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Monday, January 16, 2017

When You Don't Have a Math Plan

This week for the Virtual Curriculum Fair, we're exploring the theme of Discovering Patterns:  Mathematics, Logic and Science.

I am going to be brutally honest (mostly with myself) but this is a hard post for me to write.  In fact, I didn't even know what to write about.  With the other posts for the Virtual Curriculum Fair, I've had a general idea of what to share--mostly because I know the direction of our homeschool for those subjects.  Now it's time for math, and I'm sitting here wondering how I'm going to admit that I don't have this math thing figured out.  At all.  I finally decided to just start typing (I'll apologize now for any rambling) and see what comes out, because I don't have a fully formed math plan for the rest of the year.  Just ideas that have been percolating the last few weeks.

The thing is, I have one kid who does fine with math.  He does his lessons each day, and he moves on.  He typically understands it as it is presented, so there are no struggles.  He never complains.  He just wants to get it done so he can move and go play.

Then, there's my oldest.  This child boggles my mind.  He "gets" math, and in fact, he's always been what I would call a STEM oriented child.  Except that he claims to hate math.  I believe I've heard the following, and then some, in no particular order:

It's boring!

I hate this!

Why do I need math?

I just don't like it!


Like I said, he gets math, conceptually.  He is even eager to start math at the beginning of each year, but then he gets so bored/frustrated with it, that he just says he doesn't like it.  

So this year we changed curriculum.  We went through sample lessons, demos, and practice tests of just about every program out there.  I took his input to heart, and he ended up in Teaching Textbooks 5 this year.

As far as the curriculum, I have mixed feelings from a parent/teacher perspective.  It has it's pros and cons, and I don't know if we'll use it again next year or not at this point.

He's doing well with it, so it's not that it is "hard" or that he struggles with math.  That is not our issue.  I don't really know the root of the problem yet.  I just know I don't want a child who hates math, or looks back at his homeschooling years and remembers the years of torture I put him through with mathematics.  I want him to at least appreciate math, especially because most of his interests tend to lie in the Engineering/Technology fields, so going much further in those areas will require willingness to do and appreciate math for what it is.

Since we have a weekly co-op (well normally, although we're on winter break right now) we typically only do 4 lessons per week.  That pace would currently have us finishing up right around the end of a traditional school year.  However, I'm toying with the idea of doing other math activities 1-2 times a week, to spend more time on the fun and the practical, focusing on how math is everywhere, and applicable to so many parts of life.

We actually started playing around with this last week.  A couple days throughout the week, we ignored the computer and the curriculum, and we did math journaling, math games and logic puzzles.

He said "I like your math better!"  On those days, there was no fighting, no frustration.  It was a relief, like a burden had been lifted!

I had to stop and ask myself, if it felt so good to do math with him his way, why force it any other way?  Why was living math okay for the preschool and early elementary years, but now that we're into fractions and decimals and division, I need to use curriculum, at the expense of his happiness?  Why do I think his ability to learn math will be shut off if I don't use this curriculum as designed?  The thing is . . . when I say he's STEM oriented but that he doesn't like math, I'm not admitting to myself that he just doesn't like math curriculum.  Why am I turning him off something that he actually does enjoy on his own terms?  To check off each lesson in the table of contents, because that's what good little homeschoolers do?  If I think about the things that interest him during the day, he's often calculating how old someone was when something was invented, or experimenting with a calculator or noticing patterns or enjoying board games that are full of math.

I'm okay not using textbooks or structured curriculum for every other subject, so what is it that makes me afraid to truly explore math in this same way?  I say I'm a relaxed homeschooler, and I really do need to relax.  I can't say that I'll ever be an unschooler, because I'm just not that confident yet, but I do intend to do a lot more curriculum-free math days.

I've been braininstorming a few ideas for having curriculum-free days on a regular basis.  Not just once in a blue moon, but I am actually planning to set up a loop schedule, where we rotate math curriculum and LIVING MATH regularly, not where I teach math, but instead where we explore math together.

Some Ideas I've Brainstormed:
  • Board Games/Card Games
  • Homemade Math Games
  • Living Math Books and related activities 
  • Practical Math lessons from Five in a Row (we recently explored musical notation and fractions)
  • Project Based Learning (TpT has some neat resources)
  • Math Journaling 
  • More Baking/Cooking
  • Learning about Math in Nature
  • Budeting and Finance lessons - he's very much into saving money right now 
  • More Hands-On Lessons (something that is lacking in Teaching Textbooks) like these lessons on Fractions, Multiplication and Division with LEGO
  • Math-Art Projects
  • Logic Puzzles

If you have any non-traditional/non-curriculum activities that really show math in a natural, practical or interesting way, please share them with me!  Right now I feel like we're stepping into uncharted territory (for us anyway) and I could use a little encouragement and inspiration!

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and the Mathematical Sciences this week:

Finding Our Math Equilibrium: Our Plan for 11th, 7th, 5th, and 2nd Grades + Free Printables! by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Math Resources and Programs for All Ages by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Math (doesn't) Stink! by Jennifer King @A Peace of Mind
When Math is NOT Your Thing by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
Math U See and All the Supplements by Laura H @ Four Little Penguins
Discovering Patterns in Our World: STEM Studies by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Junior High Math by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
Science & Math for Struggling Learners by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
Maths: a subject in progress by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acre
Maths for a Very Maths-y Boy by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Practical Math by Annette @ A Net in Time
One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Math, How I Loathe Thee by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Math and Logic in Early Elementary and Preschool {virtual curriculum fair 2017} by Meghan W @ Quiet In The Chaos
Low Stress High School Science and Math by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Are these toys or manipulatives? This is math? by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully
When You Don't Have a Math Plan by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
Clear Horizons by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A Few Thoughts on Teacher Math by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Week 1: How We Choose Curriculum
Week 2: Playing with Words: The Language Arts
Week 3: Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic and Science
Week 4: Exploring our World: Social Studies and More Science
Week 5: Seeking Beauty: The Arts, and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

©2011-2017 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Teaching Language Arts without a Curriculum

This week as part of the Virtual Curriculum Fair, we are exploring the theme of Playing with Words: the Language Arts.

Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum

Don't think the irony was lost on me.  I know that last week I talked about how we choose curriculum, and now I'm talking about how we cover an entire range of subjects without curriculum.  So here's the deal.  I do use curriculum, but only as one part of the whole.  I carefully choose programs that I believe will meet the needs of each child.  For language arts, I'm a huge fan of Logic of English Foundations and Five in a Row, in case you're wondering.  However, I am not a slave to the curriculum, and when we reach a point where we want/need a break, I am comfortable letting life be our writing and grammar curriculum for awhile.  Interesting article:  The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar.

So what kind of natural, purposeful and/or engaging activities can I offer my children that will help them develop their writing, grammar and spelling skills if it isn't derived from a workbook?  Some of these are activities we already do as part of our daily routine or lifestyle, but I've been brainstorming additional activities.

Practice Real Writing
  • Write Letters (and thank you cards!) - To family, friends, favorite authors, politicians, missionaries, or even companies or businesses to ask questions
  • Send Post Cards - Fun way to share with family/friends, but I'm also going to make it a point to have them write a postcard home so they can record the best parts of the trip while it is still fresh, and so they'll have fun mail waiting for them 
  • Journals - For kids who don't like traditional journal prompts or "can't think of anything to write," consider a field trip journal or nature journal, if you don't already.
  • Try a non-curriculum writing book - This book, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, is specifically designed to be low-pressure and non-formulaic, and was a huge hit in my house.  In fact, I need to get it back out!
  • Write Lists - Grocery lists, to-do lists, vacation packing lists, or brainstorming ideas . . . lists help us boost memory, organize thoughts and prioritize.  One of my children is especially motivated by lists and crossing things off, so that's another benefit.
Researching and writing lists for family vacation

Incorporate Technology
  • Weekly email updates to grandma - Writing to grandma or grandpa will probably elicit more thoughtful (and grammatically accurate) letters than emailing or texting friends.
  • Start a family Newsletter - This requires computer skills as well, so it is a good option for the older elementary student or middle/high schooler student to practice typing, layout and design, etc.
  • Write a Blog - Obviously this will need to be done with more oversight for privacy reasons, but when writing within a niche, it also requires planning and research, which are valuable to the writing process 
  • Online Games - ABCYa has games for Pre-K through 5th grade and multiple subjects (choose grade, then Letters); and the Best Free Grammar Websites is a large collection of online resources for students of all ages.  I'm sure there's tons of others, especially if you do the subscription based services.  

Read It, Hear It, Speak It
  • Be an Example - First and foremost, be a good example!  Let your children see you reading, or keeping a journal for pleasure, as well as reading for research/knowledge.
  • Offer Good Books - Strew interesting (and well-written) books that will draw their attention and capture their imagination, and let them pursue them on their own without coaxing, reading it to you, or requiring any literary analysis.  Just let them read for the sake of reading.
  • Read Aloud - I don't think I need to explain the benefits of reading aloud, but if you need further convincing, Andrew Pudewa's talk, Nurturing Competent Communicators, is excellent.
  • Audio Books - The read-along CDs are great for young readers, but audio books in general are nice for quiet time, family time or traveling!  We listen to short stories over lunch and regular audio books when traveling distances.
  •  Memory Work - Memorizing poetry (or Shakespeare) helps internalize good writing. This does translate to their speech--I've seen it happen! If it's in their thoughts, it will make its way into their writing. We are still working through Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization {my review} and my boys enjoy the poetry selections.
  • Fun Grammar Books  I plan to start adding books that teach grammar to our library lists to liven up our grammar studies! 
  • Word Puzzles - Mad Libs, crosswords, word searches or even logic puzzles 
  • Narrate - a book, movie or play, it doesn't matter what. What you are aiming for, is the art of narration. Learning to organize your thoughts and express them coherently is an important step to develop before trying to them put those thoughts on paper. 
  • Word of the Day - Choose a word of the day program to build vocabulary skills through casual exposure. Even if you just practice using one word conversationally for the week, it's better than no effort at all. Here's another Word of the Day, especially for elementary students.
  • Reading Challenges - We are currently doing the Read Aloud Revival Challenge, but you can find tons of reading lists/challenges online, or set your own goals based on your child's ages, needs and motivation.  {My kids enjoy the Book-It program too.}
An {old} reading chart I made, inspired by a love of LEGO.

More Fun Activities
  • Write a script - I often find my oldest at the computer, typing up little skits for the kids to act out. Getting the grammar and spelling correct is helpful for making sure everyone understands their lines! 
  • Join a Drama Club - Okay, so this may be a bit of a stretch for some, but even if you just arrange to put on a program with your co-op, acting in plays is a great because they'll be reading scripts, memorizing work, internalizing what makes good writing, and it's just fun!
  • Write comics - For the child who loves comics and graphic novels, they may be especially motivated to develop characters and plots through a comic series, and there's a lot of thought that goes into word choice, how to use onomatopoeia effectively, and allowing the illustrations to help tell the story.   
  • Caption It!  Find an interesting picture and write a caption about it.  You can expand on this idea by having them do a five minute free-write on a picture. 
  • Board Games - Story Cubes, Scrabble, Bananagrams, Tapple, Boggle, Taboo, Scattergories, and so much more out there.  Just Google.  
  • Find Good Experiences - When they're little they'll enjoy story hours at the library.  as they get older, attend plays or Shakespeare in the park, and go to book readings.  Our co-op invited a comic book writer to come in and speak with the children, and that was a HUGE hit.  {They boys also met a local artist at a comic book store once when he was , and while that's more "art" than "writing," it's still related, and they have a sketch from him as a keepsake.}  Check with libraries, books stores, local colleges and the like to see what interesting experiences you can find!

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are writing about Playing with Words this week:

All posts will be live by Monday, January 9th at noon EST.

Delight Directed High School English by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Act Your Part Well- 2017 VCF by Lisa @ Golden Grasses
The Search For Language by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
Our Top Picks for Language Arts by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Multiple Approaches to Language Arts in 2017 by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
How We Cover the Language Arts in Our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Use Your Words by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
The Art of Perfecting Macarons by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
Loving Languages Every Day by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Speech Therapy & Elementary Latin by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
The Readin' and Writin' Part of Homeschool by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Children Who Love Books by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Customizing High School Language Credits by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
A Poetry Feast by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
I know your pain and it is worth it! by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Language Arts: Our Style by Annette @ A Net in Time
Words! Words! Words! by Lisa M @McClanahan 7
10 Wonderful Word Games (+1) by Lori @ At Home: where life happens
Finding the Right Words by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
What About Reading Comprehension? by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
Teaching Grammar and Writing Through Discussion by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Do you have any posts about your language arts curriculum or how you "do" language arts?  Please share!

Week 1: How We Choose Curriculum
Week 2: Playing with Words: The Language Arts
Week 3: Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic and Science
Week 4: Exploring our World: Social Studies and More Science
Week 5: Seeking Beauty: The Arts, and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

©2011-2017 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How We Choose Curriculum

How We Choose Curriculum

I haven't participated in the Virtual Curriculum Fair in awhile, but I decided to jump in again this year since it's always fun and refreshing to get ideas from fellow homeschoolers.  The Virtual Curriculum Fair is hosted by Homeschooling Hearts and Minds, and is a way for homeschool bloggers to come together and share ideas, inspiration and the "nitty gritty" of homeschooling.  The VCF will be a five week series, and each week we're going to give you a peek into our homeschool.  Since we all have unique homeschooling styles, you will see many different perspectives on the same topic, so I encourage you to visit everyone who is participating and peek into their minds and homeschool!

The first week's theme is See How We Learn/Welcome to the Fair!

I always share what curriculum we're using each year, and usually the why, but I don't think I've ever really shared how I choose the curriculum.  So that's what I'm going to do this week.  I'm going to share my process for narrowing down curriculum choices for my family.

The first thing I do is evaluate how things went the previous year--do we like what we used?  Was it easy for me to implement?  Did the kids look forward to that subject or groan when I pull out the books?  Do we need to change?  If we need to change . . . why?  Was it tedious for me?  Did the kids complain because it was boring or didn't meet their learning styles?  Knowing why we want to change can help me focus on what type of curriculum might be a better fit.

Identify Your Philosophy/Method
Research different methods and decide which one is most consistent with how you want your children to learn and your overall goals for their education.  As your children's needs evolve, and your teaching style evolves, you might find that the reason your previous curriculum isn't working is simply because your philosophy has changed.  Changing your "method" or becoming more eclectic is normal, and often a necessary part of the homeschooling process.

We've always been literature-based.  There is just something so simple and satisfying about learning through real books, so I tend to prefer curriculum that is based on, or at least compatible with Charlotte Mason's philosophies.  There are so many different methods though, and you might find that Classical or Unschooling or another method works best for you and your children.  Just don't be a slave to any one method simply because you identified with it first, or because it's what all your homeschool friends follow.  It's okay to be different.  If you identify with different aspects of different methods, it's okay to be eclectic and pull out the best of each method in order to make your learning environment true to your family.  

The Different Ways to Homeschool
Five Homeschooling Styles
Quiz:  What Kind of Homeschooler Are You?

Sometimes there is not much research required, because we stick with a curriculum we love.  When changing things up though, it's important to research using a few key ideas.  Look at samples and read reviews to make sure it's the direction you want to take.
  • Homeschooling Method - I usually start by googling something like "Charlotte Mason curriculum for SUBJECT" or "living books history program" because that's my style.  It must be compatible with our relaxed, Charlotte Mason inspired, living-books approach.  Otherwise I'm setting us all up for failure.  {That's not to say it has to be pure CM in approach, because I'm flexible and eclectic, if I'm being honest...but it needs to mesh well with her general philosophies.}
  • Teaching Style/Prep Time - I tend to prefer teacher's manuals that are casual and give ideas and suggestions, but aren't scripted and/or full of prep work.  I don't mind occasional prep work, but I don't want tons of copying, organizing, making props or gathering obscure supplies for projects or experiments.  You might like detailed schedules and verbatim lesson plans, and you might enjoy the prep and planning, and that's okay.  Find what works best and doesn't overwhelm you.  I'll stick with the relaxed manuals!
  • Learning Styles - It is important to take the learning styles of your children into consideration. Are they a visual learner?  They might like video based learning.  Do they love crafty/hands-on projects?  Find programs with lots of art projects and experiments.  Use a living book program for your bookworms.  You want to find something that meets their needs too, not just yours.  Ask me how I know.
  • Family Dynamics - If you have an only, this isn't likely to be an issue, but families with multiple school-age children must find a balance.  I like to do unit studies and use living books because it allows me to do multiple subjects together as a family.  My kids do individual language arts and math, but we do Science, History, Bible, Art, etc together.  It keeps my prep work down, and my kids still prefer to work together anyway.  If you have multiple kids that need "their own" work, you might consider programs that allow more independent study or self-directed learning in order to help you split your time appropriately between children.

The Old Schoolhouse Reviews
Google - "Review of XYZ Curriculum" and you'll find reviews in homeschool forums and blogs.

Don't Ask For Advice
Wait, WHAT!?  I'm sure you're thinking that the whole point of having homeschool friends, support groups and mentors was to learn from those who have been-there-done-that.  

Well, yes and no.  Don't ask for advice first.  Research and narrow down your choices based on the above criteria first.  The reason I say this, is because most of the time when you see a generic question like "What spelling program should I use for first grade?" you'll see one of two things happen.  You'll get 32 different suggestions, and feel compelled to research all of them, only to find out that most of them won't be relevant to your homeschool philosophy or your child's learning style.  Or, you'll see 32 responses, but only two or three very popular programs are suggested.  If you take that to mean they're the only two or three quality programs out there, you could be missing out on some excellent curriculum that wasn't mentioned, just because their advertising budget isn't as large and people aren't as familiar with them.  I prefer to start out doing my own research, narrow down the selections that are most relevant to our needs, and then ask specific questions or for experiences related to those few programs.  This process is so much more efficient and the responses are more valuable in the long run.

So, if you could give a new homeschooler advice on choosing curriculum, or even an experienced homeschooler who's frazzled with their current curriculum, what would it be?


I invite you to see how my fellow bloggers learn in their homeschools!

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses
New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time
Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos
Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7
Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling by Debra @Footprints in the Butter
2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life

Week 1:  See How We Learn
Week 2:  Playing with Words:  The Language Arts
Week 3:  Discovering Patterns:  Mathematics, Logic and Science
Week 4:  Exploring our World:  Social Studies and More Science
Week 5:  Seeking Beauty:  The Arts, and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

©2011-2017 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.