National Novel Writing Month – How Homeschoolers Can Join in the Fun

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If you don’t already know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. It’s a month-long campaign to get folks to write a novel. There is a lot of buzz about it in the writing community and why should homeschoolers miss out on the fun? If you have a homeschool student who is an aspiring writer, give them the heads-up about NaNoWriMo and see what they can do.

So what do you have to do to participate?

Check out the NaNoWriMo website and sign up. This website has a lot of ways to encourage writers who make the commitment to write a book in a month. You can track your progress, get pep talks and support, and meet other writers who have taken the same challenge.

Set a goal for each day of November. A common goal is to write 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. If you write every single day that’s a little over 1500 words a day. But you can write more or less than that, just write!

Don’t worry about editing and proofreading. This challenge is about getting the story out of your head and onto your paper or computer screen. You can make the changes and fine tune your novel later. The goal this month is – just write! Didn’t I say that before?

Give yourself some grace. Life happens, even in November. Some days you’ll find it very difficult to make the time to write 1500 words. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Hey, you are doing something huge here, just write, and have fun while you’re at it. Even if you miss a couple of days, even if you don’t’ end up with 50,000 words, if you have a rough draft of your story you have accomplished a huge goal.

Maybe you aren’t into novel writing. What if you are a blogger and love to write but don’t want to write a book? Well, there’s a group for you too. NaBloPoMo has a website dedicated to bloggers who will commit to posting on their blogs once a day for the thirty days of November.

Even if you don’t feel like you can commit to either group, why not join in the fun in your own way and just see how much you can write in the month of November? You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Even the youngest students can set realistic goals that they can reach during the month. Maybe it’s just a few sentences each day. There are no rules! I’m going to attempt to blog as many of the thirty days as I can. We’ll see how it goes! I’d love to hear what you are doing, so leave me a comment. We can all write together.

 

 

Using Curiosity to Stimulate Learning

As homeschoolers, we have an incredible opportunity to ignite a passion for learning. We aren’t bound by time restrictions like a traditional school and we aren’t bound by a curriculum that dictates how we teach our students. Our curriculum is simply a tool to help us stir the curiosity in our children. Once that curiosity is awakened, the potential for learning is unlimited.

Watch this short TED talk about the three rules to spark learning. It is directed at government school teachers but the principles work even better at home. The speaker has found the secret in motivating his students. We can put these simple principles into action in our homeschooling and set our children on a path to energized learning that becomes relevant and usable.

It’s not just about answering test questions. It’s about answering the burning questions that curiosity uncovers and then building on that knowledge to reach even greater heights of education. The questions our kids ask the most are the “why”? questions. We can’t just be satisfied with teaching them to regurgitate boring answers to boring questions.

If we want our kids to learn to “think outside the box” we must first remove the lid.

Thinking About Homeschooling or Just Getting Started? Here are 4 Things You Need to Know

IMG_8686If you are thinking about homeschooling or are just starting out, there are a few things that will help you immensely if you learn them now.

  • Resist the temptation to “bring school home.” By that I mean, don’t try to copy what you know from school. You don’t need a school setting to succeed. The education system we have today was designed to help teachers manage a large number of students at the same time. It wasn’t optimal from the beginning, just an attempt to bring things into some sort of order. Children need structure, but not to the degree that is demonstrated in a government school. I’ve seen homeschoolers try to reconstruct the school day in such a way as to even have classes timed to the minute. In school, that’s a necessity. You can’t keep the English teacher waiting to start class because you need more time to explain a challenging math concept. But at home? No one is waiting on you, take your time and help your student understand before you move on to something else. And if you don’t get to English today, who is going to suffer? No one. You’ll get to it tomorrow.

 

  • It’s YOUR homeschool. You might think this is making the same point as the one we just covered. It’s not. What I mean is that YOU are the one who knows what your student needs to learn. While it is true that you need to cover certain topics over the course of a child’s education, when and how you do that is not set in stone as the education system would like you to believe. A course of study is something invented to make the progression smooth for many students at once. It just makes things easier. But at home, you have the freedom to do it your own way. If you have a fifth grader and a seventh grader why not do American history at the same time and then world history together the next year? Why teach both subjects twice because your students are in different grades? And you can design your school schedule any way you want to. We school four days a week and work on life skills on Fridays. We cover science on Mondays and Wednesdays and history on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can design your homeschool in whatever way works for you.

 

  • Don’t Panic! It’s inevitable. At some point you are going to think to yourself, “I am going to mess this up and ruin my child’s education,” or something similar. You won’t. You will have bad days, you will have lessons that just don’t work, you may even have entire subjects that don’t seem to be working at all.  You are still the best teacher for your child. You know them better than anyone else, you are the one who wants them to succeed more than anyone else. You can find ways to help them learn. There are nearly infinite resources to help you with every single question or issue you have. SOMEONE knows the answer to your problem. It may take a while to find that answer but you can find it. Don’t give up. Keep asking the questions. You don’t even have to be smarter than your students. You can find people smart enough in any subject to help you. Sometimes if you sit down with your child, you can learn a difficult concept together. And don’t be surprised if sometimes your children are the ones teaching you.

 

  • Books are TOOLS not the final authority.  There are so many resources available to use in your homeschool. Explore all your options and don’t feel like you have to use a particular curriculum or book. If something isn’t working for you, find something that works better. Don’t fall for the trap that you have to finish every textbook you begin every year. If it takes longer, set it aside at the end of the year and pick it back up again next year. Or better yet, skip the parts your student already knows and only do lessons that present new material unless you feel some review is beneficial. OR skip the textbooks altogether and use real books (you know, the kind you get at the library) instead. Some well-known facts: many teachers don’t finish the book by the end of the year AND the beginning of a textbook is often review anyway, especially in math. Since textbooks are generally designed on a sort of spiral, with information being covered over and over, a little more in depth each time, your student is exposed to the same information again anyway so don’t be chained to the books. We actually don’t even use textbooks at all anymore with the exception of mathematics. We use multiple resources in every subject and aren’t tied to any sort of standard curriculum at all. Learning is boring when it is confined to snippets of information rationed out on some sort of schedule. If your student loves dinosaurs go after that source of inspiration and squeeze every drop of learning out of it that you can.

 

If you are like me, you want to have some sort of a plan. I can’t just wing it every day, although I know many homeschool families who seem to do that and find great success. I need a framework but beyond that, we just take it one day at a time and see how things go. We have a general plan but it’s flexible and open to drastic change if we find a better way to do things. We also take advantage of new things we happen upon. We have come to view our learning time as an adventure. We may not learn every date in the history book and know every scientific term but we love learning and we know where to find information when we need it.

For more information about experiencing a relaxed approach to homeschooling check out the following.

Relaxed Homeschooling

10 reasons to have a relaxed homeschool

Mary Hood’s website Archers For the Lord

You can also do a web search on the words, “relaxed homeschooling” and you will find dozens of blogs by homeschoolers who will encourage you.

So relax and dive into the exciting life of homeschooling. It will change you and your family forever. I promise.

 

Homeschooling When Life Refuses to Cooperate

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I was excited. This school year looked to be starting out just right.  About the only thing we do that could be considered traditional is our start and end dates. We “traditionally” begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. It just works easiest that way. We feel like we’ve had a full summer and can get down to business.

So we started this year on Tuesday after the long holiday weekend. We were ready. I felt the boys were taking their learning seriously and just knew that attitude would carry us well into the year, if not through the whole school year. Yeah, wishful thinking, I know.

Our first week was pure joy. Each day we accomplished more than I had expected.  It was a short week, we only do school Monday through Thursday anyway and we’d already missed Monday so we had three really good school days. The first week was a success. And I went into the weekend thinking about how to build on our momentum.

Then I got a phone call. On Sunday afternoon, I was informed that my grandfather had fallen and I was the only one able to drop what I was doing and head to Florida to take charge.  So that’s what I did. I dropped everything, including our school schedule, and spent the next two days driving from Iowa to Florida. I took one adult son to help with the driving and my youngest to keep him company while I spent unpredictable hours at the hospital. The two of them would be fine together.

I brought school work for my student to do on the trip and left instructions for my other high school student who would be staying home because of his part-time job. I tried to imagine that our perfect start to the school year would continue seamlessly over this hump in the road. Of course, that was more of that wishful thinking. While they made an attempt to do some of their work, very little was actually accomplished.

So, what do you do when your well-laid plans for school don’t go as smoothly as you would like? Well, after twenty-two years, I can say that it happens every year. Our very first year included my mother’s death from cancer. After that, there were babies being born, job changes, illness, surgeries, vacations, houseguests, financial setbacks and a cross-country move. You name it and we’ve homeschooled through it and around it.

I used to panic that my boys wouldn’t be well educated because of all the interruptions. How could we possibly do a good job with all the distractions? But year after year I dealt with the issues as they came and we seemed to do just fine. I remember thinking that we’d just had a bad day and things simply had to get better. Then there were times when we had a bad week or month. A couple of years I realized that we’d just had a bad year and that was all I could say.

I watched my boys and realized that even with long stretches that seemed to me like wasted time, or marginally productive at best, they kept learning anyway. Sometimes, the most valuable learning took place because of the other issues we were dealing with.

There are several things that I learned through these times. Things that have molded how I view our homeschool efforts and have helped me to relax.

Homeschooling is much more than book learning. We always hear that homeschooling is a lifestyle. This truth is never clearer than when we are going through something that upsets the regular flow of our school day. We learn to adapt and flow with life, using every opportunity to allow learning to happen along the way. Each experience teaches life lessons you can never find in a book. The book learning has to happen at some point, in some way, but it isn’t the most important. Building character and life skills is so much more valuable over the course of a lifetime. On our recent Florida trip, my high school son learned a lot about making sacrifices for others and about life and death. He learned patience and had the opportunity to learn some priceless life lessons from his final conversation with his 96-year-old great-grandfather. I’m so glad he wasn’t home reading a textbook.

Students can overcome all sorts of obstacles if they are motivated to learn. The thing that has helped us the most is that I’ve made it a priority to teach my boys how to learn on their own. They don’t need to be spoon-fed, so they can learn large chunks of information in a short time all on their own when they put their minds to it. When we have setbacks of weeks or months when things aren’t going as planned, they find ways to keep learning anyway. I used to think we were so far behind we’d never catch up and then I would remind myself that we aren’t trying to keep up with anyone. We are just moving along at our own pace which is all we should be doing.

You can homeschool anywhere. The idea that we have to be in a schoolroom or at a table or desktop computer for optimal learning to take place is a myth. We have done school in airplanes, in cars, in bed, in the backyard on a blanket, at the park, at the library, at church, in a hotel room, and at other people’s houses while on vacation. Sometimes we use books, sometimes we use laptops and sometimes we just use life.

So when you hit your own detour or delay in your homeschool journey, try to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is a temporary obstacle. You can recover. You can find ways to continue the learning process in spite of the issues at hand. Remember, homeschooling is a lifestyle and that means it happens while you’re just doing life, no matter what that entails.

 

 

50 States Notebook

notebookingIf you are familiar with the concept of notebooking, you will enjoy this website full of ideas for creating a notebook of the 50 states.  If you have never considered doing notebooks with your students, this topic lends itself very well to learning the ropes.

By doing one state at a time, you can easily get into a rhythm of working on it a little at a time. Here are some possible plans.

              • You can work as fast or as slow as you want. You could do one state every couple of days for the entire school year and get a simple overview of each state.
              • You could stretch it out and do one state a week and cover everything in two years. Perhaps pulling in a little history in the process.
              • You could also allow several weeks to each state and use it for geography and regional studies for all of your middle school years.
              • If you wanted to work with several students who are in different grades you could start the oldest one and when the next one is ready, have them work on each new state together until the oldest one is done and then complete the states the younger ones haven’t done yet. You could probably work with students from grades 5-9 at the same time, just requiring a little more effort from the older ones.

There are many subjects that work quite well for notebooking. Try the 50 states and then go on to other topics. Soon your students will have a collection of their learning adventures to share with others.

Here are a few other resources that might help.

The Homeschool History Notebooking Journal

Notebooking: For Homeschooling, A Beginners Guide

Exploring the 50 States Notebook Journal

Free Kindle Books!

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I think most homeschoolers look for bargains when it comes to buying curriculum. That’s why the market for used curriculum material is so hot.

I ran across this post this morning for free educational books you can download for your Kindle. You don’t own a Kindle? No worries…you can download Kindle apps for your browser, smartphone, or tablet here. This means you can download and use these books even if you don’t own a Kindle. All you need is an Amazon account.

Take a look at these books on Frugal Homeschool Family. But don’t wait…they won’t be free for long.

Resources to Help with Visualizing Large Numbers

Here are a couple of great resources that will help students visualize very large numbers.

One is a book written for early elementary ages called How Big is a Million? published by Usborne. It gives a simple illustration about understanding large numbers that young children can grasp. It comes with a poster to further help children visualize what a million looks like.

And for older students, we recently found a very interesting website called the MegaPenny Project that shows large numbers by using stacks of pennies. The first image is one single penny and by the time you get to the end of the illustrations, you are at a Quintillion. While we will,  in all likelihood, never actually have to use a number that big, it’s still quite fascinating to see the stacks of pennies grow to that enormous number.

Have you found other sources that help with this concept? I’d love to hear about them.

 

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8 by Ruth Beechick

If I had to pick one book on homeschooling to recommend it would be You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick. In my twenty-two years of homeschooling, I have never read a more useful book for grades 4-8. Actually, the concepts Ruth discusses in this book will be useful for your entire homeschool journey.

This book is not a curriculum that you can pick up and use directly for instruction. What you will find is page after page of sensible, practical suggestions on how to teach the subjects you need to be teaching your children. The author gives you dozens of examples of ways to teach using books you already have or books from the library. You can still choose to purchase a standard curriculum like Abeka or Sonlight and use the ideas in this book. But you can also use this book as a guide to help you create your own personalized curriculum that meets your student’s unique learning style.

The book’s approach is simple, natural learning. It focuses on taking what is available to you and making it a tool for learning. The author doesn’t give you lesson plans and information to teach. Instead, she helps you find ways to gain confidence in yourself and your student and helps you relax in your homeschool journey. That makes it less stressful and much more enjoyable. Learning becomes a natural part of everyday life and not something artificial and irrelevant.

Ruth’s methods are easy to understand and easy to implement. You will find that you refer to this book over and over. My copy is falling apart!

The Threat of Pornography in the Home

I raised seven boys during a time when home computers and the Internet were gaining momentum. These tools have become invaluable resources for teaching your child at home. Unfortunately, left unsupervised, your child can get drawn into pornography. It happens innocently enough…a click on a link takes you to a less than wholesome site. Or curiosity takes control and the search engines like Google or Bing lead us to sights and web sites that our child’s young brains and eyes aren’t prepared to handle. Before long, this curiosity can become an addiction.

This video explains how pornography works on the brain and better yet, provides hope in that the addiction can be reversed. Continue reading