Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gifts for homeschoolers

It's that time of year where we are all thinking about family, baking pies and breads, celebrating traditions and remembering fondly all the years past. It's also the time as a homeschooler where things are extra crazy! Admit it, you've glanced slightly jealously at a friend who did her Thanksgiving dinner shopping alone, on a weekday. We've all been there!

Whether you're a brand new homeschooler this year or you've been at it for decades, here are some fun suggestions for gifts this year for you, your family and homeschooling friends. Enjoy the season!

Gifts for Homeschooling Moms
Homeschooling requires a level of patience and the ability to sometimes sit and be totally bored while still looking like you're focusing on your child (you know- the one who is stalling and doing anything to avoid writing that last paragraph!) I survived our first year of homeschooling with a few tricks that are now staples in my life! Coffee, coloring books and great pencils that nobody else is allowed to touch!

Gifts for Homeschooling Dads
Dads that do the hard work of homeschooling have a special place in my heart. It takes a proud, confident and passionate dad to stay home and take on this job. Dads might equally enjoy a coloring book but the ones I've met in our homeschooling charter recommend these stress busting gifts instead:

Gifts for Homeschooling Families
If you're looking to buy a gift for a homeschooling family, we love ideas that we can all do together. Family board games, fun adventures and craft kits are always appreciated!

Check back for more recommendations for your homeschooling kids of all ages!

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Language matters- How do YOU talk about homeschooling?

Homeschooling our kids is a challenge. The days can seem unbearably long and the moments of joy sometimes stretch few and far between. Sometimes we get bogged down in the pressure of it all and get caught in a negative space.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how homeschoolers talk about homeschooling. I’ve realized in my school that often our families are still nervous about coming out as homeschoolers. They’re tentative, feeling out the crowd and trying to decide how to approach the “Yes, we homeschool” topic. The more I listen, the more I realize that we cannot get society to open-mindedly accept homeschooling, until we change our language from within.

Think about it. How many times have you given a sideways, mumbled “Oh we homeschool” to the lady at the grocery store? How often do you over defend and under explain what your days really look like?

The next couple of months bring lots of family dinners, complicated dynamics as you try to explain your choices and awkward silence across the table or at the holiday party. For November and December, I encourage you to watch your language and to see how you frame homeschooling to others.

Use positive words that reflect choice
Turn the mumbled “We homeschool” into a proud “We homeschool by choice!” It doesn’t have to be preachy or get others to jump on the bandwagon. It’s just an open, honest start to the conversation. Finish with “It’s certainly not easy every day, but I know it’s worth it for our family.”

Let your kids speak for themselves
The best representatives of homeschooling successes are often our articulate little students! Help your kids understand how to frame their experiences for others that don’t get it, so they don’t feel awkward when asked. I recently discovered that the kid was telling family about the classes he was taking. He wasn’t including any of his independent learning lessons. This left the family thinking we had taken a year off of math, history and literature, because he had described live classes in science, writing and some extracurriculars. After a quick translation, he realized he hadn’t given out a complete picture and left others totally confused.

Don’t judge
In fact, go far, far out of your way to avoid anything judgmental at all. When you talk about the excellent relationship you’re building with your kids, watch your tone so that others don’t interpret it as a condemnation of the relationship they aren’t building. If we want others to value our choice, we have to make sure we recognize their choice as equally valid.

Use humor, be light and assume innocence
Yes, I know, when you answer the dreaded “How are they socialized?” question it’s hard to remain light. Remind yourself, this might be the first time your conversation partner has met a homeschooler. Even the great aunt you see once a year doesn’t really get it and has no idea what you do all day. This is a perfect time to rattle off your laundry list of extracurriculars, volunteer activities and family commitments.

Don’t get bogged down in curriculum discussions
Unless you’re talking to another homeschooler, curriculum discussions are lost even on your family and friends who are classroom teachers. They don’t understand the difficulty of breaking down a classroom textbook that includes lab directions for 34 students and using it at home for just one. If you try to explain it, the easy answer is “Well that’s why he should be in school!” Avoid curriculum discussions beyond a cursory topic discussion. “He’s doing Algebra” is just as good as “Oh we’re finishing the non-Common Core based chapters of Math Mammoth before moving on to Art of Problem Solving.”

Let's change the tone of the conversation and help others understand the benefits of homeschooling!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Five things to try in your homeschool- part 5!

(This is the conclusion of a series of things to try in your homeschool. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 if you missed them!)

We made it! We've added and tinkered with four things to try in your homeschool, from gamification to choice reading, to online resources and learning to code. That's a lot of new things to try in one summer of planning!

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted after all that thinking and revising. So what do we do now? Wouldn't it be nice to hand over one of those subjects to someone else? Yes!

The fifth and final thing is to outsource. Find one subject or area you can completely outsource to someone else. This might be through a co-op, a homeschool charter or a provider of homeschool classes in your area. It might even be through grandma, grandpa, aunt, neighbor or the non-primary teacher at home! The best option though, far and away for outsourcing is your own children.

The kid is an only child, so I'm short on options to find other siblings. However, one of the best things we've done is to hand one subject entirely to him to find his own resources and teach himself. Admittedly, this works better with a slightly older child. A chatty five year old can handle it though- with a little help and a few rides for interviewing the librarian/policeman/fireman etc.

In the past, we've outsourced PE (through fencing), writing (through OnlineG3) and extracurriculars like dance and drama. We've outsourced math this year through EMF, but our very best outsourcing has been letting the kid take over one subject. This year, he begged to finish his history curriculum, The Story of Science: Einstein Adds a New Dimension. It wasn't my plan, as 8th grade is typically US history. But his passionate pleas led me to dump our other plan and to hand over history to him. When he finishes up, perhaps I'll take it back, but in the meantime, he's doing fabulously on his own!

Another homeschooling family we know has also outsourced history to their 3rd grader. He's obsessed with WWII and spends hours each week at the library, combing through new resources. He figures out what comes next, what part to study and when he's done with the subject. That's homeschooling at it's finest- where the child takes over and you can just smile and trust the process.

Don't forget to report back and let us know how your five things are working out!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Five things to try in your homeschool- part 4

(I've been working on a series of things to try in homeschooling. If you missed part 1, part 2 or part 3, check them out!)

What's the surefire easiest way to get your kids interested in something that they've been resisting? Gamify it! Gamification is when we take an assignment or task and add a game element to make it more interesting, engaging or fun. It's something we often naturally do as parents with our toddlers. Have you ever said "I'll race you to the laundry basket?" or "Let's see who can put away the shoes faster!" You've already gamified your task!

As our kids get older, sometimes we forget to spread games into everything and anything we're already doing. Especially as homeschoolers, we might get stuck in a rut of a worksheet or a book and leave our kids to it, even if they're rolling on the ground complaining about the torture of the page. This is exactly the ah-ha moment, time to gamify the assignment! There are many ways to make this work, depending on your level of commitment and the time you have available for lesson planning and redesigning your work.

Start Simple
Choose just one thing to make into a game. We started with a whole family experience in Chore Wars. I freely admit, I knew I'd win from the beginning and was hoping to prove a point. I did win and my point was proven, but it was also far more fun to do annoying chores along the way! You can start even simpler. If all you have right now is five minutes, cut the math page apart and scatter it around the house. Tell your child they have 15 problems to find and complete to win the prize. Lay a notebook and glue out on the table and say "Go!" Each child will tackle this differently. Some will try to find all 15 problems first, then put them in order, then glue them. Some will find one at a time to complete. Either way, the approach to strategy and thinking is his/her own and makes that math practice even more fun!

Add in board games for another simple way to have fun! Our favorites include:

Add in a little more
One of our favorite math games is DragonBox. This is a great way to add in digital learning and know that your kids are having fun learning math. DragonBox is available on most platforms, which makes it even more awesome! To add in a little more, it's quick and easy to google the subject area and "game" to come up with options. We have found that the best games usually come up from the BBC, PBS, Nova or National Geographic, though there are many others!

Go all in
How do you gamify the entire lesson? This is a challenge if you're planning on creating your own from scratch. Start early and play-test your game many times, so it's not a failure when you debut it to the kids. Or go with an already designed game that will make your life even more fun!
Our favorites:

  • Mission US - Choose your own adventure style US history
  • iCivics- Civics and Constitutional issues, a perfect match for Mission US
  • Meet me at Midnight- Art appreciation and art history by the Smithsonian 
  • CSI Science- Based on the TV show but made by Rice University
  • Quandary- Logic, consequences and planning a new civilization all in one
  • NovaLabs- Several choices of immersive science games
  • Prodigy Math- Free K-8 math, set up Pokemon style with characters and leveling up!
Whatever you choose or however you do it, bringing games to your homeschool will make everyone find the lessons even more enjoyable!

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