Getting Started

This site is for you all, the home educators of the world.

Let’s admit it, being a child’s English, Science, History, Math and LIFE teacher is an outsized responsibility for just one person. Educating and raising up our next generation of young people is and should be a community responsibility.

Let’s learn together and teach one another how to share the job. For some of us, it may mean letting go of the idea that you are your child’s main teacher. For others, it may mean finding increasing ways to support families near you who are also homeschooling. Whatever your path is, this site may be able to help put you on solid ground. Let’s consolidate our hours of searching and planning to reduce the work load for the next person looking for how to teach a kid to read or how to teach a child to multiply. What has worked well for you? What should we flat out avoid trying?

Head to the community guidelines page to see the expectations for positive communication for this site, then look around at the various pages where you can add comments to share ideas by topic. Or, ask to become an author so you can create your own posts.

I look forward to working with you!

 

A Scary Trend

A Homeschool Mom

If you’ve ever been flying, you’ll remember receiving the ever helpful ‘safety speech’ at the beginning of the flight: “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down from the ceiling, ready for use.” As parents, our first instinct would be to put the mask on our children and protect them from harm. The exact opposite is true; the mask needs to first be put on you and then on your children. Why? Because airlines have embraced one important fact: We need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of our kids. We need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our kids; we can’t help them if we’re dead!

Sadly, this fact escapes us in everyday life, doesn’t it? We tend to put our own needs (note I said needs and not wants) behind everyone else’s. We eat last; we…

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Interdisciplinary Study for Preschoolers

by Elena McIntosh

One of the best advantages to home education is the ability to transcend typical disciplinary study in your lesson planning. This means allowing science, math, literature and social studies to overlap and complement one another. Examples of this might be writing poetry about math or studying a science concept within the context of the time period in which it was discovered. Interdisciplinary study allows for a deeper understanding of content or can provide reinforcement of concepts. The secret to the success of interdisciplinary study is that it provides a deep schema, or organization of ideas, as well as opportunities for repetition. It is crucial that the connections you make between subject areas be natural and true to life. When you plan interdisciplinary study well, you provide a meaningful and realistic context for the students, which brings the content to life for them.

I have begun practicing a simple form of interdisciplinary learning with my children, ages 3 and 2. Rather than focus on just one subject area at a time, I constantly refer to other subject areas in context. One way to make this natural is to tie your lessons together under one overarching theme or text.  Here is an example of how this works.

 

Literacy, Fine Arts and Mathematics through Shapes and Colors

Concepts covered: counting, names of shapes, sides and angles, naming colors, mixing colors

In just a few weeks, my two year old son mastered the names of the primary colors, the names of several shapes and counting to five. My three year old daughter began to identify which colors combine to create which new colors and can count the number of sides in a shape fairly accurately. I selected several books with the theme of colors and shapes: Mouse Paint and Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh as well as Press Here and Mix It Up by Herve Tullet. After reading the texts, I brought out blocks that the kids could hold in their hands while we discussed shape names and counted sides. Then, I provided opportunities for the kids to paint while discussing colors. Over several weeks, we read stories, played with shapes and painted. As we did these things, we talked about mathematics concepts such as the number of sides in a figure. We practiced counting sides and naming shapes and colors. I asked them questions to promote language production and reinforce the vocabulary. See some ideas for questions below.

Step 1: Read Mouse Paint and then paint

“What colors would you like?” “Do you want more red?” “What happens when you mix the colors together?” “What happens when we add white to the color?” “How can we make it darker/lighter?”

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Step 2: Read Mix It Up and discuss which colors mix to create orange, green and purple as well as discuss what affect black and white each have on the brightness of the color. As we read, practice making predictions. In Mix It Up, I ask my daughter to “predict” (remember) what color will result when the two colors are mixed. Use Teach My Toddler Kit to match colors and reinforce the names of colors.

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Step 3: Read Mouse Shapes and discuss the names of shapes as well as reinforce the names of colors. Play with the shapes blocks and practice matching shapes to the correct space in the box and counting sides. I am aware that these are actually three-dimensional and should be called by their true names, so if you want to be more precise you can refer to the “face” of the block as being a square or triangle.

“What color is the square?” “How many sides does it have?” “Let’s count the sides to see if it matches the hole.” “This hole has five sides. Which shape also has five sides? Does it fit?”

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Step 4: Read Press Here and discuss colors and counting. I also introduced the concept of grouping by column and row as a precursor to multiplication and addition. Use Teach my Preschooler kit counting chips to practice counting and grouping by matching chips to the provided templates.

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Step 5: Independent shape sorting and side counting.

joelle with shapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next steps: Continue to describe the color of objects around us. Continue to experiment with color mixing. Continue providing counting and grouping activities. Because the Mouse books have characters, you can discuss character traits and feelings as you read as well. Put it all together and you have a rich unit of study on a variety of interrelated topics!

 

Additional reflections and tips

We read each of the texts several several times, possibly even ten times of the course of a month. Some of these texts we had read before I connected them together as a unit. Familiarity with the story helped us focus on some of content connections better. It is best to read the story as a story the first few times before you start interrupting it with content and questions.

If my kids were not in the mood, expressed extreme disinterest or got distracted from the activity, we quit doing it. It can be disappointing for the parent educator, but the key is not to abandon the lessons altogether. Rather, with young kids, remain flexible and responsive to their needs, while continually providing them the opportunity to engage with the material another time. With young kids, I just take my opportunity for instruction when I see them. I try not to over plan because that would make me and my kids frustrated. At home, we have the unique ability to be responsive to our children’s needs and interests. It’s not a race or competition. The learning will occur best when it occurs naturally.

 

How about you?

What lessons have you done that crossed disciplines? What might be a good example of interdisciplinary study for older children?

 

 

 

Reading Levels

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is listed as an end of first grade (1.9) level book for independent reading.

 

Selecting books at the right level is essential for building strong independent readers.

Do not hesitate to read aloud books that are below or above a child’s reading level. If your child is paying attention, asking questions and seems interested in the text, then the reading has value.

Leveling Books:

If you want to know at approximately what grade level a book is written, you can try entering it into this Scholastic Book Wizard. I selected the grade level equivalent, but you may want to learn more about the Lexile score, as this can measure reading difficulty beyond 12th grade reading level. Keep in mind that these scores do not tell you whether your child is comprehending at that level. It is up to you to ask questions to check for understanding and train your child to use reading strategies during reading.

Reading Comprehension:

Reading comprehension results from several skills: the use of reading/thinking strategies, knowledge of text structure, comprehension of vocabulary, and ability to decode vocabulary. You can build on your child’s reading skills by modeling your thinking while reading books aloud, point out text features you are using to get information (pictures, headings), and showing your child what to do when they don’t understand a word.

Example:

I searched a text called “Mouse Paint” by Ellen Stoll Walsh and found that it is listed at a second grade level. This means that a child reading at a second grade reading level should be able to read the text independently, be able to retell the story and understand 90% of the words. I have been reading it aloud to my three year old to discuss how colors mix to create new colors. Because I am reading it aloud and supplementing the text with discussion of the pictures, my child is understanding the basics of the text.

 

Tips for Posting to the site

Here are some ideas for how to contribute valuable posts to the site.

  1. Title your post with the topic or academic area of study

  2. Assign your post a category so it will go to the right place

  3. Write a brief summary of the learning question or activity

  4. If it is a lesson or activity, enumerate the steps

  5. Include pictures if possible!

Here is an example:

Teaching the Alphabet through Reading

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I have had success using letter cut outs or magnetic letters during reading to bring my child’s attention to the letters we are learning. For example, I might select the letter “P” and have my child hold it while I read a book to her. Then, after reading a page, I’ll ask her “Do you see any words with the letter ‘P’ in it”? We still talk about the story as we read, but we add a bit of letter recognition to the process.

Step 1: Get a set of large letters

Step 2: Choose a book your child knows well

Step 3: Give your child the letter you want to focus on and check if they know which letter it is

Step 4: Read a page or two as your normally would. When you come upon a page where that letter is present several times, ask you child to find the letter on the page.

Step 5: Remind your child what sound the letter makes and read the word that contains the letter to reinforce the connection between the sound and its appearance in the word.

Hope you enjoy this activity!

Started as a project

Here is an excerpt from my project proposal for designing this Community of Practice. It explains the rationale behind creating a community like this.
Homeschooling Community of Practice Proposal

Homeschooling nationwide is on the rise. While estimates of the number of homeschooled students vary, it is clear that the percentage of school-aged children who are being kept home from public school is increasing. One recent report conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute estimated that there are currently 2.201 million K-12 homeschool students nationwide as of Spring 2010 (Ray, 2011, p. 2). The report also estimated an increase in homeschooled children of 8% each year. Given that new families are entering the homeschool experience every year and home educators are not required to be formally trained in teaching, a central resource for the community to share best practices is needed.

In Virginia alone, approximately 32,000 school-aged children are homeschooled, which is 2.5 percent of the total population of school-aged children in the state. According to Capital News Service, in “25 school divisions in Virginia, more than 5 percent of all school-age children are home-schooled” (Landry, 2013). This includes Fauquier County, the county in which I live and plan to educate my children. Despite the increasing numbers, finding fellow homeschooling families can be extremely challenging, given that there are a variety of reasons why families choose to educate at home. This community of practice (CoP) will attempt to bridge the distance between homeschool families, both physical and cultural, in order to enable families to collaborate effectively to develop a set of educational practices to benefit their children.

The underlying assumption of the CoP will be that homeschooling families are seeking information about what and how to teach and are struggling to find a community of fellow home educators and learners with whom to collaborate. Even in an area in which 5% of all students are homeschooled, it can be challenging to find a group of like-minded home educators. This CoP will provide the opportunity for home educators to investigate their own values, assumptions, goals, interests and pedagogical approaches in order to create ideal matches for collaboration.

The goals for the community of practice are for home educators to

  1. Develop relationships with fellow home educators
  2. Research, investigate and share resources for use in educating learners
  3. Make decisions about educational practices and apply new strategies in home education

What is important to learn?

What is ESSENTIAL to know and be able to do?

What is the goal of education?

A rationale for home education.

With the freedom allowed by homeschooling comes the great responsibility of choosing what to teach (or if you are an unschooling proponent, how to respond).

This leads me to the burning question that we all ask ourselves as human beings interacting in the world: what is important? What should we focus on? Where are we headed and why? The idea of the “Race to Nowhere” has challenged us to rethink our competitive and authoritarian schooling style and begin to propose alternatives. Do we really want our children to learn how to sit quietly and listen well? Or do we want them to learn to explore, create, question, wonder, try and fail, care, collaborate, serve others and pursue their own goals?

This is where home educators come in. We defy expectations and buck the yoke around our necks. We forge a new path, toward a future of our own making. Our children may not pursue conventional markers of success, such as the ivy league education, the MD, PhD or other labels of achievement (and some of them will), but they will pursue their interests, develop their own projects, start small businesses, innovate, serve the needy, refine their skills and talents and generally be happier and more well-adjusted than peers who endured the dreary environment that is modern public education.

Peter Gray’s book “Free to Learn” highlights some of the sad statistics that reveal the depth of the problem of public school today. Read his article for more. Children are more stressed, depressed and helpless than they have been in 50 years. Their time spent in unstructured activities is severely limited. Their motivation to achieve is overwhelmingly extrinsic (great job, great salary, nice house, nice vacations, nice stuff). Parents can have a positive influence by encouraging their children to explore non-academic skils and interests and thus giving their children alternative ways to evaluate their self-worth instead of focusing primarily on grades. Yet, the pressure to perform in school is inescapable. For this reason, more parents are finding ways to take a greater role in educating their children. Some are fortunate enough to be able to be at home as the primary home educator. Others work full-time and share the responsibility with their spouse and community. I believe that home educators are attempting to provide for their children a vision of the world as it should be through a form of education that honors and respects the inherent worth of each individual and focuses on his or her strengths. Self-directed education is a key component of the home schooling movement.

That leads me back to the main question. What is really important? Public schools have lists of thousands of “standards” or expected knowledge for students to learn. When students do not meet expectations, they are deemed to be lacking. We ask: Why do they not know these facts? What will become of them?

Shouldn’t the question be: are we teaching what they really need to know?

If the standards focused on critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication, students could develop their thinking skills in any area of interest they were drawn to. Students would be able to refine their skills to contribute in their chosen field while also learning how to participate as an informed member of society. Would each child possess 100% of all the science, math, history and literature knowledge? Absolutely not! Do any of us as adults retain much of that knowledge? Most of us don’t use it and hardly care if we weren’t interested in the subject to begin with. So, why are we shaming our current learners when they, too, demonstrate greater interest and strength in one area than in another?

Tell me, what do kids (our future adults) these days really need to know?

New feature!

I have added a new feature to the menu.

If you are an author or an editor for this site, you will be able to add category tags to your posts, which will filter them directly into the category page. Each category page is listed in the dropdown menu for the corresponding tab. Any posts that are left uncategorized will be filtered into “Trending Posts.”

Ask me about becoming an author and having the ability to create your own posts! Otherwise, you may contribute by adding comments and rating or liking the comments of others.

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