Category: Education

Creating a Classroom

Posted by October 22, 2016

Setting Up Your Classroom

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need a separate room to serve as a classroom. Our dining room table works just fine. The cabinets in our breakfront contain all the supplies we need and our writing utensils are kept in a caddy, easily moved from the table back to the cabinet when we use the table for teaching. We use a laptop for all our computer work, so that can be moved out of the way when not in use also.

Some families have the room for desks and that’s what works for them. Others have whole schoolrooms complete with desks, a flag, and chalkboard. Choose a space in your home that you can put aside, at least some of the day, for schoolwork. It is important for your children to know that when they are sitting in their “classroom,” wherever it is in your house, that they be ready—and expected—to work. Just as they would if they were in school.

The only thing you really need is a clutter free workstation with easy access to the tools you need. Pencils, paper, textbooks, worksheets, assignment lists, scissors, glue. That sort of thing. Those items may vary from day to day, subject to subject, or even child to child–so the more organized you are, the smoother your transitions will be. I have my subjects colored coded using magazine holders for each kid. This way they can pull what they want to do when they are ready. I don’t care what order they do it in as long as they get done with all their tasks every day. Other parents I know swear by plastic bins or drawers. One even has a very elaborate binder system. Whatever works for you and doesn’t make you feel like pulling your hair out all the time should do nicely.

But the best thing about homeschooling is that you don’t need to stay in your seat behind a desk all day long. The whole world can be your classroom. Spend one day a week at the library or at a museum. Before you go on vacation, do some research and find a way to make it fun and educational. Homeschooling forces you to look at things from a different perspective, so really think outside the box. Many classrooms raise caterpillars. You can order a kit, too, and observe your own. But you can also go on nature walks or trails, or to a bug exhibit at a museum or science center. You aren’t restricted to the school day or by the needs of many students. You get to work with your own kids, encouraging their specific interests, and helping them learn at their unique pace. It does take a lot of planning to incorporate so many options into your education plan so we do recommend getting a planner or binder for yourself to keep organized. Especially if you need documentation for the state to prove that you’re actually teaching your children something. Stay flexible and focused, and you will find that you can make a classroom work for you nearly anywhere in the house, in your neighborhood, even the whole world.

My kids wake up when they wake up. They’re early risers naturally, so they are all up by 8. They eat breakfast and then head into the “classroom”. On the chalkboard are everyone’s assignments for the day. My oldest two sit down at their computers or with a textbook and get started. The younger ones and I go through the books we picked from the library a few days ago, and while everyone is occupied, I get their science materials ready, an experiment on electricity. One of the older children will do the soldering to show the younger ones what a circuit is and we talk about the flow of electricity. We spend some time brainstorming different ways to conserve electricity. The children get very excited talking about solar and wind energy, so we write those ideas down in the notebook we keep in our library tote. We will find some age appropriate books about the topic when we go back at the end of this week. After that, we have cultural arts. Today it is music, and we listen to Peter and the Wolf. The older children each receive a piece from it to practice for next week.  The younger children have to draw all the different characters for a quiz. I play various segments and they have to hold up which animal it represents. Next, we do the same and they have to identify the instrument.

We break for lunch and since it is a nice day, the kids run around in the yard for awhile. One of my children has been having trouble with multiplication tables, so we take the time to count the sections of sidewalk in front of our house, then multiply to out how many are on the street. We write down our answer on the driveway; later, we will take a walk and count it all to check our work. Once we are back inside, the kids all have a half hour of independent study—this is any subject they like and want to do an in-depth investigation on. At the end of the week, they present a report on their study to the rest of us. On Friday afternoons before we head to the library, the children give me their potential topic for the next week (because I’m obviously not going to let them do just anything) and we go over possible resources and activities. While they are working, I review the materials I need for tomorrow and get the last part of our day set up: any state required competency evaluations. Next, they do their mandated testing or handwriting practice. We talk about what is happening the next day—we have a co-op field trip to a nearby museum for a lecture on Egyptian history. The kids are very excited and decide they want to write their names in hieroglyphics, so we look that up and the kids try their best. We end the day making up our own symbol-based languages. We ran a little longer than usual, but it is hard to tell them to stop when they’re interested in learning about something!

We start school when we want, usually halfway through August because the kids are too hot and are indoors all day anyway. We take a week off in January for a family vacation and don’t have to worry about missing school or having our vacation spot being packed because we don’t operate on the county schedule. We don’t lose days due to bad weather; instead, we use the opportunity to learn more about how weather works. We don’t take long holiday breaks, so the kids are done with school by May. I submit my stuff to the county schoolboard, they sign off on it, and then we’re off for the summer. I thought homeschooling would be an overwhelming amount of work but it turns out that I love it. The positives make it so worth it. I love that the hours are flexible when we need them to be, the kids get to learn not just about the stuff they have to but the stuff they’re honestly interested in. I also like that our school year works around OUR calendar, not the other way around.

Homeschooling has many benefits. Parents who do not conduct classroom lessons at home often don’t understand that this is indeed a privilege for many reasons. To be able to control your child’s education on your own is a wonderful experience. Of course, there are many mandated guidelines, but overall you have a lot of freedom of choice. Meanwhile, you get to spend more hours per day with the little ones. Parents of children who attend public school often complain how little they see them, especially given all the after-school extracurricular activities. They protest that the kids are never around. Then you worry if they will be safe walking to and from school. You can decide which sports your children should play and how often. You can set up your learning environment anywhere in the home and make it comfortable and suitable for everyone. It can be a den, a rec room, a spare guest room, or the basement. As long as you have desks or a table and chairs, you are ready to go. You can also decide when to allow for a vacation and how much is acceptable.

Like public school children, homeschool students love their vacations. When your parents dictate when and where to go, you can avoid the crush of people on normal holiday breaks. Anyone who has driven home from a 4th of July or Thanksgiving weekend knows about snail crawling traffic. I like the idea of camping off season which means not on a holiday when it is overrun. The kids love to sleep outside, cook over a fire, and maybe fish or swim in a stream. There is always hiking and playing games. It is one of the favorite family pastimes and number one choice for vacations. We own all the right gear. Last time we went, we bought an oil filled heater because it was late fall and beginning to get a little cold. These are handy portable units that provide just enough warmth to take the edge off the cold. An oil filled heater comes in many sizes for use in the home. You will want to find a portable outdoor model and you won’t ever need a generator.

Don’t feel bad that homeschooled kids don’t make friends. It isn’t true. There are family members their own age, neighborhood kids, and members of clubs to which they belong. When we go camping, one or more of them is invited. It is a big group event which makes it special as one of our yearly vacations. Sometimes the kids beg for an additional outing and they select other friends to go along this time. Homeschooled children are closely knit family members given that they share a classroom. This is another of the big advantages of the practice. When you add up all the benefits, it makes this method of teaching superior in many ways. You may not realize it until you try it, but for now, take my word for it.

Option of Co-Op

Posted by September 5, 2016

What is a co-op, you ask? Well, it varies from group to group, but a co-op typically involves families of homeschool children who want to learn and interact with one another. Basically, homeschool families band together to create an organization through which everyone can participate in educational activities. Some work around different age groups so that the children are all working on the same things and have similar skills. Others work by geographical areas and include all of the children in a family so that the activities are more easily attended; skill levels and subject matter are adjusted appropriately. Some have an emphasis on field trips that will augment the subjects you’re working on at home (but can get you access to group rates depending on the size of your co-op, kind of like what a school gets); sometimes the parents in the group teach classes that play to their strengths or from materials that are mutually agreed upon (either by the families making up the co-op or because it is state mandated). There’s usually a sign up day where each parent puts out a sheet with the classes they are going to teach—sometimes with a cap on how many spots are available, again this depends on the size and type of co-op—and kids can sign up for the ones they are interested in, similar to electives in a regular middle or high school. The parents can pick either from a pre-set list of topics from the co-op, subjects required by your state curriculum, or anything they like; the rules and needs of each co-op will vary. It can be really fun, though. Say you have a telescope and know many of the constellations, but are terrible with poetry. Maybe you can teach an astronomy class, and in exchange, your children sit in on another parent’s class on Shakespeare. Both of us here at Kar2 are in co-ops and have found that they work nicely.

Other co-ops can be used to organize sports activities for kids who can play during the day instead of just after school. Since you aren’t beholden to religious holidays that don’t apply to you or half-day teacher work days, or even school hours, co-ops can schedule games and practices during the day so that your nights and weekends can still be family time to do with however you choose.

It depends on the needs of the parents in the group, but all have the same basic premise. The idea is to foster interactions between the children in much the same way a traditional school would. It also can lighten the load for the parents, because instead of teaching your kids every subject all the time, you can pick topics you are strong in and teach at specific times that work for you within the co-op. And you occasionally get a break when your kids attend lessons by other parents in the co-op.

They are definitely worth checking out. You can ask your state or county rep from the school if they have a resource list, or you can search for local co-op groups online. A good co-op can be an amazing experience. It can eliminate many of the work and socialization concerns parents have when considering a homeschooling option. And they’re fun! How do you think we met?!?

Why We Homeschool

Posted by August 29, 2016

Why We Homeschool

There are plenty of reasons to homeschool your kids, and all of them are valid. As parents, we are our children’s first teachers, and we do know our kids best. Below are the reasons Karrie and I both started homeschooling, a decision neither of ushas ever regretted.

Karrie started homeschooling her oldest, Lilly, because she was having a really tough time in school when she started middle school. She was being bullied in two of her classes (by the same student). After several meetings with both the school and the other child’s parents did nothing to alleviate the situation, they moved Lilly’s schedule around so that the two students wouldn’t have class together anymore—nothing like rewarding bullying behavior and punishing the victim, right? To nobody’s surprise, the bully started waiting at Lilly’s locker and spreading hurtful rumors instead. A suspension for the aggressor only made the situation worse. Lilly would cry and beg Karrie not to go to school. Tired of seeing her daughter in so much pain, Karrie appealed to the school district and learned what she had to do for Lilly to be homeschooled. We are happy to inform you that Lilly has enough school credits to graduate high school a year early and is looking forward to touring colleges this year with her parents. Her three younger siblings also asked to be homeschooled, for reasons of their own.

My son Max was not being challenged at school in the second grade. He would get bored, and lacked focus and attention. I would get calls to meet with his teacher because of one thing or another that he had done (or didn’t do). When I would sit down with him to look over his homework, he would tell me about how babyish he felt his assignments were. When I looked at it, I felt the same way. He asked me why he was always punished for understanding the work before everyone else. I didn’t really have an answer to that. Poor Max would finish his “babyish” work quickly and then was forced to sit and wait for everyone else to catch up. It wasn’t much of a surprise that he was getting in trouble. Leave an eight-year-old boy to his own devices long enough and he is bound to do something you don’t want him to. I have another son, Lewis, who was four when this happened. I decided not to register him for kindergarten and both of them have been homeschooled for the last two years. My so-called troublemaker Max is reading at a sixth grade leveland is above grade level in math, science, and Spanish. I never have any problems with him doing his work, either. Funny how his behavior problems magically disappeared once he started a homeschool program, even with all the “distractions” around our house.

Our kids are happier. Karrie asks all her kids every summer if they’d like to enroll back in public school and they always say no. They have friends in the neighborhood and through sports, scouting, and co-ops. They don’t miss it and either do we!

Great Online Resources

Posted by August 22, 2016

One problem with being a homeschool parent is that it can feel kind of…isolating and overwhelming. You may feel like you are all alone in your quest to teach your children. You may or may not get a lot of support from your school district—and sometimes the support they give isn’t worth it anyway because they are rooting for you to fail so they can force your child back into the public school system. However, the internet is a magical place with all kinds of information, and it can be a huge help. However,typing “homeschooling resources” into google is going to generate you with about half a million results. That’s a lot of stuff to go through! It can be either helpful or overwhelming, depending on the way you look at it. It’s better to pare the information down so that you can bookmark just a few sites that you can use as a reference.But how do you know what to trust, especially when there are a lot of sites that require payment before you can actuallysee any of the content? And other sites mail you textbooks—some of which were written in the 1980s (!!!!) and call that a bargain. Think about how many things in the world have changed since then! You’d be finding nearly 40 years’ worth of supplemental materials for history and science/technology, at a minimum.

Here are three sites that we have found invaluable in our homeschooling journey:

One place with a lot of valuable information is the Home School Legal Defense Association. This site can give you information on the requirements and laws for your particular state, and connect you with support groups as well as providing organization tips and strategies. They even have a newsletter. If you join their organization, they have all kinds of things—letters you can send to your childrens’ school to let them know of your decision to homeschool, a detailed analysis of the homeschool laws specific to your state. Some states require more specific documentation than others, and some require subject be taught that others don’t. So be sure that you find out, either from your district person or from a site like this.

Another site we love is the iHomeschool Network. It brings parents and companies together so that parents can find the right educational materials for their children. They also have professionals to help guide you through anything you have trouble with—from getting started to difficult topics to making it more interesting for your children. We also enjoy a good podcast and they routinely have discussions from homeschooling moms about their victories and troubles, strategies and plans. They also host a NON-back to school blog hop so you can meet other great homeschooling families from all over the place!

We also love worksheets. It really helps supplement the materials we teach our kids, and being able to print quality worksheets online can help save time, money, and are great last minute things when your plans get derailed for whatever reason (“Kids, Mama has the flu. Here are some worksheets for today…”) In that regard, we absolutely love the worksheets available from The Teacher’s Corner. It is organized by topic and can be a huge helper when you need something like a fill-in answer quiz for comprehension purposes, or a crossword to check for vocabulary understanding.

Are there any sites that you use that you feel we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!