Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cutting Corners

Ive always been frugal. I love the rush I get from Couponing, or from finding a great deal. I am always amazed to learn how much some families spend on educational supplies - both HS & PS families. When my DH was laid off over a year ago I knew I'd have to cut corners even more. I had been spending about $500/year to HS my 2 boys. Most of that as for printer ink and paper. Since his layoff, and losing his unemployment a few weeks ago, I've had to find ways to make our education virtually free. Here are my most important money saving tips: 1) Printing: Ink- Store your printer ink properly. Believe it or not, ink dries out fairly quickly. I only put mine in my printer while it is in use. The rest of the time I store my ink in a ziplock Baggie. But there are other ways of saving on ink, using refillable inks. Or, if you are someone who prints a lot, I suggest looking into Continuous Ink Systems. They cost about $45 to set up but you can print thousands of pages as opposed to the hundred or so from regular ink cartridges. Also, be sure you are always printing on the Quick, or Economy settings. Honestly they are still clear and nice (except for pictures) but you will save tons. Paper- make sure you are purchasing recycled paper. In some areas it is cheaper to purchase paper in bulk. Keep in mind color paper and card stock will always cost way more $$. Save these for very small projects. I use card stock for very little. A small package can last me nearly a year. I very rarely use colored paper unless I get a fantastic deal. I have about 3 packages of colored card stock left. I had gotten them for $1.00 per package about 9 months ago, I had gotten 5 packages. And I have used them for several classes I have taught recently. Furthermore, whenever possible, print on both sides of the page. I actually will hold off on printing until I have an even number of pages to print, then I'll print on both sides of the page. I also save paper by keeping all printed mistakes - I've accidentally printed something twice, or once it printed I noticed an error that had to be corrected. Rather than throwing away the pages, I keep them and the kids can use them as their drawing papers. I don't know about you, but my kids LOVE to draw, but not use coloring books. So we use scrapped paper. Laminate- I think I paid less than $20 for my laminator. The sheets can be purchased relatively cheaply through websites like I can print a worksheet (both sides of course! Lol) then save it to reuse with my younger son. But, if you want to give it a try, without spending the $30 startup cost, try page protectors. You can slip the worksheet into it, then use dry erase marker. These don't last as long as the laminated pages, but if you are just starting out and want to see if the technique is effective, this is a cheaper way to go about it. 2) Curriculum: I save potentially thousands each year by designing my own curriculum. You can read how I go about it I use a combination of things for our curricula. One of the main parts of our schooling is from free websites { check out my Free Website Master List at}. But one of the main factors in my curriculum is personal interests of my kids. I LISTEN to them. This way I am not stuck with a ton of materials I have paid for, but which were epic fails. Following my boys interests and curiosity virtually guarantees success. Supplies- I purchase just about all my office supplies between July & August when there are some seriously fantastic back to school sales. Where you can find notebooks for $1 each and boxes of pencils, erasers, markers, etc for less than that! My eldest sons birthday is in July and I often make gift bags with back to school supplies since we don't do candy. For larger kits, like for science, we generally ask for those as birthday or Yule gifts. Family and friends are more than happy to give a gift card or experiment kit as a gift, which can save me a bunch of money. Also, another $$ saving tip? Try to find educational supplies at non-educational stores. What I mean is, teacher supply stores, curricula websites, even office supply stores will often charge (at least) double what the same item would be at Walmart or at the Dollar store. They tack on a certain % just for using the term 'educational'. A pencil is a pencil, it doesn't matter if it cost you $3.00 or $0.25. Books- I don't think I have purchased more than 2 books for my kids. And yet we have an entire library in our house (6 bookcases overflowing with books). Most of my books I've gotten through trade. I also purchased 2 book lots on eBay for $20/each and received about 100 books. I also belong to our local Freecycle group on Yahoo Groups. I've had several local ps teachers give me everything they cleaned out of their classroom at the end of the year. Furthermore, at our co-op we do a book/curricula trade, where everyone brings in the books and curriculum they no longer need and trade it with others. (I've gotten TONS this way). 3) Technology: Internet- Don't be afraid of technology. I suggest having a DSL connection in your home and a membership to Netflix ($8/month). In fact, if you have DSL and streaming videos you can save a minimum of $100/month by doing away with cable. You can watch history and Discovery channel shows on Netflix. Computers, net books, iPods, oh my!- I've said it befor, and I'll say it again, my iPad is worth it's weight in gold!! I now spend less than $100/year to school my 2 boys mostly because I've almost stopped printing things entirely. Instead of paying $25-100/year for membership to certain websites, I instead pay a one time fee of $5 for an app. It does depend on the type of learner your student is, but my oldest is a Visual learner, my youngest is a kinetic learner, and interactive apps work wonderfully for both. And they save me a ton. I'm very excited for this fall when iPad is comming out with a smaller (thus cheaper) version, which will cost roughly the same as a kindle. 3)Groups: Co-op. we love our co-op. it helps that I found one within walking distance from our home, so I don't have to factor in gas. But our co-op has a per semester family fee of $50. To cover this fee, I teach classes. I also save $$ for our more expensive supplies by teaching a class and charging a materials fee. For instance, my kids were interested in learning about circuits, and I wanted to get the Snap Circuits set for them. But the cheapest set I could find on eBay was about $200. So I taught an electricity class at our co-op, charged the materials fee to cov the costs of getting the sets, and voila - we get to learn about electricity! Museums- I'll be honest. We rarely go to museums. They are just too expensive. But again, you can ask for memberships as a gift from the grandparents. Also, check out any special homeschooler days. Many of the museums in my area have a homeschooler day once or twice a year where the enterance fee is either waived or steeply discounted. Don't forget to factor in travel expenses as well!! So, I've been asked this about a hundred times. Here's the breakdown of my HS expenses. $25/year= books $25/year= apps $30/year= travel expenses $10/year= field trips $10/year= printing materials I don't count Netflix ($8/month) because we watch way more movies for enjoyment than for education. I also don't count our Internet connection as it is a part of our cable tv package, which is definitely not Hope this helps!

Decisions, decisions, decisions....

'Tis the season for decision,la,la,la,la, la-la, la, laaaa.. (what, you don't know that song? Lol) I don't know about you all but this time of year I like to torture myself by becomming innundated by the obscene number of choices out there, for the coming school year. So I thought for those both new (I have an issue with the term 'old' lol) I'd put together my list for swimming through the choices available without getting bogged down. here are my top 5 contributing factors/important decisions. These are the order in which I do them each summer. 1) Know Your State Laws. Believe it or not, laws can change. (gasp, shock!) In fact the educational laws in my state have been undergoing a major change over the last two years. This seems redundant for those experienced schoolers, but it's important to ensure you're following the letter of the law. Plus, some states have strict guidelines and that will make a major impact on the other decisions when it comes to curriculum, teaching/learning style, etc. so, just do a quick check at your state level, just to keep abreast of what those politicians might have done. First timers can find the laws - for easy to read. But for subsequent years, I really suggest going through your state, you can just google (state) Homeschooling Laws, and find the link to your state. 2) Money, Money, Money, mun-ay. This is one of the biggest decisions because it will have a huge impact on what further decisions are available to you. You really can HS at almost any cost. I'm super frugal, which is real lucky since my DH was laid off over a year ago. So for my two boys I spend less than $100/year. How much you can budget for education will be dependent on your finances. Keep in mind you CAN get a fantastic education for virtually nothing. So don't think you HAVE to budget thousands of dollars or else your kids will be at a disadvantage. Now once you have the yearly budget numbers (let's say $500/child, which is average). Some will decide to have a quarterly budget, or make the budget 2x/year. It really depends on your finances. Once you have the genral number of what money will be available for you to play with, you need to divide that number into compartments. You'll want to distribute/budget that amount. A good general guideline is as follows. 75% = curricula {using the aforementioned $500 as a guide, this would be $375/student/year} 10% = field trips/membership fees {this would amount to roughly $50/student/year} 10% = supplies 5% = groups and co-operatives 5% = travel expenses Now, this isn't set in stone. Seem will want more money spent on co-ops than they will on curriculum, others live way out in the boonies and therefore have to budget more for travel expenses, etc. But, this is a good starting point. My next post will include all my $$ saving tips and how I cut corners. 3) What Type Are Yooouuu? This is by far the most difficult decion, especially in the beginning of your HS adventure, IMO. Figuring out you child(ren) learning style, your teaching style and the type of HS you want are big decisions that we often make more complicated then necessary. But, these decesions will help narrow the abundant field of available curricula from overwhelming to manageable. There are a couple contributing factors and they are: A) State Laws- this is really where your state laws can be a help to you. Some states have very specific curricula requirements. HS'ers in these states will have the curricula field already narrowed by laws that require certain subjects, number of days, hours of learning, you, in those states, can search our curricula that is sufficient to encompass those requirements, but, for those of you like myself, who live in a state that has no requirements, this factor will not help narrow the field. B) Learning Styles - I can't stress enough the importance of developing an understanding of the different learning styles. A great webste for learning about the different styles is - But, there are a couple of things to remember. First, most children do not acquire a specific style until around 3rd grade. Before that time, most kids need a combination of all the styles. So if you are starting with a pre-k-2nd grader, you will want curricula that includes a varied approach to delivering information. I've always maintained that these younger kids require mostly a kinetic/hands on approach. Younger kids really need to get their hands dirty, to involve all of their senses in order to process information. But, even if you have an older student, they may require multiple aspects since these learning styles tend to overlap. If you are unsure of what style best fits your student, then I suggest doing a few unit studies and including a few different aspects. If your child loses interest or becomes frustrated, then you'll know that style was a bust. C) Teaching styles - guess what, your teaching style might be completely counter to you students learning style. So, again a few test unit studies will be helpful. In order for you to be a helpful teacher, you'll need to have an understanding of what your learning style is. Let me give you an example. I'm most comfortable with a lecture style of teaching. Where I'm spouting facts and explanations. But, my eldest is a visual learner. So he needs visual, not audio, cues in order to process the information. So I have to find curricula that is heavy on his learning style, especially since it is so counter to my own style. 4) Your Long Term Goals Ok, okay, you got me. I am an anal planner. I admit it. But having a clear understanding of your goals will also help you narrow your choices. If your goal is to prepare them to re-enter PS then you'll want curricula that best mimics those used in a Ps classroom. If your long term goals are for your kids to enter college, then you'll want to make yourself familiar with enterance requirements and plan your curricula accordingly. My general goals a 2-fold. 1) I want my kids to understand how their mind processes information. This means helping them develop good study habits and giving them a lot of independance. 2) I want my kids to understand Where to Look for information. This means I often bring up a topic and leave them to do research using various tools. Neither of ese goals requires me to give a lot of lectures, nor do they require a strict curricula format, so I can do away with curricula that encompasses those requirement, thus narrowing the field. So, answer these questions, on the day of your child(ren) graduation from HS, What do you hope these have learned? What do you hope you have been successful in imparting? How would you define your home school? What are your students prepared for? 5) Space. If you live in a tiny abode (as I do) then getting completely different curricula for each of your students will be confusing. They will have no room for being seperate from siblings and thus will have to be overhearing their siblings lessons while doing their own? Instead, you'll want curricula that can be a single lesson adapted to many grade levels. You might also pull back from an overwhelming project driven curricula as you might not have the available space for either storage of materials, or execution of the projects. I hope these are a help to all of you!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Out with the Old, in with the New?

Over the last cupe of decades, the general populus heard whispers - "are you using the New math?" Old Math vs. New Math?? Ok, I know it's a little overwhelming and confusing. I will try to explain a bit about the Old and New ways of approaching Math, but don't worry....even the experts agree the 'New' way doesn't work well.. I both love and love to hate the new math program. Has anyone heard of an 'Integrated' classroom? Or a child complain, "when will I ever use this in real life!" well New Math attempted to address these, they also tried to move past the basic computation skill we grew up with and moved toward advanced deductive reasoning. In our books and homework, back in the day of our childhood, we had line after line of the exact same type of problem working one type of process - this was in the hope of achieving wrote memorization of specific math facts. A child first learned to count. They then learned to add. Oce they had memorized adding, they moved on to subtracting. I've said it before, but old math was made difficult once a student approached algebra. This is because Old Math treated numbers and number manipulation as concrete facts. But, once a student starts algebra, they were told no, numbers can be molded and manipulated, they are NOT concrete. What I mean is, in the Old way: a student learns to count, they can recognize the shape of a 3 and a 4. Once they had mastered counting, they moved onto addition. They were told 3 + 4 = the shape the student recognized as a 7. Then the student eventually moved on to multiplication. They would see the shape 3 multiplied by 4 and they would recognize they equal 12. Once fractions were introduced it became overwhelming...why? Well we had spent years using those real numbers to achieve an answer. But in fractions you deal with the abstract - remember LCD (lowest common denominator)? We tell them, oh just multiply the fraction by 4 then solve the problem....but the student stares at the page and can't comprehend - you have changed the fraction, how can that get to the right answer? You can't just change shoes into umbrellas! They had no way of understanding that numbers, shapes, anything related to math is NOT concrete. A 3 is never just a 3, it can equal 1, 1, 1; or 4p=12 they both equal 3 but really 3 is just a label. New math attempts to start a student thinking of math as playdough or Legos. If you have a huge bucket of Legos you can choose to build a castle or a car - but they are still Legos you are using. New math attempts this, so kids learn that they can do a million and one things - but they are still just working with quantities and labels, in other words MATH! In my opinion, New Math can be summed up in one term - Discussion. New math is less about finding the RIGHT answer and instead is more about what path the student decided to try to take to achieve the problem. Some parents think we do not teach the students the pencil-and-paper shortcuts we learned when we were younger.  We DO teach them, but we just don’t rush into it.  We would rather students do things the long way first!  Why, you ask?  Our math programs must build a foundation of conceptual understanding first before the algorithms are introduced.  In other words, we have to work concretely and manipulatively first.  Students today use concrete, hands-on materials when they encounter new concepts.  Later they will learn the symbolic shortcuts we used when we were younger.  It is more important that students DESCRIBE AND DEMONSTRATE how they went about solving math problems instead of focusing on getting the correct answer. Research shows that students’ working together helps with their understanding.  When you walk by a small group trying to discuss ways to figure out an answer, you hear: “I have an idea”, “Wait, wait I got a different plan”, “Let’s try your way, then my way”, and “But that does not make sense!”  During group problem-solving, teachers are actively listening to students’ reasoning which, in turn, helps them better understand the students’ thinking.  Keep in mind that there is still time in the classroom for students to work independently and teachers know how important it is to work independently.   So, what's the downside of this new math? Well, there are sometimes too many choices! It can frustrate some minds when you say - there is no right or wrong way of finding the answer. It can be overwhelming to some, to look at an equation but not knowing which path to take to solve it and instead hear the teacher say, which one do you want to try? I think the key to success will be somewhere in the middle, giving instruction on one path at a time working mastery, but reminding the student that there are tons of ways of working with numbers!! Here are some websites: