Monday, June 28, 2010

Curriculum Review - Step Ahead

Preschool can be tricky for some to figure out. Few companies provide preschool curriculums, especially those that are appropriate for very young learners.

My daughter was 2 when I started preschool with her. Many preschool activities were too advance for her physical development (i.e. dexterity). My goal for preschool was to help her develop better muscle control for writing while challenging her mentally.

What I found was the Step Ahead series by Little Golden Books. I used the 4 titles in the series that were available at my local ALCO/Duckwalls and was instantly impressed.

I'm Ready for School

This book taught such concepts as left & right, matching, colors, and drawing. The book also taught some basic reading skills by identifying pictures. Much of the book is sticker based and what wasn't, she was able to complete with a crayon.

Before I Do Math and Counting 1 to 10

These two books were great for introducing number concepts and for number identification. They are both set up in a similar presentation style as I'm Ready for School. The first title here teaches comparisons and number identification. The latter title helps with counting and number identification. I also used it to help with some basic writing skills by having her trace the numbers on the sticker pages.

Before I Write

This was probably my favorite book of the bunch! The work starts out with straight mazes about 1" wide getting narrower over the next few pages. It then adds curves and sharp turns before working to staying on a dotted line. A few letters are introduce on the last few pages written two way - maze and dotted line - with space to write on the child's own.

These are what I started my daughter using. It took us a couple of months to get through the four books before moving on to more advance books in this series and other companies' materials. This series though was my absolute favorite and one that I recommend to everyone who asks what to do with their preschoolers who are ready for school.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Why? How can you stand being around them all day?"

The reactions I get from people about homeschooling range from laugh out loud funny to downright rude. The biggest question is why in the world I would do this.

Assumption 1: My family and I are overly religious.
Yes, we are religious. We do attend church on a regular basis; however, it is not why we homeschool! Providing my child with a religious education is a definite plus, and one that I do take advantage of. Frankly, though, I could give my child a Christian upbringing without keeping them home for school.

Assumption 2: We are trying to keep our kids sheltered away from the "real world".
No, it's not us to stay locked away. My kids are involved in community activities. Both attend storytime, and my eldest takes baton classes. They interact in the "real world" by helping Mommy shop, run errands, pay bills, etc. The Bible says we are in the world but not of it. ( We are supposed to be out and about. We are just not supposed to live as if the Bible and God never existed, like so many in our society do.

Assumption 3: I am one of those helicopter parents who won't cut the cord.
No way!! My kids go to friends' houses, spend the night with family, go on vacations with other fmaily members, etc. I have no problem sending my kids elsewhere (and with other people) for fun and education activities. In fact, my eldest my be experiencing Disney World for the first time without Daddy or I! (That I have to admit has be a little freaked. *wink*)

Assumption 4: The school in my area must really stink.
Not at all. Both the public and private school options around here are very good! I personally know many of the teachers in both environments, and they are wonderful teachers who love their jobs. The local public school is where both DH and I graduated from, and we both feel we got an excellent education.

So, why do we homeschool?
It's for academic reasons and more importantly is something God has called me to do!

Studies are all over the place out there that show how important student-teacher ratio is, and the lower it is, the better. Well, I have to ask. Can you get any lower a ratio than 1:1? My eldest child has my full attention. No classroom teacher can say that about their students!

I was also dealing with typical "terrible twos" tantrums over not-so-typical reasons. My daughter's tantrums were over her inability to read and write her name. I personally didn't want to start educating her at 2, but this is about my daughter. Not me. She was ready to learn at that age, and I felt I'd be doing her a disservice by telling her "no school until you're 5".

DH and I were also less-than-pleased with some of what we saw in a group education setting. Kids were forced to work at the pace of the slowest person. They were not encouraged to work at their full potential and even punished when they tried to do things at their own pace. We didn't want that for our child. It didn't seem fair to hold her back because another child in the group was catching on as fast. On the flip-side of that, we would feel awful if any of our children were holding another back because they needed extra time to understand a concept.

I love that my child can work at her own pace, flying through topics that are easy and taking extra time on topics she needs help with. She can choose what topics to study (from a list of options I give her). I have time for extra learning opportunities that she may not get elsewhere.

Probably most importantly, God has called me to do this. I knew somewhere between my freshman and sophomore years of high school that I wanted to homeschool. I pursued my degree in education (starting out focusing on biology and mathematics and finishing up in elementary) with the thought of homeschooling in the back of my mind.

Well, there you have it. We homeschool because God has called me to it and so that our kids can have the best education possible. I love my kids like crazy and being around them all day is pretty easy (most days).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vocabulary Fun for Girls

Growing up I loved school. To this day, I love to learn. I so looked forward to sciences and math. I liked playing with my friends at recess and other breaks. I was excited about reading and enjoyed it when I actually kicked out a good piece of writing.

All this considered, I loathed one thing...vocabulary. I hated the assignment where we were given a set of words and had to write definition after definition and sentence after sentence. It got so bad my freshman year, I flat out told my English/speech teacher that I wouldn't do vocabulary anymore after seeing the first set of words for the school year.

Abhor was at the top of the list. It was a word that had appeared on the first list of the school year for the past two years. By year three of the same word list, I had enough. I refused to write 1 definition and 2 sentences yet again for this word. I abhorred the very idea of it.

I didn't want my children to have this type of experience. I know how important it is to expand our vocabularies, to learn and appreciate new words, but there has to be a better way than how I was taught. I wanted words to come alive, to be relevant for my kids.

My daughter happened upon a certain book series at the library, and at first glance I wasn't sure I'd like it. After reading a few, I find myself seeking them out and even adding them to our home library.

We love Fancy Nancy! The books are written in first person from Nancy's point of view. She uses "big words" and immediately defines them in a fun way. Her antics are so typical of my daughter, so we both get a good laugh out of them. The words she teaches in the book are words that easily fit into everyday conversation, so not only are little girls introduced to and given a definition of a new word, but it's something they can immediately start using without that awkwardness that often comes with trying to show off their newly learned skills.

"I adored visiting my neighbor Mrs. DeVine.
Here we are having tea on her veranda.
(That's a fancy word for porch.)"
 - Fancy Nancy and the Late, Late, LATE Night -

"Bree and I are the founding members of our club.
(That means we started it.) ...
First they have to prove they are mature enough.
(Mature is a fancy word for acting grown up.)"
- Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire! -

*No copyright infrigement intended.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Addicted to Books

After my last post, I have to share what I walked into the playroom and found.

A Homeschooler's Best Friend

There is one thing I hands down can't live without as a homeschool parent. It saves my budget. It gives my kids a place to play. It provides more supplements to my curriculum than I could even begin to come up with on my own. In fact, I depend on it so much that we've built a small one in our home. Confused yet?

My best friend when it comes to homeschooling is my local library!

One thing I love so much about our library is storytime. My eldest child has been attending at one library or another since she was probably 15 months old. My youngest hasn't been quite as fortunate as the toddler storytime doesn't fit as nicely into our schedule anymore.

Storytime has provided so much to eldest. It gives her a place to meet new kids, as the group always seems to be changing. It gives me fun themes when I'm stuck on what books to select for my children (each session - fall, spring, summer - has a new theme). It give my youngest some extra one-on-one time with Mommy.

Right now we are in the midst of "Make a Splash", the library's summer storytime. I am also participating in the adult reading program entitled "Water Your Mind". My kids are having a blast with it, and my eldest has set quite the goal for herself. She wants to read 100 books this summer! Our first week's goal looked something like this:

We didn't do too bad on our first week. My eldest read all but one of the first picture, plus the toddler's books, and we are finishing up "Meet Samantha" today. Of the books we read last week, I only read 2 of them to my eldest. The rest were read independently!
Let me just say, if you have a daughter who has not been introduced to the American Girls series, make the introduction immediately! These are wonderful historical books with characters little girls can relate to. Best of all the characters themselves are 8-10 years old, so they are the age of the audience the books are geared toward! This in and of itself seems to be a rare thing in literature these days.

So, back to how awesome my library is. A regular child's policy only allows for 5 books at a time, but over the summer, each child is allowed to take up to 25 books! I love that they make this amendment to their policy to encourage summer reading, and my kids love it because frankly they are addicted to books. (Just last week, I had to force my 4-year-old to turn off her light at midnight becase she was still up reading.) Also, as an educator, I am allowed to take additional books past my usual 15 item limit for use in the classroom. I also have the option of taking a second library card for our school, although I haven't done that yet.

I could go on and on about how awesome our local libray is, but I'm afraid I would bore you all (if I haven't lost you already), so moving on. As I said in my intro, I love our library so much that we've built up quite the library at home.

All members of our family regularly ask for books as gifts, and in a family full of teachers and librarians, there is never a shortage of them. You've already seen the two bookshelves in our homeschooling room, and if you go back and re-watch that video, pay close attention to what is right next to the piano. That is only part of what my husband and I own.

A big part of my children's playroom is bookshelves. They have so many books that it seems to be the biggest hinderance to a clean playroom. Their books are so numerous, that my husband and I graciously donated our 6 ft tall bookcase to the cause. For safety reasons, it is set on it's side and houses our tall books. What you don't  see in these pictures, is the shelf full of board and cloth books, and the piles and piles of books in each child's room. Like I said, my kids are seriously addicted to reading.

So there you have it. If you are looking into homeschooling, are a veteran homeschooler, or really any parent, get to your local library! Teach your kids to love books, and sign them up for a library card as soon as you can. You will be amazed at what they can do with that little piece of plastic (or paper or number or however your library sets it up)!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Super Mom Lie

When many people hear that I homeschool, a vision of who I just have to be pops into their minds.

Photo Credit:

Let me set the record straight......I am so not a super mom, and I don't personally know any homeschool mom who thinks she is. We are simply working moms.

I have a full-time job of educator. Then I still have to cook, clean, care for kids, shuttle my eldest to activities and outside of school lessons, etc.

Many people look at me like I'm crazy when they hear my response that I'm just a mom like any other. I see myself as a teacher, much like what you would see in a classroom setting. In some ways my situation is easier, not harder. I have a much looser dress code (PJ day, anyone?) and a much more flexible schedule. I love that I can relax in the hammock while I grade papers on a sunny afternoon and that literature class can be done cuddled under a blanket with hot chocolate. I love that PE can consist of an afternoon in the pool or playing a game of freeze tag with my kids. Field trips mean visits to see grandparents at work. Science is growing a flower garden or sitting under the stars on our trampoline.

In other ways, it's more difficult. I am solely responsible for researching and selecting curriculum for all subjects. If one of my students fail, I can't blame the system, or the parents, or the curriculum. Every burden of managing a school and teaching in a classroom is on me. There are no committees here.

My husband has little input (by his choice) on curriculum choices, lessons, field trips, etc. He tells me I am the one with the teaching degree and am trained to handle this. Of course, I still ask his opinion when I hit a snag.

There is also the issue of a good support system, especially for the full-time homeschooling parent. Society doesn't look too kindly at homeschoolers. Sure we are smart, but we're also often viewed as not quite right in the head. Friends and family members often don't understand the choice to homeschool, especially if they themselves were neither homeschooled or a homeschooling parents. Others take it as a full on criticism of their parenting choices.

Now, before you go thinking that I'm 100% alone in this, my husband is a great support system! He is always encouraging, quick to help out with any homework that doesn't get completed during school, will step up and teach an occasional lesson (if he's really comfortable with the material), and of course always there to give high fives and encourage the kids on a job well done!

Homeschooling can be hard, but it far from qualifies me as a Super Mom. I'm just a working mom with a much more casual wardrobe.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Our Homeschool Room

Every homeschooling space is different. Ours has changed much in the 2-3 years I've been educating my child.

We began with a simple clipboard and sitting on the floor. It worked beautifully with coloring and sticker work.

Once writing began, we moved to the ever popular kitchen table method, but soon our kitchen became so overrun with books and supplies that there was no longer room to eat our meals.

So, we searched for a new solution. What we came up with has served us very well, and I think will continue to do so for a many number of years.

We were able to set this up for a pretty inexpensive amount, using a lot of furniture we already owned.
Teacher's Desk - This was mine from when I had my own business with a large desktop computer.
Student Desks - We picked these up for under $20 each at a going out of business auction for a local office supply store. The chairs were $1 each.
Bookcases - We found these at Wal-Mart for $30 each.
Printer - Another leftover from my home business.
Dresser - This was brought down from the guest room when it converted to our eldest child's room.
White Board - Purchased for roughly $20 at Wal-Mart.
Keyboard - My old keyboard from college. The chair we picked up for free when our public library remodeled. The Kaboost was found on Craigslist for $10.

That's pretty much it. Any questions about our setup can be asked below.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Welcome Divas!

Ahhh....the proverbial intro post!

Starting this very early Saturday morning off with a bit of a vocabulary lesson. After all, it is a homeSCHOOLing blog!

v. to provide educational instruction in a homeschool
n. a school operated outside established institutions, especially in a home

diva (slang)
n. a woman (traditionally a singer) who is very professional and has a low tolerance for incompetance

Add these two words together and you have me...

homeschool diva
n. a very professional educator in a non-institutional setting with a low tolerance for incompetance

In simple terms, I'm crazy about my kids, love them immensely, sacrifice like crazy to educate them at home, demand the highest standards, and I'm good at it!