Monday, April 30, 2012

One Minute History Videos! « Homeschool Freebie of the Day

This is one of my long standing favorites for free material to use homeschooling.  Be sure to sign up for their mailing list for extra discounts and specials.

One Minute History Videos! « Homeschool Freebie of the Day

Homeschool Curriculum

Homeschool Curriculum

This is another big family - 6 children doing school days from K - 12th grade and a couple of smaller children, I think the baby is 2, just a little older than my girl.

They do school more structured - like I do. And they have a big enough budget to get what they want and to explore possibilities.

Homeschool Curriuculum for 2011/2012 | Raising Olives

Homeschool Curriuculum for 2011/2012 | Raising Olives

Back to school plans ... different families adapt and do things differently - and this particular family of 10 children ranging from 1 to 14 uses a Charlotte Mason approach.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Homeschool Method: Montessori

The Montessori Method is well known in well educated circles.  Montessori Preschools are among the elite schools, and very expensive - but teaching Montessori style doesn't have to be expensive, and it can be done at home.

According to Wikapedia ...


Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, as well as technological advancements in society. Although a range of practices exists under the name "Montessori", the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential:[2][3]
  • Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • Constructivism or "discovery" model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
In addition, many Montessori schools design their programs with reference to Montessori’s model of human development from her published works, and usepedagogy, lessons, and materials introduced in teacher training derived from courses presented by Montessori during her lifetime.


I follow Chasing Cheerios, and highly recommend it, although the best stuff is way back in 2007 - 20010.

Another blog I read about the same time was A Bit of This and A Bit of That.  I highly recommend digging back into her older posts when Ebi-kun was a toddler and preschooler.

Both of these blogs made many of their own equipment for their homeschools.

To explore Montesorri methods ...  here are some links to other blogs that have been highly recommended for those using the Montessorri method. ... 


I didn't hear about Montessori Method's until my mom started to babysit a child who attended a special preschool using this method.  Story and Song were already doing schoolwork, the internet was not as well developed as it is now, and so I didn't give it much thought ... until Scholar came along and blogging, and I began to see this name pop up again and again.

For the most part, this is not a method that I have implemented in my home.  For starters, it requires a LOT of creativity on the parents part - and I'm not a creative person.  Second, I didn't have space to dedicate to a "creative" and "exploration" area.  Third, many of the things people were using were very expensive.

In the end, I settled on following a few blogs - the two above became my favorites - and implemented ideas whenever I was able to do so.

When learning the months and days of the week, we cut up an old calendar.  This one had extra large squares and only long parts across the top with the month names in large letters.  On the back, the same thing but little so you could see what was inside before you purchased it.  At first, he put the months in order with the little ones still together, and later we matched them up.  We did something similar with the weekdays.  He enjoyed it.

I couldn't bring myself to waste a whole bag of rice just to make a sensory box, but we had a yard of sand, so I let him dig through the sand for buried pennies and aquarium rocks.  

Whenever something caught my interest, and I was able to make it myself, we would apply it to our stack of "games" to play.  In this way, I used the Montessori method as an extra learning tool and not the fundamental tool.

If you are a very hands on and creative parent, you might find this teaching/ learning style to be to your liking.  But even if you don't, it has a LOT to offer in activities, especially for slow learners, accelerated learners, and highly inquisitive children.  I've seen a huge amount of these methods "bled over" into therapy for teaching both autistic children and those with motor skills and verbal delays.

I would highly recommend digging around through the blogs, find one or a few that you like and can relate to, and following them for ideas and inspiration.  You don't have to use every single idea - but have fun with the things that inspire you to do something different with your child.  

The BEST thing about home schooling - you can adapt and use ANY education method to accommodate your teaching style and your child's learning style.  You never have to choose JUST one and stick to it.  

The Bad News About Homeschooling

Here is a delicious article that I ran across today.  I don't have time to add anything today, so have fun visiting one of my Homeschool Blog "neighbors".

The Bad News About Homeschooling

Friday, April 27, 2012

Homeschool Method: Unschooling

According to Wikapedia:  Unschooling is

Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, includingplaygame play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. There are many who find it controversial.[1] Unschooling encourages exploration of activities, often initiated by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.
The term "unschooling" was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the "father" of unschooling.[2] While often considered a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically separate from other homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Popular critics of unschooling tend to view it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their peers, especially in the job market, while proponents of unschooling say exactly the opposite is true: self-directed education in a natural environment makes a child more equipped to handle the "real world."[3]


Through the years, I've bumped into unschooling methods again and again.

On one end of the spectrum were families that little more than provided a roof over their child's heads and brought the toys, games, and food into the house.  The children had no structure to their days - the woke and slept as they wanted.  Each were allowed amuse themselves with  anything that interested them on TV or books or Computers.  The children wore whatever clothing they desired, and fixed their own meals - and were allowed to eat a box of cookies for breakfast if they desired to do so.  ...  I actually read about an elite school - 100 students - with this type of plan as their school day.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are families that strictly control everything that their child  does and learns, but there are no text books.  They cook and clean and do lots of chores - but there is also very little play.

Neither of these are what I'm suggesting.

But the thought of unschooling does intrigue me - I've just never been brave enough to completely embrace it.

Unschooling should involve lots of parent directed education, reading, counting, science, history ... but without the rote education of a text book and work books.

Take this family with six children for instance -  - Almost Unschoolers.
The children read, think, learn, create, and they are quite smart.  

Another family blog that does unschooling with their 10 children is Life in a Shoe -

Some other links to explore unschooling blogs ...

So what does a typical unschool look like?

There isn't one.  Every single one looks completely different.  Some travel, some farm, some live in the city, some are highly social, and some never leave home.   Some are highly technical, and some don't even have electricity.  Some are highly religious, and others have no religion at all.

What do they have in common to make them unschooled?

Each and every one of them takes the interests of the parents and the children and the way they live their life from day to day to teach every day lessons in life and living.  The children learn in a very hands on atmosphere.  They don't worry about "the holes" - their goal is to give their child every tool he or she needs to learn and think all by themselves.  They learn history by reading biographies, historical fiction, and visiting the locations for themselves.  They learn science by doing and experimenting and thinking.  They read books and bake cookies and do all sorts of things that parents "want to do" but never have any time for.

These children are given time to paint, draw, create, read, experiment, cook, learn music and foreign languages, they garden and raise animals.  They DO what  they show an interest in and that interest is allowed to consume the bulk of their time - allowing them to gain an adult knowledge of their subject.

Parents often are quite picky about the TV shows and movies watched, they buy tons of deep thinking books, science equipment, and the children are included in every detail of the family life.

One common erroneous thought about homeschooling is that they never use text books at all.  This isn't true, although the text books generally are not used the way normal schools use them.  The students ask to learn a subject (like Algebra) and the parent finds a curriculum for the child to use.  The child goes as quickly as they want.  As children approach Jr. High, most of them will have some idea of what they are interested in doing, and they will pursue the subjects that they need.  For instance, Story has a huge interest in all of her English subjects, because she wants to be an author.

So why don't I unschool?

Personally, I need more structure.  I need a plan.  My biggest downfall is getting so wrapped up in the plan that I fail to stop and let my child learn ... just like a public school does.

On the other hand, our school does have some unschooling characteristics.  I don't grade my kids work much.  The English and the Math are what I keep up with most.  We discuss what the kids are learning - and often in great detail.  My girls read tons, they each have their own blogs, Song raises rabbits and wants to resume raising goats, she writes stories and songs and sews, and she volunteers once a week at a horse therapy place learning to work with horses and special needs children.  Story writes books, knits, crochets.  She loves to cook.  She writes plays and still  plays like a 10 year old.   We have open end learning on many subjects.  I give assignments, and they take the time they choose to do them.  I'm a stickler for Devotions and Bible Memory - but I don't get bent out of shape if they don't know what year General So and So defeated the big army.

The philosophy for this method stems from parents looking around at teens leaving school, unable to remember anything with a few years and not knowing how to find out again if they needed to know.  It came from the age old question, "When I use this in real life?" when parents sat down and thought about the answers.  What things did they REALLY need to know?  What things did they have to learn the hard way because nobody taught them as children.

But I do think Unschooling is an excellent way to break into the homeschooling world, especially if you have a very young child.  It allows the parent to get to know their child and what they already do and do not know.  It doesn't have to cost any money at all ... or could be expensive if you choose to travel or buy lots of equipment.

The biggest danger in unschooling is laziness.  Mankind is ever lazy.  Parents leave the child to watch TV to learn, or computer games.  There is no adventure or interaction.  It becomes one long summer vacation.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Liberty Classroom | The history they didn't teach you.

Liberty Classroom | The history they didn't teach you.

Teaching without Workbooks - Getting Started

Preschool, and the first several years of school, can be taught without a child ever sitting down during the day and "doing school".

Teaching little ones has become a lost art, once upon a time, children learned to do this watching their parents teach younger brothers and sisters, cousins, neighbors, and nieces and nephews.   It is not hard, and mostly common sense.  But just like washing hands after playing, or eating, or using the bathroom - it just isn't the natural response of most humans.

But I wonder if it has been an art that has been "getting lost" for quite some time.  For the first time in about 25 years, I picked up a Grace Livingston Hill novel.  "The Enchanted Barn"  In the book, there was a 4 year old baby sister, but I was appalled to realize that the child seemed more like 18 months than 4.  Sunshine has far passed her at 2 1/2.  I found this rather shocking as the book was written in the 1900's.  But obviously, she hadn't been around a lot of young children.

However, parents all over the US are rediscovering how to do this and the benefits of doing so.

So as soon as the baby is born, you do a few very easy things.

1.  Keep baby with you as much as possible.  Baby will learn so much watching you and listening to you talk and interact with others.  Wearing the baby is even better, but not all mom's have the posture and muscle structure to do this all the time.  At least have the baby in the same room as you are - TV off - and as close to your activity as possible, whether baby is in a pack n play or a swing or bouncer seat, or a blanket on the floor.

2.  Talk to baby.  It doesn't matter at all what you say.  Talk about their body parts while dressing "Lets put your pretty toes inside your socks.  Look you have 5 toes.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Inside your purple sock they go!"  Include counting, colors, shapes, prepositions, opposites, and anything else you can as you chatter to the baby.  You will very quickly realize that by 6 months, your baby has a personality and understands much of what you are saying.  And MOST babies will have already started to play back and play with and respond to your chatter.

3.  Make games of everything you do - and include baby, especially as they begin walking and trying to imitate you.  In the beginning, this may just be giving baby a bowl and a spoon with a tiny bit of water, and scoot the high chair right up next to where you are mixing and cooking supper.  Sunshine loves to cut soft veggies, like mushrooms, with a kitchen knife.  Ironically, while she will not touch veggies on her plate at meals, she will happily munch down every veggie available while she is helping cut up salad.  Let baby fold washrags, mate socks, help sweep and put away silverware.  Teach to do it the right way, and it will rapidly become just part of the babies store of knowledge.  

4.  Read, read, read.   And talk about the pictures.  Visit the library and rotate books through your house.  Having a favorite book is fine - but add a new book at least once a week.  Don't be shy about reading long classic stories such as The Wind in the Willows, science and history books, and other "deep" topics.  In recent years, a whole host of "picture books" have been written to appeal to younger and younger audiences.  Magic Tree House, Magic School Bus, Dr. Seuss Science books, American Girls, and so much more.  Early readers can be be enjoyed by even very young 1 and 2 year olds.  There are so many Free Kindle books available as well, and Scholar loves to stand at our computer and read the picture books to Sunshine.

5.  Play outside.  Outside time provides so much good for a child.  You get the Vit D from the sunshine that helps build up the immune system, strengthens the blood and bones, and stimulates the brain.  Running and climbing and moving around helps develop the kinetic learning centers of the brain, plus allows for development of both gross and fine motor skills.  The sounds outside will help develop the auditory learning centers of the brain - birds singing, laughter, children's chatter, dogs barking, all of it stimulates the ears and the brain so much better than inside noise - because the brain has to also work out how far away and from which direction the sound is coming.  It also stimulates the visual learning centers of the brain because the eyes are constantly changing the focus length of their eyes to see up a tree, down to the ground, across the street, and the bug crawling across their fingers.

6.  Art and Creativity.  At this age, art is so easy.  Babies can be amused with a spot of canned whipped cream on their high chair trays, a stack of blocks, or gibblets of colored paper, even their supper can be an effort of creativity - although I do not really encourage playing with their food.  But as your child grows, cheap or free craft items are easy to find.  Start with basic school supplies - buy glue when it is 25c a bottle during the back to school sales, a very good pair of scissors, glue sticks, crayons and colored pencils.  I actually avoid markers until my child is 5 or so.  Then watch for recycle crafts.  Actually, just turn your child loose as they get older.  You should see the things seven's children come up with!   Things to save include clean plastic bottles, cereal boxes, scratch paper, bottle lids, odd bits of games and puzzles, strings, buttons, yarn, bits of left over craft projects - like the cut off parts when sewing or scrapbooking.

Anything you say or do can be turned into a learning experience for a child.  Keep your eyes open, don't go overboard (Baby doesn't need a college explanation of a blue sky), and be open to your child's interests and shortcomings.   The goal is to encourage a love of discovery and learning, and a willingness to find out and solve problems.  What they know is far less important as knowing how to learn something new.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Homeschool Preschool - Age 4

At least 60% of 4 year olds are ready for a little bit of more formal learning.

For the creative parent, this can still look like fun and games, cooking and cleaning, chores and adventures, and be pulled off as just part of the day.  In fact, this is the best way for any child to learn - just by living and doing and playing.

Yesterday, I talked about homeschooling a 3 year old.
And much of that advice could also apply here.

If you have already followed some plan with your 3 year old, it is often best to continue with the plan as you had it the year before, adding 5 - 10 minutes to each area of your day, and upping from 2 days a week to 3 days a week.

Horizon lends itself well to this 2 days / 3 days approach.


If what you were doing as a 3 year old wasn't working - or if you have a 4 year old who you want to start "in school", then you might want to do something different a little different.

Not all children are ready for school even at 4, especially boys.  Some believe that a formal education should not begin until a child is 8 or 9 years old.  And if you are a parent who can provide a stimulating environment for learning and exploring - it really is the best way for a young brain to learn.

I suppose that would make a great topic for tomorrow - what does a day look like if you school without curriculum?

But for this post, I'm going to assume the reader wants to do something more formal with workbooks.

For starters .... limit your preschool time to 15 hours a week.  And you will be surprised how fast that 15 hours will go!  Of course, you will want to provide games and toys that will stimulate their brain the rest of the day as well.


Some Options:

1.  The Horizon Preschool curriculum (link above) is perfect for a full year with a 4 year old - The curriculum provides 180 days of school, and is one of the best all around curriculums put together for parents (or small schools) that give you every tool that you need.   You can use this curriculum to "do school" for 2 - 3 hours daily.

If you already used it as a 3 year old, you can drop that to 3 days a week, and do something else (or nothing special) the other 2 days.

2.  Rod and Staff ABC books :
I absolutely love this set - simple, fun, lots of cutting and pasting, but it has so much to offer.
The later books are are more a kindergarten level than Preschool.

3.  Read Books - lots and lots of reading.  Of course the library has enough to keep any preschooler busy for a few years.  But if you want something to keep at home,
Rod and Staff has this set

4.  Christian Liberty has a new Preschool curriculum

5.  Dollar Store and Walmart Workbooks

6.  You can always peruse the CBD catalog for
"far too much to decide"

7.  Love To Learn Catalog -

8.  AWANA Cubbies ... if you go and you want a GREAT Bible curriculum, ask for the Cubbie Character Builders books.  There are 2 of them - one for each year of Cubbies.  And they are AWESOME!


What did WE do??

Story ---  Covered everything I could find as a 3 year old.  I went ahead and started her in Alpha Omega Kindergarten.

If I had to do it over again - I wouldn't have let her go so fast.  I think I could have found more for her to do on computers and cut/ paste/ art.  But I also had a baby in the house, and Story being rather ADHD - I did what I thought best at the time.

Song ----  Was still working on the workbooks that we hadn't yet completed as a 3 year old.  She preferred hands on activities.  And our life was just beginning to settle down after a hard year.  But the Ref wasn't working, so we were trying to keep all purchases to a minimum.

Scholar ---  We used the Horizon Preschool, 3 days a week.  Plus I used extra workbooks on the other days.  Scholar LOVED workbooks and would happily sit piddling around with school work for hours.  He loved to draw and work with manipulatives.  I started him in the Horizon Kindergarten books just after Christmas.  We did those 2 days a week, and continued finishing up the Preschool.  I also used the AWANA  Character Builders Cubbies books A and B (we are STILL working on book B).

Obviously, our 2 year old Sunshine isn't ready for this yet.  But I'm planning to use a similar approach to what we did with Scholar.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Teaching Preschool - age 3

Not all 3 year olds are ready for formal schooling.  Probably far fewer than a quarter of 3 year olds will thrive in a more formal "school" setting.  I happen to have kids that fit that bill, but I've also taught ones that did not.

Most children will continue to thrive with the list and suggestions in the post about teaching toddlers.

What are some signs that your 3 year old is really ready for a more official school day?

1.  Asking constantly for "school".
2.  Sitting down with paper and pencil and mimicking doing school work for more than 10 minutes at a time.
3.  Correctly holding pencils while writing without prompting.
4.  Showing interest in saying and identifying letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and other information.
5.  Teaching the dolls, cars, or pets.
6.  Able to follow 2 or more instructions correctly.
7.  Consistently picks up crayons and pencils with the same hand.
8.  When asked to draw a person, has at least 8 details.  Such as:  head, hair, 2 eyes, mouth, 2 arms, 2 legs
9.  Can copy a simple shape and trace slightly more complicated items  ...  draw a circle or a line, trace letters or a star
10.  Routinely sits still and quiet for 15 minutes of time doing a task - coloring, puzzles, games, etc.


Doing "official" or "real" school with a 3 year old should take no more than 10 hours a week.

Depending upon the child, you can teach every day for 30 minutes - 2 hours, or only once or twice a week for 2 - 4 hours.

This time should include no more than 15 minutes at any one activity.

When I do preschool, I attempt to break it up as follows:

5 minutes of prayers and pledges
10 minutes - Bible Story
10 - 15 min - Bible Craft or Color Page
5 - 10 mins - Flash cards (words, letters, anything being learned)
5 - 10 mins - writing / Phonics
30 mins - outside playing
10 mins - snack and potty break (although I allow them as needed)
30 min - video (educational - usually Science or History)
10 min - Math worksheet
5 min - Math manipulative
While I'm reading a story - or they are listening to a Book on Tape
15 min - puzzle or game
15 min - Art project

Time's are estimates, I try to stay under the max time, and be really flexible.

For my 3 year olds, I do this twice a week.
For my 4 year olds, I do this 3 times a week.


Story was a child who wanted to do preschool early.
But there was very little "official stuff" to purchase back then - she's 17 now!

We purchased anything written for preschoolers,
Coloring books,
Cut and Glue books,
Sticker books.

Mostly we found things at Wal-mart and the Dollar Store.
Some featured characters, like Pooh or Jumpstart.
Ironically, most of these books are still available, and can be still be purchased
for about the same amount we paid 15 years ago - $7 for a big book, 
and small books for 50c to $1.

Plus she loved being on the computer,
and had several Preschool Games,
such as Reader Rabbit and Jumpstart.

She played for an hour or more every day, whenever I was cooking and cleaning.

Story was voracious and had competed every book we had found, 
including most of the Kindergarten books,
before her 4th birthday.


Song went though most of the same books.
But we also found more - what a difference 2 years made.

She was a much slower worker, and loved to repeat pages.

I was also more laid back ... and we moved - TWICE that year.

While we did eventually finish all of her books,
it took more than one year.

She also enjoyed the computer games,
helped a bit too much by big sister Story.


8 years passed before I had to think about preschool again.

This time, Scholar had several cousins the exact same age.

Alpha Omega was offering a BRAND NEW
preschool curriculum.

I started the year with 3, and by the end of the year, I had 7 kids.
We met Tuesday's and Thursday's.
All of these were cousins - or very good friends.
We had so much fun as a group.

This is by far the best curriculum I have seen for a small group or 
starting out parents.

It was so easy to adapt to our needs.
There were stories to tell, crafts to do, exercises and PE activities, 
sometimes there were snacks, songs to sing, and worksheets 
that went along with each lesson each day.

The curriculum can be used as ONE year for a 4 year old or a slower older child.
or break it up into 2 years easily and do 2 days a week for a 3 year old
and 3 days a week to finish up as a 4 year old.

On the days that we didn't have our cousins around,
we used Rod and Staff books - 

and the same workbooks that Song and Story had used.

These were more to keep him busy while I needed him to be quieter while the 
big sisters worked.

He also spent time on the computer,
but not the same amount as his sisters.


Now it is Sunshine's turn.

She'll be 3 this Fall.

So I've ordered the books, and found a few random workbooks.

We'll see how she does,
but so far she seems very ready for more structure.

Plus, I STILL have 3 older kids.
So this will keep her a little busy.


The best advice I can give to parents
wanting to begin at this age ....

Don't push it.
Have FUN!
Do lots of hands on stuff.
Take messes outside if you can.
Read a lot.
Play a lot.
Talk a lot.
Pray a lot.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teaching the Toddler

One thing for sure, Toddlers do not need anything special for them to learn!  I've never seen a single toddler that didn't soak up as much information as possible as fast as they could.  They seem to be natural sponges.

I think the real danger comes in pushing them too hard to perfect the stuff that they are trying out.

Sunshine has recently discovered cutting.  She will latch onto any stray pair of scissors and any paper, and go to cutting with a vengeance.   I am so glad the our family is already in the habit of putting scissors away.   I could get all over her about how she cuts, and make her hold the scissors just so and cut on lines, but so far I've managed to just watch and gently turn her hands so that the scissors actually cut the paper.  I also encourage "cut, don't tear".  She has a stack of paper that she knows is OK to draw on ... so they must be OK to cut.  It's been a couple of weeks now since she cut anything important!

Montessori Method works really well for toddlers and most preschoolers.  Not that I've incorporated EVERY single thing that they do, but the idea behind it works.  As I understand it, the children learn through play and interacting with adults.

There are literally dozens of awesome Montessori inspired blogs.  When Joel was little, one of my favorites was Chasing Cheerios - because the Mom would use stuff she had around the house to recreate the expensive toys she saw in magazines.  It was so clever, and so do-able.   One project taught the months of the year - I found an old calendar and cut it up for a matching game - perfect!

If your toddler is your only/ oldest child - just add them to everything you do.  Teach them count by cooking and letting them help count the cups of flour and sugar and eggs.  Teach colors by sorting laundry.  Teach shapes by cutting cookies and sandwiches.   It is so easy to include a willing child whose main goal is to be with Mom (or Dad).

Picture "Song's First Scissors"

What do I have on hand for my toddler during the day?

Wooden Blocks

Lego Blocks

ABC blocks / Magnets - 3 D alphabets and numbers help fix a letter's shape in a child's mind.  One of the therapys for dyslexia, is to make clay letters and numbers, so the child can touch and feel the letter.  Little brains learn this way.

Sensory Tubs  ....  Actually, I have a yard of SAND ... and from time to time, I bury coins, beads, and other fun things ... all of the kids love treasure hunting.  Sensory tubs can be made with sand, rice, beans, leaves, and all kinds of fun items.  The internet has hundreds of ideas.

Bean Bags

Balls - a variety of sizes

Dolls - all sizes and types - avoid dolls with "real hair"

Buttons and shoe strings

Oversized beads - I have fun shapes and big wooden beads

Paper and art supplies - scissors, glue sticks, crayons, paint (I water down acrylic paints), markers, and colored pencils.  This is used at the table with supervision.   A home made desktop art easel can be made from a pizza box.

Boxes and tubes

Sticks and rocks

Cars and trucks

Board Books

Little plastic animals

Magnets - under supervision


Games (some of these can be tons of fun just letting an older toddler sit and play with the pieces and the board)

Rubber bands

Hair bows or loose ribbon

Oversized paper clips

Large nuts and bolts

egg cartons

And the list could go on and on ....  over the years I've just watched for things to catch my kids eyes, and tried to keep an open mind.  Story had a huge collection of stickers ... on juice can lids.  She loved to look at them and stack them.  Song had a bathtub funnel that we made from a milk jug.  Scholar use to run around with egg cartons full of rocks and leaves and sticks.

Taking walks and going to the park are wonderful too - moving, running, and sunshine help build brains and balance.

A toddler's world is all about exploring and imitating.   If you go out of your way to provide an environment on purpose to allow your child to explore and imitate you .... you will find that the "terrible two" stage is a lot less of a problem.   This is the age of learning - and becoming an individual.    Provide plenty of opportunity for curiosity ....  I've often allowed my kids to traipse kitchen supplies (spoons, bowls, cups, measuring spoons) up to the bathroom for bath time.

Relax, have fun, and try to see the amazing world that God made through the eyes of your toddler.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Basics of Curriculum Choice

When I started teaching 20 years ago, there wasn't much to choose from - Alpha Omega Lifepaces, Paces, Abeka,  Bob Jones, and a few other fat workbooks you could get at Walmart or the Dollar store.

But not anymore - there are hundreds of curriculums to choose from - many written by frustrated mom's looking for something that worked well with their own child.  Many small groups began to offer their curriculum more publicly - like Rod and Staff.  And then the computer age burst upon the scene.  Story was among the first groups to use the Alpha Omega Computer Switched on Schoolhouse.  She loved it!

One of my sister's uses a Charlotte Mason approach to school.  Another friend uses a Montessori approach.  There are online schools, computer curriculum, text books, and lifepacs.  There is life based learning approach (using life skills to teach other skills), Group based, Book based, Trivium based, and literally dozens of other approaches.  I'm sure I haven't a clue what they all are.  Just about the time I think I have heard of everything possible - somebody shows me a new one.   Some curriculum is short and sweet (2 or 3 problems and you move on) and others are full of drills and repetition.  On top of that you have right brained / left brained learners, and sensory, auditory, visual learning styles.  How's a Mother to choose???

Following are a list of some of my favorite curriculum.  It is by no means even half of what is out there ... but if you like some structure and tried and true - kids have graduated and done well - curriculum, most of these do fit the bill.  They might not work for you!   A good place to peruse through options .... is the CBD Homeschool Catalog.  They are viewable online or you can request a paper copy ...

Basic Curriculum:

1.  Alpha Omega -

You will find several options here.

Horizon is preschool thru 4th or 5th grade.  It teaches the basics of Phonics and Math as well as penmanship.  It can tend to be very intense.

Alpha Omega Lifepacs:  Each class 1st - 12th has 10 booklets called Lifepacs.  You can purchase tests to help fill in holes for an older child.  I used these in a Christian school and enjoyed them very much.  Kindergarten is only broken into 2 books for Phonics and for Math.

Switched on School house:  3rd - 12th Grade - all on your home computer.  You can also purchase the online school package - which gives your child an outside teacher to tutor and grade the work.

Weaver:  Group study curriculum, allows a parent to teach many ages/grades/levels at the same time.  Special age appropriate assignments can be assigned for individual work.

2   Rod and Staff:  These are Mennonite School curriculum.  They are deep, plain, and thorough - I found the 8th grade curriculum to be harder than many of the 12th grade texts.  My kids have LOVED their English.  They do NOT have an onlie presence, you have to call and order from them directly.   BUT  there are two locations that will process the order for you, they take the order, call it in for you and have it sent right to your door.   The costs are sometimes a tiny bit higher ... so a $100 order called in directly, might end up being $108 instead.   they teach with an Armminian Biblical view.

3.  All Through the Ages:  ....  Only for History, and maybe early science if you want to teach via biography's.   This book has revolutionized the way I teach History.  And we LOVE it!!!

4.  Abeka  ...  I've taught through many of the books when I taught in a Christian School.  The elementary books were ok, but I was not at all impressed with their Math and Science.  They may have rewritten the curriculum since then.

5.  Christian Liberty:   ...   I've liked what I have ordered from them.  But I've not ordered much.  They are full Calvinism.  But sometimes the books seem to be lacking in depth.  We have used the Penmanship, Spelling, and several other of their books.

6.  Saxon:  Not my style of teaching Math ... but for many, it is exactly what they need and love.

7.  Doorposts:  ...  Great for teaching Bible and Life Skills.  The books can be used over and over, and accommodate K - Adult.  Written by a Homeschool Mom.

8.  Love to Learn:  .... another Homeschool Mom, she features shorter curriculum and hands on tools and games.  Especially useful for Prek - Jr. High.  She's tested all of the products on her own children and grand children.  ....  And while you are there, look for the tab marked "Heart to Heart with Dianne" and read about their son Ammon's miracle over Christmas and his struggle with brain damage.

9.  For Science, we've fairly recently discovered Apologia.    I tried to wing it, but our library just wasn't cutting it for Jr. High and High School.  My sister started telling me about this curriculum, and we found the first editions on sale at 50 - 75% off, and were able to buy the High school books.  My girls LOVE them.

This barely scrapes the tip of what is out there.

Of course, there is always the Walmart / Sams  "Everything you Need to Know in the X Grade" books as well.  Some of those are very well written!

Deciding How to Homeschool Your Child

For almost a decade of homeschooling, I tried to mimic the Public School experience for my children.  Story and Song stayed frustrated, and so did I.

Then a sister handed me a book she was reading

and suddenly a whole lot of our struggles made a whole lot of sense.

In a nutshell, she explained the 4 main personality types in a way that was easy to remember - I never could remember anything other than I was melancholy .... and that made me feel melancholy.   She used 4 letters,  D, I, S, and C.

D - Determined, Dominate .... In charge.  A General.  Usually an extrovert.  Rarely worries about consequences.  Tends to walk over people.  Tends to Do without a plan.

I - Inspired ... The Entertainer, always on the go, never met a stranger.  Usually an extrovert and rarely worries about consequences.  Tends to always include people.

S - Servant - A foot soldier, sharing, shy, soft hearted.  usually an introvert and usually worries about offending others and not properly meeting others needs.  Tends to think about others first.

C - Calculator, Controlled - The Brain.  Social skills do not come easy, loves to spout facts and figures.  Tends to over think EVERYTHING.  They can spend so much time planning, that they never get to the doing.

I am a C ... a very strong C.  But I also have a buried S side as well.

We quickly realized that Story was a strong I, with C capabilities.
Song was an S, with C capabilities.
and we finally decided the Ref was a I/S split.

Meanwhile, my best friend boasted a home of two D's (Mom and daughter), and an S Daddy.  They have since added a Girl I (with sensory and communication issues), a boy C/D, another strong D girl, and a Downs Boy.

Scholar is another strong S, with a strong C bend.
Sunshine appears to be my strongest C.

Since that time, we have also learned about Myers Brigg ... I'm an INTJ.  It breaks down the basic personalities even further.


just being able to understand those basic 4 types will help you greatly as you homeschool.

C's tend to make the best workbook students.  A pure C may want to sit and do workbooks for over an hour a day.

I's tend to want to go and do.  They learn best going to museums and being hands on.  They tend to be creative and want to share their fun with others.

There is no One Size Fits All when it comes to early learning.  You'll have to be willing to be flexible, but don't let the child call ALL of the shots.  Story (at this age) and Scholar work best with a bowl of cheerios - I can place a cheerio on each problem, and they get to eat it as they finish their work.  Song preferred stickers and stampers.

However, an "I" mother may want to take her children everywhere to do everything.  While a "C" mother may prefer to pile 3 or 4 hours of worksheets on a child's desk.  A "D" mother will tend to be so into HER schedule, that she doesn't think of the child's preferences.  And an "S" mother may back off too soon and never make the child do anything.

On the other hand, an "I" mom will often infuse tons of crafts, hands on activies, spur the moment field trips and other fun into her school day, while a "C" mother knows exactly what needs to be done each day and how she plans to get it done, field trips and fun are planned in advance.  D personality mom's will be the best at keeping everybody on schedule and making sure that nothing is overlooked on in the premade plan books,  and meanwhile, the "S" mom will be most sensitive their child's needs, allowing them a way out of crowd if they are shy, and spending all the time the child needs to learn something new.

Almost every mom is a blend of at least 2 of the personalities.  I highly advise reading the book before you start your homeschooling endeavor.

Now, fortunately for today's Homeschool Mom.  There is literally a curriculum for everyone.  Especially if you have the time and resources to get the very best for your child.  But still, between ebay and co-ops, even some of the pricier curriculum can be had for a reasonable amount.  Unfortunately, choosing can be very overwhelming.

Homeschooling styles also run the full spectrum.  At one end you have the super strict just like public school, attendance and flag ceremonies daily, structured from day break to sun set.  At the other end are extreme unschoolers.  The children school themselves - choosing everything from what they wear and eat, to whether or not they even learn anything that day - some sit and watch TV or play Nintendo's all day.

My early days were very close to the first end of the spectrum.  But this is not the style that was best for Story.  She needed a LOT more freedom.  And then Song struggled to understand the basics, leading me to jump from curriculum to curriculum and even had her repeating grades.  Dyslexia runs in my family - and Song struggled a LOT with it.  Unfortunately, life got in the way of the therapy that had I had used to help Story overcome her problems.  Life got in the way a LOT - and I soon began to realize that the lessons that they were learning during these times of stress and upset, were just as valuable as the sitting down learning.

But I'm a C.  I STILL stress about it.

We compromised.  I sit down and write a full lesson plan, type it into the computer, and hand it to them.  When they have completed the work, they move on.  We talk daily, so I get a good idea of what they are learning - in fact, both of the girls will quite happily bubble what they learn for days. I no longer bother with tests outside of Math and English.  History is completely a free learning experience.  We have structure - so I'm happy.  And they choose which subjects to work on and when, so they are happy too.

Scholar only has Reading, Phonics, and Math at present.  But he listens to his big sister's daily talk about history and science.  He also watches many movies and special programs about history and science.  He LOVES the Moody Science videos.

Some basic things to consider ...

1.  Do you want to be more out and about, or stay mostly in?

2.  Do you want a fully structured premade up curriculum, or do you want to have a bare bones flexible curriculum?

3.  Everybody in a single group?  or Each child does their own thing?

4.  Co-op group classes?  or Stay at home as much as possible?

5.  Structured attendance and schedule?  or  Free for all?

6.  How much can you spend?

7.  Fun color and fun?  or just the basics in black and white?

8.  Lots of hands on learning and projects and art and experiments?  or  Lots of Reading and Writing in a structured workbook?

9.  Is your child advances?  or struggling?

10.  Is your child creative with a wild imagination?  or more of a stick to the facts child?

11.  What kind of computers and internet do you have?

12.  Are you in a big city with lots to do, or out in the country and the nearest neighbor is 10 miles away?

Of course, there are dozens of other things that I haven't mentioned as well.

Homeschooling a Preschooler

When I'm asked what is the best curriculum for a child, and I'm asked quite often by new Homeschooling Mom's, I always respond, "It depends."

First, you have to know what kind of mother you have and the amount of time and money that you have to put into the effort.

Second, you have to know your child and what kind of time and effort you can expect from him or her.

For instance, after figuring up the cost of printing the "free sheets" available on the internet, and factoring in the time it was taking to hunt and print them, I realized that it was far cheaper and far less stress to purchase a basic curriculum book.  Plus, it forced me to cover subjects that I would have otherwise overlooked.

Workbooks work very well for me, and have worked well for my children.  But they are NOT right for every mother or every child.

What should a child know that is entering Kindergarten - an average, normal 5 year old?

This is a very rough list based on 20 years of working with 3 - 5 year olds.  It is not all inclusive, and many kids can do far more than this by their 4th birthday.

1.  Count to 10
2.  Count object to 10
3.  Know the basic shapes, triangle, square, rectangle, oval, star, heart, diamond, circle
4.  Know the 10 basic colors
5.  Tell Time to the hour
6.  know the difference between penny, nickel, dime, and quarter
7.  The alphabet names from A - Z, both upper and lower
8.  Write their first name ... or a nick name if they have a long name (6 or fewer letters seems to be the normal average)
9.  Recognize their name when they see it - and know when a similar name is not theirs - this doesn't mean that they will recognize their name in cursive or fancy script.
10.  Do very basic arithmetic  (2 bears + 2 bears is 4 bears ... with pictures or counters and help)
11.  Cut a bold line, straight, zig zag, and gentle curves
12.  Hop 2 or 3 times and stand on one foot for 5 seconds.  Most 4 year olds show a preference for one foot over the other.
13.  Jump forward 5 times without falling down
14.  Jump over a beam or rope held straight and still, and close to the ground.
15.  Basic climbing skills (like up a slide ladder taller then themselves)
16.  Run 50 yards
17.  Sit still for 5 - 10 minutes.  (This takes practice).
18.  Be able to trace words, shapes, and lines and pretty much stay on the line - not perfect, but you should be able to tell that they were trying.
19.  Draw a stick man with a head, 2 arms, 2 legs, eyes and a mouth.
20.  Identify common animals and objects by their correct common name that are not in their daily life.  Like the words in the baby word books.  Finding a basic child's first picture dictionary is ideal for this as well.

There are many simple things you can do with your child to build these skills without ever opening a book.

1.  Using scratch paper and a highlighter, mark shapes and their name on a page and have them trace it.  Use different colored highlighters so you can say, "Today we will trace the blue lines.  First let's do some squares."  (Draw 2 or 3 squares and let them trace.)  "Very good!  You tried so hard!  Now let's do a few circles.  Trace over these blue circles."  (Draw 2 or 3 circles.)

2.  Using the method in 1, write their name 2 - 5 times each day.  After they are really good at tracing, start dropping off letters, one letter per week, until they can write their first name.  You can then start teaching their last name.  Have them say each letter of their name as they write it.  You may have to hold their hand and teach the correct way to write their name for a few weeks.

3.  Play with blocks and other shaped toys ... constantly look for ways to add the names of shapes and colors into your conversations.  For instance, "I need 2 white oval eggs."

4.  Play outside - a LOT.  This helps build muscle, which will help them with balance, eyes and ear function, and so much more.  Encourage, running, jumping, climbing, and balance.

5.  Read.  A Lot.  The public library is wonderful for this.  But in our age of Mp3's and Books on tape, don't hesitate to to put on a nice classic novel for your baby to listen to during nap times or bed times and even play time.  I can't tell you how many dozens of times Story and Song have looked up while reading a novel for school and commented, "I think I've read this before, it seems familiar."

6.  During play time, avoid mindless cartoons on the TV.  If you want the TV on, stick to things like Baby Einstein, Signing Time, Nursery Songs, Moving Around Songs, Toddler exercise and dance, Classical music with pictures, and Educational items.  Avoid commercials.  It's quite alright if they watch the same 30 minute ABC video for 10 times straight.  But try to mix it up with Audio Books, and CD's of Classical music, and even white noise.  My mom use to put on a Fish Tank DVD that played a short classical tune over and over.  One day my nephew commented, "I like that fish there, because it always comes up and gives me a kiss on the TV."

7.  Art Projects ... especially from recycled things you normally would throw away.  The internet is full of wonderful ideas.  My favorite is The Crafty Crow.

8.  Make every moment a learning moment.  This doesn't mean you school all day, but that you try to put as much experience into everything you do.  Are you making supper?  Let your preschooler help, let them get out 3 cans of peas, 4 plates, the green cups, fold the napkins into a rectangle, place the fork and spoon above the napkin, and so on.  If you do it right, they will not have a clue that they are learning, beg for more, and it will get to be so much of a habit, that you will do it without thinking.   ....   This is how Sunshine has learned up to this point, and sometimes I'm astonished at how much she knows.

9.  Provide your child with open play toys ... blocks, kitchens, balls, shovels, legos, doll houses, riding toys ....  toys that force the child to use their brains and think to play.   Good old dirt and water and a spoon can provide hours of learning.  Shaving cream and a few pieces of a tea set in the tub - Scholar loves to play with his sand toys and cars in the tub.

10.  People.  Take the child out in public and let them observe other people.  Even if they sit on your lap at a park (for a very shy child) while you talk about manners and safety rules while they watch other kids play.  Let them hand up the items at a grocery story, or pay for something.  Help them learn to shake hands and say "How do you do, My name is ...." to people that they already know.  Adults have to teach children the proper social norms of their society - some can be learned from watching their parents and older siblings, but most of it will be learned watching older adults interact with each others in public places like grocery stores, malls, parks, church, and the like.  I have yet to see any child learn a social skill from another child.
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