Friday, April 27, 2012

Defining Our Homeschool

I've gotten a lot of questions about our style of homeschool lately. People asking questions about everything from my teaching style, the kids' learning styles, curriculum choices, scheduling, etc. I've evolved over the last decade since we started this adventure. I've learned to let go of my death grip on the reigns. I'm one of those super anal, type A personalities. I like to have everything detailed and written out. I like to have pretty schedules and expectations. But after a time of banging my head against the wall - where I kept trying to fit these expectations and they didn't work, I had to ask myself, WHY? What was the point of the details, schedules, worksheets, etc. As hard as it is to admit, I finally came to the conclusion that 99% of it was for looks - so when others looked at our family/homeschool they'd think how fantastic it all is. It almost didn't matter if any of it was successful - as long as the IMAGE was successful. This was actually a shock.

I've always thought I was beyond seeking acceptance from outsiders, but after a couple of years of HS I realized we never fully grow beyond it. You see, I had designed these amazing (on paper) curricula, I spent tons on printing materials, ordering texts, etc. And these would work for a little while, but eventually it became a daily torture. My scolding/threatening the kids to do their work. The kids staring off into space, not answering questions correctly, etc. I felt like a failure. And I was terrified of doing more harm than good with homeschooling. So I had to sit back, take a break and analyze what I wanted to get out of homeschooling.

Why were we doing it? I had a miserable experience in public school growing up. I felt like an idiot, a feeling reinforced by my teachers. I was told I would never 'get it' or 'use it' so I should just give up. I finally dropped out of high school my junior year. I did a home study course to complete the credits needed for my diploma then signed up for a community college - because it was kinda expected. I became gravely ill my first semester of college. I spent the next two years in and out of the hospital. This was long before online learning, but I got special dispensation from the dean to allow me to continue my classes even though I couldn't always make it to the actual lectures. After 2 years I had earned my associates degree. Learning was fun and a distraction from my illness, so I transferred to a 4 year university. While transferring I had a councilor ask me what I wanted to major in. After reviewing my transcripts she recommended math or science. I explained that I wasn't smart enough for that. She looked like I was crazy and pointed out that I had taken every math & science class offered at my previous college and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I finally realized that by taking the classroom and teacher out of the equation, I was able to learn in the manner I needed. So when my kids were born, I didn't want them to grow up thinking they were stupid just because they might not learn from a classroom setting. So that was the main reason for HS. My other reason was peer pressure and self esteem. I wanted my kids to have developed a solid sense of self and high self-esteem BEFORE being faced with peer pressure. That way they would be strong enough to not get caught doing something stupid or harmful.

With these are my reasons for HS I realized none of it was being supplied by my crazy schedule/curriculums. So I started following a more child led style. We do a formal co-operative once per week. So we do 1x/week of formal schooling. That is the day we introduce new materials, break open the books, do lapbooks, etc. During the rest of the week we have no tv/video games between the hours of 10am and 3pm. During this time the kids are encouraged to learn. Whether using computer programs, the Ipad, books, etc.

You see, I TALK with my kids. I try to determine what they are interested in learning - dinosaurs, computer programming, etc. Then I find a ton of resources from a ton of different styles. The kids are then free to choose what they wish to use. Using this technique has turned my kids from reluctant learners to excited and engaged learners! They watch documentaries, they build thing, they do experiments, they write stories and have even learned how to program their own video games. If in order to build the best catapult they realize they need to understand logarithms then they learn how to do them! Much of what they do is college level things. We don't have spelling lists, nor do we chant multiplication facts. But through practical application they have learned to do both!

So we are child-led eclectic homeschoolers - and proud of it!!

Curriculum -

When it comes to exactly what that means....hmmm. Well I love technology. With my oldest being on the Autism spectrum, he's a visual learner. He gets high levels of anxiety with lots of worksheets and handwriting. So I had to throw out my ideal way of learning. I found my favorite websites and incorporated technology - which inspires him. We have 4 parts of school/curriculum - Ipad Apps, Computer Programs, Documentaries/Podcasts, Co-operatives & Writing.

Ipad Apps -
I love our Ipad. It has completely revolutionized our school. New Apps come out almost weekly, and most are free or else less than $5. This is really the bulk of our school. There are 2 parts we use -
Itunes Apps - these are regular independent apps put together by individuals or companies. Some of our favorites are the following -
Khan Academy - these are short video clips on math. It introduces new ideas and concepts.
Splash Math - This comes in different grade levels. It seems like a video game, but it doesn't introduce concepts so we use it in conjunction with Khan.
Minds of Math - This is a history of Math which is fun.
Sciences -- Painless Earth Science, Side Stax, Circuits, Science Fun To Go, TED (great podcasts)
Brain Pop - this is a fun program that changes daily, so it has themes of the day from history to geography all different subjects.
Rock Prodigy - this is an awesome app for learning to play guitar. You plug in your ear buds and the ipad picks up on the sound of you playing so it can tell if you are doing it right!! My youngest loves hearing himself play.
Irish Fiddle - my oldest is using this to learn to play the Violin
Move The Turtle - This is an intro to Robotics/Computer programming. There is a turtle on the screen and the student learns to program the turtle to follow different commands.
Freefall Spelling
Language Arts - Itooch English, Toon Tastic (this is a story board app), Painless Grammar.
Tap Typing
Barefoot Atlas - this is an amazing interactive world atlas with locations, tourist spots in a 3-d map, and the student can tap on anything and it will give an interactive lesson on it.
Itunes U - This is an app that has access from many different universities and school districts. You can sign up for an independent e-class. FREE! Or you can order textbooks (which are not Right now my oldest's favorite eclass is ALICE which is a computer programming interface designed by Columbia University. You take the free eclass, and download the Free program on the computer and voila, you can learn programming! My son just finished programming his first video game - of a biplane racing a star ship on Mars!

Computer Programs - we use these to mix things up a bit. Not often, but we only have one Ipad, so while one child is on the ipad the other can use the computer. Programs like

Documentaries/Podcasts - (ie. Netflix) This is worth it's weight in gold, IMO. Especially w/ my visual learner. We watch documentaries on geography, history, science, etc. Then the kids often set out to make models or experiments on what they learned.

Co-operatives - we do co-operative school once or twice a week for 12 weeks (2 semesters a year). Our co-ops are pretty serious endeavors. There are some fun classes like theatre and dancing, but we also have serious classes like Latin, Writing, Science, etc. We LOVE Co-op!!

Writing - I could never get my kids to cooperate with penmanship worksheets. It was torture. So we started journaling and writing stories. They would do different editions while we would helpfully critique their work. This helped work spelling, grammar and penmanship.


We often shock people with our schedule, or seeming lack of one. I used to design very detailed curriculums and we would do everything on them, but it was boring and torturous for all involved. My kids would read my anxiety as I panicked to try and get everything in. Ugh! So now we do a much more relaxed schedule, and the kids are flying through the work!

Since we do co-op once/week, I keep it to a once/week learning day. When we are not doing co-op then I'll use Tuesdays (co-op day) to introduce new information, work on a project, etc. This is a day where I'll actually teach lessons. The rest of the week (7 days a week) there is no tv or video games between the hours of 10 and 3 unless it's a program for educational purposes. During this time the kids are encouraged to learn - on their own mostly unless they ask for help/input. You see I talk with my kids a lot, finding out what they are interested in learning, Then I find a ton of resources - books, computer programs, experiment kits, etc. Then during these quiet periods each day the kids tend to grab at these resources and set out learning. Because it is based on what they were interested in, they are eager to delve in. With little to no encouragement from me, they LOVE to learn.

 One thing this has made me realize? When I was in school the fun was extracted from learning - especially with all the repetition and busy work. Plus they have to stick to a specific curriculum, so kids are not encouraged to explore and learn anything they want. See, I would have thought that w/o the strict schedule kids would just not learn anything, but the opposite is true because my kids think learning is FUN!

We school year round. So that we can take a day or two off whenever the mood strikes us.

So that's us in a nutshell. Hope that cleared up all your questions!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Behavior Bucks

I have been asked about a billion times, lately how i coordinate games, behavior, tv time,etc while doing child led learning.

My oldest would happily lock himself in his room w/ one of the game systems and only emerge to grab food or switch out games. He could probably keep this up for a month if left unchecked. My youngest emerges more often, but he has more of a strong will. So if he has his mind set one doing X and i say it's time to do Y - the battle would begin.

About a year ago, quite by accident, i discovered the key to happiness. Lol. First, i had cleaned their room of all game systems, ereaders, mp3, computers, etc. everything was moved into my bedroom closet. I wanted to start teaching them the value of the dollar, at that time. So i made each child a poster that looked like a checkbook register. The concept was they could earn fictional 'bucks' and use these bucks to get games and such. I was SHOCKED to realize it was a hugely effective behavioral tool as well.

Along the bottom of each poster are 3 columns.

Column 1-- Earnings -- these are the ings the kids can do to earn the bucks

School work = 10 bucks
Chores = 5 bucks
Being helpful = 5 bucks
Changing the litter = 5 bucks

Column 2 -- Deductions -- these are behaviors that will lose them bucks

Lying = 25 bucks
Fighting = 15 bucks
Being disrespectful = 20 bucks
Incomplete schoolwork = 15 bucks

Column 3 -- Spending -- these are ways they can use their bucks

Wii = 25 bucks
Nintendo DS =20 bucks
Nintendo 64 = 20 bucks
Computer = 15 bucks
MP3= 10 bucks
Bike riding = 10 bucks
Scooter = 5 bucks

If they choose to use some of their bucks, they are essentially RENTING the system from us. The length of time the renting lasts starts at the end of the schoolday (when they have earned their bucks for completing schoolwork and chores) and lasts until 10am the next day, when we usuallu begin school. So, the quicker they get their work done the longer they will have with their games. Oh, and they can not turn in bad work. Rushing through and claiming to be done, even when you know it's substandard work is considered cheating, aka lying, and will cost you bucks. There are exceptions to this. Using the computer or ipad for school work isn't limited. Using computer programming games like Alics (from Columbia University) or Scratch (from MIT) and creating their own games is not limited.

My goal, at first, wasn't to limit them in their play. It was to help them learn to appreciate what they have, at the same time learning economics (earnings, savings, spending, etc.) it was just a blessed surprise to realize it was also a great behavioral tool!