Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If It Ain't Broke: Knowing When and If You Should Change Curriculum

When we first started homeschooling 3 years ago I knew exactly what curriculum I wanted to use. I grew up on Abeka and I figured that since I knew the curriculum and it was a "boxed" curriculum, I figured it would be a cinch for me to teach my own children. What I wasn't prepared for was for it not to work. In the beginning I thought it was me. I wasn't doing enough of the script or we weren't reviewing enough. I found myself supplementing and eventually I couldn't even bring myself to open the books. Once I spoke to more seasoned homeschoolers I found myself browsing the curriculum section at Mardel and eventually settled on Explode the Code which I swear is the reason my children know how to read. That is not to say that Abeka isn't a good curriculum, but it simply wasn't working for us.

Exploring Mardel was an eye opening experience but what really opened my world up was visiting the local once a year Homeschool Book Fair. Never had I been surrounded by so many wonderful curriculum options! Each vendor knew exactly what to say to get you to pull out your wallet. I picked up a book here and a few there and dropped a few hundred that day. Thankfully, most of that worked.

Navigating curriculum choices can be overwhelming. Whether you are a new homeschooler or a few years in like we are, the allure of all the pretty books is sometimes more than one can bear! The trick to keeping your curriculum purchases in check is to be sure you know when it is really time to change.

The best advice I have gotten regarding curriculum is "the best curriculum is the curriculum that is getting done". So the first question to ask yourself is just that. Are you getting it done or is that book being shoved aside or being consistently put off until you forget you have it? If you find yourself constantly avoiding a piece of curriculum it is time to move on.

You are pushing through that curriculum that you really don't like, but you paid for it and gee-whiz it is going to be done! Right after you and your child quit crying. Some of us have the ability to force ourselves through a book. On one hand it is a great learning experience about perseverance. On the other it is a good way to find yourself overwhelmed and ready to give up all together. If you or your child dislike, truly dislike, a curriculum so much that you have an emotional response to it, it is time to move on.

In the early days of our homeschooling adventure I had no idea what my children's learning styles or what my own homeschool philosophy was. I would literally walk in to a store and say "oh that looks good" and buy it. Let's just say this didn't really work out. Take a moment to think about what you're trying to accomplish and how your child best learns. If your curriculum doesn't line up, it is time to move on.

The quickest way to burn out is let yourself get bored or overwhelmed with your curriculum, but the quickest way to go broke is to flip-flop around with it. Be sure that each time you are considering a change that you prayerfully consider changes in your child's curriculum. Just as there are times to move on, there are also times to push through it!

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Monday, January 21, 2013

New Year Changes: Update on Our Schooling

We are finally there. The plan is to start moving in sometime towards the end of the week! While we have been living with my parents our schooling has changed quite a bit. Add that in to having a house to take care of and animals to come shortly and it has meant our schedule will be changing quite a bit too. We have also made big changes to our curriculum and schooling methods.

 Brianna, has been struggling to retain math facts. I started her 3rd grade math over, ditching Teaching Textbooks as I noticed she was having a hard time transferring skills from the computer onto paper. My initial thought was that she needed more of a hands on type of curriculum but I really think now that it is a learning difference. She is very easily overwhelmed by audio instruction and TT and even my very hands on teaching approach was frustrating her and in turn me. She has similar problems with grammar. Last week, after considering many options, including sending her to a 2 day a week university model school, I decided to just take a step back and allow her to learn as independently as possible. Obviously, she can still ask for help any time she needs it, but for the most part this has been working really well. She asks for help, I give her a small instructional session and then she moves on. No flitting from topic to topic as the teacher review had me do. I found through the last chapter she stopped asking for help about 2 lessons in and was doing fantastic work! The week prior to this she would forget what we talked about within minutes of reviewing it. She is still having some trouble with her grammar, but I will just continue to have her practice it until she gets it. Since Keira learns so easily she is also doing this.

We added Institute for Excellence in Writing to our curriculum. I am loving it so far. We did do the student book for a few weeks, but I find myself lamenting spending that money and wish I would have just gone with the teacher set. Once we get settled into our new house and routine we will be ditching the student portion and using our own paragraphs. I will definitely continue using the teacher portion though.

We are ditching formal science and history for the time being. Considering Brianna's difficulties in math and grammar, I want some time to grow her skills in the basics. We will use a living book approach to the both subjects and I am planning on purchasing the Apologia notebooks and having the girls fill them in with not only the Apologia books, but also other library books and online resources. Historical fiction found mostly through Sonlight will also be added to our reading lists.

Keira is now on the gymnastics team. This has been an adjustment for sure. For right now we are at the gym three hours a week, but realize that as she progresses this will increase. Brianna is taking art. Thankfully, within a few weeks this will be happening on the same night as Keira's gym and I will be able to drop her off at a dear friend's house while I take Keira to the gym. Soccer season also starts back up soon. I made Keira choose between gym and soccer and she chose gym, but Brianna will be playing so that is another practice to add in. Luke's indoor season just finished and we decided to give him another year or so before committing to an outdoor season. So just in case you didn't get all of that, we are at the gym 2 times per week, art 1 time per week and soccer is at the least 1 practice per week with anywhere from 1 to 3 games per week. It looks like quite a bit, and is, but when you consider that there are three children with 3 different interests, it is really unavoidable and as long as I can manage it I will do everything I can to support their interests.

As much as I appreciate my parents willingness to let us live in their house, take up their space and eat their food, I am ready to have my own space again. I am looking forward to getting us back onto a strict real food diet and dare I say, I am looking forward to having a house to maintain!

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Learning That Not Everyone Wants to be Your Friend: Dealing with Conflict

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Ahhh, the world of little girls...where they all play princess, dance around delicately and only say sweet things. And then they turn 7 and 8 and 9... Yeah, you only thought that you wouldn't have to deal with girl drama until they were teens.

For anyone that thinks homeschoolers don't have to learn to deal with conflict let me enlighten you. We do. Tonight at gymnastics we had a mandatory meeting for the parents and the kids were left to play in the "lobby" (which is open to the floor). For the most part they were all exceptionally well behaved! I was quite impressed. It seems however, as it happens, I missed some conflict that was happening. My youngest tells me that one of the girls spent a lot of time calling people "butt head" and being generally rude to her. We have had minor issues like that before so I have already started coming up with a strategy on how to deal with it, but my daughter is extremely tender hearted and as per usual, her initial response was to burst into tears because she couldn't understand why the girl did not want to be her friend. So how do we deal with this?

1. I validate my child's feelings. I let her know that she is right to be upset and that the things that were said were hurtful and mean. I want her to understand that as small as it seems to me, I know that it is big for her. I also want her to know that she can come to me and be taken seriously.

2. We evaluate whether she could have misunderstood. Sometimes kids get going in their games and get excited and lose control. It happens. In boys we see them start off playing with their action figures, suddenly the action figures are fighting with each other and the next thing you know the boys are rough housing and someone gets hurt. No one really meant to be ugly, but children aren't known for practicing self-control and they definitely don't always think through the consequences of their actions.

3. I  give her an appropriate response. Our "canned" response is to look at the person being ugly and say firmly, "I want to be your friend but you may not treat me ugly. If you are going to be mean I will go get my mother/father/whoever is in charge. Can we play together nicely and be friends?" If they say no, they are to say okay and walk away. If the meanness continues they then are to immediately come get me. What I want to do is teach them to have grace and forgiveness, but that they do not have to be someone's doormat.

4. Let them know that it is okay if they aren't friends with everyone, but that they must extend Godly love no matter what.

5. If it escalates to the point of needing to talk to the other child's parent, I always go there without her first. We all do it, we find out our child might be misbehaving and we get a little defensive when it is addressed. I want to make sure that my daughter is not subjected to grown up bullies just as much as I want to shield her from the child ones.

6. Hitting, kicking, biting, throwing things, etc are NEVER acceptable and they are to come get me at once!

7. Model the appropriate response to conflict. Nothing teaches a child better, how to handle conflicting personalities than to see their parent handle it gracefully.

We are never going to be friends with everyone, but we can show our children that we can still be Godly and loving even to people who are mean to us.

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