Thursday, February 12, 2009

Home-school Series Part 4

Most days, "book work" will take 1 to 2 hours to complete. I've heard that home-schooling is much easier without little ones underfoot, but since I have always had a little one hanging around, I have nothing to compare. It is a challenge to work it all in and out! Last year, James was hard to deal with, as he was whiny and in those "terrible twos." I would put him in his high chair while Dori and Micah sat at the table with me and I would try desperately to keep James quiet and occupied long enough to read instructions to the kids. Playdoh is indespensible for this, as are the "special" coloring books that only come out during school time. This year, I have noticed that James is more into sitting down at the table with us and actually likes to color and pretend that he is having lessons, too. He learns peripherally this way, but I do get frustrated with the constant interruptions.

Math is easy for the kids to do on their own (I check answers), and only when new concepts are taught do I come into the picture. Micah loves math and Dori does not like it at all! She is like me. I usually try to get her to get it out of the way first and then she can enjoy the rest of her work.

There are so many choices out there for home-schooling curriculum. At first I found it overwhelming and had not a clue where to begin. I asked veteran HS moms and researched on the net, reading reviews and looking at catalogs and websites. My criteria for a HS curriculum was simple: inexpensive and easy to use. I really, really liked Sonlight, which is reading intensive and gets awesome reviews. However, we felt that it would be way too pricey since we would have to purchase several "core" programs. I do receive a catalog from Sonlight, yearly, that I store with my home-schooling materials, as it contains yet another fantastic reading list.

I know a ton of folks who use programs like A beka or Bob Jones with great success. This is more of a textbook/workbook approach and I have been impressed with the quality of the few materials I have used (workbook here and there).

I also like the philosophy behind Classical education. Here is a definition of classical education taken from "The Well-Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer: Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

I researched Tapestry of Grace, a classical curriculum that gets rave reviews, but decided against it for now, even though I absolutely love the concept and material covered.

I decided against it mainly because I know myself, and know that I would struggle with the amount of teacher prep work involved. From what I can tell it is extremely labor intensive on the mama--not what I need at this stage in my life!

So what did I settle on? A little Mennonite company called Rod and Staff.

Someone gave me several Rod and Staff English books when Dori was about 4, and to be honest, I thought they were sort of boring looking and old fashioned. I kept them, though, and one day while I was cleaning out the "homeschool cabinet," I noticed them and really took a good look at it. It was sweet...and also thorough. I mean, there weren't any colorful graphics or really any bells and whistles, but I was intrigued. I began to research reviews online and discovered that for the most part, all sorts of folks were happy with this company. Once I realized that the entire 1st grade package was cheaper than the teacher guide for Sonlight, I was sold. We use Rod and Staff Phonics, English, Math, and writing. It is extremely simple and so far we are really happy. I have to plug Rod and Staff's "kindergarten" curriculum, because it is so awesome, in my opinion. I bought this for Micah last year and he absolutely loved it.
I think the whole thing is about $20 and you get the sweetest little workbooks that are so much more than a glorified coloring book. These workbooks really helped Micah with his motor skills and the basics of writing. He didn't even want to pick up a crayon until he was 5!

In addition to Rod and Staff for math and language, I have used Oak Meadow this year to supplement where I see a need.
Oak Meadow is a secular holistic curriculum, loosely based on Waldorf education. Now the Waldorf stuff is out there. I love the emphasis on limiting screen time, using natural materials, art, music and including children in your daily home upkeep (like cooking and cleaning). But...and this is a huge BUT, lol, all the fairy stuff and weird anthroposophical stuff is totally contrary to our Judeo-Christian belief system. I will probably not purchase Oak Meadow again next year, but I'm glad for the experience we've had so far this year. Things I like about Oak Meadow: Weekly assignments as opposed to daily assignments; helps me with coming up with crafts; strong emphasis on art; laidback and not academic intensive. I skip all the weird stuff, and pull from it what I think will work for us.

Finally, as I mentioned in the previous post, I am a big fan of At first I guffawed at thinking of using a free online curriculum. I mean surely that must be sub-par, right? But I have since waken up to the fact that it is solid and thorough. I am *very* loosely using this, and did the same last year, but suspect that I will probably rely heavily on this curriculum next year. I am still new to home-schooling and getting my feet wet, but I think if I'm honest, I would love to use this curriculum exclusively.

Some pictures:

This was taken a couple of weeks ago right after Micah lost his front tooth. He has since lost the tooth next to it, as well.

This is a picture of Micah doing his phonics lesson from Rod and Staff.

This is a picture of Dori doing her Rod and Staff Math. It looks like we forgot to brush hair this morning!

This picture cracks me up. This is James' spot while we home-school. He usually colors, but many times "builds towers" with these homemade crayons I made melting broken crayon bits together in molds. James builds the tower and then knocks it down and starts over.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Reading--Home school series part 3

Sorry for the delay in posting. Our church hosted a Ladies Retreat this past weekend that I was blessed to attend. I'll be blogging about it soon, with pictures!

Some of the best advice I ever received from veteran home-schooling moms was to read to my kids as much as possible and let that be my first priority. This seems like such elementary advice, and yet, I have found that I get tempted to rely heavily on bookwork and "assignments" to teach, more-so than learning from reading good books and trusting in that old principal that if you teach a child to love to read he will love to learn.

There are days where it is incredibly hard to be home with all 4 kids and bear the responsibility of educating them, plus caring for their daily needs. I'm just being honest! There are days where I feel totally overwhelmed and fear I am not meeting educational needs. Then there are other days that I watch with wonder as the children repeat to me all sorts of facts that, get this, I didn't teach them. It is all from the wonderful books they read. Of course, this sort of thing can happen regardless of whether or not you home-school, I'm just laying the foundation for how I feel about reading.

Those days where everything is overwhelming and unexpected things happen are the kind of days that I will gather all 4 kids on the couch and snuggle up with a good book. I couldn't express enough how important I think it is to read to your children and teach them to love reading. One way to help them learn to love to read is to surround them with really good books.

One of my favorite online resources for home-schooling which includes a phenomenal book list is This website is a free curriculum guide for home-schoolers based on the educational method of Charlotte Mason. I confess I do not use it (at this point) for more than the awesome book list, so cannot speak about the actual curriculum, but the book list is fantastic. The books are timeless, interesting, challenging and so helpful in identifying books that our children do not need to miss out on reading. I have printed the list many times (it is sort of grade-based) and taken it to my local library and almost always the librarian will comment on what good selections the list contains.

I use "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons " by Siegfried Englemann to teach the basics of reading. It is a simple, dialogue based book that I have had great success using with both Dori and Micah. The lessons take about 15-20 minutes a day to complete. I think I started around 3ish with Dori, which was WAY too young, and around 4 1/2 with Micah. They have learned to read at different ages and paces, and I think that is normal. I haven't done anything formal with James yet. Learned my lesson with Dori. ;)

As soon as Dori learned to read at a level without too much stopping and starting, I encouraged her to read to her brothers and to read out loud to me. I know there are people out there that think this is somehow wrong for me to have Dori read to her brothers, but I disagree. She gets practice and they bond. They have been doing this for quite awhile, although I think it is about time for Micah to branch off and start reading aloud or to James. Actually, now that I think about it, this may not work as they fight like cats and dogs. Maybe he could read to Judson?

I'm planning on posting once more on the home-schooling topic, then have a slew of other things to blog about that have been on my mind--such as: the Ladies Retreat (with pictures); modest swimwear (I know this is random, but there ya go); and some misc. photos of things we have been doing lately.