Friday, May 15, 2015

Should've known better...

Yesterday, I had a conversation that I wish I hadn't.  It's funny.  When you've been hurt by the words of several people from a group of people, one would think that you wouldn't go back and talk to them again--about the same things.  But, that's not the way it often works for me.  I realized just now that I'm searching for hope--I'm searching for the needle in the haystack to contradict the other words. Sadly, the pile of words only got bigger yesterday.

Many homeschooling parents have felt animosity from public and private school teachers over the years.  I've had more experiences of public school teachers looking down on me when I begin to talk about teaching and homeschooling than positive experiences.  I have not felt the same negative feelings from parents of children in public and private schools though. The teachers I've met (unless they are personal friends) often get defensive and go on the attack within a few sentences of conversation.  And that's just what happened yesterday.  The teacher I spoke with teaches at a public school and has young children of her own.

Out of the blue, she stated that she doesn't have a problem with people--like me--who were classroom teachers homeschooling their kids.  But, she has a big problem with parents homeschooling their kids without degrees (in teaching).  My response was that about half of my friends who homeschool were teachers and half of them weren't, but that the ones who weren't have learned on the job.

Her next statement was interesting to me.  She said that she wouldn't have someone who wasn't an accountant do her taxes.

Hmmm...  That was where I stopped.  I walked away.  From her and the conversation.  Inside I was really mad.  I felt defensive of my friends who weren't classroom teachers before they started homeschooling.  I felt like I'd been given a get out of jail free card because I was a teacher and I didn't want it.  The truth is that homeschooling is different than classroom teaching.  Very different.  It has a different set of challenges and needs.  People always think that homeschooling is easier or folks who've been classroom teachers first.  Maybe, maybe not.  I had to let go of a lot of my expectations of how things should be at home.  I had to figure out what were reasonable expectations of my kids at home and in our classroom--for behavior, academics, speed of working, writing...  And it took years for me to figure these things out.  I had to set aside the idea of grades and learn how to teach for understanding and mastery.  I had to reset my classroom ideas about what the best assessment methods for my kids would be.

But, I also chuckled inwardly about the ladies comment (after I got over being mad) when I thought of our accountant and how he tells the story of when I first met with him about our taxes.  I filed our taxes for over ten years and we just recently switched to using an accountant.  He told me that I'm the lady who knew some things he didn't!  Several years later, he'll still harken back to that first meeting and my discussion with him about the ins and outs of our taxes and the research I'd done.

I'm not an accountant.  But, I did our taxes.  We use an accountant now because it takes pressure off of me and it's that double check and it's comforting.

My mother in law did her taxes for years and never had any issues.

She also homeschooled five of her 6 children and 4 of those 5 all went on to college and earned degrees.

She's not an accountant or a trained teacher.  But, she educated her children and did her taxes.

My husband reminded me last night that people love to hate.  They love to hate people who have chosen a path that may question that what they are doing is right.  People want to be right, not wrong. If I am right to homeschool, then where does that put her?

The thing is that homeschooling or not homeschooling isn't a matter of right and wrong.  It shouldn't be seen as a threat.  How parents choose to educate their children is not a moral choice-- a matter of right and wrong.  It isn't a matter of sin.

Ironically, we met with one of my mom's doctors yesterday who I gave an explanation to of what made me want to homeschool ten years ago.  It was the moment when I was listening to a friend who's kids were in public school (and who subsequently withdrew them to homeschool them) and I realized I wouldn't get to teach my kids right and wrong if they went to public school.  As a side note, I do have many friends who's kids are in school and I know they are teaching their kids right and wrong.   But, for me that moment made me realize that I wanted to choose what my children were taught.  I wanted to choose the curriculum.  I had taught in the public school classroom.  And that's where the seed was planted in my heart to homeschool.

I know I always have an agenda in my head.  I want people to see and hear that homeschooling isn't bad for kids.  I remember a zoo volunteer I met several years ago who had never had kids of her own. She shared with me that before she worked at the zoo, she had always thought homeschooling was a horrible thing to do.  Then, she began to volunteer.  Now, she can do nothing but rave about homeschooling as a good thing because she's seen how different the homeschoolers are than she thought they'd be.  She thought they asked great questions and were very respectful of the zoo and of her as an adult.

It's hard to stay strong and do what you think when people are hostile to it.  My mom said that she has people tell her all the time that it's a bad idea for me to homeschool my kids.  She just lets it go, though, and says "Well, it's what we're doing."  She's not the one homeschooling, but she supports us in homeschooling our kids and has no concerns about it.  She may have at one time, but she's seen my kids thrive and she is glad that I'm homeschooling.

One of the things about life is that everyone is not always going to agree with you or with me.  We live in a culture today where we want everyone to tell us that we're okay.  We don't anyone to tell us that we're not okay.  But, this is a dangerous trap.  The truth is that God tells us over and over that He will guide us and that we can trust Him.  When we seek Him, we will find Him.  The peace that comes from trusting God is what we need--not the false peace, which is really assurance, that we get when people agree with us.  Assurance and encouragement is nice, but the hole we're trying to fill can really only be filled by the Lord.

And that's where I come back to.  A long, long time ago, I prayed about homeschooling our children.  So, did my husband.  We felt convicted that it was the decision we should make for our family.  And we did.  I still have that same conviction for my family.  And so we'll press on...




 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When it Clicks

There are many of blessings of homeschooling.  There are tough parts, too, as with any job.  But, this post is about one of the best parts.  Yesterday, I gave my middle daughter a spelling test.  It was a watershed moment for me and for her, I think.

Two years ago about this time, I began to realize that Sami was really struggling with spelling and writing.  She read 2 grade levels above where she was at and comprehended at grade level or about one grade level above where she was.  But, I could see she was in trouble with her encoding (breaking apart words) skills.  I felt bad for having missed it that year and felt guilty, but I trusted that the Lord was showing me what I needed to see when I needed to see it.

I set about that summer completely revamping her spelling program.  I tested her on all of the initial consonant blends to see which ones she did and didn't hear correctly when they were said.  There were about 10 that she needed to work on.  I printed off the worksheets on Cherry Carl's website  and she proceeded to work through them the next school year.  Additionally, I abandoned the Spelling Power Spelling Lists and implemented my own plan and spelling sheet (see this post).  I began with the Dolch Sight Word Lists and the Dolch Noun Lists using this weekly plan.  (I got the idea to use these words from the owner of the local homeschool bookshop who used this approach to help her son learn to read.  I used these lists for spelling, but she used them to help speed up her son's reading.)

I tested her until she had 5 words to work on each week.  I know public schools give the kids 10 words each week, but 5 has seemed much more manageable to Sami and she was getting spelling practice in her Explode the Code Books as well as the phonics worksheets, so I felt it was enough.  After she tested out of the Dolch lists, we moved on to the list from Eagles' Wings Guide to spelling.  The list that I found closest to the words on these are here on the Reading Rockets Website:  http://www.readingrockets.org/article/basic-spelling-vocabulary-list   There's also a list of Fry's 1000 words here: http://www.k12reader.com/subject/vocabulary/fry-words/, but I would add the months of the year, days of the week, and colors.  A lot of the lists I noticed don't include those.  I went by Spelling Power's approach.  When I gave a test, I tested until she got 5 wrong and those 5 words became her list for the week.  Spelling Power gives the direction to have children only practice the words they don't know how to spell.  This makes sense to me.  There's also an interesting chapter on sight words here (http://www.pearsonhighered.com/samplechapter/0131713795.pdf) which recommends giving kids 5 spelling words.

It took us a year and a half to get through the 600 words.  Then, I wondered what I was going to do next with her.  I thought about continuing on with my spelling sheet and just using new lists.  But, what lists?  Then, I noticed something in her reading and writing.  She struggled with words that had multiple syllables.  So, I pulled out Dolores Hiskes Reading Pyramids book that I purchased several years ago.  I use Phonics Pathways after my kids use How to teach your child to read in 100 Easy Lessons.  Anyways, the pyramids give kids practice reading and paying attention to the smaller words in sentences and work on not skipping words (something advanced readers are prone to do).  And I began to look around.  I found on EPS Books website a word study program called MegaWords that focuses on Multi-Syllabic words.  I love EPS books because their curriculums do well for both learners who excel quickly and slowly.  She started using the first book (completing one page a day) and she enjoys it... which leads us to yesterday.

It was dictation day for Sami and she had to hear the word and break it into syllables and then put the words back together.  As she spelled the first few words, I realized that she could do it and that the words were spelled correctly!  She spelled all of the 2 and 3 syllable words correctly except one which I pointed out.  She knew what the error was immediately without me telling her and she fixed it!  I sat there and cried.  I praised God for pointing me in the path of the right curriculum for her and for connecting the dots in her head.

She's come so far.  And I got to see it.  What a joy!

One of the greatest lessons I've learned from homeschooling came via conversations with a homeschooling mom who wrote the book Heads Up Helping and from the book itself.  The lesson was that in order to homeschool well, you must become a student of your student.  Learn how they learn.  This experience reinforces that lesson for me.

My oldest daughter spells completely differently.  She tests through a list in Spelling Power every day and is working on the end of 8th grade lists (in 6th grade).  This works for her without frustrating her.  I test her so that I can make sure she doesn't have any gaps in her spelling skills.

My son... well, I don't know yet what kind of speller he will be.  I don't start formal spelling instruction until 3rd grade, but he has asked to do it in 2nd.  I think I will start with the Dolch Sight words as I did with Sami and then go from there, switching to Spelling Power in 3rd grade if it works for him.  We'll see!

Friday, May 8, 2015

New Worksheets and Spring Curriculum Changes

A friend mentioned to me recently that she had looked at my curriculum plan, which made me realize that I hadn't updated it in a while.  This winter spring, I made some modifications and made my own worksheets to facilitate certain subjects.

I've posted two of the worksheets I made.
#1  A long time ago, I wrote a post about my weekly spelling plan here:  http://lovetopaint.blogspot.com/2013/08/my-phonicsspelling-plan.html  and
Here:  http://makingthingsstretch.blogspot.com/2013/02/free-spelling-curriculum.html
But, I just realized that I never posted the Weekly Spelling Sheet (printable) that I wrote to go along with it.  You can now find thate HERE.

My middle daughter finished learning the 600 most common word list using this weekly sheet and is now working through the first book of MegaWords by EPS.  I realized that she needed extra practice with longer words and this covers both vocabulary and spelling by practicing encoding and decoding at the same time (just like Explode the Code but for older students).

#2  I altered my writing this spring.  I realized that my curriculum that I use for 3-6 grades (Write Source) needed a framework so that we were consistently editing, revising, and publishing.  So, I implemented this Weekly Writing Sheet, which you can find HERE.

I made a plan for each of the girls for the last 9 weeks of school that I included with this writing sheet that required them to tackle one type of assignment a week.  I still used the Write Source Curriculum, adding in the particular worksheets they'd made for brainstorming, Grammar, and exercises.  But, this was our basic format.

For my oldest daughter, her 9 assignments were these:
____ Week 1: Writing Paragraphs, Review Basics

____ Week 2: Write a Persuasive paragraph.

____ Week 3: Write a Persuasive Essay.

____ Week 4: Write a one paragraph Summary of an Article.

____ Week 5: Write a 3-5 paragraph summary of your favorite book.

____ Week 6: Write a Comparative Paragraph.

____ Week 7: Write a Comparative Essay.

____ Week 8 and 9: Write a report on a person, historical event, or topic of your choosing (ok'd by Mom)—4-5 paragraphs with 2 illustrations and cover.

For my middle daughter, she was given these 9 assignments:
____ Week 1: Lists
Write 2 lists with complete sentences and go over the writing process.

____ Week 2: Write a Descriptive paragraph.

____ Week 3: Write a Narrative Paragraph.

____ Week 4: Write a How-To Paragraph.

____ Week 5: Write a summary of your favorite book.

____ Week 6: Write two poems

____ Week 7: Write a report—1 paragraph with
illustration.

____ Week 8 and 9: Write a report—3 paragraphs with 2 illustrations and cover.

My girls have loved this switch because it makes them feel like they are actually accomplishing something each week with their writing.  

Last year, I tried Evan Moor's Daily 6 trait writing as a writing journal exercise, but it ended up being frustrating to my kids.  The Friday exercises, though good, were far longer than the 5 minutes that I allot for journal writing.  If I use it again, I will omit the Friday exercises because we do longer writing assignments with our writing curriculum.

The third change in our homeschool life this spring was a pretty big one.  We've always (9 years!) gone by a routine method of scheduling our days.  What I mean by this is that we had an order to what we needed to do each day.  We started around a certain time (within an hour or even 2 sometimes) and then ended when we were done with that list for the day.  It was great when my kids were little and I'd say up until 3rd grade, it worked really well for all of us.  But, when my oldest daughter hit 4th grade and my second was in 1st/2nd, our days started getting pretty long and we would be doing school until dinner time.  No homework after dinner, but still the days became long.  

In March, I felt nudged to switch to a time schedule.  I think this came after I had sat down in February and made a curriculum plan/schedule for Autumn for grades 7-12 so that I could transition her in and get her ready for high school classes (which really start in 8th grade, not 9th in order to fit everything in).  I considered a time schedule and tried to find one that was reasonable for us.  It turned out to be this:


Daily Schedule

7:30 am Get up and Get Ready

8:00 am Breakfast

8:30 am Walk

9:00 am Devotions and Read Aloud

9:15-10:30/45 Math
11-12 Writing/Spelling/Grammar

12-1 Lunch

1-2 Tues-Fri Reading

2-3/4 Specials


After School: Instrument Practice

I moved some things from our school day to after school.  Homework took on a new role in our schooling.  I have seen some very positive things come from this switch and also have seen some guards in place that I didn't even know where there.  At first, homework was a motivator to focus for my middle daughter.  Now, it's a natural consequence for not doing her work in the time she has.  (Just in case you're curious, I've looked at the questionaire for ADD and she doesn't fit it).  One thing that can happen with a time schedule is for kids to rush through their work in order to get it done fast and... have no homework.  My kids know, though, that if the assignment isn't completed well enough (with long enough answers/incorrect answers) they'll need to fix it or revise it--so better to do it right the first time ;)  I have heard that many kids rush through assignments when they're on a time schedule and this practice acts as a guard against it.  

My oldest daughter perceived homework as a punishment from the get go, so I needed to explain to her that almost every 6th grader has homework each night.  So, it's something she needs to get used to when she isn't able to get all of her work done during class, because next year she's going to have a lot more homework in 7th grade.  

Having a time schedule gives us a definite end  to the day.  I allotted one special to Tuesday, Wed and Thurs., since we have music on Mondays and Horseback Riding/Volunteering on Fridays.  I had some white dry erase sticker for the wall and posted this schedule on the wall.

As with most things, I was really good at sticking to the 9 am schedule at first, but I have to constantly work on getting started then.  Sometimes we make it and sometimes we have to push devotions to later and start around 9:30 am.  But, the schedule has helped a lot.  

Homeschooling is always evolving in our house and these are some of the ways it has changed this spring.  I'm always thankful to see how we change together and adjust so that our homeschooling works better and runs more smoothly!


Monday, April 6, 2015

A Full House

Yesterday was Easter.  The day that we mark and take a special time to remember that Christ was raised from the dead.  He died for our sins and conquered death.  He had the company of this disciples and followers, yet endured betrayal and rejection.  I was reminded recently of the parable of the wedding banquet.  The invitations were sent out, yet one by one, they were rejected.

Thank you, but I have to take care of the farm... Thank you, but I have to do this...

The invitations were rejected, returned.  The banquet giver then issued the invitations to others--who accepted gladly.  But, one wouldn't wear the wedding clothing and didn't appreciate the invitation and the banquet giver, well, he threw him out.

I am so thankful for the Lord's invitation to my heart, his working in my life, and his love.  I'm so glad that I didn't say, "I have something else to do, God.  No thanks."

What I have watched God do over and over is to bless me with the desires of my heart.  He taught me long ago that it wouldn't probably look the way I wished, but that I needed to look, see, and be thankful.

Yesterday, my house was full...  I love to host people on holidays--they really matter to me.  And my house was full.  Laughter, conversation, and smiles filled the rooms.  Children running outside on a sunny day--not cooped up inside.  Sitting at the children's table entertaining each other, enjoying their food.  Adults able to have conversation and sit.   The adults helped clean up afterwards and made my job as hostess easy.  We all worked together.  Within an hour of everyone leaving for home in the evening, my kitchen and dining room were clean and returned to normal.  Extra chairs sit again in the basement ready for the next time.  All were glad to be there and we were thankful to have them.  They all wanted to be there...

And my eyes fill with tears with thankfulness.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Being Proactive

Last fall, my kids played soccer.  On my girls' team, there were 3 other moms who I talked to each practice.  It was such fun and I looked forward to our chats.  Two of them were taking college classes, one was a friend of mine from church, and then there was me.  We were all so different from each other and I loved hearing their stories about life and their families.

So, I looked forward to this side of baseball with my son this spring.  I was hopeful that I would find some other "kindred spirits" as Anne of Green Gables would say.  On Monday, I introduced myself to two moms and had long conversations, but it was different than the fall.  Last night, my son had his second baseball practice.  And my heart was cheered.  I met a mom who I really enjoyed talking to.  I enjoyed hearing about her life and what's going on with her.  I enjoyed sharing and encouraging each other.  What a blessing!

It's an interesting thing walking into a new environment where I don't know anyone.  I don't know the system or how things work.  It's interesting to walk into a situation realizing that really I don't matter. I don't need to matter (and shouldn't), though, because I'm not the coach.  My son is just one of twelve kids on the team.  He is in good company with several other boys who've never played before--just like him.  There are several boys on the team, though, who can hit and catch and know a bit about what they're doing.

My oldest daughter is in that time of life when she will be walking into a lot of new environments where she doesn't know anyone.  How should she deal with that?  What parts of her personality will come out?  How will she be seen by others?

In college, I read a book about strangers (I'm currently trying to figure out which one it was) and what we do to avoid them.  I remember reading that we give space, we look down, we look at an object in another direction...basically, we do a lot of things to avoid eye contact.  Of all the things I studied in college, that is one that has haunted me the most.

But, we live in a world that is even more one of strangers today.  We have a new, handy tool at our fingertips to help us avoid people we don't want to talk to.  We can successfully avoid feeling alone if we have to eat alone and are physically alone.

It is the smart phone.  With the internet, texting, and email at our fingertips, there is always something for us to do or think about--other than the fact that we are alone and not actually "talking" to anyone.

Georg Simmel wrote an essay in the early 20th century about "the stranger".  I'd never heard of this essay before this morning, but I gather from what I've read that it details the role and even the importance of the stranger in our society.  He explains that a stranger has to do with distance/proximity.  The stranger is present, yet not involved or engaged.  On Wikipedia, it is explained that the controversy about his essay has involved the application and implications of his ideas about strangers.

I've found that it's intimidating to walk into situations where you don't know anyone.  What if people don't want to talk to you, what they're people you don't want to talk to, what if people aren't who they say they are, what if...  There are so many what ifs.

But, here are some new "what if?"s

What if you make a connection that encourages someone who's been having a bad day?
What if the person you approach needs a friend?
What if the person you approach is scared?
What if the person you approach is...
What if it isn't about you?

What if what we really need to find is the peace that comes with knowing that God made us the way we are--peace that comes when we understand that we are loved by the creator of this world and that that matters far more than what another human being may (or may not) think of us.  If we have this peace, then rejection from strangers won't matter the same way.  It won't change how we feel about ourselves or life.

The first question question in the Westminster Confession of Faith is this: Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man? A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

That means that it's all about Him and not about us.  Mark 12:30-31 tells us that we are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. and the second is this: To Love your neighbor as yourself."

I watch my 11 year old daughter and see her self-confidence.  She has that peace that God made her and self-confidence that I never had at her age.  I learn a lot from her.

What if we chose to approach strangers instead of avoiding them?  What would change?  How would we change?  How would the places we go change?

Yes, we will probably get rejected sometimes.  Like the time I was in the airport and turned to the lady and asked where she was flying to.  She replied "Why are you asking?"  I replied that I ask everyone.  Then, she said, "Well, I'll just let you do all the talking then.  Where are you going?"  She reminded me of a facebook stalker at that moment and it gave me the creeps because of her tone.  So, I replied I was going to Maryland and then turned around.  I then asked the man in front of me who was heading to Chicago.  He and I laughed about the cold and having to leave the warm weather of Florida.  I can't remember, but I know he said something to me at the time that was helpful.

I had a rough year last year and it really shook my desire to talk to strangers and care.  But, I can see now that the Lord has been using it to shake me free from my impulse and belief that I can please everyone.  I can't.  But, I can do whatever it is that God sets in front of me this day to do.  I can reach out to people.

Ah, my ramblings... I hope this make sense!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A new schedule

Deep Breath.  It's been quite a week.

On Monday morning, I instituted a new schedule with my kids.  I know my weaknesses and one of them this year has been pushing back our start time.

I have other things I want to reflect on about our new schedule, but I think need to post these links before I forget...

I love my middle daughter dearly.  She is very unique.  She has her strengths and weaknesses.  My kids and I were very clear with me today that they know mine and theirs ;)  Anyways, I saw an area this week that I need to work on with her--her imagination.  I love the way God helps me see what my kids need as I'm schooling them.

So, I'm instituting an Imagination Exercise Schedule as part of our devotions/read aloud time starting on Monday...

Here it goes:

Monday          Story Starter
          I will start the story with a few sentences and each child will take a turn adding at least one sentence or a few more... (Go as long or short as we want)

Tuesday          Close Your Eyes:  Sensory exercises
          Imagine you are...          a butterfly flying in the air.  Fill in your description.
          Imagine different places, creatures, jobs.
          Ask the kids questions while their eyes are closed.

Wednesday    Picture Story Telling
          Show the kids a picture and ask them to imagine what that person is feeling.  Ask them to
          imagine why they're feeling that way.  What's going on in the picture?

Thursday        Would you rather...?
          Here are some questions I found online:
          https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Would-You-Rather-Questions-52895
          http://www.themeasuredmom.com/would-you-rather-for-kids/

Friday            Prediction Exercises
          When I grow up...
          Read a passage, what's going to happen next?  Read the next part.  Were they right?
                       OR Charades
          http://www.fun-stuff-to-do.com/kids-charades.html