Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Curriculum Publishers

Curriculum is a very interesting thing.  There are companies that market and publish materials solely for public schools, some that do the same for private schools, some that do the same for homeschoolers.  There are also publishers that try to market and publish for more than one of the groups.  Then, there are also companies who get noticed by homeschoolers, but do not avail themselves of that market.

Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin publishes the Saxon phonics and Saxon math curriculums.  These are used by public, private, and home schools.  Teacher's guides can be purchased for these curriculums by homeschoolers.  Their public school materials on the other hand (which I use and buy used via Amazon) are generally more expensive than other homeschool alternatives.  As a certified teacher, you can order curriculum from Harcourt and get the school price for the materials which is discounted from the regular price.  The same goes for Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.  If you are not a classroom, certified teacher, you cannot order teacher guides from the company.  But, if you are a certified teacher, you can also get the school price.

Evan-Moor and EPS books are two other companies used both by classrooms and homeschoolers.  The prices are the same for both.  Evan-Moor does have a mailing list that sends out free shipping offers, I believe if you sign up for it on their website.  Evan-Moor's books are great because they are reproducible and can be used for more than one child.  They also have student books for a lower price on their website (these aren't sold on Amazon).  I use their Daily Language Review and Daily Math Review to supplement my math curriculum because I use a mastery curriculum, rather than a spiral curriculum.  If you haven't heard of EPS books, they are the company that publishes Explode the Code and Wordly Wise (both wonderful series).  EPS is a great resource because their materials work for both learners both above and below grade level.  Each of their series do not identify their books by grade levels, but rather by letters or numbers (which are not associated with grade levels).  

Handwriting Without Tears is a company that I had assumed was geared towards homeschoolers.  It is actually not.  It is one of those companies that has written materials for the classroom setting that was noticed by homeschoolers.  You can order their materials for your children directly through their website.  This year, they came out with a preschool curriculum that includes three teacher guides for $20 each.  Many of the other preschool materials are not affordable for the average homeschooler, like me.  I recently inquired of the company to ask if the weekly plans from the teacher's guides would work for homeschoolers.  My concern was that though the guides are affordable, would they need the other materials they sell in order to teach the lessons?  Adding in all the other supplemental materials would make the preschool materials quite an expensive proposition.  Based on the email I received, I believe they wouldn't work for homeschoolers.  They are marketing and gearing their materials to classroom settings.    

Up to this point, I have chosen to use many public school materials that I have found online.  I have a list of what I'm searching for that I keep an eye out for all year long.  I have a feeling that as we head into middle school, I am going to need to choose more texts for homeschooling simply because I will need the teacher's guides.  Teacher's guides for homeschooling materials tend to be much (!) more affordable than the ones written for public school materials.  

But, for now, Evan-Moor, EPS and Harcourt have a lot of books sitting on our shelves.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Homeschool Health Curriculum

A friend of mine asked me about health curriculum for homeschooling last night, so I thought I'd write this post.  I think that a lot of homeschoolers find themselves in the same pickle I've been in at times.  In covering all of the essentials, the extras like Health and Art (which are required in our state) sometimes seem like extra burdens.  I know this is why I use a textbook--it holds me accountable to the material.  I'm not as diligent with unit studies at this point in my life as I wish I was.  It is my weakness.  If I planned the units ahead of time during summer or winter break, I might have greater success though.  We all know ourselves.  This is something I've known about myself.  

I'm a textbook kind of person at this point in my life so it's been  easier for me to use a health textbook. I did find one that I like a lot (and that my kids enjoy reading).  It's Harcourt Health and Fitness (grades K-6).  The K curriculum was the only one that was expensive (via Ebay for $40).  There's a textbook and a workbook.  For the text and workbook (used) on Amazon, first grade is only $8-9 (incl. shipping).  So, it's affordable and the workbooks are reproducible.

In kindergarten, I originally tried Horizons' health curriculum.  It was written for a classroom setting and was way too much work for kindergarten (for my daughter and for me).

Another way to teach health is to teach it the way many people teach art.  Teach one or two units each year to all of your children at once.  Here are the basic health topics in the curriculum I use:  taking care of yourself, food pyramid/healthy eating, exercise, keeping safe, emergency safety, preventing illness, medicines and other drugs, and smoking and alcohol.  I tried to find a homeschool curriculum online, but sometimes the web is overwhelming and I still can't find what I want.  So, if you want to do a unit study, order one of the Harcourt books and use it as a guide to design a unit.  It will help you know what to teach your children.  I use a curriculum, because I realized that there is a lot more to health than meets the eye (ie. helping your children understand advertising and being a healthy consumer).  What does it look like to teach a unit?

Choose a topic and set your learning goals.
Make an outline of the information/lessons you want your children to learn about the topic.
Choose a few learning activities to help your children learn.  Here's a page with a great list of learning activities to choose from.

I do think all of the topics I listed for health are important.  So, I'd divide them up over a few years or keep a list on hand of what I want them to know and talk to them about these topics as we're going through the year in addition to the specific topics chosen for that year.  

I suspect this is what I will do when my children are in 7th and 8th--design a research project (or two) for them on one or more of the health topics I mentioned earlier.    

Friday, May 25, 2012

Preschool Curriculum

Preschool is a fun, informal time for me and my kids in their schooling.  I was like a lot of parents when Autumn was little.  I was so anxious to get started with her education.  My husband was anxious that I would be consistent with her schooling.  So, of course I did far more than I needed and pushed too hard.  But, I learned my lessons and Sami and Eli have had an easier time of it.

I started with two questions.

1) What does my child need to learn?

2) What curriculum should I use?

To answer #1, I found several assessment tools and a scope and sequence that really helped me know what my children needed to learn.  I like the World Book Scope and Sequence's preschool list.  World Book Preschool Scope and Sequence.

Twice a year, I go through the list and put a date by the skills my child has learned.  By  
the end of preschool, they should be able to do all of the things on the list and be ready 
for kindergarten.  The list has helped me remember some things that I need to teach them that
I've forgotten.

I also use these assessments:
I also use this report card for PK and Kindergarten:

Handwriting without tears also has some free Pre-K assessments on their website.  You just 
need to register for a free account to have access to them.  

For curriculum, I've found several things that I love.  
Here is the basic curriculum I use.  

PreK-3 Curriculum  
2 days/wk 15-20 min. at a time

I do one weekly activity from Slow and Steady Get Me Ready.  You can start with this book as young as you want. But, when my kids have been 1 and 2 I've always had my hands full.  So, I start using it with PK3.  The directions from the book are to do one activity a week from birth.  Instead, I do 1 activity each time.  A long time ago, I took the list of activities and compared them to a preschool scope and sequence and amazingly this book covers every one.  The main things you need your child to learn in Preschool are to listen to and follow directions.  

Hooked on Phonics PK--I practice one letter each week.
Lots of Read Alouds (Honey for a Child’s Heart)--My child picks out 2 read alouds they would like me to read each time.  

Favorite Read Alouds:
Spot Books
Franklin Books (boy)
Maisy books (girls)
Hooray for Fish
Curious George
Do's and Don'ts
Denise Fleming 
Byron Barton 
Richard Scarry 
Steven Kellogg 

Bible Storybooks
The Read Aloud Bible Stories by Ella Lindvall, v. 1-4

PreK4 Curriculum
3 days/wk 30-45 min. at a time

Slow and Steady Get Me Ready--1 activity each session 
5 min.

Letter of the Week Bk1--1 letter a week (all year)
15 min. 

Hooked on Phonics-PreK (fall)
5-7 min.

Get Ready for the Code (start in spring)
4 min.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons--start when my child knows all of his/her letters (spring)--I prefer this book to others on the market.  Reading is a whole discussion on it's own!  There's a lot of different approaches out there.
5-10 min.

Handwriting without Tears Get Ready for School book (teacher's guide is helpful because it identifies the challenges with learning how to write and correct posture, etc.)  
5 min. 

Favorite Read Alouds:
Biscuit Collection
Curious George Collection
20 min.

Child’s Play (Singapore Science)
5-8 min.
This is also a great time to plant a sense of wonder.  Go on hikes, make collections.  Plant a garden together (my favorite gardening book for kids is out of print, titled Kids Garden!)

Developing Number Concepts Bk1--a great book!  This is written for classroom teachers but it really helped me understand the math concepts my children needed to learn early on and explained their struggles with number sense.  
Singapore Earlybird Math Stds. Edition, Bk A (spring)
10-15 min. 

The Big Picture Bible (bedtime)

I really debated this year with Eli.  I had all of the curriculum above.  I saw a new curriculum that really appealed to me.  I weighed the cost with how well what I have works.  In the end, I concluded that it would be wiser to just use what I have.  My list may seem long, but in practice it doesn't take long at all.  My estimates above are on the high end.  When you only have one student, it doesn't take long!  My estimate totals about 40 min. plus read alouds.  

Basically, you need an alphabet curriculum, a beginning reading curriculum (hooked on phonics, teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons, ordinary parent's guide to reading...), an introductory math curriculum, fun workbooks...

Every mom finds resources that they loves along the way and these are the ones I've found and have enjoyed!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Something to think about

I was going through some of the papers I'd saved from my classroom teaching last week and came across a paper with this quote:

How We Learn
10% of what we READ
20% of what we HEAR
30% of what we SEE
50% of what we SEE and HEAR
70% of what is DISCUSSED with OTHERS
95% of what we TEACH TO SOMEONE ELSE

~William Glasser

I often will say that it is good for children to both hear something and see the text at the same time.  This is why.  This quote also reminds me of how important it is that we engage with our students and children about their schooling.  They are far more likely to remember what they've learned if we do.  It was a good reminder for me about how important it really is to engage with my children!

Testing and Homeschooling

It was an interesting week for me.  I walked into it apprehensive with certain ideas about testing.  I walked out of it with very different ideas and comfortable administering standardized tests.

I have not had an overly positive perspective of testing because of my public school teaching background.
In the public schools, such huge importance is placed on the results of standardized tests.  Teachers are judged by them.  Students are judged by them.  Teachers can lose their jobs by them.  The problem though is that we are not all created the same.  God didn't make us all equals.   Our strengths are not identical!  So, how can all children be judged by the same measure?  Okay, now I'll get off my soap box.  Knowing that I'll feel this way, you'll probably be surprised to hear how my adventure in testing turned out this week.

As this year was beginning, I thought about what I could contribute to the homeschool umbrella (oversight group) that I'm a part of.  I knew I could qualify to be a tester so I thought I would propose that as my commitment to the umbrella.  I applied to Bob Jones to be a tester and was approved to administer the ITBS and the Stanford tests.

As the year progressed, I felt more and more apprehensive about administering the ITBS.  I even thought it would be better if I tested with some other folks first before I did it on my own.  But, several moms wanted to test in the umbrella so I knew I needed to follow through!  I talked to one gal who had conducted the testing for the umbrella before, but I was still anxious.

I took one step at a time and trusted the Lord.  I ordered my daughter's test and emailed the other families the ordering information they needed.  Everyone got their orders in and I waited.  The week before our scheduled testing date, the tests arrived.  I checked the box to make sure everything was in it and looked over the instructions that Bob Jones sent.  Then, I set aside the box until the morning of the tests.  I scheduled the tests to go over 4 days (it was the ITBS plus the CogAt--Cognitive Abilities test).

The first morning I was nervous, but after everyone sat down, I passed out the tests.  And we got started.  I followed the directions and the students took their tests.  I also saw that the Lord was right there alongside me. I don't believe in chance.  I believe that the Lord is in control.  So, there were some neat things I saw happen and several lessons I learned.

1) When I sat students down, I made sure that no one was sitting by anyone who was taking the same grade test.  Only two students were at the same large table taking the same grade test and I put a vase of flowers in the center of the table.  This worked well.

2) Next time, I will ask parents ahead of time if their children are quick readers or if it takes them longer to read what they need to.  I am thankful that the students who were the quickest to finish all were at the same table.  It is discouraging to students if everyone always finishes ahead of them.

3) On the last day, I heard one student comment about how easy a test was.  I hadn't heard this discussion earlier in the week, though I wish I had!  I addressed it with the whole group.  I explained that we all have different strengths.  One test may be easier for someone and harder for another, but the opposite may be true for another test.  When we say things like that, it can make other people feel bad.  We may not mean to, but we say things about how easy something is simply without thinking of others.  I gave them two examples of this.  1. I did the same thing when I was in 8th grade and several girls told me never to talk to them.  I didn't realize what I was doing and that it bothered them so much.  2.  My husband knew just where the A/C filter was and I had no clue!  But, I painted the walls and painted straight lines around the ceiling without tape.  Different people, different strengths.

4) Put a piece of paper between the front and back of the test, so that the pencil lead doesn't bleed through onto the back during the test.

5) Teach them how to fill in a bubble.  Make circular motions to fill the circles in without going outside of them.

6) Don't pack the schedule too tight.  Stop by 12:30 p.m.  The morning is the best time for testing.

7) Explain the difference between social studies and history.  Both subjects are intended to help students understand their world.  Social studies starts from the student out.  Picture a bulls-eye.  Individual, community, city, state, country, world.  History starts at a certain point in history and moves forward chronologically.  Many homeschool students study history rather than social studies (like public schools) so the social studies test will be very foreign to them.   

As for the benefits of testing?  Is it a worthwhile experience?  Yes.  Definitely, yes.  I would recommend testing to homeschoolers.  I don't want my school district to have records on my child (it's not required in my state), so I am willing to pay for the test myself.  It's free if I wanted them to take our state's tests.

What do I see as the benefits?

The state looks to the tests for the results--to tell how students are doing and what they know.  I actually think the tests are a poor assessment of this.  I wouldn't look to the ITBS or the Stanford 10 to do this.  I watched all of the students.  I observed them.  

So, if not the results, why would I want to test?

1)  Learning how to fill in the circles.  They are going to take tests all of their lives and they actually need to know how to do this and practice it.

2)  They need to practice taking timed tests in a non-stress environment when grades and other things (ie. college entrance) are not dependent upon the results.  It will help them feel more comfortable down the road when the stress is there.

3)  They need to understand how to take a test.  For example, two of the students whispered to themselves out loud during a math test to themselves without realizing it.  I spoke with each of them to tell them to stop.  But, they needed to know they did this.  Homeschooling is different than the classroom setting and sometimes as moms we don't know what will happen in a classroom setting.

4)  They need to experience a classroom setting for testing like they will many, many times down the road.  They need to learn not to look at other people's tests and not be concerned about how others are doing.  

5)  They need to learn how to think of others and not go on and on about a test if it is easy for them.  

6)  It is good for them to practice switching gears quickly between questions and the topics being tested.  

7)  It is good for them to be surprised by something they don't know how to do and learn to try the problems.  This will happen to them over and over in different settings and environments.  One of the biggest weaknesses I saw in my students in school was the inability and even refusal to try a problem they hadn't seen before.

8)  The same types of problems on these tests will be on the SAT/ACT and other standardized tests down the road if they go to college.  As homeschoolers, we don't teach to the test and so our students are usually unfamiliar with the way they ask the questions and they types of questions they ask.

9)  A real test is more valuable than a practice test (also available from Bob Jones) for reason #7.  A practice test mitigates this experience and challenge.  It may give more accurate results of the knowledge they have, but it depends on what your purposes for testing are.  

10) The results can be helpful.  It can give you an idea of how your children do on standardized assessments.  I wouldn't put a huge amount of stock in them, but they can give you ballpark ideas.

11)  I shared with my students about when to guess and when not to, what an educated guess is, and that you need to know if guessing penalizes you or not.  If guessing penalizes you (if the answer is wrong), then don't guess unless you can narrow down the choices.  

12) You and your children need to know that you don't have to be afraid of standardized tests.  As homeschoolers, we are very apprehensive, often with good reason, about our competence as homeschoolers being judged by the results of tests our children take.  I was a public school teacher and the reality is that many public school teachers do feel threatened by homeschoolers.  There is the unspoken statement that parents think they can do a better job than the teachers--that's why they are homeschooling.  This threatens public school teachers security in their jobs.  We also take funding away from the schools in our areas when we keep our children home--since they receive funding based on the number of students in their schools.  I remember asking a reading specialist at a local school for suggestions about how to help my daughter who reads way to fast and skips words.  I was amazed at how quickly I felt defensive and insecure I felt about my homeschooling because of how this teacher spoke to me.  I even have my master's degree in education and am a licensed teacher!  I still felt insecure.  I have never forgotten this experience, though it happened 2 years ago.  All that to say, we don't need to be afraid.  We are teaching our children and if our children are severely deficit in some skill it will come out on the test.  That is a good thing!  Then we can address it and remediate it by using a supplement to our curriculum or adding a few lessons to help our students in a weak area.

12)  It is good for students to test in a safe environment that is not their home and listen to other adults.  It's good practice and a good experience.  

So, those are my very long thoughts about why it is a valuable experience for students to test.  If your state doesn't require testing, I'd encourage you to think about it.  It isn't necessary every year.  Public Schools only test every other year.  And I wouldn't test before third grade.  

One last note, I would recommend the ITBS over the Stanford tests because the Stanford is no longer timed and I think that's one of the positive benefits of the experience of testing.  Also, grades 3-9 can be tested together for the ITBS, but the Stanford has smaller testing grade groups.  It's easier to manage the ITBS.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What will my life sound like when I'm gone?

I suppose that's a very strange question to ask myself, but I started reading a book this morning that made me think about it.  I'm reading the fourth and final collection of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's letters.  The editor, one of her sons, writes of how she made carbon copies of everything she wrote, as did her husband.  She was a diligent record keeper.  I puzzled about this when I read his descriptions of her writing habits.

I have only just begun to read the book and I am hoping that my understanding of her habits will grow as I read more of it.  But, I am very struck by the value she placed on her own thoughts and writings--and the value she assumed others would place on these writings.

The other thought that struck me was how she talks about God.  Her statements remind me of how my own grandmother viewed God.  I do not get the sense yet that she had a relationship with God.  She tells her children Bible stories, identifies that ability we have to forgive one another is the touch of God in each one of us, that God had mercy on her when she miscarried.  It is not my place at all to judge what her relationship with God was like.  He knows.  I don't.

But, it made me think about whether God is a part of my conversations.  If someone were to read things I wrote--would they know that I love the Lord?  Would they know that I believe in Jesus?  Would they know that I love others with the love that He has given me?  What would someone think?

What would someone think of me and the things I say?  I hope that they would hear my heart in the things I write and have written.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How do you live your life?

Periodically, I think about facebook and miss knowing how people are (it's been 2 or 3 months since I deleted my account).  The reason it came to mind last week is that I realized I haven't seen pictures of our nieces and nephews for a while and I miss seeing how they're doing.  But, it came to mind this morning in light of one of the effects I started to see on my thinking the longer I'd been on facebook.

I had a thought provoking conversation with a friend today at church.  My friend explained to me the reason why her husband didn't want their kids to have digital cameras yet.  He desires for his children not to live their lives through a camera.  I came home and discussed this with my husband.  He and I discussed the effect that constant picture taking can potentially have on one's life.  I don't have a name for this effect, but my husband articulated it this way.  He said our desire to take pictures can have several purposes.  One of those purposes can be a creative outlet--an artistic expression.  Another purpose can be to "document our lives".  On the face of it, that doesn't sound like a bad thing.  We all want to remember what has happened and pictures can help us do that.

But, we can also get caught living our lives through the lens of a camera--rather than really living it.  Taking a picture, posting it, and having people comment (either positive or negative) does not validate the event.  It doesn't make whatever has happened more meaningful or worthy of rememberance.  But, when we document everything and get praise for that documentation, a cycle can begin.  That cycle is one of the desire for positive affirmation of the memory.  

I think this affirmation is especially alluring to stay at home moms.  We are the only ones who often witness the milestones of our children's lives when we are home with them.  It's been interesting having my mom live with us, because she gets to experience those milestones alongside me while my husband is at work.  And I have to admit that it increases my enjoyment to get to share the things that happen with her as they happen.  

But, there's a fine line.  Our enjoyment should ideally be first in the moment and then second as we share with others--whether by email, picture, text, etc.  If our enjoyment isn't first in the physical moment on our own, then we won't be fully present.  For me, it is a slippery slope.  It was a slippery slope.  

What was once an artificial reality is now truly considered part of our everyday reality--email, facebook, texting... Many people, I think, consider the relationships built over these medium every bit as real as the relationships they maintain with people in person.  But, there are some dangerous consequences to this.  We can start to put priority on those relationships over the ones near us.  They are convenient and make us feel valued.  My husband jokingly calls the computer our "Skinner box", named for B.F. Skinner.  I believe he read this phrase in a book written by Alan Jacobs.  Skinner's idea was that rather than continual rewards, intermittent rewards are actually more effective at changing behavior.  Email and facebook fit that reward system to a tee!  

But, back to the picture taking idea.  Next year, I'm planning on teaching my children about photography.  I love to see God's creation through the lens of my camera.  That is my primary purpose in taking pictures.  But, I do take pictures to help me remember people and capture expressions.  It doesn't make my life more meaningful because it's documented, but I'm interested to see what lessons God has for us as we embark on that adventure next year!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Encouraging Song

I heard this song a few days ago on Pandora and loved it.  One of the downsides of living in a society that has so much is that discontentment runs rampant and is quite contagious in our society.  I find myself fighting it regularly.  Recently my husband and I rewatched Office Space (which I don't recommend).  As with many movies, it was a lot worse than we remembered.  (Our memories had become selective about what we remembered from the movie.)  The plot centers around a group of employees who complain about where they work and don't like it--which is admittedly crummy.  Anyways, I heard this song and loved it.  

I actually do thank God for parking places!  I love to thank God for the little things.  Often life is not the way I want to be, but I trust Him and His plans.  I hope this song will encourage you too.

PS I did purchase this album via Amazon's MP3 download store and I like it a lot!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Corduroy Writes a Letter

Several years ago, I bought a book at a garage sale titled Corduroy Writes a Letter.  We've read it many times over the past few years.  The plot of the book centers on Corduroy who writes several letters to people.  They listen and fix the broken sign, add more sprinkles back to the cupcakes, etc.  

I'm one of those people that's a little like Corduroy.  If there's something I'm concerned about, then I write a letter to the editor about it.  If I buy something at the store that is bad, then I call the customer service line and let them know--I don't want anyone to get sick from something.  If something doesn't work, I call the customer service for the company and let them know.  I will say that I also call if something works really well!  I compliment employees and am glad to give praise.  

So, when Autumn discovered that Dove chocolates didn't put sayings in their Valentine's candies, she was quite disappointed.  I encouraged her to write a letter.  She did.

She also got one in return.  I was quite surprised by it, though.  I think you'll understand why from this excerpt:

"Unfortunately mars Chocolate North America doesn't accept any ideas from outside of our company.  We have a very creative Research and Development department that works on developing new and exciting products for consumers to enjoy.  A lot of time goes into manufacturing and marketing a new product idea, sometimes even years before a finished product is introduced.  It is important ot everyone at Mars Chocolate North America that our finished products are perfect!"

I had two reactions to this letter.

1) As I read the letter, I pictured the world of Huxley's Brave New World.  I know that sounds horrible, but this paragraph made me feel like a little marionette.   The marketers market, and I'm expected to act like a puppy dog and lap it up.  Blech!  I suppose I'm a bit extreme in my reaction, but the words were so cloyingly sweet and fake that I reacted strongly.

2)  All they really needed to say was thanks for the suggestion.  My 8 year old daughter didn't really need to read a politically correct letter of rejection.  This letter is the stuff that feeds cynicism about our world and the corporate climate we live in.  My husband saw it as a good thing, though.  He felt it conveys to Autumn something about the real world.

So, if you're thinking about a similar assignment, I'd caution you to 1) not write to Mars Chocolate or 2) not to mail the letter.  There's my cynicism already creeping in.  I'm sorry.