I've just been too independent for too long.  I understand that not all homes work like our home.  I also know that part of the reason I chose to go with K12 was because I felt the boy (or his mom) needed someone else to create his curriculum.  Still, we are back to the beginning:  If we were doing so great and the program we were following was working, why did we change???

I talked to the girls' teacher on the phone tonight.  I had a misunderstanding about progress requirements.  We are behind.  It is only the first month and it is our first time, but it is frustrating to be behind already.  I say this because I expect April to be tough--it is always hard to encourage the children to study when they are sick of it and ready to go outside after a long winter stuck inside.  September is supposed to be the prime study month!  Crap.

We had book club today.  It went great.  My six year old was motivated to work harder on her reading so she could be a regular member.  It didn't count toward "school."  B.S.  (Ooooh, I almost typed the real words.)  I am so disgusted with public school and my perception of what it teaches our children about learning (learn only what is required, when it is required) and here we are.  Am I deluding myself in thinking K12 isn't exactly public school?  Sure, we don't have recess conversations or bus-riding worries or the other social negatives.  We don't have worn out teachers who don't have time to teach the three R's because they have to teach about bullies and manners, but those aren't the biggest reasons we kept our children home.  The biggest reasons were academic heavy.  Not that we intended them to be the bee winners, but we do intend for them to love learning for life.  We intend to encourage their curiosity and ask questions.

I'm not giving up, but I'm also not yet convinced.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

K12: 4

Isn't is amazing what one conversation with a good friend can do?  I hung up the phone with a whole new vision of what home school + K12 could be.  It was almost like I needed permission to think outside the box--just like I was the one in school.  Maybe if I didn't do things their way, I would get a pink slip or something.  I realized that they are giving me scholastic guidelines.

The next day, school looked a lot different.  For one thing, I gave the children my password.  I NEVER give the children my password, but, in this case, I decided it was an essential coping skill.  I communicate with my children, we have a very small house so I know what they are doing (well, unless it involves a Sharpie), and I trust them.  They aren't to go into my account, but if they are supposed to have me type in my password to give them permission to take a lesson assessment, just tell me what is going on then type in digits.  (The password is just was it says:  momsaid.)  I can't be hoping up and down and all over the house to perform this menial task.

The second change was that I re-instituted Structure Time, Not Content, kind of.  Content is way more structured than at any other time, but they have the autonomy to choose what to do and when.  I printed off their assignments for the week and put them in daily labeled folders.  Tuesday may have a literature assignment and Wednesday may have a science assignment, but if they feel like doing science on Tuesday, go for it!  They know what is expected for the week, given some parental reminders, they can accomplish those expectations in whatever way fits their style.

One of the big problems I found with K12 was that each grade is learning different things.  Now, I'm not talking about the first grader was learning addition, so we're all learning addition.  I'm talking about . . . well, for instance, the fourth grader was doing a unit on ecosystems and did a fun experiment.  Before, I would have had a family unit on the ecosystem and adapted it for the different learning levels.  K12 wants be to do a unit on ecosystem with one child, minerals with another and measurements with another.  This is the third thing I changed for the next day.  We did more learning as a family.  One child was learning about how to use a scale so the younger four all gathered around the table as we learned about weight.  It was a fun unit, so we all did it.  I didn't shoo anyone away because, "this isn't your lesson."  Who cares?  If it is interesting and we want to learn it, we are going to learn it.  This will make some lessons hurried or taught with less care, but others will be rich and exciting.  It is a good exchange.

Fourth, I let myself let the children skip lessons if they don't apply.  Why review the short a sound when a child is reading Level 1 books?  Skip it.  Go right to lessons at their level.

Finally, I kept doing what I knew was working.  When my first grader's assignment was a boring worksheet intended to teach her to count by two's, I threw it out.  When a six-year-old, one week into school, proclaims that she hates school, that is not good.  Instead, we jumped rope and counted by two's, we counted sit-ups, we counted books, we drew on the sidewalk.  She still knew how to count by two's at the end of the lesson, but I didn't hear, "I hate this!" anymore.

And that's where we are.  Slowly, slowly, we are finding our groove within the K12 frame-work.  How is school going for you?


Friday, September 10, 2010

K12: 3

I am not the type who gives up easily.  Sometimes that is a problem, but I think it is mostly a good attribute.  I won't know for another several months whether my perseverance was well placed or not, when it comes to my determination to make K12 work for us.  I had made a mental commitment to give it a real try; to use the program until Christmas Break.

Since we were on vacation until just before school began, I had only a few days to learn the "new" way.  K12 does its very best to explain things to us.  I watched all of the online videos, read introductions to books and tried to get an overall feel for this beast.  Yet, there were seven heavy boxes of curriculum and I only had a few days to learn it.  I had a bit of a feeling that I was going to be a train wreck.

The first day of school came.  The children were excited and willing to learn.  K12 is not just an online school, but they aren't all offline, either.  I thought I could assign blocks of time for each child on the computer, but it didn't work that way.  Each lesson presented itself with fifteen minutes online, then go offline and do this activity/worksheet for twenty minutes, then get back online to answer these questions.  Some lessons consisted of as long as one hour on the computer.  With three needing to use it, I began to think we would need at least one more computer.  And then there is the testing.

Having such a close relationship with my students, I knew whether they understood a concept.  I could tell if they were getting it or if we needed to work it out a few more times.  They have almost never taken a test.  I'm pretty sure that if they were given a bubble sheet to fill out and a number two pencil, they would have no idea what to do.  The oldest two had to take placement exams.  After twenty minutes at the computer, my daughter was groaning with, "How many more questions do I have to do?  This is taking forever!"  The boy didn't complain, but he was done with his test way too quickly.  On the math portion, he only used his scratch paper twice.

The first and fourth graders' work was not independent.  They needed me too much.  The first grader's work was entirely parent and child reliant.  The fourth grader, whom is quite bright and doesn't need me to read her science lesson to her, still had to have me enter my password before she could do one activity or another.  If I was ankle deep in a lesson with another child, I would have to break and go type in my password.  Silly. Not time efficient at all.  The sixth grader needed some one-on-one attention to get a jump start on a completely new math program.  Again, more time.  Now, in defense of K12, they are working with all different levels of home school experience.  I would say I am one of their more advanced learning coaches, having done this for seven years now.  But, having never done their program, I was trying to follow all of the rules.  School was lasting for about ten hours per day.  It was NOT working out for me.

One thing that did delight and surprise me was my children's academic level.  After several days of work and dabbling it each subject area, there wasn't one place where the pods were not at grade level or above.  Having always written my own curriculum, I was never sure of their placement.  Finding us mostly ahead of the curve was a huge relief.

One night, about seven school days in, exhausted and frustrated, I vented to my husband.  He listened patiently and then said, "You need to call Betsy."  Betsy is a dear and valued friend who had children about the same ages as ours and who introduced us to The Thomas Jefferson Education.  I knew she had dabbled in K12, though I didn't know how much, and I knew he was right.  She would be a great sounding board.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

K12: 2

Three kids and seven heavy boxes.  Seven heavy boxes full of everything you might need to school (notice I used the word school and not educate) three elementary aged children.  We got modeling clay, beakers, textbooks, globes, magnifying glasses, maps, math manipulatives, worksheets, books on how to teach everything, a whole phonics course, mini white boards, paint and brushes, and even a pop-up public school teacher.

Or, at least that's how it felt.

The kids were so excited, almost breathless as they poured over the new books, pictures and stuffs.  All I had to buy were the regular school supplies you would already buy:  crayons, pencils, notebooks, binders, paper clips, note cards and so on.  (The one extra thing I bought this year was markers.  Markers don't do well at this house, but I thought the older children might need them for maps or science pages.  They are hidden.  No one knows where they are and they will be pulled out and used in secret.)

I have to admit that I was pretty excited, too.  Having never used anyone else's curriculum, it all looked so, well, easier on me.  I wasn't the person required to research topics about which the children would like to study.  I didn't have to make up games or activities to make learning fun.

I was also overwhelmed with the amount of stuff to store. Where in the world was I supposed to put all of this?  Even though it felt intuitively wrong, I cleared away some of the things in our bookcases:  Childcraft, Time-Life books about oceans/cowboys/the moon, and science encyclopedias, and replaced them with manuals and text books.

And one more really strong emotion.  I felt like I was turning my back on a program in which I believe; a program that has served us well.  Why am I going in a direction that is so different from the one that has been working?


K12: 1

Our oldest is in the sixth grade this year.  Last year, I found myself devoted more and more time to just his curriculum--so much so that the other four children were being a bit neglected.  Okay, they weren't neglected, it was just a lot of work for me.  This made me reach out to find other sources.  I have been hearing about for years and have even looked into it a time or two.  This summer I decided it was time.  I signed him up because I felt that he was ready to be challenged.  Then, because it was free curriculum (of course, not totally free, it is paid for by my tax money, but this is the first time I've been able to take advantage of that fund) and that is a totally new concept to the everyday home schooler, I thought about enrolling more of my children.  I have three who are school-aged.  My first and fourth grade girls are the workbook types.  I thought this online school would fill a desire for them as well.

First thing I noticed:  Paperwork.  Oh, yes, I thought to myself.  I've never had to do all this paperwork before.  Find the immunization cards, the birth certificates, the dental records, the Will, the oil change record, copy them all, fax them, fax them again because something didn't go through.  Fill out other forms, mail and call and check boxes on the web site.  Good grief.  I'm not signing them up to count money in the federal bank.  I just want some books for which I've already paid.

Some fun things along the way, though.  We get to choose an elective.  Different kids, different options, but they could choose from music, art, or language (which included Latin, French, Spanish, Chinese, or German).  The kids got excited thinking about which direction they might choose.

And then, the boxes came.  Seven boxes, three pods.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Scholar Phase Co-Op

Over the next several posts, I plan to share some of the things I learned from a recent home schooler's conference I attended. This is one of those posts.

Many of us (including me) are worried about the great experiment of following the principles outlined in The Thomas Jefferson Education. (I remember the first phone call I made to a home schooling friend, "Do your children . . . read?" Ha. I was so ignorant of what home school could be!) It seems risky to let your children go along with the phases, which, to the uneducated onlooker, can look like a whole lot of nothin' going on. Some children start reading, writing and figuring much later than their public school counterparts and it becomes hard to trust the system. BUT DO IT! Keep at it. Work hard and believe in the outcome. It will happen. I am at a place with my children where I am seeing the promised results. At eleven, my boy has days where he is a practice scholar (while other days he is still firmly embedded in Love of Learning). That may be helpful for those of you who have a house full of Core phasers, but if you have older children, you may begin to wonder if they will ever hunger after knowledge like TJEd promises.

Dr. Jesse Meeks taught a class about mentoring our young adults through the Scholar phase and left me completely excited (instead of freaked, my former emotion regarding that phase) to enter this next phase of home education. I'm going to give you some of my notes, but first I have to tell you about his boys.

Dr. Meeks brought two of the boys (one was his son) from their Scholar Co-Op. Several questions were directed to them--seventeen year old boys who should have (according to the current social standard) been more interested in football, girlfriends, computer games and popular culture. They looked like normal teenage boys (shaggy hair, hooded sweatshirts), not who you may expect to see when you hear home schooled boy

(not that there's anything wrong with being the spelling champion of the universe). But then they started speaking. They used words like intrinsic and serendipitous without sounding contrived or like an egg head. They spoke with confidence, founded in a deep reservoir of knowledge instead of like some know-it-all-without-knowing-anything teenager. One had his own business, the other was learning Chinese. They said Crime and Punishment was a pretty quick book compared to some of the others they had studied (Atlas Shrugged, for example). When asked if they ever have time to read books that is outside of their curriculum, they responded, "Oh, for sure! We just stay up later." Here were a couple of boys that were staying up later to read Eragon because they had spent a good deal of the day reading Aristotle and Plato. They weren't staying up late to put together a passable essay for English because they spent all day gaming online. No, they were anxious to push themselves, to study, to grow intellectually. They said, and their parents confirmed, that they never needed to be forced or even reminded to do their studies. They studied because they wanted to. It gave my hope.

Now, how to mentor such students? Here is some of the information I jotted down from the class.

  • This group selects a theme for the year. This year's theme was Do Hard Things. At the end of the year, they are running a marathon. Yes. I'm serious.
  • Choose students that are at about the same level of commitment.
  • Meet weekly, but times can change according to the schedules of the mentors. Four hours seems to be the right time frame for their group.
  • Having several mentors keeps the students challenged, but allows the mentors to continue to pursue all of their goals and still be effective in the class. Depending on how many mentors your group has, you may only teach once per month or once every six weeks.
  • There charge a small fee to help pay for some of the activities. (When they read Three Cups of Tea, for instance, the mentor gave them $100 dollars to divide how ever they decided with the instructions to "make a difference in the world." Their experiences were varying, inspiring, and instructional.)
  • After an initial meeting of all mentors and students to discover interests, individual mentors have full authority to choose which books they will cover.
  • Mentors provide opportunities to apply the lessons learned in the books. They want to do something, but they just may not know what to do. The direction a mentor gives is the WHY behind the mentorship program.
  • Anything goes; public speaking, essays, invite guest authors/historians/experts, field trips, experiments, student lead discussions, etc.

Now, I must find those peers who will be ready for this kind of challenge in a few short years. Please, dear home schooling friends, stop moving away!


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Five Minute Room Rescue

Over the next several posts, I plan to share some of the things I learned from a recent home schooler's conference I attended. This is the first of such posts.

I have never met a home schooling parent who hasn't struggled with this question: I can keep the house or I can school the children. How could I possibly do both?

Yes, well, sometimes we don't do both. But the truth is, both must be done. There are a few tricks that I have learned over the years that work for my family. We usually (operative word, here) clean the house once per day. The floors must be swept, the carpets vacuumed, the dishes washed, the walls scrubbed, the laundry folded, but not several times each day. Even if we have one major cleaning (where the sweeping, vacuuming and washing is done), the house may still look like a disaster zone within moments. It is probably my most frustrating problem. (Okay, I have been known to curl in a ball and cry because of this problem!) Pretty much, if I am going to lose my temper, it is because I just cleaned for two hours but, judging by the tidiness of the house, it looks like I've been sitting on the couch watching Ellen or Judge Judy (is she even on anymore?) all day.

During Angela Baker's class, she used a phrase that I have adopted and used. It is the Five Minute Room Rescue. This is not the time to organize drawers or wash windows. This is just what it sounds like, an emergency rescue operation. I set the timer and we dash through the room--all of us, as fast as we can--for five minutes. If I have sluggish helpers, I have to set the timer again. It has never taken longer than five minutes.

Instead of storming about picking up shoes and newspapers and baby blankets on my own, everyone jumps up and gets the work done. It makes for a tidier home and a happier mother.

Try it. Let me know if it works for you!

Update: Apparently this is a FlyLady tactic with a slightly different interpretation. Thank you for the inspiration!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


For those of you who want a good revitalizer to your home school, consider attending this forum. It is in Salt Lake City on March 20th. True to their nature, our children/students are constantly changing. I have found that I have to remind myself of some of the basic principles of home schooling at least once a year to make sure that none of my little people are left languishing in a phase that is uninspiring. This all day forum fits the bill. While not each of the several classes I've taken have struck a chord, many have. If your classroom feels sluggish, bored, blah, February, this may be what you need. It is worth the ticket price.

Hope to see you there!

***Dr. Oliver DeMille has no idea who I am and the Forum has not paid me any kind of advertising fee. I wish they would. Heaven knows how many people to whom I have recommended this book!***


Saturday, February 6, 2010


A learning environment is one of the most essential ingredients in the successful home school.

  • There must be bins of finger paint, construction paper, pop bottles, scissors, popsicle sticks and other craft/science project tools. These supplies will be used to create volcanoes, snowflakes, picture books, bridges, dinosaurs, light sabers and bird houses.

  • Invest in good wall maps, globes and atlas'. You The children will wear them out with their greasy little fingers. National Geographic and Rand McNally both make wonderful and affordable maps. This one hangs in my son's room and is especially perspective changing.

  • A home computer with good parental controls is a vital part of our home school. We use the internet to answer questions, find examples and facilitate learning. There are some amazing people out there who have made animations of Bernoulli's Principle, the Wright Brother's Flight, and weather patterns , just to name a few, that make learning come to life.

  • The Library

  • A stocked book shelf (shelves, eventually) is the core of our learning environment. I have found that if I have a variety of good books on the shelf, they will be read. My eleven year old son regularly reads 500 + page books. When he needs a new book at 10 o'clock at night, he just needs to walk into the living room. I'll cock five or six books which he might enjoy and give brief explanations as I go. From them, he'll choose his next read. We have the Childcraft books, Young Scientist Encyclopedias, Time-Life Books and other references. The rule we came up with picture books is that if we check them out from the library more than once, they need to be owned. I buy books from thrift stores, library sales and yard sales. Most often, though, because you can't rely on those other sources to have the specific book you need, when you need it, I go to the internet. has the best prices--often for less than $5. Amazon can also have good prices. (A word of warning about buying used books: buy only very good, like new or new quality or else you'll find yourself with a book that is falling apart and not worth the $2 you saved.)

Even if you don't hold school every day, within this rich environment, one can't help but learn.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Young People's Book Club

Not long after a few friends and I started a book club, my son, then eight, wanted a book club of his own. Being a literature lover, I jumped at the idea.

A book club for little kids can be tricky. You can't just sit around a table draped in a lovely embroidered cloth and discuss words in some sort of highbrow way--when you are eight. I wanted it to be a fun experience where we proved that reading and then talking about books is delightful and even looked forward to. Mine are the only regular attendees who are home schooled (though we've had a few others come and go). All of the others go to public school. This provides a good mix of children, ideas and book exposure. We had been inviting the younger friends as they began reading better, but recently concluded that the age range was too broad. After a great deal of experimenting, we've discovered the following:

  • Eight is generally the youngest they are able to participate in a discussion with any kind of flow. Before that age, we get lots of stories about their lost tooth, a Sponge Bob episode, and what they ate for lunch.
  • By the time they are eleven, they are ready for the next level--less parental involvement, more serious discussion.

  • We always discuss the book for at least fifteen minutes, but have gone as long as forty. The idea is to get them wanting more from a book than just turning pages and filling time. Think a little deeper, wonder a little more.

  • Since we meet after school, a snack is required. I've always made our food mesh in some way with the book. It has made for a great variety and the kids like to speculate about what food I'll come up with.

  • A game is the third leg of our formula. Actually, it's often several games, but they too, like the refreshment, relate to the book. Considering their ages, it's usually a moving game.

  • One hour and fifteen minutes is the magic time allotted. It's almost always when we're wrapping up--and my sanity begins to unravel.

Here is our list:

  • Caddie Woodlawn

  • The Hobbit (We ate bacon, biscuits with honey butter and drank herbal tea.)

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tasted both cabbage soup and chocolates.)

  • Harry Potter (Had fun naming regular candies Potterish names. We also learned some magic.)

  • Island of the Blue Dolphin

  • Where the Red Fern Grows

  • My Side of the Mountain (We continued our meeting a few days after book club when we went to visit a man who raised hunting falcons.)

  • Holes

  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

  • Among the Hidden (Most of our kids come from large families, so we had some good discussion about what a limit of two children per family would personally change our lives.)

  • Johnny Tremain

  • The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler (Since they were hiding out in the museum and part of the plot included a statue, we carved our own out of soap.)

  • Fablehaven (Our best, and longest, discussion by far.)

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

  • All of the Nate the Great Books (Pancakes, obviously.)

  • Whittington (Worst discussion, best games.)

  • Sarah, Plain and Tall

After three years, my son, now eleven, has started his own book club. He doesn't want me to be in charge or even in the room. He wants it to be their book club, their insights, their questions. I am delighted. Give it a try and have fun broadening the reading experience for those you educate.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Where To Start

My Dear Friends,

This post has been a long time in coming. Yet another friend has asked the question, "Where do I start?" This question will not go unanswered any longer.

First, you must know that home schooling is difficult. Mom has to be on the ball all of the time. Just that sentence is heavy because we are also responsible for their spiritual development, their grasp of table manners, and keeping them in clean clothes. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t see the benefits. I said, I wouldn't do it if I didn't see the benefits. You can do it if your husband isn't on board, but I would not recommend it. You will discover that you must defend your decision to your dad, your grandmother, your neighbor, the lady on the park bench, your pharmacist, the stranger at the gym, the librarian, the post man, and practically everyone to whom your child says, "I'm home schooled." Or to anyone who wonders why your children are at Walmart in the middle of a school day. Or to, well, everyone. Get ready for that. Be ready to have thick skin when someone says, "WHAT?? You're crazy!" or "Honestly, how could you do that to your daughter?" or "I'd kill my kids if they were around all the time." I promise, you will need your husband on your side. Additionally, I've yet to see an effective home school where Dad was absent--not that it can't be done, I've just never seen it. You'll also need him to be understanding of having maps and penmanship posters on your living room wall, Spanish language tapes playing in the car, and science experiments growing in the kitchen window.

So, where do you start? In my opinion, go straight to the classics. Do not waste your time on self-help books; this includes the plethora of "why public school sucks" books. There are some that come highly recommended, but wait on those until you have a sound background in the classics. You may be surprised how lame those books become when compared to A Tale of Two Cities, Little Women, and Swiss Family Robinson. Anyone who is reading a classic with the awareness of her responsibility of teacher/mom will find what they need within those time-honored pages. Plus, they are more fun. There is a captivating story to lead you through the "How do I teach responsibility to my seven year old?" instead of a generalized list that someone wrote about how all seven year olds operate. Please. Like any child–even those in the same family–learns the same way, at the same rate.

The two most important educational/parenting resources, in my experience, are the scriptures (including the Ensign) and the Holy Ghost. I have read a few self-help books. One of them was an assignment. The sassy way I took notes was to write a scriptural passage in the margin to illustrate how the prophets taught the same principle in a better and Christ-centered way.

Back to the classics for a minute. It isn’t enough to just read the books, we must also write about them, muse over them, discuss what you are learning with your spouse and your children. I have done the discussion part from the beginning (mostly because I can’t shut-up about anything) and it is paying off in a big way. Now, my children will be reading from a book and will race into the kitchen to tell me, "MOM!! Do you know what just happened??!!" and then will go on the explain the reason for their strong emotion. This is the Newborn Smile of home schooling. Thrilling.

I'm only going to refer you to one resource with which to begin. It is called A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille. It is a complete paradigm shift in what you think about educating children. Buy it, get it from the library, borrow it from me, whatever. You must read this book. There are hundreds of home schooling philosophies. This is the one that speaks to my husband and me. Wherever you decide to school your children, you need to read this book.

This is, like anything that is hard, a rewarding job. Think about how much you will learn, not just the kids. When I try to explain how I’ve changed since I started TJEd, I just say I feel bigger–fleshed out. I have so so so much to learn, but it is a great ride.

Good luck. Feel free to ask me questions. I'm always thrilled to talk about home school.

The MotherShip


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